Review of “The Business of Blood” by Kerrigan Byrne

Byrne, Kerrigan. The Business of Blood. [United States]: Oliver-Heber Books, 2019.

Paperback | $9.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1700310286 | 296 pages | Historical Mystery

5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the author in a giveaway and have voluntarily chosen to post a review. All opinions are my own.

The Business of Blood is perhaps Kerrigan Byrne at her best. Known for her dark, atmospheric, writing style, it’s almost mind boggling that she didn’t write a historical mystery sooner. And now that she has, it definitely delivers, presenting all the intensity readers may expect from her books, but in a slightly different way.

I enjoyed the heroine, Fiona. I love her devotion to getting justice for her slain friend by finding Jack the Ripper, ending up mixed up in solving a similar murder. And the way she is connected to the “business” of murder through her occupation was both “fun” (if you can call it that?) and interesting.

There were a ton of twists and turns, leading up to the great reveal of the bad guy. I’m definitely anxious to see how her further adventures unfold, given the way this one ends.

This is a unique historical mystery, utilizing the atmosphere of Victorian London during the time of the Ripper murders to create an engaging story.

Review of “The Bromance Book Club” by Lyssa Kay Adams

Adams, Lyssa Kay. The Bromance Book Club. New York: Jove, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984806093 | 339 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

I was excited by the idea of The Bromance Book Club, because I love the idea of men reading romance and finding out not only what it is about romance that appeals to women, but how romance novels can be great instruction for real life love once you go beneath the surface.

And that aspect is incredibly well done. While I definitely wished for more “book club” interaction between the guys, I liked the way they all sat Gavin down and presented him with romance novels as an educational tool for love and also a possible way to connect with his wife. And they also discuss the stigma the genre gets, and how it relates to toxic masculinity governing the deeper issues Gavin is facing, as well as those the other men faced at previous points in their lives.

The romance was a slightly harder sell for me, at least at first. While I could understand Gavin’s deficiencies to an extent, given the way romance readers and writers talk about sexual pleasure and being able to have love and their dreams, it still seemed a bit off to me that Thea blamed Gavin for him justifuably pulling away when she found out she lied. I did warm up to her more as her “backstory” (as the guys say) was discussed, and how she came to realize her own role in the crumbling relationship.

This was ultimately a cute and fun read, and I can’t wait for the next book, because the guys are awesome, especially Mack, that book’s hero, and I can’t wait to see how Liv makes her turnaround. If you love romance, I very much recommend this book.

Review of “Star Wars: Resistance Reborn” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Roanhorse, Rebecca. Star Wars: Resistance Reborn. New York: Del Rey, 2019.

Hardcover | $28.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0593128428 | 298 pages | Science Fiction

4 stars

Resistance Reborn has been billed as a “love letter” to previous Star Wars extended material, from the other canon books, to the comics, and other media. And while I remain still have a relatively surface level understanding of the current state of the wider story, I still enjoyed this a lot for the references I was able to grasp, as well as generating the expected excitement for The Rise of Skywalker.

As the title implies, this book is a lot about regrouping after the events of The Last Jedi and the Battle of Crait. It is very much a bridge book before the next film, and it’s not massively action packed, but spending time with the characters is the real strength of this book, especially as they come back together in a sense after being separated for a bit.

Love and friendship are important themes in this book, and I like that the story suggests some nuance to the relationships that wasn’t really there in the previous two trilogies, where the pairing was almost a foregone conclusion by the second installment. As much as I think Last Jedi gets too much unnecessary hate, I did feel myself a little disenchanted by the Rose/Finn pairing, so I’m glad that is given some sort of closure, along with Finn/Rey, in a way that suggests that his relationship with Poe is the most important, whether it be a strong friendship or a potential romantic relationship. And while I’m definitely not on board with the way Reylo is being promoted, I think there is at least some sound reasoning for it as a possibility provided here.

Roanhorse, like most of the SW authors, shows her love of the franchise, and perhaps more so with this book referencing so many previous books, even if it doesn’t impact one’s capacity for enjoyment. While a bit too short and lacking in major stakes to pack as much of a punch, I am definitely looking forward to the Rise of Skywalker even more now to see how it picks up from here. I recommend this book to any other Star Wars diehards out there.

Review of “Get a Life, Chloe Brown” (The Brown Sisters #1) by Talia Hibbert

Hibbert, Talia. Get a Life, Chloe Brown. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062941206 | 369 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I’ve long wanted to read Talia Hibbert, as she’s been raved about by my romance reader friends. So, I was pleased to hear about her signing with Avon, especially since Get a Life Chloe Brown sounded so good. And while the hype died a painful death once I read some other books I was eagerly anticipating this year, I’m glad to say it was not the case with this one.

One of the things that excited me, in addition seeing a black author who’d made her mark on the indie scene get mainstream attention in the midst of the difficult conversations about racial diversity in publishing, was its depiction of chronic pain. While it’s not a disability I know much about, I admire Hibbert’s decision to do her part to spread awareness about it, based on her own experience. And I found a lot to admire about Chloe, who starts the book somewhat sheltered due to her disability, but is determined to “get a life” and accomplish all the things on her to-do list.

And, Red, her partner in these escapades is also such a beautiful character. He’s such a sweet guy, in spite of what appearances might suggest (long hair, tattoos, rides a motorcycle). I also love the exploration of why it took him so long to warm up to Chloe, and while it was in essence what I expected, as the trigger warning at the beginning suggests, there is some discussion of domestic violence and how it led to his feelings of inadequacy where his artistic talents are concerned, and I felt it was delicately handled.

This is a beautiful romance: sometimes funny and sometimes emotional, sometimes sweet and sometimes steamy, but 100% great all around. I recommend this to anyone looking for a sexy contemporary romance.

Review of “Scoundrel” (The Blades of the Rose #2) by Zoe Archer

Archer, Zoe. Scoundrel. New York: Zebra, 2010.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420106800 | 425 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranromal Romance

4 stars

I have read everything Zoe Archer wrote under her other pen name, Eva Leigh, but never picked up any of her earlier Zoe Archer work until I saw Scoundrel being discussed on Twitter, in conjunction with a recent temporary ebook sale on that title and another book in the series, and my interest was piqued. Despite being second in the series, you can definitely read this as a standalone, a I have, although I am anxious to read all of them now.

The plot and world are engaging. Archer pitched the book at the time the sale was first announced with this tweet, including this amazing book pitch: ” Do you love Indiana Jones/The Mummy-type stories but wish they had plenty of hot fucking? I have the book for you.” And it definitely delivers on all counts.

There is fast-paced adventure, and I love how Archer creates a system of magic that feels believable within the context of the Victorian setting and the wider issues of the time, which many historical authors are still ignorant of, in the name of “historical accuracy.” While not being overly preachy, she delves masterfully into the problems of the imperialism and the grab for treasure in “exotic” locales, while also making it fun, in the same way her inspiration stories are.

The characters are also interesting, even if perhaps I feel like she’s gotten a bit better at nuance with them with her Eva Leigh work. As the title indicates, Bennett is something of a scoundrel who does, in typical rakish romance hero fashion, lose his heart and pledge fidelity to the heroine. But I enjoyed his role as one of the Blades of the Rose and how he works to save ancient treasures and magic from those who would misuse it.

And ultimately, he is a great partner for London, who in typical Archer/Leigh fashion, is incredibly competent, in spite of society dictating that she shouldn’t be. I love how she went from being loyal to people like her father, who have bad intentions, to using her gifts to help people as a member of the Blades of the Rose.

This is a wonderful book, and while the sale mentioned Archer’s tweet has since ended, I would still recommend getting this book if you happen to like, to paraphrase what she said, adventure stories like The Mummy and Indiana Jones, but also want a sexy romance.

Review of “Jane Steele” by Lyndsay Faye

Faye, Lyndsay. Jane Steele. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016.

Hardcover | $27.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399169496 | 422 pages | Historical Mystery/Thriller

5 stars

I heard about Jane Steele from BookTuber Jashana C, who raved about this book in a recent video. And the concept immediately intrigued me, particularly in terms of what it meant for Jane’s character, who in spite of her trials and tribulations, was always moral and upright in the original.

And she is an engaging character in Faye’s reimagining, with her narrative once again tackling the role of women in Victorian society (and, in some ways, our own), but instead showing how Jane has the strength to defend herself physically in the face of violence from male figures who exert violence over her or people she cares about.

It also adds further nuance to the power dynamic between Jane and the Rochester character, Charles Thornfield. Whereas the power imbalance in the original was rendered through injury and loss for him, as well as her own gain, they are consistently on even footing due to their respective dark pasts, and this is what brings them together, in a union that feels much more satisfying than the one in the original.

And the way Faye pays tribute both to plot elements from Jane Eyre and, in turn, the autobiographical influences from Charlotte Bronte’s life, is wonderful. From something as small as the naming of the institution Jane is sent to (Lowan Bridge, after Cowan Bridge, where the Bronte sisters were sent as children and Charlotte’s older sisters sickened and died) to the broader plot elements like the bigamous union and the mad wife, I loved all the little touches infused into the story.

This book is truly wonderful, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a dark take on a classic story.

Review of “The Lady Is Daring” (The Duke’s Daughters #3) by Megan Frampton

Frampton, Megan. The Lady is Daring. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-06266673 |346 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

I enjoyed The Lady Is Daring (although I wonder why the consistency of the titles was disrupted, and it wasn’t called “Lady Be Daring”–I believe it was a working title at one point, and is even still listed as the title on the list of “Other Books inc the Series” included in the next book). It’s nice that not only does Bennett get his HEA at long last, but he ends up with Ida, the person I’m sure none of us expected at first, least of all him.

But in spite of its unexpectedness, it works, and not just in the typical “unconventional heroine meets more conventional hero” way that it seemed like at the outset. And in part it has to do with the shared history between them, with him as a suitor for both Eleanor and Olivia, and also as a relation by marriage due to their subsequent marriages. It was great seeing them evolve in their perceptions of each other from in-laws with nothing in common to finding common ground due to their desire to escape their familial expectations, however temporarily, to developing an even deeper understanding and love for one another.

And while they are both great characters, one of their great mutual assets is also their mutual downfall where the other is concerned, in that they are just a bit too noble and selfless. Their love is apparent to both of them by the time they consummate their relationship, but in spite of the fact that her sister ruined herself in a similar scenario, Ida is willing to let him go because she can’t be the conventional wife he has previously expressed desire for (but likely no longer wants), yet she goes home anyway, with said ruined sister in tow, to a mother who was already excited to marry her off before and is then even more so.

And Edward simply accepts this at first, out of respect for her and wanting to let her make her own choice. It does lead up to a moment where he turns to Alex for help and sets up his big declaration of love, but there was just quite a bit of unnecessary angst that I felt was unnecessary, given the more creative way things were solved in the previous two books.

While this was probably the most needlessly dramatic of the three thus far, I did enjoy the character arcs for both characters, and also the lead-in for Della’s story with her formal introduction into the series. I recommend this for fans of fun historical romance.

Review of “The Republic of Thieves” (Gentlemen Bastards #3) by Scott Lynch

Lynch, Scott. The Republic of Thieves. New York: Del Rey, 2013.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0553804690 | 650 pages | Fantasy

5 stars

I took a bit longer to get around to The Republic of Thieves, in part due to the fact that, with both prior installments, I found the writing style always took time to get used to, and I wasn’t sure when I’d be ready to dive in again. But once I picked this one up, having the last two as a model for what to expect, I more quickly became engrossed and felt I was more engaged with both the writing and the plot at this point.

I love how Lynch continues to expand his world and create fun new heists for his characters to become involved in, occasionally taking a nod from real history, as he has done here and with Red Seas Under Red Skies. And the political intrigue this time around, what with them involved with rigging an election is a lot of fun.

And it continues with what made the first two books great, while also providing new aspects too. I was particularly excited to finally meet Sabetha. Lynch does a great job exploring Locke’s romance with her in the past, as well as their relationship in the present, and while obviously, that’s not the main point of the book, it was well written and delivered on something that had been only hinted at in the previous books. And while as a character, she definitely did not seem to get the best reception, I personally enjoyed her character.

And Locke and Jean remain a great bromance, in a way that even makes the reasonly good love interests for both Locke and Jean (in the prior book) pale by comparison. I continue to love their loyalty to each other, and Jean’s protectiveness of Locke, yet being the one who can call out Locke when he needs it.

This is a delightful installment in the Gentlemen Bastards series, and I now join an army of readers waiting eagerly for book four. And if you love gritty, yet also fun, friendship focused fantasy, I can’t think of a better series to start.

Review of “Lady Be Bad” (The Duke’s Daughters #1) by Megan Frampton

Frampton, Megan. Lady Be Bad. New York: Avon Books, 2017.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062666628 | 372 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

I was determined to set aside all preconceived notions regarding this book after recently enjoying book two, Lady Be Reckless. And it definitely was worth finally giving a chance.

The setup for Eleanor’s arc magnifies the ridiculousness of the family dynamic, showing how Frampton pays tribute to Austen’s Bennet family and the wider societal expectations, subverting them in the process. Between the marriage-concerned mother and the way Eleanor is forced to forego the spectacles she needs to see for vanity’s sake sets up the path she takes for risk taking. It’s wonderful to see a woman wearing glasses painted in this light, complete with her wearing them in the process of going gambling so she can engage with her surroundings. And ultimately, her courage to take life into her own hands, in spite of feeling pressured to do the “right thing” in the wake of her sister’s scandal, is admirable.

Alex is also an engaging character, and one who surprised me. I love his relationship with his brother, and how he first works as Bennett’s advocate with Eleanor to persuade her to go through with the marriage, and once he falls in love with her, manages to effectively communicate with Bennett, and eventually his father, about alternatives to marrying for money to save the estate.

This is a sweet and fun read, and one that I recommend to other readers of historical romance.

Review of “Aurora Blazing” (Consortium Rebellion #2) by Jessie Mihalik

Mihalik, Jessie. Aurora Blazing. New York: Harper Voyager, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062802415 | 381 pages | Science Fiction

4 stars

Aurora Blazing is a good second book, making up for some of book one’s weaknesses, while also continuing the series’ arc of being politically engaging and interesting.

I definitely liked Bianca a little more than Ada, in part because of the extra baggage she has due to her awful political marriage and its dark outcome (which some suspect she had a hand in). And I love that balance between rebuilding herself while also dealing with the crises in the galaxy, the main one this time concerning the whereabouts of one of her brothers. And I admit I prefer the “sit on the sidelines and calculate one’s next move” style that Bianca has, as opposed to Ada’s more combative style.

And the romance is much more understated in this one, although it does linger from the beginning, as there is history between her and Ian due to his role in her family’s employ, and that lends itself to a fun “princess and the bodyguard” dynamic. While he did not necessarily win me over as a hero, he is at least much more likable than Loch in the last book.

This is a good second book, and a sci-fi adventure in its own right. I recommend this someone looking for sci-fi with romantic elements.