FATED BLADES by Ilona Andrews

An uneasy alliance between warring families gets heated in this otherworldly novella from bestselling author Ilona Andrews.

At first glance, the planet Rada seems like a lush paradise. But the ruling families, all boasting genetically enhanced abilities, are in constant competition for power―and none more so than the Adlers and the Baenas. For generations, the powerful families have pushed and pulled each other in a dance for dominance.

Until a catastrophic betrayal from within changes everything.

Now, deadly, disciplined, and solitary leaders Ramona Adler and Matias Baena must put aside their enmity and work together in secret to prevent sinister forces from exploiting universe-altering technology. Expecting to suffer through their uneasy alliance, Ramona and Matias instead discover that they understand each other as no one in their families can―and that their combined skills may eclipse the risks of their forbidden alliance.

As the two warriors risk their lives to save their families, they must decide whether to resist or embrace the passion simmering between them. For now, the dance between their families continues―but just one misstep could spell the end of them both. 


Title : Fated Blades
Author : Ilona Andrews
Series : Kinsmen (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 222
Genre : fantasy sci-fi romance
Publisher : Montlake
Release Date : November 23, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★  


Hollis’ 4 star review

So, listen, this might not measure up to other books by these authors that I’ve given four stars to but it feels like it’s been a hundred years since they published a book (time has no meaning anymore) and I started having a good time almost immediately after starting it, and said good times pretty much didn’t stop, so. It gets a four.

He felt a sudden urge to do something dramatic and impressive. He needed to get ahold of himself.

I probably should’ve reread the preceding novellas to see if there was, in fact, any carry-over or easter eggs in this one because as far as I can remember the first two were completely unconnected, beyond being set in the same universe, and this one feels the same. I’ll leave it to my blog buddy to confirm this, though, as she’s read them more recently than me.

All you really need to know is this is Andrews but sci-fi. The world, the hierarchies, it’s all pretty much explained in this novella so if you choose to start here, you aren’t going in with a loss of context. Everything relevant you need is here.

Am I seeing things? Clearly this is just a weirdly specific bad dream, one where two people who hate each other team up to bust into my office and destroy my prized furniture.

Oh, and also? It’s an enemies-to-lovers romance but more in the sense that the enmity is inherited, not personal, and they have to come together in an extreme situation when they are both, similarly, betrayed. The journey takes them through a reluctant teaming up, to respect, to.. well, more. Obviously.

If you like action scenes, if you like family politics, if you like snark and banter, if you like my-enemy-is-my-enemy-but-I’m-making-them-my-friend dynamics, and also if you can’t infer the other trope I won’t list by the title..? Well, just give it a think.

This is a very biased review because there are so few books by this duo I don’t enjoy and I would honestly read their grocery list and probably have a good time. And I make no apologies for it. If you haven’t yet joined the Andrews bandwagon, what are you waiting for?

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

SUMMER SONS by Lee Mandelo

Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge.

As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.


Title : Summer Sons
Author : Lee Mandelo
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 384
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ horror/thriller
Publisher : Tordotcom
Release Date : September 28, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Imagine the dynamic from Sakavic’s All For The Game mashed up with a certain dreamer and car-loving scoundrel from Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys but set in the American south and transplanted into an academia-focused horror.

That’s basically Summer Sons.

This was a hard one to sink into because when the story opens up you aren’t quite sure how things were between the main character, Andrew, and the man he’s grieving. Brother? Best friend? Lover? The intensity of his focus, his drive, to prove that Eddie was murdered, that he didn’t commit suicide, is.. well it’s intense. And in some ways it’s uncomfortable because the grief is so big, these feelings so intangible (and many unprocessed), and then of course he’s also being haunted, possessed, stalked, by a presence that he thinks — knows — is Eddie.

Thrown into Eddie’s world, his home, with his roommate, and a new group of friends, as well as new school and a graduate program all hand-picked for him, Andrew is suspicious of everything, and everyone, and trying to recreate Eddie’s last days, weeks, months, in the time they were separated. And it all harkens back to what happened to them as children; a mystery that is slow to be revealed.

The ultimate big baddie reveal isn’t quite a surprise but I guess.. I understood the reasons but not the rationale? Maybe there wasn’t one.

This group of characters are an odd mix of destructive, queer, diverse, and with a splash (or four) of recklessness. But somehow you do sorta fall in love with them. I didn’t like them at first, which I think is purposeful given how off balance Andrew is to be there among them and why, and how they tested him back, but I was compelled by them and then, eventually, well. Yeah, I got it. But on the whole it’s a strange mix of themes, vibes, plots, and aesthetics.

The real delight is the road Andrew travels to look back at his relationship with Eddie and how that shaped so much of him, and how it also held him back. There are two distinct ways he gets to relive some key moments and they are both pretty powerful.

While some of the plot dragged, and we endured some repetition, and to be honest the academia stuff didn’t really interest me as a driving force, it was the characters that kept me glued to the page. And while I did enjoy the atmosphere, and the horror elements, it was their character work that is the main draw for me and why I’ll definitely pick up another read by this author.

PORTRAIT OF A SCOTSMAN by Evie Dunmore

London banking heiress Hattie Greenfield wanted “just” three things in life:

1. Acclaim as an artist.
2. A noble cause.
3. Marriage to a young lord who puts the gentle in gentleman.

Why then does this Oxford scholar find herself at the altar with the darkly attractive financier Lucian Blackstone, whose murky past and ruthless business practices strike fear in the hearts of Britain’s peerage? Trust Hattie to take an invigorating little adventure too far. Now she’s stuck with a churlish Scot who just might be the end of her ambitions….

When the daughter of his business rival all but falls into his lap, Lucian sees opportunity. As a self-made man, he has vast wealth but holds little power, and Hattie might be the key to finally setting long-harbored political plans in motion. Driven by an old revenge, he has no room for his new wife’s apprehensions or romantic notions, bewitching as he finds her.

But a sudden journey to Scotland paints everything in a different light. Hattie slowly sees the real Lucian and realizes she could win everything—as long as she is prepared to lose her heart.

Going toe-to-toe with a brooding Scotsman is rather bold for a respectable suffragist, but when he happens to be one’s unexpected husband, what else is an unwilling bride to do?


Title : Portrait of a Scotsman
Author : Evie Dunmore
Series : A League of Extraordinary Women (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 448
Genre : historical romance
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : September 7, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

For a historical romance, this was oddly light on romance. Plenty of sexytimes, when we eventually got to that point, but Dunmore spends a lot of the word count on many of the societal issues of the time (some of which are relevant today) — yes, a women’s right to vote has been the guiding star of this whole series, and all that is twisted up with that right, but this instalments shifts to the conditions of the working class, specifically miners, unions, and the wage disparity between the genders of said working class.

You can’t tell me Dunmore doesn’t know her shit or, at the very least, puts in a hell of a lot of hours on research. Much of it was interesting, though perhaps not always compelling, but I appreciated the debates between the two main characters who took to these subjects through the lens of their very different upbringings, perspectives, and privileges.

Where this story was less interesting was the romance. However, this more or less followed the format of Beauty and the Beast or Hades and Persephone so if that dynamic is your catnip, you’ll definitely be hooked — at least by the beginning.

Hattie is definitely something of a departure from the leading ladies of the other books who were, categorically, more radical and easier to identify with because they felt more modern. Whereas Hattie, despite attending Oxford, despite supporting the suffragists movement, faces the very real realization that though she supported the cause for a woman to not be property and possessed by her husband, it takes her own marriage for her to actually understand the fight. She is very much a representation of the women of the time — granted, a certain woman — where she is soft, monied, and comfortable, having been afforded everything in her life up until this point. Which makes her exposure to self-made and rough Lucian, to the small community in the Lowlands and their working conditions, everything, a shift. She is very much the spoiled rich girl getting a wake up call. She’s not ever cruel or terrible with her attitudes — she is, at heart, a good person — but Dunmore does occasionally make her lean into her bratty petulance and she has some less gracious reactions.

Whereas Lucian.. granted, he definitely starts off a villain, he has villainous ways, but the way he starts to lean in (get it!), curve himself around Hattie, even as he unbends; his whole backstory, really, was great. The problem, however, is I didn’t feel Dunmore gave it as much time to breathe. We get a lot of time to unpack much of Lucian along the way as he unravels parts of himself in tribute to Hattie and trying to find equal footing as a result of their less than honest beginnings and yet the big moment, the big confession, doesn’t come from him. Which makes sense but somehow you lose that emotional punch. Which I feel is kind of true for most of this book. There is much to be felt in the bones of this story, the causes, the conditions, the casual cruelty of the culture, but somehow the meat, the emotions, weren’t really present. Add to that fact that the romance only felt charged in the bedroom.. and it feels unbalanced.

Particularly when it came to the a conflict/plotline near the end which, honestly, comes out of nowhere and didn’t fit with the rest. Which then leads into this whole other conflict that just.. I didn’t like. You can see it coming a mile away due to foreshadowing, and it fits in with the formula this story is based around, but. But I would’ve been fine had the formula been altered.

All this long rambling review to say : I really respect and enjoy Dunmore’s commitment to her historical setting. The research, the atmosphere, the subject matter, the critical unpacking of a woman’s lack of agency during this time, everything. Thankfully, unlike book two, this one didn’t stray into grey areas or trip itself up, it’s just in the romance that I felt some of this was lacking. So I’m pleased to say I am going into the possibility of a book four (Catriona?) with higher hopes, more in line with what I expected after book one, and look forward to where Dunmore goes next.

THE EX HEX by Erin Sterling

New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hawkins, writing as Erin Sterling, casts a spell with a spine-tingling romance full of wishes, witches, and hexes gone wrong.

Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late. 


Title : The Ex Hex
Author : Erin Sterling
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 320
Genre : paranormal romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : September 28, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

As we all know, the problem with a popular book is that sometimes you don’t expect to like it. Hype, expectations, being a contrarian.. all those things. And sometimes, well, sometimes you’re find yourself hopping on that bandwagon. Because this? This was a lot of fun.

It’s my favourite story. I want it played at both my wedding and my funeral. I want to do it as a dramatic monologue at an open mic night. I want–
I get it. But seriously, it wasn’t that big of a deal.
You almost ran your ex-boyfriend over with a car, and then left him lying in the literal dirt on the side of the road. It is such a big deal, you absolute queen.”

This is a light (and quick! one sitting for me) read that feels almost Practical Magic-y with the small town setting but flipped on its head; instead of just the Owens being witches, the town is populated with many, including it’s own witch college. Adding to those vibes, though, is the focus on the family (an aunt and a cousin, and there’s a great relationship with both) as well as one of them being.. not reluctant or resistant to use magic but just tending to not.

I think that if you keep calling him ‘the Dickbag’, you can’t also act like you’re a matchmaking tween in a Disney movie.”
I contain multitudes.

I realize I’m saying a lot but also saying very little but honestly this is a bit of a surface level read plot-wise. We have a second chance romance — they start off nineteen-ish and oh man the weird panic I felt thinking this was actually NA.. so glad for the time jump! — and a curse that is maybe more than it appears, even when it wasn’t meant to be real, and.. that’s kind of it, really? The romance takes up a lot of space, even though it’s mostly them being together again instead of agonizing why they shouldn’t be (surface level, see), and the big conflict is fixed remarkably quick with little fuss. And then there’s this whole element about the true history of the town, and the founders, but that all just kinda seems to get swept under the rug to make way for the HEA.

In general there are a few things that get mentioned and swept aside, used as a touchstone but never returned to, and I won’t spoil them, as I’ve talked about the plot enough already, but.. they exist. Again, it’s not perfect, but if you go along with it, and don’t think to hard, you can still enjoy it.

Seriously, dude, don’t care whose dad you are or how fancy a witch you are, keeping talking shit about my cat, and I will personally kick you down this mountain.

So, no, it won’t stand-out, it won’t probably win over many romance fans, and likely even less PNR fans, but somehow I still had a good time. This had some quippy lines, some funny situations, just brushes up against spooky without ever really getting dim (much less dark) at all, and also had some steamy times. Plus, after having just spent a week with a complex fantasy series.. I enjoyed, nay, delighted, in the lighthearted vibe.

Oh, also? Talking cat.

ps, I won’t be rounding up for a few of the reasons listed above but a l s o because of the presence of at least two, possibly three, references to A Certain Wizarding World which, come on, everyone, I thought we were done with this?

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.

THERE WITH YOU by Samantha Young – double review!

For Regan Penhaligon, there’s no better place to run to than the exclusive Ardnoch Estate in the remote Scottish Highlands. Her impulsive behavior has finally caught up with her and Regan’s visit with her sister, Robyn, is an opportunity to hide from someone who has grown dangerously obsessed with her.

Determined to make amends for her mistakes, Regan plans to repair her relationship with Robyn by staying close. And when an offer of help comes from Thane Adair, Regan gratefully accepts.

Widower, Thane, needs a new nanny housekeeper for his two young children and when they bond with Regan Penhaligon, he offers her the job. But as the weeks pass and the complex American reveals who she really is, Thane struggles with his growing attraction to her.

Regan never expected to feel so intensely for Thane, but she can’t deny her passion for him or her love for his children. When someone from Thane’s past threatens his family, Regan wants to be his pillar of support. However, his continued inability to trust her might just destroy their chance at future happiness… and the person who drove Regan to Ardnoch might snuff out her chance for any future at all.


Title : There With You
Author : Samantha Young
Series : Adair Family #2
Format : e-ARC
Page Count : 374
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Self Published
Release Date : August 24, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Too Scot to handle
Gentle suspense
Sense of family

I’m already getting sad that this is marked as a three book series on Goodreads and retailers as I know I will want more than three books from this family and setting. I really enjoyed book one and I loved book two. This series is clearly building into a favourite contemporary romance/romantic suspense.

While the suspense in There With You felt gentler than book one, it was no less gripping. There was something very tangible about Thane and Regan’s story. With a nanny(ish) trope and the most engaging family, this story had me struggling to put my kindle down for the 24 hours that I read it. Thane could be an a**e but he had valid reasons and Regan was so misunderstood; I really enjoyed people realising her character just by being around her for a while.

“These Adair men…emotionally constipated, I tell you.”
“So what are we? The laxative?”

The chemistry between these two was so believable and had all the feels, as did the reluctant emotional connection. On top of that, I have been reflecting on the thoroughness of plot points, large and small in many of Samantha Young’s books and There With You was a great example of this. I was never once left feeling something was loose ended, nor were things neatly tied; she hits a great balance.

Sign me up for more Adair, I want more, I need more and I will definitely re-read this series. Oh, and I read this book in Gairloch on the NW coast of the highlands…pretty perfect all round.

Thank you to the author for the early review copy, this has not affected this unbiased review.


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

(insert song clip gif of Chris Pine singing Agony from Into the Woods here)

Phew, well, I had expected this one to go a little awry considering Regan didn’t make a favourable non-impression in book one, and it’s true her introduction here was rocky and I was not very inclined towards her, but while she did grow on me a bit she won’t be a favourite. Instead what ruined this was Thane, the love interest.

This went hot and cold and then back and forth more chaotically than a spring day in Canada. It was actually painful. But somehow, what was worse, was this preoccupation with people making assumptions about Regan. She’s leaving, she won’t stay; she’s young (twenty five, but from the amount of times it was mentioned you’d think she was eighteen) and will regret settling; she doesn’t know her own mind or her own feelings. Did anyone fucking ask her what she’s doing or what she wants before she was forced to set things straight multiple times because everyone was, once again, steering her around as if they knew her? No. No they did not. I may not have really liked her but ugh she deserved better.

And tied into the age thing, I’m sorry, this isn’t a historical novel, why was there such a preoccupation with her being a little bit younger and taking up with the single dad? Just because she’d started out as the nanny? Who cares what the town had to say? Again, she was not underage. The whole reason for this relationship being played out on the downlow was just dumb.

Don’t even get me started on Robyn and Regan’s mother. Do not.

Anywayyyy yeah this wasn’t a favourite. I’m kind of glad there’s only one more member of Robyn and Regan’s family that’s left to hook up with an Adair because it’s getting to be A Lot (and I can only imagine how weird the family tree will look). So after Mac seals the deal with Arro in book three, which I’m sure will be angsty as hell but I’m keen on it regardless because Mac has been a gem this whole series, I think I know who might wind up with one of the remaining brothers; and as this is a five book series, which makes sense as there’s five siblings, I guess the last one will be a surprise. Though I’m not too enthused about what I assume will be book four (Brodan) because he was a gross jerk in this one.

But yes, I’m reading on.

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.

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