Category Archives: Review

Team TBR Challenge Review: The Autumn Ballad

Here are two [synopses] of the series:

The story of a witty young girl named Qiu Yan and a cold-faced duke named Liang Yi, who goes from battling each other with wits and boldness to understanding and accompanying each other.

Qiu Yan is the least favored eldest daughter of the Qiu Manor. She managed to reap happiness step by step relying on her own efforts and wisdom. (From MyDramaList)

Or

As the eldest daughter of an influential scholar and Vice Minister of Works, Qiu Yan (Qiao Xin) ought to have been highly favored within her family. Alas, as the daughter of her father’s concubine, the favor Qiu Yan should have received often went to her younger sister, Qiu Min (Kabby Hui). Often overlooked and frequently mistreated, Qiu Yan’s only chance of escape from her less-than-fortunate life comes in the form of an arranged marriage. Unfortunately even that goes awry at the last minute, leaving Qiu Yan an object of scorn and mistrust.

Determined to clear her name, Qiu Yan takes on the investigation herself; but she isn’t the only one looking into the case of her newly departed husband. As head inspector of the government’s investigative agency, Duke Liang Yi (Jeremy Tsui) is determined to uncover the truth. Often crossing paths with Qiu Yan, the two form an unlikely friendship, which works out advantageously for both, as the closing of their case gets them both what they want most. But the fates that tie Qiu Yan and Liang Yi together aren’t finished meddling just yet.

When her family is threatened by an unexpected accusation, Qiu Yan and Liang Yi must work together once more, to save her family from ultimate disgrace. As they work to clear her family’s name, the sparks that often fly between them eventually ignite a much bigger flame. But can love blossom in the midst of a major family crisis?

A fantastic story of clashing wills and melting hearts, “The Autumn Ballad” is a 2022 Chinese romance drama directed by Ding Ying Zhou. (From Rakuten Viki)

(Today was the first time I’d ever seen the trailer… anyway.) The “prompt” for the challenge this month is “Starting Over” and I’m currently having my heart ripped out by my rewatch of The Autumn Ballad … and I think it really fits well. (The book I’m reading very slowly, Kraving Tavek by Zoey Draven, would fit well too but I have a feeling even much more angst is in the second half and I fear it turning into wangst … so we’ll see.) Anyway … it’s funny because I think I actually tried watching The Autumn Ballad a while back but the opening scene turned me off – but last week I saw more of the episode when someone else turned it on and I got hooked. Hard. I literally watched all 34 episodes in two days … so there you go. (I also literally didn’t sleep the second night which is not recommended for healthy responsible adults.) 😅 It also means I’m fuzzy on some details so a piecemeal rewatch is called for, although I’m fast forwarding through all the parts that annoyed me the first go round, so there’s that too.

I don’t know if I’ll do a good job describing things/doing it justice because I’m so in it … but here we go.

Overall, I really liked the series. Obviously, considering I binged it, and immediately turned around and started it all over again. (And am nearly done with my second watch.) That being said, I have some mixed feelings – and this time I love parts more and hate parts more

Qiu Yan/Su Yiwan (although in my opinion she never really becomes the latter) is a wonderful heroine, and I loved that she had flaws that the show just … let be. The actress (Qiao Xin) does a great job portraying the character. I’ve never seen her in anything else before, but I’d definitely watch another historical she’s in. I did feel there were holes in the plot/script where this supposedly incredibly intelligent girl was TSTL – but I didn’t know if that was due to her age or just … “lack of care” in the writing. Anyway, she’s smart, stubborn, bold, brave, petty, independent, and clueless. I don’t think she ever really understood how deeply the hero loved her until like the last five minutes. (Or last minute? Spoiler: the show blessedly ends with them reuniting, but they don’t speak – they’re like ten yards apart staring at each other meaningfully. This was one of my major hate moments.) Considering her difficult background, and how poorly almost everyone has treated her her whole life, she feels that strength is the most important thing – being bold and fearless. She doesn’t understand compromise or standing down for most of the series. Oftentimes this is a benefit, but sometimes it causes major problems. What bothered me about her/this is … for such a smart girl, how could she not understand consequences. She had such tunnel vision in the beginning. Qiu Yan has such a big heart, and is willing to help and protect her family, giving up her own wants and desires, all for family. Throw in extreme danger, burden, and ungratefulness from many of them. (This I think is a strong cultural factor.)

Liang Yi have moved into my top five heroes in C-dramas. Maybe all heroes. He’s willing to do anything, and give up everything to help the heroine. He puts his life on the line for her countless times, and even turns back on his major vengeance to help her family (because of her). He definitely isn’t perfect though. Through the first ten plus episodes he’s really an asshole to the heroine. (He thinks she’s a calculating social climber with no real redeeming qualities, and she’s trying to seduce his best friend just to be a rich lady.) Circumstances continue to throw them together though, and he sees her much more clearly, and the attraction grows. Through this he also softens. In the later episodes there are a few times we see him utterly heartbroken, and I loved that the actor (Jeremy Tsui) really went in hard with that – willing to show us an ugly cry face, actual tears, it feels like your heart is getting ripped out along with his. To the world, he’s a cruel, calculating bastard. He’s ruthless and only cares about power and clout in the imperial court. In a small part he has lost his way for his vision for justice and a better country, because at the beginning he doesn’t care any more about protecting the little people who are collateral damage when it comes to big picture change. But his motive has always been to protect and strengthen the country, and weed out corruption. (Obviously unpopular with corrupt court officials, who clearly hold a lot of control in terms of public opinion.) He’s hated and feared. And he understands it – he says he chose his own path, and walks it willingly.

As I mentioned, I hated the ending. Not just in how unsatisfactory the reunion is, but also what led to the separation. Granted I was sleep deprived but I felt it was very badly done, all the events in the last (two) episodes. They’re thrown together and nonsensical. I also don’t think I understand the purpose of it/if I’m right … it’s a shitty ass purpose that doesn’t stand up for all that was given and lost. And here we potentially have a cultural disconnect (obviously I have a much more Western view than the original target audience), and then >.> indelicately put, the whole commie message. “It’s worth giving up your everything for the sake of the country, even if/when it isn’t deserved.” I can’t think of how to describe it because I’m too angry at what I’m seeing on screen right now. Which is another thing I hated. The villain in the show wins. At the end we have this thrown in “subplot” that … well I don’t want to give spoilers, so there’s this whole thing but … the asshole who has been a thorn in the hero’s side for the entire series wins everything. He gets everything he wanted, a promotion, becomes basically the most important person in the imperial court (other than the emperor of course), his rival, Liang Yi, our hero is gone, his name tarnished …

The villain is a corrupt evil asshole. He lies and ruined the heroine’s family – causing her father’s death, and it’s only through the basically unreal machinations of the hero and heroine are her family partially restored. The villain also tortures the heroine (I’m still mad that was such a minor blip to the show), and literally ruins the hero’s life. The villain frames Liang Yi, calls him a traitor to the world, the hero’s home is sealed off, makes him become a hunted fugitive …

And for what? The villain has no purpose or goal other than “take down the hero” until nearly the end where they work together to save the country. And … we’re … supposed to believe that redeems the villain? Are you fucking goddamn kidding me? And THAT is a guy who you want having incredible power? Like … am I having a stroke here?

So anyway … looking at the plot itself/the story one would be utterly “what. the. fuck.” At least I was.

In part I guess it “doesn’t matter” because our hero chose to give things up. (I’m still not 100% clear if the hero loses his title as well – he was a marquis/the equivalent … so I don’t know if he just lost his position in court, or also the marquisate. I think we all know I’m a petty monster, so I care. Even if he doesn’t. I care. Even if he doesn’t do anything with it – he should still have it. Especially after all his contributions and sacrifices.

I also hated her third sister (Qiu Min), who is one of the main secondary characters. Seriously we could’ve had a better ending if the show had cut out her sniveling and sniffling. She spends probably a good thirty minutes of the series doing that, if not more. Beyond that though, she’s fucking evil. She absolutely never understands her older sister, and only sees her in the worst light. Real talk – and I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere in the few reviews I’ve read… Qiu Min rapes the guy she’s interested in (Qin Xuan). The show definitely doesn’t describe it that way … but she gets him drunk, roofies him … (and also told him her sister (Qiu Yan(, who he loves, is dead, and that he should pretend she’s her sister. So.) Qin Xuan and Qiu Yan had actually been a couple, although Qiu Min has always had a crush on him. It’s a mess. And a whole thing. Other spoiler/warning: Qiu Min is raped … and a possible trope I’m noticing that I hate is … “woman is raped and turns evil.” So now she’s a sniveling brat who is also evil. (I do feel very badly for her. But god damn does she just really go hard on the “I’m going to be the worst person possible but absolutely think there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing and everything bad is my sister.”) She does do some good which the show is supposed to make us think “well everything before was fine then” but … I’m not snowed. Note: you don’t really see anything re: the rape(s) happen on screen, but you definitely know it happens. I also hate the useless emperor.

What I loved … the romance. Even though I wanted more … what’s funny is it starts off as a love/hate – which is a trope I strongly dislike in writing. Here it works though because while each doesn’t think much of the other, they are impressed by the other person. They’re both very smart and direct, and don’t feel the need to pretend with each other or observe inane social niceties, because they don’t think much of the other person – so why bother? But it also makes things a lot easier, and they get to be exactly who they are. But as stated, as they spend more time together working to solve cases, the attraction develops. The hero starts to fall for the heroine in episode ten, in my opinion. And he changes. The furtive looks, the softening of his expression … our hero loves the heroine more than she loves him. Or at least, he shows it more. The heroine is more concerned with her own freedom once she’s in a place to consider what she wants/has saved her family (again). I’m not mad at her for that. Live your life, girl. Especially in ancient China – grab what independence you can, and enjoy life as you want it when you’re able. It’s what she ~initially thinks is the most important.

With all the censorship [rules] in China the only thing you ever see on screen is really chaste kisses … and here’s how strict/PG everything is … I was super excited to see the hero actually hug the heroine in sympathy. (Like generally in other shows other than a kiss or two the most meaningful contact is a gripped sleeve or *gasp* clasped hands.) So a comfort hug was nice to see. I also deeply enjoyed the scenes between the hero and heroine when she’s forced to be a courtesan due to her circumstances, because they get to be more affectionate than would normally be allowed. (They’re acting to throw off the villain … but it’s not all acting on the part of the hero. And he says so!) There are also a few “I love you I’m so happy to see you” hugs. Well, two. Still – it’s actually a big deal.

I also have to shout out the largely unsung (or at least not sufficiently celebrated) characters of Song Jun, Yao Gui, and Shi Xiao Xiao. (I just rewatched that one scene three times in a row and ugly cried each time.)

I’d actually thought the series was 40 episodes for some reason, so I think in part that’s why I felt so cheated by the ending. I thought we had more after 34, and didn’t even consider as I was watching how rushed/”botched” things were. Aside from the “let’s throw the kitchen sink in/at it” aspect … I felt the development of the relationship was really good, as was the lead actors’ chemistry. Seriously – the way the hero’s face softens when he looks at the heroine – his eyes light up and sparkle … it’s darling.

A lot of the plot is really engaging – there are twists and turns that are totally unexpected, so you’re always engaged. There are a LOT of really well written scenes too, as well as touching lines. At times things get very emotional – I found myself crying at scenes I’d already watched, and some I’ve watched over and over and over already. And seriously the “we live or die together” in episode 31 had me hugging myself. First for the lovely sentiment, but also because they FINALLY AND ACTUALLY SAID IT OUT LOUD.

I can definitely see The Autumn Ballad becoming one of my future go-to rewatch series.

You can start watching it on Youtube with English subtitles. I think they do a good job with them here.

🤦🏻‍♀️ ETA: I forgot the “new beginnings” part of this … so … the heroine escapes death a few times – as does the hero. (A few times they escape death together… <3) The other times are spoilers so I won’t go into detail, but there are definitely huge “new life begins” or “begin again” moments.

Team TBR Challenge Review: Shadow Wizard by Jeffe Kennedy

Shadow Wizard by Jeffe Kennedy
A Dark Fantasy Romance released by Brightlynx Publishing on September 29, 2022

Shadow Wizard by Jeffe Kennedy book coverSpy, manipulator, traitor… He might be her only salvation.

Lady Seliah Phel can’t escape feeling like she’s one of those fairytale princesses awakened from a long slumber—except that her life is no romantic story and there’s no happy ending in sight. Though she has her magic and she’s been rescued from the depths of madness that consumed her since adolescence, Selly finds that the years she lost aren’t so easily recovered. Everyone treats her like the child they remember. To prove something—perhaps only to herself—she’s recklessly volunteered to stave off a host of monsters with only the enigmatically alluring, cuttingly sarcastic, and probably deceitful wizard Jadren El-Adrel for company.

Jadren isn’t the heroic type. In fact, he’s not much of anything. Relentlessly groomed into a shadow of a man by his sadistic mother, he’s the perfect spy and tool, with no real will of his own. When he’s stranded in the wilderness with Seliah Phel, he figures the outcome is immaterial. Live or die, it’s all the same to him. But Seliah is a different story and she isn’t like anyone else. Though he reminds himself she’s basically a child in a woman’s body, he finds it increasingly difficult to resist her artless charms and relentless curiosity.

As their predicament goes from dire to disastrous, Jadren realizes his many failures have jeopardized Selly’s future, perhaps her very life. Far from home and trapped without resources, Selly has only Jadren to rely upon—the one person she can’t possibly trust. There seems no possibility of rescue from their friends and family back home at House Phel, so Jadren and Selly must work together to survive… if they can.

I was very excited about this book when I saw the cover copy. I had hoped that there would be more books in this Kennedy world, and while I would not have put Seliah and Jadren together, they do make a compelling couple. Following along as their relationship went from, “I hate you, but can’t stop thinking about your hair” as Sarah Wendell would put it, to love—if not a happily ever after, was engrossing. We met Seliah in the two previous books, but she has changed over time. We also met Jadren in the two previous books, but he has hidden depths. It helps that he isn’t a villain—he is an anti-hero. As a warning, this book does include descriptions of abuse and talks about PTSD, although not using that terminology. Also, this book does end on a cliffhanger and I feel like it would be generous to say that Seliah and Jadren have a HFN ending, but no one is in active danger, which worked for me in this case but, of course, your mileage may vary. And last but not least, this book picks up right where Grey Magic left Seliah, so while doable, I wouldn’t recommend jumping in to this world with this book; you might be confused and not as emotionally invested in the characters and their relationships. Continue reading

[November] Team TBR Challenge Not Review: Single and Ready to Jingle by Piper Rayne

Single and Ready to Jingle by Piper Rayne
Contemporary romance released by Piper Rayne on November 15, 2022

The girl who loves Christmas falls for the Grinch—it’s a Christmas miracle.

What started as a dumpster fire of a blind date turns into a deal.

In truth, it probably didn’t help that I showed up dressed like an elf but that’s a story for another time. Our start was rocky at best which is why it’s so frustrating that I can’t stop thinking about his sexy British accent. Or the way his chest and arms fill out his suit. Or his perfect hair with that single streak of grey at the front.

Santa likes lists and so do I, so here’s all the reasons why Andrew and I aren’t right for each other:

He’s my brother’s best friend
He’s the biggest grump I’ve ever met.
He hates Christmas.

That last one is big for a girl like me who thinks that the entire month of December should be a national holiday. So, when he calls for my help in planning his firm’s holiday party, I can’t pass up the opportunity to grow my small business. Bonus, we make a deal, and he agrees to attend three holiday events with me so I can make him fall in love with Christmas. As if I’d pass up an opportunity to make a Grinch’s heart grow three times its size.

It isn’t long until I discover Andrew has a very real reason to hate Christmas and I start to see him in a different light. That’s when the Christmas miracle begins.

Ok first of all, let’s just pretend it’s still November, shall we? Because somehow this week got away from me. (Like all the other weeks and years…) Anyway. secondly, I want to say overall I enjoyed this book. I’m not at all mad I read it. That being said though, there are some things that bothered me about it. And I’m just … too crushed by endless migraines to write a real review right now. So we’re going with just the lies in the book. (ETA the November TBR Challenge “prompt” was “Lies.”)

I picked up Single and Ready to Jingle because I’ve enjoyed some Piper Rayne books in the past, and “best friend’s sibling” is one of my romance catnip tropes. The heroine is 28 (god forbid she be over 30, right?) And the hero is 34. They get matched on a dating app, and realize he’s her brother’s best friend. But the thing is – they don’t exchange actual names until the actual date. (They’d also never met prior to this first date.) As the blurb says, it goes badly. With good reason. I have to admit I’m leaning a bit towards Andrew’s side on this one because Kenzie shows up at a posh Manhattan restaurant literally in full Christmas elf getup with literal bells on.  Why… not just message you’ll be late? And change?

Both characters have a lot – a lot – of understandable baggage. I totally was okay with that. November’s TBR challenge prompt was lies … so I guess I’ll discuss the two biggest ones in the book that I remember. Continue reading

Review: How to Find a Princess by Alyssa Cole

How to Find a Princess (Runaway Royals Book 2) by Alyssa Cole
Contemporary romance released by Avon on May 25, 2021

How to Find a Princess by Alyssa Cole book coverAlyssa Cole’s second Runaway Royals novel is a queer Anastasia retelling, featuring a long-lost princess who finds love with the female investigator tasked with tracking her down.
Makeda Hicks has lost her job and her girlfriend in one fell swoop. The last thing she’s in the mood for is to rehash the story of her grandmother’s infamous summer fling with a runaway prince from Ibarania, or the investigator from the World Federation of Monarchies tasked with searching for Ibarania’s missing heir.

Yet when Beznaria Chetchevaliere crashes into her life, the sleek and sexy investigator exudes exactly the kind of chaos that organized and efficient Makeda finds irresistible, even if Bez is determined to drag her into a world of royal duty Makeda wants nothing to do with.

When a threat to her grandmother’s livelihood pushes Makeda to agree to return to Ibarania, Bez takes her on a transatlantic adventure with a crew of lovable weirdos, a fake marriage, and one-bed hijinks on the high seas. When they finally make it to Ibarania, they realize there’s more at stake than just cash and crown, and Makeda must learn what it means to fight for what she desires and not what she feels bound to by duty.

This was a wonderful romp with two very different main characters. I only wish we got to see more of them as a long-standing couple. Readers of this series and the Reluctant Royals series will recognize Beznaria from her appearance in How to Catch a Queen, as well as other characters. I think you can read this book without having read How to Catch a Queen, or the Reluctant Royals series, but you might miss out on a lot of the subplots going on. What This book is told in loosely alternating chapters in Beznaria and Makeda’s voices, and you get a really good sense of their personalities and way of moving through the world. This has become a fairly common way of structuring stories, but not everyone is good a capturing and conveying a character’s voice outside of dialogue, which you need to be able to do in order for this structure to live up to its full potential. Makeda and Beznaria both have a lot going on when they first meet, and much of the book is both of them sorting themselves out and figuring out that they love each other. Both also have complicated families that love them.

Makeda is stuck when the book begins, and a lot of the book is her learning how to break the pattern she is stuck in. She is a fixer, by habit and because it was how she survived an unstable childhood, but her fixing tendencies are mostly externalized, so that she helps other people with their problems–even really little ones. She has realized this by the time Beznaria shows up–Makeda describes Beznaria as having chaos vibes that draw her in. Makeda is eventually swept up by Beznaria, but even so, she figures out how to love Beznaria without fixing her. That’s not to say that everything is great when they arrive in Beznaria’s home country, because they both kept some pretty big secrets from each other that have major consequences. They don’t tell each other these secrets until they’re just about to arrive in Beznaria’s country, but we know them because of how the story is narrated so it isn’t suspenseful in that way. Continue reading

Review: Final Heir by Faith Hunter

Final Heir (Jane Yellowrock #15) by Faith Hunter
Urban fantasy released by Ace on September 6, 2022

The stakes couldn’t be higher in the newest novel in the New York Times bestselling, pulse-pounding Jane Yellowrock series.

Jane Yellowrock is the queen of the vampires, and that makes her a target as she fights to maintain control and keep peace in the city of New Orleans. She has enemies at every turn, because vampires live forever, and they keep their grudges alive with them. That includes the Heir, the vampire sire of the Pellissier bloodline, which gave rise to Leo Pellissier himself—Jane’s old boss and the former master of the city.

With the Heir and all the forces of darkness he can muster arrayed against her, Jane will need all the help she can get. She’ll find it in her city, her friends, her found family, and, of course, the Beast inside of her.

I’ve been reading this series at least since college, if not earlier. I think, but am not sure, this is the last book in the series, based on how it ends; I could be wrong. If it is the end, I think it does a good job of capping off the series, ending it with Jane in a different place than she was as a character, but just as gritty and powerful as she was in the first book. This is definitely not the book to start reading if this series is new to you, because it wraps up plotlines that have extended through many books, so if you weren’t invested in them previously, this is not the point to try. However, if you’re looking for an urban fantasy series that is complete, this is probably a good bet. Jane is the central character in the story, and her relationship with George, her love interest, doesn’t take up a lot of conflict space, the way it did in previous books; the focus here is on Jane and resolving what the last big bad villain wants. Continue reading

Team TBR Challenge Review: Oak King Holly King by Sebastian Nothwell

Oak King Holly King by Sebastian Nothwell
Fantasy romance released by Sebastian Nothwell on February 14, 2022

Shrike, the Butcher of Blackthorn, is a legendary warrior of the fae realms. When he wins a tournament in the Court of the Silver Wheel, its queen names him her Oak King – a figurehead destined to die in a ritual duel to invoke the change of seasons. Shrike is determined to survive. Even if it means he must put his heart as well as his life into a mere mortal’s hands.

Wren Lofthouse, a London clerk, has long ago resigned himself to a life of tedium and given up his fanciful dreams. When a medieval-looking brute arrives at his office to murmur of destiny, he’s inclined to think his old enemies are playing an elaborate prank. Still, he can’t help feeling intrigued by the bizarre-yet-handsome stranger and his fantastical ramblings, whose presence stirs up emotions Wren has tried to lock away in the withered husk of his heart.

As Shrike whisks Wren away to a world of Wild Hunts and arcane rites, Wren is freed from the repression of Victorian society. But both the fae and mortal realms prove treacherous to their growing bond. Wren and Shrike must fight side-by-side to see who will claim victory – Oak King or Holly King.

It has been so long since I bought this one that I actually don’t remember why I picked it up, other than I am always a sucker for a good shifter romance. (My assigned theme for this month was “animals” and I’m going to say two characters named after birds one of whom IS a bird is, uh. close enough.) Anyway – love a shifter romance, also love a historical romance, historical + shifter + supernatural shenanigans = autobuy, for me. Also the cover is beautiful. Continue reading

Review: Fan the Flames by Katie Ruggle

Fan the Flames by Katie Ruggle
Romantic Suspense published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on June 7, 2016

Fan the Flames by Katie Ruggle book coverHe’s a firefighter. He’s a Motorcycle Club member.
And if a killer has his way…he’ll take the fall for a murder he didn’t commit.

Ian Walsh is used to riding the line between the good guys and the bad. He may owe the club his life, but his heart rests with his fire station brothers…and with the girl he’s loved since they were kids. Ian would do anything for Rory. He’d die for her. Kill for her. Defend her to his last breath?and he may just have to.

Every con in the Rockies knows Rory is the go-to girl for less-than-legal firearms. When she defends herself against a brutal attack, Rory finds herself catapulted into the center of a gang war, with only Ian standing between her and a threat greater than either of them could have imagined.

In the remote Rocky Mountains, lives depend on the Search & Rescue brotherhood. But in a place this far off the map, trust is hard to come by and secrets can be murder..

I normally don’t read suspense romance, because I don’t like that kind of conflict/tension in my romance reading, and a lot of romances have the danger boner make an appearance, which is just too much. But I went in search of a suspense romance that didn’t have a cop or other form of law enforcement as the protagonist, and here I am with a review. This is the second book in a series, which you can read without having read the previous book, but it does end on a cliffhanger because there is an overarching mystery that connects all the books, so keep that in mind. There is violence and trauma in this book. I liked both Ian and Rory (who is a woman), but I found Rory’s character a bit more nuanced than Ian’s. Rory is tough because she’s had to be, but also vulnerable, and Ian is great because he mostly understands Rory but isn’t necessarily trying to change her. The mystery is what brings them together, but their relationship exists outside of solving the mystery, even before it really pushes them together. Continue reading

Team TBR Challenge Review: Love Notes by Christina C. Jones

Love Notes by Christina C. Jones
Contemporary Romance released by Christina C. Jones on February 2, 2018

Love Notes by Christina C. Jones Book CoverLove that says something, instead of just looking like it. Love you can always trust to feel like home. For both of them, it’s something that has always been just outside of their peripheral, something to be observed rather than experienced. A depth of feeling reserved for people who were “into” that, those with a different outlook, those more… deserving. Until their paths cross. Lines are crossed. And maybe the stars are crossed too, because the connection and chemistry are so off the charts that they can’t stay away from each other, can’t avoid it… even if they think they should.

I haven’t read blue collar romances in a long time, partly because I realized that a lot of them were about secret rich people and I find that premise less interesting. If you’re going to write about rich people, then write about rich people, don’t try and disguise them. Anyway, I struggled a bit when trying to meet the prompt for this month’s TBR because it was for a blue collar romance and I had been reading entirely outrageous (in the best way) paranormal romances for the last few months. I got this book because Limecello recommended it when it was on sale a few weeks ago. And here we are. This was a fun book, and its warmth and feeling of community balanced out the darker elements. The book talks about child sexual abuse, and it is an important part of one of the love interests’ backstory. Jules is moving back to her old neighborhood and opening up a photography studio when she meets Troy, who manages a barber shop across the street from where her studio will be. Both Troy and Jules go through some character development during the book. Honestly, this is a lovely book to read. And Limecello really likes the audiobook version. Continue reading

Team TBR Challenge Review: Servant Mage by Kate Elliott

Servant Mage by Kate Elliott
Fantasy released by Tor on January 18, 2022.

Servant Mage by Kate Elliott book coverIn Kate Elliott’s Servant Mage, a lowly fire mage finds herself entangled in an empire-spanning conspiracy on her way to discovering her true power.

They choose their laws to secure their power.

Fellion is a Lamplighter, able to provide illumination through magic. A group of rebel Monarchists free her from indentured servitude and take her on a journey to rescue trapped compatriots from an underground complex of mines.

Along the way they get caught up in a conspiracy to kill the latest royal child and wipe out the Monarchist movement for good.

But Fellion has more than just her Lamplighting skills up her sleeve…

This book kept calling to me ever since Limecello assigned me this month’s TBR theme, which is “after the war.” This book is not a romance, but I think it does a wonderful job of exploring the nuances of what comes after a revolution and how it isn’t as clearcut as we might expect. It is set in a fantasy world, where there is magic, and where a revolutionary war recently took place. The main character, Fellion, has magical abilities over fire, and is working at an inn when the book begins. A major issue I had with this book is that while there are clues to Fellion’s background and motivations, we don’t fully understand them until almost the end, so that the tension between the choices she has at the end of the book hadn’t built up enough for me to be fully invested either way. I think you could say this is a coming-of-age story, though Fellion’s age was never entirely clear to me, other than young but not a child, so I hesitate to stick the book with that descriptor. Lest you be misled by the blurb, this is not going to be a rags to riches story. Continue reading

Team TBR Challenge Review: The Storm’s Whisper (The Broken Lands Book 5) by T.A. White

The Storm’s Whisper (The Broken Lands Book 5) by T.A. White
Adult high fantasy romance released by T. A. White on January 22, 2022

The Storm's Whisper by T. A. White book coverThe path to peace is never easy.

As the first Caller in living memory, Eva struggles to find her footing as the bridge between her chosen people and the mythological race known as the Kyren.

When unexpected arrivals threaten to test the newly formed alliance, Eva and her protector, Caden, fight to hold together the fast-fraying bonds before peace unravels and war once again returns. Should she fail, bloodshed the likes the Broken Lands haven’t seen since the cataclysm will stain the ground red.

The mysterious abilities that lie at the heart of Eva’s power will be her salvation or lead to her becoming an evil far worse than anything seen before. Will this land fall or be reborn into a new age?

I’ve really enjoyed the Broken Lands books and was very eager to read more about Eva and Caden. The first three books are about Shea and Fallon, books four and five feature Eva and Caden. To be honest, I’d been slightly reluctant to recommend the series because although the books and stories are very enjoyable, the first three have editing issues, and I know there are people who find it quite off putting. I don’t know if the author has found a new editor, or made other changes, but I didn’t notice that while reading The Storm’s Whisper. I also want to re-read all the books now. It’s been a while since I’ve read the whole series, and I think it’d be really enjoyable to read through as book five has a rather final ending, although there are tendrils to follow. (And I REALLY HOPE THEY ARE FOLLOWED! I’d love to see more in this world.) Continue reading