Saturday, January 27, 2024

Midnight on Beacon Street by Emily Ruth Verona

Synopsis (via Goodreads): A suspenseful and entertaining debut thriller—and love letter to vintage horror movies—in which a teenager must overcome her own anxiety to protect the two children she’s babysitting when strangers come knocking at the door.

October 1993. One night. One house. One dead body.

When single mom Eleanor Mazinski goes out a for a much-needed date night, she leaves her two young children —sweet, innocent six-year-old Ben and precocious, defiant twelve-year-old Mira— in the capable hands of their sitter, Amy. The quiet seventeen-year-old is good at looking after children, despite her anxiety disorder. She also loves movies, especially horror flicks. Amy likes their predictability; it calms the panic that threatens to overwhelm her.

The evening starts out normally enough, with games, pizza, and dancing. But as darkness falls, events in this quaint suburban New Jersey house take a terrifying turn —unexpected visitors at the door, mysterious phone calls, and by midnight, little Ben is in the kitchen standing in a pool of blood, with a dead body at his feet.

In this dazzling debut novel, Emily Ruth Verona moves back and forth in time, ratcheting up suspense and tension on every page. Chock-full of nods to classic horror films of the seventies and eighties, Midnight on Beacon Street is a gripping thriller full of electrifying twists and a heartwarming tale of fear and devotion that explores our terrors and the lengths we’ll go to keep our loved ones safe.

I didn't like Midnight on Beacon Street as much as I thought I would. I assumed it would be a quick read since it's a short book, but I never felt compelled to pick it up. I would see it sitting somewhere and think, "Oh, I should finish that." The story simply wasn't captivating and the characters weren't very likeable. Whether that's from a lack of development or dull descriptions, it's difficult to say. It's hard to care about characters when you don't know enough for them to matter.

I wasn't a fan of the overall pacing. Typically flashbacks are used to help readers understand what's happening in the present, or to give a character more depth, but these felt like random instances in someone's life. After finishing the book, I can see what the author was maybe hoping to highlight, but I don't feel like the information gleaned from those moments was all that helpful. I think I would have preferred a more linear storytelling for this book. The back and forth overcomplicated the story.

The abbreviations of their names was also something I found annoying. M? B? I would have preferred the author just used their names instead, since it did take a few chapters for me to associate letters with people. It was too much mental work.

Did I anticipate who the "bad guy" was? No. However, I think that goes back to the lack of character development. It could have been anyone... though I'm still not entirely sure what motivated them. There was too much background noise. Verona says a lot without actually saying anything at all. The ending itself was very underwhelming. 

I didn't DNF the book because it wasn't very long. Although, I was tempted to just skip to the end, see who the killer was, and then move on. I think I would have enjoyed Midnight on Beacon Street more if the characters had been fleshed out, the flashbacks had been more informative, and the pacing had been a little quicker. (★★⋆☆☆)

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Iron Flame (The Empyrean, #2) by Rebecca Yarros
Narrated by Rebecca Soler & Teddy Hamilton

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “The first year is when some of us lose our lives. The second year is when the rest of us lose our humanity.” —Xaden Riorson

Everyone expected Violet Sorrengail to die during her first year at Basgiath War College—Violet included. But Threshing was only the first impossible test meant to weed out the weak-willed, the unworthy, and the unlucky.

Now the real training begins, and Violet’s already wondering how she’ll get through. It’s not just that it’s grueling and maliciously brutal, or even that it’s designed to stretch the riders’ capacity for pain beyond endurance. It’s the new vice commandant, who’s made it his personal mission to teach Violet exactly how powerless she is–unless she betrays the man she loves.

Although Violet’s body might be weaker and frailer than everyone else’s, she still has her wits—and a will of iron. And leadership is forgetting the most important lesson Basgiath has taught her: Dragon riders make their own rules.

But a determination to survive won’t be enough this year.

Because Violet knows the real secret hidden for centuries a
t Basgiath War College—and nothing, not even dragon fire, may be enough to save them in the end.

I still haven't reviewed Fourth Wing, but decided to go ahead and write this one while the story was still fresh on my mind. I was already late to the game with this series, but I put myself on the waiting list for an audiobook at my library as soon as I was able to after falling in love with these characters during Fourth Wing. Additionally, Rebecca Soler is one of my absolute favorite narrators and she does an amazing job with this series. 

Yarros not only makes me fall in love with Violet and Xaden, but every secondary character is beloved as well. Losing any of them would be devasting to my heart, so that final battle in Iron Flame had my pulse racing right along with Violet's. I was already worried about finishing the book since everyone said they literally stared at a wall for 20 minutes afterwards, but I still wasn't expecting the cliffhanger we're left with. Haven't we been through enough by now?

I will say that I didn't like how long it took Violent and Xaden to work through their issues. A lack of communication between characters is a huge turn off for me in books, especially when they're romantically involved. Violet knew who he was before she fell in love with him, yet she made demands and put expectations on him that were a bit unfair. She didn't completely trust him because he wouldn't tell her everything, but everyone in this series has secrets, including her. She kept demanding total honesty and full disclosure despite other lives being at risk if she knew. Yarros managed to address these issues in a way that wasn't cringeworthy, so at least that aspect of the book was tolerable and didn't ruin everything else for me. 

The dragons are still my favorite part of these books. I love their sarcasm and menacing attitudes, especially when directed towards their own riders. Their personalities are perfection. Adolescent Adarna is an absolute delight to read about, and her getting on Tairn's nerves never fails to make me smile. I'm really happy we learned more about them in Iron Flame because so much is still a mystery. 

Love, betrayal, unexpected plot twists, new friends and frenemies, dragons and gryphons, riders and flyers, war, loss - Iron Flame has all that and more. I highly recommend this series if you enjoy fantasy and fast-paced adventure stories. (★★★★★)

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Fall of Ruin and Wrath by Jennifer L. Armentrout


Long ago, the world was destroyed by gods. Only nine cities were spared. Separated by vast wilderness teeming with monsters and unimaginable dangers, each city is now ruled by a guardian―royalty who feed on mortal pleasure.

Born with an intuition that never fails, Calista knows her talents are of great value to the power-hungry of the world, so she lives hidden as a courtesan of the Baron of Archwood. In exchange for his protection, she grants him information.

When her intuition leads her to save a traveling prince in dire trouble, the voice inside her blazes with warning―and promise. Today he’ll bring her joy. One day he'll be her doom.

When the Baron takes an interest in the traveling prince and the prince takes an interest in Calista, she becomes the prince’s temporary companion. But the city simmers with rebellion, and with knights and monsters at her city gates and a hungry prince in her bed, intuition may not be enough to keep her safe.

Calista must follow her intuition to safety or follow her heart to her downfall.

I finished Fall of Ruin and Wrath in less than twenty-four hours, and I'm still thinking about it a week later. Talk about a book hangover! I just wish there had been more worldbuilding and that it hadn't ended on a massive cliffhanger. I'm going to have to wait an eternity to find out what happens next. 

I think I liked this one so much because of the similarities to ACOTAR, but they weren't overly obvious. There are mental shields, a very big stay-with-the-High-Lord vibe, and some questionable word choices. This book has Starborn, which is similar to SJM's Crescent City series. The elite class is also known as Hyhborn (very cold and unfeeling, ancient and powerful), while ACOTAR has Hybern. These are easily overlooked, but I can see where it would be problematic to some, especially as more details and descriptions are revealed. 

Calista is the main character, but I really wish we'd seen more of Grady and Naomi. I think there's a lot of potential for secondary character growth that we just didn't see in this one. Additionally, Thorne has his own cabal of friends (also similar to Cas and Az from ACOTAR) that I wish we'd seen more of. I think the book was too focused on Calista and we miss out on seeing so much more of the world JLA has created. 

I also wasn't fond of some of the language used. It was a direct contrast to the world and time period depicted. Everything felt fantastical, but the modern day language and expressions were distracting. It would take me out of the moment, which is never ideal. The book also has no business being this large. The spacing and the size of the font were a bit excessive - a lot of wasted space per page. If condensed to reflect what a normal book looks like, it would probably be a quarter of the size. 

However, despite the issues I found with Fall of Ruin and Wrath (a title I'm still not sure accurately reflects the book), I really enjoyed it. It's been a while since I devoured a book so quickly. I wanted to know about Thorne and his background. I wanted to see more of the world JLA created. Unfortunately, we don't really get a lot of information and explanations. A lot is alluded to, but I have a feeling it's being saved for book two. All of the questions formed during this book... hardly any are answered. 

I do think this one needs some more fine-tuning before it's published (spelling, grammar, inconsistencies out the wazoo), but the book as a whole is a gem. I'm looking forward to seeing how the next book addresses a lot of the issues in this one. Also, it would be nice if things felt a little less rushed... the pacing was weird in certain parts. 

The one FF scene was short-lived and too subtle. I would have enjoyed some flashbacks of certain people engaging in activities together. The dinner table scene was unbelievably hot (more of that please and thank you). The slow build and tension were there, although I think maybe seeing things from Thorne's perspective would have helped. It doesn't have to necessarily be duel POV, but maybe a chapter here or there that helped us see inside of his head. (★★★⋆☆)

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes used in this review are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan

Synopsis (via Goodreads): For Sewanee Chester, being an audiobook narrator is a long way from her old dreams, but the days of being a star on film sets are long behind her. She’s found success and satisfaction from the inside of a sound booth and it allows her to care for her beloved, ailing grandmother. When she arrives in Las Vegas last-minute for a book convention, Sewanee unexpectedly spends a whirlwind night with a charming stranger.

On her return home, Sewanee discovers one of the world’s most beloved romance novelists wanted her to perform her last book—with Brock McNight, the industry’s hottest, most secretive voice. Sewanee doesn’t buy what romance novels are selling—not after her own dreams were tragically cut short—and she stopped narrating them years ago. But her admiration of the late author, and the opportunity to get her grandmother more help, makes her decision for her.

As Sewanee begins work on the book, resurrecting her old romance pseudonym, she and Brock forge a real connection, hidden behind the comfort of anonymity. Soon, she is dreaming again, but secrets are revealed, and the realities of life come crashing down around her once more.

If she can learn to risk everything for desires she has long buried, she will discover a world of intimacy and acceptance she never believed would be hers.

From the author of My Oxford Year, Julia Whelan’s uplifting novel tells the story of a former actress turned successful audiobook narrator—who has lost sight of her dreams after a tragic accident—and her journey of self-discovery, love, and acceptance when she agrees to narrate one last romance novel.

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes used in this review are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.

I was really enjoying Thank You for Listening for the first seven hours of the audiobook. There were even several laugh-out-loud moments that made me think I'd finally stumbled across a book worth my time (currently in a slump after a string of mediocre stories). Unfortunately, after investing nearly eight hours, the main character decides to be awful and stupid. Everything was falling into place perfectly, and then Sewanee decides to be someone not worth reading about. 

I like that this book has a main character with a disability. 

I like that this book addresses dealing with an elderly loved one that struggles with memory loss.

I like that this book has a male love interest that's sweet, charming, and understanding to a fault. 

I like that this book has a best friend that feels like family.


I did not like that Sewanee used her disability as an excuse. 

I did not like that Sewanee thought she - and only she - knew what was best for her ailing grandmother. She didn't even want to consider what her grandmother wanted for herself. 

I did not like how Sewanee treated the male love interest once everything was out in the open. She walked away, what, ten times? Nick still stuck around and tried to give her time to process her feelings. She ends up running away anyways and ignoring all of his attempts at conversation. Everything, and I mean everything, in their romance-novel-worthy relationship was falling into place and she squandered it. She looked a gift horse in the mouth and then shoved that horse over a cliff. 

I did not like how Sewanee chose to treat her best friend (the one that's more like a sister). Her friend had been there through it all and was always in Sewanee's corner. Sewanee was cruel and undeserving of such a friendship. 

All of my dislikes happened after listening to 68% of this book. I normally don't DNF this far into something, but her entire personality was a turn off at that point. She made bad decision after bad decision and I couldn't find a single redeeming quality that made me want to keep going. 

However, I do have a positive to end this review with. Julia Whelan narrates her own book and it's amazing. She is a phenomenal narrator that I really enjoyed listening to and will definitely look for in the future. (★★⋆☆☆ )

Friday, April 14, 2023

Lavender House (Andy Mills, #1) by Lev A.C. Rosen

Synopsis (via Goodreads): A "Best Of" Book From: Amazon * Buzzfeed * Rainbow Reading * Library Journal * CrimeReads * BookPage * Book Riot * Autostraddle

A delicious story from a new voice in suspense, Lev AC Rosen's Lavender House is Knives Out with a queer historical twist.

Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well guarded secret—but it's not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they've needed to keep others out. And now they're worried they're keeping a murderer in.

Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept—his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand.

Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He's seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn't extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy—and Irene’s death is only the beginning.

When your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal, and the gates of Lavender House can’t lock out the real world forever. Running a soap empire can be a dirty business.

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes used in this review are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.

I really wanted to like this one more than I did. I think Rosen has a good concept, but the storyline was too predictable and not very engaging. I knew whodunit as soon as all of the characters were introduced. 

Evander Mills - Andy - wasn't a remarkable main character. He's questioning whether life is worth living when he's approached to investigate a murder. I did like seeing him go from contemplating suicide to realizing there might be something worth living for, although I do think the author should have made his mental state more of a focal point. 

Whenever a problem arose in the book, it was either solved quickly or ignored completely. Solutions just presented themselves and kept the story from feeling mysterious. I wanted more backstory, more character development, more stick-it-to-the-man moments. Lavender House felt like the bones of a book and it kept me from fully enjoying the story. (★★πŸŸ‰☆☆)

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Kingdom of Blood & Salt by Alexis Calder [Blog Tour: Review + Giveaway]

Halito! Welcome to the next stop on the Kingdom of Blood & Salt blog tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Thank you for stopping by! If you would like to win a copy of this book, be sure to enter the giveaway at the bottom of this post. πŸ‘‡ For the full tour schedule, please visit the Rockstar Book Tours website.

About The Book:

Title: KINGDOM OF BLOOD & SALT (Blood & Salt #1)
Author: Alexis Calder
Pub. Date: March 30, 2023
Publisher: Illaria Publishing
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 328

An epic enemies-to-lovers fantasy romance perfect for fans of Jennifer L. Armentrout, Raven Kennedy, and Sarah J Maas.

After spending years training to defend my people from our enemies, I never expected that my enemy would be the one keeping me alive.

Athos is the last human city. A treaty with the Fae keeps the fae, the vampires, and the wolf shifters at bay, while we fight against the dragons at our border. Being a human in this world is dangerous and we all make sacrifices to survive.

When the delegation sent by the Fae King arrives to claim the human tributes required by our treaty, I never expected to forge a connection with their leader.

Ryvin is as dangerous as he is handsome. I know he’s my enemy, and I know I’m supposed to hate him, but with each passing day, he’s more difficult to resist.

But things are changing in Athos. Humans no longer want to bend to the Fae King.

Alliances blur and centuries of lies begin to unravel.

And I’m faced with a choice.

No matter how much I hate him, Ryvin might be the key to preventing war.

But it may mean sacrificing everything….

Kingdom of Blood and Salt is the first book in a fantasy romance trilogy with fae, vampires, and shifters. This enemies to lovers series contains violence, mature language, and spice. This is a NA/adult fantasy romance and steam level will increase as the series progresses. Mind the cliff.

When a book compares itself to Sarah J. Maas, I don't expect it be a knockoff version of a beloved series. Unfortunately, there were too many similarities for me to overlook. The main character's name is Ryvin and he controls - wait for it - shadows and darkness. He's intent on "saving" the princess at every turn, despite her being unwilling to see what's right in front of her face. Ryvin repeatedly told her he wasn't the enemy, yet she refused to believe him until it was too late. The one thing she stayed mad about wasn't even within his control. 

This book also markets itself as an enemies-to-lovers, but it was more of a one-sided hateship. Ryvin never appeared to have any negative feelings towards Ara. She only hates him because of where he comes from and because of things she clearly doesn't understand. Her unwavering faith in her family and friends ended up hurting her more than anyone from Ryvin's delegation did. 

Another similarity to A Court of Thorns and Roses were the sisters Ara would do ANYTHING to protect. She would sacrifice her life, choose to live with "monsters," and debase herself if it meant they didn't have to suffer even for a moment. Sound familiar? I wish the relationship between her and her older sister had been expanded on, but none of the secondary characters really developed over the course of this book. I think a few of them had the potential to be more. I even think Ryvin having his own POV would have helped. 

Kingdom of Blood & Salt is a quick read with a lot of action. Ara's life is constantly in danger, Ryvin is always there to save the day, and we see our main character struggle with a singular issue for 300+ pages. I'm not even going to touch on how awful the queen was to her stepdaughter, or how that all seemed to just disappear during the last 5 pages of the book. Their "solution" made me roll my eyes. 

Honestly, I think this book would have been better if Ara had teamed up with Ryvin when she realized things weren't as they seemed in her city. I wish she'd used her brain and acknowledged that what was being asked of her was wrong and tried to do something about it. I also think her sisters being more involved would have made this a better story, too. 

The sex scenes were decent, but nothing to really swoon over. Ara yells at him and claims she doesn't want him (every single time), and then they end up "fitting together perfectly" and having a magical time. There were also some grammatical errors and inconsistencies, but hopefully my copy wasn't a finalized version. 

I didn't hate Kingdom of Blood & Salt, but I do think it could have been better. I kept reading in the hopes it would, so there was something there even if it didn't really work for me in the end. It's also a really big turn off when a book is too similar to what it's comparing itself to. (This one also used the term asteri and had a character named Magda.) (★★★⋆☆)

About Alexis:

Alexis Calder writes sassy heroines and sexy heroes with a sprinkle of sarcasm. She lives in the Rockies and drinks far too much coffee and just the right amount of wine. 

Giveaway Details:

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon GC, International.
Ends April 18th, midnight EST.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 10, 2023

Bonded by Thorns (Beasts of the Briar, #1) by Elizabeth Helen

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Four beastly princes. One awkward bookworm. An enchanted world of fae, magic, and danger.

I’ve always loved fairytales. I never imagined I'd actually be in one.

When my father wanders into the enchanted realm of the fae, I know I have to go after him. And when he gets imprisoned, I'll do anything to save him... Even trade my freedom for his. I had no idea I'd end up imprisoned by four sexy fae who turn into beasts at night.

I have to win my freedom, and that means making a bargain with them. They must find their mates in order to break the curse. If I can help them do that, they'll set me free. Sounds simple, right?

It's not. Because against my better judgment, I'm starting to fall for these beastly princes. One is smart and sweet, the other mysterious and deadly, another flirty and confident, and the last prince... He's handsome, strong, has a wicked temper, and is dead-set against breaking the curse. Why does he want to keep me here forever?

But it's not just my freedom on the line. If I don't break the princes' curse soon, all the magic in the Enchanted Vale will be stolen by the evil—and stupidly hot—Prince of Thorns. And I'm not letting my princes stay cursed.

Not after I've fallen in love with them.

Bonded by Thorns is undeserving of its 4 star rating. I am genuinely surprised by the number of raving reviews. Why are people swooning over a story this uninteresting and problematic? Rose - Rosie - Rosalina was as dimwitted as she was dull. 

Lots of spoilers going forward! Read at your own risk. 

When Rosalina is first mentioned in the book, she's quiet and easily cowed by her previous abusive boyfriend. She tolerates his presence because it gives her some comfort to be near the man that carved his name into her arm (a fact that is never addressed later on in the book, but definitely should have been). She was willing to entertain the idea of marriage to someone that discarded her - repeatedly - as he went around and did whatever he wanted. How could she have been so naΓ―ve and cared so little about herself? Where was her sense of self-preservation? If the authors really wanted to make it believable, they should have written it better. 

“His name is Lucas. We’ve been on and off since I was fifteen, but I think it’s serious now. Super serious.” I take a deep breath. “Or at least it could have been, if I hadn’t been imprisoned by the fae.”
Going back to her personality, it's like she's a completely different person once she reaches fae lands. She's brave, courageous, stands up for herself and others - something she's never done before - and it was just too fucking unbelievable. Don't even get me started on the ridiculousness of the princes and their curse. The Prince of Thorns? Laughable. No one even blinked at him calling her "princess." Why wasn't that ever addressed? Also, why does he even care? Poorly explained, poorly executed, poorly written. 

If I'm being completely honest, I went into this one for the romance and reverse harem theme, but even that was a disappointment. If you're going to have a terrible, nearly nonexistent plot, then at least entertain your readers with steamy sex scenes and erotic content. Bonded by Thorns failed on all accounts. There were some okay moments between Dayton and Farron, but even those were short and excluded the main character. 

The dialogue was awful and cringey. 

  1. In a burst of I-just-about-died rage, I glower up at him. “How the fuck am I supposed to answer you when you’re choking me out, you overgrown tin can?”
  2. Heh heh.
  3. He wrapped his hand around my throat and choked me out.
  4. But I am no Peeping Tom, so I force my eyes up. Only, ogling his eight-pack abs and perfect pecs doesn’t seem less creepy at the moment.
  5. least death by a monstrous wolf is a bit more awesome than falling off the bookstore stool.
  6. That traitor trash panda.
  7. “He was really mean!”
I'm not even going to attempt to touch on all of the inconsistencies and grammatical errors. πŸ˜‘ The princes also kept referring to their human forms and calling themselves men. They're not supposed to be human... At least Sarah J. Maas did that right. Males, males, males. 

I went into this book expecting to be enamored with four fae princes all vying for one woman's attention, and them enjoying her separately and together. However, Rosalina was horrible. Her "bewilderment" and "acceptance" not believable for a second. It was also too similar to A Court of Thorns and Roses for my liking, but whatever.  

A man behind a mask, her being placed in the Spring Court section of the castle, cursed to turn into animals and needing to find love to break the spell... sound familiar? 

This book was a complete waste of my time and money. I hope this review saves a few others from making the same mistake. (★★☆☆☆)