Fantasy, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: A Touch of Darkness (Hades & Persephone #1): by Scarlett St. Clair

Publish Date: May 23rd, 2019
Number of Pages: 353 Pages
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

Hades chuckled, leaning in so that when he spoke, his breath caressed her lips. ‘Oh, darling. You don’t know what I’m capable of.’

– Scarlett St. Clair, “A Touch of Darkness”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Persephone is the Goddess of Spring by title only. The truth is, since she was a little girl, flowers have shriveled at her touch. After moving to New Athens, she hopes to lead an unassuming life disguised as a mortal journalist.

Hades, God of the Dead, has built a gambling empire in the mortal world and his favorite bets are rumored to be impossible.

After a chance encounter with Hades, Persephone finds herself in a contract with the God of the Dead and the terms are impossible: Persephone must create life in the Underworld or lose her freedom forever.

The bet does more than expose Persephone’s failure as a goddess, however. As she struggles to sow the seeds of her freedom, love for the God of the Dead grows – and it’s forbidden.

~~~

This was a total mood read, and while there are plenty of things that I thought could’ve been way better about it, it still at least served its purpose and entertained me as a reader. While some aspects were underdeveloped more than I cared for, what this story did give me was an erotic romantic tale with a sprinkling of fantasy elements added on top, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as that’s something that you’re looking for.

I’ve been in the mood for some greek mythology related stories, and I’m usually really drawn into novels that get compared to the retelling of the classic tale of Hades and Persephone, so I’m so incredibly sad to say this wasn’t the best out of the many in that regards. It was still good enough to keep me interested and had me reading late into the night, but the romance factor was the main reason for that along with just having the whole classical mythology aesthetic on top of it all.

The writing was very so-so; It felt a little amateurish and choppy in some parts…not to mention there were a few typos and names mixed up…

This version of Persephone wasn’t the greatest portrayal of her character…

The sex was hot!

The Gods/Goddesses live amongst us!

The worldbuilding was simple, but effective!

Overall it wasn’t a bad book by any means, but I have similar feelings to it as I did for Laura Thalassa’s Bargainer series…I’d only read the first book for that, but the story focused mainly on the romance, had a simple world constructed with the possibility of more to explore as you read on, but not enough of the other aspects to make it a greater fantasy-genre book were developed as much as they could’ve been. It felt like I was just reading another version of the 50 Shades millionaire romance stories but the guy’s name just happens to be Hades this time around. At least from my perspective, I can say it felt like this story was less problematic than the franchise by EL James was…

With all that said, I can praise the romance factor that this book offered. I thought the author did a splendid job at it with the sexual tension that was built up between Hades and Persephone! At least, I can say I personally enjoyed it. It wasn’t the greatest, but it was still keeping me reading on. Some could argue that some of the lovemaking scenes felt out of place or excessive, but c’mon…..lesbehonest, we all know the smut is one of the main reasons people are drawn to these books to begin with. I certainly did not think this way!

~~~

‘Let me worship you,’ he said.

She remembered the words she had whispered to him in the back of the limo after La Rose. You will worship me, and I won’t even have to order you. His request felt sinful and devious, and she reveled in it.

She answered, ‘Yes.’

– Scarlett St. Clair, “A Touch of Darkness”

What I Liked:

  1. The Slow-Building Sexual Tension! The sparks between Hades and Persephone were (of course) a major highlight of the book. The author really did a good job of giving their relationship a slow burn that made the moments whenever they gave into their lust and passion all the more satisfying! Side note, but I was also such a fan of the scene later on in the book when the two of them are freakin’ couples goals when they had a movie night in their sweats and baked cookies…
  2. It’s an Unorthodox Retelling! So not everyone will like this retelling simply because it doesn’t necessarily follow the original story to a T. Things have definitely been switched around, or completely different ideas have been sprung forward to at least make it feel like something completely new. I just know there are certain readers who are really sensitive to that sort of thing, and will strongly dislike something if it doesn’t perfectly match up, kind of like when a book gets turned into a movie or TV show and doesn’t follow the book all that much.
  3. The Modern Day Greek Gods Living Amongst Us! The worldbuilding was honestly more on the mediocre side, but it still worked rather well for the sake of the story. In this world, The greek gods and goddesses live among us, and they’re very much still in charge. They’re like the A-list celebrities a lot of us idolize: Hades runs the night-clubs and casinos, Dionysus has the world’s best wine vineyards, and I think you get the picture…There’s a red carpet scene with all the glitz and glamour and paparazzi cameras flashing as they all make their appearances, and it made me think how much more fun even events like the MET Gala would be if we could see deities like Apollo, Aphrodite, and yes even Hades making appearances at these sort of events. Overall, this aspect of the whole book was very fun!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Grammar/Spelling/Typos…It happens at the very beginning, but there are some noticeable errors along these lines that were a big turn off…I mean, if something is published—traditionally or independently, I’d hope there wouldn’t be something like this in the book itself. I’m not reading someone’s fanfiction on Wattpad, this is an actual published book! I don’t know, it lessened my expectations and made the quality of it go down in my eyes.
  2. The Smut is Overhyped…I’m glad to see how many people like this book, or even this whole series, but I will admit that the actual sex scenes didn’t fully live up to the hype for me. They were good, but I was thinking they’d be better based off so many glowing reviews this book has. I was also maybe hoping for something…darker and more erotic and tantalizing, and maybe with more magical abilities put into play to spice things up a bit…
  3. Not Sure How I Feel About the Villain…This is the first time I’ve seen Demeter set up as the villain in the whole story revolving around Hades and Persephone, and while I say this is a more original take, I’m not sure how I feel about it to be honest. In the story, Demeter is always known as the caring and doting mother, but this time she’s painted as cold and manipulative and just an all around frigid bitch! I don’t know, I think the idea of having a positive mother/daughter relationship is always a better way to go, but that’s just a personal preference to me. I’ve just seen shitty parents used as the outer conflict for a character in the romance-genre way too many times, and it’s just so cliché for me too.
  4. Very Little Magic…Some other reviewers on Goodreads say this, and I have to agree: there were times this felt like just another millionaire romance, and not really something that has the legendary Greek God as the main character. It did feel almost like a “50 Shades of Grey” + Greek Mythology kind of setup quite a few times. At least this time it’s a little less problematic. There just wasn’t as much magic as I was hoping, it was very underdeveloped, but maybe more will happen in the later books! Fingers crossed…
  5. Persephone Isn’t All That…I wasn’t the biggest fan of Persephone in this particular story. She was headstrong and fierce at times, and more power to her for that, but she was also just pure plot convenience too. She was just way too naive and there was just WAY too much miscommunication with her in order to add conflict into the story for my liking.

Conclusion:

Overall, I liked but didn’t love this book, but it certainly filled the need for some Greek Mythology related fiction that I’ve been kind of craving as of late. It focused more on the erotic romance and less on the grandeur of having the powerful and magical gods among us, which is fine, but I want to see more stronger fantasy aspects going forward!

I recommend this book, and possibly this series, to those who really enjoy authors like Sarah J. Maas, Laura Thalassa, and even Jennifer L. Armentrout. This author’s writing isn’t as up to par with these other names, but the overall themes and aesthetics of the story and what is given attention to within the plot will appeal to those who enjoy their books.

The big question I had going forward was which book to read next in the series. Technically, there’s two options: A Touch of Ruin which follows after this book and still follows Persephone’s point of view, or there’s also A Game of Fate, which is actually this book all over again, but this time it’s told from the perspective of Hades! Do you go forward, or see everything from the other side of things? Maybe I’ll try and read the beginning of both and see which one I want to read first? If you’ve read these books already, what do you suggest? Let me know!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fancasts/Dreamcasts

My Fancast/Dreamcast: The “Check, Please!” Duology by Ngozi Ukazu

Image courtesy of amazon.com

Hello readers!

Welcome back to another one of my fancasting posts that seem to be my most popular content on here, which is more than okay with me considering it’s something I really enjoy doing for myself as well as for those who keep returning to this little passion project of mine that is having a book blog running for over two years now.

Recently, I’ve had someone comment on one of my posts saying how they disagree with my choices for a particular fancast on here, and while I’m totally okay with not having everyone agree with me on everything, they lost all credibility with me when they decided to be rude, disrespectful, and just downright unpleasant for absolutely no reason…there’s nothing wrong with just saying you don’t agree with someone and simply leaving it at that but the negativity and overall just plain nastiness is just so unnecessary…

….So this is just a reminder to everyone who sees this and reads it to be nice and be respectful on not only on here, but anywhere else on the web or even on social media! You may forget it sometimes, but there’s still another human being on the other side of the keyboard, and some people seem to just get an unwarranted sense of confidence and overall bitchiness when they type something behind a keyboard and not say it to someone’s face…those people deserve a good smack upside the head!

BE NICE, it’s not that hard to do…

Okay rant over…..glad I got that off my chest, now back to bigger and more important things worth my time and energy.

I’ve been posting LGBT book reviews so far this month (for obvious reasons, and all M/M since that’s my preference), and have plenty more on the way, but I wanted to do at least one fancast too so I can switch it up a little bit! It was no question that I put together a fancasting for these particular books, and I did it for multiple reasons: they’re the first LGBT graphic novels I’ve ever read, and they’re by far one of my favorite queer romance stories I’ve ever gotten my hands on too. Everything about these just speak to me; from the artwork to the storyline, the characters, the banter, the humor, the themes of friendship & first love & and self acceptance & college, and the author herself and the story behind this whole project!

The story is about Eric Bittle: a young little figure skater who loves to bake and post on his vlog about his life who winds up getting a scholarship to a fictional Ivy League University, but with a hockey scholarship! You can imagine how well that would possibly go over for everyone…but along the way he meets some incredibly interesting people, learns a heck of a lot about himself and those around him, and of course while dealing all the regular stress of a college freshman! Let’s not also forget how he may or may not be hardcore crushing on his team captain too…

To see my review of book #1 – #Hockey – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – Sticks & Scones – Click HERE

~~~

Here is my official Fancast/Dreamcast for the “Check, Please!” Graphic Novel Duology!

~~~

P. “Shitty” Knight: Gaspard Ulliel, or Glen Powell

Gaspard Ulliel, image courtesy of fred.fm
Glen Powell, image courtesy of justjared.com

P. Shitty Knight is probably my favorite character because of how lax and out there he is about literally everything. He’s THE character of this whole story, and I have two people who are on the exact opposite side of the spectrum when it comes to casting him. Gaspard is a french actor best known for playing Hannibal Lecter in “Hannibal Rising,” and he more just fits the role with his looks. Glen Powell might be a much better choice, as he can look the part AND he has the personality to play the part. I became a fan of his when I saw him in “Scream Queens” and even more so for Shitty for his character—who also has a mustache—in the movie “Everybody Wants Some.” For anyone who doesn’t know what I mean, GO WATCH THAT MOVIE, and then try and tell me you can’t see him playing Shitty for that movie alone!

Adam “Holster” Birkholtz: Nick Milone, or Wyatt Nash

Nick Milone, image courtesy of the model’s Twitter profile
Wyatt Nash, image courtesy of justjared.com

The first half of the “Holster and Ransom” dynamic duo, I’ve picked Wyatt Nash for a few other characters on my blog already, but since he’s in the Netflix show “Dear White People,” I just picture him being pretty comfortable in this role and setting too. Nick Milone is a model I found on Instagram who physically fits the look of Adam—at least in my opinion—and to add a new face to my fancasts!

Justin “Ransom” Oluransi: Remi Alade-Chester

Remi, image courtesy of beauty-around.com

The other half of the bromance that is “Holster and Ransom,” Remi is actually a Nigerian male model who may or may not actually look the part! Justin is a cutey and so is Remi, so I’m happy with this pairing!

Larissa “Lardo” Duan: Lana Condor, or Malese Jow

Lana Condor, image courtesy of refinery29.com
Malese Jow, image courtesy of wisdominbeauty.com

I’ve been a fan of Lana since I first seen her in the Netflix film adaptations of the “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” series, but I know Lardo is a completely different character than Laura Jean. Lardo has a lot of spunk wrapped up in such a petite little body, Lana Condor is just the only actor I can think of who’d play the part well. Malese has been in shows like “The Vampire Diaries,” “Unfabulous,” and “The Flash,” and is another choice I could see as the manager of the Samwell hockey team.

Kent “Parse” Parson: Alex Pettyfer, or Alex Wennberg

Alex Pettyfer, image courtesy of wallpapercave.com

~~~

Kent Parson is an interesting character who causes a lot of drama where he goes, and he just so happens to be incredibly handsome and good looking and that’s probably why he gets away with it all most of the time. For this, it kind of reminded me of the actor Alex Pettyfer, both in his golden-boy looks and in his hollywood reputation being less than stellar. I also wanted to include Wennberg because he’s not only a pro hockey player just like Parson, but also has the similar aesthetic and even a mischievous smile that I’m sure could get him into (or out of) trouble.

Derek “Nursey” Nurse: Jordan Matheson

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile

I found this model on Instagram and think he’s absolutely gorgeous with his hazel eyes that I think perfectly match Nursey’s in the graphic novels when we meet him. He looks like he’d have that laid back, chill mood that Nursey is known for!

William “Dex” Poindexter: Ken Bek

Image credit to owner

Dex is actually one of the harder characters to cast, as there’s not a whole lot of actors or models who are redheads with golden eyes like him. Believe it or not, but a lot of them have dreamy blue eyes instead—darn it—so my choices were limited! I feel like KJ Apa was the only other choice since he plays Archie in the CW’s “Riverdale.”

Chris “Chowder” Chow: John Harlan Kim

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

I can’t say I’ve ever watched this Australian actor in anything, but I feel like just looking at pictures of him on his IMDB profile that he gave me vibes he could totally play Chowder if they ever decided to make a live-action adaptation of these graphic novels. He’s got the eyebrows and the facial expressions that I think this is a really good match!

Suzanne Bittle: Julie Bowen

Image courtesy of disney.fandom.com

She may not fully fit the character in a physical sense to some, but Julie Bowen screams mom ever since she starred in “Modern Family”! She’s got the blonde hair, brown eyes combo that technically fits Bitty’s mom’s look, so I’d be happy to see her play the character if this ever got turned into a show or movie.

Richard “Coach” Bittle: Sam Jaeger

Credit to owner

This was by far the hardest casting choice to make! No one was popping up in my sources for quite some time, but then I ran into Sam Jaeger and thought to myself “You know…give him a mustache and he could work!” I found this image of him, and I think I’m convinced, hopefully others are too! Sam has been in film/shows like “Lucky Number Slevin,” “The Politician,” and “Friday Night Lights.”

Bob Zimmermann: James Patrick Stewart

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

Jack’s father and living hockey legend himself, I pictured this actor playing this character! He’s been in films/shows like “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Supernatural,” “Las Vegas,” “Gettysburg,” and even “All My Children.”

Alicia Zimmerman: Cameron Diaz

Image courtesy dnaindia.com

As soon as I first glimpsed Jack’s mom and her large, bright blue eyes, I immediately was reminded of Cameron Diaz! She may not quite be old enough to actually be the character, but since she was the first face to come to mind, I decided “why not?” and put her down as my Alicia Zimmerman.

Georgia “George” Martin: Eiza Gonzalez

Image courtesy of deadline.com

Georgia is the assistant general manager to the Providence Falconers, and I got the vibe that she was possibly of latin or spanish descent based on the color of her skin and the way her hair is drawn in the story—I could be totally off base with this, but it’s just the impression I got. Eiza Gonzalez is a mexican actress and singer who’s been in films like “Baby Driver,” “Hobbs & Shaw,” and “Godzilla vs. King Kong.”

Alexei “Tater” Mashkov: Andrew Biernat

Image courtesy of the model/actor’s Instagram page

I’m not sure if Andrew actually has any Russian in his heritage, but I follow the guy on Instagram and he has a goofball attitude in his videos that kind of reminds me of Alexei, Jack’s (most likely) favorite teammate when he goes to the NHL!

Denice Ford: Courtney Sauls

Image courtesy of zimbio.com

Denice—Who thanks to Key & Peele I pronounce it like D-Nice—becomes the new team manager in volume 2 when Lardo graduates, and she luckily seems to be able to handle the pressure of keeping all those players in line! Courtney plays the strange and quirky reporter named Brooke on the Netflix show, “Dear White People,” and she just gives me somewhat-similar vibes to Denice in the second volume of these graphic novels.

Connor “Whiskey” Whisk: James Maslow

Image credit to owner

This fancasting is funny to me only because I know James all the way back from 2009-11 from a guilty pleasure called “Big Time Rush” on Nickelodeon—of all places! He was way more animated and expressive on there than Whiskey is in the whole second book. This may not be the perfect choice for the character, but I know James over a ton of other actors so this is purely subjective to who I follow!

Tony “Tango” Tangredi: Brandon Larracuente

Image courtesy of spoilertv.com

I know at this point for some of these minor characters it can really get vague and a lot of other actors could play them, but it’s still fun to kind of put a face to the drawing, so don’t think some of these are final selections! Brandon played Jeff Atkins in “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix, and he played a jock on there too, and he’s also kind of adorable, so I’d be happy to see him on my screen again!

River “Bully” Bullard: David Bodas

Image courtesy of the model’s Twitter profile

The first thing that you notice about Bully is HAIR. He has got some gorgeous flow that he absolutely rocks as a newly incoming freshman during Eric Bittle’s senior year. David Bodas is a model I discovered on Instagram, and he’s one of the few guys that I feel like is actually really rockin’ the long haired look like this nowadays!

Jonathan “Hops” Hopper: Rome Flynn

Rome, image courtesy of the actor/model’s Instagram profile

Rome Flynn has a smile that could get him out of trouble, and Hops is a total sweetheart so I could totally see this being a thing if they actually make “Check Please” into a film or tv show! For those of you not familiar, Rome Flynn can be seen in “How to Get Away with Murder.”

Lukas “Louis” Landmann: Benjamin Eidem

Credit to owner

I’m trying to keep it ethnically accurate with this choice, but Benjamin is actually a swedish model so it fits! He’s actually done some high end fashion brands like Prada, Michael Kors, and Burberry just to name a few, NOT that that has any reasoning behind why I picked him!

Jack Laurent Zimmermann: Robbie Amell, or Ryan Kennedy

Robbie Amell, image courtesy of robbie-amell.com
Ryan Kennedy, image courtesy of models.com

Robbie Amell is one of my favorite male actors, i’ve had heart eyes for him ever since he was first seen in the Disney Channel Original series, “Life With Derek.” He’s also been in “American Pie: Beta House,” “The DUFF,” “The Babysitter,” and has been cast in the future film “The Hating Game.” Ryan is a model who someone on Tumblr posted as their choice, and I looked and looked and couldn’t find the post to give credit where it’s due, but if someone knows who I’m talking about, PLEASE send the profile my way so I can credit them!

Eric “Bitty” Bittle: Tom Holland, Troye Sivan, or Michael Provost

Tom Holland, image courtesy of stanfordartsreview.com
Troye Sivan, image courtesy of popbuzz.com
Michael Provost, image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

I picture Tom Holland playing an adorable, gay little figure skater-turned-hockey player, and my heart just gets so warm, full, and excited at the idea. All these guys are as cute as a button, and I could picture any of these guys being the main character of these graphic novels! Troye Sivan is a singer and actor who actually is queer himself, so that’d be great representation for him to play this role, and Michael is an adorable actor I found on one of Netflix’s cancelled shows, “Insatiable.”

~~~

So there you have it!

These are my choices for who I picture the characters looking like in real life, it’s interesting to do a fancast for a graphic novel just because there’s actually more of a limit on who to pick since you have a visual of the actual character. It’s not so up-in-the-air and vague with their physical descriptions, but either way it was fun to do another one of these!

Don’t agree with my picks, or do you have your own choices as to who you could see playing these characters? Feel free to comment or message me what your thoughts are, just don’t be a dick about it (referring back to my rant earlier)! Either have respect and be friendly, or I’ll just report and block. I have no time or interest in dealing with toxic internet trolls, so lets have a mature and friendly conversation instead.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Erotica, LGBT, Romance

My Review: Collide (Blackcreek #1): by Riley Hart

Publish Date: November 8th, 2013
Number of Pages: 286 Pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing
Genre(s): Romance, LGBT, Erotica

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

This wasn’t ending, and he didn’t know if it would ever end, and Coop didn’t know if he wanted to celebrate, cry, or destroy the whole fucking world.

– Riley Hart, “Collide”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

At ten years old, Noah Jameson and Cooper Bradshaw collided mid-air when they dove for the same football. For three years, they were inseparable…until one day when Noah and his parents disappeared in the middle of the night.

Noah and Cooper never knew what happened to each other. Now, seventeen years later, after finding his boyfriend in bed with another man, Noah returns to Blackcreek looking for a fresh start. And damned if he doesn’t find his old friend grew up to be sexy as sin. Coop can’t believe Noah—the only person he trusted with the guilt over his parents’ death—is back. And gay… Or that Cooper himself suddenly wants another man in his bed for the first time.

There’s no denying the attraction and emotion between them, but can they overcome the ghosts of their pasts to have a future together?

~~~

This was a nice, short, lighter read to enjoy while I’m taking a small break from Fantasy; I don’t know why, but lately as I’m typing this review, I’m noticing that I only seem to be in the mood to read smutty romance novels. I have tons and tons of Fantasy-genre tales on my shelf, and on my desk, and on the floor near my bed, and on my dresser (basically my room is a giant pile of growing books that will hardly shrink anytime soon), but that doesn’t matter because I just want simpler, lighter, and just overall easier to read right now.

Back to this book, but it was a great addition to my growing collection of M/M romance titles.

It was far from perfect and actually there are quite a few things I wish could’ve been better about it, but it still fulfilled what I wanted out of it: it had some really good smutty sex scenes and also just an overall swoon-worthy romance between the two main characters, and even between two side characters too. It was cute, it was absolutely so funny with the banter, it was heartwarming, it was sexy and sizzling, and isn’t that all we really want in a romance novel?

It was the perfect distraction for Cooper to ignore the flood of…contentment… Hearing that their friendship had meant to Noah even a portion of what it had meant to Coop. Which, as a kid, had been everything.

– Riley Hart, “Collide”

What I Liked:

  1. The Smut! If you’re looking for a quick but super hot and smutty book to read, this is a great choice for you! The smut in this book is super well done and really hot content, especially with the whole dynamic of the two main characters with Noah and Cooper. Noah being openly gay for much longer has him kind of in the role of the “mentor” or teacher in a way with how he takes Cooper through the ropes of what they do and what he’s willing to try out as they explore their relationship. Which brings me to my next point…
  2. The Relationship Between Noah and Cooper! I really liked their dynamic for the most part in this story. I like romance stories with the tropes like “second chance,” “small town romance,” “keeping it a secret,” and “friends-to-lovers” and reading about how much these two guys care about each other and the moments where their friendship shine through are so soft and affectionate and heartwarming, which is also so cozy when in comparison to all the scorching hot sex scenes. I find it funny I’m saying this when I’m also a reader who usually doesn’t turn towards a specific story for its fluff versus steam.
  3. The Friends/Side Characters! Both Cooper and Noah have a friend on the side that really be there for them when they individually need it, and even better that they actually end up hooking up! Wes and Braden’s romance gets introduced in this story, but they’ll get the spotlight in the next installment which will be fun because I want to see more of their certain dynamic too!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. How Cooper Is Only Gay For Noah…So the whole “GFY” is an iffy one because sometimes I feel like it’s not the most realistic storyline, but I guess it depends on your own personal views of sexuality. It’s such a fluid subject nowadays, and their are so many different terms and identities that are out there now, and while I can say I support it all and hope anyone who’s questioning who they are has the courage and confidence and support to figure it out, I feel like the “gay for only this person” is a little questionable, or maybe it’s because it’s not explored far enough in this story. Before Cooper reunites with a returning Noah, he was sleeping around with women and never really questioned his sexuality (at least that’s the impression I got). Noah coming back into his life calls a lot into question, and just like that, Cooper is no longer the straight guy he’s always been known as. I also know that there’s no set time of when you are supposed to have this all figured out; some people discover their sexuality at a young age while some may not discover it until they’re 50 with a wife and kids….but the point I’m trying to make is that maybe I just feel like the shift was too quick and not a whole lot of it was explained or explored as much as I wanted it to be. Maybe the author didn’t want to make it that deep of a story at the time this was written, but I guess I was just hoping for more answers in this regard. Like I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the fact that a label isn’t put on a whole lot of him or their relationship was frustrating! I’m never one who needs to compartmentalize stuff like that, so I’m confused at myself about it too, like maybe I’m not as open minded about it all?
  2. The Homophobic Side Characters…With Cooper being a firefighter and sort of coming out of the closet in a sudden way, he deals with some homophobia with some of his fellow coworkers and even a little bit from his uncle. It’s not really an outright hatred of gay people, but it’s more these snide, rude comments and jokes they all make that any gay guy has heard in their life and has made it hard to come to terms with yourself if you yourself are questioning or in the closet. It brought back terrible memories of times in middle school and high school casually say the word “f*g,” or “that’s so gay…” as a way to instead say how something is stupid. I know there are still people who are honestly just against gay people and don’t accept it, but part of me always wishes we didn’t have to face this kind of rejection in fiction, like why can’t books with gay characters at the forefront just not deal with homophobia?
  3. WAY Too My Flashbacks…I’m never someone who’s a big fan of them to begin with, and this book had wayyyyyyyy to many as well. I get it, a lot of the story revolves around Noah and Cooper meeting as kids and how their friendship/relationship has blossomed from it all, but I feel like the amount of flashback scenes could’ve been reduced. I know the past is important to learn from in order to grow and move forward, but in this case I’m falling under the whole “the past is in the past and let’s leave it that way.”
  4. Grammar Issues…The book felt a little amateurish with all the many commas and just simple grammar issues that popped up throughout the book. I mean, I’m not perfect at it all the time either, but when you read a published book you just expect more and hold this sort of thing to a higher standard. You’d think the editors and multiple sets of eyes who look over these words before they’re sent to print would fix this sort of thing.

Conclusion:

Overall, “Collide” by Riley Hart wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, but this was still an enjoyable story that’s a great consideration to anyone who loves M/M romance with plenty of fluff mixed with steam. It’s so great for fans of “second chance” romances or “friends-to-lovers,” or “gay only for you” type of stories. Noah and Cooper have quite the story here, and while it wasn’t exactly mindblowing, that hopefully doesn’t detract from when I say I still really enjoyed this book too, and plan to read on in this series with the two friends who hooked up in this book who also get the spotlight on them too!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: The Risk (Briar-U #2): by Elle Kennedy

Publication Date: February 18th, 2019
Number of Pages: 432 Pages
Publisher: Elle Kennedy, Inc.
Genre(s): New Adult Romance

***Warning! This review may contain spoilers from the previous book in the series, so continue at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – The Chase – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

A kiss, at its very core, is an emotional experience. Or at least it is for me. Anyone can give me an orgasm, but not everyone can touch my soul. One kiss can make me fall in love with someone.”

– Elle Kennedy, “The Risk”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

A sexy standalone novel from New York Times and international bestselling author Elle Kennedy. THE RISK takes you back to the world of hot hockey players, feisty heroines, bro banter, and steamy scenes…

Everyone says I’m a bad girl. They’re only partly right—I don’t let fear rule me, and I certainly don’t care what people think. But I draw the line at sleeping with the enemy. As the daughter of Briar’s head hockey coach, I’d be vilified if I hooked up with a player from a rival team.

And that’s who Jake Connelly is. Harvard’s star forward is arrogant, annoying, and too attractive for his own good. But fate is cruel—I require his help to secure a much-coveted internship, and the sexy jerk isn’t making it easy for me.

I need Connelly to be my fake boyfriend.

For every fake date…he wants a real one.

Which means this bad girl is in big trouble. Nothing good can come from sneaking around with Jake Connelly. My father would kill me, my friends will revolt, and my post-college career is on the line. But while it’s getting harder and harder to resist Jake’s oozing sex appeal and cocky grin, I refuse to fall for him.

That’s the one risk I’m not willing to take.

~~~

Once again my love for fictional college hockey players in books written by Elle Kennedy is lit up like a spark on the Fourth of July because this book was another absolute hit for me!

I tend to switch back and forth between the Romance and Fantasy genres, hopefully both having a little steam to them too, but when I get done with a Fantasy book or series that’s so rich in worldbuilding, an intricately laced together plot, and lots of emotionally driven angst from both the characters and me as I’m reading it, switching from that to a lighter toned, easy read like these books are such a relaxing change of pace for me. they’re the kind of book I can enjoy at the beach now that the summer months are upon us where I’m located as I’m typing this, and they’re easier to put down and come back to several times in a day if needed. They don’t require my full attention in order to fully grasp everything, and that is seriously such a great thing all in it’s own! I certainly appreciate books like that just as much as my thicker and heavier and darker themed Fantasy books too.

Back to this story, this was another Elle Kennedy college romance story that I absolutely devoured, and was a title I enjoyed even more than the previous one! I really enjoyed the pace of it better, I think I related even more to the characters and the issues they faced this time around, and the romance was once again scorching and I couldn’t get enough of it!

This story revolved around Brenna Jensen, who is the daughter of the head coach for the Men’s Hockey Team at the fictional Briar University. She’s got an edge to her with confidence to spare, a mouth that has no qualms about telling someone off when it’s needed, and doesn’t follow orders very well. Hockey has always been in her life and is also one of her big passions that she wants to pursue in her own way.

Next there’s Jake Connelly, whose the captain of the Hockey team at Harvard, who also happens to be one of Briar U’s biggest rivals. He’s a senior who also already has a contract pretty much set up for the NHL once he graduates, so he takes his position very seriously. He plans to have his team go all the way and win the frozen four, and will do whatever it takes to make sure him and none of his teammates get distracted, least of all by girls on the side of the enemy who flirt with his teammates and is possibly gathering intel.

Brenna wants to become a sports broadcaster and has an interview for an internship that is an incredibly opportunity that could also really open some doors for her down the road. Unfortunately, her interviewer and possible future boss is a gigantic sexist pig who already questions her on how a woman has a place in the sports industry, like how much knowledge would a female have about Hockey anyway, right? Brenna does her best to not slap the bejeezus out of him and stay professional, because again this is the opportunity of a lifetime for her, but her hopes and dreams are starting to disappear until the guy admits he’s got his eye on a particular incoming rookie to the NHL, a particular captain of the Harvard hockey team named Jake Connelly. Since they’ve already been talking—well, he’s been warning her to stop distracting his teammates, not that she was really going to listen to him—and hatched a plan to put her even further into that door and lies that Jake and her are a couple and can have them meet! From there, the fake dating and enemies-to-lovers romance tropes commence!

Jake and Brenna quickly became one of my favorite couples that Elle Kennedy created for her books, and I can say I felt the sparks between them even back when they first met back in the previous book. Neither of them wanted to admit it, or maybe weren’t even aware of it at the time, but there was instantly something there! I loved their chemistry, and was a little surprised at how there were some reviews on Goodreads that said the opposite! Not to knock them or their opinion that doesn’t match mine, but you know that strange feeling you get when you feel so strong about something but someone has the complete opposite thought about it than you and you just can’t comprehend it? Well, to be fair, it almost felt like there was the possibility of setting Brenna up with Hollis, one of the Briar-U players who’s also a total comedic relief, but I liked her and Jake much better!

I am honestly starting to question evolution. We went from cavemen, to homo sapiens, to this incredible society of great minds—Alexander Graham Bell inventing telephones, Steve Jobs inventing…everything. And now we’re devolving. We’ve travelled back to cavemen, only nowadays we call them fuckboys.”

– Elle Kennedy, “The Risk”

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance Tropes! We’ve got fake dating, we’ve got unlikely allies, we’ve got sleeping with the enemy, forbidden love, and it all just makes this story so much fun to read!
  2. More Smut Than The Previous Book! Yes, The Chase was such a slow-burn with that you don’t get as many sexy scenes as you’d probably like, but this book had a lot more that might make a lot of fans of the author’s books happier in that regards. Brenna and Jake had some really good chemistry in my opinion, and the whole “sleeping with the enemy,” forbidden-ness of them being together certainly added some flair to the mix. These two were smoldering towards each other ever since they ran into each other in the first book, and it was only a matter of time before something erupted between them!
  3. The Comedy and the Banter! I mean, I think I point this factor out with literally every Elle Kennedy book review I’ve done by this point, but it’s seriously such a highlight for me everytime I open one of her books! The back-and-forths her characters have always have me chuckling on the side and also making me believe in the credibility in the romance between them. And Elle Kennedy also always has some running joke that continues throughout each book; this time it’s the….interesting relationship between Hollis and an incredibly extra freshman, Rupi. I didn’t hate their side relationship to the story, and it certainly made me laugh a few times, but it was a lot all at the same time.
  4. The Realistic Issues! The outer issues the characters face in the Briar-U series are so much better done and much more realistic than the ones in the Off-Campus series! Not that I didn’t love some of the drama back then, but I can admit that sometimes it got a little over the top. Once again Elle Kennedy tackles a heavier subject matter that a lot of women of all ages face: misogyny in the workplace. Brenna’s goal is to get an internship for her sports broadcasting dream career, but her boss is such a narrow minded prick when it comes to women and their roles in society, like part of me couldn’t even fathom that women all over actually get treated this way! This book also deals with the guilt one feels after a traumatic past experience that haunts them even years later, AKA survivors guilt. People make bad decisions all the time, and just because you love—or loved—someone at the time when they were making those bad life choices in no way should reflect upon you no matter what you may tell yourself. It’s an actual thing, and many people have probably suffered this in their lives over something, and I thought it was an inner issue that was handled well in this book, and sheds a light on a condition that honestly doesn’t get a whole lot of recognition but like I said, a lot of people have probably experienced it at some point in their lives and haven’t addressed about it as much as they’d have liked. The strained relationship between Brenna and her father was also another issue that was a great addition to the story, and the development of it throughout this story is something to take note of!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Jake’s Childhood Friend, Hazel…I just didn’t see much of a need to include her in the story to be honest. I thought there was a strange amount of emphasis put upon her when she came into the story, and part of me thought it meant that she was going to be a future love interest and/or main character for one of the future books. Luckily for me, that’s not the case, but all in all I just didn’t really care much for her addition to the story. I felt like she just added unnecessary conflict to the plot that could’ve done just as well without her.

Conclusion:

Yet another fun, hilarious, and sexy novel written by one of my favorite New Adult Romance authors, The Risk has everything you love about her books for those who are familiar with her work, but also is easy enough to jump into for those who are newer and just starting out with her as well!

These books are just such a nice change of pace sometimes from the darker and heavier themes I read in a lot of my Fantasy genre books, I’d just finished The Crown of Gilded Bones by Jennifer L. Armentrout as I’m typing this, and while I absolutely adored it, I have to admit I need a little space from Fantasy for at least like three books. I think I actually need a recovery from a book, and that is such a strange feeling for me!

Elle Kennedy’s college romance books are just lighter, easier, and remarkable in a way that’s way different from those other books, but I love them all the same and appreciate them in my life! For those who also read these, Hunter Davenport is the star of the next book in this series, and with his story arc so far in these books, it’ll certainly be interesting to see him center-stage and (of course) get his own little HEA.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: The Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: April 20th, 2021
Number of Pages: 600 Pages
Publisher: Blue Box Press
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers for this book plus others in the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – From Blood And Ash – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the series so far – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.75 Stars

‘You need to understand that I will do anything and everything for my wife.’ Casteel’s gaze latched on to his father‘s. ‘No risk is too great, nor is anything too sacred. Because she is my everything. There is nothing greater than her, and I do mean nothing.'”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout comes book three in her Blood and Ash series…

She’s been the victim and the survivor…

Poppy never dreamed she would find the love she’s found with Prince Casteel. She wants to revel in her happiness but first they must free his brother and find hers. It’s a dangerous mission and one with far-reaching consequences neither dreamed of. Because Poppy is the Chosen, the Blessed. The true ruler of Atlantia. She carries the blood of the King of Gods within her. By right the crown and the kingdom are hers.

The enemy and the warrior…

Poppy has only ever wanted to control her own life, not the lives of others, but now she must choose to either forsake her birthright or seize the gilded crown and become the Queen of Flesh and Fire. But as the kingdoms’ dark sins and blood-drenched secrets finally unravel, a long-forgotten power rises to pose a genuine threat. And they will stop at nothing to ensure that the crown never sits upon Poppy’s head.

A lover and heartmate…

But the greatest threat to them and to Atlantia is what awaits in the far west, where the Queen of Blood and Ash has her own plans, ones she has waited hundreds of years to carry out. Poppy and Casteel must consider the impossible—travel to the Lands of the Gods and wake the King himself. And as shocking secrets and the harshest betrayals come to light, and enemies emerge to threaten everything Poppy and Casteel have fought for, they will discover just how far they are willing to go for their people—and each other.

~~~

Wow wow wow wow wow was what I kept repeating to myself as I finished this book a couple days ago as I’m typing this review up. The third book in Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Blood and Ash was an absolute tornado that hit me right in the chest more than any other book in quite some time, and it took me a couple days to allow myself to soak it all in and collect my thoughts as I make sense of the pure craziness that happens in the last chunk of this book. I mean, the Admin of the Facebook group for these books said this one was going to absolutely wreck us as a fandom, and while I wasn’t on the floor weeping my eyes out or throwing my book across the room in a fit of heartbroken rage, I can say that yeah…that sequence really left an impression on me as a reader. I am filled with wonder, with shock, and most of all I get chills running down my arms because I have to say to the author: BRAVO!

The world and the story that this author has created somehow just continues to get bigger and bigger with every book, and JLA reached heights that I honestly didn’t even know it’d get to with all the information I now know surrounding Poppy, The Ascended, Queen Ileana, Queen Eloana, and even the gods that are now starting to wake back up on the brink of war! I remember thinking back when the first book came out and how maybe it was going to be a really good knight/princess centric romance, but OHHHHHHHH am I wrong and so happy to be so! It’s reached Sarah J. Maas level of amazingness with all the worldbuilding, the shocking twists, the bitter betrayals, the many different kinds of magical beings, and of course the steamy and heartwarming romance.

Whenever I get these books in my hands, and I do the more expensive hardcover versions from Barnes & Noble because I try to purchase anything off Amazon as a last resort after working there, I really take my time and slowly read so that I can savor all of it. Too many times in the past have I completely binge-read a book in two days and then I stare blankly at the wall as I realize I have to wait a whole other year until the next one releases. I guess it helps a little, but in reality I also already finished it and it still feels like it will be forever until I find out what happens next in this series. The next book will be a prequel, which is going to be released later in fall 2021.

There’s also so much growth that happens in this book in multiple ways: both Poppy and Cas as individuals and as husband and wife. Poppy continues to change even this far into the series, and she gains more and more confidence in her abilities, both normal and magical. As she discovers more and more about her past, she she also learns whose in her corner and who will betray her all the same. She becomes so much stronger and badass too; that ending gave me some series Daenerys Targaryen Khaleesi vibes that felt so powerful considering she started off as the pure and demure maiden at the very beginning. Casteel slowly learns to open up and let himself be vulnerable in front of her too, he admits/confesses things that he’s told no one else, and shows pure emotion when Poppy hears it all yet continues to stay by his side. His past is so dark and tragic, and you can tell it means more to him than he says when Poppy reassures him and reveals her true feelings to him as well. The softer moments when these two are alone and continue to just talk and get to know each other as a normal couple are some very low-key amazing moments that helps elevate their status as one of the best couples in Fantasy literature. While becoming more intimate in more ways than one (both smutty and intellectually), they also quickly learn to take on the hard task of learning to rule a kingdom while everything is going on with the Ascended and the possibility of war on the horizon. They have to become ruthless and make a lot of hard decisions in order to help keep their land and their people safe, and it was fun to see them as they held their own against players of the game of thrones who’ve been around for centuries when compared to themselves.

‘You will bow before your Queen.’ Casteel eyed the Atlantian coolly. ‘Or you will bleed before her. It is your choice.'”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

What I Liked:

  1. Poppy Continues to Grow/Develop As A Character! Like I said, her growth is seriously so amazing to read in this whole series. She becomes more confident in herself and her love for Casteel, and even grows quite a backbone when dealing with royals, nobility, and even celestial beings from another realm!
  2. SO MANY NEW CHARACTERS! But actually though…it’s crazy all the new faces we see in this third book, some are names we’ve been hearing about for quite some time now, while others are names you never thought you’d actually meet up with. First, there’s Casteel’s parents, King Valyn and Queen Eloana. Second, there’s Ian and Malec, both are brothers of our two main characters. There’s the infamous Miss Willa Colyns, who was such a total delight to finally meet! There’s a little reveal about her that I cheered with glee for that was absolutely hilarious! There’s Nyktos, the king of the Gods, who was also kind of an obvious addition considering the next book will be a prequel starring him. Then there’s Queen Ileana, the Blood Queen whose in charge of all the vamprys of the Ascended. She’s a real piece of work, that’s for sure!
  3. The Revenants! This was a very interesting concept that was introduced in this book, and while I guess it includes new characters, I wanted this to have its own part on the list. Let’s just say for now that the Blood Queen has a lot tricks and twists up her sleeves.
  4. Poppy’s Mysterious Backstory Finally Explained! This part was the big climax, and wow oh wow was it done in spectacular dramatics! There was so many twisting reveals, it’s no surprise that no one correctly guessed it on the FB group in the months leading up to this book’s arrival! I mean, with how complicated it all gets, who could’ve possibly gotten even close to how complex this whole family tree gets?!
  5. Casteel Continues To Be Book Husband GOALS! Rhysand who? But seriously, Casteel Da’Neer continues to raise the bar for ALL men who love that special someone in their lives. Like I mentioned before, he grows a lot too in this book and allows himself to show vulnerability and raw emotions when it comes to Poppy, and even better how he doesn’t get his masculinity called into question when Poppy becomes so much more powerful than him. He actually gets turned on by it, which for him is totally normal.
  6. Dragons! Yessssssssss Dragons…well Drakens to be more specific, but basically the same thing! Going to the lands of the gods, Poppy learns that Nyktos had his own group of warriors who could transform into Drakens at will and protect their land. You don’t see as much of them as you’d probably like if I’m being honest, but the set up with them for sure gets you excited for the later books down the road.
  7. There’s Set Up For The Prequel Coming Out Later! For those not in this FB group (The Blood and Ash Spoiler Group), it’s obvious that the next book out will not be the next book in this series, but actually will be a prequel that starts a new side series, and stars the King of the Gods, Nyktos. A Shadow In the Ember will come out October 19th, 2021 according to Goodreads, and there is a ton of set up for it for when it comes out. This just all adds to how much bigger and grander this whole story has become thanks to Jennifer L. Armentrout’s brilliant creative writing skills, like it makes me want to get back into my writing even more!
  8. The Smut! Oh yeah, those of us in the fandom are always looking for the steamy scenes that Poppy and Cas have in these books, and they didn’t disappoint in any way! Their passion continues to heat up the pages, and even get to try some new things out *wink*wink*

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. A Slower Midpoint In This Book…The beginning started off on such a strong note, but once it got itself all sorted out and things slowed down for a bit of the middle of the book, I found myself a little bored in all honesty. Sure, we got to see moments where Cas and Poppy get closer than ever, but my boredom was also beginning to make me worry; Was I losing interest in this book? Was I losing interest in this series? What’s going on with the Ascended? Are we just going to be forgetting about them for awhile? Luckily, my faith was restored later on in the book when the tornado hit when we finally meet the Queen. I’ll try to remember to keep my faith in JLA as an author after that!
  2. No Joining Scene…Yep, I’m on that side of the fandom. It’s been so funny to see how torn all of us fans are when it comes to all this, which is a threeway by the way. I’m all for supporting polyamorous relationships, and while maybe I can agree that maybe for this particular story it’s not as important of needing to happen, I wouldn’t mind if we got at least one scene where this goes down. So I was disappointed that it didn’t happen, BUT there was a scene with some interesting voyeurism going on that continues my hope that maybe it’ll happen! There are plenty of more books set to come out for this series, so that also means plenty of more opportunities to make it happen!
  3. The Repetitive Worldbuilding Formula…There were some major info-dumps in this book, and the way it’s all told to us as an audience has just gotten a little old for me. Basically with how Poppy has so many questions—much to Keiran’s dismay—and then either Kieran or Jasper are the human encyclopedias who have all the information she needs. It’s a formula that’s been used several times now, and maybe it didn’t matter as much to other readers, but I personally am getting a little bored with it by this point because it’s happened so many times already. I don’t know, maybe there just needs to be new ways JLA can give us this information if there still is by this point in the series.
  4. The Too Close To Matching Names of Big Characters…Malik and Malec, Eloana and Ileana…I know in a lot of Fantasy novels/series that sometimes people just have similar names, but it was getting a little annoying how close these names were, sometimes I got them mixed up. Is it Mal-Lick and Mal-leek? Il-ianna and El-oh-ana? that’s how I’ve been pronouncing them so far up to this point!

~~~

The dimple in his right cheek appeared, and he dipped his head, kissing just above my brow and then lower, over the scar. ‘Princess?

My lips curved up. What had started as a nickname had become a reality. ‘Yes?

His mouth moved over mine. ‘I love you.

The smile on my face grew as my heart did a little skip in my chest. ‘I love you.‘”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

Conclusion:

What a wild ride filled with just about everything you need to have an epic fantasy adventure: danger, drama, suspense, romance, humor, friendship, history, so many amazing characters, and shocking twists that take your breath away! This Blood and Ash series is literally EVERYTHING and was so enjoyable of a book for me. It would have been absolutely perfect if not for the slow midpoint for me, but with all that happens in the last chunk of it, it almost makes up for any boredom or concern I had at that point in my time reading this book.

I’ve never been a big fan of prequels, I always feel like they’re so limited in how far they can go as a story because they’re literally just set up for something you’ve already seen or read. In a way, you already know whats going to end up happening in the end, and the predictability factor of that isn’t all that interesting to me, so while I’m still looking forward to A Shadow in the Embers coming out this October that will shed some light on Nyktos and the Gods and all the rich history there, I’m not nearly as excited as I would be if book #4 of Blood and Ash was being released instead. Still, I trust JLA as an author by this point, so I’ll keep my inner reservation and reluctance and negativity to a minimum and I give this prequel a chance.

Blood and Ash book #4 is set to release March 2022 with the title and exact date to come at a later time than as I’m typing this review, but I’m sure those who’ve also finished this book can agree with me when I say that March feels like such a long ass time away!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell