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
Series: Well Met, Book 1
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.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Review: Conversations with the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer

Conversations with the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
ISBN: 9781538715987
Reissue Date: August 6, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Everyone seems to be getting on with their lives except Maggie. At twenty-seven, she's still serving coffee at Joe's while her friends are getting married, having babies, and thriving in their careers. And now Olivia, Maggie's best friend since grade school, is getting married too. The man in Maggie's life? Well there isn't one, except the guy she has a crush on, Domenic, who works with her at the coffee shop. Oh, and her dog, Solo (the name says it all).

When Olivia comes to town and asks Maggie to be her maid of honor, Maggie is thrilled... but she can't help comparing herself to the new and "improved" Olivia. Way back then, they befriended each other because they both struggled with their weight. Now grown up, Maggie is still shopping in the "women's section" while Olivia went and had gastric-bypass surgery in search of the elusive size 2. But as the wedding nears, Olivia's seemingly perfect life starts to unravel, and Maggie realizes that happiness might not be tied to a number on the scale.

In this wonderful novel, Liza Palmer is both witty and wise, giving a voice to women everywhere who have ever wished they could stop obsessing… and start living.

Conversations with the Fat Girl is one of the most emotionally honest books I’ve read in a long time. Liza Palmer does a fantastic job of conveying body image issues, childhood friendships, and confidence in an organic, relatable way. There are parts of this story that are so raw and relatable to me that they were heart-wrenching and I absolutely loved that. Maggie is twenty-seven years old, has a master’s degree, and her life is stagnant. She works at a coffee shop and gazes from afar at the cute guy she has a crush on, afraid to put herself out there personally or professionally. I sympathized with Maggie and I yearned to see her find confidence, to break out of her comfort zone and go for what she wants.

The other big storyline in Conversations with the Fat Girl revolves around Maggie being the maid of honor in her childhood best friend’s wedding. Olivia and Maggie were a dynamic pair as teenagers, two plus size girls who were outcasts but who also were true and close friends. But after her gastric bypass, Olivia became obsessed with becoming her ideal self, which is a size two with a fairytale past she has dreamed up. Maggie doesn’t fit into the fantasy world Olivia has created for herself and again, I loved the way Ms. Palmer handles this. Maggie tries to cling to a friendship that isn’t there anymore; what is there is something sad and toxic. It’s understandable why Maggie fights so hard for her friendship with Olivia and it’s a great examination of a complex friendship that has so much history but has come to an end.

There is a lot to love about Conversations with the Fat Girl. The emotions it brought to the surface for me make this a story I will definitely remember. So why four stars instead of five? Well, I didn’t expect or want Maggie to be the perfect heroine, but her flaws did tend to grate on my nerves. She can be childish, petty, judgmental, and her attitude frustrated me quite a few times for reasons which would be spoilers. One non-spoiler example is, while I understand why she gets annoyed with her boss’s attitude in some areas, you cannot blame a supervisor for being irritated that you’re always late for work and seem to spend a good part of your shift chatting in the back room. There’s also a romance element to this story which fell kind of flat for me. Perhaps if Domenic had been better fleshed out and their interactions more developed it would have been a more interesting part to the story.

I have a soft spot for protagonists with body image issues and rarely have I seen it handled so well as it is in this story. I also found the exploration of childhood-to-adulthood friendships where two people have grown far apart engaging and relatable. Maggie did frustrate me at times and if it weren’t such an emotionally vulnerable story I might have rated it lower. But when this book shines, it shines bright and I think that’s what makes it special.

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.