Review of "Dear Enemy" by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Dear Enemy. Seattle, Montlake Romance, 2020.

eBook | $3.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1542016773 | 392 [ages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

From New York Times bestselling author Kristen Callihan comes a smart, emotional contemporary romance about finding love with the most unlikely of people.

As kids, they hated each other. Macon Saint was beautiful, but despite his name, Delilah knew he was the devil. That he dated her slightly evil sister, Samantha, was no picnic either. When they broke up, it was a dream come true: Delilah never had to see him again.

Ten years later, her old enemy sends a text.

Delilah’s sister has stolen a valuable heirloom from Macon, now a rising Hollywood star, and he intends to collect his due. One problem: Sam has skipped town.

Sparks still sizzle between Macon and Delilah, only this heat feels alarmingly like unwanted attraction. But Delilah is desperate to keep her weak-hearted mother from learning of her sister’s theft. So she proposes a deal: she’ll pay off the debt by being Macon’s personal chef and assistant.

It’s a recipe for disaster, but Macon can’t stop himself from accepting. Even though Delilah clearly hates him, there’s something about her that feels like home. Besides, they’re no longer kids, and what once was a bitter rivalry has the potential to be something sweeter. Something like forever.

Review

3 stars

I received an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Dear Enemy was my first contemporary by Kristen Callihan, and I had no idea what to epect, having only read her Darkest London series prior to this one. However, I have heard a few raves from other advance reviewers, and I was intrigued by this premise, even if enemies-to-lovers is hard to do well.

This book hits the mark of what the trope is almost immediately, showing two people who an’t stand each other, but at heart, do have things in common and even some respect for one another that hint and deeper underlying feelings. There is some danger of it falling into the “he only does these things because he likes you,” but this is a discussion that is had in the book, and the way it’s subverted is done fairly well, even if the later execution of the relationsihp development did leave me feeling a little cold. .

I could relate to Delilah and the sense of feeling less than, both in comparison to her sister and in the eyes of others. That this sometimes manifested in her mind in Macon’s voice is somewhat troubling and does color their present romance in an odd light, but after mentioning this, she does say that there’s a flip side to his influence on her as well.

I also enjoyed that there is a bit of reckoning with her sister, without them ending up reconciling and being all buddy-buddy by the end. It struck the perfect balance between the heroine and antagonist seeing each other’s perspective, but the former not forgiving the latter for being horrible to them in the past.

Macon left less of an impression on me as a character in his own right. I enjoyed the fact that he did manage to succeed in spite of coming from a less spectacular childhood, but I found a lot of the rest of it just borrowed too heavily from familiar cliches with broody heroes, and I wanted a little more depth. Plus, he calls Delilah “Tater Tot” constantly…I like pet names as much as the next person, but it just felt so hammered in and forced. Those two factors led to me feelings generally lukewarm as things heated up between them, even though I do acknowledge they work well as a couple.

This was a generally enjoyable contemporary romance, but maybe just not really for me in some ways. But if you are more of a fan of contemporary romance and enemies to lovers, I recommend this, as it is a solid read with a great heroine.

Author Bio

Kristen Callihan is an author because there is nothing else she’d rather be. She is a RITA winner and three-time nominee and winner of two RT Reviewer’s Choice awards. Her novels have garnered starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and the Library Journal, as well as being awarded top picks by many reviewers. Her debut book FIRELIGHT received RT Magazine’s Seal of Excellence, was named a best book of the year by Library Journal, best book of Spring 2012 by Publisher’s Weekly, and was named the best romance book of 2012 by ALA RUSA. When she is not writing, she is reading.

Buy Links

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Barnes & Noble (print only)

2019 Wrap-Up

I took my elaborate notes this year, to make a note of all the different challenges I was imposing on myself, as well as just to have more precise (for the most part) genre stats, to supplement the Goodreads data. 

I read 426 books in 2019 (# pages). I was weird about counting DNFs this year, so while some that I got a ways into are included in this number, many are not. Also, not the page number may not be accurate, as Goodreads page counts occasionally differ from the actual book, especially for self published books. 

Other Goodreads stats:

Shortest Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein (52 pages)

Longest Book: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (1,258 pages, mass market edition)

Most Popular Book: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Least Popular Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein

Average rating: 4.2 stars

Highest Rated Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein (5.00 average)

2019 Challenges/Goals

  1. Goodreads Goal: Started at 250, due to expectations of life changes at the end of last year reducing reading time. Ending up raising the goal to 300, gradually increasing it higher and higher until I read . At the end, I read 426. 
  2. Read no more than 50 books with duke heroes: A “for my sanity”/motivational goal to continue to move outside what I typically read…also a hallmark of the fact that I’ve grown to hate more Romancelandia dukes. Read 14, although historical romance is still a dominant genre for me. 
  3. Read at least 120 books by AoC: I fell short of this goal at 105, and also did not increase the goal as much as I had originally hoped as my GR goal increased. However, I still feel like I was exposed to a bunch of authors I had not previously tried, as well as keeping up with some I had read before. 
  4. Complete all the prompts for Robin Covington’s Diverse Reading Challenge: I did well with this, reading multiple books for most of the categories, and discovering several OwnVoices creators, such as April Daniels, Robin Talley, and Alexis Hall, as well as continuing to read some authors that were familiar to me, like Alyssa Cole, Helen Hoang, and Sherry Thomas. 
  5. Read more genres: While I was and still remain heavily devoted to historical fiction, both romance and non-romance, I made a point of stepping outside my comfort zone this year, selecting a number of genres I was interested in trying or reading more of: 
    1. Erotic Romance: 4. I’ve always tended more toward lower heat, but I was curious to know whether erotic romance could work for me, and to be more informed about the distinction between that and erotica. I read four books that I consider erotic romance, and while it’s still not my go-to genre, I tend to like when there’s substance to it, as with For Real by Alexis Hall. One of my picks was also a novella, Sweet Surrender by Naima Simone,  and I’m not certain I want to try that length or shorter again, although I’m not opposed to trying another of her books. 
    2. Paranormal Romance:  This was a tough one, as I don’t like alpha heroes, yet I foolishly set this goal to see if there were any that were an exception. Unfortunately, I largely read within my comfort zone, sticking to historical paranormal and steampunk, with one exception: the novella, “Lola Flannigan” by Ella Drake. The number is also inflated, due to the inclusion of the In Death series, due to their technical classification as Futuristic Romance.
    3. Romantic Suspense: My experience with the genre thus far has been the In Death series and some one-offs, including some by Nora Roberts. I didn’t venture out much, with the exception of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Moonlight Sins
    4. Contemporary Romance: I did really well with this, in large part due to the  number of diverse contemporaries I was interested in this year. 
    5. Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit/Non-Romantic Contemporary: I did pick up some books in this genre this year, but I wasn’t as invested in non-romantic (or romance as subplot) contemporaries. Many of the ones I did pick up were due to the new trend of cross-promotion of these with romance (thank you, cartoon covers?) or once again due to the racial diversity, but I still feel like I’m aware of where my tastes are with these now. 
    6. Science Fiction: Prior to this year, I was mostly interested in Star Wars and that was as far as I got with sci-fi…and that’s more sci-fantasy, anyway. But while I did read more Star Wars, I also read more sci-fi (and sci-fantasy) that wasn’t associated with that juggernaut. From the first two books by Jessie Mihalik to Sangu Mandanna to Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, I found books that excited me. Not to mention Brandon Sanderson, who writes just as good sci-fi as he does fantasy. 
    7. Mystery/Thriller: I definitely picked up an assortment of these this year, with mixed results. This is the year I became really jaded with historical mysteries, unfortunately, and I haven’t found a ton of contemporary mysteries that appeal to me a ton either. 
  6. Do monthly mini-challenges, related to a theme for the month/season: I definitely did better at this earlier in the year. I did a Bookish Bingo and Black History theme for February (the latter also was sort of overlapping with Blackathon, but not completely).  I participated in the Rereadathon in March, but ended up only reading one book. I participated in the Asian Readathon in May, completing every challenge except the graphic novel. I did Pride Month reading in June, covering L, G, B, T, and P. June-August were also occupied by  Ripped Bodice Bingo, where I got a few Bingos. 

Stats

Books by AoC Read: 105

New-to-me authors tried this year: 184

DNFed: 44 books

Genre Breakdown: 

Historical Romance

  • Regency: 78
  • Victorian: 41
  • American (includes all American settings, like Gilded Age and Historical Western: 23
  • Other (non-popular, niche settings): 8
  • Medieval: 2

Historical Fiction: 70

Christian Fiction: 30

Contemporary Romance: 46

Erotic Romance: 4

Paranormal Romance: 

  • Paranormal: 17
  • Steampunk: 10
  • Sci-fi/Futuristic: 35
  • Fantasy: 1

Romantic Suspense: 37

Contemporary/Women’s Fiction: 18

Fantasy: 63

Science Fiction: 31

Magical Realism: 1

Mystery/Thriller: 19

Horror: 1

Nonfiction: 

  • Biography/Autobiography/Memoir: 12
  • Self-Help: 1
  • Anthologies: 15
  • Literary Criticism: 1

Graphic Novels: 1

Best of 2019

  1. The Duchess War, Courtney Milan: I officially discovered Courtney Milan this year, and while there were some hits and some misses, particularly as I started with her early work, this book, her breakout into self-publishing, is a winner. I quickly fell in love with Robert, a duke who wants to abolish the aristocracy, and Minerva, a wallflower running from a scandalous past. And in addition to a remarkable romantic arc, the book has the setup for a great family story that carries over multiple books in the Brothers Sinister, and I can’t wait to delve into them all. 
  2. An Unconditional Freedom, Alyssa Cole: The entire Loyal League series is masterful, but I have a special place in my heart for this one, because of the marvelous character development, highlighting some of the complex issues of the Civil War, like the PTSD experienced by those once enslaved and the identity issues children born of slave-owner “relationships” faced. My heart ached for Daniel, but loved that he was able to turn his experience into a positive one through his work in the Loyal League. As for Janeta, I applaud Cole for approaching a topic that could be controversial with such sensitivity, depicting her growth from someone expected to be loyal to her father and the Confederacy to finding a new cause in the Loyal League. 
  3. Forbidden, Beverly Jenkins: Beverly Jenkins is a freaking romance legend, and while I haven’t read much from her as of yet, I’m glad I got to this one, as well as some of her other recent historicals, this year, especially given the recent adaptation news for this book. I love the way the love story was interspersed with some hard-hitting issues of Black history, discussing concepts like Passing, postwar racial tensions, and political activism in a way that doesn’t feel overly preachy, but allows you to feel like you’re learning while also engrossed in a good story. 
  4. A Notorious Vow, Joanna Shupe: One of my favorite Joanna Shupe books, if not my absolute favorite. Shupe delved into Deaf culture to create her hero, Oliver, especially when it came to the battle over the usage of sign language, and later, the battle to prove his mental competence. He is paired with the perfect heroine in Christina, who deals with social anxiety, which is something I have personal experience with. I loved this twist with two reclusive protagonists who must challenge themselves in order to prove their love, and Shupe’s depth of care in writing them is wonderful. 
  5. Regency Impostors series by Cat Sebastian: While I haven’t read book 3 yet, due to the print release not being until the end of January, I’ve enthusiastically loved the first two installments. While I’ve loved a couple of her m/m books, I am glad she expanded her repertoire to include non-binary and bisexual representation, especially given the conversations around the vast preference for m/m in mainstream LGBTQ romance over the other letters. Unmasked by the Marquess not only features a subversive twist on the woman-dressed-as-a-man with the non-binary lead Robin, as they fall for a grumpy, forward thinking (in regards to sexuality and gender identiy) marquess.  A Duke in Disguise demonstrates an understanding what it means to be bi: attracted to both men and women, and the fact that you end up with the opposite sex doesn’t mean you’re not also attracted to men. But it also doesn’t mean that the HEA is any less possible, especially as Verity and Ash are absolutely perfect for one another. All of Cat’s books debunk the myth that “HEAs for LGBTQ+ people are historically inaccurate!” but I very much recommend these for their charm and excellent depiction of a spectrum of queer characters. 
  6. The Bashful Bride, Vanessa Riley: Despite not being a fan of most power imbalances, I love the idea of a “fan” meeting their favorite celebrity, and Vanessa Riley’s take on this idea in the Regency era is wonderful. While sweet on the surface, I love how Riley also includes some of her talent for incorporating tough issues in a way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed. Actor Arthur Bex’s involvement with the abolitionist movement and exposure of the prejudices Black people faced in Regency England are compelling additions to the plot, as these two carve out a relationship together. 
  7. Dare to Love a Duke, Eva Leigh: While I have enjoyed almost everything Eva Leigh has put out on some level (honorable mention to  this year’s release, My Fake Rake), this one may be her best work, and one I’ll probably always recommend to friends. I love the sex positivity of this story, with the courtesan heroine, Lucia, and the progressive duke Thomas, especially the way he respects her throughout, which is surprisingly rare in a genre that was sold to me as largely being sex positive, but also contains pearl-clutchers (case in point: the awful Smart Bitches review). 
  8. How to Love a Duke in Ten Days, Kerrigan Byrne: Kerrigan Byrne can be a bit hit-or-miss for me, due to how heavily she focuses on bad boys, but this one hit it out of the park for me. The hero is by her own admission, “one of the good ones,” with his biggest hurdle being a bit of misogyny, in keeping with the time period expectations. But it’s his pairing with Alexandra Lane that makes the story work. I loved the emphasis on Alexandra’s dark past, with an extended prologue highlighting her sexual assault and her retaliation, leading to her to carry around a lot of guilt and shame, which can be bleak for some, especially if you don’t go in prepared for it, however it is not gratuitous, and I love how it informs the rest of the narrative. But her bravery in spite of everything she’s experienced, as well as the hints provided about the experiences of her friends, prove this is going to be a dark, heroine focused series that ultimately sees them put their lives back together. And the way she and Piers overcome the obstacles to their love, especially once he comes to realize the truth, is absolutely beautiful. 
  9. For Real, Alexis Hall: I had no idea what I was getting into with this one, but I’m glad I took the chance. I tend to stay away from BDSM on principle, because while I’m not opposed to it, I feel like a Fifty Shades-esque setup with the alpha dom and the sweet submissive would be more common, although I admit I’m not that knowledgeable on the subject and am open to be proven wrong. Enter For Real, and it’s older, jaded sub and younger, somewhat inexperienced dom. That worked well, because I loved how well Laurence and Toby worked as romantic leads. The sexy and kinky bits were also juxtaposed by more tender moments as well, like Toby making breakfast the morning after their first night together, which is the first moment I feel like I thought this book might be something I could enjoy. 
  10. The Bride Test, Helen Hoang: Helen Hoang makes the list for the second consecutive year! Once again, I love how she uses her personal experiences as inspiration for her romances, this time not only featuring a major character on the autism spectrum in the lovably awkward hero, Khai, but also an immigrant heroine in Esme, reflective of her mother’s experience. With a good mix of hilarity (Khai getting the “sex talk” from Michael and Quân!) and heart, while this one took a little longer to become invested in than its predecessor, once I fell, I fell hard. 
  11. Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Islamophobia is a major issue, and this book tackles that with a light touch, through the format of a loose retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I was moved by the exploration of Khalid’s experience as a conservative Muslim working for a firm in Toronto, and the marginalizations he faces in this environment. This is juxtaposed with the relationship he develops with the independent Ayesha, who he thinks, in  a comedy of errors, his her cousin and his betrothed. There is some of the traditional Lizy/Darcy dynamic between them, but with a fresh twist, to suit the new setting and concepts Jalauddin is working with, and she pulls it off masterfully. 
  12. There’s Something About Sweetie, Sandhya Menon: This book presents body positivity done right. Sweetie is confident in who she is, and a great athlete, defying a common stereotype of overweight people. While it does also contain a narrative of her overly critical mother, I love that she doesn’t let this bother her too much, especially as she’s made up her mind to pursue a relationship with Ashish. Ashish is also great once I got over seeing him in the shadow of his brother Rishi from the previous book. While he does have a bit of growth to go through, particularly in terms of figuring out where things stand with his ex, I like that he liked Sweetie from their first meeting, seeing what they had in common (their shared love of sports) over preconceived notions about her weight. 
  13. Singapore Fling, Maida Malby: Maida Malby presents another feast for the senses with the second installment in her Carole Diem Chronicles, with great sense of place from scenery descriptions to the lush food porn. And her leads, Aidan and Maddie, are two confident people at the top of their game professionally, who come together wonderfully, complementing each other perfectly. And of course there’s a lot of heart with the plot centering around the importance of family, especially found family. 
  14. The Right Swipe, Alisha Rai: Romance has grappled with power dynamics and consent in different ways over the years, particularly in the wake of MeToo, but the latest release from Alisha Rai represents one of the best depictions of the issues modern women face, quite fittingly through the use of dating apps. Starting with Rhiannon and Samson who meet on an app, and things end up going wrong when he ghosts her, their affiliation with rival apps leads them to collide again, in a beautiful exploration of their feelings, as well as the difficulties business women face working alongside male colleagues in industries like this one. 
  15. Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert: An absolutely adorable book that’s also not afraid to be a bit sexy. I loved Chloe and Red, and how the book sees them work on “getting a life” in different ways, with her not letting her disability hold her back from seizing the day, and Red confronting the imposter syndrome sowed by an abusive ex, as Chloe helps him with a website meant to advertise his art. 
  16. Not a Mourning Person, Catherine Stein: Catherine Stein’s character development is at its best here, as she writes about the somewhat “difficult” and scandalous Rachael. I felt for her as she came into her own, and really enjoyed her (unlikely at first) romance with the scholarly Avery. 
  17. Meet Me in Monaco, Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
  18. Ribbons of Scarlet, Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, E. Knight: In recent years, I’ve found I love collaborative novels, and this one, while I thought it seemed ambitious and too good to be true at first, came through on its promise. The six authors demonstrate the breadth of their historical knowledge, presenting the perspectives of six women from the French Revolution, with various backgrounds, from Royalist to moderate/intellectual to radical, the sections weaving seamlessly into each other to show the evolution of the French Revolution from one moved by democratic principles to the darkness of the Reign of Terror. Every moment is touchingly told, and you feel like you’re there with these historical figures. 
  19. Milady, Laura L. Sullivan: At long last, Milady gets to tell her story, and I love the way Sullivan does it in a way that pays tribute to the awesomeness of her character, showing that she wasn’t just painted as a villain because men write the history books, but in some ways by her own design. The history given for her pre-Three Musketeers feels plausible, as do the scenes that are set alongside the book, showing how different her perspective was from that of the “heroes” of the original tale. 
  20. Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye: It’s Jane Eyre, but she’s a serial killer. It does get complicated, in that this Jane references the original, so it’s a very self-aware retelling. But that’s part of the charm. One of the best parts of the book is the way her killer nature (even if it is mostly in defense of herself and other vulnerable women) helps to put her on a more even footing with the Rochester substitute, Charles Thornfield. With his own dark past, the Jane/Rochester pairing was unequal on multiple levels, including their differences in morality, their respective positions of boss and employee, and their class differences, and the ending only somewhat fixes this. But serial killer Jane and Thornfield are a match from their first meeting, and were much easier to root for as a result.  
  21. The Brilliant Death, Amy Rose Capetta: This is stunning and original take fantasy. Taking influence from Italian culture, not only is the world beautiful, but the concept of the magic is wonderful, and the way it plays into the protagonist’s exploration of the fluidity of their own gender. 
  22. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Theodora Goss: The first in absolutely fun series, I loved seeing Goss’s take on the many Gothic heroines, several of whom either got unpleasant endings in the original classic stories or played supporting roles to the male protagonists. Seeing them band together to solve mysteries and rescue one another from hijinks is great, but perhaps even more memorable is the style of the book (and its sequels), with the action interrupted by the characters telling the story in a way that is not as annoying as you might initially expect, given the hilarity of their commentary. 
  23. Dreadnought, April Daniels: While superhero stories still aren’t my cup of tea, I like this twist on it, incorporating the experiences of a transgender teen, complete with the magic transition to become their preferred gender. While containing all the hallmarks of a superhero origin story, including gaining powers and ingratiating oneself into the superhero “community,” it also highlights the real life bigotry many transgender teens like Danny face, especially from their own families, determined to impose traditional gender norms on them, and juxtaposes that with the introduction of a few positive, accepting friends with whom Danny can be herself. 
  24. The True Queen, Zen Cho: Finally, Zen Cho released the follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown, and it strikes the right balance between being a great new adventure and providing all the elements readers loved the last time. Once again, her version of Regency London is diverse, and it’s wonderful to both spend time with familiar characters and meet more new ones. And there’s an f/f romance in this one! 
  25. Once and Future, Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy: Genderbent and very queer-positive, Capetta and McCarthy’s take gives King Arthur a much-needed makeover. No longer is it about doomed, faithless love, but a happy queer relationship in the face of great, world-shattering odds. And the twists on it, like Merlin’s de-aging process showing his evolution into a more modern and very different wise mentor, are so much fun. 
  26. Stepsister, Jennifer Donnelly: I love fairy tale retellings, but very rarely do they surprise and move me. This one did. While there’s nothing wrong with the traditional Cinderella story, I like the exploration of why the evil stepsisters would do the things they did, even if it meant losing themselves in the process. And ultimately, Cinderella and Isabelle really aren’t that different in terms of the societal pressures, and to see them come together is truly rewarding. 
  27. Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson: While any of his series could easily qualify (and I am inclined to award honorable mentions to Mistborn and Warbreaker), I feel like the sheer epicness of this series merits its choice as my Sanderson pick. While not flawless (especially some aspects of Oathbringer), this series has his best character work, with broken people reflecting on their dark pasts in such a relatable way, juxtaposed against a world that is gritty and intense, without delving into the elements of grimdark that some fantasy has been embracing. 
  28.  Shelter in Place, Nora Roberts: Arguably one of Nora Roberts’ best books, for its deviation from her typical formula to one that focuses on the issue first, and the romance second, but still makes the romance feel impactful. The relevance of the issue the story centers on (a shooting in a mall and its aftermath) is startling, and I was moved by how these people came together, with two of the people involved finding each other years later and finding love. And, of course, the psyche of her villain is dark and chilling, leaving me stunned at their depravity. 
  29. Unmarriageable, Soniah Kamal: Yet another of the three P&P retellings that came out this year, this one is much more beat-for-beat in its rendition, while also demonstrating the parallels between the cultures of Regency England and contemporary Pakistan, in regards to women and marriage. It’s frequently been said that Austen’s themes are universal/timeless, and the number of loose modern adaptations prove this. But the story of Alys and Darsee is arguably  the closest modernP&P adaptation to the source material, with the obvious exception of the trappings of setting.
  30. The Marriage Clock, Zara Raheem: This is a book that came to me at a time when I very much needed it, as it provided perspective on a simialr siutaiton to the one the heroine is facing in the book going on in my own life. I empathized with her as her family tried to push their expectations on her, even though my situation was occurring in a different cultural contect. And while I had read several books with South sian heroines this year, including others on this list, that dealt with the trope of familial expectations of marriage, and appreciated them in different ways, it was nice to have one that blatantly was about it being fine for the heroine to end up single by the end, with the possibility that she might find love in her own time, and not be subjected to the titular “clock” society put her under. 

Top 10 New Author Discoveries This Year

I made it a habit of trying a tom of new authors, especially those that were highly recommended and sounded interesting to me. Here are the top ten (in no particular order, for the most part) authors I discovered this year that wowed me. To qualify, I had to pick up multiple books by them this year, with a minimum of two. 

  1. Brandon Sanderson: I have read all but a few of his previous YA books and his Middle Grade Alcatraz series at this point, so Sanderson is likely the author I most eagerly embraced in 2019. With an approachable, yet engaging style, he has consistently put out good quality work, to the point when even his lesser efforts, like Elantris and Mistborn era 2 are still memorable. And his engagement with fans regarding his progress is impeccable, allowing them insight into ongoing projects through his blog (in particular the yearly State of Sanderson posts), as well as consistent engagement on Twitter, as well as willingness to appear on readers’ and reviewers’ YouTube channels (a major one for many on Fantasy BookTube was his appearance on Daniel Greene’s channel). 
  2. Amy Rose Capetta: While I discovered Capetta through her collaboration with her partner, Cori McCarthy, Once & Future, a queer sci-fi King Arthur retelling, I came to embrace Capetta’s love for a variety of genres, while still centralizing queerness. Their genderfluid fantasy, The Brilliant Death, is a masterpiece, and 
  3. Catherine Stein: To start with, she’s pretty much an awesome person for sending me copies of all her books up to this point.
  4. Beverly Jenkins: She’s one of those authors I’m kicking myself for putting off for so long, in part because she was and is such a trailblazer in Black romance. While her older books are hard to find, I enjoyed her last historical series, am waiting with bated breath for book two in her current series, and am so happy to see that she’s getting some love on the adaptation front, as mentioned with the news about Forbidden. 
  5. Theodora Goss: While she only has the one novel series, about the Athena Club, I thoroughly enjoyed these quirky books. As a bit of a literature nerd, I loved seeing familiar characters from a new perspective, both through their exciting adventures and through the silly comments they make while putting together the books of their adventures. 
  6. Courtney Milan: Technically not completely new-to-me, as I read a novella by her late last year. But I read three full novels and an additional novella (in Hamilton’s Battalion) by her this year, and while it was a bit of a rocky start, beginning with her debut, Proof by Seduction, I did eventually make it to The Duchess War, arguably considered one of her best, and, as noted, one of my favorites this year as well, and I anticipate to continue reading her backlist very soon. 
  7. Alexis Hall: Like Capetta, Alexis Hall tends to write all over the place genre wise, although all of his books feature LGBTQ+ characters, so I was excited to experience two very different books from him this year: the erotic gay contemporary, For Real, featured in my top ten, and the queer Sherlockian fantasy, The Affair of the Mysterious Letter. Both are fabulous, with the former delving into a BDSM relationship in an unexpected way, and the latter being a fun romp with 
  8. Abigail Wilson: While she’s walking in familiar territory, with a combination of the Regency world and Gothic atmosphere, and writing inspirational romance (albeit with understated Christian themes, compared to some of her peers), I think she has a lot of promise, based on her two releases this year. Her stories feel reminiscent of the classics, like Austen and Bronte, and fellow inspirational historical authors like Julie Klassen, but she is very much bringing her own thing to the genre with page-turning romantic mysteries that had me invested in their plots completely. 
  9. Kristen Callihan: I was so excited to dive into her Darkest London series, which I had heard about, but didn’t really feel the urge to dive into until now. While some of the books are inevitably better than others, her world building is wonderful, and her characters, for the most part, are compelling. And while she’s moved onto contemporary, and I’m interested in trying those too, I’m anxious to see another historical paranormal from her again. 
  10. Scott Lynch: While he only has the three books in the Gentlemen Bastards series to his name thus far (with a fourth due out at some point), the series is still impressive even in its unfinished state, and I’m impressed with his character work, focusing on the friendship between a ragtag band of thieves. And while his style takes some getting used to, I found it makes the series memorable, as you really get to explore the characters through examinations of their past and present.

2020 Goals

  1. Goodreads Goal: My productivity is highly linked to my schedule, and while I’m hoping to work on building up some other skills, like getting back into novel writing after letting it slide, I anticipate I will continue to have a pretty open schedule. Thus, I’m planning to make my “starter” goal 300, akin to my productivity while in school. 
  2. Reading Log: I kept all my stats this year in a single doc file (I suck and  could never get a handle on Excel/Sheets), but I ran into hiccups as the doc got bigger and bigger and would constantly run into loading issues (on top of other computer issues). Thus, for 2020, I’ve decided to switch to keeping my reading logs monthly, which is also more in keeping with what some of my friends in book groups have been doing with their reading journals, and will result in more accurate stats, until I can hopefully figure out the spreadsheet business.
  3. Keep reading diverse authors (with priority to looking for more ownvoices works): I improved a lot this year, as I noted, but I think I can still do better to seek out some of the truly underrepresented voices outside of mainstream publishing.  
  4. Do as many of the prompts for the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge as possible. 
  5. Read two indie/self-published books per month (but aim for more): An idea I got from BookTuber Merphy Napier, who tries to make this a priority. I recently got my first eReader (a Nook Glowlight), so that should solve some of the access issues I had with self-published authors in the past. It also goes hand-in-hand with the previous goal, as I think one of the reasons I fell short this year is that, even with my growing self-awareness of my reading choices, publishing is still largely white and cishet. 
  6. Diversify blog content: While reviews are still going to be the main focus, I do enjoy more topical posts, and would like to make a habit of doing them, although I do still want to focus most on hot-button issues. I do also anticipate, with my access to eBooks, that my approach to reviewing novellas will change, so would like to do a “Novella Round-Up” on occasion, possibly monthly, but it depends on my reading choices. 

Review of “Forevermore” (Darkest London #7) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Forevermore. New York: Forever, 2016.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455581702 | 318 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romace

4.5 stars

Forevermore concludes the Darkest London series on a high note. I admit I was rather worried about how Callihan would conclude the series, given how massive the world had become, but the overall arc of the series left me feeling satisfied.

I was surprised at how well having supporting players Augustus and Lena as a secondary hero and heroine worked. They did steal the show a bit from Sin and Layla, but I really enjoyed their storyline and how these characters working behind the scenes in the prior books finally got the spotlight somewhat.

I really like the dynamic that Sin and Layla have, given their past. I feel like some of the other couples have pasts together that have a lot of negative connotations, so it was nice to have a good balance of internal struggles that test each of them with a more loving and believable buildup of the romance between them.

I was generally satisfied with this final entry in the series and am frantically looking for something that can compare. And I will once again recommend pretty much everyone read this series, because even at its less interesting moments, it’s still a great, fast-paced series with quite a bit of character depth.

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.

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 “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 “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 “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.