Brooklynaire by Sarina Bowen

Anyone reading Sarina Bowen’s Brooklyn Bruisers series has been dying to read Becca and Nate’s story. It’s finally arrived with Brooklynaire and it was totally worth the wait.

35053870.jpg A sexy new standalone from USA Today bestseller Sarina Bowen.

You’d think a billion dollars, a professional hockey team and a six-bedroom mansion on the Promenade would satisfy a guy. You’d be wrong.

For seven years Rebecca has brightened my office with her wit and her smile. She manages both my hockey team and my sanity. I don’t know when I started waking in the night, craving her. All I know is that one whiff of her perfume ruins my concentration. And her laugh makes me hard.

When Rebecca gets hurt, I step in to help. It’s what friends do. But what friends don’t do is rip off each others’ clothes for a single, wild night together.

Now she’s avoiding me. She says we’re too different, and it can never happen again. So why can’t we keep our hands off each other?

The best thing about Nate and Becca is the slow burn attraction that we’ve seen sprinkled throughout this series in other people’s stories. All their stories overlap a bit, and it seems everyone knows that Nate is in love with Becca except Becca. And to finally see it come to fruition made this book my favorite from this series. (Technically, this story is a standalone, but I’d recommend reading the other Bruisers books first. Who doesn’t want more Sarina Bowen?)

I particularly enjoyed the agonizing pace at which these two got together. It made their connection natural and more real. I also enjoyed the way the obstacle of dating your boss’s boss for a woman was portrayed. It’s a serious thing in the modern world, and it wasn’t just swept under the rug in an Oh-well-love-conquers-all way. Nate took her seriously and gave her the time she needed. Plus, I loved the way this was all resolved at the end of the book. Find you a Nate, ladies and gentlemen!

My favorite side character had to be Bingley – the Alexa-like Artificial Intelligence, but you know, ten times better because Nate designed it. Their conversations/commands with Bingley were downright hilarious and I particularly enjoyed the misunderstanding when Bingley thought Becca was talking to him during a particularly steamy session with Nate.

Brooklynaire was everything I wanted and more. It was romantic, practical and a fairy tale all wrapped up into one.

STARS: 5 out of 5


Grey & Darker by E.L. James

(NOTE: This may contain spoilers if you haven’t read the original trilogy.)

The release of the final Fifty Shades of Grey movie, Fifty Shades Freed, is upon us, and with the prompting of a friend, I decided to give Grey and Darker, the first two books in the Fifty Shades trilogy told from Christian Grey’s perspective, a try.

32024902E L James revisits the world of Fifty Shades with a deeper and darker take on the love story that has enthralled millions of readers around the globe.

Their scorching, sensual affair ended in heartbreak and recrimination, but Christian Grey cannot get Anastasia Steele out of his mind, or his blood. Determined to win her back, he tries to suppress his darkest desires and his need for complete control, and to love Ana on her own terms.

But the horrors of his childhood still haunt him, and Ana’s scheming boss, Jack Hyde, clearly wants her for himself. Can Christian’s confidant and therapist, Dr. Flynn, help him face down his demons? Or will the possessiveness of Elena, his seducer, and the deranged devotion of Leila, his former submissive, drag Christian down into the past?

And if Christian does win Ana back, can a man so dark and damaged ever hope to keep her?

First, I don’t know why, but I hate strongly dislike books told from alternative points of view, especially if it’s an entire book published way after the fact to capitalize on the success of the first. Why wasn’t the story told in dual POV in the first place? Does this character – a secondary character, really – have anything to add to the story? Alas, there’s a special place (a small, red room, perhaps?)  in my heart for Fifty and I gave Christian’s perspective a try.

Grey and Darker were impossible to put down. Much like reading their counterparts for the first time, I was immediately immersed into Christian’s dark world and it was kind of a pleasure to get a peek into his fifty-shades-of-effed-up head. However, Christian comes across less domineering and more damaged hero with his constant worrying and insecurities. I found them endearing.

My biggest struggle with reading Grey and Darker is you only get Christian’s perspective. Sure, it allows you to see some interesting things we missed in the original books (i.e. Christian’s fear and immediate attachment to Ana, what really went down when Charlie Tango crashed, and my personal favorite, what Christian’s mother said after finding out Mrs. Robinson and Christian’s secret.) However, I found myself struggling to remember what actually happened when Ana is “off-the-page,” specifically Ana with her Mom in Georgia and Ana and the gun-wielding sub in book two.  It made me want to go back and read the originals (even though I loathe re-reading), which I read years ago now, to get the full picture.

I did enjoy Christian’s perspective, but I wish these stories had been told side-by-side since the get-go, which goes back to my instinctual dislike of Alternate POV retellings. However, Christian’s nervous energy and fear would have taken away from his allure in Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s only endearing to readers after we get to know him and the end of his story.

My favorite part of Christian’s POV is the look into his past, specifically his “crack whore” mom and his early sub days with Mrs. Robinson. This really filled out Christian as a character for me and made his domineering, controlling ways more palatable. He became more of a person than a typical caricature of an “Alpha Male.”

I initially listened to Grey on audiobook, and the narrator did an AMAZING job, but I don’t think this book is conducive to narration because of all the email traffic and contracts. There is nothing more boring than listening to the narrator read the ENTIRE contract, especially when I skimmed through most of it the first time I read this story.

In the end, I give this story four stars because I couldn’t put it down and it was entertaining and familiar. I love these characters and their story, and I enjoyed being immersed back into their world. I couldn’t give it five stars because it can’t standalone. You have to read the original to get the retelling.

STARS: 4 out of 5

Brave by Jennifer Armentrout

When I heard Brave by Jennifer Armentrout, the final book in the Wicked trilogy, was being released this December, I quickly read Torn and followed up immediately with Brave.

 23149316.jpgIvy Morgan hasn’t been feeling like herself lately. Not like anyone can blame her. After all, being held captive by a psychotic fae prince hell-bent on permanently opening the gates to the Otherworld is bound to leave some mental scars.

It’s more than that, though. Something dark and insidious is spreading throughout Ivy, more powerful than she could ever imagine… and it’s coming between her and the man she’s fallen deeply in love with, elite Order member Ren Owens.

Ren would do anything to keep Ivy safe. Anything. But when he makes a life altering choice for her, the fallout of his act has far reaching consequences that threaten to tear their lives apart.

If Ivy is going to have any hope of surviving this, she must put aside the hurt and betrayal she feels, and work with not only those she loves, but with an enemy she would rather kill than ever trust. War is coming, and it soon becomes clear that what Ivy and Ren thought they knew about the Order, themselves, and even their enemies, has been nothing but a cluster of dangerous, deadly lies.

Ivy knows she must be more than just brave to save those she loves–and, ultimately, to save herself.

Because behind every evil fae Prince, there’s a Queen….

Brave was a fitting conclusion, and Armentrout’s writing was as strong as ever with badass fight scenes and deliciously steamy love scenes.

It’s refreshing to read some classic paranormal romance. I forget how much I love it until I’m back in it again. *Looks back fondly on the Twilight-obsessed days.* This story was action-packed and heart-wrenching.  I loved Ren. He never gave up on Ivy and I love him for it. I’d even argue that Ivy doesn’t deserve him, but *Cue Kermit Meme* that’s really none of my business. *sips tea*

I have to admit that Torn was probably my favorite book of the three, which is surprising because it’s book two, but it had the most angst and horror with Ivy being trapped under the Prince’s control. There was a lot of stuff happening there, whereas Brave started with a whole lot of emotional angst and self-reflection, where Ivy shut everyone out and made dumb decisions which was very frustrating for me as a reader.

However, by the end, Ivy was a fighting machine and I loved the action scenes, especially when she fought a certain evil lady. I liked how it all wasn’t wrapped up with an unrealistic bow but it had enough closure to come full circle and leave the reader satisfied. I know this is the last book in the trilogy but I’m kind of hoping for more or at least a spin-off because there’s some unresolved tension between Tink and a certain Prince. There’s a novella titled “The Prince” in the 1001 Dark Nights collection. I may read that to get my fix.

STARS: 4 out of 5

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson is one of the best classic “fae” books I’ve ever read in a long time, where the fae are beautiful but dangerous, and humans are momentary and easily breakable.

30969741Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.

Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

This book surprised me. The story was enchanting; the writing was mesmerizing. I felt myself fall into the story and frolic between the pages until the very end, where I was rudely dropped back into the mortal world. The characters were intriguing and unique. I mean, the fact that Isobel has twin sisters that were originally baby goats until a fae turned them into humans is just so freaking different. I loved her bond with her aunt but I specifically loved that Isobel had such a strong disposition, where she didn’t waste her enchantments on frivolities but spent them on protection for her family and necessities like food. I respect the hell out of her.

My respect only grew as the story progressed because even though we know she’ll inevitably fall for the love interest, we don’t know when, and I was pleasantly surprised that she held out, kept her feelings to herself. She didn’t fall into Rook’s arms from the moment he showed her a bit of affection and declared her undying love. Their love was slow (although not really a slow burn, there was minimal burning but the heat was sweet and just enough to satisfy this reader) and she made logical decisions.

Isobel was such a self-aware narrator. I laughed out loud when she recognized that she was becoming one of those lovestruck girls but she had enough self-awareness about it to make her a lovable protagonist as opposed to just another dumb teen girl who loves too easily.

I’m having trouble putting into words what I loved about this book. It was entertaining. It had me on the edge of my seat, hoping against all odds their love would persevere the obstacles. The art was gorgeously depicted and I felt like I knew Isobel.

If you like tales of whimsy, magic and forbidden love, An Enchantment of Ravens is for you.

STARS: 4.5 out of 5

Rhapsodic by Laura Thalassa

Do you need a Rhysand fix? Yes? Yes, of course you do.

Then let me introduce you to The Bargainer from Laura Thalassa’s Rhapsodic. The first book in the bargainer series.

25820414.jpgCallypso Lillis is a siren with a very big problem, one that stretches up her arm and far into her past. For the last seven years she’s been collecting a bracelet of black beads up her wrist, magical IOUs for favors she’s received. Only death or repayment will fulfill the obligations. Only then will the beads disappear.

Everyone knows that if you need a favor, you go to the Bargainer to make it happen. He’s a man who can get you anything you want… at a price. And everyone knows that sooner or later he always collects.

But for one of his clients, he’s never asked for repayment. Not until now. When Callie finds the fae king of the night in her room, a grin on his lips and a twinkle in his eye, she knows things are about to change. At first it’s just a chaste kiss—a single bead’s worth—and a promise for more.

For the Bargainer, it’s more than just a matter of rekindling an old romance. Something is happening in the Otherworld. Fae warriors are going missing one by one. Only the women are returned, each in a glass casket, a child clutched to their breast. And then there are the whispers among the slaves, whispers of an evil that’s been awoken.

If the Bargainer has any hope to save his people, he’ll need the help of the siren he spurned long ago. Only, his foe has a taste for exotic creatures, and Callie just happens to be one.

Rhapsodic is a unique take on the fae and other supernatural creatures, including a certain King of the Night, his sexy, dark mysterious ways, and a healthy wingspan. *wiggles eyebrows* It’s by no means a replacement for SJM’s Rhysand but the bargainer has a certain magnetic quality that stands on its own, giving me the fix I needed for more broody, winged heroes.

This story was like A Court of Mist and Fury meets Daughter of Smoke & Bone. It was romantic and enthralling. I felt myself falling under the bargainer’s spell just as Callie did. The story built and built and built until my heart was pushed off a cliff only to realize that I had wings to fly me safely back to the ground.

Callie was a strong heroine with kickass Siren powers. I loved that we get to see both sides of Callie – the past and present – where she’s broken, abused and searching for herself, and then later when she’s built a life her herself and can stand on her own two feet. The alternating past and present POV made for delicious tension and shocking reveals. It also had a nice combined Young Adult v. New Adult feel.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this book while I was reading. Outside of the romance, Callie and the bargainer attempt to unravel a dangerous mystery in the fae realm, and I was pleasantly surprised and adequately disgusted by the big bad in this story and his terrible, horrifying antics. *shudders*

I read and loved Thalassa’s Fallen World Trilogy. Her writing is effortless, her heroine’s relatable – both strong and broken – and most importantly, her male leads are dark and hella swoon worthy.

This book would have been a perfect five stars, but the ending felt a little rushed and pre-packaged. I will, however, be reading the next book The Strange Hymn.

STARS: 4.5 out of 5

Tied by Carian Cole

Tied by Carian Cole was worth the wait.

34454485.jpgHe was the myth and the legend of our small town. But no one knew the truth… except me.

My childhood was stolen by a monster. I’ve forgotten what love feels like. What happiness feels like. What hope feels like. I am numb.

He’s possibly as damaged as I am. Maybe even more. Scarred just as much on the inside as the outside. Just like me. He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t smile. He hides in the woods like an animal. I should be scared of him. But I’m not. He’s the only one who has ever made me feel. And I want to make him feel, too.

Since I discovered Cole, I’ve devoured everything she’s written. There is just something about her characters and the situations she puts them in that calls to me. I’m like her ideal reader. She also writes about some taboo subjects that I usually don’t entertain, but from her, I’ll try anything.

Tied was a story that I can only describe as the dawn breaking into the night. Her characters are both in such dark, dark places at the beginning and it was amazing to watch them slowly unfurl and ultimately flourish with each other by the end.  I laughed. I cried. I held the book close. I threw it across the room. I devoured it in one sitting.

The pain that Cole created with just her fingertips and the way she weaved their story together had me gobbling up her words like it’s Thanksgiving. I couldn’t stop reading. I wanted to know more. More. More. More.

By the end, Cole left me a satisfied reader. I loved this story. It’s a story of love and redemption and the strength that can only come from pain. I can’t wait to read more of her work.

STARS: 5 out of 5

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I know what you’re thinking.

I’m late to the party. So late to the party, in fact, that the cleaning crew has already come and gone and I’ve shown up at the front door on a Tuesday with a cheap bottle of wine asking “Where’s the party at?”

I know, feel free to judge me. A few years ago, I tried to jump on the Outlander bandwagon but quickly jettisoned when I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. I was unimpressed with the married protagonist and the boring genealogy history lesson. Little did I know that if I’d only read a little bit farther, I’d have hit the mother load.

10964.jpgThe year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

Outlander really begins when Claire falls back into 1700’s Scotland and she meets the highlander, Jaime. Typically, I dislike time travel novels (which probably affected my earlier decision to DNF), but there’s something about Gabaldon’s storytelling that kept me hanging on every word. As a book, Outlander is long and slow and so ungainly it’s hard to hold onto or accurately describe. But once I found myself stuck in the past with Claire, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to know what was going to happen. I didn’t care how many mundane scenes I needed to read before we got to the good stuff.

Speaking of good stuff, most critics of this book will mention the “disturbing assault.” I went in fully prepared for it, expecting some kind of weird BDSM stuff, but it wasn’t that at all. And I was kind of disappointed because all the “assault” happens off the page and it’s clearly a construct of the age, not an abusive love interest. Now, it was enough to make any modern-day woman fume, but so did Claire. She fought back tooth and nail. So overall I’m okay with that part of the story because it’s a product of the time and the situation, not so much an unjust description of assault.

Anyway, my only issue with this book other than the slow-as-molasses pace is the confusing way Gabaldon presented some information. It was almost like foreshadowing but in the present — so present-shadowing? But the shadows were so thick, I didn’t fully get the author’s drift. I knew the author was trying to point something out, but I couldn’t see it. I didn’t know if it was because I just didn’t get it or if it was the writing. I muddled my way through, of course, but I wish it was clear one hundred percent of the time.

Overall, I was enchanted with the story. The relationship between Claire and Jaime is truly special, and the combination of Claire’s healing ability and Jaime’s badass highlander-ness, makes for an exciting story. I couldn’t stop thinking about it long after the final page had been turned and I quickly purchased the rest of the series.

I haven’t seen the TV show, but I can finally say that I get why so many women love this series.

STARS: 5 out of 5