Sunday, September 1, 2019

Review: The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier
Series: Warrior Bards, Book 1
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Fantasy
ISBN: 9780451492784
Release Date: September 3, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and is a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan's burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the kingdom will be thrown into disarray. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision—and the consequences may break her heart.

Enter a world of warriors and bards, of mortal kings and uncanny creatures in The Harp of Kings. Juliet Marillier’s writing has a lyricism to it that never fails to draw me in and I found myself spellbound by this story.

Since childhood Liobhan has wanted to become one of the elite Swan Island warriors. Now she and her brother Brocc have that opportunity. As trainees, they wouldn’t normally be sent out on missions, but their skills as bards make them the perfect spies when the mystical Harp of Kings is stolen. Alongside two senior warriors and a fellow trainee, Dau, Liobhan and Brocc make their way to the kingdom of Breifne. There they must suss out secrets from courtiers and druids, fend off royal bullies, and uncover the machinations of Otherworld beings, all while learning to become a team and strengthen their weak spots.

Liobhan is a heroine who is easy to like. She’s vibrant, skilled, loyal, kindhearted, and hardworking. She’s also young, vocal, and sometimes reckless when she follows her heart, but I liked that she wasn’t perfect and I could see how she will continue to grow over the course of the series. Brocc too is an endearing character. He’s quieter than his sister, more aware of his fears, but his talent as a bard is unparalleled. Brocc is unknowingly on a journey to come into his own and his path is one I’m still thinking on days after finishing this book (for reasons I won’t spoil). As for the third main character, Dau isn’t immediately loveable. He comes off as arrogant and is determined to win a spot on Swan Island at all costs. I knew there had to be more to him, and Ms. Marillier did not disappoint. I loved peeling back the layers of Dau’s character. He’s the most complex and wounded of the three and there were times his story brought tears to my eyes. Though each of the three main characters has a satisfying story arc in The Harp of Kings, I look forward to seeing how they mature and progress and how their relationships change in the next book.

The Harp of Kings is the first book in the Warrior Bards series and can easily be read as a standalone, but if you like Ms. Marillier’s Blackthorn & Grim trilogy you’ll be delighted to find out this series is set in the same world. I’m a huge Blackthorn & Grim fan, so I must confess that as soon as I read the character list in the beginning of the book and discovered that Liobhan and Brocc were Blackthorn and Grim’s children I was automatically invested in their fates. I loved the nods to the prior trilogy and even though I enjoyed The Harp of Kings on its own merits I still desperately hope we travel to Winterfalls in future Warrior Bards books.

The Harp of Kings has intrigue, fights, magical quests, and otherworldly action aplenty. The pages of the book practically flew by and I hated it whenever I had to put it down. I finished this story a well-satisfied reader, but there is a bittersweet quality to it that makes me hope the wait for the next book won’t be too long.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore
Series: A League of Extraordinary Women, Book 1
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Romance
ISBN: 9781984805683
Release Date: September 3, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women's suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain's politics at the Queen's command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can't deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.

Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn't be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn't claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring...or could he?

Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke…

Evie Dunmore blends fact and fiction together beautifully in Bringing Down the Duke. Like a good many women throughout history, Annabelle Archer is a scholar with an unsupportive family. She’s dependent upon her cousin, who works her until she is about to drop. When the chance to attend Oxford on a scholarship arrives, Annabelle snatches it. In return for the scholarship, she must support the women’s suffrage movement. It sounds simple, but the reality of what suffragists were up against shows just how extraordinary these women were. Annabelle’s work for the cause throws her in the path of the Duke of Montgomery, a man who is considered to be cold as ice. Sebastian inherited a dukedom at the age of nineteen and the burden of responsibility and the role he has played in politics for so long has made him almost an automaton. Annabelle sparks something long buried in him and, likewise, he sparks long-buried passions in her.

The romance between Sebastian and Annabelle is slow to build, and I admit the beginning of the story dragged a bit until the characters and romance started to develop. But once it got going, I adored Bringing Down the Duke. Annabelle is no stranger to passion, but she is very aware of the risks it brings. And Sebastian, a duke with the ear of Queen Victoria, is a man who cannot afford to follow his heart. Class differences mean something in this book; they’re not trivial obstacles to be batted out of the way. As much as I was rooting for Sebastian and Annabelle, I enjoyed the dose of reality that threatens to keep them apart. I liked that they had to work for the happily ever after, that marriage between a duke and commoner wasn’t something they took for granted, and that reputations, unplanned pregnancies, and politics aren’t concerns to simply be tossed aside.

Bringing Down the Duke kicks off the League of Extraordinary Women series and introduces four very different, very interesting women who all have their own reasons for joining the suffragist movement. I adored Hattie, Catriona, and Lucie, and I cannot wait to see what Ms. Dunmore has in store for them. Between the fight for women’s rights and the admission of women at Oxford, there’s enough (incredibly interesting) history in Bringing Down the Duke to keep it grounded in reality while the romance has just enough fantasy to keep the book light on its feet.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Review: The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken

The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken
Series: The Scarred Earth Saga, Book 1
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Fantasy Romance
ISBN: 9781496721204
Release Date: August 27, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

The Old King Is Dead

With the demise of the Old King, there’s a prophesy that a queen will ascend to the throne of the Black Hills. Bad news for the king’s sons, who are prepared to defend their birthright against all comers. But for blacksmith Keeley Smythe, war is great for business. Until it looks like the chosen queen will be Beatrix, her younger sister. Now it’s all Keeley can do to protect her family from the enraged royals.

Luckily, Keeley doesn’t have to fight alone. Because thundering to her aid comes a clan of kilt-wearing mountain warriors called the Amichai. Not the most socially adept group, but soldiers have never bothered Keeley, and rough, gruff Caid, actually seems to respect her. A good thing because the fierce warrior will be by her side for a much longer ride than any prophesy ever envisioned…

The Blacksmith Queen is a fantasy tale brimming with potential. A cheerful, caring blacksmith heroine, a staid but true centaur hero, witches and warriors, elves and dragons, battles and betrayal…there’s a lot in G.A. Aiken’s first entry in the Scarred Earth Saga that is of interest. With a bit more order, development, and breathing room this book really could have been engaging. Unfortunately, the actual story is choppy and overwrought.

Caid and Keeley have enjoyable chemistry, but their romance felt like an afterthought tacked on at the end, which was a pity. Keeley is a fun heroine who is loving, protective, and strong. She comes from a large and boisterous family and she tends to them all. Caid, in turn, is the calm in the story, a serious warrior who gives the audience a breather from the constant noise of the supporting cast. And the supporting cast does take up a lot of space in the book, but not in a way that felt organic to world building. There are dozens of viewpoint changes – not all of which felt necessary – and at times the plethora of oversized personalities detracted from the plot.

I admit I almost stopped reading The Blacksmith Queen because the first part of the book felt like a lot of flash and bang that didn’t have much substance. However, around the halfway point things take a turn and the book gets interesting, even if it doesn’t always make sense. I generally don’t put spoilers in my reviews, so unfortunately I have to be brief and vague. This is the kind of book where you just have to roll with whatever happens and believe the entire realm will agree with what they’re told without question or it all falls apart. For my part, the longer I think about it, the more I question the world and the barely-defined rules it operates on. Given their circumstances, there is no way the main villain could plot, arrange, and accomplish even half of what they did. The entire concept of the prophesy, the backing competing forces gain…none of it seems to hold weight. Even in fantasy literature, there needs to be a whisper of believability.

While reading The Blacksmith Queen I spent a lot of time feeling like Dennis in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So why two stars instead of one? Well, for all its flaws there’s something compelling about this world. I want to learn more about the Scarred Earth centaurs, I want to see what happens to Keeley, and I want to discover what happens next in this bizarrely entertaining saga. So while I felt the story lacked development, what is there on the surface is interesting and holds enough promise that I want to learn more. And sometimes that’s enough.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Review: How to Love a Duke in Ten Days by Kerrigan Byrne

How to Love a Duke in Ten Days by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Devil You Know, Book 1
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Genre: Historical Romance
ISBN: 9781250318848
Release Date: August 27, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

These men are dark, bold, and brave. And there is only one woman who can bring them to their knees…

Famed and brilliant, Lady Alexandra Lane has always known how to look out for to herself. But nobody would ever expect that she has darkness in her past—one that she pays a blackmailer to keep buried. Now, with her family nearing bankruptcy, Alexandra strikes upon a solution: Get married to one of the empire’s most wealthy eligible bachelors. Even if he does have the reputation of a devil.


Piers Gedrick Atherton, the Duke of Redmayne, is seeking revenge and the first step is securing a bride. Winning a lady’s hand is not so easy, however, for a man known as the Terror of Torcliff. Then, Alexandra enters his life like a bolt of lightning. When she proposes marriage, Piers knows that, like him, trouble haunts her footsteps. But her gentleness, sharp wit, independent nature, and incredible beauty awakens every fierce desire within him. He will do whatever it takes to keep her safe in his arms.

How to Love a Duke in Ten Days a heartbreaking, evocative read. It’s a tale of survivors, strength, healing, and love. Kerrigan Byrne has a talent for penning vivid, lush romances that suck me right in and this book was no exception.

I want to start by giving a trigger warning: Alexandra is a rape survivor and the night she was raped is depicted in the prologue. The assault, the pain, the invisible scars she carries and how her life was changed forever are all central to the plot. It tore at my heart and I teared up at least once over the course of the story. I appreciated the way Ms. Byrne handled sexual assault and the impact it has on survivors. Alexandra is brilliant, strong, loving, and vulnerable and she grabbed my heart. I wanted her to find happiness with Piers, the so-called “Terror of Torcliff.” Piers’s scarred visage and brute strength turn off many, but not Alexandra. I loved that his strength was matched by softness, that he was someone she could lean on. The two of them have fantastic chemistry. Scenes between them fairly crackle with energy and they’re a perfect match in every way. I adored their wit and banter; I’m hoping they show up in future Devil You Know books because they can be so much fun together.

Piers and Alexandra each have their own reasons for wanting to marry even though they’re practically strangers. And once they’re wed, their histories mean that trust isn’t easily given. Their romance has its fair share of obstacles and setbacks while their burgeoning bond is fragile. There were a few times I wanted to shout at Piers, to make him see what he’s missing, but given his past experiences his blind spots are understandable. How to Love a Duke in Ten Days isn’t an easy read, emotionally speaking. But there’s beauty and hope in Piers and Alexandra’s romance and I loved that.

How to Love a Duke in Ten Days is the first book in the Devil You Know series and it also introduces the Red Rogues, Alexandra and her two best friends. Alexandra, Cecilia, and Francesca’s friendship is as important to the story as the romance. Their bond, their pure love and support of one another is a treasure. Each of these strong, vibrant women is compelling in their own unique way and I cannot wait to read Cecilia and Francesca’s books.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Review: Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Well Met by Jen DeLuca
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9781984805386
Release Date: September 3, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon's family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn't have time for Emily's lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she's in her revealing wench's costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they're portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can't seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

Well Met is bright, charming, and oh-so much fun! I adore Renaissance Faires and have a lot of respect for the time and effort the actors, entertainers, vendors, and volunteers put into these events so I couldn’t resist picking up this book, hoping for a lighthearted romance with a dash of faire flavor. Author Jen DeLuca more than delivered. The cast of characters was so endearing, the faire so fun, and the enemies-to-lovers romance between Emily and Simon so entertaining that I practically devoured this book.

The life Emily Parker had planned out just crashed down around her when her sister was in a bad car accident and needed help. Even though they’re not particularly close, Emily doesn’t hesitate to pack up her things and head for the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland. And when her teenage niece wants to take part in the local Ren Faire, Emily volunteers to work as a tavern wench. It’s the kind of person Emily is – kind and always ready to dive in and help. Emily isn’t perfect, but I liked her big heart, organizational skills, and vision. She’s also someone yearning to put down roots and the town of Willow Creek and the faire cast are just what she needs. I loved watching Emily get into the spirit of the faire and to become attached to the town and its delightful residents.

The one person Emily doesn’t hit it off with right away? Simon Graham, the brooding English teacher in charge of the entire faire. Unlike everyone else in Willow Creek, Simon is incredibly straight-laced and serious. But when he gets to the faire, Simon transforms into a flirtatious, sexy pirate who dazzles. I enjoyed both the stuffy and the roguish parts of Simon and, like Emily, I wanted to see the two come together. It’s clear to see why Simon and Emily clash at the beginning. And Simon definitely is a jerk to her to start with, but Ms. DeLuca makes it clear why he is the way he is (for reasons I won’t spoil). I was yearning to see Emily muss him up some and when they were in faire mode, the two of them shone. Their banter was flirty and fun and I cannot count the number of times they made me smile. But I loved watching them come together outside their roles even more, their romance entwining with their individual character growth. Their course of true love doesn’t run smooth in Well Met, but every bump on the road to happily ever after is worth it.

A cast of caring, welcoming secondary characters bring the town of Willow Creek to life and made me wish I could live there. The lovely romance, sparkling banter, and lively background all made Well Met the perfect pick-me-up when I really needed it. I adored Emily and Simon’s story and I cannot wait to read more of Ms. DeLuca’s books.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy, Book 4
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 9780062878342
Release Date: August 27, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Ilona Andrews Reading Order

In a world where magic is the key to power and wealth, Catalina Baylor is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, and the Head of her House. Catalina has always been afraid to use her unique powers, but when her friend’s mother and sister are murdered, Catalina risks her reputation and safety to unravel the mystery.

But behind the scenes powerful forces are at work, and one of them is Alessandro Sagredo, the Italian Prime who was once Catalina’s teenage crush. Dangerous and unpredictable, Alessandro’s true motives are unclear, but he’s drawn to Catalina like a moth to a flame.

To help her friend, Catalina must test the limits of her extraordinary powers, but doing so may cost her both her House–and her heart.

Return to a world of magic and power, where politics are as important as breathing and bloodlines matter above all. In Sapphire Flames, Ilona Andrews delivers all the action, adventure, banter, and simmering passion I’ve come to expect from the Hidden Legacy series.

Catalina Baylor is a Prime and Head of her House, but she’s also young and finding her way. She’s clever, strong, and has learned from the best. But she’s still forging her path in this book and I liked watching her start to come into her own. It’s not easy. The grace period that prevents other Houses from attacking hers is coming to an end and Catalina is still an unknown quantity to most Primes. The case she takes on – tracking a powerful killer most Primes wouldn’t mess with – shows Catalina’s heart, integrity, skills, and general badassness. I loved learning how she thinks things through and seeing her find confidence in the powers she has suppressed for so long.

Danger lurks around every corner and there’s no way Catalina can fight evil alone. She needs allies, and none are better than her family and friends. Their magic is fascinating and their characters are all unique, fun, and endearing. They add heart to the often political and violent world of Primes and I couldn’t adore them more. And if you think I’d forget Catalina’s most important ally – or is it enemy? – you’d be wrong. Alessandro Sagredo, handsome, powerful, wealthy, playboy…assassin? Catalina’s teenage crush has grown into a mysterious and dangerous man with secrets I cannot wait to uncover. What his role is, I’ll leave readers to discover. But I will say I did enjoy the chemistry he and Catalina had. The two of them strike sparks, but the emotional component of their potential romance did feel a bit rushed. Still, I look forward to seeing how they develop as a couple over the next two books.

Sapphire Flames kicks off a new trilogy set in the world of the Hidden Legacy series. There’s a new plot that will presumably continue through the series and quite a few interesting developments I look forward to watching unfold. There is a lot going on in this book and a few things (that would be major spoilers to talk about) felt rushed. However, I take this book as a third of a whole story so I expect things will develop better in future books now that the initial groundwork has been laid. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of Catalina and Alessandro’s journey. They’re fascinating characters in a unique world spun by two masters of the craft. I can’t wait to see where Ilona Andrews takes them next!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Review: The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
Series: Modern Love, Book 1
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9780062878090
Release Date: August 6, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules:

- Nude pics are by invitation only

- If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice

- Protect your heart

Only there aren't any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night... and disappears.

Rhi thought she'd buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won't fumble their second chance, but she's wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…

The Right Swipe is a fantastically fun, sexy, uplifting story of finding love in the modern age. Alisha Rai knocks it out of the park with her first Modern Love book, balancing flirty fantasy with deeply emotional, very real world issues.

Rhi is my favorite kind of heroine. She’s intelligent, strong, successful in her career, and has a huge heart. She’s worked hard to make her dating app one of the most successful in the country and to make her company the best and most diverse. This is no easy feat for a black woman in a white male-dominated field. Rhi’s had to work ten times harder than her rivals and I was cheering for her professional success. I loved Crush – heck, I want to work there. I was also rooting for Rhi to find love with Samson. But she has been badly burned personally and professionally by someone she trusted and because of this she has built walls to protect herself. It’s not easy for Samson to get her to give him a second chance after he ghosted her (for reasons which make sense) but Samson is pretty impossible to resist. The former linebacker is a total swoon-worthy sweetheart. Kind, sexy, handsome, and not always smooth – how could I not be charmed? He’s a good man to the core, one willing to walk away from a stellar career in defense of a friend, a man who drops everything to care for a loved one…he’s the picture perfect example of a hero without being cardboard perfect. Samson and Rhi have fantastic chemistry. They made me smile, sigh, and cheer for them every step of the way. Though they plan on keeping things strictly physical, it’s clear to all that they’re a perfect match in bed and out. And as a side note, if anyone thinks explicit consent can’t be sexy, they absolutely need to read this book.

The Right Swipe dazzles with the chemistry between its leads and a diverse, wonderfully endearing supporting cast, all of whom I would love to read about more. But this bright and charming tale also features very real issues. Rhi faces both overt and subtle sexism and racism in the workplace. She has also been traumatized by a predator in more ways than one and this book addresses sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement. Samson’s storyline shines a light on CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in the NFL in a very heartbreaking way. Ms. Rai treats these subjects with the honesty and respect they deserve, weaving them into the story in an organic way and adding depth to the story and its characters.

The Right Swipe is a modern romance in every sense of the word. I absolutely adored the characters, banter, romance, the gentle good humor, and the edge of realism woven into the fantasy. I cannot wait to see what happens in the next Modern Love book!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.