Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Girls Like You by Heather Crews

It's no secret that Heather Crews is my good friend and normally I won't ever read friends' books, but I know that I'll enjoy hers and that she won't flip out if I don't, so she is one of the very few exceptions to this rule of mine. In fact, GIRLS LIKE YOU is one of the few books of hers I hadn't read, so I was really excited to buddy-read it with my friend Jess, and get it off my Kindle plate.

I'm not really a fan of "nice guy" heroes, and I had just read Heather's newest book, DEAD HEART, which I consider to be her best book to date (although calling it a "romance" would require a twisted stretch of the imagination - which I have, luckily >:D). In some ways, GIRLS LIKE YOU reminded me a lot of the DREAMS FOR THE DEAD books, with Hugh being an analogue for Branek, Fox being an analogue for Tristan, Ruby being an analogue for Gus, and Allison being an analogue for Dawn.

As far as nice guy heroes go, Fox is more appealing than most. I'm a fan of red-haired men (see my obsession with Eddie Redmayne, Harry Windsor, Shaun Evans, and prince daddy himself, James Norton), so that was an easy win. I also thought it was cute how awkward he was, and his low self-esteem and romantic aspirations made me want to give him a hug. It made me want to give him more than a hug, actually, but let's keep this PG, shall we?

I was also pleased to see numerous "Heatherisms", such as motels, diners, odd facts and quirks that were obviously intensely-researched, and hot-AF sex scenes that were probably not in your mother's romance novels (unless she knew where the good stuff was and had a cache of Rosemary Rogers sitting on her bookshelf, in which case, your mom is the coolest, k thanks).

The problem was, this book kind of bored me? I thought the beginning was great and Allison's character was really fleshed out - especially in terms of her disability and how it was broached in the book - but there just wasn't much action. I didn't really buy the teen kidnappers/heist thing and the overarching conspiracy was a little weird and nebulous. I guess I was expecting a bigger twist, something more sinister (although the thing with Ruby was pretty creepy). It almost felt like two books that had been crammed into one and not necessarily in the best way.

Ultimately, I'm giving this 2.5 stars because it entertained me and I could see it being a weird indie movie with an all-Halsey soundtrack, but this is definitely not one of my favorite H.C. books.

*rubs hands together*

Now, time to reread DREAMS FOR THE DEAD while internet-stalking James Norton.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey

I'm honestly shocked that some of you haven't figured out my political affiliation by this point since I try to be pretty open about it, but yes, I am a liberal (I mean, I live in SF, for god's sake, LOL). And yes, I like to read left-leaning/political books. Seems like this should be pretty common sense and I don't think I'm particularly inflammatory, but literally every time I pick up a book about politics or feminism, a bunch of people immediately unfriend me, hence the books-that-made-me-lose-friends shelf. (Also YA for some reason, but I think that's because y'all just don't like it when I rip on your favorites. #SorryNotSorry)

So for future reference, I am a Californian, free-trade-coffee-drinking, feminist-thinking, left-leaning, energy-efficient-car-driving, climate-change-believing liberal hipster snowflake.


Now that that's all out of the way, let's talk A HIGHER LOYALTY. I've been on the waitlist for this book at the library forEVER and it finally came into my eager little paws a couple weeks ago. People were hyping this up like it was FIRE AND FURY PT. 2, and I was like, "Ha ha, no, I remember what a bust that was! You cannot fool me again BuzzFeed/pundits/bloggers." My first impression was to side-eye the title because that sounded a bit self-aggrandizing. "A higher loyalty"? To whom? God? (I kid, I kid.) But seriously, this is the dude who definitely contributed to the election sh*t-storm that resulted in Mango Mussolini being our current president, and while I certainly do not blame Comey for single-handedly causing a Republican win (because that would be insanity), I definitely do believe that dropping that email bomb to Congress eleven days before the election was a HUGE mistake - especially since he dropped a "JK, it's no big deal" bomb just a week after that.

So yes, I was side-eying Mr. Comey from the get-go as I picked up this book, but I was willing to be swayed, despite my biases, and hear what he had to say. The first part of the book is actually really amazing, probably four-stars worthy, if I'm being honest. He talks about his involvement in investigating Cosa Nostra (and later on, compares some of Trump's tactics to those that the mafia employed, particularly where loyalty is involved); he mentions the inciting incident that got him interested in being on the right side of the law (a man broke into his house with a gun and terrorized him and his little brother); and he discusses what it was like to work with Rudy Giuliani (bad) and two and a half very different presidents (okay, great, and wtf-I-am-questioning-all-of-life's-choices-right-now, respectively; guess who's who - hint: chronological order).

The part that I really took issue with was the way he discussed how he handled the "email" situation. It felt like an attempt to exonerate himself from a really bad decision of which he was one of the main deciders. I get that my own political affiliation here biases my feelings on the matter, and on some levels I do understand why Comey felt that he had to do what he did, but it was still incredibly bad timing and biased the election in a way that he swore, every moment up to that point, that he did not want to do, because he believed that the FBI and the government should be totally unaffiliated and then did something like that, something that totally embroiled the FBI in all kinds of political mess.

Yeah, I think that was a mistake. I think even people who weren't pro-Hillary could see that.

I'm glad I read this book, and even if Mr. Comey does pat himself on the back a little too much for my liking, I think he's an interesting and fascinating man who is (or at least portrays himself as wanting to be) a genuinely good guy who wants to do the right thing. I still don't quite agree with his decision about the email thing, but seeing him poke fun at Trump and Bush was mildly entertaining, and honestly, he was pretty fair to Bush (lest you brand him a liberal snowflake). Don't read this book if you're expecting a Trump-bashing spree, though, because Mango Mussolini doesn't really appear until the very last part of the book. This is more a career memoir, than anything else.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Prince & The Player by Tia Louise

DNF @ 22%

My new friend Brandy and I decided to BR a royal romance in honor of the Royal Wedding and this was a Kindle book we both had sitting on our Kindles. I'd never read anything by this author before and to be surprised, I was kind of surprised it was a romance about a prince because the dude on the cover looks more like a well-groomed biker or a rock star, but hey, to each their own. Maybe he'd be a sexy rebel cast in the mold of Harry Windsor and I could get my princely fix.

Well, no.

This is so stupid. It's about two scammy sisters named Zelda and Ava who like to go to casinos and scam money. They're con artists. One day, they go a scam too far and end up catching the attention of this exiled dude from a made-up country named "Monagasco" (a portmanteau of Monaco and Madagascar?) who blackmails them into agreeing to cozy up to the prince of Monagasco, or else he'll report them to the casinos for fraud, etc.

I stopped reading when the prince encounters one of the sisters (Ava, I think) standing outside on a balcony reciting poetry to herself during a big party. Honestly, that was the straw that killed it for me because that was so unbelievably stupid. Who does that? I mean, seriously. This book was just one big suspension of disbelief after another. I'm already kind of suspicious of made-up countries because that, to me, is indicative of lazy writing (i.e., "I don't want to do any historical or cultural research, so I'm going to make something up"), and the culture and history of "Monagasco" was super vague. Why do they speak French, for example? Why not a made-up language? Monagascese?

The prince, what's-his-name was also super-skeazy. He's basically a NASCAR driver; he spends all his time racing. Which, I'm pretty sure a prince would probably not be allowed to do because of the danger factor. I don't think hobbies that could kill the heir apparent would be encouraged. Also, he and his brother (or was it his cousin?) brag about their conspicuous bad-boy activities, like orgies and cocaine, and I'm just thinking, "Cool, so the major export of their company must be tabloids, because who the hell lives like this sustainably and where are they getting the money for these activities?"

And then I got to the poetry on the balcony scene and I was done.

This is just another one of those basic romances with poor quality writing and uninspired characters. It almost reads like the author had two disparate ideas and just decided to cram them into one book. Spoiler: it didn't work.

I don't think I'll be reading anything else by this author.

Don't forget to check out Brandy's review!

1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Secret of Mirror House by Jennifer Blake

A lot of gothic romance novels have really similar plots, but with THE SECRET OF MIRROR HOUSE, I had an especial case of deja vu, because it felt like a mashup of two other gothic romances that I read and enjoyed a lot more: Dorothy Eden's DARKWATER and Jennifer Blake's other book, DARK MASQUERADE. That's never a good sign.

The plot is pretty basic. Following a tragedy (the death of her mother), Amelia comes to live with her relatives at Mirror House. Once there, she realizes that they're all pretty awful people who don't seem to want her to be there, and shortly after her arrival, ends up becoming victim to a number of odd and sinister tricks, including being run down in the woods and nearly being left to drown in a swampy lake. Dun, dun, dun.

The "secret" in this case is with regard to why Amelia was invited to stay at Mirror House in the first place, and the strange, masked woman who roves the halls at night like a ghost. I wanted to be more involved in this mystery than I was, but sadly, the twist was very similar to the one in DARKWATER, down to a very similar character trope. I was also really bored for most of this book. There just wasn't enough happening and I didn't care about any of the characters. Reba and Sylvestor were creepy creepsters. James was kind of smarmy. Amelia was bland and a little TSTL. Nelville is the typical Broody McMightBeABadman gothic romance hero, except this being set in Louisiana, he drops a ton of sinister aphorisms that make him sound like a Francis Underwoodesque character who wouldn't be out of place on House of Cards.

I think the best thing about this book is the humid, claustrophobic Southern atmosphere and beautiful writing. It's pretty chilly right now, but I could just picture that swampy heat and the sticky sweat pouring down my neck, and you know that's the mark of a talented writer, being able to set the scene like that. I'm working my way through Jennifer Blake's bodice rippers and gothic romances, and so far I like her bodice rippers more, because I think the temptation with a gothic novel is to be slow in order to draw out the mystery, whereas bodice rippers, as the name implies, are all about the action.

I'm curious if there's a difference between her novels published under the Patricia Maxwell name vs. the Jennifer Blake name, because I really enjoyed the last Blake gothic romance I read, but it was originally a Maxwell title (DARK MASQUERADE). We'll see, I guess!

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Dangerous by Minerva Spencer

💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: "I Picked It for the Cover!". For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙

Disclaimer: Minerva is a Goodreads friend of mine. She did not, however, solicit me to read and review her book. I found the title on Netgalley and, recognizing the name, decided to check it out.

The cover of DANGEROUS leaped out at me immediately because of the cheesy, 90s romance-style cover, hearkening back to the days when every other hero was cast in the puffy shirt mode of Fabio, and poor photo shop led to some questionable aesthetic decisions.

Likewise, the premise of this book also seemed like it was going to be a throwback to the Bertrice Small school of writing. The heroine, Euphe(mia) Marlington, was kidnapped by pirates when she was a preteen and sold as a slave to a sultan's harem.

Now an adult in her thirties, she finds that the starchy English society isn't really prepared for her like. Her peers snub her, and creepy older dudes want to have their way with her, but nobody really wants to take her as a wife - and they'd want her even less if they found out about her adult, biracial son who's currently in the middle of a power coup in Africa.

Her father (who also has no idea about the son) decides to take matters into his own hands and throws an elaborate party where Mia is supposed to choose one of the men assembled for a husband. They're basically all the utter dregs of the well-to-do, except for a certain cold-eyed marquess named Adam de Courtney, who allegedly murdered his previous two lives and lives in infamy in his manor.

Neither are what they appear to be, but both feel an instant attraction as soon as they see each other.

Wow, I was really impressed by this book! It's like a modern upgrade to everything I love about bodice rippers - steamy sex scenes, globe-trotting adventures, pirates, seafaring expeditions, naughty harem hijinks - but with a modern, PC-friendly twist. DANGEROUS is very sex-positive, in my opinion, and the hero is the perfect blend of stern alpha with a caring side and icy bad boy.


Her writing style really reminds me a lot of Meredith Duran's, so if you're a fan of the Rules for the Reckless series, this might be a good book to pick up next. The only shortcoming was Mia's sequence of third-act TSTL decisions and some fights that felt pointless, but at least these characters actually talk about their problems instead of dancing around them endlessly like Julia Quinn's characters.

It's very refreshing to read a book where the characters actually enjoy talking to each other.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic That Remains One of Medicine's Greatest Mysteries by Molly Caldwell Crosby

Reading a book about a disease that makes people go to sleep and never wake up again is probably not the best bedtime reading, but when it comes to books, I often make bad choices. In case you couldn't tell from the title, ASLEEP is about the sleeping sickness, also known as encephalitis lethargica, literally Latin for "that thing that makes your brain swell and makes you sleepy." It's a disease that's mostly been swept under the rug and in this book, which sews together the case studies of several people who were afflicted with the disease, Crosby discusses the "mystery" behind enchephalitis lethargica and how it affected the infected.

For the most part, I thought ASLEEP was an interesting book and devoured it fairly quickly. Sometimes these medical history books can be too gruesome for me and yes, what happens to the victims in this book is truly awful (one case was particularly horrific, and I remember reading about that particular incident in one of my psychology textbooks in college as an example of how hospitals should exert more rigorous supervision over patients with a tendency to self-harm).

ASLEEP is a bit of an unsatisfying read though for two reasons. First, it's a mystery without a satisfactory ending. Doctors still aren't quite sure what caused the sleeping sickness, and while there are theories (autoimmune response? multiple diseases acting in tandem?), there is no solution. Contrast that to another medical mystery book I read a while ago about prions, where the book builds up to that one "eureka!" moment where people realize, "hmm, maybe eating brains is a bad idea!"

The second aspect of this book that was a bit of a downer for me was the way that the patients themselves were discussed. This book did not really read the way a psychologist or psychiatrist would talk about patients, and I looked up the author and it appears that she is a journalist with no psychology background that I can see (seems that she has a Master of Arts). I bring this up because one of the things that they teach you in psychology (or any other medical-related science) many, many times is to not fall into the trap of defining people by their disease. People make fun of PC-language but addressing people by the correct labels shows respect, and feeling that you are a respected human being is crucial to healing. Each case study is portrayed as a distinct "before" and "after" with the "before" being held up as the ideal and the "after" being this utterly ruinous thing that destroyed their lives and made them shattered shells of their former selves, etc. and I could almost hear all of my psych professors collectively groaning in my mind. This other review by Talulah on Goodreads goes more into depth on the specifics of the language used to describe the patients.

It felt a bit like tabloid sensationalism.

I realized that something about this book was putting me off and didn't realize what it was until I read the epilogue (which ties back to the prologue) about how the author's own grandmother being afflicted with sleeping sickness was one of the inspirations for her writing about the disease. I thought that was really interesting until I read the end part about how her when her grandmother was dying, she was trying to think about something to remember her by as a person but couldn't get over the empty space the disease had left in her (paraphrasing). Annnd that's how the book ends. On that note.

I did enjoy ASLEEP but the writing could have been less sensationalistic and more delicate in how it handled the cases of the various patients who had the sleeping sickness. I get that this book is older, and people know more about the importance of proper "labels" now, and even Oliver Sacks, who endorsed this book, comes across as comparatively insensitive in his oldest book, THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT, when you compare it to some of his more recent titles. Psychology is a new field and it's changing so fast that by the time some people finally feel competent to talk about it, some of the terms are already out of date. I mean, I still see people who make jokes that schizophrenia means multiple personality (it doesn't) or that you only use 10% of your brain (good luck with that). All it takes to change that is a little research and extra care.

3 out of 5 stars

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

DNF @ 36%

Mastubatory fantasy for the disaffected intellectual who thinks Harry Potter needs less friendship and more Ayn Rand and Bret Easton Ellis. If the idea of reading about a bunch of self-congratulatory little assholes learning magic appeals to you, then by all means, pick up THE MAGICIANS.

I should point out that my qualm itself is less about the characters and more about the stilted writing and the lazy portrayal in which they are framed. I can handle unlikable, morally grey protagonists - just don't bore me.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Dead Heart by Heather Crews


1. a feeling of satisfaction you get when your relentless nagging & begging results in another book in your favorite vampire series

Mandatory disclosure time: I was the beta reader for this book and Heather is a good friend of mine. In fact, I basically nagged and nagged her about writing a Branek story after reading and falling in love with the other book in this series, DREAMS FOR THE DEAD. If you know me, you know that I have two modes: "Not interested" and "F*cking obsessed." For this series, it was the latter. I'm now in the works of hounding Heather for a Jared story, and then maybe a Gus story. I'm relentlessly incorrigible.

DEAD HEART went live today on Amazon, and I bought a copy as soon as I got home so I could read and review it in a somewhat unbiased manner (because when you pay for goods and services rendered, I feel like that automatically makes you much more invested in said goods and services). Heather added a lot of new scenes in this book that I hadn't read before, so it was extra fun for me to see what had been kept, what had been changed, what had been expanded on. The sexy scenes in this book were super hot and disturbing, exactly how vampires should be written. Oh, and Branek is a bisexual vampire who swings both ways, as long as there's blood to be drunk and good times to be had. You'll love him to death...and then when you die, he will do horrible things to your dead body.

It's hard for me to say which book I liked best. DREAMS FOR THE DEAD was really, really good, but I like the protagonist of DEAD HEART better, as he's more in the vein (heh, vein) of the gleefully psychotic heroes I find so interesting in fiction (even if I'd avoid them like the plague in real life). This is the sort of hero that Trisha Baker was trying to come up with, I think, when she wrote CRIMSON KISS with its evil vampire hero, Simon Baldevar, but I like Branek so much better.

P.S. Yes, I am the "Nenia" in the dedication. This is the first time someone has dedicated a book to me, ever, and I was so happy that I immediately considered screen-shotting my Kindle app from my PC so I could print that sh*t out and tack it to my wall right next to my diploma. #priorities

But seriously, if you love heroes that will scare the F out of you & dark stories, you should read this.

5 out of 5 stars

Far from You by Tess Sharpe

I have this terrible habit of buying books and not reading them. I'm a book magpie: the process of acquisition is almost as pleasurable, if not more so, as the act of reading itself. What this means is that I have a whole lot of unread books lying around and I'm constantly buying more instead of reading what I have. I'm trying to change that, though, and what better way than by stuffing books two or three at a time in my bag so they're there?

This is one of those books.

YA is not always my genre of choice, but one type of YA book I keep coming back to again and again is the young adult thriller. I think it's because I'm super nosy and I love the idea of everyone hiding secrets in a claustrophobic environment and then seeing those secrets gradually come to light. And what is more claustrophobic than the fishbowl of high school, where everyone is very interested in what everyone else is doing? And if one of the things that people are doing is murder, then look out world, and put on your Drama Boots™.

I actually just read another YA thriller just before this one, called LITTLE MONSTERS. Both books are somewhat similar in that they serve the dual purpose of exploring the emotionally-fraught relationships between teenage girls amidst the backdrop of a murder. LITTLE MONSTERS is more of a tale of obsession and friendship in the vein of Megan Abbott, however, whereas FAR FROM YOU is more of a romance. Specifically, a doomed LGBT romance where a girl seeks vengeance and the truth when the love of her life is murdered after digging too deep into a half-buried mystery.

Sophie was in two accidents. Both of them took something from her. The first ended up facilitating her addiction to opiates. The second stole away the person she cared about most. After a long, hard road to recovery, Sophie has emerged battered but unbroken, determined to find out what happened to her girlfriend, Mina, and what she knew that was so important that someone was willing to kill for it.

There is so much emotion in this book and I thought the subjects of sexuality and addiction were handled really well. Bisexuality, especially, was described really well in this book. All too often, you encounter books that play into the hands of the usual stereotypes: promiscuity, confusion, etc. But Sophie knows what she wants, and who she wants. And even if she feels attraction to other people - boys and girls - there is only one person that she loves. It was so beautiful. I almost cried at the end of the book, because it was so sad and tragic and poignant. Luckily, I didn't, because I was reading this on the bus, but man, it was close. It's been a while since a book hit me THAT HARD.

If you enjoy YA thrillers with edgy content and good bisexual rep, FAR FROM YOU is a great choice. I really enjoyed it a lot, and between this and LITTLE MONSTERS, I kind of want to go on a YA thriller kick. They're like Pringles, man. You can't stop at just one.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 14, 2018

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid

DNF @ 43%

My romance group, the Unapologetic Romance Readers, picked this as our May group read. Some of us really enjoyed it - but others fell into the camp of, "Excuse me, what is this?"

As far as I can tell, the plot of these books can be summed up as "Men Who Have Beards... and the Women Who Want to Do Them." (The men, that is - not the beards, although given the strangeness of this book, beard sex probably isn't off the table.)

Beau and Duane Winston are two of these Men with Beards. They are identical twins, although with opposite personalities. Beau is the Elizabeth Wakefield of the two: friendly, sociable, intelligent, good ol' boy, whereas Duane is the Jessica Wakefield: moody, sarcastic, mean-spirited, and selfish.

Jessica - I mean the Jessica of this book, Jessica James (not to be confused with the far more awesome Jessica Jones) - has been in love with Beau her whole life. So when one of the twins decides to cop a feel and then more than a feel, she naturally assumes it's Beau and just rolls with it. Little does she know that the twin she nearly does in the shadowed corners is actually Duane (and if that weren't icky enough, he knows that she thinks he's his brother and doesn't tell her).

Honestly, this happens so much in romance novels, and I think it's such a gross, fetishy trope. I can't imagine twins IRL pulling sex pranks on their love interests or pretending to be their twin in order to get some booty. That feels almost rapey to me, because you don't technically have their consent to have sex with you. I didn't like Duane from that moment on, and his treatment of his stripper girlfriend, Tina, and his creepy, Travis Maddoxy assertion that he and Jessica are "suited" just continued to make me like him less, and less, and less.

I also didn't really care for the writing style or the humor in this book. Penny Reid kind of reminds me of L.H. Cosway with her awkward asides and weird, rambling humor about totally random stuff, and I believe Reid and Cosway actually did a collab, so that's probably a match made in heaven. Not my heaven, obviously, but somebody's. Somebody who is not me.

I was going to try to force myself to finish this but I have so little time these days that I may go back to rating and reviewing books I haven't finished. Normally I just chuck them to the side, unread, but I feel like if a book is so bad that pushing yourself to continue actually ruins your day a little, the public should be informed.

P.S. What is up with the biker gang sub-plot? It's like the author herself realized, "Hmm, this book is actually kind of boring. Better add in some pointless action."

P.P.S. Does Jessica have a circumcised penis fetish? She was really into the fact that Duane was circumcised. Like, REALLY into it.

1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Royal Princes of Ruthenia Box Set by Jennifer Blake

I can't stop staring at the way that the box set is positioned in this photo because if you look at it from the side, it kind of looks like historical menage, with the dark-haired woman slowly edging in one the red-haired woman and the dark haired man, like, "I want in on that action! Is there room for one more?" Only it's kind of creepy to think about, because that woman is her godmother (more on that).

ROYAL PRINCES OF RUTHENIA is a duology by Jennifer Blake. The books are set in a fictional Balkan country called Ruthenia, and the hero of each book is a Ruthenian prince. Initially I was skeptical because I think the last historical romance I read that was set in a fictional country was by Christina Dodd. It was not good.

These books surprised me, though - both of them are beautifully written and the first one especially has amazing dialogue. The sensory descriptions are vivid and poetic, and I can't imagine how much research went into these books because the gala scenes, fight scenes, and day-to-day scenes are equally well done. So is the sex, if you're into that sort of think, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Royal Seduction: ☆☆☆☆☆

This book was close to perfect, and you should really check out my full-length review on that book's page. ROYAL SEDUCTION is very much a classic bodice ripper, written in the vein of the other greats, like Rosemary Rogers or Laurie McBain. The writing is especially lovely in this book and the hero and heroine's witty repartee flew off the pages. There's a lot of sex but the romance doesn't really happen until later, because it's enemies to lovers - the hero thinks first that the heroine killed his brother, and then that the heroine is covering for the person who did. So yeah, he's not happy.

I seriously can't say enough about this book, although I would caution you that it does have forced seduction, so if that's something that upsets you, you should probably keep that in mind. It doesn't happen just once, either, but I personally felt like it fit the story, and that the hero was definitely being portrayed as a not-nice person for doing it. At its core, this is a book about vengeance and betrayal, so many of the bad things that do happen fit the theme of the story and the ruthlessness of the characters.

Royal Passion: ☆☆½

NOOOOOO, the first book was so good that I immediately launched into this one, and I couldn't believe the dip in quality. I don't think I've been this disappointed by a bodice ripper sequel since reading Rosemary Rogers's DARK FIRES after SWEET SAVAGE LOVE.

ROYAL PASSION is set thirty years in the future after ROYAL SEDUCTION and the hero is actually the child of the first couple. Overall, the plot kind of reads like a pale imitation of the first book: hero and heroine at odds, court intrigue, betrayals, final confrontation, near-death experience, nursing back to health, pledge to love one another forever and ever, etc.

There's also a shift in tone, which I think will please people who don't like the bodice ripper formula (e.g. bad things happening to everyone, all the time), but for me it felt really weird and jarring, because the first story was so dark and now suddenly we have secondary AND tertiary romances to pad out the plot, as well as animal sidekicks and villains who LITERALLY look like the devil. I go into more detail about my thoughts on ROYAL PASSION in my Goodreads review, but the TL;DR version is that I was expecting so much more and was delivered so much less. Boo.

I was pretty disappointed with ROYAL PASSION, but I'm rounding up for the hot lovins.

Overall, ROYAL PRINCES OF RUTHENIA was a fun, quick read. I got through this box set in just a couple days. Usually I say, "Go for the box set!" because it's such a great deal, but I feel like in this case, I'd advice you to just pick up the first book and have done with it. The first book is AMAZING.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Royal Passion by Jennifer Blake

In my rave review of ROYAL SEDUCTION, I talk a bit about my plan to binge-read Jennifer Blake's books. The TL;DR version is that, basically, I think it's awesome how she's always putting her books up for free promotions in the Kindle Store and rather than letting her books molder away in Kindle Cloud purgatory like 90% of the other free books I have on there, I was going to read 'em all.

ROYAL PASSION seemed like a good place to start. I loved ROYAL SEDUCTION so much that it instantly became one of my new favorite bodice rippers - the sexy hero, strong heroine, beautiful writing, and oh-so-quotable dialogue made it an instant favorite.

ROYAL PASSION is a sequel to ROYAL SEDUCTION, although I think both could work as standalones. Mara is the daughter of Andre Delacroix (the "other" love interest of Angeline, the heroine of the first book). Her father is super busy working on his plantation and her mother died of a broken heart (she couldn't compete with St. Angeline and Andre apparently never got over her - Mara's MIDDLE NAME is Angeline - creepy), so she spends a lot of time with her grandmother. Unfortunately, her grandmother is a few items short of a hand basket and learns in Paris that she has a gambling addiction... after she gets way into debt.

Luckily for her, the debt collector - and self-proclaimed villain of this story - Nicholas de Landes, has a handy solution: she seduces Prince Roderic of Ruthenia, finds intel on him, and persuades him to come to a certain place at a certain time, wink wink, nudge nudge, and he'll forgive granny's debts. Just in case she has second thoughts about this, though, he's taken her grandmother hostage to be EXTRA SAFE, and will hurt her if Mara doesn't comply.

Mara is sped by carriage to a gypsy camp and then LITERALLY THROWN OUT OF THE MOVING CARRIAGE for Roderic to find. She is a terrible liar and apparently they were all out of spines at the spine store on the day that she was born, because girl has no backbone. None. She stammers something about amnesia and lost memories, and it's so obvious that Roderic does not believe her - so what does he do with the strange, suspicious woman who shows up at his gypsy camp? MAKE HER HIS HOUSEKEEPER! Because that's totally a great idea. Good job, Roderic.

From there, the plot gets a little dicey. There's some hot scenes between Roderic and Mara (unlike the first book, no forced seduction), there's some political intrigue and talk of the French rebellion, par II (following the uncertainty of the first one), there's swashbuckling, a secondary romance between Brienne of Tarth (only her name is Trude, so let's call her Brienne of Trude) and a count, and a teriary romance between a princess and her gypsy bodyguard - and, oh yes, a last minute daring escape! ...Just like the first book. In fact, they even allude to the events of the first book.

You know, IN CASE YOU MISSED THAT SUBTLETY. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

On the surface, ROYAL PASSION shares many of the same attributes that made ROYAL SEDUCTION such a win for me: lots of action scenes, a sexy blonde hero, political intrigue, and gorgeous writing. Unfortunately, ROYAL PASSION had many things that ROYAL SEDUCTION didn't that detracted from my enjoyment of the novel. There's tons of historical word dumps in here reminiscent of Victor Hugo's rambles about architecture in HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (which is appropriate because he has several cameos in here). Roderic isn't as icy-hot as his father, Rolfe; he's more of a sarcastic jerk, a la moody teenage boy, circa 1999. Mara is a wimpy heroine and didn't have me rooting for her or applauding her the way Angeline did in the first. Lastly, and most damningly, the climax of the book "felt" like it happened around 75%, which made the last 25% seem extra drawn-out and slow. (An entire chapter about boat racing and the river didn't help.)

I'm going to give this 2.5 stars because the sex scenes were really, really good and the first 3/4 of the book had decent tension. As a sequel, though, it doesn't really live up to the original, which is sad. I'd suggest reading the first book and just stopping there, but if the forced seduction element really puts you off, this book might be a safer read for you because it's definitely much less "intense."

2.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Little Monsters by Kara Thomas

I'm low-key shocked that this book doesn't have a bigger following, because this is the Gillian Flynn-esque mystery that I have been seeking out for months. Some YA thrillers try to sugar-coat, but LITTLE MONSTERS, as befitting its title, doesn't hold back. From the beginning to the end, Kara Thomas lets you know that girls are more than capable of being the creatures you fear when you're falling asleep in the dark, only deadly - and real.

Kacey has recently moved in with her father and stepmother after leaving her abusive mother. She has a new stepbrother and half-sister, as well, although her relationship with the whole family is good and not something she takes for granted after having such a tumultuous childhood. She also has two friends named Jade and Bailey, although their relationship, in the way of most teen girl relationships, is tense and fraught with tension.

While reading this book, I kept thinking that it reminded me of something - and then it hit me: Sarah Pinborough's 13 MINUTES. That suffocating small-town paranoia of everyone being in everyone else's business; the mean girls with a sinister (maybe?) agenda, and the twists upon twists upon twists? Yeah, both books have you covered. I feel like if you enjoy Gillian Flynn's work, you will enjoy both of these, but 13 MINUTES is more like GONE GIRL where the easy answer isn't the right one, whereas this book is more like SHARP OBJECTS - there's a twist, and there's a twist about the twist that will make you question everything.

By the way, I liked SHARP OBJECTS more than I did GONE GIRL.

I really enjoyed this book and finished it in basically a day. The pacing was perfect, the diary entries were super creepy, and the twist was unexpected. I literally did not expect who dunnit until the moment of the grand reveal(s), and I'm hard to shock. I'm surprised how many people didn't seem to enjoy this book, but if you like "soft" and easy reads, LITTLE MONSTERS definitely does not fit the bill as it shows girls - and boys - at their most brutal, which is not comfortable reading for everyone.

I, however, loved it - and can't wait to read Kara Thomas's next book.

P.S. Sorry for being all secretive and vague but with books like this, less is definitely more!

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

4 out of 5 stars

The Silver Swan by Amo Jones

💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Millionaire/Billionaire Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙

We all have some friends whose opinions about books are so similar to ours that if they rate a book highly, we immediately zoom out to the Kindle Store to buy it. I know I do. But there are also some bloggers out there whose tastes are so antithetical to mine that if I see that they have given a book five stars, it automatically goes on my internal do-not-buy list.

This happened in the case of THE SILVER SWAN, but unfortunately, I had already downloaded it from the Kindle Store, and I figured that maybe it could be good. Sometimes I like dark smutty stories, if they're dark and smutty enough. But they have to be well-written and they have to be interesting.

THE SILVER SWAN was neither.

THE SILVER SWAN kind of feels like it was heavily influenced by Penelope Douglas's Devil's Night series and Erin Watt's PAPER PRINCESS. The main character, Madi, is a "troubled" rich girl whose mother killed her husband's mistress before killing herself with one of Madi's own guns (Madi's a gun nut). As a fresh start, her father has enrolled her in a rich kid's school in a rich kid area, in the hope that such richy richness will magically cure her psychological problems, because I guess therapy is just another word for Aston Martin. *eye roll* Dad of the Year is an award that this man will not be getting, because he is so taken with his new wife that he neglected to inform his daughter that her step-mom has a step-brother her age, whose room is next to hers - and oh, yeah, he's a pervert.

Once at her new school, things take a turn for the TWILIGHT where Madi ends up with a Jessica of her own, only this Jessica is named Tatum and is rich as sin. She also meets ten Edwards, only these Edwards are more like his Christian Grey incarnation, if Christian Grey was a sleazy seventeen-year-old who divides his free time between lurking outside expensive nightclubs and beating off. All of them are immediately intrigued by her, even though their attention cannot be captured by any SINGLE girl, such is the immense power of their collective testosterone. Plot bonus: pervy step-brother is a member of this dicktastic elite collective, redundantly known as the Elite Kings.

The Kings waste no time in stalking Madi, sexually harassing Madi, threatening Madi with rape, with bodily harm, and even with murder. They keep making all of these vague threats about how she will die soon, or that there is a secret about her that they cannot share (thanks for the helpful info, guys). The most unstable Christian Grey of them all, Bishop, even tells her that he thinks she has a sexy spine and wants to break it, and this is of course after he threatens to disembowel her right before they have sex - yet again. I suppose if you find the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker healthy, you would see no problem with this, and it seems like Madi does, so yay for her, I guess?

As a reader of bodice rippers, I am not a stranger to OTT smut and wtfery, and when it is done well I will even tolerate it in modern erotica. Case in point: PAPER PRINCESS and, most recently, A. Zavarelli's CROW, a book that I thought I would hate and ended up loving instead. I had hoped that something similar might happen with THE SILVER SWAN, but I ended up being pretty fed up with the book because of what I perceived to be lazy writing (highly repetitive descriptions, for example: "eyes filled with mischief" occurring in two succeeding paragraphs; lots of typos) and way too many asides. The obsession with food in this book is particularly curious, with Madi constantly telling us what she wants to eat or is currently eating, and exactly how much progress she is making as she continues to eat or obtain this food in question, whether it's a sandwich, an apple, Krispey Kremes, or enough Burger King to "feed half a state."

I also didn't particularly care for Madi, and her "I'm not like other girls" attitude was particularly jarring and irritating, as was her vapid, superficial lifestyle and her easy judgment of girls who were just as quick to jump in bed with men as she was. After the umpteenth luxury product name-drop, I wanted to go to Debauve & Gallais just so I could throw an expensive projectile at her head in a particularly poignant display of irony - also added hilarity, Madi speaks of Sulpice Debauve the way Trump spoke of Frederick Douglass, implying that he continues his great work to this day, lol.

The disappointing climax was the cherry on this disappointment sundae. I'm sorry that I was not more impressed with this book, because the premise really did sound interesting, but so many other authors have run with the "rich kids hiding a deadly secret" premise and done it one better, and honestly, I'd rather just watch Hana Yori Dango, because as far as I'm concerned, that story is the OG. Many thanks to Meggie for participating in this BR with me. You should check out her review.

1 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 11, 2018

Royal Seduction by Jennifer Blake

Before I get to the review itself, I want to take a moment to appreciate Jennifer Blake. Her books are constantly showing up in the Kindle freebie section - and not just for a limited time only to promote a sequel or a reprint, no. Four-book bundles, entire series, new books, back-list titles, she puts EVERYTHING up there at one point or another. I can only imagine it's because she genuinely enjoys seeing people reading her books for the sake of reading them, even if they don't pay for them, and I think that's amazing. I wish more authors did that - especially older authors who are re-releasing titles that have been out of circulation for decades - because it's a great way to try something new and it also just really shows an understanding that a lot of us bloggers do not have infinite monies to spend on books (sadly).

So here's to Jennifer Blake. Usually I hoard my Kindle freebies forever (or until someone corrals me into a buddy-read), but I've decided to binge as many of her titles as I can to show appreciation for the authors who have a love for their craft - AND their fans.

ROYAL SEDUCTION came to me in a two-book anthology that showed up - FOR FREE - in the Kindle store called Royal Princes of Ruthenia Box Set. It's not exactly a catchy title, but it was free, dammit, so I downloaded the box set and promptly forgot about it until now. The concept is actually shockingly titillating: Rolfe hails from Ruthenia, a made-up country in the Balkans. His brother, Maximilian, the heir apparent, has just been murdered - and he thinks it was his brother's mistress.

Cut to the American South, where Angeline is courting the toast of society under the resentful care of her aunt. When Rolfe bursts in to one of the family galas and immediately confronts her, she realizes at once that he has mistaken her for her worldly cousin, Claire. Rolfe thinks she's lying to protect herself, though, and after chasing her down through the woods on horseback, ends up abducting her and taking her to a remote apartment, where he proceeds to take her against her will. When he realizes she's a virgin, he understands he has made an error, but rather than doing the humane thing and feeling bad about it, he continues to abuse her, in the hopes that she'll betray her cousin.

I realize that the "forced seduction" (let's call it what it is, rape) is going to put some people off from reading this and I totally understand, believe me. This is one of those ways that you can really feel the 1983 publication year's influence over the story. I don't mind that trope if it fits the story and the characterization, myself, and Rolfe's icy, entitled brutishness? Yeah, he would so do that. He's a bastard. He's also a silver-tongued devil, and basically every word that comes out of his evil, beautiful mouth deserves to be turned into word art on Instagram.

Jennifer Blake really reminds me of Rosemary Rogers in some ways - the gutsy heroine, the evil hero with the psychotic streak, the swashbuckling and knife fights, the constant parade of evil (and often ethnic) villains, the double-crosses, the triple-crosses, the hot sex, the enemies-to-lovers trope... it was classic RR, which makes me happy because I love that woman's writing and she's pretty much unparalleled when it comes to writing addicting romance stories. At least, she was unparalleled until I made my acquaintance with Laura Kinsale's and, now, Jennifer Blake's dark and twisted tales.

I could sit here and yap on and on about how great I thought this story was (obviously I did, it was great), but you should read it and see for yourself. It was so much fun and I think I'd probably come back to it again just to get a reprise of some of Rolfe's Greatest Hits of Eloquent Insults, Vol. 1.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sociable by Rebecca Harrington

I #StealthRead the heck out of this book because I've been so busy lately, I haven't had time to post any proper updates or anything. I've been reading SOCIABLE on the sly for the last couple nights, right before I went to bed, and can I say how shocked I am that the average ratings for this book are so low? Her other books are like this, too, and based on this book alone it seems like people can't divorce themselves from the characterization. Like, they assume intentionally unlikable character = bad book. Which it does...sometimes, but in this case, I felt like Harrington was actually making some pretty valid commentary on millennials.

First off, San Francisco is full of tech people, and while most of them are "supernice" as Elinor would probably say, there's definitely a couple of pretentious wannabes who think they're all that and a bag of potato chips. Elinor and her boyfriend, Mike, are like that. They are both journalism majors and Mike ends up working for a blog that's kind of like Vox or Politico (only, you know, not as cool), whereas Elinor ends up working at a company that's more like BuzzFeed.

SOCIABLE is a pretty great satire of what it means to make "viral" content, and how sometimes (OK, more than sometimes) those click-bait articles feel like they're scraping the bottom of the barrel. As if Clickbait Satan weren't enough of an antagonist, Elinor and her boyfriend, Mike, are total trash people. I've seen people like this talking in cafes - usually on their phones, in an otherwise quiet area - and they are the types of people who think they can do no wrong, who prephase a long rant with "I don't like drama, but..." and then proceed to shit-talk all of their alleged friends like nobody's business whilst also trying to absolve themselves of any sort of culpability or blame.

All of the characters in this book are A W F U L, make no mistake, but if you can get over that, it's pretty interesting to read. The only thing I didn't like was the ending. It felt like the book had almost ended mid-paragraph, it was so abrupt. I wanted more of a definitive conclusion after sticking this book out for several days. The ending was a major what-the-heck-is-this, and I'm kind of shocked her editor didn't check her on that decision. I would have been like, "Um, no."

But yeah, if you're one of those people who like to hate on BuzzFeed, this will be your catnip.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy! 

3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Crow by A. Zavarelli

I'm pretty infamous for disliking mafia romances because the vast majority of them tend to be so stupid and so badly-written. Seriously, they're second only to MC romances in terms of my least favorite sub-genre of romance novel. Don't @ me.

But several of my very trusted friends were raving about the Boston Underworld series, and being Irish myself, I couldn't help but be intrigued because Irish dudes are super hot.

CROW does not start off well at all, though. I liked Mackenzie's POV a lot because she's a female boxer seeking revenge and who doesn't like that? But Lachlan's POV at first was just non-stop, "Ooh, I'm such a bad boy, look at me and my fancy weapons and all these swear words I know how to use!" and I started having flashbacks to SPARROW, and thinking, "Oh lord, spare me from vain psychos in books named after birds!"

But by the middle of the book, everything smoothed out and I couldn't put the book down. Of course, it helps that the heroine is as far from TSTL as humanly possible. She is determined to get her revenge and is willing to do anything to get it - wink, wink. There were hot sex scenes, intense action scenes, Mackenzie saving herself, Lachlan acting like a genuine BAMF and not just a facsimile of one, and oh, yes, tons of alpha male action done right. I'll have what she's having, thanks!

The flaws to this story are, of course, the pacing issues (that beginning needs to be ironed out), a number of typos, some odd stylistic choices (why is the beginning paragraph of each chapter in, like, size 32 font? Nope, nope, nope), and the fact that both of these characters appear to have a MAJOR latex allergy because there wasn't a single condom in sight for any of that hot sexing.

Still, I ended up having a lot of fun with CROW and look forward to reading the sequel.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Candle Bay by Tamara Thorne

This book is a tease - it is all bark and no bite, and when I'm reading a book about vampires, I want allllll the bite, baby.

I love books about vampires, particularly vampire novels published before TWILIGHT. For better or for worse, TWILIGHT was a game-changer for the vampire subgenre, removing them as figures of horror and placing them firmly within the camp of other romance heroes. I've read some excellent vampire romances, but part of me - the dark part of my soul that comes alive at night - yearns for those sinister figures of yore, who were less interested in kissing and pining on about their eternal loneliness and more about the BITING. YAS.

CANDLE BAY was published in 2001 and even though it has romantic elements, it's definitely more horror than romance, and anyone picking it up expecting romance is going to be disappointed. The premise is pretty unique. Amanda Pearce is a newly hired concierge at a clubby hotel and spa near San Francisco. She's always been attracted to Gothic horror and things like vampires, so the misty, reclusive resort really appeals to her romantic sensibilities - and so does her tall, dark, and handsome employer, Stephen Darling.

The Candle Bay Hotel and Spa is managed by the Darlings, who are all very good looking - and all vampires. There's Orion, who fancies himself the next Godfather; Natasha, the femme Dom who likes to work hard and play hard; Stephen, the brooding romantic; and the evil twin daughters, Lucy and Ivy, who swing both ways and are completely psychotic and out of control. Living with them is another vampire named Julian Valentyn. Unlike the Darlings, Julian was BORN a vampire and not MADE - something that puts him a cut above the others, and which he doesn't fail to lord over them.

In addition to a "Will they/won't they?" between Amanda and Stephen, there's also a bit of a love triangle between Amanda and Julian, because Julian feels a connection to her due to events in his past. Those events make up the bulk of the plot driving this story forward because there's something hidden in the tunneling basements beneath the Hotel, and that something is alive.

CANDLE BAY is not a short read and it went on for way too long. There are many pointless asides that bog down the narrative and all of the sex scenes are disgusting. I don't mean disgusting because of gore (although that too); I mean disgusting because of how they are written. I'm hoping to post this review on Amazon, so I must refrain from posting salacious content, but please check out some of my Goodreads status updates for a "greatest hits" recap of some of the choice sex scenes in this book.

I also feel like there wasn't a lot of payoff. I was expecting hotter scenes between Amanda and Julian and Amanda and Stephen. The only people having sex in this book for the most part were secondary characters, which brings me to my next issue with this book: EVERYBODY GETS A POV. This is exactly why I didn't like Paula Hawkins's new book, INTO THE WATER - if there are too many people running around, it's harder to become invested in any specific person and they all start to blur together after a while. To her credit, Thorne gives all of her characters distinctive personalities (which Hawkins did not), but this makes the blurb seem misleading, because you think that it's going to be all about Amanda and Stephen getting it on, when in fact it is not.

Also, this is the SECOND vampire "romance" I've read with an Atlantis connection, and yes, it is just as ridiculous as what FOREVER AND THE NIGHT tried to do. At least this book didn't involve angels. Seriously, if you ever want a laugh, check out my review of FOREVER AND THE NIGHT.

I feel like I should give this book a low rating but can't quite bring myself to. I was vastly entertained by CANDLE BAY and couldn't put the book down. Even the terrible sex scenes were incredibly entertaining. This is basically the Bertrice Small of vampire novels - it's disturbing and badly-written, but the story is such a compelling train wreck of a mess that you can't bring yourself to look away.

Thanks to Heather and Karly for joining me in this BR!

P.S. The Chelsea Quinn Yarbro reference in this book was A+

3.5 out of 5 stars

Night's Master by Tanith Lee

Most of the highly anticipated YA fantasy novels coming out this year have been a bust for me, and I keep getting the occasional rude comment that says something like, "You're too picky/mean/etc." Well, to that, I say, "Maybe I actually know what good fantasy novels look like because I've actually read some marvels with achingly good prose that has so much pathos it just about makes you cry?" Because if that's what you're looking for, Tanith Lee is that.

I've read this book before - first hint that this book is *good* because I rarely keep or reread books once I've finished with them - and recently decided to read it again in a buddy read with my friend Elena. This is classic fantasy at its best, written in a way that reminds me of the books of fairy tales and mythology I had as a kid, or of the Oz and Narnia books. The world-building is fresh and inventive and organic; while reading this, you have to continually remind yourself that, no, this isn't a retelling. She made it all up.

Each chapter is a standalone story that bleeds seamlessly into the next. One character connects them and that is a demon named Azhrarn who reminds me a lot of Jareth in Labyrinth in terms of his personality and abilities. Azhrarn is a demon lord who resides in the "Underearth." Periodically, he surfaces to sow mischief or have sex with humans or both (both is preferred). It's easy to see him as an evil villain in the beginning, but each chapter peels another layer from this character, and by the time you get to the end of the book, you see that he is much more complicated that you anticipated.

I love Tanith Lee so much. She is literally one of my favorite authors and I could sit here and fangirl over her for hours. Her writing is gorgeous, and complex, and ornate without being flowery. She writes the way I wish that I could write and I'm constantly blown away by her original turns of phrases and the way she can set a mood with just a few carefully curated words. All of her stories are very dark - I love dark - but thought-provoking and interesting and original. I don't think I've ever read something by her that I didn't love. It is so sad that she passed, because she was so gifted and more than that, just such an interesting individual. This book, and her others, are proof of that.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Untouched by Anna Campbell

💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Virgin Hero Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙

So I guess Anna Campbell (no relation) went through this phase where she decided to make bodice rippers "happen." The first book written in this vein was called CLAIMING THE COURTESAN and it very much wants to be one of those I'm-so-alpha-that-I-piss-iron-tacks bodice rippers of the 1970s...only in a fluffy, romantic way. (So basically, it sucked.) I was leery of UNTOUCHED, hoping that it wouldn't be more of the same - but fear not! Because this book is much better than its predecessor, with a far better story, to boot!

Grace Paget has had a pretty awful life. She's been estranged for her family for years for marrying this religious fanatic who was many years older than she was. Now he's dead, and with nowhere to go, she plans to go stay with a distant relative. Unfortunately, she's kidnapped before she can reach her destination, and spirited away to a remote manor.

She finds that she has been mistaken for a "whore" and taken here to be entertainment to the "mad" marquess by said marquess's cruel uncle. But the more she talks to the marquess, the more she realizes that he really doesn't seem mad. However, since his uncle controls his fortune for as long as he remains both alive and unfit to manage his own affairs, Matthew is completely in his uncle's power - and if Grace doesn't warm his bed and keep him complacent, she's going to be killed.

There's a really great Gothic vibe to this book that kind of reminded me of Maire Claremont's THE DARK LADY. Both characters are sympathetic and you can't help but feel for the awful situation the two of them are in, particularly as the situation grows more and more dire. The sex scenes are scorching hot and I liked the fact that the hero (not the heroine) was a virgin.

I gave this book three stars because the romance was a little too cheesy considering the dark content of the rest of the book. Some of the sex scenes were also a little too flowery for my taste, but that appears to be Anna Campbell's style, and she made it work here (it was worse in CLAIMING THE COURTESAN). I also felt that Matthew warmed to Grace far too quickly, considering how suspicious he was of her in the beginning (and with good reason). It would have been better if the evil uncle's presence had been more "known," so the reader could really feel the pressure he exerted.

Overall, though, this was a decent book. One of the best by this author that I've read in years. If you were burned by CLAIMING THE COURTESAN and found yourself loath to try another one of her works, let me be the first to assure you that this is a vast improvement over her previous work.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

"You only care about yourself and your stupid movies" (88).

This quote is brought to you by Jenny. Not all heroes wear capes.

Wow, I am kind of blown away by how bad and stupid this book was - because my expectations were so high, and I had been looking forward to this books for months. When I was approved, I was so happy, I immediately downloaded it so I could begin reading... and I didn't get further than 13 pages before I inwardly went, "Oh no!" It had that overly aggressive, overly perky style that's so typical of Tumblr - that, "oh, I'm so different and so special and I hold myself to different standards than I do other people!" self-indulgent vibe that really drives me up the wall. I don't know how to explain it well, but go look at a handful of popular Tumblr posts and you'll quickly get the picture.

Maybe this would be tolerable if the story were interesting and the character were nice. Another book I read recently, AMERICAN PANDA, was also full of melodrama - but I really related to the main character and I thought her story was interesting. Winnie, on the other hand, is a total trash person and I hated her guts. She is just so awful. All she does is piss, whine, and moan over EVERYTHING. Slut shames the girl her boyfriend cheated on her with? Check. Breaks into his house to steal the things he gave her to basically destroy them later? Check. Whines at her teachers? Check. Whines to her parents? Check. Makes fun of her best friend for liking 80s movies when she won't shut up about Bollywood movies? Check.

I thought the Bollywood angle would be fun - it was a huge reason why I wanted to read this book - but it is so forced. Considering it's her PASSION, she totally fails to sell it and her blog about Bollywood is hardly mentioned at all, bar some lame epigrams at the beginning of each chapter (lamely) summarizing some famous movies. There's also a super ridiculous display of love towards the end, tantamount to holding up a boombox playing "In Your Eyes" except replace the boombox with a Michael Jackson hat and replace "In Your Eyes" with Bollywood music and background dancers. Oh, and let's not forget the STUPID, TOTALLY POINTLESS SRK dream sequences.

Shah Rukh Khan is awesome. He didn't ask to be dragged into this trash people drama. :(

Winnie spends the entire book torn over WHICH BOY TO CHOOSE. Since she was a kid, she's had this horoscope hanging over her head that she is destined to be with a boy whose name begins with an R and she takes this "prophecy" so damn seriously. To the point where she's willing to take back her boyfriend who cheated on her while they were on "break" because his name begins with an R and he gave her a bracelet as foretold - it must be him! But oh no, there's this other guy named Dev, and he sets her loins aflame, but his name doesn't begin with an R! But he adores her! Oh no! What to do???

Throw the book out the window, that's what I'd do. But unfortunately I'd already come too far.

I skimmed pretty heavily for the last 90 pages or so, but it basically cemented the impressions that I already have of the book: Winnie is a terrible, unlikable main character who gets irrationally angry and would like to portray herself as a strong women but in actuality all of her decisions are totally ruled by boys (and no, none of her conversations with her female BFF pass the Bechdel test) and this story was totally flat, completely romance-driven, and without the UST to drive that route home.

YA is really disappointing me this year. But maybe mediocrity is the new trend of 2018.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

1 out of 5 stars

Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall

Gillian Flynn blurbed it, so I wanted to read it because Gillian Flynn writes amazing thrillers that are taut with suspense, and I figured that anything she liked would be written in the same vein. Sadly, OUR KIND OF CRUELTY, despite the great title, amazing premise, and gorgeous cover, totally fell short for me as a book.

Mike had a terrible, abusive childhood set against a backdrop of poverty and neglect. Now thirty, he has wealth in abundance and is good-looking enough to be a hit with the ladies. But Mike only cares about one lady in particular: V(erity), his ex-girlfriend, who has just sent him an email telling him she's getting married.

When Mike and Verity were together, they used to play a game that got the two of them off. That game was called The Crave. Verity would sidle up to the bar and wait for a man to hit on her. As soon as she did, Mike would wait for the secret sign - for Verity to touch her eagle necklace - and then show up and threaten the man until he left. Usually immediately afterwards, Mike and Verity would have sex.

Mike can't quite believe that Verity is getting married. Then it hits him. The wedding is fake, an act of punishment to get back at him for his past transgressions. The wedding is the biggest Crave of all, and all he has to do is sit back and wait for the secret sign so he and Verity can be together - forever.

(Damn, I just gave myself chills - I should be the one writing these blurbs!)

I think my problem with this book was that I have read a lot of stories like it, you know, the kind that take a "love story" and make it into a psychotic obsession. Two of my favorites are Caroline Kepnes's YOU and John Fowles's THE COLLECTOR. Both of these stories start on a high note and just leave you totally devastated and blown away by the end. By contrast, I slogged through OUR KIND, waiting for the payoff. Would there be an unreliable narrator, a la Nabokov's LOLITA? Or would there be a huge revelation a la GONE GIRL that changes the entire framework of the story?

The answer: Both, sort of. But not really.

Without spoiling anything, let's just say that this is the book of half-ass. It leaves everything up to the reader to decide, teasing you with first one possibility and then the other, but ultimately the story falls flat because there isn't really a whole lot of closure. The first two thirds of this book are strictly psychotic obsession thriller but the last third is courtroom drama, a la KRAMER VS. KRAMER, and that's where the book started to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

OUR KIND OF CRUELTY was one of my most anticipated reads and ended up being a total let-down.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Whisper of the Moon Moth by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

WHISPER OF THE MOON MOTH is a fictionalized account of real-life actress, Merle Oberon, who acted alongside actors such as Laurence Olivier, Flora Robson, and Vivien Leigh.  She was also half-Indian in a time where there was still a ton of racism towards people of color and something called the Hays Code forbade the portrayal of miscegenation or interracial relationships. So, you're probably asking, "How did she do it?"

Merle hid her identity.

Since this is a work of fiction, there's obviously a lot that deviates from real life, and Merle was so successful at hiding her origins that I don't believe the truth about her ethnicity came out until 2014. There isn't a whole lot of material to work with, so the author takes a ton of liberties (which she is very upfront about in the "epilogue" where she lists out all of her embellishments).

WHISPER OF THE MOON MOTH is very much a Cinderella retelling of the kind that's so popular in books of this type, in the vein of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. Merle, born Estelle Thompson, is the daughter of an Indian mother and a white father, living in an India that still has a rigid caste system, where multi-ethnic children are basically outcasts from both white people and Indian people. There is one major upside for Estelle, though, and that is that she is gorgeous.

Unfortunately, her good looks and lack of worldliness cause a lot of trouble with men, and after getting her heart broken she decides to pursue her dream of acting by going to England with her mom. In England, she has to hide who she is and pretend her mother is her servant. Luck ends up landing her first an audition, and then things like roles and later, an agent, and pretty soon, Merle Oberon gets cast as Cathy in an adaption of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.

There's a lot of Hollywood drama, but it's super fun. I'd say that if you read THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO, and asked yourself, "What's next?" WHISPER OF THE MOON MOTH would be a good follow-up, because it also balances the weighty topics of race and sexuality against the backdrop of superficial but intoxicating Hollywood glamor. SEVEN HUSBANDS did it better - because, I mean, let's face it, that book was perfection - but WHISPER OF THE MOON MOTH is a page-turner, and just serious enough to avoid the "frothy" label. I really enjoyed it.

FYI, just want to give props to Lake Union Publishing. Whoever curates their historical fiction finds does a really excellent job. I've read a number of their titles and don't think I've ever encountered one I did not enjoy. This one was no exception.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Foxhole Court by Nora Sakavic

💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Sports Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙

File this under "Goodreads led me astray on yet another over-hyped piece of nonsense." How could you have failed me yet again?

I remember when this book had under 100 ratings on Goodreads. Now it has over 15,000 and I honestly don't get the hype. Quality-wise, it reminds me of some of the self-published efforts I used to see on Fictionpress or Fanfiction.net: well-written trash that for whatever reason garnered a cult following. Nothing against trash - I am a huge fan of trash - but when I read trash, I want things to happen. Exciting things! Scandalous things! And THE FOXHOLE COURT doesn't really have a whole lot going on for a book that's supposed to be #SoEdgyYouGuysOMG.

In fact, it was actually kinda boring.

THE FOXHOLE COURT revolves around a made-up sport called "Exy" that seems to be a cross between lacrosse and soccer. The main character, Neil, is good at Exy. He's also on the run for ~reasons~. Clearly, he hasn't done a good enough job about covering his tracks because he ends up getting drafted to the Palmetto State Foxes Exy team. They just have to have him... even though he's kind of an ungrateful, shady jerk about it.

The team is basically comprised by a bunch of psychos, one of whom wields a knife (which he uses to threaten people with) and does a copious amount of drugs. All of the "strong" women on the team get overly physical and have bad tempers. There's a rapey gay dude. Their leader is a classic tsundere who hides his ~complex emotions~ under a shield of physical aggression and rage because he's so ~damaged~. They are led by a coach who sees nothing wrong with enabling these bad behaviors and even gives them alcohol. By the end of the book, I feel like my face looked like this: o_o

Also, for some reason, the yakuza is involved? Whaaaat.

Takeaway points:
1. This is labeled as a romance, but there is basically no romance. I think this is the set-up for a romance that happens later but there isn't really any strong UST to make me motivated to care.

2. THE FOXHOLE COURT is offensive AF. If you read this book and gave it five stars, you are never allowed to speak badly of bodice rippers ever again, because THE FOXHOLE COURT runs the gamut of ablelist and homophobic slurs. "Retard" is used several time, and so is "cripple." I'd already written this group off as a bunch of psychos, so I didn't really care what they said and I'm able to compartmentalize as a reader, but keep in mind if you're sensitive, the language is there.

3. Drug use and mental health are represented pretty badly here. I posted a status update a while back about how I didn't like books that glamorized going off your meds as this wild and crazy journey. This book does that with one of his characters, and his on-again, off-again behavior is accepted as a sort of "in joke" among his teammates, and his coach even passively encourages him to go off his meds for games because it makes him play better, or some ridiculous BS like that.

4. NOT A WHOLE LOT HAPPENS. Also, for a new adult book that takes place in a college, nobody cracks open a book. I think there was one scene where Neil was studying. These kids must all have F's because they only seem to party and do drugs and never study. Way to prepare for the real world.

5. I'm still hung up over the whole yakuza angle. Like, one of the teams is a front for a mob boss's sinister organization? Lmao, what. This must be the worst-regulated sport in the history of ever, because people are allowed to brutalize each other on the court (there's a loophole that allows you to hit people who don't have the ball), and there seem to be ZERO drug tests (hence the partying).

6. THE FOXHOLE COURT went all THE HUNGER GAMES and shit at the end. May the odds be ever in your favor, Neil. Too bad nobody cares. At least, I don't. Why did I buy the next two books in this series again? Oh, right. Because they were 99-cents each and I am a sucker.

Overall, I can't say that I hated this book. It was very well-written, as I said, and kind of had an anime vibe/anime fanfic vibe to it, which is why I imagine this book is so popular with the youngins. If the characters had been fleshed out more, I think I would have liked the story more, but they all felt like caricatures to me. I can't say it's worth the hype but I'll probably read the sequels since I bought them.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars