Saturday, March 18, 2017

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean | Book Review

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean
First Published: 2010
Paperback & Kindle
Adult, Historical Romance
A lady does not smoke cheroot. She does not ride astride. She does not fence or attend duels. She does not fire a pistol, and she never gambles at a gentlemen's club.
Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always followed the rules, rules that have left her unmarried—and more than a little unsatisfied. And so she's vowed to break the rules and live the life of pleasure she's been missing.
But to dance every dance, to steal a midnight kiss—to do those things, Callie will need a willing partner. Someone who knows everything about rule-breaking. Someone like Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston—charming and devastatingly handsome, his wicked reputation matched only by his sinful smile.
If she's not careful, she'll break the most important rule of all—the one that says that pleasure-seekers should never fall hopelessly, desperately in love.
When I re-read Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake at the beginning of 2017, I thought I'll just take my old review of this novel, clean it up a little and compare my original thoughts to this re-read and viola, I'll have a ready post. Kind of like instant noodles.

So imagine my absolute surprise (and a bit of horror) to discover I had never reviewed this novel. Impossible! I thought to myself. How could I have never reviewed THE novel that made me fall madly in love with historical? There had to be a mistake. Only there wasn't one. Cue face palm and desk bang.

I will attempt to write a satisfactory review for this wonderful novel, that managed to tug at my every heartstring without seeming to be anything special at all at first glance.

The thing, or rather person, who alleviated this novel to me and made it one of the measuring scales for all other heroines after it is the main character, Callie Hartwell. Callie is me. She is the girl who reads a lot and isn't terribly beautiful and fantasizes about the day someone will think her beautiful. Someone will think her special. Someone will notice the woman she is and how much she has to offer. I felt her insecurity and her fear in me, like they were my own emotions

But unlike me, once she realizes that by all accounts, she is never going to get that--that she is far too old (in Victorian area times) and far too "boring" for anyone... well, she might as well have some fun. Do all the things she never let herself do. Be daring and brave... so that if no one else can call her interesting--she will always know that she is.

Callie Hartwell decides to become a doer. To say fuck you to all of the rules that have gotten her diddly squat and do something exciting.

And this is where Callie Hartwell stole my heart. Because she makes me think that if she can do it, all wrapped up in a society that doesn't think a woman can do anything, then so can I. I can be brave. I can be daring. I can do anything I've always dreamed of.

I cannot even begin to explain how powerful of a feeling this character gives me.

When I first read about her, I was a coward, connected to Callie by what might be. Today, I'm a lot more outspoken and unafraid, and a part of me things this is because of the seed of courage Callie installed in me. That voice in your head saying yes you can. If that's not something incredible to say about any novel, I don't know what is. 

Now, after I prattled on and on about Callie, a bit about her choice in men. And what a yummy choice it is. Gabriel is that rake we love to read of so much - the one who is the most eligible bachelor of the ton, but also the one most rumored about. But there is more to Gabriel than that - he appreciates family above all, his bond to his twin is irrevocable, he is a responsible marquess if nothing else, and he has a dry sense of humor. My favorite kind.

Now, Gabriel must act at least somewhat reputable, bringing a bastard sister into the sharp folds of the ton, and who better teach her the ways than the one female he knows who doesn't have a blemish to her name; Callie.

So what if they met when she came to ask him for a kiss, in his bedroom, in the depth of the night. So what if he can't seem to stop thinking about her. So what if she thrills and scares him all at the same time. So what... 

Their romance is scorching hot, people. You will need to fan yourself, repeatedly. You will also scream at them to do it already because god darn it, they are making you uncomfortable with all this sexual tension!

And can I also get a hallelujah for this couple talking to each other, and not letting any stupid misunderstandings come between them for more than a day? I mean, seriously, some book couples make it seem like "communication" is a crude word!!!

If I haven't made myself clear with this gashing (and highly personal) review... go read this novel if you like historical romances, or romances in general. I mean do it now. Go on... scoot!

(BTW - I literally read this two months ago and writing this review made me desperately want to pick up this novel again like, right now. What is my life.)
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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan | Book Review

The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan
First Published: 2013
Adult, Historical Romance
Miss Jane Fairfield can’t do anything right. When she’s in company, she always says the wrong thing—and rather too much of it. No matter how costly they are, her gowns fall on the unfortunate side of fashion. Even her immense dowry can’t save her from being an object of derision.
And that’s precisely what she wants. She’ll do anything, even risk humiliation, if it means she can stay unmarried and keep her sister safe.
Mr. Oliver Marshall has to do everything right. He’s the bastard son of a duke, raised in humble circumstances—and he intends to give voice and power to the common people. If he makes one false step, he’ll never get the chance to accomplish anything. He doesn’t need to come to the rescue of the wrong woman. He certainly doesn’t need to fall in love with her. But there’s something about the lovely, courageous Jane that he can’t resist…even though it could mean the ruin of them both.
Whenever I am in need of a historical that will go deep and deal with difficult issues, I pick one of Milan's novels. She is one of those very rare authors that are unafraid to examine the unfairness of Victorian times and the position they often put women in, and she does so beautifully through mature and beautiful relationships that celebrate women, and men, and the love between them.

The Heiress Effect is no different. In it, Milan explores what a woman might do when she is put in a position where her marriage will leave her sister to harm, and what a woman who has money can afford to do in those times where women were supposed to be breathing decorations to highlight a man's success.

As always, Jane is a pristine example of Milan's heroines - smart, funny and unconventional. Jane always puts herself last, and I loved her outrageous fashion style and unwavering loyalty to her sister. In the end, it is Jane who is the strongest and bravest character in this novel. Far braver than Oliver.

But that doesn't mean I didn't like Oliver, because I adored him. Conflicted between his dreams and the way Jane could hinder them if he gives in to their attraction, but also unable not to appreciate the clever girl and her methods. His weary humor blended well with Jane's, and there wasn't anyone happier in the room when he finally said a metaphorical "screw it" to the world!

Together, these two had mad chemistry and their banter was just delightful to read. They fit, in a way that makes it natural for them to end up together. I never doubted, you guys!

The one side character that I just have to mention is Emily, Jane's sister. Emily does not know fear, and she is not going to let society and their ridiculous (yet well meaning) deeming of her "un-whole" just because she has some non life threatening seizures stop her from living life, no matter how hard they might try. And what a life she chooses to live... filled with love (to the beautiful Anjan, no less) and laughter and spunk! Rock on, girl!
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Friday, March 10, 2017

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan | Spoiler Book Review

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
First Published: 2012
Adult, historical romance
Hugo Marshall earned the nickname "the Wolf of Clermont" for his ruthless ambition--a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner's son to the right hand man of a duke. When he's ordered to get rid of a pestering governess by fair means or foul, it's just another day at work.
But after everything Miss Serena Barton has been through at the hands of his employer, she is determined to make him pay. She won't let anyone stop her--not even the man that all of London fears. They might call Hugo Marshall the Wolf of Clermont, but even wolves can be brought to heel...
Courtney Milan is one of those rare historical authors who is unafraid to tackle serious issues in her historicals. Most of the historicals I read are fun and games -- and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I adore those books and gobble them up like candy. But sometimes, you want something deeper.

And Milan is the author for those times.

All of her heroine are strong and brave, and shine like a bright light in spite--and definitely because--of the times they live in, which don't nurture any of their many qualities... in women. And they have pasts. Pasts that have shaped and made them into what they are today.

As for Milan's heroes, they are the rare brand of historical heroes that are simply good people. They treat their women with respect, even before they fall in love. They put them first... eventually. They are in awe of their female partners, which is something that I simply delight in seeing.

And this prequel novella is not any different in those regards.

Now, I've contemplated writing a non spoilery review, but that will force me to cut off this review here and leave me unable to talk about all the things I want to talk about in regards to this short novella, and that is so not my M.O.

So from this point on... SPOILERS!!!

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Rose & The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh | Book Review

The Rose & The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh
First Published: 2016
Young Adult, romance
I am surrounded on all sides by a desert. A guest, in a prison of sand and sun. My family is here. And I do not know whom I can trust.

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse-one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid's empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.
While her father, Jahandar, continues to play with magical forces he doesn't yet understand, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.
Reading this book was an absolute joy, and a wonderful finale to Shazi and Khalid's story. It's been a long time since I breathed such a satisfied sigh at the end of a series. Although... I don't feel like we are nearly done with this world. There are so many aspects and stories left to explore that I am filled with hope that Ahdieh will expand on this world and give me more!

The Wrath & The Dawn ended on a somewhat dire note for our heroine, so I was a bit worried for Shazi, but it seems like I forgot who I was dealing with here. Shazi is as strong and stubborn as ever, and a mere curse is not going to be what stops her from helping her loved ones! 

Now Khalid... if you had told me last week that I would fall head over heels in love with a murdering king, I would have laughed in your face. Joke's on me, because I fell, and fell hard. This guy is so precious and needs to be protected and loved openly and freely to heal his broken soul! Luckily, Shazi is very open to doing exactly that.

Together, these two are #relationshipgoals. Seriously, they just... understand each other. There is no unnecessary trust issues or misunderstandings between them. They don't rely on words to send their message across. And they would never, ever do anything to hurt the other... even emotionally. And if that means forgiving your wife's ex... so be it.

Speaking of said ex... I finally love the guy! Tariq had to work in order to win me over, but I'm happy with the outcome. A guy I didn't have to work hard to love? Tariq's bestie, Rahim! He's a total book-boyfriend, and an instant fave with his laid back and funny commentary, combined with his unwavering loyalty. The way he was with Irsa? Total perfection!

On the point of Irsa, what a pleasant surprise she was! As different from her older sister as the sea is to the dessert, yet just as fierce and formidable in her own way. She both delighted me and broke my heart, and I cannot express how happy I am that this series dishes out so many incredible female characters.

The one thing I was really kind of bummed about with this novel is Jalal and Despina. I left The Wrath & the Dawn looking forward to seeing more of these two, especially in regards to their relationship, because I shipped it way before I knew she was pregnant with his baby. And then you go and give me a book with nearly no Despina or Jalal (who is a favorite on par with Rahim)??

And to add insult to injury, you put Jalal and Khalid at odds because of it? Bringing my two favorite cousins to blows?? STOP MESSING WITH MY BROTP, WORLD!

I highly, highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves beautiful storytelling and stories.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Special Edition: 50+% OFF Hardcover and Paperback Deals & Bargains! [updated March 21]

Okay, so you guys have to know about my kindle deal list, but somehow, I just ended up fining a TON OF PHYSICAL BARGAINS ON AMAZON THAT TOTALLY BLEW ME AWAY! I'm only linking bargains of 50% off and more on this list, and I think my wallet might rebel after this one.

So I figured, if I'm going to be lynched by my pockets after this, I might as well share these deals with you so you too could get lynched by your bank account balance enjoy the fun!

So without further ado... here are the amazing sales!



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh | Book Review

The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
First Published: 2015
Young Adult, romance
Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a terrible surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she may be falling in love with a murderer.
Shazi discovers that the villainous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. It's up to her to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.
"So you would have me throw Shazi to the wolves?"
"Shazi? Honestly, I pity the wolves."
I've been trying to figure out a way to open this review for the last two hours, but I just don't know where to begin. So, I'll jump right into things - from the very first page, this novel grabs hold of you and refuses to let go, as it urges you to figure out what's going on, and find out the truth behind all this apparent cruelty.

Ahdieh made such a clever choice by opening the book with Jalal and his father and their worry and love towards Khalid, because that opening immediately colors what we think of him, allows us to be sympathetic towards him where Shazi and her friends cannot, and promises us that there is more to this boy king than meets the eyes.

Which also creates delicious tension between us and Shazi herself as we read of her coming to the palace with malicious intent, but hope she will be open enough to realize there is more to this story as she interacts with her murderous husband.

While I strongly suspected the nature of the truth, my biggest unanswered question was always why. I wanted to understand Kahlid. And I was blessed with a heroine who, despite vowing to avenge her friend, cannot close herself to these questions either, especially as she comes to know the man she's supposed to hate. Shazi is everything I wanted her to be - strong and stubborn, almost foolish in her bravery, but also loving and loyal.

Khalid and Shazi's love story is heartbreaking. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I cannot pretend there aren't some insta love elements to it, but despite my usual tendency to condemn and story who has those, The Wrath and the Dawn managed to completely win me over. I don't know how Ahdieh did it, but she managed to make the instant connection between these characters, the way Shazi immediately stood out to Khalid and how just a few conversations managed to melt her walls into something very natural and poetic. Into something captivating and genuine. Something that almost glowed in its rightness.

So yes.
Now, let's talk love triangles. Mostly to say - there isn't one in this novel. While The Wrath & The Dawn does have two guys in love with the same girl, the girl in question knows who she wants throughout it all. Even if it breaks her heart to admit it, even to herself.

That second guy I mentioned is Tariq. Sometimes, the book left our protagonist and the super engrossing main story to go and peek into his life and what he's going through... and, admittedly, those were my least favorite parts of the whole affair. I wanted them to be gone and stop threatening my beautiful ship, even though as far as secondary love interests go, Tariq is pretty decent as a human being and all.

But while Tariq didn't steal my heart, there were two side characters that totally did - Khalid's cousin Jalal and Shazi's handmaiden Despina. These two are so incredible. Not only do they offer constant support and levity for our main characters respectively, they also kick butt. I really wanted more scenes between these two, and this book definitely left me desperate for more of them.

The few things that stopped it from being a rounded five stars was the fact that, for an Arabian Nights retelling, I barely got any stories! What were there, one and three quarters of a story? I wanted more because those were fun, and they would have added some element of time to Shazi and Khalid's blooming romance.

Despite this, this book was utterly fantastic in my opinion. I started reading the sequel almost immediately.
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