THE HEART PRINCIPLE by Helen Hoang – double review!

A woman struggling with burnout learns to embrace the unexpected—and the man she enlists to help her—in this heartfelt new romance by USA Today bestselling author Helen Hoang.

When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She’s going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.

That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she has just started to understand herself. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves. 


Title : The Heart Principle
Author : Helen Hoang
Series : The Kiss Quotient (book three/companion)
Format : e-ARC / eBook
Page Count : 304
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Corvus/Atlantic Books
Release Date : September 2, 2021 / August 31, 2021

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ / unrated 


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Love is messy
Grief is messy
Life is messy

My expectations coming into The Heart Principle were altered by things I’d seen on the author’s social media. I came into this expecting it to be different from the previous two in the series…and it was…and I’m okay with that. This story was definitely Anna’s book, Anna’s journey with some Quan on the side. I think some readers will miss that he wasn’t the full focus but I really liked Anna, her realisations, her evolving self awareness and her vulnerability. I could definitely have managed more Quan focus because as a character and great human, he was superb.

Anna’s character and her new diagnosis felt utterly raw. Anna’s reaction to the diagnostic news really resonated with me (not the same diagnosis), how she reacted, how it floored her, I could really relate to that. Later, how Anna grieved felt tangible and while some of that inertia of grief isn’t the most engaging thing to read about, it was and felt real.

I couldn’t stand Priscilla, I hated that dismissal she aimed towards Anna and having experienced that from my own mother, I seethed on her behalf. So much of this story that was personal to the character and author, felt personal to me too. This really isn’t your average romance, it’s messy and complicated but it’s rich.

There’s a lot of processing to do reading this and coming out of it; it still has me thinking. I will say that I wanted a little more depth in the closing quarter of the book but overall, this was a memorable journey and the most gritty of the three books. Helen Hoang really brought a portion of herself to this book and I am the richer for reading it.

Thank you to Corvus Books for the review copy.


Hollis’ unrated review

This is such a complicated reading experience and I’m really going to struggle putting some thoughts down, I think, and urge you to try this for yourself no matter what I come up with. Just know this might not be what you expect of it.

I knew pretty early on in the unfolding of this story that this was going to be very personal. Just from following the author, her struggles — all posted on public platforms — I could see the writing on the wall with this one. And she goes on to confirm it in the author’s note, too, just incase you think I’m reading too much into it. So the thought of “rating” or expressing dislike on something that is all but half a memoir is kind of uncomfortable. But if you go into this book expecting a romance ala what the cover is selling? You might end up with some buyer’s remorse.

Lately we’re seeing more and more romances toe the line of women’s fiction (or whatever you want to call it) where the romance is central, yes, but there are other topics that play just as (if not more) prominent a role. In this case I think there is equal page time given to both.. however, because of the structure of the story, you take turns reading about one thing and then another. The first part? Romance. Delightful. Sweet. Sexy. An irritating character or two. Some cameos. Everyone is having a good time and if we just quietly side-eye how quickly one of these two is moving and feeling? That’s okay. We can roll with it. The second part? Devastating. Uncomfortable. Frustrating. Hard to read. Over the course of a few different issues, really. Romance is on the back burner. And part three? A really rushed resolution that gives us a happily ever after but doesn’t resolve every single issue — which is often the case in women’s fiction but somehow, in this romance, feels.. unsatisfying? Not because I needed a bow tied on everything but I felt wound up so tight from part two and I wasn’t given enough time to decompress and process and see the character do the same. I don’t know how to explain it. But suffice it to say, yes, rushed.

That said, I am not calling this women’s fiction, nor am I hating on that genre — this year alone I’ve rated at least two of them five stars — it’s just that this feels a little bit of both, but not quite either.

Thus.. it’s an odd reading experience. But it’s obviously also a very personal one. Is Anna’s creative burnout, the fear of failing those who are watching her so closely, the author’s own manifested fear post-success of The Kiss Quotient? So much of Anna comes from the author (which she also explains was her reason to switch from third person to first) and the more I think about the elements of this story, the realer and realer is seems. And I haven’t even touched on the more obvious real-life elements she put onto the page.

I’m sure aspects of this will mean a lot for all sorts of readers or make them feel seen. I don’t want to dismiss that representation or impact. I just don’t know how it works as a whole when each section didn’t feel tuned to the same frequency.

What I’ve also yet to mention is that if you are expecting this to be Quan’s book? It isn’t, really. If you’re expecting the character represented by the woman on the cover to exude the energy she’s giving us with that pose? You won’t get it (this happens more and more due to illustrated covers, I think we’re all getting used to it, but it bears mention). This is a lot of things but between expectations and marketing I’m not sure it all lines up. And hey, it is what it is, I imagine the author did not anticipate her own circumstances to go the way they did during the course of writing this book, either.

So, again, how does one rate this? If you’re me, you don’t.

I absolutely don’t want to discourage anyone from reading this. I love this author, I love her works, and there is so much courage in putting these experiences out into the world in the form of fiction for people, like myself, to critique. I will absolutely read whatever else she puts out. But was this satisfying? Worth the wait? Everything I wanted? A great experience? I would say no. But the why of that no is due to all the aforementioned reasons above.

NEON GODS by Katee Robert

He was supposed to be a myth. But from the moment I crossed the River Styx and fell under his dark spell… he was, quite simply, mine.

Society darling Persephone Dimitriou plans to flee the ultra-modern city of Olympus and start over far from the backstabbing politics of the Thirteen Houses. But all that’s ripped away when her mother ambushes her with an engagement to Zeus, the dangerous power behind their glittering city’s dark facade.

With no options left, Persephone flees to the forbidden undercity and makes a devil’s bargain with a man she once believed a myth… a man who awakens her to a world she never knew existed.

Hades has spent his life in the shadows, and he has no intention of stepping into the light. But when he finds that Persephone can offer a little slice of the revenge he’s spent years craving, it’s all the excuse he needs to help her—for a price. Yet every breathless night spent tangled together has given Hades a taste for Persephone, and he’ll go to war with Olympus itself to keep her close…

A modern retelling of Hades and Persephone that’s as sinful as it is sweet.


Title : Neon Gods
Author : Katee Robert
Series : Dark Olympus (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 380
Genre : myth retelling / romance
Publisher : Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date : June 1, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I was close to rounding up on this one but.. there was too much about this particular retelling’s worldbuilding that haunted me for too long. And, in fact, it was only upon starting this review, as I started to talk (write) it out, that I actually started to piece together some of those holes. Sorta. But that doesn’t take away the fact that I found it so distracting for the whole duration of the book. Nor does it solve all the worldbuilding issues. There’s something about this modern but still removed but still modern Olympus that just breaks my brain.

As for the romance.. listen, if I don’t think too hard about how rushed Persephone’s character growth/arc/reveal was, the romance is sweet with a touch of spice. I want to be able to champion the female lead and poke holes in the male but sadly, in this case, as much as I could appreciate Persephone over the course of the story, I never really felt we got to see that duality in her to explain why she’d been one way only to reveal herself as something else. Yes, yes, being able to explore herself, removing masks, yes, it’s all told to us but I didn’t see it because I didn’t see her the other way. A few offhand comments do not a character make. Maybe if we’d spent less time early on to establish that Hades was a fussing mother hen and Persephone needed to eat a few more meals, that page time could’ve gone towards a better foundation.

But yeah, Hades is soft. I don’t really know if this is supposed to be a true D/s romance, maybe it just flirts with the concept (I’ll check some reviews), but even when he was D.. he was soft. I didn’t mind that at all, either. This isn’t a criticism.

Instead my criticisms are definitely worldbuilding and the fact that I couldn’t get a handle on a few things until the end. Sometimes retellings are hard when you know enough about the source or the myth and you just end up tripping yourself up instead of enjoying the homage. This was one of those for me. I also expected to see one of the more famous parts of this myth incorporated and Robert flirted with the idea but didn’t quite commit. So because I expected that, and therefore some angst, and didn’t get it, that also sort’ve twisted me up. Expectations, whatcha gonna do.

This did guarantee I would be humming Eurydice by The Crüxshadows almost the whole time I read this, though. I’m exposing my early aughts goth child with that reference but I don’t even care. What a jam. What a moment. Excuse me while I lose myself in a playlist..

I’m sad to say but for this reader this definitely didn’t live up to the hype. But, minor irritants with my brain not cooperating over those worldbuilding bits, I didn’t hate my time with this, either. Which is why I will read on.

53 LETTERS FOR MY LOVER by Leylah Attar

This is not your typical love story. 
It’s not so black and white. Lines are crossed. 
Walls are smashed. Good becomes bad. 
Bad becomes very, very good.

Shayda Hijazi—the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect daughter. For thirty-three years, she has played by the rules, swallowing secrets, burying dreams and doing whatever it takes to anchor her family. Shayda Hijazi is about to come face to face with the one thing that can rip it all apart, the one thing her heart has always been denied: Love.

Troy Heathgate—untamed, exhilarating, dangerous—a man who does exactly as he pleases. Life bends to his will. Until he comes across the one thing he would give it all up for, but can never have.

Born on the same day in opposite corners of the world, their lives collide. And nothing is ever the same again. 

Spanning three decades, 53 Letters for My Lover is a fiercely sensual, emotional ride to the heart of an epic, forbidden love that defies it all—an intimate exploration of love, loyalty, passion, betrayal, and the human journey for hope, happiness and redemption.


Title : 53 Letters For My Lover
Author : Leylah Attar
Series : 53 Letters For My Lover (book one)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 398
Genre : romance
Publisher : Pitch73 Publishing
Release Date : June 17, 2014

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Micky has been waiting for me to read this since 2015.. this probably isn’t how she expected to be repaid by me finally reading it.

As usual I did not have any real clue what this was about before going into it so suffice it to say I was immediately off balance by this story because it seemed to be setting up a cheating plotline. Additionally when we first meet the love interest, he isn’t put in a very flattering light. And I wonder if this was done on purpose. I’m sure the author knew she would have to make this convincing for her readers and we had to be right alongside the MC with fighting off our desire for this connection, this affair. I can appreciate that in hindsight. But it made my early enjoyment pretty low.

Strangely, I was won over. Not always. I found some elements of this story to be a little all over the place, including some of the character behaviours, almost as if scenes from something else had been spliced in to an existing manuscript. But then.. I was totally pulled under by the sheer loveliness of some of this; the irresistible connection. The love. Also? It was smoking hot. I feel like we don’t get sex scenes like this anymore? 2014, you were something else. Come back, I miss you.

So, yes, a little bit of a mixed bag. I’m so glad I finally read this; mostly because I’m cashing in a very overdue promise but also because the good? Was very good. Obviously this won’t be for everyone but honestly if not for the recommendation, and had I actually known the plot, I probably wouldn’t have ever picked it up.

Also, as a bonus for my fellow Canucks, this is set in Toronto. And while it doesn’t go overboard with sight seeing or references, it was still fun to see little name drops and occasionally be able to picture where a scene was unfolding.

Also also? Make sure you read the novella that follows this. I won’t be reviewing it for the blog but it’s required reading for sure.

THE SOULMATE EQUATION by Christina Lauren – double review!

Single mom Jess Davis is a data and statistics wizard, but no amount of number crunching can convince her to step back into the dating world. Raised by her grandparents–who now help raise her seven-year-old daughter, Juno–Jess has been left behind too often to feel comfortable letting anyone in. After all, her father’s never been around, her hard-partying mother disappeared when she was six, and her ex decided he wasn’t “father material” before Juno was even born. Jess holds her loved ones close, but working constantly to stay afloat is hard…and lonely.

But then Jess hears about GeneticAlly, a buzzy new DNA-based matchmaking company that’s predicted to change dating forever. Finding a soulmate through DNA? The reliability of numbers: This Jess understands. At least she thought she did, until her test shows an unheard-of 98% compatibility with another subject in the database: GeneticAlly’s founder, Dr. River Pena. This is one number she can’t wrap her head around, because she already knows Dr. Pena. The stuck-up, stubborn man is without a doubt not her soulmate. But GeneticAlly has a proposition: Get to know him and we’ll pay you. Jess–who is barely making ends meet–is in no position to turn it down, despite her skepticism about the project and her dislike for River. As the pair are dragged from one event to the next as the “Diamond” pairing that could make GeneticAlly a mint in stock prices, Jess begins to realize that there might be more to the scientist–and the science behind a soulmate–than she thought.


Title : The Soulmate Equation
Author : Christina Lauren
Format : eBook (overdrive)/Paperback
Page Count : 365
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Gallery Books/Piatkus Books
Release Date : May 18, 2021/August 5, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★/ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

I have been so disappointed by the last handful of CLo novels so I guess it was about time my luck changed.

I saw a lot of early buzz and excitement for this release but I expected nothing less. What intrigued me was seeing the same excitement from other often-disappointed CLo fans. That made me sit up and take notice.

It’s so hard for me to be inspired to pick up a book during the working week and yet I sat down the same night my library hold came in and I d e v o u r e d the whole thing. It made me laugh. It made me soft. It maybe even made me tear up once.

Is the premise of this book a little outlandish? Yes (if it’s based in real science pls insert my apologies here but I suspect not). Did some elements of the romance veer a little too quickly into the all-systems-go lane once the hook had taken over, particularly after the way their previous interactions had gone? Yes. Did I hate the financial conflicts with the MC’s mother? A thousand times yes (this kind of plot is a huge issue for me in general though so I didn’t expect anything different). So, is it perfect? No. But I had such a great time.

There’s a core group of supporting characters that are funny and charming and lovely, the reluctant connection between humans who don’t seem to click, or are so different, as a base for the romance is always (often) a hit, and I was definitely feeling the chemistry even in this lower range of heat we’ve come to expect from the new CLo books. Though I do think maybe there was more going on this time than there has been. Coincidence? I think not.

Suffice it to say I had a really good time and while I will not hold out hope that this trend will remain true with what’s to come from this duo, there’s a reason I keep picking these authors up. When they are good, they are good.


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Lets have more geeky scientist/mathematician combos
Fakey breaky goodness
Sold down the river for River

The Soulmate Equation seemed to find that sweet spot of the right push and pull alongside sweetness and angst; everything was in good measure to formulate the ideal equation for a story. Sorry, I’ll stop using title puns now. But seriously, the characters and plot brought a cross of Darcy with The One and equaled a lose-yourself read.

River Pena was all of Darcy’s best angles: arrogance, dismissal but alluringly handsome. I felt on a string from his first ‘Americano’ sighting. Jess, a single mom with her own brand of geek was a great protagonist with the best family to read about.

…the only thing she could focus on was the way he spoke like he was reading aloud from a textbook. God, Siri carried on a more familiar conversation.

This couple’s journey carried elements of awkwardness but staying for the journey to reach the delicious chemistry was worth the wait. This story really grew for me, especially from a third into the book. The way River stepped up in certain situations was complete swoon territory. There wasn’t a lot of on-page steam but you felt every inch of chemistry between these two.

I thoroughly enjoyed this standalone from Christina Lauren and I can’t see a day when I will not be reading their offerings.

Thank you to Piatkus Books for the review copy.

HOT COPY by Ruby Barrett

Corinne Blunt knows what people think of her—she’s an icy, unapproachable executive. It’s the price she’s had to pay to get to the top. But there’s knowing you have a reputation in the office, and there’s hearing your new intern laugh when someone calls you “Blunt the C*nt” in the elevator on his first day.

She’d hoped to finally find an ally in Wesley Chambers, but she’s not about to let him off the hook for joining the office boys’ club. Taking refuge in the professional boundaries between them, she relegates Wes to assistant work—which would do the trick, if he weren’t so eager to prove he’s a decent human being.

Wes is sincerely apologetic, insisting it was a misunderstanding, and to her surprise, Corinne believes him. Being forced to work together was one thing, but long hours at the office with what turns out to be a kind, thoughtful man soon has their business relationship turning personal, and things get complicated—fast. Could this be something more serious than either of them dared to hope for? Or is their relationship just playing into the harmful power dynamics Corinne’s had to endure her entire career?


Title : Hot Copy
Author : Ruby Barrett
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 297
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Carina Press
Release Date : April 13, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

If you craved the dynamic from The Proposal but wanted it to get the full sexy treatment? You might like this. At least, that’s what I thought to expect about this when going into it (because I don’t read blurbs). Except in Hot Copy not only is there an age gap (I was still on board) but he’s an intern.. not the assistant (I’ve edged a foot off the board at this point).

The latter would’ve been pushing it a bit to begin with but this went a step further. Everyone is not only consenting but also adult however it made for a frustrating parallel to the very real, and pervasive, inappropriate conduct happening all around the couple. As if to say, “this is okay because want it and aren’t sleazy about it”? I don’t know. I could probably have put my brain on hold about the whole thing if not for all the ick going on around them because it kept reminding me that this wasn’t great. But, when I could check my brain out for a second, I appreciated the switch up of the dynamics we’re used to seeing play out.

Except Corinne kept wrongfooting the whole relationship (or not-relationship) which is ironic as they get off on the wrong foot because she wrongly attributes something to him. So, I mean, maybe it’s not ironic. Maybe that initial interaction was foreshadowing for the whole story. He would be everything sweet, caring, kind, understanding, dedicated, and she would abuse it, not appreciate it, take it for granted.

Which isn’t to say Wes is perfect as he becomes so wholly invested in her that his real life suffers for it. And then the one time he doesn’t put Corrine first.. well, lets just say I fucking hated that particular argument.

What frustrates me about the whole experience though is that this could’ve been really good. There’s an emotional thread woven through the story that really got me choked up at times and while I thought the repetition of that same element was maybe too much.. I still cried at a certain scene near the end. I wasn’t immune. But yeah, the nitpicky part of me wishes it had been similar but not the same.

I’m mixed about my feelings so I’m totally copping out and not rating this (at least for now). I would definitely read from this author again as I thought the writing was surprisingly solid for a debut but this particular dynamic/romance will definitely be polarizing.

If you’re down for a bit of a messy romance, and are craving something to fog up the glasses, check out some reviews and see if this’ll be your cup of tea.

ROYALLY YOURS by Emma Chase

Princess Lenora Celeste Beatrice Arabella Pembrook had an unusual childhood. She was raised to be a Queen—the first Queen of Wessco.

It’s a big deal.

When she’s crowned at just nineteen, the beautiful young monarch is prepared to rule. She’s charming, clever, confident and cunning.

What she isn’t… is married.

It’s her advising council’s first priority. It’s what Parliament is demanding, and what her people want.

Lenora has no desire to tie herself to a man—particularly one who only wants her for her crown. But compromises must be made and royals must do their duty.

Even Queens. Especially them.

**

Years ago, Edward Langdon Richard Dorian Rourke, walked away from his title and country. Now he’s an adventurer—climbing mountains, exploring jungles, going wherever he wants, when he wants—until family devotion brings him home.

And a sacred promise keeps him there.

To Edward, the haughty, guarded little Queen is intriguing, infuriating…and utterly captivating. Wanting her just might drive him mad—or become his greatest adventure.

**

Within the cold, stone walls of the royal palace—mistrust threatens, wills clash, and an undeniable, passionate love will change the future of the monarchy forever.

Every dynasty has a beginning. Every legend starts with a story.

This is theirs.


Title : Royally Yours
Author : Emma Chase
Series : Royally (book four)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 304
Genre : NA romance
Publisher : Emma Chase LLC
Release Date : Octobe 29, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Of all the books in this series, this is not the one I thought I would love. I kinda thought this would be a throwaway addition of the Royally world and wow was that a bad assumption. Hello you, I am ass.

This story is the prequel of the series, chronicling Queen Lenora, the first Queen of Wessco, and the heartbreak and victories that became the foundations of her life. Oh yeah and this book made me cry at least twice. Possibly thrice.

The emotional beats of this installment are so good, without being overblown, and I think this was actually the most solid romance of the series, too. Almost everything felt pitch perfect, though, yes, maybe a bump or two along the way but hey, no road is totally smooth. I’m willing to acknowledge but don’t quite hold those bumps against the overall story.

If anyone who loved, or even just enjoyed, this world hasn’t read this final (?) installment, I would highly recommend it. It even kind of works great just as a standalone. Though you might find yourself hooked and want to backtrack through the rest.

I’m so delighted to have put this on my Series to Finish in 2021 list because I’m not only glad to put this series to bed, finally, after all this time, but I’m so so happy it also ended on a good note. 

ROYALLY ENDOWED by Emma Chase

Logan St. James is a smoldering, sexy beast. Sure, he can be a little broody at times—but Ellie Hammond’s willing to overlook that. Because, have you seen him?? 

Sexy. As. Hell. 

And Ellie’s perky enough for both of them.

For years, she’s had a crush on the intense, gorgeous royal security guard—but she doesn’t think he ever saw her, not really. 

To Logan, Ellie was just part of the job—a relative of the royal family he’d sworn to protect. Now, at 22 years old and fresh out of college, she’s determined to put aside her X-rated dreams of pat-downs and pillow talk, and find a real life happily ever after. 

The Queen of Wessco encourages Ellie to follow in her sister’s footsteps and settle down with a prince of her own. Or a duke, a marquis…a viscount would also do nicely. 

But in the pursuit of a fairy tale ending, Ellie learns that the sweetest crushes can be the hardest to let go.
***
Logan St. James grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, in a family on the wrong side of the law. But these days, he covers his tattoos and scars with a respectable suit. He’s handsome, loyal, brave, skilled with his hands and…other body parts. 

Any woman would be proud to call him hers. 

But there’s only one woman he wants. 

For years he’s watched over her, protected her, held her hair back when she was sick, taught her how to throw a punch, and spot a liar.

He dreams of her. Would lay down his life for her. 

But beautiful Ellie Hammond’s off-limits. 

Everybody knows the bodyguard rules: Never lose focus, never let them out of your sight, and never, ever fall in love


Title : Royally Endowed
Author : Emma Chase
Series : Royally (book three)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 275
Genre : NA romance
Publisher : Emma Chase LLC
Release Date : August 14, 2017

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

In the moment, after finishing this, I thought it might be my favourite of the series (so far). But after being distracted before I could actually write out my thoughts, and with a little more time to think on it, I’m not going to round up on this one.

While I question some of the bits of this plot, I do have to say, as far as laying groundwork for a long slow-buid, this one definitely did do that, unlike book two. But where I enjoyed the background noise of the plot in book two, this one did follow somewhat typically cliché bodyguard tropes. Which, I mean, nothing wrong with that. But one particular element of said trope was kind of a there-and-gone bit of conflict and in the grand scheme of things had all the lasting power of something.. well, there-and-gone. It either should’ve been a bigger problem, with more fallout, or lifted from the page completely.

But anyway.

My other complaint would be that as much as I liked Ellie, and thought she was fun, Chase kind of did her a disservice by making her painfully horribly stupid at times. Granted, it was done when the character was still young-ish but still.. wow, it hurt. I don’t think I had any real complaints about Logan except, like another mentioned bit of the plot doing little to nothing, inserting his family into the story was also a non-event. I think the author tried to dot too many i’s and cross too many t’s in this one. This is where, in hindsight, it felt a bit messy.

But, again, as it is with most of these, it was a bit of quick sexy low-angst kind of fun and in true end of the series fashion (book four is a prequel, from what I could tell from just the name in the synopsis), it worked as a big come together kind of wrap up, catching us up all the events from as far back as book one background all the way to “present day”, so we got to see all the couples together. And I’m a sucker for an ensemble, so.

I’ll be dipping into the little novella, even though it’s marked 4.5, to get a bit of a HEA timejump from book two’s couple and then I’ll wrap this series with Royally Yours tomorrow and call time on yet another unfinished series. Once again, these won’t be a favourite, but I’m not mad to have spent time with them.

ROYALLY MATCHED by Emma Chase

Some men are born responsible, some men have responsibility thrust upon them. Henry John Edgar Thomas Pembrook, Prince of Wessco, just got the motherlode of all responsibility dumped in his regal lap.

He’s not handling it well.

Hoping to help her grandson to rise to the occasion, Queen Lenora agrees to give him “space”—but while the Queen’s away, the Prince will play. After a chance meeting with an American television producer, Henry finally makes a decision all on his own:

Welcome to Matched: Royal Edition.

A reality TV dating game show featuring twenty of the world’s most beautiful blue bloods gathered in the same castle. Only one will win the diamond tiara, only one will capture the handsome prince’s heart.

While Henry revels in the sexy, raunchy antics of the contestants as they fight, literally, for his affection, it’s the quiet, bespectacled girl in the corner—with the voice of an angel and a body that would tempt a saint—who catches his eye.

The more Henry gets to know Sarah Mirabelle Zinnia Von Titebottum, the more enamored he becomes of her simple beauty, her strength, her kind spirit… and her naughty sense of humor.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day—and irresponsible royals aren’t reformed overnight.

As he endeavors to right his wrongs, old words take on whole new meanings for the dashing Prince. Words like, Duty, Honor and most of all—Love. 


Title : Royally Matched
Author : Emma Chase
Series : Royally (book two)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 276
Genre : NA romance
Publisher : Emma Chase LLC
Release Date : February 21, 2017

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Here it is, the start of another series to knock off my list and complete as per an earlier blog post. Though I had ended up rereading books one and two to complete the first series I tackled, I didn’t bother rereading book one in the Royally series as, while events carry over, we pick up with new characters. I didn’t really think I needed the details, just the broad strokes of what came before; and that much at least I did remember. Not that I even needed to as much of it was rehashed. Contemporaries are good like that!

This was really fun though. It didn’t quite warrant very high marks as I did feel some of the relationship moved quite fast, even if it did start with a decent amount of friendly foundation, but I did have a good time. It was quite raunchy, actually, and if book one was like that, well, I totally forgot. But it was definitely steamy, with some good emotional strings being plucked along the way, and actually the whole Bachelor-style reality show happening in the wings was pretty fun. I liked how that was done without any really petty or catty behaviour. We love to see it!

One of my nittier picky things was definitely the grand gesture (we hates them, precious) but that’s always a personal pet peeve thing for me so it’s not the fault of the book. But there was one shithead in this book, who granted didn’t get much page time, but I kind of wish we’d seen some fallout. There was something alluded to that may have happened in book one (sigh, this is why I generally reread, guess my opening paragraph was a little bit “spoke too soon..”) and I think because of that something more should’ve happened. Unless we’ll see him in future books? Hard to say.

Overall though we had a really well rounded and fabulous cast. I definitely want to see more of some of these periphery characters. I’m hoping they crop up in future books. I guess I’ll find out soon as, surprising no one, I will likely be knocking the rest of these out in short order.

If you’re looking for a quick but fun, and sexy, romance with a royal edge, you could definitely do a lot worse than these!

A TOUCH OF STONE AND SNOW by Milla Vane

Danger lurks in the western realms. The Destroyer’s imminent return has sent the realms into turmoil as desperate citizens seek refuge—but there’s no safety to be found when demons and wraiths crawl out from the shadows. Even Koth, a northern island kingdom left untouched by the Destroyer a generation past, is besieged by terrors spawned from corrupt magics.

When Lizzan leads the Kothan army against these terrors, only to see her soldiers massacred and to emerge as the only survivor, she is called a coward and a deserter. Shunned from her home, Lizzan now wanders in solitude as a mercenary for hire, until she encounters a group of warriors seeking new alliances with the northern kingdoms—a group that includes Aerax, the bastard prince of Koth, and the man who sent her into exile. 

Though they were childhood friends, Aerax cannot allow himself to be close to the only woman who might thwart his treacherous plan to save their island realm. But when a goddess’s demand binds them together, Lizzan and Aerax must find a way to overcome their painful pasts. Or there will be no future for the western realms…


Title : A Touch of Stone and Snow
Author : Milla Vane
Series : A Gathering of Dragons (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 398
Genre : fantasy romance
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : July 21, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

I definitely liked this more than book one but not more than the prequel (which you should read after book one, by the way). But there are definitely still parts I had to slog through. Thankfully this installment is significantly shorter than book one (almost six hundred pages vs just shy of four) but.. it still felt very long, particularly in the beginning.

I’m not sure I really liked either of the main characters, which is sad as I really liked book one’s heroine, but unlike the hero in book one, at least no one annoyed me in this one. I think I struggled, mostly in the beginning, because there was just so much time bouncing between past events and current that it was hard to hold onto who they were now. And also likely not helped by just feeling a little lost and without any certain footing in said beginning. The middle to almost climax was definitely the highlight for me, both fast paced and interesting, but the actual big conflict seemed.. well, dumb. And over before I even realized. It resolved so quickly it actually took me a few pages to realize it was over and they hadn’t just paused for an interlude.

That said, what helped me feel better about this one was, while I acknowledged and appreciated the worldbuilding Vane put in, from day on, this was the first time I felt proper understanding of some of the mythology. I don’t know if it was poorly explained or we just weren’t meant to know the whole picture up until now (or I’m dumb) but.. I’m diggin’ it. I’m on board. And I like what has been set up for book three, too. Of course, now that I’m caught up I have to wait like everyone else but.. oh well.

Not quite sure this is going to be a series I would go out of my way to recommend but I definitely wouldn’t talk you out of it if you’re already interested in diving in.

HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING by Denise Williams – double review!

One daring to-do list and a crash course in flirtation turn a Type A overachiever’s world upside down.

When her flailing department lands on the university’s chopping block, Professor Naya Turner’s friends convince her to shed her frumpy cardigan for an evening on the town. For one night her focus will stray from her demanding job and she’ll tackle a new kind of to-do list. When she meets a charming stranger in town on business, he presents the perfect opportunity to check off the items on her list. Let the guy buy her a drink. Check. Try something new. Check. A no-strings-attached hookup. Check…almost.

Jake makes her laugh and challenges Naya to rebuild her confidence, which was left toppled by her abusive ex-boyfriend. Soon she’s flirting with the chance at a more serious romantic relationship—except nothing can be that easy. The complicated strings around her dating Jake might destroy her career.

Naya has two options. She can protect her professional reputation and return to her old life or she can flirt with the unknown and stay with the person who makes her feel like she’s finally living again.


Title : How to Fail at Flirting
Author : Denise Williams
Format : Paperback / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 352
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Piatkus
Release Date : December 1, 2020

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★.5


Micky’s 5 star review

Headlines:
Good guy
Finding your voice
Academia
Work complications

This book has left me so up in my feels, warm, fuzzy and satisfied ones. I feel like this book was written for me because it was a great romance and the protagonist was in academia. You can tell the author navigates this life because as a female PhD myself in a male dominated world, on the endless hamster wheel of teaching and publications, there are endless goal posts.

Naya was a superb heroine, flawed and strong, striving and trying to disappear at the same time; I just loved her. This book had definite triggers for some (check out other reviews for trigger warnings or DM me) but that sensitive context really had me drawn in to Naya’s past, her present and future.

Let’s talk Jake, a nerd, cute and a great guy. It took time to reveal his character and I liked that I felt in Naya’s position, trying to work him out, was he really a good guy? The cheese was perfection, the chemistry was firey and delightful and the on-page romantics were just right. I really dug how this story played out, the banter, the sweetness, the demonstration of caring.

The plot lines were wholly realistic but the romance and the relationship never got lost, in fact, it was the navigation of the relationship alongside real life that made this book. Davis…I have no words, what a disgusting creature he was, he totally gave me the chills and not good ones.

I crushed How To Fail At Flirting in less than 24 hours which is pretty good for this woman with a family. Life is full of interruptions but this book had to be pulled from my hands to go out for a walk, that was my sacrifice for the day.

Do yourself a favour and pick this book up. I simply cannot wait for Denise Williams’ next book.

Thank you to Piatkus/Little Brown UK for the review copy.


Hollis’ 2.5 stars review

Obviously, going from the above rave review to mine is jarring and because I’m mostly struggling to like anything right now, it’s also likely worth ignoring.

That said, this isn’t remotely the laugh out loud and have good times romcom I wanted, and felt I needed. There are heavy topics within (seek out trigger warnings if you need them) and some not only uncomfortable flashback/memory scenes, but also stuff on page I did not expect. I think the discussion of partner violence is very important and what Naya, our main character, had experienced and was still processing is not often talked about. I think it was also important to see that there isn’t “one type” of person who will experience it. Or “one type” of person who will inflict it on others. Both these individuals being in academia, respected, was a very real change of pace from what I, at least, have experienced before in fiction. Which, I mean, sounds like a good thing? But it’s also not. Because it made me incredibly uncomfortable how much page time it got. See aforementioned “not remotely a laugh out loud and have good times romcom”.

Moving onto those laugh out loud and have good times, however, the romance was both very lovely and also let me down a bit. Things happen pretty quickly, another thing I did not expect. But, for all that Jake was more or less perfect, he at least came with a carry-on sized bit of baggage. Not much, but something. Though part of his own plot never actually resolved, despite the page time, which is.. convenient? I guess.

While I did enjoy the change in pace from office romances to an academic-set contemporary, I’ll admit I wasn’t too enthralled. I felt we never really got enough into what Naya did, beyond being good at it, and wanting tenure and being worried about department cuts. Honestly, it could’ve been about, and set in, anything else with some creative swapping out of scenes.

So what was good, you ask? Supporting cast. Naya’s friends were the best (a female friend AND a male friend, we love it!), and I liked Jake’s friends, too, even though they had even less page time. Naya trying to break out, take control of her life again — even if it’s more or less browbeat into her by her supportive friends (which I have mixed feelings about..) — and then, through Jake, reclaim her body, take charge of her sexuality, speak her mind.. I really liked that. There were very lovely glimmers in this story that worked for me. It just, in my opinion, kind of made a bit of hash in how some things played out.

Would I read the author again? Probably. No, definitely. This was a debut so I would definitely try again. But that said, I might acquaint myself a little better with a synopsis (gasp, who is she), or a review or three, just to better gauge if the next story is more in line with what I want, or need, in the moment. I’m not usually, or ever, a mood reader but I picked this up specifically wanting fun and fluff and, as mentioned over and over, it’s not what I got. Therefore this gets a cautious recommend from me; if it sounds like something you want, definitely give it a go.