Monday, January 20, 2020

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Title: The Kiss Quotient
Author: Helen Hoang
Genre: Contemporary
Series: The Kiss Quotient #1
Audiobook, Unabridged

Publication: June 5, 2018 by Dreamscape
Source: Personal Library

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases — a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice — with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan — from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he's making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...

I’ve had The Kiss Quotient on my TBR list since it’s made its way around the blogsphere years ago. I’m not a big romance reader but it’s certainly a genre I want to read more of, and I thought there’s no time like the present to start now. Bonus its by a Vietnamese author. Which is cool, of course, but at the end of the day I’m just looking for a good story and good writing. I honestly feel the whole “need” for more diverse writer and representation is getting tiring and old. Can’t we just read a book because it SOUNDS GOOD? People check it off their list to meet a requirement or something. It’s silly. And when it becomes required reading, then you know it anit fun anymore.
The Kiss Quotient was inspired by the author, Hoang’s own journey with autism.  Which from what I know is far and few in the romance/general book category…I was intrigued. Stella, our main heroine is 30-years-old and has never been in a real relationship. But like most things in her life, it can be learned. So, she thinks. Which is where Michael comes in. Michael is a for hire escort, and Stella has hired him to train her to be better at sex and relationship.
I really like Stella and Michael. I thought they were adorable together and loved how they brought out the best in one another (minus the jealousy part lol). I also liked the supporting characters such as Quan and Michael’s big family (5 sisters y'all!), a good support system while shining a light on the importance of family. Hoang must be somewhat of a foodie too because there were no short supply of Vietnamese cuisine popping up left and right. It made me hungry! The writing was superb, which was no surprise and kept me engaged throughout the entire book.
However, the story wasn’t unique as I'd hope. Its been done before in Pretty Woman and The Wedding Date, I definitely kept getting the feeling as though I already read this story. And my only other critique is that the plot, while plausible was not realistic. Michael was overly understanding when it came to Stella, maybe too much since his younger cousin Khai is also autistic but in today’s world, most people would condemn you for being ‘different’. They’re more likely to comment, sneer and judge before lending a sympathetic ear.  Horrible and as harsh as it may sound, it’s true. Kind folks are out there and all but there are unfortunately more unkind than kind.
Overall I enjoyed The Kiss Quotient and am looking forward to reading the companion novels! I should warn you, this book was way steamier than I thought. Not for the faint of hearts!


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Title: Serpent & Dove
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Genre: Paranormal, YA
Series: Serpent & Dove #1
Audiobook, Unabridged

Publication: September 3, 2019 by HarperAudio
Source: Personal Library

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

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

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

And love makes fools of us all.

I’ve been waiting for a good witch/witch hunter story for ages! Serpent and Dove sounded like the perfect remedy. The synopsis had me right off the bat; a witch marrying a witch hunter? Hell yes, sign me up A.S.A.P! The story started off very promising with the hustle and bustle of the city life as readers are introduced to Lou and Reid our main characters. But suddenly the story took a hard left leaving me lost and confused. It wasn’t till the very end that the story started to get better but honestly, it wasn’t enough to redeem itself from the haphazard middle/execution.

I’m going to start off with what I enjoyed. I liked that the story was centered only on the witches and chasseurs (witch hunter). There were no monsters, vampires, or werewolves to crowd the storyline, just two distinct factions. Although the witches were divided into specific covens, depending on their abilities. In Serpent & Dove, we were introduced to the Dame Blanc and Dame Rouge was briefly mentioned (which will be seen in-depth in the sequel). I also liked that there were many laugh-out-moments. Reid’s reactions to Lou’s outgoing, wild nature was priceless.

Unfortunately, the flaws outweighed the good. With so many amazing reviews, I was expecting to be blown away, or at least get buffy vibes. I got neither. The writing, world building and characters all fell short and left me feeling underwhelmed for most of the book. The writing left much to be desired, it didn’t flow nor have that captivating spark seen in most debut novels. I felt the writing needed more time to develop and given more time I’m sure it would’ve been better. The world building was a hot mess, or lack of a world building. While Mahurin never stated the time period, it isn’t too farfetched to assume that the story took place during the 16th century (time of the witch trials) or latest 17th or 18th century which is when the word, chasseurs was coined…or at least around those time frames. The descriptions of the setting also supported this assumption. Then there was the dialogue…things turned messier. Lou and Reid's vernacular kept bouncing back and forth to 16-17th century and present day. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have words like F*ck or B*tch back then. I could be wrong. I don’t have an issue with curse words, it’s all gravy. But my point was it didn’t sound right. Mahurin should have picked and stayed in one lane because the combination of the setting and language timeline/style was ridiculous and took me out of the story on more occasions than I can count. 

And finally, we have the characters. I’m not a fan of Lou or Reid as you can guess by now. Perhaps Mahurin was going for an independent feminist in Lou but Lou wasn’t likeable, period. She’s vulgar in the worst ways, the kind of girls you see drunk and belligerent at the bars. Which many can imagine, low-class (ironic, since she's the coven princess) trashy and annoying. Reid wasn’t any better. He was all about rules, rules and more rules. He had a stick so far up his ass, I was surprised he was able to run at a drop of a hat at the mention of a witch nearby. Reid apparently had no clue Lou was a witch till the very end. ZERO. I find that unbelievable, especially when it was said countless of times that witch magic gave off an unpleasant odor. And Reid and Lou got personal so many times, I lost count. Give me a break, I didn’t buy any of it.

Serpent & Dove fell way below expectations. The cover, while beautiful and eye-catching did not match with what was inside the book. And if you haven’t read this novel yet, avoid it, especially the audiobook. The audiobook had one of the most annoying narrators I’ve ever listened to. With that said, do yourself a favor and skip Serpent & Dove, this isn’t the witch story you’ve been waiting for.


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

Title: Snowspelled
Author: Stephanie Burgis
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Harwood Spellbook #1
E-book, 168 pages

Publication: September 4, 2017 by Five Fathoms Press
Source: Personal Library

Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life.

Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.

But the greatest danger of all lies outside the manor in the falling snow, where a powerful and malevolent elf-lord lurks...and Cassandra lost all of her own magic four months ago.

To save herself, Cassandra will have to discover exactly what inner powers she still possesses – and risk everything to win a new kind of happiness.

A witty and sparkling romantic fantasy novella that opens a brand-new series for adults from the author of Kat, Incorrigible, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets.

I love books that combine Victorian Regency setting and magic and Snowspelled had it all. It’s hard to find a book that does it well, having only read a handful in my lifetime. Especially in the vein of Austen which Snowspelled succeeded at. Burgis’s world was an imaginative alternate England, Angland, where magicians were men and they catered to all things magic while the women dealt with the politics and governing society. Our heroine, Cassandra Harwood disrupted these traditions when she became the first woman accepted to The Great Library, a university for magicians. But when a spell gone wrong took away her power, Cassandra withdrew into herself.

When the story begins, we see Cassandra months after the magic accident that took away her powers, withdrawn with a 10-foot wall built around her. At the behest of her sister-in-law, Cassandra reluctantly attends a party. Within minutes of arriving to her destination things turn from bad to worse when she disturbs the trolls and enters a bargain with an Elven Lord. The Elven Lord gave Cassandra a week to find the weather wizard that has been wreaking havoc on the land. If Cassandra fails, then she has to become a part of their court and his prisoner.

Snowspelled gave me all Austen feels. Some similarities to Austen I noted were the sexism and gender difficulties woman had to endure during the regency period, the hate/love chemistry between the leads, Cassandra and Wrexham, to the effortless light British humor and smart dialogue-banter. While I’m not a big novella fan, I’m really glad I read Snowspelled. Despite it being so short, Burgis built a unique world with fully fleshed out characters from the main characters to the tertiary characters such as Miss Banks and Miss Fennel. The plot also was well written and executed from beginning to end. Unlike most novellas I read, Snowspelled’s overall story didn’t feel rush; once the mystery was solved, I felt satisfied with the ending and appreciated there being no loose ends. But the ending did leave an opening for more opportunities and I can’t wait to see more of Cassandra, Wrexham and the future lady-magicians. Overall, Snowspelled was a solid and enjoyable beginning to a series.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

Title: The Library of the Unwritten
Author: A.J. Hackwith
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Hell's Library #1
Trade Paperback, 375 pages

Publication: October 1, 2019 by Ace Books
Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing-- a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil's Bible. The text of the Devil's Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell....and Earth.

Have you ever wondered where unfinished manuscripts and stories dwell? It’s not tucked away as a binary code in the pits of your computer nor stashed in a folder somewhere in your filing cabinet. Stories are shelved away in the Unwritten Wing in Hell, locked down and overseen by a librarian. Because occasionally, a story gets restless and comes alive in search of its creator hoping to have their stories finished and written.

This is where head librarian of hell, Claire, comes in. She’s been the library caretaker for awhile now and haven’t had any issues, she knows every book like the back of her hand. Until one day a book goes unaccounted for, finding its way to earth. With the help of her muse assistant and a young, newbie demon; Claire sets out to retrieve the rouge book. But the situation goes south when her mission entangles with two archangels hunting for the Devil’s Bible. With time of the essence, Claire and her crew of misfits’ races to find the Devil’s Bible before Heaven gets its hand on it. 

I love the idea of unfinished stories having lives of their own. Even more interesting that these stories were being housed in Hell, of all places. Library of the Unwritten was narrated by a handful of characters; the librarian, a young demon, the muse and an angel; alternating from chapter to chapter. While I enjoyed most of the characters, in general I’m not a fan of multiple POVs or the overlapping, duplicate scene from another character’s POV. It was repetitive. And some character’s POV were less interesting than others, which made the story drag in parts.

The world building and magic system were well thought out and developed. Hackwith did an excellent job in incorporating various religious history with her own unique take on life after death. I enjoyed seeing the characters travel through different realms and portals and their modes of transportation, whether it be through candlelight or a raven’s wing. And no surprise that a library’s weapon of choice is those of words or pen and paper. The battle scene in Valhalla was fun.

All in all, Library of the Unwritten was an enjoyable read. It is first in a brand-new series and I can’t wait to see where Hackwith takes these characters/stories.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Title: Sapphire Flames
Author: Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #4
Mass Market Paperback, 393 pages

Publication: August 27, 2019 by Avon
Source: Personal, Audiobook

In a world where magic is the key to power and wealth, Catalina Baylor is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, and the Head of her House. Catalina has always been afraid to use her unique powers, but when her friend’s mother and sister are murdered, Catalina risks her reputation and safety to unravel the mystery.

But behind the scenes powerful forces are at work, and one of them is Alessandro Sagredo, the Italian Prime who was once Catalina’s teenage crush. Dangerous and unpredictable, Alessandro’s true motives are unclear, but he’s drawn to Catalina like a moth to a flame.

To help her friend, Catalina must test the limits of her extraordinary powers, but doing so may cost her both her House–and her heart.
Sapphire Flames is the fourth novel in the Hidden Legacy Series and is centered around the middle child, Catalina Baylor. I’ll be honest, when IA announced that Nevada and Rogan’s story was wrapped up and the subsequent novels would be from another character, Catalina’s POV I was slightly disappointed. I, like many fans got attached to Nevada and didn’t want to see her story end. However, after reading Diamond Fire I was sold on Catalina!

Sapphire Flames takes place three years after the events of WildFire and Diamond Fire with Catalina now the head of house. The usual gang is all back this time around sans Nevada and Rogan whom are both travelling with Rogan’s mother for a funeral. A lot has changed in three years for the Baylor family and for Catalina. Catalina is no longer the quiet and reserved girl we met during the trials/Nevada’s wedding. Catalina is now twenty-one and unlike millennial her age, she splits her time running her new house and the family investigative business. While Catalina still has some insecurities and doubts (who doesn’t, right?) that she needs to work through; at the core she’s a kind, loving person. I loved that Catalina 2.0 is a lot more confident, brave and independent. Throughout Sapphire Flames we saw Catalina go out of her comfort zone and push the boundaries over and over; chasing down bad guys, dispatching a group of hired mercenaries on her own to keep her family safe to dealing with her Grandma Victoria.

Catalina wasn’t the only surprise. Alessandro, noble count, IG playboy was so much more than just a pretty face. I won’t spoil the book for anyone who hasn’t read the book/or series yet but man, Alessandro was a wonderful enigma. Alessandro, like Catalina is also a powerful prime with unique and rare abilities. I already had a lot of questions concerning Alessandro and his family throughout the book but by the time I got to the epilogue, I was left with even more questions! Why was he in the profession that he is? Who is he hunting? Why doesn’t he want to introduce Catalina to his family? See? So many questions!

Sapphire Flames hit all the usual high notes that one would come to expect of Team IA, rich world-building, multifaceted characters, snarky dialogue and an intriguing plot. I thought it was a great addition to the Hidden Legacy series and am looking forward to reading more about Catalina and co!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

Title: The Swallows
Author: Lisa Lutz
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
Series: N/A
Hardcover, 399 pages

Publication: August 13, 2019 by Ballantine Books
Source: Personal, Audiobook

It starts with this simple writing prompt from Alex Witt, Stonebridge Academy's new creative writing teacher. When the students' answers raise disturbing questions of their own, Ms. Witt knows there's more going on the school than the faculty wants to see. She soon learns about The Ten--the students at the top of the school's social hierarchy--as well as their connection to something called The Darkroom.

Ms. Witt can't remain a passive observer. She finds the few girls who've started to question the school's "boys will be boys" attitude and incites a resistance that quickly becomes a movement. But just as it gains momentum, she also attracts the attention of an unknown enemy who knows a little too much about her--including what brought her to Stonebridge in the first place.

Meanwhile, Gemma, a defiant senior, has been plotting her attack for years, waiting for the right moment. Shy loner Norman hates his role in the Darkroom, but can't find the courage to fight back until he makes an unlikely alliance. And then there's Finn Ford, an English teacher with a shady reputation who keeps one eye on his literary ambitions and one on Ms. Witt.

As the school's secrets begin to trickle out, a boys-versus-girls skirmish turns into an all-out war, with deeply personal--and potentially fatal--consequences for everyone involved. Lisa Lutz's blistering, timely tale shows us what can happen when silence wins out over decency for too long--and why the scariest threat of all might be the idea that sooner or later, girls will be girls.
I’ve been a longtime fan and lover of Lutz’s work. I was first introduced to her writing with The Spellman Files back in 2009 and have gone on to read more within the same series. Lutz has written many standalone novels since and while I own all of them, I sadly haven’t gotten around to reading any of it. I was determined to remedy that this year (I know, we’re at the end of the year) and picked up her latest novel, The Swallows. I was intrigued and am a sucker for stories that takes place at private/boarding schools.

The Swallows is a departure from Lutz previous work, The Spellmans Files. The Spellmans Files is what I’d called hilarious light-hearted mystery while the Swallows still a mystery at its core; is darker, cutthroat, and holds nothing back. I was absolutely riveted. With little time for reading these days, I opted for the audiobook version and was delighted to find out the book had multiple narrators. Which was perfect considering there were many POVs in the novel from faculties to students. Without going too much into spoiler territory, The Swallows follows Alex Witt, a new teacher at a New England Prep School. She’s one of those cool, doesn’t take shit kind-of-teachers. She’s straightforward and doesn’t tolerate bullying/injustice which is how she discovered that the prep school is more sinister than it looks.

What was discover was that behind the prestigious façade and crisp uniforms, a few male students were behind what is called the ‘dark web’, an online portal housing everyone’s dirty secrets and among other things that shouldn’t be going on, let alone in the dark. Witt's presence gave the female students the push to delve deeper into the 'dark web', so much so, that the girls were out for a change, a reckoning that eventually changed the foundation and hierarchy of the entire school and all those that reside there.

I enjoyed The Swallows much more than I anticipated. Thanks to the vague synopsis and no reviews read, I was able to go into the novel completely unaware of what it was about. I wasn’t expecting a war amongst the female and male students. Lutz tackled school taboos that most are too afraid of touching such as sexism amongst faculties and students those among their superiors and peers, school ethics, and teacher-student relationships.

I loved the change of power dynamics and seeing those deemed as victims take their power back. It's very current and mirrors our own reality with the whole METOO movement. The writing/storytelling was impeccable as always. But the ending. Just when I thought I saw all the twists and turns, Lutz hits readers with another double whammy! The ending literally had me clasping my mouth in utter shocked. I love those kinds of unexpected shocks.

All in all, The Swallows was another satisfying novel from Lutz. With this novel, Lutz has shown me she can write anything from comedy, suspense and everything in-between. If you haven't checked out her work yet, I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason

Title: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse
Author: K. Eason
Genre: Sci-Fi Fantasy
Series: The Thorne Chronicles # 1
Hardcover, 416 pages

Publication: October 8, 2019 by Daw Books
Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.

Rory Thorne is a princess with thirteen fairy blessings, the most important of which is to see through flattery and platitudes. As the eldest daughter, she always imagined she'd inherit her father's throne and govern the interplanetary Thorne Consortium.

Then her father is assassinated, her mother gives birth to a son, and Rory is betrothed to the prince of a distant world.

When Rory arrives in her new home, she uncovers a treacherous plot to unseat her newly betrothed and usurp his throne. An unscrupulous minister has conspired to name himself Regent to the minor (and somewhat foolish) prince. With only her wits and a small team of allies, Rory must outmaneuver the Regent and rescue the prince.

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is a feminist reimagining of familiar fairytale tropes and a story of resistance and self-determination--how small acts of rebellion can lead a princess to not just save herself, but change the course of history.

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is the perfect union of Science Fiction and Fairy-tale. Although to be absolutely fair, it’s more Science Fiction than Fairy-tale but great nonetheless. The story begins with a blessing and a curse. Rory Thorne is the first princess born in a long, long line of princes to the Thorne Consortium. On her name day, everyone in the multiverse came to witness the significant day…even the thirteen fairies whom no one has seen for thousands of years. Each fairy blessed/cursed Rory with a gift. Kindness, Beauty, courage through adversity and of course to see through illusions and lies. Apparently, it’s exactly what a princess needs.

From the opening chapter, I knew I was going to like Rory. Despite all odds and to everyone’s surprise she was born not only challenging the status quo but eventually changing it. Reading this far, you can guess that Rory is no ordinary princess. Only sixteen-years of age, Rory is more intelligent and skilled than most of her seniors. What makes this book stand out and superior than many novels nowadays is that it doesn’t resort to physical combat or flashy battle sequences. It doesn’t involve a ‘girl’ going on a beserker mission of revenge and bloodshed for power or greed. Rory utilized her mind and voice to outsmart the most respected arithmancers (magic-magician), regents and would-be kings and got shit done. No gimmicks here. I found it quite refreshing to see such an independent character with fortitude and cunning, using her mind and words to get what she wanted. The supporting cast was just as multifaceted and unique as our heroine. From Rory’s two trusted advisers Messer Rupert and Deme Grytt to her two bodyguards Thorsdottir and Zhang. Rupert and Grytt couldn’t be more polar opposite but their love for Rory made them an amazing team. I loved their banter. The same could be said for Rory’s bodyguards. I loved that it took equally intelligent women to guard Rory. Never send a man to do a woman’s job, amiright?

The world building was as scientific as they come. While there was what some would considered as ‘magic’ I felt like it leaned more towards technology-science. Messer Rupert is Rory’s Arithmancy teacher. Arithmancy is the ability to manipulate and hex codes. Whether it be that of a database, firewall security or one’s mind. There was a lot of code hacking going on to obtain confidential secrets, passwords and the disabling of cameras and bugs. You get the picture. I thought Eason’s world building was a breath of fresh air. She took a seemly simple idea and made it uniquely her own. I particular liked the aura reading aspect; it was an interestingly fun aspect of the novel.

Every year I discover a gem of a book and this year’s book is without a doubt How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse. Eason’s writing was flawless and I loved how she used the ‘inner monologue' technique, super clever. I thought the world building was well developed and easy to understand. But the best part of the book were the characters. If you’re looking for an extraordinary, nonconforming, out-of-the-box type heroine then look no further. I highly, highly recommend How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Universe. There are countless of novels that try to incorporate science fiction with fairy-tale in the market but none done as well as this book. Read this, you won’t regret it!

Lastly, there was little to no romance here. It's all about girl power!