Author: Jen

Guest Review: The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy

Posted September 26, 2019 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: The Orchid Throne by Jeffe KennedyReviewer: Jen
The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy
Series: Forgotten Empires #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Point-of-View: First
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 384
Add It: Goodreads
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four-stars
Series Rating: four-stars

"The Orchid Throne is a captivating and sensual fantasy romance you won’t want to miss! High stakes. Remarkable worldbuilding. Unique and compelling characters. A slow-burn romance that’ll make you combust.” — Amanda Bouchet, USA Today bestselling author of The Kingmaker Chronicles

"The Orchid Throne captures from the first page and doesn't let go as Jeffe Kennedy weaves a timeless tale of love and survival amidst a lush backdrop teeming greed and deceit. You will fall for Lia and Con and root for them with every breath you take. This is a book that will linger in your thoughts for a very long time."- Darynda Jones, New York Times bestselling author

Welcome to the world of Forgotten Empires from award winning author Jeffe Kennedy that begins with The Orchid Throne.

A PRISONER OF FATE

As Queen of the island kingdom of Calanthe, Euthalia will do anything to keep her people free—and her secrets safe—from the mad tyrant who rules the mainland. Guided by a magic ring of her father’s, Lia plays the political game with the cronies the emperor sends to her island. In her heart, she knows that it’s up to her to save herself from her fate as the emperor’s bride. But in her dreams, she sees a man, one with the power to build a better world—a man whose spirit is as strong, and whose passion is as fierce as her own…

A PRINCE AMONG MEN

Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, has built an army to overthrow the emperor. But he needs the fabled Abiding Ring to succeed. The ring that Euthalia holds so dear to her heart. When the two banished rulers meet face to face, neither can deny the flames of rebellion that flicker in their eyes—nor the fires of desire that draw them together. But in this broken world of shattered kingdoms, can they ever really trust each other? Can their fiery alliance defeat the shadows of evil that threaten to engulf their hearts and souls?

Lia, Queen of Calanthe, has spent the last few years of her life playing a dangerous game. Her island nation is one of the few who has not been taken over by the brutal Anure and his Empire. Lia is supposed to marry Anure, but she has been skillfully putting him off. She knows time is running short, and she is desperate to find a way to protect Calanthe, regardless of what happens to her. Con led a revolt of slaves against the Empire, and he arrives in Calanthe hoping to further his cause. Lia and Con are drawn to each other, but neither particularly trusts the other. Lia has to decide whether to throw her lot in with Con or give in to the Empire.

There is a LOT happening in this book. Kennedy has created an incredibly rich world, and for that reason this book has some info dump in it. Normally, too much of that bores me, but here I was fascinated. It helps that the world of Calanthe in particular is gorgeous and mysterious and full of magic, making you want to hear more about its secrets. I was particularly (and surprisingly) engaged by the political games Lia must play. In many ways Con’s accusation that she has lived in luxury while people in the world are dying at the hands of the Empire is completely justified. Calanthe has been spared the cruelty everyone else experienced, and most of the residents are either unwilling or unable to acknowledge that privilege. Lia believes she’s doing the right thing, but you can see the other side of that argument too. However, that safety has come largely because of Lia’s own sacrifices in recent years. She deeply understands the expectations her subjects have of her, her role on the political stage, her role as a potential wife, and how to use subtlety, charm, and ruthlessness when necessary to get what she wants. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her weigh her options, work behind the scenes, and use all her available resources to save her kingdom. She has been sheltered, but she is also very, very good at being Queen, and everything she does, she does for her kingdom, not for herself.

Con and his people have experienced a LOT of trauma (and CW for talk of abuse, torture, rape, and slavery), but somehow he is still a kind man. He is particularly sweet and vulnerable in his interactions with Lia, and it was both heartbreaking and lovely. His life has been so horrible–you just want to see things go right for him for a change. You can tell he is still growing into his role as a leader, and I can’t wait to see where he goes in the future. He and Lia both bear the weight of expectation and loneliness, and by the end it appears that they will both be made better by their union.

I didn’t realize before I read the book that this isn’t a finished story, nor would I quite categorize it as a romance (maybe just the first installment of a romance). While Con and Lia do have some great sexual tension and do end up together (and have some very hot sex!), it doesn’t happen until the very end of the book. By the end, there is some tentative trust and agreement between them, but they aren’t fully a team yet either. Really, this book is set up for the world and the conflict, but it doesn’t resolve anything. Not knowing that, I was very disappointed when I got to the end and realized there would be no resolution. That did temper my enjoyment of the story a bit.

I did love this world and these characters, though. I want to see Lia and Con grow into true partners, and I want to see how they can fight against the Empire. I will be waiting with baited breath for future books in the series.

Grade: 4 out of 5.

four-stars


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Guest Review: One Dark Wish by Sharon Wray

Posted September 25, 2019 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: One Dark Wish by Sharon WrayReviewer: Jen
One Dark Wish by Sharon Wray
Series: Deadly Force #2
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: January 1, 2019
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Point-of-View: Third
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 448
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two-stars
Series Rating: two-stars

Her life must be forfeit for his to be redeemed

Historian Sarah Munro is not used to being shot at, but that's just what happens while she's poking around cemeteries on Georgia's Isle of Grace, searching for the key to a centuries-old cipher. Her quest has unwittingly drawn the attention of two deadly enemies intent on destroying each other--and anyone who gets in their way.

Ex-Green Beret Major Nate Walker is on a mission of his own: to restore the honor of his men. To do that, he is required to stop Sarah--or one of his own men will die. Caught in the middle of a deadly rivalry, Nate can't afford to trust the woman standing in his way. But his heart says he can't afford not to...

Deadly Force Series: Every Deep Desire (Book 1)One Dark Wish (Book 2)

If you read the blurb for this book, it doesn’t sound overly complicated, right? A historian wants to solve a secret pirate cipher to both redeem her career and save her father. An ex-soldier is tasked with stopping her in order to save his men. Along the way, they fall in love. In practice, though, this book was…a lot. Way too much, in fact.

The characters in this book are reasonably smart and interesting. Sarah is good at her job and cares about preserving history. Nate is a protective alpha who has long carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. They were a nice match, with both appreciating the other for their strengths and loving each other despite their weaknesses. I thought their relationship was the best part of the book, although it does move WAY too fast. The bulk of the book takes place in a matter of days–I had to set that fact aside to really believe their romance.

The problem, however, is that the book has an excess of both characters and plot! Nate is part of a group of ex-Green Berets who are trying to get on with their lives after scandal forced them out of the military. Quite frankly, I couldn’t tell most of them apart as they were kind of forgettable. They mostly spent the book whining and moaning about their situation, about their orders, about life in general. They were supposedly a tight-knit unit, yet many of them didn’t seem to particularly trust each other. One of the big conflicts of the book is how Nate is going to be taken away permanently for reasons I won’t spoil. While one or two of the guys is pretty broken up about it and tries to save him, the rest seem pretty ambivalent. Nate is treated VERY unfairly, and Sarah seems to be the only one who truly tries to do anything about it. Way to pull together, team! The commanding officer is a secretive, cold-hearted bastard, too. I’m guessing he may get his own story in the future, but I certainly don’t care to read about him.

Most importantly, the plot of the book is overly complicated and illogical. There is SO much going on. There is a secret warrior organization whose motivations are very poorly outlined. There is some sort of gun runner who seems to have an absurd amount of power and influence.  There’s a very rich lawyer and Senator who help the team for flimsy and convenient reasons. There are several double crossers with their own agendas and stories. There is a historical mystery and the pirate cipher they are trying to investigate. Then there are back stories galore: what happened to the Green Beret team on the mission that got them in trouble as well as what happened in the following years, what happened during Nate’s time in a POW camp, a mystery about why both Nate and Sarah’s dad are having seizures, and the question mark that is Sarah’s father, all of which barely get grazed in this book. Not to mention what I assume are set ups for future books in the series, where we start to hear back stories for the other team members. I recognize that this is the second book in a series, which I didn’t realize when I started reading, and I acknowledge that some of this is likely addressed in past and future books. I’d still argue that cramming so much into one book is a bad idea. This book is looooong at a whopping 448 pages (!), meaning halfway through I was straight up bored, not to mention rolling my eyes at the nonsensical things that kept happening. I kept going, only to find out how Sarah and Nate could get their HEA, not because I gave a crap about the rest of it.

In short, I think the author is trying to tell a very ambitious story, which I appreciate. However, some ruthless editing and way fewer story threads would have improved this book tremendously. 

Grade: 2 out of 5

Deadly Force

two-stars


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Guest Review: The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken

Posted September 19, 2019 by Jen in Reviews | 3 Comments

Guest Review: The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. AikenReviewer: Jen
The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken
Series: The Scarred Earth Saga #1
Also in this series: The Blacksmith Queen
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Point-of-View: Third
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 304
Add It: Goodreads
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five-stars
Series Rating: four-stars

When a prophesy brings war to the Land of the Black Hills, Keeley Smythe must join forces with a clan of mountain warriors who are really centaurs in a thrilling new fantasy romance series from New York Times bestselling author G.A. Aiken.  The Old King Is Dead With the demise of the Old King, there’s a prophesy that a queen will ascend to the throne of the Black Hills. Bad news for the king’s sons, who are prepared to defend their birthright against all comers. But for blacksmith Keeley Smythe, war is great for business. Until it looks like the chosen queen will be Beatrix, her younger sister. Now it’s all Keeley can do to protect her family from the enraged royals.  Luckily, Keeley doesn’t have to fight alone. Because thundering to her aid comes a clan of kilt-wearing mountain warriors called the Amichai. Not the most socially adept group, but soldiers have never bothered Keeley, and rough, gruff Caid, actually seems to respect her. A good thing because the fierce warrior will be by her side for a much longer ride than any prophesy ever envisioned … 

I have to start this review with two points of context. First, I FREAKING LOVE THIS BOOK. I enjoy everything Shelly Laurenston/GA Aiken writes, and I particularly love this book. I just wanted to lay that out at the start of this review because there will be some squee. Second, while it pains me to say it, I would not call this book a romance. There is a satisfying, HEA romance storyline in it, and it’s a lovely one, but the romance is only a small part of the plot. Therefore, it’s not a romance, and if you go in expecting that you may be disappointed. That said, the book is so good, and I am all in on this world and these characters.

It’s hard to summarize this book without spoilers, so I’ll just let the cover copy do that. What I can talk about, however, is the main character Keeley Smythe. I love her! She is a blacksmith who runs her own shop, and she is capable AF. The opening scene, where she kicks the asses of a whole group of baddies in order to save a defenseless young man, just sucks you right in and shows you what kind of person she is. She is strong, she is fearless, and she is by and large very cheerful. She is also incredibly devoted to her family, and it was so great to see. Basically most of what she has done in life has been to protect and serve her family, but she isn’t resentful and doesn’t play the martyr. She does it because it needs doing–she is a woman who quite simply gets shit done. Aiken’s heroines are pretty much all capable and strong, however. What sets Keeley apart is that she’s really…nice. She loves the people around her despite their obvious faults and despite, in some cases, them being seemingly undeserving of her love. I love her for it.

The rest of the characters in the book are also amazing, particularly Keeley’s family. One thing I love about Aiken’s characters is that they have faults but are still deserving of their own happiness. Keeley’s family isn’t perfect, but they are ALWAYS interesting. There are so many conflicting personalities and agendas, and you get the sense that this book only revealed the tip of the iceberg of what’s really going on. I particularly loved the dynamic between Keeley and her sister Gemma. I am definitely hoping to hear more of Gemma’s story in the future! This book is also set in the same universe at the Dragon Kin books. We’ve also heard allusions to the queen we know is Annwyl, and hopefully we’ll get even more crossover later. (Hoo boy I’d love to get a scene of Keeley and Annwyl together!)

As for the romance, it may be small but it’s cute. Caid is taciturn and grumpy, but his grumpiness is no match for Keeley’s exuberance and kindness. It was fun to see her grow on him until she had wormed her way right into his heart. They were a great match, and I could see how his support would be so valuable for Keeley going forward. While I would have loved to see more page time for the romance, even my “romance or GTFO” heart was satisfied enough at the end of this book.

I know the small amount of romance will disappoint some, and as usual Aiken’s campy, violent fairy tale style is not for everyone. I, however, loved this book and I just want more. I want more of seeing Keeley come into her own, I want more story for the rest of Keeley’s family, and I want more of this world.

Grade: 4.75 out of 5.

five-stars


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Guest Review: Falling for Farmer Brown by Tammy Blackwell

Posted September 16, 2019 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: Falling for Farmer Brown by Tammy BlackwellReviewer: Jen
Falling for Farmer Brown by Tammy Blackwell
Publisher: Self-Published
Publication Date: September 4, 2019
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Point-of-View: First
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 278
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four-stars

Home is where the heart is...

When the death of a dear friend forces Isabella "Izzy" Moreno to return to the small town where she grew up, her main goal is to get out and back to New York as soon as possible. But bad weather and delayed funeral plans mean not only is Izzy trapped in Cupar County for an entire week, but she's forced to bunk down with her former friend Ethan Brown.

Ethan Brown can't remember the first time he fell in love with Izzy Moreno, but he knows he's in danger of doing it all over again the moment he sets eyes on her. He vows to protect his heart this time around, but it's near impossible when she's living under his roof, reminding him of all the things he turned his back on years ago.

As Izzy spends more time in Cupar County and with Ethan she begins to wonder, can you really go home again?

I’m not gonna lie: I 150% picked up this book because of the cover. It is freaking adorable and utterly perfect for the book. Thankfully, what was inside the book was well worth reading.

Isabella Moreno has come back from New York City to rural Kentucky to be with her friends after one of their group died unexpectedly. (CW: This book deals with the aftermath of their friend’s death. I was worried it would be horribly angsty, but it’s not. There are, however, some painful moments and the grief is unavoidable at some points.) Izzy has remained close to her group of friends, except for Ethan Brown. As soon as she’s back, however, they decide to rekindle their friendship. Except Ethan’s never wanted just friendship from Izzy, and she’s starting to think that might not be what she wants either.

I adored both Izzy and Ethan. Ethan in particular is a sweet, bearded cinnamon bun of a man who has straight up loved Izzy forever. I didn’t exactly enjoy that he had essentially cut off contact with her for stupid reasons, but I could understand how it happened. He was young and dumb, and most of us have probably had that experience of drifting away from a childhood friend. I do wish they had talked a bit more about it, because I felt like his explanation to her was a little thin. Izzy is a great character too. The book is told in alternating first person, and it’s in Ethan’s chapters that I came to love Isabella. He just adores her and sees her for what she is. It’s lovely!

The big conflict in the book is that Izzy is heading back to NYC, while Ethan has firm roots in Kentucky. (Literal roots! He’s a farmer with a thriving business which I LOVED SO MUCH.) I appreciated that they BOTH have to figure out what their priorities are, and Izzy’s soul searching isn’t all about Ethan. She has to put aside all the expectations of the people in her life (her parents, her friends, her neighbors, etc) to figure out what she truly wants her life to be. Her friends are amazing as well. I loved getting to know them and desperately hope this is the start of a series. I want to read about every last one of them.

This book is cute but with enough of a serious backbone to stop it from being cutesy. I had a great time reading it.

Grade: 4 out of 5.

four-stars


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Guest Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan

Posted August 28, 2019 by Jen in Reviews | 2 Comments

Guest Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno RushdanReviewer: Jen
Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan
Series: Final Hour #2
Also in this series: Every Last Breath
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Point-of-View: Third
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 448
Add It: Goodreads
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four-stars
Series Rating: four-stars

The clock is ticking

Fearsome Gray Box operative Gideon Stone is devoted to his work and his team. He's never given reason to doubt his loyalty...until he's tasked with investigating Willow Harper, a beguiling cryptologist suspected of selling deadly bio-agents on the black market.

He knows she's innocent. He knows she's being framed. And he knows that without him, Willow will be dead before sunrise.

Thrust into the crossfire of an insidious international conspiracy, Gideon will do anything to keep Willow safe...even if that means waging war against his own. With time running out, an unlikely bond pushes limits―and forges loyalties. Every move they make counts. And the real traitor is always watching...

Hands down my favorite new series and author this year has been the Final Hour series by Juno Rushdan. I enjoyed Book 1 a lot, and that trend continued with Book 2 (with one caveat I’ll explain later).

Gideon Stone works with Maddox from Book 1 at the Gray Box, an off-the-books agency of the US Government. In Book 1 we learned that there is a traitor in the organization, and in Book 2 that traitor is ramping up their efforts. The pressure is on to find the traitor as soon as possible, so the inner circle starts investigating suspects. One potential suspect is Willow Harper, the team’s cryptologist. Gideon volunteers to investigate her, mostly because he’s always admired her from afar. He immediately realizes she couldn’t be the traitor, but when it’s clear she’s being set up to take the fall Gideon goes rogue to save her. He has to keep Willow alive and find the real traitor to clear her name.

This book is just as action packed as the first one, and I had a great time reading it. Unlike Maddox, the heroine from Book 1, Willow is not a shoot-em-up operative. Instead, she is a genius with technology. She does need Gideon for physical defense and some strategy–he’s the one who knows how this world works and has the skills to keep them alive. She isn’t weak or stupid, however. She contributes to the chase using her own skills, and she keeps up with Gideon.

The relationship between Gideon and Willow is lovely too. Both truly see and appreciate the other for their own strengths. Gideon sees Willow’s talent and spine of steel and values it, even though she isn’t able to kick ass in the same way he does. One of the problems Gideon had in past relationships was that he couldn’t be honest about his job or what it entails. Because Willow already knows the details, though, he is able to be free with her in a way he has never been before. Even better, Willow isn’t scared away by what he does, though it takes Gideon too long to realize that. He spends way too much time assuming he’s not good enough for her, and he does a lot of flip flopping as he gives in to his need to be with her but then pushes her away. He hurt her every time he did that, even though he thinks he’s helping her. I wanted more consistency from him and for him to acknowledge that Willow knows who he is but loves him anyway.

Now on to a spoiler that I feel is important to mention: Willow is autistic, a fact that is explicitly stated near the beginning of the book. While there is some discussion of her autism, particularly early in the book, it is not a defining characteristic of Willow’s, nor is it a major plot point. There are a few instances where it impacts the story, but for the most part Willow is able to keep up with the action as well as any other civilian suddenly dropped into an action movie would. There’s no fetishizing I could see, either. There is one deeply uncomfortable scene with an ignorant police officer near the beginning of the book. To me it read as a condemnation of the kind of idiotic views people hold about autism, but I don’t know how it would read as someone more familiar with ASD. In general, I am unqualified to pass judgment on how this book handles Willow’s autism, so I can’t say whether this portrayal is appropriate or not. If anyone with more experience in this area reads the book and has a different take, please do comment here!

Aside from the above concerns, I really liked this book. It’s got so much of my catnip–traitor in our midst, a couple on the run, secret government agency, and smart characters who bring out the best in each other. I am hooked on this series!

Grade: 4 out of 5

Final Hour

four-stars


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