Tag Archives: Aidee

Release Day Review: Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews

Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews
Urban fantasy released by Avon on August 25, 2020

Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews book coverAs Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers—powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart.

The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won’t rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that’s tearing their world apart.

I really enjoy this series, and I really enjoyed this book. This book is the sequel to Sapphire Flames, and does a good job of not presuming the reader is familiar with the world or characters. However, things will make much more sense if you’ve read, at least, Sapphire Flames–you should definitely read all of the previous books, but you don’t have to. Also, there is a decent amount of on the page violence in this book, so if that makes you uncomfortable, this isn’t your book. Catalina is savvy, confident, ruthless, and loves her family deeply. She’s also trying not to become like her paternal grandmother, who does not have a good track record as a decent human being. The love interest is Alessandro, and while he doesn’t narrate any part of this book, we get a good sense of him from how Catalina describes their interactions and how the other characters react to him. In many ways, he is like Catalina, but without a supportive family or friends, and he’s changed from how he was in previous books. I keep mentioning Catalina’s family because they’re just as important as Catalina to the way the story unfolds, both in this book and over the course of the series. The only thing I didn’t like about this book is its ending, which is a bit of a cliffhanger. Continue reading

Review: Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha

Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha
Urban fantasy romance released by Tor Books on July 28, 2020

Deal With the Devil by Kit Rocha book coverNina is an information broker with a mission—she and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to save the hopeless in a crumbling America.

Knox is the bitter, battle-weary captain of the Silver Devils. His squad of supersoldiers went AWOL to avoid slaughtering innocents, and now he’s fighting to survive.

They’re on a deadly collision course, and the passion that flares between them only makes it more dangerous. They could burn down the world, destroying each other in the process…

Or they could do the impossible: team up.

This is a wonderful start to what I hope will be a great series. The book deals with several issues that might be uncomfortable for some readers, and the authors have provided content warnings on their site for those issues. Generally, this is an intense book. It is set in a dystopian future on Earth where society has collapsed and is run by dangerous entities with a firm hold on everything, including technology, medical research, and information of any kind. The main characters in this series are broken down into two teams. On the mercenary side, there’s Knox and his team, who are hiding out from the big bad entity because they refuse to follow orders to kill innocent people anymore. There’s a slight hitch with that plan, which is why they end up collaborating with the mercenary librarians (which the authors described as Murder Ladies in one tweet). Nina is the leader of the mercenary librarians, and their mission is to help all the normal people trying to survive in this dystopian world. Nina is a problem solver; if you put her in a hard situation, she will figure a way out of it without sacrificing the people she holds dear and get what she originally wanted. Part of this is preparation, but the rest is thinking on her feet and thinking outside the box. Knox is a planner, and he is less used to thinking outside the box. This is the cause for a lot of the conflict between Nina and Knox, along with secrets neither of them is aware of at the beginning of the book. Continue reading

Team ALBTALBS TBR Challenge Review: Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand

Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand
Contemporary romance released by Laura Florand on January 26, 2015 

Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand book coverShe stole his roses.

Fleeing the spotlight, burnt out rock star Layla—“Belle”—Dubois seeks refuge in the south of France. That old, half-forgotten heritage in a valley of roses seems like a good place to soothe a wounded heart. She certainly doesn’t expect the most dangerous threat to her heart to pounce on her as soon as she sets foot on the land.

He wants them back.

Matt didn’t mean to growl at her quite that loudly. But—his roses! She can’t have his roses. Even if she does have all those curls and green eyes and, and, and…what was he growling about again?

Or maybe he just wants her.

When an enemy invades his valley and threatens his home, heart, and livelihood, Matthieu Rosier really knows only one way to defend himself.

It might involve kissing.

I’ve been hoarding this book for a moment of true need. Or at least, that’s how I’m explaining why it took me this long to read this book, considering that it’s been in my virtual TBR pile for a very long time. It was, as with other Florand books, lush, funny, and richly layered both in terms of plot and characters. I guess you could loosely describe this as a beauty and the beast retelling, in so much as we have a really grumpy love interest who has a very soft heart–Matthieu, and a love interest who is beautiful, kind and curious–Layla. But because this is written by Florand, it is more than that. It is a musician who inherits a house in France, and steps into a family involved in the perfume industry who are collectively going through some growing pains. Continue reading

Release Day Review: A Touch of Stone and Snow by Milla Vane

A Touch of Stone and Snow (A Gathering of Dragons Book 2) by Milla Vane
High fantasy romance released by Berkley on July 21, 2020

A Touch of Stone and Snow by Milla Vane book coverMilla Vane returns to a world of kings, magic, and passion in her exhilarating A Gathering of Dragons series, as a great alliance forms to stand against an evil warlord intent on their destruction.
Danger lurks in the western realms. The Destroyer’s imminent return has sent the realms into turmoil as desperate citizens seek refuge—but there’s no safety to be found when demons and wraiths crawl out from the shadows. Even Koth, a northern island kingdom left untouched by the Destroyer a generation past, is besieged by terrors spawned from corrupt magics.
When Lizzan leads the Kothan army against these terrors, only to see her soldiers massacred and to emerge as the only survivor, she is called a coward and a deserter. Shunned from her home, Lizzan now wanders in solitude as a mercenary for hire, until she encounters a group of warriors seeking new alliances with the northern kingdoms—a group that includes Aerax, the bastard prince of Koth, and the man who sent her into exile.
Though they were childhood friends, Aerax cannot allow himself to be close to the only woman who might thwart his treacherous plan to save their island realm. But when a goddess’s demand binds them together, Lizzan and Aerax must find a way to overcome their painful pasts. Or there will be no future for the western realms…

A quick note before diving into this review: one of the main characters is an alcoholic, and Vane does not hide this.

I really enjoyed this book, and think it does a great job of following up on the action in the first book of this series. That said, you don’t need to have read the first book to be able to understand what is happening, since this is set in a different part of the world from the first book, but the relations and events explained in the previous novel and novella will be helpful here. This book is also a glorious, gritty epic fantasy romance, with fantastical creatures–even the nonmagical kind, battles, and quests. The romance in this book is a second-chance kind of a romance, with a decent splash of I-hate-you-but-still-have-feelings-dammit! Thrown in. And before I forget, there is an intelligent big cat in this book, and I always enjoy a good animal appearance. When we first meet Lizzan, she is going through a very rough patch and not dealing with it in a super healthy manner, so we get to see her work her way through that as the book progresses. Aerax is not over Lizzan at all when we meet him, and we get to see him fall more deeply in love with her. However, this is not an easy romance. Continue reading

Aidee’s List of Reads for the Second Half of *2019*

Hi friends. So, Aidee submitted this post on January 20, 2020 but … it’s been just … a lot this year, so please forgive me for the delay. So no – that’s not a typo. That’s just life kicking my ass and me not getting to this until now. :X

Second Half of 2019 Reads:

This list is not in any particular order, and also reflects that I slowed down and re-read a lot after August. (I believe the asterisks mean a re-read) Continue reading

Release Day Review: A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby by Vanessa Riley

A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby by Vanessa Riley
Historical romance released by Zebra Books on June 30, 2020

The Duke, The Lady, and A Baby by Vanessa Riley book coverCreated by a shrewd countess, The Widow’s Grace is a secret society with a mission: to help ill-treated widows regain their status, their families, and even find true love again—or perhaps for the very first time . . .

When headstrong West Indian heiress Patience Jordan questioned her English husband’s mysterious suicide, she lost everything: her newborn son, Lionel, her fortune—and her freedom. Falsely imprisoned, she risks her life to be near her child—until The Widow’s Grace gets her hired as her own son’s nanny. But working for his unsuspecting new guardian, Busick Strathmore, Duke of Repington, has perils of its own. Especially when Patience discovers his military strictness belies an ex-rake of unswerving honor—and unexpected passion . . .

A wounded military hero, Busick is determined to resolve his dead cousin’s dangerous financial dealings for Lionel’s sake. But his investigation is a minor skirmish compared to dealing with the forthright, courageous, and alluring Patience. Somehow, she’s breaking his rules, and sweeping past his defenses. Soon, between formidable enemies and obstacles, they form a fragile trust—but will it be enough to save the future they long to dare together?

This was a lovely historical romance that does not take place in ballrooms or castles. Instead, the love interests are an officer who was injured fighting Napoleon and a widowed heiress with a baby to protect. There are also women circumventing the rules to make sure they stay safe. The conflicts are layered like a nesting doll, and somewhat spoiler-y, so I can’t fully describe them. Busick (the injured officer) is methodical, protective, and for a while, stuck in the idea of getting back to the war. Patience (the widowed heiress) is isolated by her dead husband’s choices and the secrets he kept from her. She’s impulsive and protective. They’re brought together by the need to protect the baby, who is never out of sight for long. Continue reading

Release Day Review: The Dare by Elle Kennedy

The Dare (Briar U Book 4) by Elle Kennedy
Contemporary new adult romance released by Elle Kennedy on June 16, 2020

The Dare by Elle Kennedy book cover College was supposed to be my chance to get over my ugly-duckling complex and spread my wings. Instead, I wound up in a sorority full of mean girls. I already have a hard time fitting in, so when my Kappa Chi sisters issue the challenge, I can’t say no.

The dare: seduce the hottest new hockey player in the junior class.

Conor Edwards is a regular at Greek Row parties…and in Greek Row sorority beds. He’s the one you fall for before you learn that guys like him don’t give girls like me a second glance. Except Mr. Popular throws me for a loop—rather than laughing in my face, he does me a solid by letting me take him upstairs to pretend we’re getting busy.

Even crazier, now he wants to keep pretending. Turns out Conor loves games, and he thinks it’s fun to pull the wool over my frenemies’ eyes.

But resisting his easy charm and surfer-boy hotness is darn near impossible. Though I’m realizing there’s much more to Conor’s story than his fan club can see.

And the longer this silly ruse goes on, the greater the danger of it all blowing up in my face.

I devoured this book in less than 3 days. It was funny and angsty in equal measures, and did a good job of capturing college life without infantilizing the characters, which some authors can’t quite pull off. Before going further, a couple of content warnings: the book talks about revenge porn towards the end of the book, and Taylor (one of the love interests) is dealing with body image issues throughout the book. Taylor is part of a sorority, and Conor is an athlete, so there is a fair amount of drinking going on in the book. For all that Taylor and Conor’s experience of college was not like mine, I think that Kennedy did a good job of showing us how college students interact with each other and with the world outside of college. I liked seeing Taylor and Conor grow in confidence, both because of their coupledom but also because of their own separate choices. And despite how angsty this book can get, there are parts where I laughed aloud.
Continue reading

Team ALBTALBS TBR Challenge Review: Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik

Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik
Science fiction romance released by Harper Voyager on May 19, 2020

Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik book coverAs the youngest member of her High House, Catarina von Hasenberg is used to being underestimated, but her youth and flighty, bubbly personality mask a clever mind and stubborn determination. Her enemies, blind to her true strength, do not suspect that Cat is a spy—which makes her the perfect candidate to go undercover at a rival House’s summer retreat to gather intelligence on their recent treachery. Cat’s overprotective older sister reluctantly agrees, but on one condition: Cat cannot go alone. Alexander Sterling, a quiet, gorgeous bodyguard, will accompany her, posing as her lover. After Cat tries, and fails, to ditch Alex, she grudgingly agrees, confident in her ability to manage him. After all, she’s never found a person she can’t manipulate. But Alex proves more difficult—and more desirable—than Cat anticipated. When she’s attacked and nearly killed, she and Alex are forced to work together to figure out how deep the treason goes. With rumors of widespread assaults on Serenity raging, communications down, and the rest of her family trapped off-planet, Catarina must persuade Alex to return to Earth to expose the truth and finish this deadly battle once and for all. But Cat can’t explain why she’s the perfect person to infiltrate hostile territory without revealing secrets she’d rather keep buried….

I’ve been on a science fiction kick lately, which is a bit odd for me because usually I can’t get into science fiction for various reasons. However, I knew that this book was out in the world and decided to go with what was working for my brain. This was a fun read, full of intrigue and family dynamics and a lovely romance. This is told exclusively from Catarina’s (Cat) point of view, so if close first person is not your thing, this is not the book for you. Continue reading

Black Lives Matter

I realized a little over a week ago I’d been posting and sharing on various social media platforms – but not here. I then asked the review crew if they had anything to say, and this is what we have.

From Sailorstkwrning, this comic which is a great resource on why saying “All Lives Matter” is just wrong, and illustrates the “house on fire” aspect. I really hope you’ll click over to check it out.

From Aidee: Black lives matter wherever you find yourself reading this. In a genre that is unfriendly to Black authors, I think it is especially important to make an increased sustained effort to read and review Black authors. For me, this has to go beyond this time, or Black History Month, because short-term help doesn’t really help. I particularly want to highlight Black stories of love and joy because, as Tochi Onyebuchi said in a piece earlier this month,” to depict Blackness as existing wholly at the same dolorous register is not only incorrect, it’s boring.” So, highlighting Black voices in romance is one small way I can help. There are many, many other ways to help, now and in the long run, and I strongly encourage you (and myself) to look for those opportunities. Remember, helping is not about you, but about the person(s) you are trying to help.

If more trickle in I’ll add them, but I wanted this posted. So anyway, my thoughts:

Black Lives Matter. Full stop. Nothing else. No ands or buts.  While I was trying to write this post in my drafts google kept giving me the “something’s wrong” message – and obviously it wasn’t related but … it felt too on the nose.

We’ve all seen the protests. Too many times. This time for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and more deaths -mostly at the hands of police – that are emerging. Manuel Ellis. David McAtee. More. The pain, the anger, the work. (I’m not here for detractors.) Everyone knows there’s a deadly pandemic – imagine how much it takes to be out there protesting, in the midst of that, as the most vulnerable population. And don’t come at me or for the protests, haircut Karen. Racism is a public health crisis. In fact various jurisdictions and institutions have come out and declared it as thus. I’ve been vocal on other social media, but then it stuck me – I’d been silent on the blog. The thing that costs me the most, and where things stay. We’re at the point where silence is complicity. In fact, I saw this when posted on NPR: A Decade of Watching Black People Die it doesn’t even list everyone – and it’s so much. I really hope you’ll read it.

I’ve been saying this publicly since at least 2016 (I searched twitter for my handle and “diversify your friend group.”) So. Diversify your friend group. Your actual friends, not just your acquaintances.  Don’t gaslight Black or other people of color about microaggressions or “everyday racism” they experience. A big thing on the internet a while back was sympathy vs empathy. If you’re not Black, you can’t understand how it is. I’m not Black – I’m not a parent. I can never fully understand what it is to live as a Black person in America, and especially not what it’s like to live in constant fear for my child – especially parents of young Black men. 

And understand – that’s a huge issue. Black men are 2.5x more likely to be killed by police than white men. (I believe Black men are incarcerated at 6x the rate white men are.) This happens in jurisdictions where the Black population is much smaller than the white population.

It’s not enough to be “not racist.” We all need to be anti-racist. Voting is the very minimum. Make sure you vote in every election. Not just the big ticket ones. Vote in the primaries. Find out what you can about the candidates – which ones will work to demilitarize police? Which ones will work to actually protect and serve the community when it comes to sheriffs, and anyone else in law enforcement you can elect – prosecutors and such. Is the coroner an elected position where you live? The school board – will they work to end the school to prison pipeline? (The last time I looked at the numbers, a child who is put into juvenile detention has a seventy percent adult recidivism rate.)

Volunteer to be a Guardian Ad Litem. Look into your areas CPS – are mostly white kids being put into foster homes while BlPOC are being sent to institutions or locked facilities? Kids have pretty much been my life work so that’s not just where my focus lies but where my expertise is. Ask the questions. Bring your friends to city council meetings and make them uncomfortable. Hell – run for city council. (Or other office!) Write and/or call your representatives and senators. If they’re shitty – work to get them out of office. 

Confront your racist friends and family when they say “all lives matter” or god forbid “blue lives matter.” (NO LIVES ARE BLUE, OKAY.) You don’t have to be aggressive about it of course, but don’t let it slide. It’s not easy. It’s uncomfortable, awkward, and sometimes awful. Sometimes these are people you dearly love. Sometimes they’re your parents. 

And if you’re not Black, you don’t get to just check out. This systemic racism is on us. Take this heartache, sadness, exhaustion, all that. Imagine living it every day of your life. Through nothing you control. It’s the color of your skin. I’ve been seeing a lot of people sharing clips of Jane Elliott’s interviews and experiments. She’s been doing this since 1968
Also, Consider why you think blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin to be the most beautiful. Why you want to color and lighten your hair, or even skin. If you’re not white – especially – why you want to bleach your hair, put in color contacts to look “more white.” Is it sometimes just purely cosmetic? Sure. But it often also is that white supremacy has brainwashed your standard of beauty. (A few years ago – and it’s come back how many items are “default white.” Bandaids. Tights. “Nude” shoes.) 

I know I’m all over the place but it’s because racism has affected all aspects. I’m not an expert. I’m just trying to learn. I’ve been working with underprivileged at risk kids my entire adult life. Honestly more than 90% of the time (probably even higher) they’ve been not-white. And I’ve learned from kids too – changed my assumptions, learned about entirely different life experiences.

Listen, learn, use your privilege when and where you can. Support Black businesses and creators. It’s time to tear down this racist system. Don’t say “oh I don’t want to get political.” How is it POLITICAL to say “police shouldn’t randomly be murdering people – ESPECIALLY NOT BLACK PEOPLE.” HOW?! And this is why silence is not ok. Not just silence though – slacktivism. If you have kids, talk to them. Teach them about racism and privilege. Especially if you’re white. 

For myself … my work involves social justice. All my non-romance reading, other than laws, is about social justice and the disproportionate affects our ~judicial system has on Black and Brown individuals. I’m known to raise holy hell when kids are treated unfairly and especially  when it’s wite/Black kids being treated differently. For myself, I need to step up my leisure reading of Black romances authors too. I have a few go-to’s and a lot in my TBR, but I need to be more deliberate about it.
I’ve also let the Smithsonian Heritage Month posts slide – but I’m really hoping to bring them back next year. And not haphazardly. All authors and individuals are welcome to guest at ALBTALBS at any time – but I can understand why some people wouldn’t want to participate in SHMs and feel it’s lip service when it’s just X times instead of all times. 

It’s a lot. We’re horrified. We’re heartbroken. And we’ve got work to do. I know I’ll mess up. I’m going to keep trying though, and doing the work, and learning.  Join me.

[And some additions… there’s a lot – a lot more – this could go on for 10x the length… so I encourage you to scope out twitter and such for other resources and voices. Experts. Black writers and activists willing to educate.]

And a few things I wanted to add. This is one reason why Drew Brees is being criticized and why he deserves to be criticized. (Since writing my post he’s said a bit more … but …) I really hope you’ll also watch Malcolm Jenkins’ response – he’s one of Drew’s teammates

This is a good resource for your Christian friends.

ETA!: GAH! I KNEW I’D FORGET THINGS! As I said there’s so much. I meant to add this in the original.

And this. (I’m joking but I’m also not when I say … white people like to listen to [only] white people…)

And then I saw this the day after posting. PLEASE if you watch nothing else… watch this one.

And now this from Sadie:

Black lives in this country are treated as though they matter less than white lives. It has been this way ever since white European colonizers invaded Africa and decided the indigenous peoples were, well, less. This shouldn’t be news to any of us who are white. Our ancestors decided Black people were less and therefore could be owned. Our ancestors used eugenics to “scientifically” confirm that white policies and practices built upon racism made white lives superior to Black lives.

When slavery in the United States was abolished, white supremacy wasn’t about to allow Black people to become equal. Every step of the way, policies and practices and beliefs founded within white supremacy were intentionally employed as a means to subjugate Black lives and remind them over and over that this is a white world and they should feel blessed that they even have any place within it.

Any time Black lives build success, wealth and prosperity white lives continue to violently burn it down. Look up the Black Wall Street massacre in Tulsa, OK, and the burning of Rosewood, FL. Look at how we continue to try to abolish Black lives. The lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Manuel Ellis, David McAtee, and far too many Black lives are mercilessly snuffed out because the systemic racism built from white supremacy leaves no room for them.

The country feels like it’s burning. And may be it should. Maybe it needs to burn so we can to dismantle the systemic racism and white supremacy this country was founded upon. Maybe out of the ashes we will be able to work toward restorative justice. Maybe we should defund the police and narrow the scope of their responsibilities while we build community safety nets and infrastructures necessary to ensure everyone has healthcare, mental health care resources, housing, food, and the security of knowing none of these things can be taken away. Maybe we need to take a hard look at our own belief systems and do the hard work of confronting our inner racists so we can heal and listen and cede space for those who have not been given the time or opportunities to heal from centuries of generational trauma.

Maybe we should dismantle white supremacy and systemic racism because it’s wrong. Black lives matter. They always have.

Review: Pregnant by the Playboy by Jackie Lau

Pregnant by the Playboy by Jackie Lau
Contemporary romance released by Jackie Lau Books on May 26, 2020

Pregnant by the Playboy by Jackie Lau book coverI’ve got a pretty great life, if I do say so myself. I made a fortune when I sold my tech start-up, and I’ve spent the years since partying, drinking, and inviting a parade of women into my bed.

I should be happy, but I feel an annoying lack of fulfillment, and there’s no way I’m going back to the work I did before.

At a friend’s party, I meet Marissa. We have hot sex against the door and agree to spend the weekend together. Just one weekend. I never expect to see her again.

Except now she’s pregnant with my baby…and I think this is the solution to all my problems. This is what will bring meaning to my life. I’m going to be a devoted father and husband.

Marissa—whose last name I still don’t know—wants me to be involved, though she rejects my marriage proposal. But before the baby arrives, I’m going to prove to her that I can be something other than a playboy.

And the rare times I set my mind to something, I don’t fail…

This was a fun read, and it didn’t feel like a rehashing of the surprise/secret baby trope I remember from my early days of romance reading. I enjoyed getting to know Marissa and Vince. This book reads well by itself, but it is part of a series, so some of the secondary character interactions will make a little more sense when you read the other books; don’t let that hold you back from starting with this book. Marissa is older than the women in Lau’s other books that I’ve read, so it was interesting to see how she dealt with her conflicts differently; Vince is younger than Marissa, but this is not a huge deal for either of them and it is not a big deal in the book. Marissa has to learn how to trust in others and herself, and Vince has to learn how to take a more balanced approach to life. Continue reading