Valkyrie’s Oath by Arizona Tape

Well…

My ambiguous title is due to my mixed impressions. I was so confused when I started the book that I hated the first couple of chapters. Well, hate might be a bit strong, but I disliked it. Even up to the point of the MC becoming attracted to a new teacher. Eurgh! It just wasn’t for me at that moment.

But then, something happened. I left it a day and, when I restarted, I just had to read further. I went from “dislike” to “intrigue”. I don’t believe that it had anything to do with the writing per se, just that I’d come from reading a book with a completely different style. Besides, I usually like this author’s works, so maybe coming back with a fresh head meant that I could actually invest myself in this story.

Although I do believe that the beginning didn’t help any. I haven’t read any of the sister series, although that shouldn’t have an effect, as the first book wasn’t published that long before this one. But it felt like being thrown into the deep end without a lifesaver ring, no explanations, surrounded by laughing, warring, teenagers.

So, as I said, maybe that was it – the complete change of pace and style from the book I’d just finished. Although I would have been happy with a few more explanations, once I did finally get into the book, everything was fine!

I should have expected that ending, really. A cliffhanger, but none of Bryn’s supposed “friends” really felt like friends, anyway, especially with their attitude. At least one felt more like a hanger on. Considering how she’s an heir, you can expect that she’d have a hoard of frenemies in place of real friends, those who pretend to look after her but are really just waiting for her to slip up.

Anyway, my complete turnaround meant that I was invested in the story by the end, quite happily so, which came as a real surprise to me. So soon on with the next it is!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

The Infamous Duke by Allyson Jeleyne

Great sequel!

Of course, we know from the beginning how this has to turn out – it is a HEA in planning! And we’ve already met both Wade and Cassie in the previous book, and this book starts with repeating the garden party, but from their POVs.

There is an almost instant attraction that goes on here, but Wade starts as the pursuer, with Cassie being convinced. Although, due to her delicate health and having been told that her “women’s troubles” will prevent her from marriage, she tries to push him away, subtly, in the beginning, just like she has done with many suitors, although she does make sure to enjoy the attention whilst it lasts.

Cassie’s oldest sister, Octavia, tries to convince her to not let Wade get too close, as he’s a known womaniser and cad. She doesn’t listen, knowing that it could be the one chance to enjoy such attention from someone of his position, before she returns to her confirmed spinsterhood.

Cassie believes firmly that Wade won’t be interested in her once he learns of her health problems, yet he is so enamoured with her as a person, that he doesn’t let this get in the way. In fact, he is ready to prove himself reformed, just for her, just to keep her. And so, with her refusing marriage, Wade tries to convince her to join him at his stately home in Cornwall, as his mistress.

Will Cassie accept this proposal? And will the two find their way through the complications of health, station, and reputation?

We have to wait right until the end of the book to meet up with Simon and Octavia again, who not only wish to check on Cassie, but are also ready to share their happy news. Oh, and they learn of what Honoria’s been up to – via an article in the Times!

Now I should comment on the setting. It should have clicked sooner with me, Wadebridge and Cornwall, as I’ve actually been to Wadebridge! It’s not just a small fishing village now, with the tourists lining the streets during the summer. There’s a Camel Trail, which runs between Padstow and Wadebridge, an old disused railway line that has been converted into a cycle path that runs alongside the Camel estuary. It is a beautiful route, but what should be noted is that Wadebridge lies at the mouth of the estuary, and not directly by the sea, as insinuated in this book. Some liberties have been taken with regards to the Duchy, also, as there is a Duchy of Cornwall, but not Wadebridge (Wadebridge would have been too small to host a Duchy, anyway, historically).

Anyway, despite my niggles, it was an enjoyable book all in all! Both MCs prove to have such heart that you can’t help but adore them.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

In the Viscount’s Arms by Allyson Jeleyne

Addictive

The beginning was a bit bland, especially as we know exactly what we’re getting into after reading the title and description – the story can only go in one direction. The exciting part is how we get there.

There is an obvious attraction between our two main characters, Octavia Staunton and Viscount Althorne (Lord Simon Caswell). Octavia impresses his Lordship right from the very start with her gentle manner in trying to instruct his obnoxious niece, despite all the tantrums and refusals. Somehow the three of them form a tenuous bond that can only grow over time.

We hear about how Simon’s niece, Leah, tragically lost both of her parents. Yet, despite the start where the Staunton sisters are just coming out of mourning for their parents, who died a year previously, we hear nothing of what caused their deaths. This could have been a point of conversation, yet the only thing we hear about them, aside from their deaths, is about their scandalous marriage. It might seem morbid, but it bugged me to not get the full picture of what happened.

That aside, once I got into the pace of the book, I could barely put it down. The last few chapters and pages just breezed by, as the romance heightened. It was quite beautifully done, although we have to wait to the next book for any nuptials. Luckily I already have it ready to go!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

A Rose to the Torch by Bartholomew Lander

Incredible world building

I can completely understand why people have a “Marmite” reaction to this (i.e. they either love it or hate it): if I hadn’t read the prequel to this, All Bleeds Through (ABT), then I believe that I would have been somewhat confused, too.

ABT lays out the basics of the universe, with tales set inside it that eventually all link together. This brings nearly all of those loose threads together, and shows how much each individual and story really are connected. When I realised this, I had to go back and check, and I was wowed.

Not only that, the mythology is set up brilliantly. We not only have the Hemomancers and Humans, and how they are affected by events and each other, we also have a whole background of religious mythology with such amazing depth to it, that it’s completely believable that it could be our world and not just an alternate universe.

As for the story itself, here we have Coral, and Gavin, alongside other characters who were introduced to us in ABT. It is primarily Coral and Gavin’s histories which are revealed here as being important to the story as a whole, neither of whom actually truly knew about their background and the true meaning of it.

Coral goes from being a scared, ambivalent teenager, to a strong wildcard contender. She’s supposed to be a “nought”, one with the blood type O Negative, who has no control over the blood of others. Yet there is a huge fight over her blood; in the hunt to kill noughts over the years, Coral is now perhaps the only one left, the only one who can save an evil lord whose blood was poisoned years ago in order to end the slaughter.

But, this is where it gets complicated for Coral: who is the real monster in this story? The lord who has tried to control all other hemomancers for more than a century? Or those willing to sacrifice Coral for the greater good?

Can Coral not only prevail but find a way to fight back? It’s not until the very end that she finds out who are true friends are, but by that time, will it be too late?

I must admit, my rating hovered back and forth on this, mostly due to the characterisation. But it all came together wonderfully, as the characters and the story developed. Most of all, towards the end, it was possible to understand the characters and their reasonings better. The ending was a total shock, but shouldn’t have been so surprising, really. No one is safe and what can go wrong, will go wrong, etc. So, along with all of the above, I just have to rate it highly, just like the prequel.

The final lines leave hope, despite the devastation. A nice way to make way for the sequel.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

If I Love You by Tmonique Stephens

From bitter to sweet

A story that starts off with resentment, which we do learn the reasons for as the story moves along, yet resolves in a good way.

Kensley and Noah were once friends, having grown up together, along with her brother. Yet her brother didn’t come back from Afghanistan. Noah did. So when Noah returns to their hometown barely months after her brother’s funeral, he’s the last one that she wants to interact with. Yet, somehow, he’s there at every turn.

Will the truth set Kensley free? Can she forgive Noah?

There is plenty of heat here. Even though the two main characters are most definitely attracted to one another, it takes time for both of them to come to terms with what they have.

Love, loss, intrigue – this book has it all!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Statuesque by Chera Zade and Fanny Mills

Yet more Infernalis fun!

As to be expected from the Infernalis Club books, this was not shy on fun and detail. I’ve been loving all the books in the series so far and, whilst it helps to have some background knowledge of the main characters, it shouldn’t spoil the read if you haven’t yet read any other books in the series.

In this edition, we have young Gillian, currently living with her strict aunt and uncle after her parents died and left her penniless. Being the poor relation, she gets treated as a lesser being, being made to look ugly and unpresentable at balls, so that her cousins (who she also has to wait on) are chosen first.

But, oh, poor Gillian doesn’t know what she’s in for one evening, when deciding to confine herself to her rooms rather than put up with her family’s demands. Sneaking out of her room so she can hear the music better gets herself into more trouble than she ever expects, after discovering a rather delicious gentleman engaged in acts she couldn’t even dream of!

Yet Gillian, even upon discovering the Infernalis Club after deciding to follow the carriage of the one who taught her a lesson, is kept perfectly intact, apart from the severe bottom bruising. Lord Standish, ever inventive, finds a way of allowing her to participate whilst allowing her to keep her precious flower… Although, we all know that that’s unlikely to last for long!

Great fun with plenty of heat, it should keep you panting for more!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Black Magic Voodoo by Nikki Landis

Needed to grow on me

In the beginning, this book didn’t interest me at all. I’ve no idea why. Maybe it was a book slump, maybe it was the writing, but something just didn’t hit with me. I was about a third of the way into the book, when things really started hitting off, that I started to have an interest in the story.

Cassie is getting ready for the month-long celebrations that lead up to Samhain, when her life starts to get turned on its head. Not only is there a dark presence targeting her, but she suddenly has three men there to protect her, whether she likes it or not.

Cassie has power enough on her own, but it takes the help of these three men, her family, and her ancestors to start to face off the dark evil. If only things were more straight forward and they could get on with their celebrations, like planned.

I guess it was the twists and turns that finally piqued my interest and got me “reading” the book instead of just “following along”. By the end, there was definitely enough to make me interested in reading the rest of the series.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Avoiding the Abyss by A.C. Ward

Too much abuse

This book starts straight off the bat with Aubrey getting a beating by her mother. It is given under the guise of “training”, because Aubrey is a bad fighter, but it is very clear that her mother detests her. Yet, Aubrey remains throughout her staunch defender.

Others amongst the rebels pity her, but do very little to defend her, because her mother is the “hero”, the one who rules the rebels and is renowned as the best fighter.

Everything is turned on its head when she is captured by government, yet not at all in the ways that she expects. She keeps on supporting her mother, even secretly, right up to the last. Even when she does find out the truth, can she keep supporting someone who her entire life has seen her as useless until it’s discovered she has powers?

The ending, or perhaps more late middle to end, were the only redeeming parts of this book. The way the abuse is treated just appalled me that I nearly stopped reading after the opening scene. The latter parts made the universe interesting, enough that I want to continue the series, but I can’t ignore that beginning.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK.

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Back to September by Melissa Brayden

Romance not necessarily at its best

There were many brilliant moments inside this, but just as many terrible ones. To start with, a book about books should be exciting, especially with people who absolutely love books and reading, and share that as much as possible. All the geeky stuff, the shared knowledge to help people find their “perfect book match”. That was wonderful. It was the romance aspect that let this all down.

One thing I found difficult to handle was that there was more than one “high” point. We have everything going brilliantly, switching to things fading out, switching to things going fantastically brilliantly again (eked out so far that it became boring), up to things going dramatically badly, but ending with an HEA. I’m sure huge chunks of this could have been cut out, as it’s not the idea that the reader gets bored in the middle. So the dramatic part (which didn’t feel so dramatic), which is supposed to hit at two thirds, actually felt like it came late.

The HEA, once it finally did come (after we had a fake HEA before that) was a great ending. It’s just the journey to there that was far too messy for my tastes.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Catching a Warlock by Laura Greenwood

Great finale

Yes, seriously, what a great ending to this mini spin-off from Mona’s story! And I will say again that it’s great that the books run in tandem with each other!

Daphne has been suffering from some side effects to the spell that they performed, but luckily one of her soon-to-be boyfriends is on hand to give a bit of assistance in controlling it. Plus problems with this damned jealous vampire are resolved – her attempts to ruin Daphne’s reputation backfired on her big time, courtesy of Daphne’s new-found talent (aka spell).

In the end, it appears that both Daphne as well as Mona have boy trouble alongside cat trouble…!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked.

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*