In spotlight

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Kelly Coon on Gravemaidens


With less than a week away, Gravemaidens is set to release very very soon. This book has been on my TBR since last year and I'm infinitely excited for the world to read it! Gravemaidens is set in the fictional kingdom of Alu, where three maidens are chosen to join their dying ruler in the afterlife: Kammani wants nothing more than to become the accomplished healer her father used to be before her family was cast out of their privileged life in shame. Her beautiful little sister, Nanaea, is chosen as one of three sacred maidens. It’s an honor. A tradition. And Nanaea believes it is her chance to live an even grander life than the one that was stolen from her. But Kammani sees the selection for what it really is—a death sentence.



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 I had the pleasure to (figuratively) sit down with the lovely author of this dark, enchanting tale to ask her a couple of questions about Gravemaidens, human sacrifice, and authoring in general! Also, keep reading if you'd like to know how you can get yourself one of the pretty pre-order packs pictures above!

Interview:

Q: First of all, Gravemaidens is such a unique story! How did you come up with the concept for this book?

K: I was reading through some history of human sacrifice (as one does) and realized that it was an accepted and often celebrated part of cultural and religious history all over the world. Sacrificial remains have been discovered everywhere from a ritual site in Gournay-sur-Aronde in northern France to a 4,000-year-old cemetery near the modern-day Mogou village in China to a mound in Tenochtitlán near what is now Mexico City. Heck, the entire religion of Christianity is built upon the concept.
My story might be unique, but human sacrifice definitely is not. 

Q: Which Gravemaidens character would you say is most like you?

K: Ooh. Good question. I’d say I’m closest to Iltani with my smart mouth, but staunchly Ravenclaw like Kammani (though she’s a lot more Hufflepuff than I am).

Q: Describe Gravemaidens in three words! 

K: Fierce, Feminist, Fantasy (also three points for alliteration). 

Q: Who inspired you to become an author? And what are your own favorite books to read when you're not writing some yourself?

K: Well, one of my inspirations is my mom. She used to tell me I could do anything I wanted to do and be anything I wanted to be, even though I was raised in a pretty anti-female environment. 
Regarding books, I read a lot of YA—naturally—and I’ll read anything Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, or Sabaa Tahir writes. 

Q: What does your writing routine look like? Are you an early riser, or do you usually write at night?

K: I’m a mother of three rowdy, busy boys and am an editor for a company called Blue Ocean Brain. So, I write whenever I can. If I’m drafting a new book and have a specific word count goal, I don’t go to sleep until my goal is finished, which usually means I’m drafting late at night. But sometimes, I can squeeze it in during my work day or sitting in my car during one of my kids’ practices.

Q: On that same note, what do you do when you're not writing? Do you have time to relax? 

K: Hoo boy. Not really. I get up at 5:30 every single day and work my butt off until around 9:30 at night when the kids are all in bed, the lunches have been packed, dishes have been done, laundry sorted, and I can finally sit down. I might get in an hour or so of Netflix or reading before lights out, but that’s about it. I do, however, force myself to go to the gym—which I consider recreation at this point—and love to kayak, white water raft, and hike with my family.

Q: Despite the fact that Gravemaidens is literally just about to hit shelves, are there any future projects in the works? 

K: Heck yes. I’m working on a draft of a YA contemporary with speculative elements that’s really close to my heart. One POV is in verse and the other is in prose, so it’s been a challenge! 

Q: And lastly, I know it's early, but we're curious! What can we expect from the sequel? 

K: An all-female band of warriors with copper scorpion helmets
The love between two main characters is finally—
Someone loses an arm
Someone loses their life
Three words: Goddess of war



Links:

Kelly's Twitter | Kelly's Instagram |
Kelly's website | Add Gravemaidens to Goodreads!


On a final note...
If you fancy some Gravemaidens goodies, don't hesitate to send in your preorder receipts in THIS link to claim your preorder pack!





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In arc review

ARC REVIEW: Baking me Crazy



Title: Baking Me Crazy
Author: Karla Sorensen
Genre(s):  Romance, New Adult
Release: 8 October 2019
Rating: ✭✭✭✭✭/5

"There is no crying in the bakery."

Take some of the best friends to lovers trope, add some of Penny Reid’s universe with a pinch of spicy scenes, and Voila, a perfect recipe! Baking Me Crazy has it all and more. I think I haven’t finished a romance book this quickly in a while, and it’s all thanks to Sorensen’s writing. Prior to starting this book, I was intrigued to see how this concept would work: different romance authors all writing within the same well-loved universe. But, this book is 100% well worth it!

What is this book about?
Baking Me Crazy follows Joss, who works at small town bakery and her best friend Levi, who’s looking for a job after finishing his Master’s. The two met when they are in their teens, and have been best friends for over 5 years. However, what Joss doesn’t know is that Levi has fallen victim to the “Buchanan” curse and has been in love with her since the day they met. Levi thinks he’s content with being just friends, until Joss starts showing interest in one of her new customers.

What did I think of Baking Me Crazy?
I don’t know if it’s the trope, the characters, or both, but I absolutely adored this book. Set in Penny Reid’s beloved universe, Baking Me Crazy builds on all of the aspects I know and love, and adds its own twist.

Though nice seeing Jenn and Cletus again (my favorite Winston Brothers couple), the definite highlight of this book was the relationship between the two main characters. Best friends to lovers is my favorite romance trope and this particular story was executed so perfectly! Romance books are in danger of becoming boring once the couple gets together at the 50% mark, yet, I didn’t get that feeling with this one at all. Sorensen’s writing manages to keep everything exciting and fun from start to finish.

I also want to say that I enjoyed the dual perspective a lot, especially getting to read about Joss’ disability. The book contains some talk of ableism, which was refreshing to read!

If you’re looking for a quick, funny, heartwarming, and super sweet romance, look no further! I’m very intrigued to see what the next book in the series will be like, since each of them is written by a different author. But for now, this is a solid 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5!



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In blog tour

BLOG TOUR: Beard With Me


It's HERE! The newest instalment in Penny Reid's beloved Winston Brothers series has hit the stores! This one follows Billy Winston (finally!) and Scarlet St. Claire in their earlier years. This is a prequel to Penny's beloved WB series, but sets the stage for more books about this couple! Keep reading for a giveaway and to learn more about the book! 

Synopsis:
No one is better at surviving than Scarlet St. Claire and making the best out of circumstances beyond her control is Scarlet’s specialty. In an apocalyptic situation, she’d be the last person on earth, hermitting like a pro, singing along to her CD Walkman, and dancing like no one is watching.

Scarlet is clever, Scarlet is careful, and Scarlet is smart . . . except when it comes to Billy Winston.

No one is better at fighting than Billy Winston and raging against his circumstances—because nothing is beyond his control—is Billy’s specialty. In an apocalyptic situation, he’d be the first person on earth to lead others to safety, overcome catastrophe, or die trying.

Billy is fearless, Billy is disciplined, and Billy is honorable . . . except when it comes to Scarlet St. Claire.









About the Author:
Penny Reid is the New York TimesWall Street Journal and USA Today Best Selling Author of the Winston Brothers, Knitting in the City, Rugby, and Hypothesis series. She used to spend her days writing federal grant proposals as a biomedical researcher, but now she just writes books. She’s also a full time mom to three diminutive adults, wife, daughter, knitter, crocheter, sewer, general crafter, and thought ninja.
Follow Penny:



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In romance wrap up

ROMANCE WRAP-UP: September




Whereas August had one of my longest Romance wrap-ups ever, September was a very fantasy heavy month for me. I also didn't end up loving most of the romances I read in September, unfortunately. But, there's always next month, which promises to be filled with new exciting releases. Without further ado, here are the seven romance books I ended up reading in September




Title: Beard With Me
Author: Penny Reid
Rating: ✭✭✭/5

Since this was a reading copy, I'm obliged to post a review for this very soon. But this was a minor disappointment for me. I expected to love this, but sadly did not. 


Title: Well Met
Author: Jen DeLuca
Rating: ✭✭✭/5

This is one of those instances where the cover was better than the book for me. Well Met joins the illustrated romance cover trend with a gorgeous mint green cover. Sadly, for me, this ended up being the highlight of the book. Well Met is a small town romance, and features Emily and Simon who meet each other when they both participate in their town's renaissance festival. There's some hate-to-love stuff going on, you know the drill. I ended up giving this 3 stars because, while the beginning was entertaining enough, this just didn't fully work for me. Well Met suffers from a popular problem within the romance genre: the couple gets together about 50% in, and that's that. I wasn't very interested after the half-point mark, and the renaissance festival setting also didn't feel special enough for me. While I hoped to potentially count this one as one of my new favorites, it was just an average read for.

Title: Wrecking Ball
Author: P. Dangelico
Rating: ✭✭✭/5

Since I massively enjoyed Sledgehammer last month, I figured I would give P.Dangelico's other books a shot, starting with Wrecking Ball. I expected this one to give me the funny banter Sledgehammer delivered on, and it did to some degree. This book takes on a slightly more serious note, but was no less fun for me. Wrecking Ball follows Cam who goes to work for famous football-player Calvin, as his nephew's nanny. Yet, the two absolutely despise each other. It's possible that this sounds slightly familiar, since I found that Wrecking Ball contained heavy The Wall of Winnipeg and Me vibes. Now for the slightly more negative part: if I enjoyed it so much, then what's the three-star rating for, you ask? I'll tell you. Everything was fine and dandy, until I reached the last few chapters. The ending doesn't deliver, which is a shame since I enjoyed the overall book a lot. Again, I expected this to be another favorite, but the book just did not go into the direction that I hoped it would.

Title: The Duchess Deal
Author: Tessa Dare
Rating: ✭✭✭,5/5

The Duchess Deal was my first venture into the historical romance genre. I've been meaning to check out Tessa Dare's books, since I'd heard great stories. The Duchess Deal, then, follows the Duke of Ashcroft, who is in need of an heir. But, to gain an heir, one needs a wife, and Ashcroft decides that Emma, a random seamstress who shows up at his door will do. The Duchess Deal had some witty banter, steamy scenes, and angsty moments, but didn't fully live up to my expectations. I liked the dynamic between the main characters, and I won't comment on historical accuracy, but this, again, was a little average for me. This is absolutely not a reflection on Tessa Dare's writing, or on historical romance as a genre, but The Duchess Deal just was not fully my cup of Victorian tea. I've heard amazing things about the third book though, so I might have to check that one out soon!


Title: Baking Me Crazy
Author: Karla Sorensen
Rating: ✭✭✭✭✭/5

I received a review copy of Baking Me Crazy in exchange for an honest review, so my thoughts in full will go up in a couple of days, but I adored this. This is the only 5 star read of this month, but what an absolute gem this was.


Title: Sinful Like Us
Author: Krista and Becca Ritchie
Rating: ✭✭✭/5

Sinful Like Us was one of my most anticipated romance reads of the year, which means I had a lot of thoughts on this book specifically. I already posted a full review last week, so check it out here if you're interested in my full rant. 


Title: Love on Lexington Avenue
Author: Lauren Layne
Rating: ✭✭✭/5


To end this list off on a semi-high note. The last one on the list is a book I wasn't sure I was going to love. I gave the first one in the Central Park Pact series three and a half stars, so I wasn't expecting a lot from this second instalment. But, oh boy, am I glad I decided to give this one a shot! Love on Lexington Avenue centers on widow Claire, who meets contractor Scott when he comes to renovate her house. The two don't hit it off immediately, but when Claire desperately seeks to get out of her shell since the death of her ex-husband, Scott offers to show her the ropes. I was actually surprised with how much I enjoyed this one. Don't get me wrong, I know Lauren Layne writes a killer romance, but the first 100 pages felt like reading a combination of her earlier novels. In other worlds: I wasn't fully blown away by the originality in the beginning. Yet, Love on Lexington Avenue really managed to get me invested in the characters, something Passion on Park Avenue failed to do, and pulled me into the story. It's a dangerous thing, to have high hopes, but I'm looking forward to the last instalment in the series, which I think might even manage to top this one for me!

Thank you again for reading my monthly romance wrap-up, and definitely check out some of the books on this list if you're ever in need of some fluffy romance during the spooky months! 

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In arc review

ARC REVIEW: Shadow Frost


Title: Shadow Frost
Author: Coco Ma
Genre(s):  Young Adult, Fantasy
Release: October 2019
Rating: ✭✭✭,5/5

"Some call it a monster, laying waste to the villagers and their homes.
Some say it is an invulnerable demon summoned from the deepest abysses of the Immortal Realm.
Many soldiers from the royal guard are sent out to hunt it down.
Not one has ever returned."

What is this book about?
Set in the fictional kingdom of Axaria, Shadow Frost follows crown princess Asterin who teams up with her close friends to defeat a legendary demon that has been plaguing the lands. However, as the group sets out to kill it, they find out secrets about themselves that have long been buried. 

What did I think of Shadow Frost?
This book left me very torn. On the one hand, I enjoyed the characters. Luna, in particular, was great; she goes from seemingly innocent lady in waiting to someone with a hidden past and complex emotions. Asterin, too, was intriguing (taking in consideration some of her flaws). I liked the other characters, but these two stood out for me. The men, then, didn't quite do it for me, in the sense that most of them followed the typical YA-male formula. At times, the interactions felt a little contrived and maybe even a little bit childish (which isn't bad per sé considering this is written by such a young author and heavily focuses on characters in their teens), however, some of the character moments reminded me a lot of the MG genre, which might've been a better fit for this book?

Next, comes my main issue with this book: the writing. While I understood what direction the author meant to take with this book, it didn't actually manage to go there for me. While the writing is fairly simple, it isn't bad per sé. There is certainly a LOT of potential. However, my main issue with it is that most of the writing doesn't feel organic. The plot of the book reads like a standalone (which is why I was surprised by the open ending which suggests this will be a series?). The amount of plot-points and twists crammed into this book was simply too much, which is odd considering most of the world-building is done in a few pages. It felt like the author was trying to fit a trilogy within one single book, which just didn't completely work for me personally. The time-jumps that signalled personal flashbacks for the characters, as well as the many different plot-points just felt a little bit messy and chaotic.

While I didn't think the plot was insanely innovative (you're able to guess the villain fairly early on, not much of a surprise there), I did really enjoy the overall story and direction of the book. It wasn't a bad book at all, I just think the writing could use some work (in the sense of story structure!). 

All in all, this book did manage to intrigue me for future books in (what seems to be) the Shadow Frost series, albeit it does have its flaws. 

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In book review review

REVIEW: Sinful Like Us


Title: Sinful Like Us
Author: Krista and Becca Ritchie
Genre(s):  New Adult, Romance
Release: September 10th, 2019
Rating: ✭✭✭/5

"I know I’m not a prince. I’m not a king. But I’d treat Jane like she should be treated. 
She’s my princess, my angel, and my queen. Every morning and every night. 
I’d kneel at her feet and stand by her side."

I'm going to be very real and say that I have been almost dreading to post this review. The response towards this series has not been overwhelmingly positive, and fans of this series have been incredibly divisive when it comes to liking or not liking this particular instalment, hence why I've put off writing this review in the first place. But, I’m finally sitting down and gathering my thoughts, so strap in tight for this somewhat lengthy piece!

What is this book about?
Sinful Like Us continues Thatcher and Jane's relationship. American princess Jane is now dating her (ex-) bodyguard Thatcher. After being stuck with Thatcher's nemesis as her new protection, Jane has to navigate her newfound feelings while facing more outside obstacles. Can her and Thatcher's relationship survive outside the honeymoon phase?

“All this time, I thought love is a compromise of equals. 50-50. But it’s not…is it?” 
She leans back and gives me another pointed look. 
“With the right person, they’ll ensure you’re always whole.”

What did I think of Sinful Like Us?
Purely judging this from a romance perspective, I objectively really enjoyed this duet. It's no secret that the earlier instalments in this series (the ones focusing on the first couple) haven't been my favorites. I still enjoyed them enough to continue reading, but this particular couple is more up my street. 

Jane and Thatcher's relationship has been my favorite in the series so far, and this book did wonderful things for their characters. I especially really liked Jane's development: going from a woman who is afraid of emotional attachment, to someone who is confident enough to voice her love. I adored the little insights we got into their relationship, as well as their daily interactions. I might be biased, but I could honestly read about their relationship all day. I also really enjoyed how angsty this book was. As someone who likes tropey angst and broody protective NA heroes, this was right up my alley.

Now comes the part where this book loses a star. A large part of the Like Us books are focused on the side characters and setting up potential future relationships, which in the earlier books wasn't a bad thing per sé because it gathered enthusiasm for the rest of the universe. However, in this book, I found that it really took attention away from the main couple in a negative way. A large part of the book was dedicated to Farrow and Maximoff's wedding, which will ironically also be the focus of the entire next book, as well as giving hints and setting up interactions with other couples. By creating such an extensive universe, the writing feels kind of all over the place, since the authors try their best to get everyone involved, which, let's face it, just reads a little messily. Additionally, there were three chapters from a seemingly random POV, that, looking at the overall build-up of the series, essentially made no sense because the character in question wasn't really part of the main story. These chapters only existed to set up a side character's relationship. All the random unnecessary interactions and character decisions made this book feel disengaged from the previous one (which is a feat because there are only three days between the ending of Tangled Like Us and the beginning of this book.) How this miniature timeline jump could have such major repercussions and inconsistencies in character remains a mystery. 

Writing-wise, I also feel like one of the major flaws of this book (or series as a whole) is the recycling of many tropes and plot-lines, as well as including some very lengthy (and contrived) dramatics. As an example: this book sees Jane and Thatcher break up and make up within the span of a few hours (which served no purpose at all aside from lengthening the book). It also stretches the "intruder" storyline, which we've also seen in the very first instalment, as well as in the original Addicted series. I don't want to judge too harshly, since romance books aren't generally read for their plot, yet I do believe you're allowed to expect at least some variation in terms of story. 

There are also some specific plot-related issues that I had with the book. The first being the apparent aversion towards adoption. The authors' earlier series introduces the concept of surrogacy, which back then, was sweet and special and fit within the story. This book, however, shows how Jane is willing to sacrifice her first pregnancy to be a surrogate for her cousin and his boyfriend (which essentially means she'll be her nephew's biological mother? Uhm...?) This just struck me as odd, especially since adoption is a valid option in this case. 

Another minor comment: I also didn't fully understand the scene where Jane had to walk in on Maximoff and Farrow being intimate. I think this was supposed to be funny, but locking her into the room  just ended up giving the reader some intense second-hand embarrassment, and dare I say even made me very uncomfortable. 

Now, to address the big polyamorous elephant in the room. I started reading this series the day it dropped three years ago, and because these writers do so much to include their side-characters and secondary ships, I took an immediate like to Akara and Sulli. I've devoted a lot of time and energy to this pairing. From promoting it on Twitter, to making bookish graphics: I was very much anticipating their book. Whereas earlier books, and the writers too, confirmed these two to be a definite future ship, Sinful Like Us drops a very unexpected bomb: Sulli will be in a polyamorous relationship with both Akara and Banks. 

Now, I'm not averse towards polyamorous relationships, as I've never read any romances that specifically include this trope. However, my first reaction to this news was anger and hurt; I'd been eagerly anticipating their book for almost three years. This felt like a betrayal of some sort. After shoving my feelings to the side, I went back in to paint a clearer picture, yet I remained a little disappointed. Reading Sulli and Banks' scenes feels very inorganic, they essentially go from not interacting in Alpha's Like Us, to Banks calling her a nickname that was originally designed for Akara in Sinful. This, you can imagine, does nothing to make the pre-existing 'Kitsulli' fanbase warm up to the idea of Sulli and Banks. Then there are some chapters where Banks and Akara have private conversations about Sulli and her love life, which, I dare say, is inconsistent with Akara's pre-established protective nature as seen in Damaged Like Us as well as Alpha's Like Us. In short, I don't feel like there is a well-developed basis for this polyamorous relationship, and at this point it just feels like the writers pulled a name out of their hats and added Banks to the mix to 'spice' up their  (otherwise 'vanilla') relationship.

Though rightfully angry, I'm not someone who feels the urge to mingle in this particular fight, and because I did enjoy the series as a whole, I have decided to continue reading Like Us, albeit a little less investedly. I'm prepared to see what future books bring to the table, and I'm intrigued to see if they manage to turn Akara/Sulli/Banks into something I'll find myself enjoying after all. For now, this book's four star rating largely derives from my enjoyment of Jane and Thatcher's relationship, which has admittedly been overshined by the polyamorous news hidden within this book.

I hope this review managed to convey my feelings on the matter, and I'm tentatively intrigued to see what Headstrong Like Us will bring to the table, even though I'm not a huge fan of the pairing itself. For now, these are my thoughts on the situation. 

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