[Blog Tour] Review: The Life that Mattered by Jewel E. Ann

Review of The Life that Mattered (The Life Duet #1) by Jewel E. Ann

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Thank you to Social Butterfly PR for providing an advance reading copy, in exchange for an honest review!


DESCRIPTION

Sex isn’t love.
Love isn’t sex.
And friendship is neither.

The son of a French Olympic skier and a Malaysian fashion designer, Ronin Alexander has lived the life of a nomad, traveling the world to find his next adventure.

Life takes a dramatic turn when he meets Evelyn, a beautiful scientist who owns a bath shop in Aspen, Colorado. They defy all the rules of relationships, falling hard and quickly in love.

Their world intertwines with Evelyn’s two best friends, the Governor and his soon-to-be wife. The four become close—very close.

When tragedy strikes, things from their pasts are unveiled—unimaginable truths and the grim realization that life will never be the same.

Jewel E. Ann steps into another dimension with this mind-bending thriller, a provocative story that pushes boundaries and tests the true meaning of love.


REVIEW

Jewel gets me every time, this book threw me for a loop and rocked my world. So good.

It is no secret that Jewel is one of my favorite authors. In fact, the first books I read by her were Transcend and Epoch. If you were a fan of the Transcend Duet, The Life that Mattered is tight up your alley. A romantic thriller down to the heart of it.

The story is told over a span of years and I immediately fell hard and fast in love with Ronin and the way he and Evie connected. It was instant, but it felt natural and so so so real. Ronin’s character really reminds me of Griff from the Transcend Duet and it’s so good!

Also integral to this story are Evie’s best friends, Lila and Graham. They have a shared history that is complicated, sometimes confusing, but also as important to Evie as that of her family and Ronin. And as the story progresses, it becomes clear these two are key to the telling of Evie and Ronin’s story.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out there is much, much more going on to this story than meets the eye and I highly recommend you jump in and try your hand at figuring out what is going on! It really took me for a wild, wonderful ride and I cannot wait to see how the story ends!

I have so many questions, so many theories and I cannot stop thinking about that prologue!

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[ARC] Review: Below by Alexandria Warwick

Review of Below (North #1) by Alexandria Warwick

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.


DESCRIPTION

In the heart of the frigid North, there lives a demon known as the Face Stealer. Eyes, nose, mouth—nothing and no one is safe. Once he returns to his lair, or wherever it is he dwells, no one ever sees those faces again.

When tragedy strikes, Apaay embarks on a perilous journey to find her sister’s face—yet becomes trapped in a labyrinth ruled by a sinister girl named Yuki. The girl offers Apaay a deal: find her sister’s face hidden within the labyrinth, and she will be set free. But the labyrinth, and those who inhabit it, is not as it seems. Especially Numiak: darkly beautiful, powerful, whose motives are not yet clear.

With time slipping, Apaay is determined to escape the deadly labyrinth with her sister’s face in hand. But in Yuki’s harsh world, Apaay will need all her strength to survive.

Yuki only plays the games she wins.


REVIEW

Below is the perfect snow-day read. Inspired by Inuit-mythology it follows a young woman searching to restore her sister’s identity and find her own self worth.

After Apaay’s village is attacked, she is horrified to learn that the whispered about Face Stealer, a demon of unknown power, has stolen her sister’s face. Feeling as though she is the only one who cares of her sister’s fate, Apaay ventures into the wild to find the Face Stealer domain and recover what was stolen.

Enriched with beautiful, descriptive prose and a fully-imagined frozen North, this book carries a narrative that is strongly character driven.

Apaay finds herself on a journey of self discovery and learns her own perceptions of wielding power and suffering aren’t quite as black-and-white as they seem.

My favorite character in this was the Face Stealer. He is incredibly complex and the whole time I was reading I couldn’t wait to get to the next scene that involved him. I constantly wanted to know more about his motivations, his history and loved the little glimpses we were given into his character.

I did find the plot to be somewhat slow initially and repetitive overall, it bogged me down a little here and there. However, I also feel as though this was an important part of part of Apaay’s journey. She was given many chances to achieve her goal and it was only through those chances that she ultimately came to the culmination of her journey in this story.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes next, with North. It definitely didn’t end how I expected, but I love the ending!

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Release date: February 4, 2020

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Review: Whispers of Shadow & Flame by L. Penelope

Review of Whispers of Shadow & Flame (Earthsinger #2) by L. Penelope

Earthsinger #1: Song of Blood & Stone

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

I listened to the finished audiobook, but also had a review copy provided to me by St. Martin’s Griffin in exchange for and honest review.


DESCRIPTION

The Mantle that separates the kingdoms of Elsira and Lagrimar is about to fall. And life will drastically change for both kingdoms.

Born with a deadly magic she cannot control, Kyara is forced to become an assassin. Known as the Poison Flame in the kingdom of Lagrimar, she is notorious and lethal, but secretly seeks freedom from both her untamed power and the blood spell that commands her. She is tasked with capturing the legendary rebel called the Shadowfox, but everything changes when she learns her target’s true identity.

Darvyn ol-Tahlyro may be the most powerful Earthsinger in generations, but guilt over those he couldn’t save tortures him daily. He isn’t sure he can trust the mysterious young woman who claims to need his help, but when he discovers Kyara can unlock the secrets of his past, he can’t stay away.

Kyara and Darvyn grapple with betrayal, old promises, and older prophecies—all while trying to stop a war. And when a new threat emerges, they must beat the odds to save both kingdoms.


REVIEW

I absolutely love L. Penelope’s work and this book really adds to her Earthsinger Chronicles and the incredibly detailed fantasy world she’s created. Fantasy or not, this is a world with realistic emotions, motivations and (steamy) romance.

I’ve been really looking forward to getting to know Darvyn, after his first mention in Song of Blood & Stone, and this book did not disappoint! In addition to his character, we meet new ones Kyara, Zeli, Ulani and Tana. I loved everyone – they’re all incredibly different but each plays a pivotal role in the plot. There’s also a handful of characters with not so benevolent intentions and it’s up to the reader to weed them out as the story progresses. Innocence is shattered, friendships are broken and alliances are forged.

Additionally, this story takes place during the same time as Song of Blood & Stone, therefore we get occasional mention of what Jack & Jasminda (😍) are up to and what’s happening over the border in Elsira. You get the feeling that soon, everyone will have to come together and the story is building toward that point.

I really love these books and cannot wait for more. It left some characters in precarious positions and I’m forever curious to see where L. Penelope will take them next!

Highly recommend these books to ALL fantasy fans. L. Penelope’s writing and storytelling is masterful.

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Review: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Review of Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Series: Serpent & Dove #1

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (One of my favorites of 2019!)

Review copy provided by HarperTeen via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.


DESCRIPTION

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.


REVIEW

HELLLOOO MY DEAR BOOK AND WELCOME TO MY ALL TIME FAVORITES.

This book guys. THIS BOOK. It is exactly what I look for in a fantasy novel and has pulled me out of my YA slump. It’s looking to get super hyped and I’ll be joining in on that hype for the rest of the year. Brace yerselves.

Shelby Mahurin has created an enrapturing fantasy firmly rooted in the history of European (particularly French) witch trials. I absolutely love how she took this dark time in history and weaved her own story out of it.

In Belterra, witches are hunted and burned at the stake by order of the king via religious zealots. In turn, many witches have taken to hiding in plain sight or secluding themselves in a hidden location.

After fleeing her coven, Lou is forced to hide her true nature and resort to thieving on the streets. When a burglary goes awry, she is forced into marriage with a Chasseur named Reid, a witch hunter and her mortal enemy. Seeing this as a potential source of protection against the witches who seek to harm her, Lou struggles to hide her magic from her husband. However, as they spend more time together, she finds she wishes she could share her every secret with him, including her growing feelings, which he seems to return.

This book has so many plot elements I love but particularly fake/forced/arranged relationships, enemies to lovers and forbidden love. YES, this one is heavy on the romance and there are mature scenes and elements (reminiscent of ACOMAF, folks) but that only added to the relationship and personalities of Lou, Reid and the other characters.

Some books can easily lose their way amongst a romantic plot but no such thing happened in Serpent & Dove. We were constantly reminded and shown that Lou was constantly at risk of discovery, by the Chasseurs and her others enemies.

Additionally, I love the magic system created in this. I’ve always been a fan of systems in which magic has a cost to the user. In Belterra, the use of magic requires a balance and strategy. A memory for a memory. Vision for vision. A broken bone for a broken bone. A life for a life. It’s clear that Mahurin sought to create a complex, yet intelligent magic system and she surely succeeds in doing so.

Overall, this is a new favorite of mine and I don’t know how I’ll wait for the next book. There is NO CLIFFHANGER but the characters are definitely in a situation in which their next moves must be well calculated. I cannot wait to see what comes next!

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Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Review of House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

I listened to the finished audiobook, but also had a review copy provided to me by Delacorte Press in exchange for and honest review.


DESCRIPTION

In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.


REVIEW

LOVE LOVE LOVED THIS. AH! I have so many thoughts. House of Salt & Sorrows swept me off my feet and into a waltz worthy of a masquerade.

I love the way Erin blended the stories of Twelve Dancing Princesses and Annabel Lee into this. I loved the decidedly Crimson Peak and Agatha Christie vibes. This book has an undeniably eerie and gothic atmosphere and I was absolutely living for it.

The story’s narrator is Annaleigh, one of twelve daughters of the Thaumas family. Annaleigh has five older sisters, however only one is living. The story begins with the funeral of her sister Eulalie, the latest tragedy in a string of untimely deaths that claimed four of Annaleigh’s older sisters and their mother. The people of the Salann Islands have begin to suspect the Thaumas family and their manor at Highmoor are cursed, and the family has begun to suspect so themselves.

However, Annaleigh will not settle for that answer. Curse or not, she believes there is a reason for her family’s terrible luck and seeks to discover why. This story blends fantasy, mystery and mythology, with incredible and atmospheric world-building to create a story that will constantly have you swept up into its wondrous landscape and asking “whodunnit?”

As Annaleigh searches for answers, she is joined by her sisters, childhood best friend and a mysterious young man new to the islands. After so many years of mourning, their family seeks a way to move on without seeming callous to their beloved lost and the communities of the islands. Under secret, the sisters attend peculiar balls of grandeur where they dance their shoes to bits and as her sisters become increasingly obsessed, Annaleigh begins to suspect all may not be as it seems.

In addition to the mystery surrounding the Thaumas family deaths, the sisters feeling increasing pressure to find a suitor and marry. Annaleigh herself finds love may not be as unobtainable as she had previously suspected. I thoroughly loved the romance sub-plot in this book and found it interesting and charming, especially as more light is shed about the mystery at the core of this story.

One should know this story depicts some horror elements in possible poltergeists, gore and talk of murder/suicide. I didn’t find this to be too much, personally – if anything it really added to the atmosphere of the story, however those that scare easily may want to skip a few paragraphs here and there.

Overall, this story had be guessing until the end. I suspected some of what came to be, but much of it took me by surprise – hat’s off to that because I was certain I had it figured out!

And even then (hover for SPOILERS for the ending!) >I have to wonder if Annaleigh is truly a reliable narrator. Near the end she is questioning what is real and whether she may truly be mad. While I want to believe her story truly ends the way it’s spelled out on the pages – one could believe that the HEA was all truly a vision and that Annaleigh is locked up in her “sepulchre there by the sea” (the lighthouse) because she has gone mad.

Finally, after reading or listening to this – definitely reread Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel Lee. You’ll be in for a treat when you see all of the ways Erin was able to inject the poem into this story.

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Review: The Last Hope by Krista & Becca Ritchie

Review of The Raging Ones by Krista and Becca Ritchie

Series: The Raging Ones #2
The Raging Ones Review (★ ★ ★ ★ ★)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Review copy provided by Wednesday Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Wednesday Books for sending me a physical advance reading copy as well!

Visit my recent blog post to read an excerpt of The Last Hope.


DESCRIPTION

A stunning conclusion to the sci-fi romance duology by writing duo Krista & Becca Ritchie, The Last Hope is filled with twists and turns you’ll never see coming.

Sacrifice all you have to survive.

Imprisoned for weeks on an enemy starcraft, Franny, Court, and Mykal have sat with an unfathomable revelation. But as they fight to stay alive, escaping prison means trusting a young mysterious stranger. He knows everything about their lost histories, and when answers aren’t given freely, the bonded trio are forced to join a mission. One that will determine the fate of humanity.

Legend says, a baby—the first of her species—has the power to cloak and teleport planets. Tasked with retrieving the infant, Court fears the baby is just a myth, and if they fail, they’ll never find the truth about their origins.

As Court and Mykal grow closer, their linked bond becomes harder to hide, and dynamics change when Franny begins to fall for someone new. Vulnerable and with no choice, the hunt for the baby sends the trio on a dangerous path to Saltare-1: a water world where their enemies can’t die and survival comes at a high cost.


REVIEW

One of my favorite releases of 2018, The Raging Ones, had me at the end of my seat and screaming for more. It’s sequel and conclusion, The Last Hope, is quite the fitting end to Court, Mykal and Franny’s story. If you haven’t read The Raging Ones, beware of possible spoilers to that book ahead.

I can do a lot of things terribly and a whole lot of things decently and then very few things miraculously.

This duology has always been a little bit science fiction and a little bit fantasy. I think that’s one of the reasons I love it. The Last Hope absolutely expands upon the world-building presented in the first book, as well as the history of the Saltare planets and Earth. We get answers about the link and why Court, Mykal and Franny are the only ones with this bond. We also see and learn more about fan favorites such as Court’s brother Kinden, Zimmer and the Soarcastle sisters. Finally, we are introduced to a new character, Stork, who is by-far my favorite of this book. He has a huge role to play in the story, despite his somewhat mysterious obligations and origins.

The Last Hope picks up very soon after The Raging Ones ended with that epic cliffhanger. Thank goodness for that! I can’t get into too many details of what happens without spoiling the story, but the trio is in dire straights and near the end of the line. They meet the character Stork, who has been searching for the trio. He has the answers they seek, but to earn those answers he needs their help with what is essentially a search and rescue mission. A mission the whole human race is dependent upon.

“You’re not my prisoner. I’m not your captor. If you ever want to leave, you can walk out of your own accord. I’ll encourage you to stay. It’d be the smarter choice, but I’ll never force you to stay here.”

As the trio traverses their newfound identities, they also further build their friendships and find romance. This story has always been largely character driven, while taking place in an imaginative and unique setting. The trio is regularly faced with tempering their emotions for the sake of others, while learning how to use their link to their advantage.

I wouldn’t say this sequel had a different feel than The Raging Ones, but it certainly opened the story to a far grander world and history than I had originally anticipated. I really, really love how this ended too. Seriously, happiness galore.

Overall, this is definitely still a favorite of mine and I highly recommend this duology!

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Review: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Review of The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Series: The Kiss Quotient #2

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thank you to Berkley Publishing for sending me a review copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


DESCRIPTION

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.


REVIEW

Please don’t let there be two of them. He didn’t know what he was going to do with one woman. If his mom had acquired him an entire harem, he needed therapy. After a heart-pounding second, logic returned to his brain, and he concluded she must have adopted a Western name to help her in the States. He did not have a harem. Thank God.

I blazed right through this one and had an incredible amount of fun returning to the world of The Kiss Quotient.

The Bride Test follows Michael’s cousin Khai and a new character, Esme, a Vietnamese immigrant. Khai is intelligent, logical, intense and autistic. He’s also single. The latter of which his mother plans to remedy by inviting Esme to stay with Khai for the summer. Esme desires a better life for herself, her daughter and their family. She reluctantly sees this opportunity as a stepping stone to said life. She isn’t searching for a husband. But how hard could it be? Go to America and seduce this man. Perhaps they would fall in love. And if she didn’t succeed, she would at least be paid for her time. Both Esme and Khai certainly have their work cut out for them.

I really enjoyed this story and found it to be sweet and funny, while also carrying a fantastic message about grief and maneuvering one’s emotions. Esme’s character is truly the bright spot of this story and I admire her hard-working nature and tenacity. She is truly the type of character I could aspire to be more like.

And if she asked, he knew he would give her anything. If he could.

The romance in this is slow to blossom, of course. Khai has never had a non-platonic relationship with a woman in any form. Esme’s past relationships have been wrought with bad experiences. Watching these two navigate their relationship from roommates, to friends, to more was delightful. I especially found a part in which Khai criticizes junior high sex education and seeks advice from Michael and Quan to be hilarious and true in so many regards. (Seriously folks, sex education in its current form is atrocious and so misinformed.)

All of this said, Khai and Esme have big secrets they are keeping from one another (because of course) and must decide how to approach these subjects, or lose one another completely. Khai is in new territory, with Esme constantly in his personal life – whereas before he could ignore phone calls and lock himself inside his house. As they grow closer, Esme finds she doesn’t know how to share the most important part of her life. She fears it’ll shatter her chance of a different life.

It’s important to note that The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test are #ownvoices novels. The author Helen Hoang and the characters Stella and Khai have autism spectrum disorders. Helen has clearly infused both of these stories with her own experiences and struggles. As the parent of a child on the spectrum, I feel the difficulties Stella and Khai have in traversing emotional and social situations deep in my bones. Its something I struggle to help my own child with on a daily basis. I applaud Helen for bringing us these characters and their stories to us readers.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed The Bride Test and his predecessor, The Kiss Quotient. Definitely keep your eyes peeled for Helen’s next novel, The Heart Principle, due out in Spring 2020!

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