All Your Fault (Jewel Lakes Series 5) by Claire Wilder

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.

Published on: 27 October 2021
Type: HEA, series
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Drama
Author: Claire Wilder
Read: 25 October 2021
Shelved: 26 October 2021
Rating: 4 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Get it here: Amazon | Goodreads | Bookbub

Synopsis

He’s everything I shouldn’t want.

When my husband got sick, he made me promise to find someone else when he was gone. On my first attempt, I crashed and burned. So I swore never to try again, focusing only on my foodie blog and my girls. But when pictures of me on an accidental non-date with my friend’s brother—serious curmudgeon and yes, seriously hot single dad Will Archer—explode my blog hits, I have to rethink my strategy.

Getting sexy, surly Will to pose as my fake boyfriend could be the thing to course correct my struggling blog. But how can I ask him when our shaky friendship is clearly hiding something much deeper? Something neither one of us wants to admit is even there?

ALL YOUR FAULT is a steamy, emotional small-town romance with a guaranteed HEA, and is the final book in the Jewel Lakes Series.

Start the Jewel Lake Series Today!

Touching Wood (Jewel Lakes Book 0.5) – Logan & Ophelia’s story
Amazon | Bookbub | Goodreads | Book Review

Her Property (Jewel Lakes Book 1) Jake & Catherin’s story
Amazon | Bookbub | Goodreads | Book Review

His Build (Jewel Lakes Book 2) – Graydon & Lucy’s story
Amazon | Bookbub | Goodreads | Book Review

His Hot Mess (Jewel Lakes Series Book 3) – Chris & Sadie’s story
Amazon | Bookbub | Goodreads | Book Review

Twice Burned (Jewel Lakes Series Book 4) – Hank & Casey’s story
Amazon | Goodreads | Bookbub | Book Review

Finding His Cheer (Jewel Lakes Holiday Special Book 4.5) – Heath & Morgan’s story
Amazon | Bookbub | Goodreads | Book Review


Review


Disclosure: Do readers need to read the previous books to this series? Although this book mentioned the other characters in the previous book, it is not a requirement, and readers can start any book in the series. BUT I would highly recommend readers catch up with the previous books to understand better and connect the people accordingly and avoid spoilers for the other characters whose stories were already discussed.


Michelle Franco is a single mother with two daughters. William Archer (Hank’s eldest brother from Book 4) is a single parent with two older daughters. These main characters started their families early, but “things happened” that changed to turn it all upside down in a blink of an eye. Because of their traumatic pasts, both main characters decided not to enter any relationship/commitment to protect themselves and their children. This decision is the hurdle that Michelle and Will have to overcome and is the cause of all angst and misunderstandings in the book. Will they be strong enough to get over their past, or will they forever deny their feelings for each other?

Top 5 reasons to read All Your Fault

1.) Writing is relatable and easy to follow.

I have enjoyed reading the series because the author makes sure that each book is a standalone and any backstory is summarized clearly. This book is suitable for followers and non-followers of the series because it gives a brief background on some of the past characters’ stories. 

2.) Character development is slower but poignant and honest.

It is impossible not to love Michelle and Will. Both have their flaws but also their strengths whenever they get together. It is as if one wouldn’t be as “good” alone versus together. They were terrific “springboards” of each other and helped guide the other on a “better path/option.” 

I enjoyed Michelle’s growth after her husband’s passing. There are more underlying things happening than a simple work-related accident that gutted me upon my discovery. I appreciate the author mentioning this issue, which helped explain the helplessness of the situation. Although not detailedly discussed, it made me research and seek out further information about it. Michelle is one brave woman to have gone through what she did and raised wonderful kids – all at the same time.

Will’s growth and acceptance of the inevitable came at the end, but I thought it rounded out the story very well. With his admission, Michelle was able to accept what was going on between them. I think Will is brave in that way.

3.) Secondary supporting characters – mostly family, siblings, and own children were cute and lovely.

Everyone in the book surrounding Michelle and Will provided a good balance of seriousness and humor – from Michelle’s parents, witty kids’ antics to Will’s hilarious daughter Remy and later Will’s nagging sister, Stella. I love how things can go from one spectrum of emotions to another with these colorful supporting casts.

My favorite characters were Michelle’s mom and Michelle’s daughter, Emma. Both characters’ ages might be too far apart, but they gave either a very thought-provoking comment/advice or a hilarious retort in many scenes. I either laughed at the reply and stopped and pondered what these characters said. Who knew that wit and humor could skip a generation (hint hint – Michelle) and land to the next.

4.) The ending shows how important family bonds are. Family is everything!

I liked how the author made Michelle realize she was hindering her from “growing” and moving on. It had to take Will’s action and words to finally open her eyes to the possibility of a bright future with Will.

I wanted to hug Will when he did what he did at the bar/restaurant nearing the end. He finally opened himself up to Michelle and left it up to her instead of denying his true feelings.

Note: I would have loved it if the author had explored further William and his strained familial relationship. There was a brief moment in the book where I thought Will would get things resolved directly with the concerning party, but it didn’t happen. Instead, the ending breezed through the resolution. Since this is the series’ last book, I would have hoped for closure on this topic – there were hints in Book 4! The author only mentioned that both parties are “working on it” and inferred that all would be well at the end. 

5.) Lastly, Do you know what a town manager is? 

This book tells us and more! I never realized that such a job or position existed, and it is a critical one for a small town. I thought the mayor did it all but nope! Promotion and beautification of a town/county are the town manager’s job or initiate and provide options! Will is the perfect town manager (then later more in the book) since he grew up and loves the community. He is always ready to help, and everyone seems to trust him with his decisions about the town. Previous mayors mentored Will, so he knows what would work and improve the community.

Pros:

– Second chances and romance focusing the main characters’ growth
– Angst, slow-burning emotions
– Family and love main themes

Cons:

– Boo!!! I cannot believe that this is the last book in the Jewel Lake series. Really?!?! Other characters popped up that I am curious about now, like Reece, Michelle’s sister!
– There is some “blame game” going on, BUT that only builds up to the past characters, not meant-to-be. I did not like the emotional abuse that came into it because anyone would be traumatized in that situation.

Tropes: second chances, single parent, small country romance, fake relationship, friends-to-lovers

She nodded then went over and kissed Reese on the top of her head. “You take care of her,” Mom said as she came back and gave me a squeeze. “Tell her it’s just a stupid boy.” “Mom,” I said, trying not to laugh. “He’s a man.” “He’s a little boy if he’s hurting our Therese.” I laughed, softly. “I guess you’re right,” I agreed.

— All Your Fault, Claire Wilder

About the Author

Hey! I’m Claire.
And there are two things you should know about me right off the bat:
❤ LAKES
and
❤ LOVE!
(Would it be weird to get that on a t-shirt?)

Okay, I love a lot of other stuff (my husband, my kids, my creaky old house, man-candy, chocolate, wine….I could go on).
But those two are HUGE–they’re the reason I write the books I write!

First, Lakes.
I am a wee bit obsessed with lakes. I grew up on a lake in Ontario, Canada, and practically lived in or on the water all year round.
Swimming and dock-diving in the summer.
Ice skating ’til it hurt in the winter (literally. Chill blains are the WORST!).
I moved away from the lake when was ten and spent the rest of my childhood growing up in a major city.
But the lake is in my blood. There’s just something about being by the quiet stillness of a contained body of water that’s just…magic.
Just like the characters in my books, I’m a city girl now, yearning for a life closer to nature. For now, I’ll keep saving lake pictures and writing about them like I’m still there.

More Importantly, Love.
The other thing about me is I love…LOVE. All parts of it: the thrill, the warm-hearted comfort of it, the closeness, the connection. I believe in love wholeheartedly!
BUT. When it comes to romantic love, I’m a little picky. The kind of love I love (is this getting confusing yet?) is sweet AND sexy, cozy AND hot.
But above all, I believe true love must be formed on a basis of mutual respect. That’s why I write books about REAL women and the sexy AF men who love them. Jewel Lakes men are never manipulative. They never make you feel bad about yourself. They’re always sexy and they ALWAYS treat you right. 

What Else?
I love movies in extremes: I love it when they scare the pants off me (The Woman in Black); make me cry my face off (Steel Magnolias), OR make me laugh ’til my sides hurt (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates). 
My favorite-ever food that I can’t cook is eggplant parmesan (though many dishes are close seconds–and I share lots of amazing recipes from foodies in my books in my newsletter). I also love a big ‘ol Costco hot dog (lol). 
I’m married to an amazing guy (Mr. Wilder) who is a movie lover (seriously ask him anything) and have three kids who drive me nuts but I wouldn’t trade them for all the sun and stars. 
When I’m not writing steamy lakeside romance novels (and the occasional sweet & sexy short story), I’m either reading, riding my e-bike (don’t knock it ’til you try it!) taking long walks by the ocean (which I consider a giant lake) or in the trees.
Thanks again for stopping by–be sure to check out my books page for all the latest info on my existing and upcoming work.

Connect with Claire
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

Blood Feud (The Stoneridge Pack #3) by CJ Cooke

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.

Published on: 04 November 2021
Type: series, continuation
Genre: Paranormal Romance, Drama
Author: CJ Cooke
Read: 21 October 2021
Shelved: 25 October 2021
Rating: 4/ 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Get it here: Amazon | Bookbub | Goodreads

Synopsis

Sometimes the blood that bonds us together is what causes the greatest of rifts.
The pack is balancing on an edge, trying to hold together after the last fight tried to tear them apart. Calli throws herself into trying to learn as much magic as she can, and her mates watch on helplessly as her obsession starts to take over. But old enemies are rising, and a surprising party reaches out, requesting aid. Now, facing everything she’s lost, Calli needs to make a decision. Can she rise above the hate, the loss, the heartbreaking reality of what’s happened and help those who need it? Not only will it shine a light on who she truly is as a person, but it will shake the very foundation of what it means to be a shifter.

The release of this book is likely to be brought forward to September/October 2021

Reader warning: this book contains explicit scenes and briefly deals with themes that some readers may find triggering.

This is a reverse harem book with adult content and is intended for 18+ readers only.

Other books in the series:
Book 1 – Wolf Hunts
Book 2 – Shadow Wars
Book 3 – Blood Feud
Book 4 – Hidden Moon – anticipated late 2021/early 2022


Review

Disclosure: Aside from being a reverse harem book, there are a few scenes that depict physical, emotional, and psychological abuse that may trigger some readers. Take this as your warning. In my case, it triggered me to be frustrated but more towards the ones who inflicted it, and I felt for the character involved. 

Blood Feud is the third installment in the Stoneridge Pack series. Reading Books 1 and 2 is advisable before getting lost in the plot, characters, and concepts. This book starts directly where Book 2 ended, so it would be a disservice to the reader or the whole story if readers start in the middle. 

First off, this author has a way of hooking me until the end! The writing is from a multi-POV – Calli, her pack members, and a few new critical characters. Even with the many voices in the book, the writing is still easy to follow and takes off from the last character’s POV. After suffering a significant loss at the end of Book 2, Calli and the pack have to deal with a few tragedies they still need to face/resolve and protect from their new/old enemies. The Stoneridge pack has to work with other paranormal beings to figure out the power shifts behind the scenes and protect themselves from others wanting their magic. I am excited to explore further. It again is a lengthy read, but very worth it!

Secondly, the new additions of Abby, Cody, and others are a welcomed, healing balm that also provided the balance of comic relief badly needed by the pack. There was so much suspense and tension from the last book. BUT the best part is when Calli realizes that there are more familial relations around her than first realized. This book reminds me of the fantastic family reunions but under dire situations. Newly discovered family links reunited (though limited in scope and time), Calli has to decide what will be best for the future while holding on to the past. It all came slowly but interesting as pieces come together like a pull between characters as early as Book 1, so it’s not just an after-thought.

Expect the intimate scenes to be H-O-T with more connections and “bonds” made as Calli discovers more about her powers, heritage, and the pack she calls family. More problems arise as forces outside the pack and other “groups” discover Calli and her pack.

Thirdly, the big scenes close to the end of the book were a non-stop, mesmerizing, and heart-stopping one!!! It is an underdog group versus a combined clan of werewolves and witches! It all felt like there was no hope because when they faced the “final enemy,” their Plan A did not work, and with no Plan B. BUT – no one accounted how far Calli and “the pack” have come as a group and their powers. Some scenes near the end may make one’s stomach churn – very gruesome and horrific revelations that might not be for the faint-hearted. I was stunned at the atrocities these “people” did and how far they would go to acquire “immense power.”

Overall, Blood Feud exceeded my expectations! I love the character development done through their respective powers’ growth. It is humbling to realize that this power they wield turns out for the betterment of their society, BUT keeping it from the rest of the world, made me so mad at how manipulative a lot of people were to “contain” power within themselves. I am still on my wit’s end, trying NOT to GO CRAZY on the uncertainty looming for the pack (and new characters). There were questions answered but more seemed to come out on my end, especially with the epilogue! Too many unknowns popped up to no end! I cannot wait to get the final book to find out!

“It is always unfortunate that those wo need to make changes for the better, are the ones that end up sacrificing.”

— Blood Feud, CJ Cooke

About the Author

CJ Cooke is an indie author who writes paranormal romance fiction. She’s just celebrated the release of her fifth book, Wolf Hunts. She lives in Nottinghamshire, England with her husband and son. She likes to rock the English cliché of being addicted to tea. Her background is in law but started writing the type of stories she wants to read.
Cat, as her friends know her, lives in ever-rainy UK. She is Mama to one human child and a cat that possibly hates her. Always found with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other, unless there are biscuits available, then she’s definitely holding onto at least one biscuit!

Connect with C.J.
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Bookbub | Goodreads | Email
Join her Reader group here.

Brooklyn Monroe Wants It (Never Too Late Series 2) All by Karen Booth

Disclosure: All views expressed are only my honest opinion.

Published on: 25 October 2021
Type: HEA, standalone, series
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Romantic Comedy
Author: Karen Booth
Read: 20 September 2021
Shelved: 21 September 2021
Rating: 4 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Get it here: Amazon US | UK | CA
Kobo | Global Link | Apple Books |Barnes & Noble | Bookbub | Goodreads

Synopsis

She can’t hit the snooze on her biological clock forever…

Love, career, kids—Brooklyn Monroe wants it all.

Her beauty company? A triumph. Her love life? Total fail.

At 42, that makes motherhood her top priority. With no man in her life, she’s prepared to fly solo, but her plan is derailed when a mailing list mishap turns Brooklyn into a someone-get-me-pregnant internet meme. Making her PR nightmare go away entails a soul-baring interview on national TV.

And the guy asking the questions? Her all-too sexy ex.

Talk show host Alec Trakas is the king of bad timing. Case in point, his heartbreaking romance with Brooklyn. Alec was all about commitment but Brooklyn was launching her start-up, and forever wasn’t in the cards. Now a shot at his ultimate dream job depends on convincing Brooklyn to spill the secrets leading to her viral celebrity. It sets Alec’s star rising, but puts Brooklyn in a sea of flirty men.

Fate has thrown them back together. Sparks are flying. But is the timing finally right? Because having it all might not be worth the risk of losing each other again.


Review

Brooklyn Monroe is a successful entrepreneur in the beauty and skincare field. Her career has soared into unexpected proportions after breaking out of their family business with her sister and starting her own beauty box subscription services. But at forty-two, life seems to be empty for Brooklyn, and she yearns to be able to have a baby of her own. With no possible boyfriend or partner waiting around for her, how she goes about impregnating herself is the biggest conundrum. 

Alec Trakas is one of the Good Morning USA co-hosts and has been voted as America’s early-morning silver fox but has not been great for his work or personal life. He has been left unsatisfied with the daily fluff pieces he had to do for the show and wants to focus on more serious journalism. He used to be in a committed relationship with Brooklyn, but that didn’t work out within a few months due to “issues.”

Storyline:-

This book, beautifully written with realism in mind, is from both Brooklyn and Alec’s POV. There is a balance on both sides that readers will have a hard time taking a side between them. Both characters are justified in their actions and feelings. 

I enjoyed the book’s premise that two mature individuals discover that success does not equal happiness. As the book progress, they realize how much they traded family and love trying to run after something that would not give them joy in the end. It was unfortunate that they had to realize this when they were older, but this “failure” had to happen to learn from it.

If they got married early before their careers flourished, I believe it would have failed miserably, or they would have divorced each other. Both would have not been mature enough to handle their internal struggles and support each other, given “the baggages” they carry.

Characters:-

I felt and empathized with Brooklyn and Alec immediately because it tackles different ideas and problems. They were complex characters that didn’t seem at first glance. These characters had to go through rollercoaster emotions before they each found a way to be together. Some of the issues faced by either main character are the impact of death in the family, abandonment, self-doubt, discontentment, etc.  They met later in their lives because they had to focus on other priorities than being in a committed relationship. 

The character development was well executed and fun to read from start to finish. It is honest and authentic. Each revelation/epiphany in the story parallels Brooklyn and Alec’s lives that it was impossible to ignore.

Brooklyn’s priority shifting came early in the book, which motivated her to slowly make changes in her work and personal life. The funny accident with her exposing her “baby mission” was awkwardly hilarious, but her reaction to it was stellar. She turned a PR agency’s nightmare into a PSA about women’s rights and choices. Her explanation without filters on national television was HUGE! I felt so empowered after reading this section. The success of Brooklyn’s interview gave her the “push” to reprioritize her work and baby-making options. Her caring and positivity in handling a better work-love balance are awe-inspiring and infectious. Age is definitely just a number, and Brooklyn’s determination and persistence prove it.

Alec’s development was slower since things were going on in his professional career that he’d been yearning for a while now. I would never have thought that Alec’s issues were more than Brooklyn’s. His lingering resentment/regret with everything was not typical for a male protagonist. His career progression in the middle of the book would have been the “icing on his cake,” but instead, it made him question everything when he was knee-deep into the change. I liked how he had his brother give him advice and a good listening ear. I believe those were when Alec realized that he wanted more in life than what his career and status could get him. It confused him so much with a few “bad decisions,” but it was good the Brooklyn had the presence of mind to advise him otherwise. His development may be slow, but he snapped out of overanalyzing and went with his heart in the end.

The supporting casts were incredible as both Brooklyn and Alec’s families were supportive without overwhelming the main characters. I Brooklyn’s family a lot. They were in more scenes since they had more chances to interact with Brooklyn and Alec. Their presence and advice add balance and a sympathetic ear/shoulder to both main characters. 

Also, Book 1’s Leila and Donovan has a cameo or two in the book. Leila later lent her support and shared bits of advice to Brooklyn.

The Ending:-

I love how the author wrote in the ending, especially for Alec. Somehow, in the middle of the book, the focus will move to Alec’s problems. The book highlights the difference in outlook and perspective both main characters face. Although the book ends in a HEA, more disappointments will happen even to the end of the last few chapters. It is only at the epilogue that Brooklyn’s HEA will come to fruition.  


Overall, Brooklyn Monroe Wants It All complements and fits well with the Never Too Late series. It is a beautiful read about second chances, growing/organic characters, love, and family. 

The book deals with heavy topics like infertility and self-doubt, BUT having an experienced professional provide proper guidance and support will help resolve them. The author brings these topics into the mainstream so the stigma of these issues will be “normalized” and not seen as taboo. These people can seek the proper help like the main characters. Lessons learned are:- 

1) It is always the “right time” as long as you are with the “right one.”

2) Success, fame, or fortune are great, but they cannot give you true love and happiness.

3) If it was raining, you kissed—no umbrella and not a peck—a real kiss with water rolling down your nose.

4) Life will always have challenges, but there will be options. One has to have an open heart and an open mind to face these hurdles head-on.

5) Family is everything. They will only want the best for you.

Given the above, I cannot wait to see what’s next! 

Sometimes you don’t want the same tings. And you have to find a way to work it out. Because you love each other and want to be together.

— Brooklyn Monroe Wants It All, Karen Booth

About the Author

Karen Booth is a midwestern girl transplanted in the South, raised on ’80s music and repeated readings of Forever by Judy Blume. Karen writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction, almost always about the dreamy guy you never thought you’d get. Her stories are full of breathless kisses, tearjerker moments, complex family dynamics, and more than a few things she’s glad her grandmother never read.

When she’s not creating hunky fictional men and the women who test them, she’s listening to everything from Otis Redding to Duran Duran to Superchunk with her college-age kids, honing her Southern cooking skills (she makes some mean collards), or sweet-talking her astoundingly supportive husband into whipping up a batch of cocktails.

Karen is co-founder of the 4000 member Seasoned Romance Facebook group, devoted to the promotion of romance with characters 35+. She has been a finalist for RT Magazine’s Series Romance of the Year, RT Magazine’s Gold Seal of Excellence, the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award (NERFA), the Booksellers’ Best Award, and the Holt Medallion. Her books have been translated into seventeen languages.
Click HERE for a downloadable reading list.

Join Karen’s Newsletter to get the latest updates and releases here.

Connect with Karen
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub


Poppy War Series by R.F. Kuang : The Poppy War, The Dragon Republic and The Burning God (Books 1-3)

Disclosure: This is a longer post than my usual entries since I want to consolidate my review of the series and will make a lot of sense in the end. I would recommend you to check out Read By Tiffany’s Blog post that will give a good background information and extra commentary from the author and scholars, who found inspiration from Chinese history for the series. Nonetheless, this is an absolute awesome read and I kept reverting to this blog as I read through all three books.

Illumicrate special edition spine and book cover

There are many fan art with this series – beautifully done and created but the best ones I’ve seen that will decorate your computer and mobile phone are these amazing works by Midnight Designs for all the three book. Check out her blog for Poppy War and Burning God for her awesome outlook and creations!

The Poppy War

Published on: 01 May 2018
Published by: Harper Voyager
Type: series, trilogy
Genre: Historical Fiction, Asian Fiction, Action and Adventure
Author: R. F. Kuang
Print length ‏ : ‎ 545 pages
Read: 18 September 2021
Shelved: 07 October 2021
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Support Independent Bookstores! Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | IndieBound | Indigo

Other retailers: Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | Google Play | Audible

Add to your Bookbub | Goodreads TBR!

Synopsis

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.


Review

**Before reading the Poppy Wars, I would suggest you check out ReadByTiffany’s entry on a short history of the author’s inspiration for the book and its relation to Chinese history and politics, especially for those who are not familiar to Asian history. It is a very extensive entry and one that I really appreciate her putting it out here for everyone.


It is impossible NOT to think about this correlation with Chinese history and politics of the past and controversies between a few Asian nations taken inspiration for the story as discussed at ReadByTiffany’s blog entry.

There are many characters in this book series – each one has its purpose in shaping a unique warrior and her quest to save her country. 

Photo credits: (L-R, top-bottom): Art by Carina, Art by Scamaine , Art by Parchment Magic, Cike District – Rin, Altan, Chaghan, Qara // Art by Jhoca

The Poppy War is about Fang Runin “Rin,” a fellow peasant orphan who finds a way to pass a nationwide entrance exam that will enable her to attend an infamous military school outside her village to escape being married off. The story has a few parts:

  • Preparation and lead-up to the grueling military exam,
  • Getting and surviving military school, and
  • The outbreak of the war.

Runin learns to find her success, survival, and later civic duty through determination, hard work, and perseverance. She discovers something in her that is valuable in helping her country and its people. 

Midway to school, a war from outside foreigners happened and how they came into Nikan is the even bigger surprise in the end. Believe in “back-door dealings” and the unexpected because I can say that this is only the surface of how complex the saga goes.

PROs:

  • Out-of-the-box thoughts and concepts
  • Raw and poignant perspective about war, spirituality, and humanity
  • Great world-building writing through colorful imagery and humanizing the violence of war
  • Exhilarating fight scenes that will verge towards gruesome and brutal -> the Art of War at its finest!
  • Patriotism as Asians instills in its citizens. Without a country, you lose your identity.

CONs:

  • Sad realities of war depicted:- the good, the bad, and the hideous – no winners, just survivors. Gruesome but true. It got a bit overwhelming, but the ending rounded everything perfectly.

I can relate to the history since it brought back to being a student in a traditional Catholic school learning everything and anything China and Taiwan. Representation in anything is important, and to see such a book recognized and accepted in the world literary stage is epic.

I cannot but feel so awesome the people who make my heritage to higher levels.

Who would have thought that Rin’s journey from an ordinary girl wanting to get out of her village to having her be part of a unique group of warriors defending the country when war struck Nikan. Similarly, this group operates directly from the Empress of Nikan, yet classified, unsanctioned, and is part of an “outliers” group of militia called the Thirteenth Division

In summary, The Poppy War is amazingly addicting! It is a real page-turner, world-building piece of literature that is poignant and eye-opening.

Readers need to approach the series with an open mind and heart to appreciate the many “out-there” concepts Rin will learn in her journey in military school and “enlightenment.” If readers expect a HEA, you can say that, but Runin and the Cike gang have a considerable trade-off and more impossible “missions” ahead.

The ending was a heavy one, and I didn’t expect it any better. There were many new revelations, not sure if it’s strategic motivations and back-door dealings that will make you cringe and make readers push on to Book 2. There are more things at stake, and revenge is upon a few people in the ranks.


The Dragon Republic

Published on: 06 August 2019
Published by: Harper Voyager
Type:
series, trilogy
Genre:
Historical Fiction, Asian Fiction, Action and Adventure
Author:
R. F. Kuang
Print length ‏ : ‎ 675 pages
Read: 07 October 2021
Shelved: 11 October 2021
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

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Synopsis

Rin’s story continues in this acclaimed sequel to The Poppy War—an epic fantasy combining the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters.

The war is over.

The war has just begun.

Three times throughout its history, Nikan has fought for its survival in the bloody Poppy Wars. Though the third battle has just ended, shaman and warrior Rin cannot forget the atrocity she committed to save her people. Now she is on the run from her guilt, the opium addiction that holds her like a vice, and the murderous commands of the fiery Phoenix—the vengeful god who has blessed Rin with her fearsome power.

Though she does not want to live, she refuses to die until she avenges the traitorous Empress who betrayed Rin’s homeland to its enemies. Her only hope is to join forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who plots to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new republic.

But neither the Empress nor the Dragon Warlord are what they seem. The more Rin witnesses, the more she fears her love for Nikan will force her to use the Phoenix’s deadly power once more.

Because there is nothing Rin won’t sacrifice to save her country . . . and exact her vengeance


Review

Photo credits: (L-R, top-bottom): Nezha by David Ardinaryas Lojaya and Daji by Angelika, Kirin – stock photo, Art by HobbyHorse7, Nezha, Venka, Kitay // Art by Jhoca

**Note: there will be spoilers starting now since it is a continuation of Book 1’s saga. The story continues in Rin’s POV (third-person limited) as she discovers more of the Phoenix’s powers, its limitations, and what happens when it falls into the wrong hands. After a foreign invasion that resulted in a massacre of epic proportions, a civil war raged within Nikan with unlikely allies and unexpected visitors that would shock anyone. The story will also extend to show Book 1’s characters, plus new friends and enemies trying to take advantage of the country’s raw instability. 

The Dragon Republic brought about hopelessness in me. It was only through three-fourths of the book that things do change. Why is this? The heroes in Book 1 became useless (quoting the characters in the book). Yes, after all that power shown at the end of Book 1, The Dragon Republic shows readers the most vulnerable and stripped version of Rin when she could not access the Phoenix and is rot with trauma, PTSD, addiction, and despair. This book showcased the darker side of how far a mind can take you – to the brink of suicide. But even after this, I do love Rin’s fighting spirit. She may have given up on getting back her supernatural powers, but she still had a way of pushing herself to fight. She would instead run her physical self to exhaustion and die on the battlefield, then die from it than taking her own life like slashing her throat. I also love how she got used to being shunned, embarrassed, and shamed so severely that nothing seems to deter her from her goal of seeking revenge.

The Dragon Republic left me reeling. For what? I don’t know, but after much character self-deprecation, loss, and angst – it all made me feel shattered. I had to finish the book to feel better or get some resolution, which led to more questions and frustrations on Rin’s complicated predicament.

PROS:

  • More characters join in, and some characters who did not have much “page time” are explored, mentioned, and takes center stage. A few will surprises readers. 
  • Rin shows readers how much broken she is further than expected but comes out and overcomes her guilt, grief, internal and external psychological abuse, and a “righting” a past that kept her from her full potential. 
  • Ending that will surprise and end readers in disbelief.

CONs:

  • Sad story about war and its effects run deeper: civil war coming out with friends/classmates fighting each other.
  • More lives lost – excellent allies of Rin
  • Mad at the ending but don’t know who to blame this anger on Rin, Nezha, Vaisra, Kitay…???
  • Leave readers puzzled – semi-cliffhanger since Rin will be in a precarious position.

The Burning God

Published on: 17 November 2020
Published by: Harper Voyager
Type:
series, trilogy
Genre:
Historical Fiction, Asian Fiction, Action and Adventure
Author:
R. F. Kuang
Published by: Harper Voyager
Type: series
Genre: Historical Fiction, Asian Fiction
Author: Rebecca F. Kuang

Read: 12 October 2021
Shelved: 14 October 2021
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.

After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead. 

Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation. 

Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it? 


Review

Photo credits: (L-R, top-bottom): Illumicrate dust jacket art Art by Jhoca, Art of War by Sun Tzu by Tutti books, Trifecta Art by federicocesaris, Phoenix – stock photo

I am mad and fed up with how many people in The Burning God have double, triple, and quadruple crossed Rin. Plus, the worst part is that they are all men! I understand Rin’s options are next to none, but she has been through so darn much, and each time the end happens, she loses something critical. I realized that she’s a massive liability to anyone who harbors or allies with her. I wish the author has given Rin a few more options by Book 3 after going through so much! Rin has been enticed/prepositioned too many times then later taken advantage of by her naivety. It is frustrating and crazy at the same time.

I appreciate the parallels of the Trifecta (Daji, Raga, and Jiang) and the relationship between Rin, Nezha, and Kitay. Readers can see the humor of having “history repeats itself” through these main characters. The author kept drawing the past similarities to forewarn the present Rin of the hard decisions faced by the Trifecta.

PROs:

  • Tides are turning favorably” into Rin’s favor by the middle of the book. We know that this is the final installment to the trilogy, so the ending was wrapped well.
  • Random pieces of advice, sayings/proverbs, and life philosophies from Chinese beliefs and traditions remind me of past Chinese school teachings – all true and prolific to a point.
  • Poetic justice on how Rin took care of the scientist. No, Rin DID NOT kill her, but Rin did a lot better to avenge what this scientist did to her and Nezha.
  • Enlightening comparison of the past and present via Trifecta and the complex friendship/relationship of Rin, Kitay, and Nezha. The ending drives this point further.

CONS:

  • Really sad to see this series end, but the ride with Rin and her group was a rollercoaster of emotions that depicts war and survival at its finest.

Overall review of the series is spectacular!!! All the books in the series are written from a third-person POV, omniscient, but the majority is from Rin’s side. Although this technique enables readers to be distant from the characters, it is impossible not to empathize with them. Everything was felt from the dire situation, hopelessness of war, and the suffering of each character. 

Some thoughts about the series are:

1) Each one surpasses the previous book and rounds out the whole series well. I love the build-up and the growing pains all the characters had to learn at critical moments in the story.

2) There was non-stop action, drama, and surprises. I remember trying my best to keep my eyes open to finish one chapter after another since the suspense and mystery of what will happen lies just on the next page/chapter, etc. It was exhilarating to have a book grab me.

3) All the savior characters – all deemed gifted and with the best intentions of patriotism are still flawed and human. Yet, the path they decide can change so fast, or maybe because I was blind-sighted that I felt utterly disappointed and mad. Rin had to realize how much more she could do versus following others. It did not dawn on her until Book 3.

4) I hate to say this but patriotism is so overrated after reading this book. Many “unfortunate events” that Rin had to go through worked me up to frustration. There was no real break until the very end. She kept getting into one dire situation after another. Her determination to save her people from oppressors is admirable BUT is also a huge flaw that seems to haunt and hinder her from realizing how naïve she could sometimes be. I am glad when she does get the “right people” to help her in the end.

5.) Lastly, as a fair warning:- this book series took me longer to finish because of other pressing books in between but more important to note that the topics are heavy and a lot mimics the impact of war on the people left behind. There is talk of drugs, PTSD, and other types of trauma that survivors go through. The effects of war are long, lamentous, and lingering, even when ashes return to the earth. 


About the Author

R. F. Kuang (also known as “Rebecca F. Kuang) is a Marshall Scholar, Chinese-English translator, and the Astounding Award-winning and the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of the Poppy War trilogy and the forthcoming Babel. Her work has won the Crawford Award and the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale.

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The Boss (Men of Hidden Justice Book 1) by Melanie Moreland

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required.

Published on: 14 October 2021
Published by: Moreland Books Inc
Type: series, standalone, interconnected series, no cliffhanger
Genre: Vigilante Justice, Canadian Literature, Romantic Action & Adventure
Author: Melanie Moreland
Read: 04 October 2021
Shelved: 05 October 2021
Rating: 4 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Available on Kindle Unlimited beginning October 21

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Synopsis

Terrified and on the run, I was lost. He found me.

I witnessed his crime and he gave me a choice.
Marriage or death.
I never expected to love him.
But the choices were never really mine.
Could this avenging angel of death ever love me back?
His touch consumed me.
Did my heart stand a chance?

Previously published on Book+Main and in Take Me To Bed Collection. New added content for a complete romantic suspense experience.

Start the rest of the series here.


Review

Note from the author: This story was originally published as a short serial at Verve Romance (Book+Main) in November 2019. The Boss found a new home for 2020 in the Take Me To Bed collection with additional words. But readers asked for more of Matteo and Evie’s story. Here we are – with over double the original word count and now two more Men of Hidden Justice with their own stories to tell.
The author suggests readers start with The Boss (this book) to get the best out of the series.

Evelyn “Evie” Harper was in a sticky predicament. She is running away from someone who turned out to be the opposite of whom she thought initially. With no money and on the run, Evie stumbles into a building. She saw some horrible things that would lead her to meet The Boss and get sucked into his dark world.  
Matteo Campari is no saint. He is the “judge, jury, and executioner” – wielding justice as part of a secret group. He follows a specific code but has much leeway in getting the job done.
Meeting Evie was unexpected, and although he believes that he could trust her, as proven by what she did when they first met, something different with her takes over him. 


I like the “force proximity” concept, which made Evie’s growth more evident in the story. There wouldn’t be the tension or attraction to develop if Matteo chose instead to ship Evie off to “disappear” or “taken her out” to keep her silence. Evie’s confidence and bravery started seeping out as soon as she felt safe with Matteo and, amazingly enough, after such traumatic events. Evie’s innocence still shines through even after being tainted so much.

Although The Boss is from Evie and Matteo’s POVs, the story kept most of Matteo’s angst, and internal conflicts behind closed doors, even away from Evie. The book implies these tormented moments through Matteo’s appearance evident when Evie does see him the following day or two. It might have been fascinating to peek into Matteo’s headspace during those times – but readers will get a censored one when Matteo tells Evie all about his issues.

The suspense and urgency of the story engaged me from start to finish, with complex events happening nonstop. Granted that I guessed a few of how the villain turned out, the rest of the story went beyond me as the twists and turns made my jaw drop at the end!

The justice served by Matteo and his group is a dangerous yet honorable one. I was amazed by the sheer determination of everyone to help “the innocent” to the point of risking their lives. It is an even bigger operation at work with many moving parts to make it work. It will show readers how far things to help “right the wrongs” of society from finding the bad guys to helping the victims in the story. 


Overall, The Boss is an excellent start to the series, where it will surely get suspense right at the starting chapter. I love the character development of Evie and Matteo in the book. The ending and epilogue were heartfelt ones that it was amazing to see how the rest of the characters did end up where they are in the end. 

PROs:

  • jam-packed with heart-stopping action, suspense, and drama
  • well-developed characters and plot exploration
  • angst level and internal conflicts were tackled
  • some expected scenes, but also many unexpected surprised at the end
  • a great form of justice portrayed in the storyline
  • an epilogue that will make you gush

CONs:

  • would have appreciated more if readers went into Matteo’s head more, especially during “troubled scenes,” but understood the reasons to add suspense and uncertainty 
  • whether the story is believable is beside the point for me. It was an escapism piece and had an excellent storyline.

Tropes: Forced Proximity, Protector, Tragic Past, Heroine in Danger, Escaping a Killer, On-the-Run, Revenge, Mafia


About the Author

New York Times/USA Today bestselling author Melanie Moreland, lives a happy and content life in a quiet area of Ontario with her beloved husband of twenty-seven-plus years and their rescue cat, Amber. Nothing means more to her than her friends and family, and she cherishes every moment spent with them.
While seriously addicted to coffee, and highly challenged with all things computer-related and technical, she relishes baking, cooking, and trying new recipes for people to sample. She loves to throw dinner parties, and also enjoys traveling, here and abroad, but finds coming home is always the best part of any trip.

Melanie loves stories, especially paired with a good wine, and enjoys skydiving (free falling over a fleck of dust) extreme snowboarding (falling down stairs) and piloting her own helicopter (tripping over her own feet.) She’s learned happily ever afters, even bumpy ones, are all in how you tell the story.

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The Certainty of Chance by Jacquelyn Middleton

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion. All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required.

Published: 14 October 2021
Published by: Kirkwall Books
Type: standalone, HEA
Genre: Contemporary Romance Tropes: Forced Proximity, Opposites Attract, Vacation, Hero With an Accent, Workplace Romance, Slow Burn, Holiday, Older Heroine, Road Trip
Author: Jacquelyn Middleton
Print Pages: 381 pages
Read: 29 September 2021
Shelved: 02 October 2021
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Get it here: Amazon US | UK | CA | AU | FR | ES | IT | DE
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Add it to your Goodreads TBR list.

Synopsis

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT DECEMBER…

Madeleine Joy is feeling more meh than merry. When an Icelandic volcano erupts six days before Christmas, hazardous ash congests European airspace, canceling flights indefinitely—including the thirty-something’s connection to Paris. Stranded alone in London, separated from her sister, and with the devastating one-year anniversary of her best friend’s tragic death just days away, Madeleine has never felt less festive. And as if things couldn’t get worse, the cute guy driving the cab to her hotel won’t shut up about carolers and tinsel… 

Julian Halliwell is one of life’s sunny optimists. A former music journalist, he’s embraced his love for London by starting his own black cab business, enthusiastically ferrying passengers from one historic landmark to another. But life hasn’t always been easy for Julian. Having navigated several life-changing setbacks including a cruel betrayal by his former fiancée, Julian remains hopeful that he’ll meet somebody kind, who shares his love of music, a corgi dog named Winnie – and, of course, the magic of Christmas time in London. 

Despite being an unlikely match, fate seems determined to throw them together. But can the grieving American find joy again in a world where the lights have all but dimmed?    

From Jacquelyn Middleton, the award-winning author of UNTIL THE LAST STAR FADES, comes a heartwarming Christmas story of love, loss, serendipity, and the belief that what’s meant for you won’t pass you by.

Content/trigger warnings: coarse language, closed-door sex scenes, disenfranchised grief, unexpected death of a loved one (backstory), cheating partner (backstory), therapy, loved up mentions of Love Actually and The Holiday, zero mentions of any pandemics.


Review

Note: trigger warnings indicated by the author are:- “coarse language, closed-door sex scenes, disenfranchised grief, unexpected death of a loved one (backstory), cheating partner (backstory), therapy, loved up mentions of Love Actually, and The Holiday, zero mentions of any pandemics.”

Madeleine “Maddie” Joy is supposed to be spending the holidays with her sister, Shantelle. Unfortunately, a volcano’s volcanic activity thwarts their plans by not allowing any flights to enter to or fro London until further notice.

On the other hand, Julian “Jules” Halliwell is a taxi driver that picked up Madeleine when she arrived in London. His former job is in the music industry, and coincidentally, Maddie’s idol! 

From the very start, Maddie’s and Jules’s attraction between each other is palpable. The connection between them that follows through serendipitous events is magnetic. What happens next is a whirlwind of taxi rides, fascinating and unique tourist spots, and an undeniable bond between rider and passenger at Christmas in London!


The Certainty of Chance is a wonderful read! Told from both Madeleine and Julian’s POVs, both characters are rich in personality, personal baggage, varying outlooks, and experiences.

From the very beginning, readers will know this is a heavy book. Told from both Maddie and Jules’ POV, the story hints/mentions/states heavy topics: loss, angst, depression, infidelity, healing, redemption, etc. Initially, I was worried about the story’s direction because it is tricky and possibly overwhelming, but my concern was unfounded. The author expertly built up the story with a wanderlust escapism approach and brave characters who were kind and understanding enough to create safe spaces for each other and the readers. I love how the main characters approached each other’s issues with respect and kindness. They understood each other in their way but still acknowledged the difference in their stance. A lot happens in the book, but I expect everything from this author based on her past books – exploring locations, people, and culture. I love how the author creates beautiful characters that make readers want to invest time and emotions against the backdrop of London and during the Christmas season.

I love both characters. Maddie and Jules were the perfect fit for each other. They may not be for their previous partners, but they are each other’s healing and redemption. They are both caring, emphatic, and charismatic. Their connection is infectious that it will be impossible not to be swept by their charm and hilarious banter. I appreciate the “quiet, reflective” moments between both main characters, and their feelings grew organically, even in a short time.

In the true style of the author, the supporting casts were terrific. I love how family and friends were integral in pushing Maddie and Jules to realize how their serendipitous encounter is MEANT-TO-BE and that they needed each other to be “whole.” I also enjoyed seeing past characters mentioned in the author’s previous books who lend a hand or two to the story.


Overall, The Certainty of Chance BLEW ME AWAY! 

For the usual readers of my blog, this statement is HUGE. I do not state this often, most especially because I recently read many excellent books. This book has imprinted itself on my subconsciousness. 

My reaction was very unexpected because initially, my reaction to the summary was only lukewarm, but upon finishing the book’s first chapter, there was no turning back. I felt the pull of the storyline, the escapism, and the characters made the book a real page-turner. This book TOPS the author’s previous book by a considerable margin!!! Floored by the addicting nature that sprang out from me because of this book, I savored each page and made sure I took my time instead of speeding it through. It is an all-encompassing book that dove into the facets of humanity – physically, mentally, and emotionally stimulating! 

PROS: 

  • Great world-building through Madeleine’s and Julian’s eyes: an expert and novice of the area
  • Many excellent musical references from various era
  • Wanderlust effect from exploring London’s tourist spots and a few hidden gems
  • Christmas movies, British eats, and slang galore 
  •  Sensitive and poignant discussion on mental health and grief handling
  • Cute Winnie, the corgi!!! *enough said*

CONS:

  • Absolutely nothing! The book is perfect as it is – an outstanding balance of sweet and sultry scenes.

Tropes: second-chances, soul-mates, friends-to-lovers, tragic past/trauma, Christmas / holiday romance, shared pasts


Meet Jacquelyn

Jacquelyn Middleton is a multi-award-winning author of love stories for hopeful romantics—‘hopeful’ because her novels are always optimistic and she believes ‘happily ever afters’ are more important now than ever before. But life is messy, relationships are messy, and her books aren’t afraid to go there, too. If you enjoy character and relationship-driven stories about people dealing with the triumphs and disasters we all face, Jacquelyn’s books are for you.

In 2019, she was named BEST CANADIAN AUTHOR at the RWA’s Toronto Romance Writers ‘Northern Hearts’ Awards for UNTIL THE LAST STAR FADES. She is also the author of LONDON BELONGS TO ME, LONDON, CAN YOU WAIT? and SAY HELLO, KISS GOODBYE, all published by Kirkwall Books.

An own voices author, Jacquelyn has dealt with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression all her life, and is dedicated to depicting mental health challenges realistically and empathetically in her novels.

Jacquelyn’s books have been featured by The Hollywood Reporter, NBC News, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Daily News, USA Today, Cosmo, Redbook, and the Huffington Post. 

A life-long Maple Leafs fan and Anglophile, Jacquelyn previously worked in television broadcasting and as an award-winning freelance writer. She loves comic cons, London, and theatre, and lives in Toronto with her British husband and her Japanese Spitz.

Connect with Jacquelyn
Website | Goodreads | Amazon | Facebook | Instagram |  Twitter |  Bookbub |      
Join her newsletter for updates and new releases here.
Join her Facebook Group for book discussions and promos.


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Book Tour: The Holiday Switch by Tif Marcelo

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required.

Published on: 05 October 2021
Published by: Underlined Paperbacks
Type: standalone, HEA
Genre: Young Adult Holiday Romance
Author: Tif Marcelo
Read: 26 September 2021
Shelved: 28 September 2021
Rating: 4 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

A paperback original romance about a bookish Filipino-American girl who crosses paths with the innkeeper’s aggravating nephew–but when they accidentally switch phones, their newly discovered secrets draw them together.

Lila Castro is ready to take on her last winter break of high school. The snow is plentiful, the mood is full of holiday cheer, and she’s earning extra cash working at the cozy local inn. But her perfect holiday plans crash to a halt when her boss’s frustratingly cute nephew, Teddy Veracruz, becomes her coworker. When they accidentally switch phones one afternoon, they both realize they’ve been hiding things from each other. Will their secrets–and a dash of holiday spirit–bring them closer to love?

Underlined is a line of totally addictive romance, thriller, and horror paperback original titles coming to you fast and furious each month. Enjoy everything you want to read the way you want to read it.


Review

Lila works as an employee at the Bookwork Inn’s gift shop. Her focus is earning enough money to prepare for college next year but with so many part-time employees vying for extra work hours during the holidays, plus a new employee coming, Lila has limited options.
In comes Teddy, the nephew of Bookwork Inn’s owner, Lou Velasco. Lila was curious about her boss’ nephew, and it would have been awesome to have a new friend to work with, right? When Teddy and Lila meet for the first time, their first impressions of each other are not good. Lila would have wanted to limit her contact with Teddy. But when Lila is tasked to train Teddy at the gift shop, Lila’s nerves and patience are tested further as they clash in so many ways. From how to organize the souvenir display to rearranging Lila’s prize location – the Free Library, Lila’s Type A personality clashes with Teddy’s “out-of-the-box” ideas/suggestions. The result is a boatload of frustrations, misunderstanding, extra banter, and much later completing the list of Mission: Holly*.
*You have to read the book to know what’s it is all about!

Top 5 Reasons to Read The Holiday Switch

1.) Filipino cultures represented!

Filipino culture, respect, family, and love are peppered throughout this small-town story, which echoes the spread and importance Filipinos place these elements on their daily lives. The type of business and occupation is honest to Filipino migrants, like the health care, customer service, and hospitality industries. Filipino communities are formed and grow to connect with other Filipinos in the area and take them further on as “family” – blood-related or otherwise. By instilling many familial bonding moments in the book, the author makes readers appreciate the sense of belonging that is impossible to miss in Filipinos. There were many, but some examples are: Christmas decors come out at the start of the “ber” months (i.e., September, October, November), titles to elders or older people (related or unrelated) for respect, parental summons are taken “drop-everything-and-come-home), the food preparation for “Noche Buena,” etc.

2.) Women empowerment exemplified.

Women empowerment, especially Lila’s boss, Ms. Velasco, a Filipino-American, turned small businesses into success stories. 

Where do readers get woman inspired replies like “Do you mind doing the honors of opening, and I’ll woman the registers?” and

I love how the author portrayed the Filipino women in the book in a positive and empowering light. Some of them become the family’s breadwinner on certain occasions, like Lila’s mom – a nightshift nurse. These are also the “new heroes” (“mga Bagong Bayani“) of the new generation – in the Filipino culture.

3.) Simple yet complicated characters slowly leaving their “safe space” to grow.

I love how the author created characters that make us want to know and understand where each is coming from. Lila and Teddy act like how traditional and conservative teens would act – they are caring, respectful, and know a lot of karaoke songs. The growth is slow and starts as an enemies-to-friends approach with forced proximity but later becomes more like opposites helping each other with attraction flourishing. All this was cohesively well since both Lila and Teddy understood their families and cultures.

Lila’s secret is more conflicted between being true to herself and wanting to please her parents. In Filipino culture, elders are treated with the utmost respect and their rules and taken as “law.” Anything condoned or forewarned by parents are to be taken like the commandments. I relate to Lila’s dilemma of wanting to be independent in preparation for college and balancing to be a good daughter and role model for her family. Most Filipino parents highly regard a professional career as the pinnacle achievement for guiding their children. Lila thought that her path was clear – towards a professional career, without realizing that maybe things have/had changed. Lila’s angst and internal struggles are front-and-center. As the story progresses, more “signs” start showing her an unexpected alternative career path.

Teddy’s secret is another story. He makes it seem so much complicated than if he was truthful from Lila’s eyes. Lila (and the readers) does not see the messy things behind why Teddy’s reaction to coming to help his aunt’s Christmas shop was not as joyous as the season. At first, when I found out Teddy’s secret, I was okay with it. BUT what happened was the more he spilled his SECRETS (yes, there is more than one or two!), a snowball of many things that heightened my anxiety because some are pretty dangerous and a massive deception! I was so confused about how to feel about Teddy’s secrets – I stand more that he should be true to himself and face the truth early on before digging him in a big hole in the end. These secrets implode at the end, but it would have been nice, maybe a quick POV switch on what happens to Teddy’s side after everything like a bonus epilogue – even if it’s to wrap things up, but the author did not dive into any discussion.

4.) The chemistry between Lila and Teddy grew true and organically.

Note: Filipinos are very conservative. They handle relationships and attraction verge to the traditional side, wherein parental approval and permission are needed before technically any courtship (wooing) can happen. Some readers outside the culture will find this very archaic and foreign. Thus, when everyone discovered Lila and Teddy’s relationship, things got a bit hairy from the elders’ POV.  

Also, the relationship’s pace is a slow build, given the initial impression and reaction. The characters are given more time and ample space to grow and learn about each other deeper. I have to keep remembering that this book is a YA book, written from a Filipino culture’s perspective, so a more conservative and respectful approach.

5.) Supporting characters are all loveable, genuine, and very supportive! 

From the family to friends, they all help Lila realize that maybe her talent and passion is something entirely different from what she first thought of or what she thinks others want for her.

Lila’s sister, Irene, is the typical annoying younger sister but she balances being the snooping sister – spilling Lila’s secrets to their parents but also the enabler in the end. Irene provides entertainment and comic relief while keeping Lila on her toes with her many antics. 

Lila’s friend, Carm, is the “best friend” who pushes Lila out of her comfort zone. She also started Mission: Holly, an incredible adventure to strengthen their friendship before heading out to college – kind of a “last Christmas to remember” before “growing up.”

Before I wrap things up (get it? holiday gift wrapping), Catherine “Cath,” Lila’s mom, is the best! Although she and Lila have their miscommunication/ misunderstandings, Tita Cath had an open mind and heart to listen to her daughter(s) to see how best she could help. She sealed the deal for me in turning the story around, and with Tita Cath, Lila’s dad was “on board” with their new strategy.

“I don’t want you to live in fear, or in doubt. We want for you to have the life you want, to study the things you love, and to be the person who you need to be. And…we don’t want you to think it’s your job alone to get you where you want to go.”

– The Holiday Switch, Tif Marcelo

Final Word

Overall, I highly recommend The Holiday Switch as an early holiday read for YA enemies-to-lovers, forced proximity, coming of age, accidental switches, and second chances tropes. 

Although this book is from Lila’s POV, the story worked very well! I like the book’s pacing – giving enough time for character introductions/background, world-building, and personality development.  

I connect to many of the elements in this book, especially the dilemma of adhering to family beliefs while still being true to one’s ambitions and passion. The Christmas festivities mirror how my family celebrates the holidays, which made me smile so many times. It will let other readers better understand Filipino culture and tradition. 

Shoutout to Filipino writers! I always look forward to books that bring out representation. I don’t always get books that represent my complex background, but I would always jump at the chance when it does. Everything in this book genuinely represents the Philippines and makes me giddy to read it. I cannot wait to see more works from the author!

Question Time: How would you have handled your secret in the end if you were Lila or Teddy? Write it in the comments if you can, and let me know. 


** GIVEAWAY ALERT **

In celebration of the release of The Holiday Switch, a giveaway is being run!
Up for grabs is a copy of The Holiday Switch!
This giveaway is open US residents only. The giveaway starts on October 4th and ends on October 11th.

Join now ➟➟➟ Head-on to Rafflecopter here.

Good luck!


Book Tour

Please see below for the book tour schedule and participants!
For more details on the Instagram tour, click here.

October 4th
Jen Jen Reviews – Review
Books and Ladders – Review
Books Are Magic Too – Review

October 5th
SubtleBookish – Interview
Nine Bookish Lives – Promo Post

October 6th
Wandering Through Lit – Top 5 Reasons to Read The Holiday Switch
Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Book Tag
Read with Serena – Review

October 7th
Kait Plus Books – Interview & Journal spread
Stuck in Fiction – Promo Post
Currant7 Recommends – Review & Top 5 Reasons to Read The Holiday Switch

October 8th
Kerch Books – Review& Playlist
Bookish Soul Chronicles – Top 5 Reasons to Read The Holiday Switch
popthebutterfly reads – Review

October 9th
Melancholic Blithe – Interview
The Caffeinated Raredee – Review & Favorite Quotes

October 10th
The Book Dutchesses – Promo Post
Yna the Mood Reader – Top 5 Reasons to Read The Holiday Switch
Book Lover’s Book Reviews – Review


About the Author

Tif Marcelo is a veteran US Army nurse and holds a BS in Nursing and a Master’s in public administration. She believes and writes about the strength of families, the endurance of friendship, heartfelt romances, and is inspired daily by her own military hero husband and four children. She hosts The Stories to Love Podcast, and is the USA Today bestselling author of In a Book Club Far AwayOnce Upon a SunsetThe Key to Happily Ever After, and the Journey to the Heart series.

Connect with Tif:- Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub


This tour is hosted by TBR and Beyond Tours.

Cover Reveal: And Hell Followed by Beckett Riley

Today we have the gorgeous cover reveal for Beckett Riley’s And Hell Followed!
Check it out and be sure to pre-order your copy today!

Title: And Hell Followed
Author: Beckett Riley
Genre: Dark Western Romance
Release Date: October 26th

Synopsis:

We all have our demons

My parents thought emigrating from Germany to the American frontier was going to be a good thing for everyone. But it seems that a darkness is doomed to follow us wherever we go.

Life can be harsh and unforgiving in this world, especially for a woman. Luckily, I have my brother, Thomas, to watch out for me and protect me. He can only do so much, though, and after that vile attack, I find myself in need of protection more than ever. It was then I realized that festering darkness came from within.

Although society won’t take kindly to it, we have forsaken God and embarked on an unholy life, but just as things finally began to calm down, the past reared its ugly head and came back to tear us apart and destroy and everything we’ve built. 

But as Thomas once told me, I would ride my steed through the fires of hell to salvage the only thing worth living for, and if the devil himself gets in my way, he will beg to God for mercy. 

We will be free.

Pre-Order Your Copy Today!

Exclusive Excerpt:

Thomas released her face and stood up, ordering Ma to go down to the root cellar and get the gunny sack. He watched her descend the ladder, her sniffling turning to quiet sobs when she cradled the direct result of her actions. The leaves crunched under their feet as they made their way through the apple orchard in the dark, with nothing but a lantern to guide the way. She ironically felt safer holding the sack against her chest as she was ahead. They stopped near one of the trees and Thomas broke ground. Ma cradled the sack and stared into the black void enveloping them. An animal must’ve fallen prey to something not far in the distance as it’s desperate wails echoed across the land. The horrible sound made Ma focus on the shovel hitting the earth mixed with Thomas’ heavy breathing and grunts. After what felt like hours, the grave was dug and he looked up at her.

“Give me my child.”

Overcome with the most emotion he had ever witnessed his mother show, she fell to her knees and held the sack against her chest, sobbing. Thomas took the sack and placed it at the bottom of the hole and climbed out, sitting on the ground with Ma next to him, her head buried in her hands. He thought of what could’ve been for a moment before getting up.

“You did this, you finish it.” He pointed to the shovel and looked in the cabin’s direction. As he walked into the darkness, led by the dim light coming from Kate’s room, tears stained his cheeks.

About Beckett Riley:

Beckett resides in the sunshine state where she writes in between taking care of a four-year-old daughter, three dogs, four chickens, two grumpy barn cats, and a husband (sometimes in that order according to him). She loves writing erotic stories as much as she enjoys reading them. Dark romance and happily ever afters with hot, possessive, guys bring tears of joy to her eyes so please excuse the alpha males roaming her pages, they know not what they do.

Connect with Beckett: Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Bookbub

Gentle Scars (To Be Claimed Saga Book 2) by Willow Winters

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required.

Published on: 05 Oct 2021
Type: series, interconnected
Genre: Werewolf & Shifter, Paranormal Romance, Contemporary Romance
Author: Willow Winters
Pages Length: 153 pages
Read: 02 October 2021
Shelved: 02 October 2021
Rating: 4 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Get it here: Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | Google Play | Bookbub | Goodreads

Synopsis

There was never a question of whether or not I would be his. It’s simply what fate demanded.

There’s a knowing when the werewolves find their mates. It’s an aching need, a desperation… one they would die for. But for their mates, it’s a trance, a pull, a submissive desire that’s at odds with the shadows of my past and how I’ve learned to survive.

I didn’t know how hard I’d fall. I didn’t know what destiny would bring.
I didn’t know it then that I would die for him as he would me.

This is book 2 of the To Be Claimed Saga. Wounded Kiss is book 1 and should be read first.


Review

Note: I highly recommend readers to start with Wounded Kiss (Book 1) before starting Gentle Scars to set up everything with the events and characters. 

Gentle Scars is Book 2 of To Be Claimed Saga and continues with the Shadow Falls werewolf pack as they find their mates and navigate into establishing their pack. It is a decently shorter read than Book 1 (153 vs. 220 pages), but the length does not discount the book’s importance to the series. It is far steamier than its predecessor. I appreciate the author’s format in this series. Each character’s story is given importance through segregated sections, so everything is laid out clearly, even though the book has multi-POVs.  

Part 1: Lost Puppy – Vince and Veronica

The story picks up at “the offering” event in Book One, but it is from Vince’s POV this time. It talks about what happened to Vince when he left his pack to search for his mate during the chaos. There is an incredible fight scene (4 against 1) and #BossLady moments that readers should not miss. Vince’s mate’s unexpected, “out-of-the-blue” appearance leads the saga into a bigger story that makes this series a suspenseful one.

Part 2: Wolf in Pain – Dom, Caleb, and Lizzie

I am glad the author dived into this ménage group since I have been curious about everything about Lizzie in Book 1. Lizzie slowly grows into trusting her mates in this story but still withholds more than what she is willing to share. Her fear and mental state are hindering her in finding her full potential. But this segment talks a lot about cleansing and finding her “normal” as her mates start to break through her walls towards more positive self-esteem. I love how this relationship turned out because not only is Lizzie getting the help she needs, but another one of them is also finding his confidence.

Part 3: Broken Heart – pack story converging

This story is NOT how I expected the ending to be. Note that this is a saga. Although many secrets unearth within the pack and their mates, more “open-ended” questions sprung up within the pack and things happening outside the confines of their pack territory. 

In summary, Gentle Scars is a book full of steamy, suspenseful, dominant, strong characters. The writing is easy to follow even with the many voices of the characters. I enjoyed the various stories that shed further light on what is going on with the supernatural beings of Shadow Falls. The mates/women in this book were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G, and I love how the author rounded them out to be braver than before and learning more about themselves. I didn’t realize that the story is more extensive than I first expected with the saga.

PROS:

  • quick and easy read
  • Multi-POV but very easy to relate, and understand as each POV is indicated clearly
  • lots of steam, so be prepared with extra underwear

CONS:

  • “To-be-continued” ending, BUT I know the next book will be fantastic!

Tropes: paranormal romance, dark romance, ménage, suspense romance, werewolf & shifter tropes


About the Author

Willow Winters is so happy to be a USA Today, Wall Street Journal and #1 Contemporary Best Selling Author!

Willow started writing after having her little girl, Evie, December 2015. All during her pregnancy with Evie she continued to read and she only wanted to read romance. She was reading a book a day — sometimes two.

In January 2016 Willow was staying up late with Evie and just thinking of all these stories. They came to her constantly so she finally sat down and just started writing. She always wanted to do it so she figured, why not? Today Willow cannot be happier for making that decision!

Connect with Willow
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Amazon | Goodreads | Bookbub | Book+Main 

Sign up to Willow’s newsletter and receive EXCLUSIVE content, sneak peeks, and FREE books monthly:http://eepurl.com/b98e3D

Knot My Type (All Access Book 1) by Evie Mitchell

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required.

Cover : Eileen Widjaja (Instagram)

Published on: 4 October 2021
Published by: Thunder Thighs Publishing
Type: HEA, standalone, series
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Contemporary Romance, Second Chances
Author: Evie Mitchell
Read: 17 September 2021
Shelved: 18 September 2021
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Get it here: Amazon | Global link | Goodreads

Synopsis

He doesn’t do relationships.
She doesn’t do flings.
Everything they thought is about to unravel…

Frankie


When you say you’re a sexologist, people imagine Marilyn Monroe. They don’t expect a woman who uses a wheelchair. As the host of the All Access Podcast, I’m breaking barriers, crushing stigmas, and creating sexual connections that are fulfilling for my fans. I’m like cupid, but with pink hair and fewer diapers.

Only, I’ve hit a snag. A lovely listener wants some advice about accessible rope play and I’m drawing a big fat blank. Which leaves me with no option but to get out there and give it a go.
Which is how I meet Jay Wood—rigger, carpenter, and all-round hottie.

I’d be open to letting him wine and dine me—only Jay isn’t my type. He’s not a one-girl kind of guy. Monogamy isn’t even in his vocab, and I’m not a woman who’ll settle for being second choice.

But the closer we get, the more Jay has me tied up in knots.
And it’s making me think, maybe I could compromise and accept a little Wood in my life. Even if it’s only temporary.

Jay
Frankie’s funny, intelligent, and ridiculously sexy. This should be a no-brainer. A little fun in the sheets, and a little romp with some ropes—simple.

Only the infuriating woman is asking for more. I’m not that kind of guy. I wouldn’t even know how to be that kind of guy. I’m the definition of easy.
It’ll be fine. We’ll be friends. Just friends.

So, why does my heart feel frayed? And why is it I can’t help but consider taking the ultimate leap of faith—tying myself to Frankie. Permanently.


Review

Frankie Kenton is a sexologist with a podcast show called All Access that discusses sex, access, and everything in between. Her revolutionary show is breaking barriers, crushing stigmas, and creating sexual connections. One of those reader requests is to know more about accessible rope play.

Jay Wood is the owner of a lumber business, Dogg Wood Lumber. He is also a teacher and a rigger for a local kink club. Given the latter, he became Frankie’s resource person for her podcast research for the rope play or shibari.

At first glance, Frankie and Jay come together because of a listener’s querybut things start shifting more than professional to personal as their lesson goes – almost instantly! 

Things I enjoyed with Knot My Type:-

1) Inclusivity for everything and anything with the characters represented.

This book gives inclusivity and access to a whole new level – from body size, shape, access, abilities, etc. – you can think it, it’s most likely here. I can see the series already because other characters piqued my interest already. I liked that these characters live the best times of their lives, going through everything and letting nothing stop them, even their sexualities. 

2) Uplifting storytelling themes.

I was excited to read through a book that doesn’t let these items/topics be a “downer.” Instead, it turned out uplifting to see how the author maneuvered it to be an objective “how-to” exploration on options for this niche market. I love how the storyline approached scientifically, appropriately, and respectfully to readers. There is a lot of sensitivity in the details and descriptions during Frankie’s research. It also gives readers know the hurdles that come in such situations.

Though most of the book showcases the hilarious, high moments of the characters, the author does not shy away from lows and darker challenges/experiences faced in the past and present. Everything was humbly humanizing for these characters, making them easy to empathize with and relatable. These people all go through mental health issues, trauma, and fears as other people.

3) Main characters pining over each other from the start.

The story is from Jay and Frankie’s POV, so readers can indeed read through the many emotions running through the main characters. I enjoy stories like this when characters yearn for each other without knowing how deep their feelings are until they are consumed by it. But between you or me, I firmly believed that Jay loved Frankie a lot more with the actions he showed her. Don’t let his relaxed, calm demeanor throw you off – he has his brand of romantic gestures that will surely make anyone swoon for sure. What he did to help Frankie feel welcome to his home was a huge one! (FYI – it’s not only one thing in the one event.)

4) Characters are imperfectly flawed.

Although most of the story is full of positivity, Frankie and Jay have hidden flaws/trauma. How these characters handle these flaws are different. 

We have Frankie as the talker who approaches problems scientifically, while Jay was more of an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind,” so healing did not happen. I am not surprised how Frankie handled many awkward situations very well, especially when Jay’s returns with a vengeance. She even gave him the space and tried to talk to him right at that “eventful moment,” but of course, Jay was rattled and not ready yet to tackle on and acted irrationally. 

Note: Jay is so lucky to have met (later hooked up) Frankie because she is the winner in all this while getting over her issues for both of them.

5) Steamy moments that balance out the relationship-building moments.

I felt better educated with this book regarding all access. It blew me away on the hurdles couples go through, but heck, the steamy part of the book rocked! There is enough intimacy that is wholesome yet raunchy good! I was grinning throughout these intense scenes without realizing how creative couples have to be to make things work!

6) Tight-knit supporting characters.

I love Frankie’s band of gals – Flo, Annie, and Mai. They are stellar in their performances as a soundboard, cheering squad, and reality-check groupie for Frankie and even Jay. These girls pulled all the stops to knocked the main characters to face what they have. and saved the ending! 

7) The ending was cheesy but cute and fitted the character’s personalities!

Without giving away too much, past secrets came out at a critical moment to disturb their relationship’s “honeymoon” stage. It was too predictable, but it was good that Jay faced his trauma, and Frankie learned this. She handled everything like a champ, which was why the ending worked – she is the strongest protagonist I have encountered. I am thrilled with how the author resolved everything. 


Overall, I love everything about Knot My Type!

I could not get more excited. It may be a short enough read, but it also has essential points mentioned that will not overwhelm. This book is for romance readers who love stories with lovely rational characters and readers who love learning more about sex, relationships, and everything in between through a sexologist’s POV. Frankie should be one of the benchmarks of beating and rising above everything. 

I am excited to see how this series comes about after this awesomely enlightening book!


About the Author

FIERCE ROMANCE

Evie Mitchell is a thirty-something woman (she/her) living with Crohn’s Disease. She loves dirty books, sassy heroines, and heroes who know how to treat their partner’s right. She lives with her husband, their sausage dog, and an ever-growing collection of book-related mugs.

When she’s not writing, Evie loves curling up in the sun with an excellent book and a cup of tea.

Evie specializes in fiercely inclusive happily ever afters.

Connect with Evie
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest | Amazon | BookBub