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Maybe This Christmas by Susannah Nix {review}

Maybe This Christmas

Genre: Holiday Romance, Novella

 

My Review - 4 Stars

This was a fun Christmas romance novella! It takes place over the course of 10 Christmases. Alex and Lucas are best friends and everything changes when they kiss the Christmas of their senior year of high school. Each Christmas vignette takes us through their relationship and the years apart, as well as how their respective families change.

They date other people, which includes Alex coming out as bi. (I’m interested in seeing what bi reviewers have to say about the representation.) They break up with other people. Some years their friendship is on track. Other years they’re barely speaking. But each Christmas they continue to be in each other’s orbit.

As cute as this was, it felt like it dragged a little in the middle. Molly O’Keefe did a Christmas Eve story in 5 parts a couple of years ago, spanning from 2001 to 2013, and doing it in 5 parts allowed her to skip a few years as needed. That might have been more effective here, instead of depicting all ten Christmas days. That’s a minor issue on the whole, however.

Alex and Lucas were really great together. I loved watching Alex do her best to get out of their small town and see how she fared in college and her career. It was also interesting to see how Lucas stayed in their hometown and what life is like when you decide to stay. It was beyond satisfying when they both got their acts together and finally realized they’d never stopped loving one another. Lucas’s gesture the Christmas they get back together made me swoon!

CW: divorce (parent), infidelity (parent)

 

Synopsis

Two best friends. Ten Christmases. One happy ending.

When best friends Alexandra and Lucas share a first kiss on Christmas night their senior year of high school, it feels like the best years of their lives are ahead of them.

Then Alex goes off to college, and Lucas stays behind to work at his dad’s construction business in the small beach town where they grew up. Life, as they say, happens. And somewhere along the way these two high school sweethearts find they don’t have as much in common as they once did.

Lucas’s life is on Beaufort Island, and Alex is all about getting away and moving on. So he makes one of the hardest decisions of his life and lets her go.

But every year when Alex comes home for the holidays, fate conspires to reunite the two former lovebirds on Christmas Day. Year after year, through good times and bad, Lucas and Alex meet up, catch up, and reconnect on the anniversary of their first kiss.

Is it too much to hope that one year they’ll find their way back to each other permanently?

Maybe even this Christmas.

 

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Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.


Lord Of The Last Heartbeat (The Sacred Dark #1) by May Peterson {review}

Lord of the Last Heartbeat

Genre: Romantic Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, LGBTQIA Romance

 

My Review - 4.5 Stars

I was completely enamored with this story from page one. It’s clear Mio is in trouble, although we don’t know how or why. When he meets Rhodry and asks for help, I was drawn even further into Mio’s plight. He was so sweet and pure, so tangled up in what to do and how he might escape his mother Serafina. My heart went out to him and I could see why he was drawn to the strength Rhodry exuded. But Rhodry, a bear-soul, had troubles of his own thanks to a curse and I had no idea how the ghosts and demon might affect them all. All I knew was I was in their corner, desperate for things to work out, and I could not read this fast enough.

In addition to fascinating supernatural elements, this story explored identity and power dynamics in really interesting ways. One of Mio’s greatest strengths is his voice. It’s the one thing he’s really proud of and believes he’s best at. It’s also the source of his magic. After a showdown with his mother, he essentially loses his voice. The selective mutism impacted Mio in a variety of ways, leading him to learn “handspeak.” And this set the plot off in a new direction, full of interesting possibilities, especially when Mio discovers he can communicate with Rhodry’s ghost wife Eirlys, who cannot speak.

The reach of Serafina’s power was confusing a couple of times. As far as I understood, she needed to know someone’s secret in order to control them but she could not read minds, which is why she used Mio, who could then convey the secrets to her and she could take over from there. In at least two key instances, Mio did not reveal a secret and yet she was able to control someone anyway. This was used to great dramatic effect in the scene, I admit, but I kept wondering how she accomplished it when Mio was not complicit in her actions. Regardless, this confusion did not affect my enjoyment of this story.

I loved how this explored gender and sexuality through Mio, who is intersex, prefers he/him, and is okay with boy but not man. When Mio and Rhodry discuss his preferences, Rhodry responded to him with such kindness and acceptance. There’s awareness that not everyone is as accepting of either of them and there are references to homophobia but in Rhodry’s house, everyone is free to be who they are.

Rhodry and Mio’s love story is a slow burn but it’s effective. They have to deal with the threat of Serafina, as well as Rhodry’s curse. Rhodry has to wrestle with the power dynamics between them: not only is Rhodry wealthy, he’s also a great deal older than Mio and now serving as his protector. He wants to do right by Mio and be sure he’s not taking advantage of him. But once they finally act on their feelings, I swooned. They were so good to one another.

All in all, a wonderful debut from May Peterson. The side characters were incredible and I cannot wait to see what happens next in this series: Peterson says book two is about Tibario and his love interest, a transfem Witch from a rival family, and that Eirlys will get her own story as well.

CW: murder, violence, loss of voice, toxic parent, suicidal ideation and attempted suicide, grief and loss, past infidelity, references to homophobia, mind control

 

Synopsis

Stop me. Please.

Three words scrawled in bloodred wine. A note furtively passed into the hand of a handsome stranger. Only death can free Mio from his mother’s political schemes. He’s put his trust in the enigmatic Rhodry—an immortal moon soul with the power of the bear spirit—to put an end to it all.

But Rhodry cannot bring himself to kill Mio, whose spellbinding voice has the power to expose secrets from the darkest recesses of the heart and mind. Nor can he deny his attraction to the fair young sorcerer. So he spirits Mio away to his home, the only place he can keep him safe—if the curse that besieges the estate doesn’t destroy them both first.

In a world teeming with mages, ghosts and dark secrets, love blooms between the unlikely pair. But if they are to be strong enough to overcome the evil that draws ever nearer, Mio and Rhodry must first accept a happiness neither ever expected to find.

 

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The Wonder Engine (Clocktaur War #2) by T. Kingfisher {review}

The Wonder Engine

Genre: Fantasy

 

My Review - 5 Stars

Utterly brilliant conclusion to this two book series. It exceeded all expectations. The clever humor was there in spades but it also managed to make me cry, so basically T. Kingfisher has my heart forever.

I adored the crew all the more as their quest continued. This story went in such unexpected directions and there were some excellent twists I never saw coming. I also loved how Grimehug the gnole became more of a part of the crew and the way gnoles, in general, fit into the story. They have their own castes and this led to some great discussions about representation and identity.

Slate and Caliban finally get their acts together by getting together. They are so good for one another. Slate was crabby as ever, cementing how grumpy heroines are the best. Especially when paired with noble martyr knights. (Plus, great casual bi rep with Caliban!) Caliban’s central conflict around faith and demon possession was really insightful and I liked how this book dug even more into how their fate is up to the gods who don’t have a vested interest in their well-being.

I will be marveling over what Kingfisher accomplished with this dulogy for some time to come. And consequently exploring more of her backlist. What a treat!

CW: murder, violence, suicidal ideation, death of a loved one, grief, demon possession (human and livestock), blight (contagious illness), allergies, misoginy/sexism, speciesism

My review of book 1.

 

Synopsis

Pull three people out of prison--a disgraced paladin, a convicted forger, and a heartless assassin. Give them weapons, carnivorous tattoos, and each other. Point them at the enemy.

What could possibly go wrong?

In the sequel to CLOCKWORK BOYS, Slate, Brenner, Caliban and Learned Edmund have arrived in Anuket City, the source of the mysterious Clockwork Boys. But the secrets they're keeping could well destroy them, before the city even gets the chance...

 

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Named Of The Dragon by Susanna Kearsley {review}

Named Of The Dragon

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

 

My Review - 4.5 Stars

CW: past death of a baby

Named Of The Dragon is an exploration of grief from a few angles. First, Lyn’s toxic husband died in an accident a few years prior. She was already contemplating leaving him so his death comes as a relief, in some ways. She was also pregnant but the baby dies shortly after she gives birth. She has a nightmare about the baby every night and is very much paralyzed by her grief, although she does not indicate as much to the people around her.

Second, there’s a widow next door to James and she has a baby as well. Once Elen meets Lyn, she believes Lyn is there to be the baby’s protector. There are people in the village who don’t think she’s a fit mother and there are also curious circumstances around the baby’s father due to the timing of when her husband died. <spoiler>When the truth is revealed, I was deeply uncomfortable with what happened. We never get a proper explanation or atonement. 

The central mystery in this book is related to Arthurian legend, as well as Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beauford. A ghost appears to Lyn asking her to watch out for the child…and this appears to be Margaret. But at the same time, here’s Elen asking Lyn to protect her baby. It all brings up Lyn’s grief over her own loss. I really liked how her grief was handled. She needed to integrate the loss in to her life and her time in Wales forces her to move forward in a lot of ways.

The side characters formed an interesting found family of sorts, although they don’t all see eye to eye or get along. Bridget was rather annoying, a little too Cool Girl for me to take and I could never be certain whether she was actually a good friend to Lyn. While it’s true they have more of a professional relationship as agent-author, she also demanded Lyn accompany her out of the country for Christmas and you’d think she’d do her best to make sure Lyn had a good time, instead of selfishly asking Lyn to help her juggle her male interests. However, I loved the rest of this circle, in part because of the shifting dynamics.

Lyn and playwright Gareth start off on the wrong foot. Plus, there’s the matter of Bridget “claiming” him for herself. But they keep circling back around to one another, in part because Gareth’s dog loves Lyn and keeps finding her while she’s out walking. Their relationship developed in such a lovely way and while the romance is not strong in this story, it does end on a promising note.

As this was written in the late 90s, there are some dated elements. There’s also a good deal of diet culture at play, with multiple references to how much Bridget can eat and characters bemoaning their need to lose weight.

I wanted to zoom through this, while also never wanting it to end as it was my last full-length Susanna Kearsley novel. Such a lovely experience it was. I will now be bereft until her next book is out.

CW: past death of a baby, past death of spouse, toxic relationship, grief, concern of parental neglect, diet culture, attempted kidnapping, past dubious consent/rape

 

Synopsis

A haunting tale of intrigue from New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley.

Although it goes against her workaholic nature, literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw lets herself be whisked off to Wales for the Christmas holidays by her star client, flamboyant children's author Bridget Cooper. She suspects Bridget has ulterior motives, but the lure of South Wales with its castles and myths is irresistible. Perhaps a change of scene will bring relief from the nightmares that have plagued her since the death of her child.

Lyn immerses herself in the peace and quiet of the charming Welsh village, but she soon meets an eccentric young widow who's concerned her baby son is in danger—and inexplicably thinks Lyn is the child's protector.

Lyn's dreams become more and more disturbing as she forms a surprisingly warm friendship with a reclusive, brooding playwright, and is pulled into an ancient world of Arthurian legend and dangerous prophecies. Before she can escape her nightmares, she must uncover the secret of her dreams, which is somehow inextricably located in a time long ago and far away...

 

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Perfect Gravity (Wanted And Wired #2) by Vivien Jackson {review}

Perfect Gravity

Genre: Science Fiction Romance

 

My Review - 4 Stars

For as much as I adored the first book in this sci-fi romance series, it’s taken me entirely too long to pick the next book up. While centered on different characters, Perfect Gravity reminded me of how much I loved Wanted And Wired and I was thrilled to be immersed in this world again.

This is a second chance romance. Angela and Kellen first met at school, where Angela was Kellen’s only friend. They fell in love and then Angela broke his heart. He left the school and they haven’t seen each other since…until Angela’s husband is assassinated by one of the people on Kellen’s crew. And then Angela escapes a bombing herself and has nowhere else to turn. This became forced proximity af and I could not get enough.

Angela is a prickly, complex heroine. Her world is based on her image and what kind of political scheming she can undertake as a senator and war minister. One of the more interesting parts of her character arc was watching her realize she’s gone from playing other people to being played herself and just how much this has cost her over the years.

Kellen was just a dream. He’s a vet but he’s also a scientist who has enhanced various animals, such as giving them trackers or adjusting their skin to better suit their environment. I loved hearing about his work with the animals and just how much he cared about all of them. I especially loved Zoink, the cat Angela and Kellen shared all those years ago and who has been modified as well. The cat can actually communicate with them! I’m always here for cats in my books but Zoink was next level awesome because of this.

There are flashbacks to Angela and Kellen’s past relationship that provide context. There’s so much haunted longing on Angela’s side. Kellen has never stopped loving her but he’s wary of being burned again, understandably so. But of course my favorite flashback was when we see Angela meeting a cat for the first time. It gave me so many feels! I cannot imagine a world where cats are rare and there are so few animals in general. It made it that much more heartwarming to see Kellen dedicate his life to animals and how his respect for wildlife extends to other areas of his life.

I guessed the big twist very early on but I did not know the why or even the full extent of it so the reveal was still compelling. However, I kept wondering why the characters couldn’t see what I saw and why they were following the wrong trails as a result and this got a little tiring.

But I adored Kellen and Angela together. They had such a compelling dynamic, even if it was antagonistic at times. There’s a wonderful found family element in this series that’s everything. Hopefully I’ll pick up the next book in the series soon!

CW: violence, bombing, attempted assassination, refugees, references to natural disasters, domestic violence, abusive parent

 

Synopsis

Second in a snarky, sexy sci-fi romance series with the perfect balance of humor, heart, and heat. When someone tries to kill powerful continental senator Angela Neko, Texan outlaw and old flame Kellen Hockley is the only man who can keep her safe...and help her save the world.

Kellen Hockley usually keeps quiet about his past, but once upon a time he loved a girl named Angela. He hasn't seen her in a decade, but now he has to break the news to her that his team of rogue treasure hunters accidentally killed her husband. He's had better days...

It's not the news that's delivered to Angela Neko that breaks her apart--it's the rumbly, Texas drawl delivering it. She can't believe she's hearing Kellen's voice again. But there's no time for distractions. When Angela's own life is threatened, yielding up all of her lies and secrets, she and Kellen must figure out how to reverse the geopolitical firestorm she lit to save the world, to save Kellen's cat...and just maybe to save each other.

 

Buy the book:

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