Friends With Benedicts (2021)

by Staci Hart
ASN/ISBN: B08HPD92F9
Publication: June 8, 2021

Friends With Benedicts, a brand new, heart felt rom-com from Staci Hart, is finally LIVE! Grab your copy today from your favorite online book retailer!

Amazon | AppleBooks | Kobo | B&N | Goodreads


DESCRIPTION

Timing is everything.

Presley Hale and Sebastian Vargas are no strangers to goodbye. Their high school summers were spent wrapped up in each other until she would inevitably go home to California. One season after college, Sebastian finally escaped the little Texas town to travel the world, and they said goodbye for what they thought might be the last time.

Sebastian went one way. Presley went the other.

For the first time in five years, they’re both in town, but the timing is no better than ever. So the only thing to do is what they do best. Keep it casual.

Friends with benefits.

They’ve done it before—doing it again will be easy.

But their hearts don’t get the memo.

When the lines of their arrangement blur, Presley and Sebastian are faced with decisions they’ve avoided for years. And that’s not even their biggest problem.

A small town in danger of failing.

A secret that could tear them apart.

And two hearts that can’t hide anymore.

They’ve shared so many summers, but none compare to what they’ll face.

Timing is everything.

And their time is almost up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Staci has been a lot of things up to this point in her life — a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, a seamstress, a clothing and handbag designer, a waitress. Can’t forget that. She’s also been a mom, with three little girls who are sure to grow up to break a number of hearts. She’s been a wife, though she’s certainly not the cleanest, or the best cook. She’s also super, duper fun at a party, especially if she’s been drinking whiskey. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, sleeping, gaming, or designing graphics.

Amazon | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Website | Newsletter


REViEW

**I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher and author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Presley made multiple appearances with her daughter Priscilla (Cilla) in Bet the Farm, and now we get their story. Having moved from California, Presley is currently living in Texas with her aunt and cousins. As luck would have it, the boy she’s always loved is now also there, but just like when they were young, timing remains a problem. Sebastian is set to leave as soon as summer is over.

Friends with Benedicts was satisfying in a way that Hart’s Bet the Farm was not. A lot of it has to do with the chemistry between Presley and Sebastian and just Sebastian himself. It also helped a lot that Cilla is so adorable. I can’t help but fall for the cute kid trope.

I generally like Hart’s female protagonists because they are often strong-willed, determined, and independent. Presley has all these qualities. It’s usually the male love interests that have me going back and forth. Sebastian was a love interest that I liked. For the most part, he has some emotional depth to him. There’s more to him than just being angry all the time (yes, I am comparing him to Jake from Bet the Farm, whom I was not a fan of).

Sebastian and Presley’s relationship moved both too quickly and at just the right pace. They just barely meet again but can’t keep their hands off each other despite different existing complications. Of course, jumping into their old habits is directly the result of their shared history. It’s always just been this way except for the last five years. Having quickly established this meant I wasn’t as bothered by their instant relationship as I could have been. The most irksome part of the book is the lines of communications headlining as one of the major tropes. It ranged from lack of communication to miscommunication. What helped lessen my dislike of the trope here was the amount of introspection from the characters and other characters pointing out the obvious communication problems. (Thank you so much for trying to make them see reason!)

A small town Hallmark-ish subplot is also present as Sebastian and Presley try to navigate their relationship. I’m not sure how necessary this was to the main storyline because the book already had a few things going for it. I would have kept on reading the book even if this hadn’t been present. In fact, when it popped up, I was surprised by it.

Overall, I connected to the characters because their connection to each other was one I generally liked. Their story was messy in the way real life love stories are, showcasing the difficulties of adjusting to a new life and a renewed love. I also appreciated that the main “villain” in the story was more complex than she could have been, she was made more human and had feelings.

For the Wolf (2021)

by Hannah Whitten
ASIN/ISBN: 9780316592789
Publication: June 1, 2021
Series: The Wilderwood #1

For the Wolf was a challenge to read because I’d been anticipating it for so long. I had to read it in blocks so I wouldn’t overwhelm myself. My final verdict? It was worth the nearly year-long wait and the teasing from Whitten on Twitter.

Eamonn is our tortured hero, whose tenure as Wolf has made him more than just the keeper of the Wilderwood. As the woods begin to weaken, his desire to protect others from similar paths drives him to repair the woods by himself. Red is the sacrificial second daughter destined for the Wolf. Her entire life has been shaped by this single fate. When she enters the Wilderwood she eventually learns that some stories alter the truth while some stories are passed from one generation to the next because they aren’t just stories at all. Sometimes the things you’re scared of are less terrifying than what those things are keeping out.

For the Wolf is a reimagining of multiple fairy tales, including Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, but to solely call it that minimizes how wholly novel the book feels. It’s a dark adult fantasy rife with love, obligations, and sacrifice. Whitten’s attention to detail, from the plot to the landscape, transported me to the Wilderwood and Valleyda. Although the descriptions can seem lengthy, maybe even excessive at times, they contributed to an atmospheric read that allowed me to immerse myself in the story and the relationships. Furthermore, the complexity of the magic and the world we get a glimpse of is what contributes to this being such a good read. There’s a lot to the book but I am focusing on the relationships.

The relationships are one of the highlights of the novel with the most compelling one being Red and her older sister Neve. While they are destined to traverse different paths, their devotion to each other is moving. Can you imagine giving up one of the people you love the most in the world to a sinister fate? Neve’s character arc in the book is based on this need to get Red back. It serves as justification for Neve to embark on a mission to save Red even if she doesn’t fully understand what she’s getting herself into. We get snapshots of how Neve is faring through Valleyda Interludes. These chapters also contain characters who are as painstakingly secretive as the Wolf, and it was frustrating.

The romance between Eammon and Red is a slow burn. They’re bound to each other because of their circumstances, and feelings gradually grow from there, including frustration, desire, and eventually love. As much as I enjoyed the their relationship, it was also frustrating. I tried to understand Eammon’s behavior but I was increasingly irritated with him and his unwillingness to provide Red with answers. Although he believed he was helping her, he instead took away her agency, or at least what she had left of it. She deserved to not only make decisions for herself but to make these decisions with the most information possible. I get why he did it but I hated that he deliberately made it so difficult for her. (Okay… I go back and forth about this relationship because I just keep wondering if there’d be anything there had it not been for their connection to the Wilderwood. Like, how much is it the Wilderwood and how much of it is them? Am I reading too much into this? Ack…)

Then there is the Wilderwood with its many complicated relationships. It’s at once beautiful and terrifying. It would be fairly easy to describe the sentient woods as evil, and in the beginning, it feels that way. It is demanding and asks a great deal of those connected to it. It serves as both friend and foe, wholly immersed in its own survival. The Wilderwood takes more than many are willing to give, but it’s important to understand that in the larger context, it only asks as much as is required to maintain the bargains made.

Throughout the novel, I felt a certain amount of anxiousness, and I largely attribute it to my anticipation of the novel and the unknown. I had guesses, but I didn’t always figure out what was going to happen next. Additionally, I desperately wanted parts of the book to move along faster so I could get to the end. And the end is worth it. I realize that I continually remark about how frustrated I was with the book but as much as it frustrated me, I enjoyed it a lot. While it may be the allure of an adult version of known fairy tales (and the lovely cover) that compels individuals to first reach for the book, Whitten’s novel stands well on its own as an original taleFor the Wolf is only the beginning, and I cannot wait for the next book slated for Summer 2022.

Eyes that Kiss in the Corner (2021)

by Joanna Ho
Illustrated by Dung Ho
ASN/ISBN: 9780062915627
Publication: January 5, 2021

This is the book I needed when I was growing up. My eyes were an attribute I was very insecure about because they were just one of many things other kids teased me about. Eyes that Kiss in the Corner highlights the uniqueness, the beauty of eyes that look like mine. They’re special because they reflect those of my parent’s, passed from one generation to the next. They are “eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” They “crinkle into crescent moons and sparkle like the stars.” The book impaled my heart with such warmth and positivity. If only someone had described my eyes as such when I was younger, it would have made a world of difference. Eyes that Kiss in the Corner celebrates diversity and promotes self-love. It’s not just about acceptance, but appreciating yourself just the way you are.

Firekeeper’s Daughter (2021)

by Angeline Boulley
ASN/ISBN: 978150766564
Publication: March 16, 2021

Thank you for joining me on the last day of the blog tour for Firekeeper’s Daughter! If you’re interested in hopping over to check out what other reviewers had to say about the book, I’ve included the tour list below. Also, Firekeeper’s Daughter is a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick, so that’s exciting!


Now, let’s take a moment to appreciate the teasers for the book.

Teaser #1
Teaser #2
Teaser #3

REVIEW


**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Firekeeper’s Daughter is the story of a young biracial Ojibwe woman who must carry the weight of protecting her community after being asked to become an informant in a federal investigation that has the potential to tear it apart. I was left with a mix of feelings after finishing the novel, ranging from heartbreak to empowerment to grief, and even more committed to why we need more books from authors of color like Angeline Boulley.

I don’t normally read thrillers or crime-solving novels, but I like watching them. With its focus on solving crime, I was reminded of Veronica Mars–a show I loved and thought was cut short. Daunis is a smart and savvy 18-year old trying to solve crimes associated with a murder in her community; she wants to protect the people she loves. Daunis’s crime solving prowess is centered around the scientific method approach–drawing conclusions from the world to form a theory, which will then inform hypotheses that can be tested to provide evidence to support or not support the theory? Uh, yeah, I am all for this! There is a lot to digest in the beginning, with a few instances when the story becomes a bit convoluted, but it evens out a bit as the story continues. While it was slow to start, I eventually became fully immersed in the novel and Daunis’s life. Granny June was hilarious and quickly became one of my favorite characters. I loved the relationship Daunis had with many of her elders–it even made me teary. I enjoyed the richness of the culture, the respectful way in which it was presented, and the inclusion of so many stories, words, and phrases. Boulley seamlessly incorporates all these elements into the novel.

The general “whodunit” plot is as straightforward as it can be with just about anyone’s guess about who is involved, but there are so many more layers to the novel. Ultimately, it was these layers I liked reading the most. I connected with multiple themes in the book, which helped me to easily identify with Daunis’s character despite not identifying as either biracial or indigenous.  Many of her struggles are culturally cross-cutting, and I found parallels to my own life and my relationship with my cultures, including the need to keep worlds separate from one another and trying to find a sense of belonging in both places. I especially liked how unabashedly Boulley touched on the internal conflict Daunis faced in trying to determine what it meant to protect her community and how much to reveal to people who are not part of it. Boulley concludes that members of the community have the right to decide how much to share. You have the power to protect your story and your culture from those who might try to exploit it, twisting it for their purposes, and those with seemingly good intentions must especially try to understand the implications of their actions before doing anything. As Daunis states, “I’m the only one thinking seven generations ahead.”

Firekeeper’s Daughter is an example of why we need more diverse books, especially by authors of color, why we need people from our communities telling our stories. While I do not identify as biracial or indigenous, I connected to the story on multiple levels, as if many of my similar struggles were being laid bare. Authors of color understand the complexities, the intricacies that cannot be easily captured through the lens of someone just looking in. Boulley deftly explored multiple themes, including culture, acceptance, grief, and trauma, as only someone who identifies with the community she writes might be able to–I also highly recommend reading reviews by indigenous individuals who will be able to provide insight into whether this is the case or not. Individuals who enjoy crime-solving mysteries like Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars will find pleasure in reading Firekeeper’s Daughter. BIPOC readers will especially appreciate the representation in the book.

A huge thank you to the publisher for also providing a finished copy.

False Start (2021)

by Casey Hagen
ASIN/ISBN: B087PVMZQ5
Publication: February 16, 2021
Series: Beautifully Brutal #1

**Click to Jump to Review**

Goodreads
Amazon: US | UK | CA | AU
B&N | Kobo | Apple Books | Google Play

DESCRIPTION

I’m used to being an outsider, full of self-doubt, pain, and a longing to belong.
Until I found this family, my own band of derby sisters
But when the most notorious coach in roller derby sets his sights on me, my life is thrust into chaos.
He’s a perceptive, cocky hard-ass, who’s made me his enemy, and his student.
Despite being my adversary, he’s the only man I can trust when faced with insurmountable odds, even if I hate every second he tries to bend me to his will.
Our proximity brings with it a forbidden attraction.
One that can destroy everything my team has built.
One that threatens to break me down, piece by piece
I won’t let Cain Bishop break me…at least not on the track.
But maybe…I’ll let him break my bed.

One night home and I’m obsessed with the track.
Maybe not the track itself, but her. The most compelling player I’ve ever seen.
The way she maneuvers through the pack, I can’t take my eyes off her.
She’s a fighter, battling head to head for everything she believes in.
When the odds turn against her, I’m the key to her salvation.
Getting too close could cost me everything.
But there’s no chance in hell I’ll stay away.
Not even when redemption is on the line.
Maisy Flynn is mine, even if neither one of us wants it.
Only…keeping her might mean she loses everything she holds dear.
After all I’ve done, the Devil himself would sooner see me burning on my knees at his feet than let me keep my prize.


False Start is the first book in the Beautifully Brutal series with the next books in the series coming out through 2021. The next in the series is Hip Whip, coming out in March!


EXCERPT

I slammed down a stack of cash, snatched my jacket, and stomped out of Banked Track, leaving Mayhem on her hands and knees on the bar. 

I figured I had about ten seconds tops before she scrambled off and chased me down. 

Ten seconds to get to the parking lot, get in my truck, and get the fuck out of here.

And never come to town again. 

My breath billowed before me, illuminated by the dull glow of streetlamps in the inky darkness of the frigid night. I pounded down the sidewalk, the image of her voracious eyes combing over Patti’s pictures playing through my head. 

My amusement at her climbing clean up on the counter swept away by an avalanche of bitterness for what they asked of me even without saying the words.

The bitterness of what I couldn’t give them.

But damn, I wanted to. 

Too much.

I’d stay at the farm. I’d pay whoever I had to pay for grocery delivery. We’d survive, we could just call it quality time…so much quality, Lilith would be ready to murder me, but then my nephew would be born, Jordan would get home, and I’d be on my way out of town.

“Hey!”

Six damn seconds.

I kept my pace as I whipped around, only to find her chasing me down in that sweater. 

That. Fucking. Sweater.

My pulse pounded in my ears. My nostrils flared with the ragged breath I sucked into my lungs.

It didn’t even cover her shoulders and the temperature had mercilessly dropped into the low twenties the minute the sun disappeared over the horizon. By now, we’d plummeted to the teens.

I jabbed a finger in the direction of the bar. “Get your ass inside.”

She skidded to a stop, propped her hands on her hips, and arched an eyebrow. I knew that look. Every man on the planet knew that look and all the variations whether it be aimed with stunning precision at them from a girlfriend, a sister, a mother, or a grandmother. “Excuse me?”

“You don’t have a jacket,” I said, marching back to her, my hands curled into fists because fuck if I didn’t want to haul her ass off somewhere warm and private. 

Only I couldn’t trust myself alone with her. Warm and private meant giving in and tearing off every last shred of clothing so I could fuck her until neither of us could stand. 

Glowering down at her, I put every bit of anger and frustration into the force of my words, not caring if they hurt her, because they were the only way to save us from absolute disaster. “Get. Your. Ass. Inside.”

Better to hurt her now before the stakes got higher. 

Before feelings got involved.

Look at me pretending like they hadn’t already. 

We’d been nothing but feelings since our eyes met during her bout. We’d been adding good old-fashioned dry logs to that flame ever since, building the kind of heat that didn’t flash and die, but simmered, building a base of coals so damn hot it reached into the shadowed recesses of our lives.

“Not until you agree to help us.” Her chin wobbled as she shivered before me. She clamped down her teeth, but the telltale tremble of her teeth trying to chatter in the blistering cold was there.

“Goddammit.” I yanked my jacket off, wrapped it around her, and held it together so she couldn’t shrug it off. “I’ll walk you home. Which way?” 

She tried to yank away from me. “I don’t need you to walk me home; I need you to train us on your track.”

I curled my fists tighter into the soft leather, shaking her with every bit of resentment coursing through me, making her rock on her heels before holding her steady. “No.”

“Why not?”

“You damn well know why not.” I growled. There’s no way she didn’t know. 

And the fact that she did made it damn near impossible to look her in the eye at times.

“You didn’t do it,” she said quietly. “What they say about you. You didn’t do it.”

The calm confidence of her words only fueled a dormant rage, now burgeoning inside me again since waking up the minute I rolled into Galloway Bay. I wouldn’t stand here while she looked at me with softness, caring, the hushed tone of her voice reverent, like I was some kind of hero. 

Not when all I had was a legacy of mistakes that brought others pain.

I tugged her against me. “You don’t know a damn thing about what I did or didn’t do,” I said, seething with the fine edge of anguish cutting through me. “What I’ve cost the people I love.”

My gaze dropped to her full pink lips and I closed my eyes. Her mouth wasn’t mine to taste, should never be mine to taste, and if I took, it would only prove what a selfish bastard I really was. “You’d do good to trust your instincts about me, Mayhem.”

She turned her face up to mine. Unflinching, she stared me straight in the eye without so much as a blink. Full of stubbornness and ready for confrontation, she took me head-on. “The funny thing is, I do,” she said with quiet finality. 

Her eyes dropped to my mouth and I fought the urge to waver. I hung my head and turned away from her, away from temptation.

How many more times would I scour my soul and find scraps of shredded honor before I ran out completely?

“You didn’t do it. I don’t know why you don’t shout it from the damn rooftops. I don’t know why you didn’t defend yourself, maybe it’s time to—”

I pierced her with a scowl. “Leave it alone,” I bit out the words in harsh warning. Fury pounded in time with the ripple of my beating heart.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

USA Today Bestselling author Casey Hagen pens her snarky, passionate stories from the salty air of Kennebunk, Maine. She’s a born and raised Vermont native, a New England girl to the core, with Ben & Jerry’s in her heart and real Vermont maple syrup pumping through her veins.

She’s the proud mother of three girls and a first-time grandma with an insatiable addiction to Fall Out Boy and the new Taylor Swift album, Folklore, because…AMAZEBALLS, and a new, rather concerning obsession with tattoos and piercings. Can you say “cool grandma?”

The inked and pierced grandma spends her time tucked away in her office, coated in cat hair, alternating between tearing her hair out trying to find the perfect words and being one step ahead of her three scheming fur babies she is positive are plotting her demise with every swirl around her ankles at the top of her office stairs.

She loves writing stories about real people, with complicated histories, relatable everyday problems, and giving them the hard-won happily-ever-afters they deserve.

And she thanks every last one of you who picks up one of her stories.

Logo-Transparent-Website-NEW-1280x895

Website | Newsletter | Text Alerts
BookBub | Facebook | Facebook Group
Instagram | Pinterest | YouTube | Spotify


REVIEW

**I was provided a copy of the book by Give Me Books as part of the promotional campaign. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

This would be a Hallmark movie if Hallmark movies were about a roller derby team with a fiery-tempered tattooed protagonist trying to save a community program while having sexy times with her hot coach. And the hot, sweltering kisses they share…whew! I can’t forget those either. Maisy is the tough but well-loved (at least by those who know her) protagonist who has finally found her family in her roller derby team after losing her mother as a teen. Cain returns to Galloway Bay to help his sister with her pregnancy but isn’t prepared to stay any longer than necessary in the town that shunned him. They quickly inspire lust in each other, and their love of roller derby brings them together.

In the first half of the novel, I was trying to connect to a sport I was unfamiliar with along with Maisy and Cain. I couldn’t connect with their potential relationship very well because the lust was immediate and I was afraid it would head into insta-love territory without establishing anything beyond physical attraction. Their attraction is acknowledged as lust, which I was grateful for, and then I came around to their chemistry when they finally started working on the same roller derby team–simply just making googly eyes at each other wasn’t enough for me to establish much. I don’t know very much about roller derby but by the second half of the book, I was invested enough in Maisy and Cain to do a little bit of research. I watched a few videos to visualize and understand the sport better and it helped me connect better with the story and with them.

I enjoyed reading a sports novel that wasn’t about hockey or football and focused on a women’s team. The camaraderie between the women was something I liked reading and helped to establish why Maisy saw them as her family. I enjoyed Hagen’s writing a lot. I read 100 pages and felt like it was less than half. Her writing is descriptive and evokes images and so many emotions. One of my favorite lines toward the beginning of the book is when Cain explains how Maisy getting to close to him would be problematic, leading to opening up a part of himself that he kept hidden because “it rivaled the force of any turbulent storm-ravaged sea crashing relentlessly against a rocky coast. Cracking open that well of pain, anger, and resentment would flood everything and everyone in its path.” Even if I wasn’t yet sold on Maisy and Cain’s attraction to each other, I was hooked because of Hagen’s writing style. I liked the book and recommend it for those looking for a romance centered around a nontypical sport with leads that are rough around the edges.

Fumbled (2021)

by Cala Riley
ASIN/ISBN: B087PVMZQ5
Publication: February 15, 2021
Series: Quick Snap Novella

**Jump to Review**

Goodreads
Amazon: US | UK | CA | AU
Free in Kindle Unlimited

$10 Amazon Gift Card GIVEAWAY

Jude

Before training camp, I went on one last trip. Just me and the beaches of Miami without doting fans and the pressures of fame. Then I ran into Ivy, literally.

One thing led to another, and we spent a glorious week together. Then she utters the words I never wanted to hear: Just Friends.

I’m playing the best I’ve ever played, yet somehow with Ivy I keep fumbling. Our lives are worlds apart, but with each text, call, and stolen moment, my feelings for her grow. Can I keep my career and land the woman of my dreams?

Ivy

When I met Jude, I had no idea who he was to the world. He was a hot, vacation companion, nothing more. We spent one week getting to know each other, but at the end we went our separate ways as just friends.

Then he showed up back in my life. Jude Taylor, star wide receiver.

I don’t care that he’s on the TV every Sunday when I go to my parent’s house or that thousands of people worship him. I care about the man I met in Miami. I thought we could be friends, but the way he makes my heart race when the cameras are off is far from friendly. Every wink, smirk, and deep timbre of his voice makes me question why I ever wanted to be friends. Can I compromise my life plans to allow him a place by my side?

Also Available!



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cala Riley Logo

Cala Riley, better known as Cala and Riley, are a pair of friends with a deep seated love of books and writing. Both Cala and Riley are happily married and each have children, Cala with the four-legged kind while Riley has a mixture of both two-legged and four. While they live apart, that does not affect their connection. They are the true definition of family. What started as an idea that quickly turned into a full-length book and a bond that will never end. 

Bookbub | Newsletter
Facebook | Instagram | TikTok


REVIEW

**I was provided a copy of the book by Give Me Books as part of the promotional campaign. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Fumbled is a novella that packs nearly an entire 300-page novel worth of events into it’s limited number of pages (just over 100). This can be viewed as good or bad depending on what it is you’re searching for. Ivy and Jude meet, spend a week together, and then go their separate ways to only reconsider whether a week together was long enough. Because it’s so short, the events that occur don’t pack an emotional punch like they would if the story were a lot longer. There’s just not enough to go into detail about things that happen. There are only a few pages to spend on it, if at all, before quickly moving on to the next thing. There are a few places here and there where more than just a few pages are spent on a moment, and these allowed the ability of the authors to evoke emotion shine through. If you would like something that provides greater detail by concentrating on just one or a few significant events, that allows you to connect with the characters, this novella might not be the right one for you. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a quick read, this book will do the job. It reads like a full length novel but the pace is so fast–everything flies by. A lot of things happen and any problems or situations get resolved quickly.


There is a GIVEAWAY for a $10 Amazon Gift Card

Feisty (2020)

by Julia Kent
ASIN/ISBN: B07VL5GXV8
Publication: January 28, 2020
Series: Do-Over #3

(Review at the End)

For a limited time, the ebook is only 99c & audio is only $7.49

Goodreads | Bookbub
Amazon: US | UK | CA | AU
B&N | Kobo | Apple Books| Google Play
Audio: Amazon | Audible

I’m not too proud to admit that finding Mr. Right involves swiping right. Right? Welcome to dating in avocado toastland.

Here I am, on my first blind date, ever, courtesy of a smartphone app and my two annoying best friends.

So what is Chris “Fletch” Fletcher doing, walking across the room, looking at his phone like he’s pattern matching a picture to find a real person he’s never met before?

Oh.

Oh, no.

The guy I drop-kicked in seventh grade cannot be my blind date. The guy who earned me this infernal nickname.

That’s right.

Feisty.

More from New York Times bestselling author Julia Kent as Fiona “Feisty” Gaskill gets her chance at love – drop-kick included.

The Do-Over Series is complete!

Do-Over #1
Do-Over #2
Do-Over #3
Do-Over #4

EXCERPT

My lungs have decided that the world is too dangerous to make a move, utter a sound, do anything. I’m frozen, the pulse inside me growing stronger as time ticks away. My own shut-down system is the barrier to oxygen. The disconnect between what my body needs and what my tattered psyche can handle is causing my overload to leak out in a really obvious way.

“Fiona?” Josh says, shaking me gently, Michelle looking to him for certainty.

And then suddenly, Josh is out of my sight, replaced by two clear, calm, green eyes, light brown hair, and hands that feel like anchors.

“Feisty? Feis–Fiona?” Fletch corrects. The sudden pivot to using my proper name is jarring, given the fact that every atom in the world is buzzing inside my ears and nothing anyone does will help me to breathe.

I make a strange sound. I know it’s strange because his eyebrows turn down in the middle, his facial muscles pushing them low enough to show concern.

Concern for me.

“Breathe,” he says slowly as he puts one hand on my diaphragm, fingers warm and firm.

I make a sound to indicate that I am confused and the speech centers in my brain have shut down. Empathy floods me as I realize this is exactly what my student with severe apraxia, little Myles, must feel like when he loses his words under extreme stress. For years, I’ve said “use your words” to four-year-olds having anxiety fits.

Never again.

“Breathe, Fiona,” he murmurs, taking a deep breath to demonstrate, his belly expanding in a comical way, though I know his technique is strong. Hypnotic and commanding, his voice and body tell me what to do, guide me back from being lost in the woods to a cleared trail where I can find my footing, take a rest, and possibly feel safe again, knowing I can find my way home.

I inhale, the insides of my nostrils cold, the air hitting my nasal passages a welcome assault, diaphragm spasming and sputtering back to life.

“That’s my girl,” he whispers against the curl of my ear, his breath like coffee, his hard forearm muscles all I can see, the ripped cord of his strong lines drawing my gaze. “You just breathe. It’s over now. You did it. You saved them. It’s okay to breathe.” He inhales, then slowly exhales. “Let’s do this together now.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julia Kent writes romantic comedy with an edge. Since 2013, she has sold more than 2 million books, with 4 New York Times bestsellers and more than 19 appearances on the USA Today bestseller list. Her books have been translated into French and German, with more titles releasing in 2020 and beyond.

From billionaires to BBWs to new adult rock stars, Julia finds a sensual, goofy joy in every contemporary romance she writes. Unlike Shannon from Shopping for a Billionaire, she did not meet her husband after dropping her phone in a men’s room toilet (and he isn’t a billionaire she met in a romantic comedy).

She lives in New England with her husband and three children where she is the only person in the household with the gene required to change empty toilet paper rolls.

Website |Newsletter
Goodreads | Bookbub | Amazon
Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


REVIEW

**I was provided a copy of the book by Give Me Books as part of the promotional campaign. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

The description doesn’t do the book justice with the exception that yes, there’s a dating app, and yes, Fletch shows up during Fiona’s blind date. The description focuses on a single moment and the use of the app itself isn’t pivotal to the story. The description has the potential to lead readers astray, like it did to me. I expected dating and the app to be a more significant part of the book and I was wrong. While the focus is on Fiona and Fletch, here’s what happens…

A situation at Fiona’s workplace leads to the need for emergency responders. One of the individuals to arrive at the scene is Fletch, who immediately comes to her aid. After the situation at Fiona’s workplace, they keep bumping into each other. She’s never been fond of Fletch because an incident in the past has characterized their entire relationship–she dropkicked him and he gave her a nickname she still despises–but now different feelings are also starting to form. As she’s trying to reconcile her feelings over Fletch and trying to find peace within herself, she’s also busy being part of her best friend’s wedding party and trying to date (hence the whole book description). There’s a few other things too but they’re all secondary to the feelings and the finding peace.

I was conflicted about the first half of the book because I wasn’t sure if it was a romantic comedy or not. What happens in the beginning is some heavy material, which was unexpected, and then there are a few funny things thrown here and there. It isn’t until about halfway in the book where it establishes that it is definitely a rom com and redeems itself for being unsure of what road it wanted to take me. I would have been okay either way just as long as it had been clearer.

Fiona and Fletch had chemistry, which is why I ended up giving the book 3 stars. While Fiona was indecisive and still figuring things out, Fletch was this somewhat smitten guy who kept trying to straighten out Fiona’s mixed signals. It’s not that she was being childish and couldn’t decide, it was her still trying to figure out who she was so she could better understand where he might fit into her life and if she even wanted him in it. Some of her findings resonated with me as well. Their bantering was enjoyable. Feisty is a good read if you’re looking for a couple that has good chemistry. Fletch has the potential to be a good choice for a book boyfriend (#fletchisacatch).

Fairy Godmothers, Inc (2020)

by Saranna DeWylde
ISBN: 9781420153149
Publication: December 29, 2020
Series: Fairy Godmothers, Inc. #1


**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Fairy Godmothers, Inc. is a cross between the movie Enchanted (fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously) and television series Once Upon a Time (beloved characters in the middle of somewhere no one really knows). Our fairy tale characters are real, and they live in a town in Missouri called Ever After. With magic depleting, a plan is hatched by three fairy godmothers to replenish it by having their godchildren, Lucky and Ransom, pretend to marry one another as a publicity stunt. Love increases magic so maybe having a fairy tale wedding will increase the number of weddings booked at the castle.

With this being the first in what looks to be a series with the same name, our fake bride Lucky and fake groom Ransom have to split the story to their “happily ever after” with introducing readers to the town and its cast of characters. Lucky has a particularly interesting backstory but it isn’t until halfway through the book that we get to learn more about her. I really wish more time had been spent on it. There’s an additional reveal that happens in the story closer to the end that I did not think was necessary to the story.

Overall, the book is entertaining, and Lucky and Ransom’s road to forever is pretty hilarious. This is a 3.5 star read for me. I liked the overall premise of the series (4 stars) but everything happened so quickly I didn’t get to spend time with our main couple as much as I wanted (3 stars).

Firefrost (2020)

by Camille Longley
ISBN: 978192795008
Publication: September 21, 2020
Series: Flameskin Chronicles #0


**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

The book revolves around two individuals, Sol and Kenan, who are forced to rely on one another after an avalanche leaves them the only survivors.  While this may not seem so bad—I mean, it is better to be in the wild with company than no one at all—Kenan is a flameskin and Sol has been taught to fear and hate people like him.  Flameskins are humans who share their bodies with a pyra, a fire spirit or demon, that hungers for violence and death.  It gives the human host immense power but it can take over their lives.  Through much of the book, Kenan struggles to maintain his humanity while Sol only sees him as a demon.  The more time they spend in each other’s presence, the more Sol starts to question her views of flameskins.  As they get closer to their destination, the decision to go their separate ways becomes increasingly more difficult.   

I enjoyed the book largely due to it being character-driven. Sol is clearly the more capable of the two protagonists. She is a hunter (huntress as the book calls her) and a tracker able to survive in nature whereas Kenan is a soldier who would otherwise have been lost without her.  I immediately liked Sol but it was hard to justify my partiality to her after the way she treats Kenan during their trek to the city of Olisipo. She constantly refers to him as Demon and initially refuses to see him as human.  Throughout the first half of the book, she is constantly struggling with her feelings for Kenan, contrasting the person that Kenan is with a hatred of the “unnatural” that her father (someone she idolized) has instilled in her.  It doesn’t necessarily give her a free pass, but it tells us a lot about what she has to overcome when she finally makes up her mind. Because of this, Sol is the one that experiences the most growth throughout the novel. Kenan doesn’t change very much from beginning to end with the biggest difference being how he feels about Sol.

The romantic buildup, at least in the beginning, lacked chemistry.  Kelan’s attraction to Sol happened pretty quickly, and it initially surprised me. Sol spends much of the beginning trying to reconcile her feelings for him, mostly fighting her attraction, so it was surprising to me when it was love.  Once the initial bumpiness of their attraction is overcome, the development of the relationship becomes much better. In all honesty, I am back and forth about whether the romance was a necessary component. At the outset, it doesn’t feel organic to the story. I wonder if it was possible that another type of relationship may have fit with the story better and would have still served as an impetus for Sol to make the same decisions. Four weeks alone together is a lot of time but romantic love does not necessarily always need to be the outcome.     

With romance dominating the book, the world building is a bit lacking in some aspects and is not very complex. It’s just all very surface level but a few cool things do happen (I know, I know…I’m being pretty vague but I cannot spoil the maybe 3 things that I really liked that happen). How magic works is interesting. It is channeled through stones and limited by how much it can store. Wielding magic comes with a price (Once Upon A Time anyone? Anyone?), individuals will lose their emotions.

While I can go on and on, I should probably stop here. I ended up liking the book more than I thought I would.  This likely has a lot to do with some revelations I didn’t catch onto until just before they happened as well as an explosive ending.  This book is a prequel, noted as #0 in the Flameskin Chronicles, so I hope to read the rest of the books as they come out. I would like to know what happens to Sol and Kenan.

It seems like I am nitpicking at everything, and it seems like a tossup in being a worthwhile read. The book has it’s shortcomings but what it comes down to is that after I finished reading, I was left with an overall feeling of contentment. I’m not sure how else to describe it. It’s like what the book tries to tell us about love–when you know, you just know. In this case, I knew it was a 4 star.

Forest of Souls (2020)

Brief Summary:
We meet Sirscha Ashwyn as she arrives at the home of her mentor Kendara.  Sirscha is currently apprentice to the Queen’s shadow but she is just one of a few, maybe even many.  To become the Queen’s spy, she must be able to prove that she is the best, that she is more than enough.  She works hard but continues to feel deficient, especially as individuals like the officit leading the students to visit the prison for shamanborn and Jonyah Thao, her best friend Saengo’s cousin, continue to debase her because of her upbringing; Sirscha is an orphan, and orphans are of no value. Ultimately, it is the discovery of a rival for the coveted position that will lead to Saengo’s death, her subsequent resurrection, and the revelation that Sirscha is a lightwender, specifically a soulguide with the ability to guide souls to the afterlife or to bring them back to life.  This will likely have reverberations for the kingdoms and ultimately results in Ronin, the Spider King, summoning both Sirscha and Saengo to Spinner’s End.   

It makes sense that Lori M. Lee’s Forest of Souls should be the first book I blog about. It’s really fate I think. When I preordered it, all I thought about was how I wanted to read this and June was going to take forever to get here. I had no thoughts about blogging about it. Now, here I am, avoiding my real job so I can instead write about this book. I also promise that reviews won’t normally be this long. I started writing and I just couldn’t stop.

Do you know how long I’ve waited for a Hmong science fiction/fantasy author? I didn’t even know this was what I was looking for until it appeared on one of my feeds and “clack, clack” went my laptop as I preordered and “swipe, swipe” went my fingers as I read Lee’s first two novels to overcome the long wait.

REFLECTING ON SIRSCHA ASHWYN

Sirscha Ashwyn is driven.  We know that in how she desperately she wants to become the Queen’s shadow. Sirscha Ashwyn is impulsive.  It is her rash actions that lead to Saengo’s death. And, Sirscha Ashwyn is arrogant.  More than once she refers to how formidable her skills are, how it has been a long time since anyone has been able to beat her. But even with all her bravado, all these things stem from a single motivation, fear.  She is afraid of not being remembered, of the world—maybe even history—casting her aside such as her parents did when they left her at a temple.  She seeks notoriety but what she is really looking for is acceptance, a place in the world where she can belong. The relationship she has with Saengo propels her forward because Saengo is the sole individual who truly accepts her as she is. To Saengo, she is more than enough.  Saengo is more than just her best friend; Saengo is her family.  Who are we if the people we love cease to exist?  Maybe this is what triggers Sirscha’s shaman craft to materialize. A love—or maybe a fear—so strong it enables to her to bring Saengo back to life.  With Saengo, there is no uncertainty as to Sirscha’s role, whereas the only other person Sirscha has any kind of relationship with, Kendara, is just a mentor and not necessarily the maternal figure she desperately wants. 

If Sirscha Ashwyn feels incomplete, it’s because she still doesn’t really know who she is—she lacks a sense of self beyond others’ views of her.  Who is she?  What does she want? There is a hollowness to her actions and her words. It’s probably why when she decides that she will help the shamanborn, I desperately wanted her to do it due to a sense of duty to protect her people but ultimately felt empty because it was more about her pursuit to be “more than.”  It’s also probably why it was unconvincing to hear her tell Prince Meilek that he needed to care about his people, both human and shamanborn, when she did not seem to really care either.  She’s still finding herself and Forest of Souls is our foray into her journey.  Lee has since announced that this will be a trilogy rather than a duology so I’m excited to join Sirscha on her path to self-discovery. I expect that in the later books, she will find her footing and, I hope, will recognize that notoriety is a byproduct of doing the right thing for the right reasons. And sometimes, being the world to one person is more important than being the chosen one to the rest of the world.  And, more importantly, that she is enough…but if she ends up saving the world along the way, that’s pretty epic too.  (Yeah, I know.  I have a bit of a do-good for the sake of good hero complex when I read about badass females in SFF. I can’t help it.)

REFLECTING ON THE BOOK

A lot of the book is walking to and running from with events scattered in-between.  I’m probably exaggerating but it really felt like there was just so much of it, going into the Dead Wood and then out of the Dead Wood. So, the Dead Wood is probably pretty important. What is the Dead Wood? The Dead Wood is the titular forest of souls, where the trees are alive and devour those who dwell in it, capturing their souls. But it also serves as home to the mysterious Spider King who controls it as well as a border of sorts that keeps the tentative peace between the kingdoms.

Despite this, Forest of Souls remains a captivating read because Lee excels in world-building.  Lee provides us glimpses into the world through Sirscha’s eyes, so throughout the book, readers are treated to lush descriptions of the world we are immersing ourselves into.  If you’ve read her other two novels, Gates of Thread and Stone and its sequel The Infinite, you’ll know that, in a similar fashion, the world-building and the introduction of characters largely occurred in the first book whereas the second book was more riveting and plot-driven.

Following the path of Gates of Thread and Stone, Forest of Souls only introduces characters, the exceptions being Sirscha and Saengo. It is Sirscha and Saengo’s friendship driving the book so it makes sense that we first build our relationship to this world through them. Then there are other characters that contribute to the world we now find ourselves engaged in.  We meet Kendara but only learn she is the Queen’s Shadow.  We hear about Queen Mielyr but never meet her.  We meet Prince Meilek in what feel like fleeting moments and are treated to impressions of him but we never get to know him. Then there is Theyen Yee, and it is difficult to discern whether he will be friend or foe because their interactions seem superficial. Of course, the infamous Spider King, Ronin is introduced to us but again, moments with him are rare as well.  The other person Sirscha spends time with is Phaut.  Aside from Sirscha and Saengo, she is probably the only other character we spend more time with. She is in service to Ronin and guards Sirscha, but we never really get to know her either.  Being this is a trilogy, I expect many of these individuals will be fleshed out later so it does not necessarily take away from the book but can at times make one feel disconnected.  Should I care about these other people? Then again, it is told from a first-person perspective so it makes some sense that we don’t know them because Sirscha doesn’t really know them either.  

FURTHER REFLECTING

Did it live up to my internalized hype?  More or less.  I was enthralled with the idea that the story was inspired by Hmong culture and the traditional practice of animism.  Do you remember that feeling as a kid when you would see or hear your name somewhere and you would get excited?  A character in a book had your same name, or there was a song with your name in it?  I had that feeling when the Hmong last name “Thao” showed up as a character’s last name or when words like “tshauv taws” and “zaj” appeared.  See how the kid in us never really fully ceases to exist? Also, see how representation matters?  SFF has such a diverse audience and needs to start reflecting this diversity. 

As a word of caution, I am Hmong but not necessarily an expert on Hmong culture.  I agree with Lee that there is much in the Hmong culture that can serve as inspiration for writing, especially for SFF.  Inspiration is scattered throughout but here are the things that called to me.

Variations of animism exist beyond the one many Hmong adhere to but generally it is believed that all creatures have a soul and spirits can do harm to people.  The Dead Wood is one instance of this. The trees are dead but they’re alive, consuming the living and entrapping their souls, preventing them from going to the world beyond.  Other books have woods or forests similar to the Dead Wood.  It is not exactly novel, but no author has directly attributed inspiration for her novel coming from Hmong culture, so yes, the Dead Wood is now special to me. I proclaim that all other woods such as this are now dead to me. There is only the Dead Wood.  

There’s a part in the story when Sirscha is worried about whether there will be someone to guide the spirit of a man who has died, and it got me choked up. There was just so much sorrow behind those words. If you understand the role of death in the Hmong culture, you understand the significance of Hmong funerals, the intricacies of the songs and the rituals performed; you understand the importance of finding the right people to guide the soul to his final home. To have Sirscha be concerned about this individual shows that in the short timespan she has learned she is shamanborn, she has already slightly shifted in her thinking about other people, even if she is still mostly concerned about being remembered. Then again, I could just be reading more into it than went into writing it. I don’t know…but I’ll stick with my interpretation though. 

Then there’s the most important nod to Hmong culture, shamans.  The book is all about the shamanborn. It’s main character is one. The trilogy is called Shamanborn. This was pretty exciting. Shamans are generally respected individuals in Hmong culture who are spiritual healers. While some may learn it like a skill, it is more a calling that lays dormant until there is an awakening of the shaman spirits. People who still adhere to the traditional religion seek out shamans to protect against malevolent spirits and often to call back the lost spirit of someone who is ill. From a personal perspective, adherence to animism or shamanism does not set spiritual healing against “western medicine.”  They are complementary, two halves of a whole that lead to holistic wellbeing.  In Forest of Souls, shamans have control over different elements: fire, water, earth, wind, and light.  From each of these elements, there are different crafts that may be a shaman’s calling.  Lightwenders are likely the closest to Hmong shamans with their dealings with spirits and souls.

The book is 3 stars for me, and if I’m being honest borders a bit on the lower end; I liked it but there could be more. And I’m betting that there is.  I can’t help but be a little bit biased that the book is inspired by a rich culture that is then transformed by the fantastical mind of a self-proclaimed unicorn aficionado into something entirely her own. She does such a great job of it too!  Forest of Souls is most definitely not a stand-alone novel–it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.  It is, though, a beginning.  And in the beginning…yes there was light…but in the beginning there is birth. Things are happening; things are being set in motion.  Forest of Souls is building up to something big and my experience with Lee is that the buildup often leads to an explosive ending.

I couldn’t end this review without sharing what is one of the most vivid descriptions in the book, a reminder of why I like reading books by Lori M. Lee.

**07/09/2020
After taking more time to think about the book–really letting it ruminate–I realize that what I like about the book is based on what I know it can be as opposed to what it is. I think this further solidifies why it was 3-star but fell close to being 2.5 stars. This gives me more reason to read the rest of the trilogy because I know that it can be better.