Tag Archives: 2019 Review

Redux Review: The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier
High fantasy released by Penguin on September 3, 2019

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

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

This fantasy novel is well written but wasn’t for me. I enjoy fantasy novels and this has spies, traveling bards, druids, fairy folk, and more. I really wanted the story to work for me but it didn’t. I stopped reading just past the halfway point. I expect others might like it though.

Content warning for descriptions of past child abuse and associated trauma, current child abuse, and attempted sexual assault.

The Harp of Kings is told from the points of view of three characters. Point of view changes with each chapter. The three POV characters are around 18 years old and on a mission (with two experienced spies) for this gang of spies/warriors they’re hoping to join. Brocc and Liobhan are siblings and Dau is the third spy-in-training. Dau and Liobhan have a pretty intense rivalry among their group of trainees and they have to work together on the mission despite that. Continue reading

Release Day Guest Review: The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

Guest review of The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier
High fantasy released by Penguin on September 3, 2019

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

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

Juliet Marillier is one of my insta-buy authors and this book just confirms why that’s the case. The Harp of Kings launches a new series, Warrior Bards. I’m not sure if it will follow the same format as the Blackthorn & Grim series (following the same set of characters; more mystery, slow burn romance) or the Sevenwaters series (a different couple in each book; very much historical fantasy romance), but I suspect it will be the former. This story also nicely intersects the two established series in this world (the aforementioned Sevenwaters and Blackthorn & Grim). If you’re new to Marillier, this book is a good place to start! Continue reading

Review: The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken

The Blacksmith Queen (The Scarred Earth Saga, #1) by G.A. Aiken
Adult High Fantasy published by Kensington on August 27, 2019

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

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

I have been waiting not so patiently for this book since it was announced and I was not disappointed! I love the zaniness of the author’s Shelly Laurenston urban fantasy/paranormal romance books and am just now making my way through her fantasy romance Dragon Kin series as G.A. Aiken. The Blacksmith Queen has family squabbles and insults aplenty like the other series. To me the silliness is a little dialed down from the Dragon Kin series or the Shelly Laurenston books but the book is still funny and overall delightful! There are plenty of battles and fantastical creatures although it’s light on kissing and sexy times in case that’s something you’re after! Continue reading

Release Day Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Sapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy, #4) by Ilona Andrews
Urban Fantasy published by Avon on August 27, 2019

I’m a huge Ilona Andrews fan and the Hidden Legacy series is probably my favorite. The writing and story pacing are just spot on. Sapphire Flames takes the series to another level and it was already fabulous before.

Fair warning—the blurb for Sapphire Flames spoils some events from the first books in the series so I strongly recommend reading the 3 full length books and one novella (Burn for Me, White Hot, Wildfire, and Diamond Fire) before reading Sapphire Flames. I’ll reference things from the blurb but try to avoid other potential spoilers. Nevada and Rogan aren’t part of Sapphire Flames but their books set up where Sapphire Flames picks up. Continue reading

Team ALBTALBS TBR Challenge Review: Unraveled by Lauren Dane

Unraveled (Whiskey Sharp book 1) by Lauren Dane
Contemporary romance released by Carina Press on January 30, 2018

Whiskey Sharp: Unraveled by Lauren Dane book coverThe sharpest ache comes from wanting what you think you can’t have…

Maybe Dolan has lived independent, free-spirited and unattached since leaving home at sixteen. Whiskey Sharp, Seattle’s sexy vintage-styled barbershop and whiskey bar, gave her a job—and a reason to put down roots. Cutting hair by day, losing herself drumming in a punk rock band by night, she’s got it good.

But a longtime crush that turns into a hot, edgy night with brooding and bearded Alexsei Petrov makes it a hell of a lot better.

Maybe’s blunt attitude and carnal smile hooked Alexsei from the start. Protecting people is part of his nature and Maybe is meant to be his…even if she doesn’t know it. Yet. He can’t help himself from wanting to protect and care for her.

But Maybe’s fiery independent spirit means pushing back when Alexsei goes too far. Still, he’s not afraid to do a little pushing of his own to get what he wants—her in his life, and his bed, for good. Maybe’s more intoxicating than all the liquor on his shelf…and he’s not afraid to ride the blade’s edge to bind her to him.

My TBR is massive, I don’t think I’ve read 40 new to me books in the last two years. I have reread several Lauren Danes though, so when thinking about what to read and review for ALBTALBS, this book from January of last year was the first to come to mind.

** TW/Spoiler: Maybe suffered severe emotional abuse at the hands of her parents and this is a main plot point in the first two books in the series.** Continue reading

Team ALBTALBS TBR Challenge Review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Contemporary romance published by St. Martin’s Griffin on May 14, 2019

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston book coverWhat happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

I’m reviewing this for the July #TBRChallenge. While it’s a fairly recent release, I feel like I’ve waited forever to read it. If unrequited love, enemies to lovers, and friends to lovers are things you like in a romance, then this book is for you. It has all of these tropes and more between one couple and it’s delightful. Pretty much all of this story worked for me. Alex and Henry are lovely main characters, the secondary characters are so compelling. I feel like I got enough information for them to be fully developed but at the same time there’s potential for other stories in this world involving these great characters. A big component of the romance between Alex and Henry is epistolary—they communicate via text and email, initially getting to know each other more then it evolves into love letters. It’s so romantic y’all. Continue reading

Release Day Review: Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estep

Protect the Prince (A Crown of Shards book 2) by Jennifer Estep
Adult High Fantasy romance released by Harper Voyager on July 2, 2019

Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estep book coverMagic, murder, adventure, and romance combine in this second novel in the exciting Crown of Shardssaga from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Estep.

Everleigh Blair might be the new gladiator queen of Bellona, but her problems are far from over.

First, Evie has to deal with a court full of arrogant, demanding nobles, all of whom want to get their greedy hands on her crown. As if that wasn’t bad enough, an assassin tries to kill Evie in her own throne room.

Despite the dangers, Evie goes ahead with a scheduled trip to the neighboring kingdom of Andvari in order to secure a desperately needed alliance. But complicating matters is the stubborn Andvarian king, who wants to punish Evie for the deaths of his countrymen during the Seven Spire massacre.

Dark forces are also at work inside the Andvarian palace, and Evie soon realizes that no one is safe. Worse, her immunity to magic starts acting in strange, unexpected ways, which makes Evie wonder whether she is truly strong enough to be a Winter Queen.

Evie’s magic, life, and crown aren’t the only things in danger—so is her heart, thanks to Lucas Sullivan, the Andvarian king’s bastard son and Evie’s … well, Evie isn’t quite sure what Sullivan is to her.

Only one thing is certain—protecting a prince might be even harder than killing a queen…

I loved Kill the Queen, book 1 in this series and Protect the Prince is more of the same. Jennifer Estep has created a great world and I love the tone and structure of these books. To me the pacing and content are like action movies in book form and I just want roll around in them for days. There’s two royal courts, a little road trip, political machinations abound, skulking through secret passage ways, sleuthing to find spies and assassins, magic battles, and romance?! The best things ever all in one package in my opinion! Perfect summer reading. Continue reading

Team ALBTALBS TBR Challenge Review: Crashed Out by Tessa Bailey

Crashed Out (Made in Jersey #1) by Tessa Bailey
Contemporary romance published December 7, 2015, by Entangled: Brazen

Crashed Out by Tessa Bailey book coverJasmine Taveras is the reason Sarge Purcell grabbed his six-string and bailed the hell out of New Jersey four years ago. She’s the fuel for every song he’s ever written-each one laced with bitter, hard-edged, hungry lust. Now, with his hugely successful band on temporary hiatus, Sarge is determined to prove to Jasmine that he’s turned into every inch the man she’s always needed…

Men are slim pickings for a single factory girl in Hook, New Jersey…until tall, broad-shouldered hotness walks—or rather storms—into Jasmine’s life. Sarge’s return shouldn’t affect her this way. He’s her best friend’s much younger brother, and the kind of rough, gritty, sexiness Jasmine has no right to taste for herself. Even if he lets her.

But lust is a blinding, insatiable force. And when it crashes, it will take both Sarge and Jasmine down with it…

I read Crashed Out for the April TBR Challenge—Something Different. I hoped for a fun read based on the premise of this book. Older woman/younger man, best friend’s little brother, and a rock star romance?! Unfortunately I’m disappointed. Very sexy but I wanted more conversations between Jasmine and Sarge about who they were and what they saw in each other, not just dirty talk. The story seemed very superficial and I wasn’t in the mood to accept two or three days of fabulous sex and a couple “grand gestures” was enough for Jasmine to fall in love with Sarge. Continue reading

Review: Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole
Contemporary romance novellas released by Avon on January 8, 2019

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole book coverWhile her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy—so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.

When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.

This is a lovely novella in the world of the Reluctant Royals series. It’s a second chance romance between Likotsi and Fabiola. They find each other again unexpectedly when they both have a day off and end up spending the day together in New York City. The story alternates between present day (their day together in NYC) and when they were together before. It’s adorable and broke my heart a few times. Continue reading

Review: How to (Not) Train a Firecat by R. Cooper (Author), Erin Gamble (Illustrator)

How to (Not) Train a Firecat by R. Cooper (Author), Erin Gamble (Illustrator)
High fantasy M/M romance published by R. Cooper on December 26, 2018

How to (Not) Train a Firecat by R. Cooper book cover

The firecats of Dua are giant beasts with red-gold fur and lashing tails. They are also loving and loyal companions to the few they choose to serve. Every member of the royal House of Durii has a personal guard and a firecat to serve as a reminder of the greatness of their rule. After all, only the truly extraordinary would walk alongside a firecat. Only the truly extraordinary could.

Not River, obviously. River took the job of cleaning up after the noble beasts when he came to Dua years ago. He’s not any kind of soldier or guard, and he’s too mouthy to belong around royalty. All he wants to do is avoid some of the more resentful guard trainees, care for the very spoiled cats, and try not to get his heart broken by one maddeningly gentle apprentice wizard.

Apprentice Gavin is powerful, brilliant, and probably noble. He’s destined for greatness—and more than likely a guard and a firecat to protect him. He’s not meant for one insignificant little beastminder like River.

But firecats are not the only creatures who are fierce, loyal, and beautiful to behold. River is about to learn that the firecats and the guards who walk with them have more in common than he thought. And he will have to accept that he might be extraordinary as Gavin thinks he is.

I read this book because the cover is adorable, and also because I love a good “behind the scenes” book and a good magical creatures book, and this one combines both of those things.

River, who is the caretaker for the cats, is a scrappy fighter who’s not afraid to break a knee or two to defend himself. He’s very aware of being an outsider from a foreign culture and his low status and fully expects that Gavin, while currently his lover, will be expected to marry well and will eventually leave him. He’s also determined not to take any nonsense from any of the trainee cat wranglers / future guards of the nobility. River is also dealing with some culture shock, in the sense that he’s from a culture that doesn’t support same-sex relationships and still getting used to living in a society pairing off is required but the gender of one’s partner is not significant. Continue reading