Review of “Evernight” (Darkest London #5) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Evernight. New York: Forever, 2014.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455581641 | 411 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

4.5 stars

Evernight was much more enjoyable than its predecessor (although I don’t know if anything can top the sweetness of Winston and Poppy in Winterblaze), and I think a lot of it has to do with the history and conflict between Holly and Will. And while some of the ingredients of the book were there that surely meant I could have disliked this book, primarily the fact that even Callihan considers Will an “antihero” (408), and that’s most definitely not my thing, I felt it genuinely worked within the context of this story.

Yet, oddly the trope of an assassin falling for his target is one that worked well for me once before, and Callihan makes it work with equal ease. There is great chemistry between Holly and Will, and while their relationship in this book doesn’t start off in the most auspicious circumstances, I could feel their relationship grow in an authentic way, which I did not feel with Jack and Mary in the prior book. I also like that once again Callihan gives her characters complexity, from Will with the way his dark past is explored to the different facets of Holly’s personality, with her being somewhat cold and distant, but opening up over time.

And now, five books in, I love that the world gets more and more intricate and there are more and more hints for the direction of the last two books, and I’m super excited to get to them. And I will repeat my recommendation from the last few reviews of this series that I recommend these for everyone who loves a good blend of historical and paranormal.

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Review of “Meet Cute” by Helena Hunting

Hunting, Helena. Meet Cute. New York: Forever, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1538760185 | 370 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

Meet Cute was a wonderful breath of fresh air following a DNF of another hotly anticipated April release. While it is a fairly predictable combination of rom-com-meets-family-drama, I found it incredibly charming, especially in its balance of the family aspect and the romance, and will definitely be picking up more Helena Hunting as the opportunity arises, as she was an author I took a chance on based on the cute cover, as well as the compelling blurb.

What stood out for me for Kailyn was her relatability in the blurb of being able to meet her teen idol, and acting like a huge fangirl, and how it develops from there, to friendship to betrayal to them ending up having to work together on a professional basis.

Dax was also interesting, as I liked the idea of looking at a retired child star, and not only his motivations for stepping back from the spotlight, but his present relationship with his family, especially since it plays such a crucial role in the book. His relationship with Emme stood out to me as the best part, because it’s obvious he’s trying to be a good brother and guardian, but there are some things he’s a little out of his depth with, like menstruation. While some might find the handling of the situation from his perspective a bit awkward, I felt for the most part it did feel relatable, even if it did fall into a stereotype of men not really understanding those things.

My only major complaint is that the villain, while feeling like she had great motivations at first, devolved into something somewhat cartoonish by the end, especially with the train of events in the second half where Emme is framed for something she didn’t do. It all just seemed so overdone and predictable without any attempt to shake it up.

That said, this is still a relatively fun contemporary, and if this is an indicator of her writing, I will definitely at least be reading a few more of Helena Hunting’s books. And I would recommend this to other fans of contemporary romances with a good (if cliche) balance of humor and heart.

Review of “Shadowdance” (Darkest London #4) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Shadowdance. New York: Forever, 2013.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455520817 | 446 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

3.5 stars

Shadowdance is, unfortunately, at least in my opinion, the weakest in the series so far. I will give Callihan some props, however, as her plotting remains engaging and kept me turning pages, finishing the book within hours of starting it, in spite of some of the lackluster elements, and I love the growing intricacy of the world of the series.

What I am more conflicted on is the hero and heroine. I feel like Jack and Mary both had a lot of potential, but did not live up to expectations. I feel like they were decently fleshed out, particularly Jack with his own dark past, but I just didn’t personally care for either of them, or find that trajectory of their relationship worth rooting for, given some of their past baggage, not to mention that it just didn’t feel like a natural progression from them being at each other’s throats to falling into lasting love. Passion, I can buy, but I don’t know if I see them lasting in the long-term.

In spite of the slightly weaker entry, I do still feel like the series is progressing in a great way overall. And while I’m not sure I’d recommend this one specifically, at this point, given how much is set up book by book, I discourage any newcomers to the series to skip this one (or any) books, and will repeat my recommendation of the series for anyone who loves a good blend of historical and paranormal.

Review of “Promises and Primroses” (Mayfield Family #1) by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi S. Promises and Primroses. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629724577 | 322 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

I was excited that Josi S. Kilpack was starting a new family-oriented historical romance series, but upon reading the blurb for Promises and Primroses, I did wonder if she would manages to pull off making me feel invested in two romances, when some authors can occasionally fail at investing me in one. But I did not have to worry here, as Kilpack does double duty masterfully.

Admittedly, I was initially drawn more to Elliott and Amelia’s romance, due to its semi-originality, with romances among older couples (Elliott being sixty, Amelia being I would guess somewhere in her fifties), especially if they have a shared past. I love how Kilpack conveyed the lingering feelings between the two, along with the other emotions associated with both of them caring for their families and being overly concerned with their interests. Amelia in particular drew me in because of the way she was so closed off due to this past heartbreak that she otherwise appears to have put behind her, but encountering Elliott again has reopened old wounds. While she may be hard for some to like, and I found myself infuriated with her at times for how she kept interfering with Julia’s life, I felt she had the best arc of the book, and truly enjoyed seeing her working to make amends with Julia, as well as opening her heart to a second chance at love.

I was less sure about Peter and Julia’s storyline, especially since, in spite of Peter being touted as the “honorable Mayfield,” I could easily see the trajectory going in a similar vein to other governess stories, and I wasn’t much of a fan of how he callously said he would be considering other candidates within her hearing, but let the head of the employment agency lie to her. But over time, I warmed up to them together, especially when I saw what they had in common, which was their shared love of dogs, as Peter has taken to dog breeding, and I found it a very unique thing to bring the characters together, especially in that situation.

Kilpack managed to craft a great dual love story that also sets up the premise for future installments in the series in exemplary fashion. I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of family-oriented historical romances, whether they be stand-alones or series.

Review of “Winterblaze” (Darkest London #3) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Winterblaze. New York: Forever, 2013.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455520794 | 430 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

5 stars

When I first started the series, Poppy and Winston’s book was the one I was looking forward to, because it had the most compelling conflict to me, at least of the series thus far. And it did not disappoint, making it my favorite in the series so far.

“Marriage in trouble” is a trope that can go either way for me, because of how it is navigated, and I feel like Callihan does it with grace, showing that, in spite of the challenges Winston and Poppy faced that tore them apart at the end of the prior book, there is still a love between them, and they’re willing to fight to be together, and I love that. Their personalities were also both wonderful. While Poppy, much like Daisy in the prior book, was a character I was unsure about, I loved seeing her dedication to her work with the SOS, and how she defies the expectations of the time for women. And while Winston initially feels betrayed and worries for her, I love how he ends up being unconditionally loving and supportive.

I also love how there are some deeper secrets about both Winston’s past and the Ellis family that have to be negotiated, and I enjoyed getting insight into both. I also loved seeing the little flashbacks to when Winston and Poppy first fell in love, even though there were obstacles against them.

I now can’t wait to grab the rest of the books in the series, as there seems to be a lot of setup for those in this one. And, so far, I would recommend anyone interested in trying the series to at least try this one.

Review of “Lady Smoke” (Ash Princess #2) by Laura Sebastian

Sebastian, Laura. Lady Smoke. New York: Delacorte Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524767105 | 496 pages | YA Fantasy

4.5 stars

Lady Smoke is somewhat better than its predecessor. While some of the flaws of the first book are still evident, mainly the somewhat forced love triangle, I feel like Laura Sebastian improves on the story by giving the story more depth overall. For example, while I would never make the mistake of calling this an overly political book in the sense some adult fantasy tends to be, I like that these elements are touched on, especially as Theodosia is considering an arranged marriage for the sake of helping her people and her cause.

As a result, while she does clearly still have feelings for both Soren and Blaise, and I still found the love triangle somewhat forced and awkward, I did like that it shattered the stereotype of YA love triangles, and focuses instead on Theodosia doing what she thinks is right for her cause, instead of brooding over which boy she likes better.

I also like that Sebastian is not afraid of shifting expectations regarding who the major threat is. The prior book and the beginning of this one suggests that it’s leading up to a confrontation with the Kaiser, in standard fantasy fashion. And while Sebastian embraces some other tropes in this series, particularly the lost heir fighting to reclaim her crown, I like that she worked to subvert our expectations regarding who the ultimate villain is.

This was a great sequel, and now I can’t wait to see what’s in store for book three. And I would recommend this series to other YA fantasy fans.

Review of “Moonglow” (Darkest London #2) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Moonglow. New York: Forever, 2012.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455508587 | 412 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

4.5 stars

Moonglow continues the trend started by the first book of pretty much blowing me away. Now more immersed in this world and seeing Callihan finding her feet a bit more as a writer, I feel like there is a marked improvement in the story overall, continuing to build on the atmosphere of Victorian London in a beautiful and immersive way.

The first book left me a bit unsure about how I would like these characters, particularly Ian, who plays the role of antagonist in Firelight. However, I actually found him a more complex and lovable character than Archer. Despite not really being into the whole werewolf/shifter element of paranormal romance, I really love how he was written to be protective of Daisy in the face of danger, and also the dynamic of respect and trust that builds between them. It is such an antithesis to what I had heard about other shifter series, where the heroes are more “alpha” to the point of being possessive and animalistic. Ian has strength, but it he is also a good man at heart, which I feel like Daisy really needs, knowing her past in a loveless marriage.

Daisy took longer to warm up to, but I did feel like she ended up having great development, due to her finding her freedom somewhat after being trapped in her loveless union, and I could ultimately see that she, like her sister, has an inner strength and power that makes her a perfect match for Ian.

In short, I do feel this series is ultimately living up to the hype, even though I can see why some people would consider this one and Firelight somewhat weak entries, in keeping with a new author, and anticipate that Callihan will fully come into her own by the next book. And, in spite of any (minor) flaws, I recommend anyone who’s been deterred by warnings of such to give these a chance. You may be surprised.

Review of “A Song for the Stars” by Ilima Todd

Todd, Ilima. A Song for the Stars. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629725284 | 296 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

While it can often be true that hype can kill enjoyment of a book, this is not one of those times. A Song for the Stars is nothing short of amazing. And in part it may be due to finally being able to apply some of my own long-neglected (albeit elementary) knowledge of Hawaiian language and history, and see the setting highlighted in a mainstream published historical romance of all places.

But it’s also due to Ilima Todd’s clear enthusiasm for what she calls “the book of my heart,” (286) inspired by her fourth great-grandparents. And while her passion for Hawaii and the Pacific were already evident in her depictions of setting in her prior books, I love how she clearly showed care in ensuring that, while certain historical events and customs had to be modified for fiction, she represented them in a way that ultimately respects Native Hawaiian readers, and educates those who may not be familiar with Hawaiian history and culture while entertaining them with a beautiful love story.

I really liked the structure of this story, with Maile’s perspective being conveyed through “standard” prose and John’s through journal entries, and it’s wonderful to see their evolving relationship and their growing understanding of each other’s cultural differences through both of their perspectives, especially since things start off between them with a somewhat tense situation. And I wasn’t sure at first how I would feel about their growing romance, since Maile is depicted as being very committed to someone else at the beginning, but I feel like it was handled in as delicate a way as it could be, given the timeframe the story takes place in, with a believable transfer of her affections to John.

Upon finishing, I cannot help but hope that this isn’t the last Hawaiian historical Todd will write, given her clear passion for the subject, as unlikely as writing historical fiction seemed to her at first. And while I have some reservations about recommending her other work to people, I enthusiastically recommend this one to anyone looking for a richly detailed and compelling historical.

Review of “Firelight” (Darkest London #1) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Firelight. New York: Forever, 2012.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455508594 | 384 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

4 stars

Firelight (and by extension the entire Darkest London series) has been on my TBR for a decent amount of time, but it’s only when I started following romance book blogger and BookTuber Elisabeth Lane of Coooking Up Romannce that I was compelled to pick up this series and make a serious go of reading it. And while I went in with what I would consider reasonable expectations, especially considering it was Callihan’s debut, I ended up being blown away.

One of the things I enjoy is when an author can convey the atmosphere of the setting, and that is one of the initial draws to this series, with its dark, gritty, somewhat Gothic feel. She also manages to craft a suspense plot that kept me on the edge of my seat, constantly questioning characters’ intentions, as well as seamlessly interweaving paranormal elements, in this case, immortal demons, with a Victorian world. While it does have a lot of setup, given it is a first book, I won’t hold it against the book too much, given that it still felt very well-paced.

Lord Archer is a compelling hero, and a wonderful twist on the broody alpha hero, a trope that normally drives me insane in the standard historical. I love how, while there is a lot of mystery as to what he truly is for most of the book, there is this sense that he has some real issues and they are not necessarily of this world, not to mention evoking some of what readers love about some other classic broody and/or cursed heroes, like (most obviously) Beast from Beauty and the Beast, as well as Phantom of the Opera and Batman.

I am a bit more conflicted regarding Miranda. On the one hand, I’m glad she proves to have her own strength, and not be a standard damsel in distress, as might be expected in a Gothic-leaning story. But that did not translate to her being overly complex, and while I don’t think that subtracts over-much from the story, given the amount of space devoted to Archer’s issues, she did feel a bit harder to relate to as a result.

I think this book is indicative of a what I hope is a great series. And I would urge anyone who hasn’t picked it up yet to do so, especially if you like romances that cross genres, with a mix of historical, paranormal, and suspense.

Review of “Resist” (Remake #2) by Ilima Todd

Todd, Ilima. Resist. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2016.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629721040 | 347 pages | YA Science Fiction–Dystopian

4 stars

I enjoyed Resist marginally more than Remake, and a large part of that was due to the shift in protagonist. I had nothing against Nine as a heroine, but I felt Theron stole the show, and I was glad to hear that the Ilima Todd felt the same. He has a lot of spirit in him, and I like him finding something that is worth fighting for, and how it helps him grow as a person.

I also liked that, because of this change in protagonist, the story definitely felt more like what I had come to expect from my prior forays into the YA dystopian genre, while still feeling uniquely its own. There were some hints about the villain and their intentions in the prior book, and I enjoyed seeing it come to fruition in a dark and twisted way.

The religious, exclusionary undertones remain, and it is still a bit disconcerting, but I do still try to give Todd some benefit of the doubt in this regard, given that it is about the idea of giving people choices at the heart of this, and that Freedom isn’t truly freedom.

And while the romance did take a backseat in this one to an extent, it was still present, and still incredibly awkward. Theron spends a good portion of the book dealing with his unrequited feelings for Nine, and the fact that’s she’s with someone else, and while he does interact with Pua from relatively early in the book, it doesn’t feel natural that he would choose her so suddenly. And while I do like that Theron is at least given a father figure in Catcher, emphasizing the family element that Todd seems to be pushing in this book, I’m once again disappointed that there’s no way for a guy and girl who are both unattached to be just friends or like family, especially since one of the things Theron discovers over the course of the book is the different kinds of love. I guess it’s done relatively well in terms of the evolution of his feelings for Nine, but I still did not get him moving onto Pua almost instantly.

On the whole, I’m not sure I’ll be continuing with the series if book three ever does come out, although I do plan on read Todd’s new release, to see how it compares, and it was the impetus for picking up Todd’s work in the first place.