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

New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Fake It ‘Til You Break It: by Meagan Brandy

Publish Date: February 5th, 2020
Number of Pages: 367 Pages
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre(s): New Adult, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

You don’t have to be looking to find the best fucking thing for you. Sometimes all you have to do is open your eyes and realize it found you first.”

– Meagan Brandy, “Fake it ‘TIl You Break It”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Fake.
That’s what we are.
That’s what we agreed to be.

I thought it would be harder, convincing everyone our school’s star receiver was mine and mine alone, but we played our parts well.

So well, the lines between us began to blur until they disappeared completely.

The thing about pretending, though, someone’s always better at it, and by the time I realized my mistake, there was no going back.

I fell for our lie.
And then everything fell apart.

It turned out, he and I were never playing the same game.

He didn’t have to break me to win.
But he did it anyway.

~~~

This was my first Meagan Brandy novel, and while I wasn’t exactly blown away, I can say that she can also certainly write an engaging romance novel that had me turning the pages late into the night to see what happened next. She wrote a “fake dating” circumstance here, and I’m always a huge sucker for those kinds of stories! They’re always so much fun to read for me, it’s almost as fun as the good ‘ole “Enemies to Lovers” trope.

I especially liked the two main characters, Demi and Nico. They were far from perfect, but incredibly engaging with their own inner conflicts and how things were revealed as the plot thickened with that plus their developing feelings for each other while they kept up the ruse that they were together. This was by far the best part of the whole novel!

The side characters left a lot to be desired unfortunately…the parents were either the usual richie-rich, barely there types or the drugged out type who can’t even take care of themselves, and just everything about them seemed so extra and over the top. There was also an excessive amount of best friends and ex’s that honestly made it hard to remember everyone at some points in the story. There were way more than necessary, and I go more into it all later on in my review, but I think you get the point already.

The romance was done incredibly well, it was a really drawn out slow burn that I’m sure other readers have squirmed in their reading space when things finally get a little more heated. It also feels a little weird for me to be reading new adult romance that takes place in high school considering I’m 27 years old, but hey…smut is smut. There was a spicy scene right away that felt a little out of place, but was hot all the same (maybe, maybe not depending what you’re into I guess), but the spicy scenes were pretty decent for anyone who wants to know, but may be too shy to admit it (I’m here for ya boo).

‘Don’t play, baby.’

‘Tell me I am,’ I rasp. When his brows dip, I continue. ‘Your baby.’ My eyes hit his. ‘For reals, not for fakes. For keeps, not for now.’

The heavy thump of his heart beats against my hand, and I flatten my palm there, not wanting to miss the way it’s climbing.

‘Pixie.’ He leans in, brushing his lips over mine. ‘You are. You’ve been,’ he stresses. ‘Even when you had no fuckin’ clue… you were my baby.’

– Meagan Brandy, “Fake it ‘Til You Break It”

What I Liked:

  1. I’m A Sucker For The Fake Dating Trope! I could read just about any romance novel with this setup, because there’s something about two people who (usually) despise each other off the bat but also slowly but surely fall for each other and there’s so much angst with them hiding their true feelings from each other until they can’t take it anymore…ugh, I just love it! If you’re someone who loves this romance trope, I can assure you that you’ll probably enjoy this title for this aspect of the story alone. It helps that there was some major chemistry between Nico and Demi too; I loved how their dynamic changed throughout the story as they became more aware of who they were as individuals and who the other person was too, and while I was not entirely a fan of all the last minute drama tossed in at the last minute of the story, there was some throughout the middle that helped test their feelings for each other and (eventually) truly toss them together! I especially really enjoyed when it’s revealed how Nico’s had feelings for her for years, and how far his feelings actually went with her,
  2. Nico Is Kind Of A D-Bag! I know this seems like a really odd thing to like, but it was somewhat refreshing to have the main male main character be really questionable in his actions and words. He’s a stoic, quiet presence but also has a man-whore kind of reputation, and he’s not afraid to tear people to shreds with his words. While he may seem like a total D-bag to some readers, I at least still found him likeable despite his behavior, and it also helps that Demi totally calls him out on his BS several times too! It also helps that you learn more about him as you read on and learn the motives behind how things came to be as well, it definitely helps shed some new light on him if you’re reading this and are not a fan of his, just to keep in mind!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. A Lot of Last Minute Drama Added In…So while there were a few key pieces of conflict thrown in throughout the midpoint of the story to make things more difficult for our fake couple and their true feelings, the last chunk of the book had some major swerves thrown in that only threw me off with the pacing of the whole book to be honest. It felt excessive and way over the top, and sure I was pleading with the author to “just let them be together already,” it wasn’t for a good thing here…This sort of thing made the whole ending feel so clumped together and rushed, which is my usual critique of romance novels if you’ve been reading them as I post them over the years. The drama with Trent was actually pretty well done actually, that I will give kudos for.
  2. The Writing Is Really Repetitive…There’s a constant mention of lip licking or biting whenever a character is turned on or notices when the other does something involving their lips, and it gave me 50 Shades of Grey PTSD with the constant lip biting mentioned…A couple of times would’ve been fine I guess, but it got old really quick.
  3. The Excessive Side Characters…I feel like the amount of side characters this book had wasn’t necessary and a few of them could’ve been cut with another round of editing. The group of girlfriends were funny at times, but also annoying at plenty of other times, and I feel like there definitely didn’t need to be four of them. We never really get any sort of description of what they look like either, which to me shows even the author feels like you could just toss in some random face and you’re fine with that so long as you can remember any face to the names. Maybe just two friends would’ve been just as effective in telling the story, and while we’re at it: maybe there didn’t need to be three romantic rivals Demi has to deal with when it comes to Nico’s past conquests. We get it: he’s got a past and it comes to bite them both in the butt later on, but again I feel like maybe two of them could’ve been combined as characters and it would’ve been just as effective of a situation.

Conclusion:

Overall, this was a fun and entertaining read if you love the whole “fake dating” romance trope long with romance set in high school, or opposites attract; any fans of those should really consider adding this book to their TBR stack in the near future. It wasn’t an amazing book by any means, but you definitely become invested in Nico and Demi’s relationship when it gets going in the story!

I feel like fans of authors like Penelope Douglas and L.J. Shen will like this author’s book and (maybe) other titles too, they all kind of fit the same category with new adult romance set in high school aged characters, but this one I’d say was more on the tame side when compared to their works. It doesn’t get as dark and gritty as these other authors’ books I’ve read, but the writing style and circumstances that happen in the plot feel somewhat similar to me.

It was a nice standalone to read in between the bigger and heavier books in series that I’m reading too; this was a super quick read which is also appreciated, I’d say I’m interested enough to see what else Meagan Brandy has in her arsenal of romance novels if one ever comes my way.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

My Review: Wicked (A Wicked Trilogy #1): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: December 8th, 2014
Number of Pages: 398 Pages
Publisher: Self Published
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Grabbing a scarf off the chair, I threw it at him.

He caught it, clutching it to his chest as he flew into the air. ‘You gave Tink a scarf. Tink is free!’ He flew out into the hallway like a little cracked-out fairy, screeching, ‘Tink is freeeeee!

Ren looked at me. ‘What the actual f**k?’
I sighed. ‘He’s obsessed with Harry Potter. I’m sorry.

Tink darted back into the room, holding the scarf to his bare chest. ‘There is no reason to apologize when it comes to Harry Potter.’
‘You do remember what happened to Dobby, right?’ I said.

‘S**t.’ Tink’s eyes widened and he dropped the scarf.”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “Wicked”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Things are about to get Wicked in New Orleans.

Twenty-two year old Ivy Morgan isn’t your average college student. She, and others like her, know humans aren’t the only thing trolling the French Quarter for fun… and for food. Her duty to the Order is her life. After all, four years ago, she lost everything at the hands of the creatures she’d sworn to hunt, tearing her world and her heart apart.

Ren Owens is the last person Ivy expected to enter her rigidly controlled life. He’s six feet and three inches of temptation and swoon-inducing charm. With forest-green eyes and a smile that’s surely left a stream of broken hearts in its wake, he has an uncanny, almost unnatural ability to make her yearn for everything he has to offer. But letting him in is as dangerous as hunting the cold-blooded killers stalking the streets. Losing the boy she loved once before had nearly destroyed her, but the sparking tension that grows between them becomes impossible for Ivy to deny. Deep down, she wants… she needs more than what her duty demands of her, what her past has shaped for her.

But as Ivy grows closer to Ren, she realizes she’s not the only one carrying secrets that could shatter the frail bond between them. There’s something he’s not telling her, and one thing is for certain. She’s no longer sure what is more dangerous to her—the ancient beings threatening to take over the town or the man demanding to lay claim to her heart and her soul.

~~~

If anyone knows one thing about me, especially in the last year or so, they’ll hopefully know that Jennifer Armentrout’s From Blood and Ash has very very very quickly become a literary obsession! It is to me is like how obsessed every teenage girl (and a few guys like me who couldn’t admit it in public) was with Twilight back in my teenage years. Of course if an author can make me that crazy over a book series like this one has, I’d want to venture off and explore her other works. As I’m typing this review, she just admitted on the Blood and Ash Facebook group that the latest installment, The Crown of Gilded Bone, is her 62nd book written; that’s a lot of books to read…I’ll admit I’ve been aware of her Lux series for quite some time, but it never fully pulled me in. Wicked, however, is a different story.

With authors like Sarah J. Maas, Karen Marie Moning, and Holly Black all releasing books that star the magical folk called the Fae (Fairytale-like creatures that secretly snuck over to our world from another and secretly live among us), when I saw that JLA also joined in this popular fantasy trend, I had to check them out! It was even better that this first book popped up into the bookstore I work at as I’m thinking this too, and I think you’ll all appreciate this small tidbit: I read this while actually visiting New Orleans myself! There’s something about reading a book and physically being in the exact same place it’s set in; the visual aid is literally right there in front of you and helps make the imagery in your head all the more vivid and realistic, and if you’re a bit of a romantic like I am, it makes you sort of feel like you’re also in the plot of it all with the characters. It was amazing to try beignets for the first time; it certainly made it much more understandable why the characters in the book constantly craved them!

I also hardly find success in going backwards with an author’s list of books; I just notice their writing isn’t as honed in and as great with their earlier work, so I usually try to read in publication order, and these books were released almost half a decade earlier than the first Blood and Ash book, give or take. While the story here wasn’t as binge-worthy and obsessive for me, I can happily say with a breath of relief that I still for the most part enjoyed this book and plan to read on in the trilogy. The worldbuilding was intriguing enough with a beautiful setting to help give it an extra push, the characters were easy to get behind and root for as the plot thickened, and just like her other books is the case of I could mostly see some of her plot twists coming from a mile away but also managed to sneak a few past me all the same and actually surprise me.

The romance was (of course) easy for me to get into, and Ren and Ivy were a good couple to see develop as they came to terms with their feelings for each other. In both appearances and personalities, I definitely saw an impression of Poppy and Hawke in them, or I guess technically they’d branch off from Ivy and Ren since they technically came first…but the dynamic they had reminded me so heavily of them and made my chest ache since I was so so so excited for that next book to come out already. Ivy had a backstory that I’d seen before where her ex passed away and she feels guilty about starting to have feelings for another guy all these years later and feels like she’s disrespecting his memory, but Ren didn’t really have a past trauma that made it harder to become vulnerable with someone, or at least made it something that mentally held him back from the relationship in this book. Maybe there’s more there, but nothing was quite revealed yet from what I remember. The romance developed nicely with Ren being the big flirt and admitting his attraction to her while Ivy played hard to get and teased him while silently coming to terms with her mutual attraction, and the ending of the book certainly will make things much more interesting in this regard too. I’m curious to see how that will play out!

‘You like me.’ Letting go, he smiled up at me, that angelic face a picture of innocence. ‘You just aren’t ready to admit it.

All I could think as I gawked at him was, what an observant son of a bitch.

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “Wicked”

Speaking of the ending, while I knew some aspects of it were going to happen as it had to in order for the story to keep going, there was one thing that was a twist that I honestly didn’t see coming with a side character, and it also didn’t get an explanation amongst everything else that was going on, and it all came rushing at you all at once like dodgeballs and you’re the only one left on your side! I definitely need some answers for this.

I always enjoy a book with secret organizations with individuals who hunt and kill to keep the peace, and in this book, both Ren and Ivy are a part of one where they’re in an invisible war with the fae. It’s not as common of a thing to have the fae put into the spot of the villains of the story, and I wonder if JLA is going to make it not so black and white in the next books? We see a glimpse of it with a side character of hers whom I really enjoyed: a brownie named Tink! By brownie, I imagine a pixie, a spryte, or whatever you prefer to call them, but he’s a total delight! He wears ken doll clothing as his wardrobe, he’s got a gargantuan sweet tooth, loves to order things off Amazon Prime, and ********spoiler alert********* is secretly Ivy’s roommate! Even though it’s her task to kill the fae on sight, they formed an unlikely bond when she rescued him from one of the graveyards and brought him home with her to mend his wings and cure him back to his proper health. No one in The Order (the organization she’s a part of) knows about it, and Ivy wants to keep it that way.

So with all that in mind, you see some shades of grey that add some depth to the whole situation, and with some of the shady behavior of some members of the Order, or even The Elite (a secret org within the secret org), I wonder how far JLA will go with this aspect in her story? I have a lot of questions that need answering, but there’s only one obvious way to find them all out!

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance! Ren and Ivy’s relationship was the main draw to these books, and it was what was keeping me going in continuing reading on as the story progressed. Ren was pretty much all in from the start of when he first laid eyes on Ivy, and I have a feeling he’s as delectable as every other JLA male love interest. He definitely got some Hawke Flynn vibes from him with his confidence and flirty banter and looks; these two just really reminded me of a more contemporary version of Poppy and Hawke, but without her being the maiden and everything else, but I see a similarity for sure.
  2. Minor Character: Tink! He’s a sassy little pixie-like creature from the fae world whom Ivy forms an unlikely friendship with amongst the war their races are facing off against. I was reminded of the character Lehabah from House of Earth and Blood (The Crescent City series by Sarah J. Maas) and absolutely loved every single scene Tink was in! Show-stealer is a for sure nickname I’d give him, and I wonder what he’ll bring to the table moving forward?
  3. The Betrayal! While other events happen that obviously had to happen to further the plot, this small part of it all honestly did surprise me a little bit and threw me off guard! Even more interesting about it is JLA leaves it on a cliffhanger and doesn’t explain it as much; it’s more speculation from the other characters, so I’m curious to see what comes of this plot twist!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Was Fairly Predictable…I gotta agree with some of the naysayers, but there wasn’t a whole lot of shocking and crazy twists in this book that blow your mind. Sure, it’s also just the first book in the trilogy, and maybe more will go down in the next two books that will be more crazy and shocking, and the first book usually sets the scene and relies on the familiar in order to branch off to become more unique, which also feels like a good bridge into my next point…
  2. Nothing New Added to the Fae…There’s just nothing unique that sets them apart from any other books that showcase them. Sure, not every book has them simply set as the villains—except maybe the Fever series—but also the clumping them all together felt kind of lazy to me…I think it was told earlier on in the book that there used to be the different courts within their race, but then just got all jumbled together. Sure, the intricacies of the fae courts and the intrigue involved with all that are most likely not going to be a strong aspect of the story, once again it just felt kind of lazy how it was brushed aside.

Conclusion:

Overall, I’d say if you’ve enjoyed other books by this author, I feel like this will be another hit for you! It has the same elements that made me absolutely love From Blood and Ash: the worldbuilding, the entertaining plot, the mature and steamy romance, and a great cast of side characters to help drive the plot forward, and while there were maybe a few surprises that snuck past me, there was a cliffhanger that isn’t hard to see coming your way as you get closer to the reveal….It’s okay though, because the journey there is still fun along the way! I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m comparing the two series together too much, that’s not my intention, but I am seeing some similarities between them, or even some certain aspects that carried over into the next series…

I’d say those who also enjoyed books/series like the whole Shadowhunters universe by Cassandra Clare, The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, and the Crescent City series so far by Sarah J. Maas will be the readers who’ll enjoy this book very much. Maybe even the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, but I say this series by JLA is a much more toned down version of that by a landslide

Sorry for the horrible pun, but this book was a wicked little delight! Okay, glad we got over that hump together, and if you’re still here and haven’t cancelled me yet, I can say that YES: I enjoyed this book by Jennifer L. Armentrout! It definitely was wasn’t my favorite of hers, but I’m definitely interested enough to want to read on and see what possibly happens next. I have some questions that need answering, and I have faith that the author will reveal all those answers in her entertaining way like she has with her other series that is my literary obsession…

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: The Hating Game: by Sally Thorne

Publish Date: August 9th, 2016
Number of Pages: 362 Pages
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Genre(s): Romance, New Adult

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

I have a theory. Hating someone feels disturbingly similar to being in love with them. I’ve had a lot of time to compare love and hate, and these are my observations.

Love and hate are visceral. Your stomach twists at the thought of that person. The heart in your chest beats heavy and bright, nearly visible through your flesh and clothes. Your appetite and sleep are shredded. Every interaction spikes your blood with adrenaline, and you’re in the brink of fight or flight. Your body is barely under your control. You’re consumed, and it scares you.

Both love and hate are mirror versions of the same game – and you have to win. Why? Your heart and your ego. Trust me, I should know.”

– Sally Thorne, “The Hating Game”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Debut author Sally Thorne bursts on the scene with a hilarious and sexy workplace comedy all about that thin, fine line between hate and love.

Nemesis (n.)
1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome;
2) A person’s undoing;
3) Joshua Templeman.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

~~~

Hello readers! I am trying a new format for how my reviews will look here on my blog, so this one will be the first one to test it out (feel free to comment what you think, I’m hoping this will have it flow better by having the blurb go first then go into more details on my thoughts below that).

The Hating Game has been a title that has been tossed around quite a bit ever since it came out, and I knew I was going to read it eventually, but the news that it’s being made into a movie starring Lucy Hale and Robbie Amell only made me want to bump it up on my TBR list! So does it live up to the hype?

Honestly, Yes and No, I mean it’s not blow-your-mind amazing, but it certainly has a lot of the qualities that I really enjoy about the romance genre:

  1. Banter that is playful, sassy, saucy, and just downright hilarious
  2. The whole enemies-to-lovers romance trope
  3. Characters with hard outer shells who slowly let the love interest in and open up
  4. Heartfelt revelations and confessions
  5. Steamy sexual tension
  6. Personal growth between the two main characters

Overall, it really was an enjoyable book to read, it was a perfect lighter read that’s helping me kill time while I wait for a couple anticipated releases to come out this year. Of course, people hype the heck out of this book to the point that it couldn’t POSSIBLY live up to the expectations people put on it, but luckily I didn’t put it on a pedestal like I’m sure some readers have, and I found myself enjoying it more because of that. The characters were great even as they feel familiar to a lot of others in different books, and the dynamic of Lucy and Josh’s relationship and how it changed over the course of the story was done so well and was a major highlight.

Lucy is kind of like the ‘Jessica Day’ of the office (Zooey Deschanel’s character in New Girl for those who don’t know the reference), she’s very sweet, kind, a literal ray of sunshine around the office. Josh is literally her total opposite and her mortal enemy: he’s tightly-knit, uptight, organized to the point of being OCD because NOTHING can be out of place or no hair out of line for him. I loved learning their fears and insecurities as they grew closer and opened up, I can’t say enough how sweet and adorable this book gets sometimes.

With all the sweetness of cotton candy that is abundant in this story, there was also quite a bit of steam to add to it too! It wasn’t super graphic or descriptive to the point of calling it erotica, but what I can say is Joshua Templeman is something else….I really wanted a few chapters from his perspective, but I can also say that part of the experience of this book is NOT knowing what’s going on in his head too!

This book is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s like those early 2000’s chick flicks like Mean Girls, She’s The Man, and John Tucker Must Die and plenty of others that you hate to admit you love and keep watching over and over again, year after year. They’re not exactly Oscar worthy, but that doesn’t detract from how enjoyable they are and how many people love them, and that’s definitely how I feel this book was too.

What I Liked:

  1. The Hidden Depths of Joshua! Like a lot of the male characters in romance novels I’ve read over the years, Joshua Templeman was a little rough around the edges to say the least…sure, he’s handsome and obviously has confidence to spare when we first meet him in this book, but one thing I absolutely love is when the mask cracks and the hard edges fall away and you begin to see a softer, more vulnerable side of him. He may seem like a crude, arrogant a-hole at first, but just you wait until he starts to open up, and then get back to me on your thoughts on him.
  2. The Banter! I like sassy, saucy, and just straight up hilarious banter between two love interests, and I feel you get just exactly that in this book. Lucy and Josh have a really tumultuous relationship through the course of the story, and while their dynamic may change from workplace enemies to lovers, their teasing and bickering stays consistent and entertaining as well too.
  3. The Bonding Moments! I guess this kind of ties into the points I’ve already made, but the moments when Josh and Lucy are alone and talk and come to learn so much more about each other had to be my favorite scenes to read. They were so sweet, so genuine and I only wish I could’ve gotten into Josh’s head a couple times to see what was going on in his head, but Lucy as the narrator is just as good too!
  4. The Brunch Scene! When Lucy confronts Anthony about all his BS is just golden, like I dream of being able to take someone down a peg or two like she does in this moment, and in public in front of an audience too! It really showed how Lucy had grown over time too; gone was the too-sweet and kind girl who everyone could walk over, and here was a fierce lioness baring her teeth at someone who’s showing disrespect to someone she loves!

‘What are you imagining? Your expression is filthy.’

‘Strangling you. Bare hands.’ I can barely get the words out. I’m huskier than a phone-sex operator after a double shift.

‘So that’s your kink.’ His eyes are going dark.

‘Only where you’re concerned.’

Both his eyebrows ratchet up, and he opens his mouth as his eyes go completely black, but he does not seem to be able to say a word.

It is wonderful.

– Sally Thorne, “The Hating Game”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I Wish There Was More Pranks/Hijinks…For an enemies-to-lovers storyline, I was kinda hoping we’d see a little more of the “enemies” part of their relationship…I wanted more hijinks and more aggravation on both sides of Josh and Lucy’s relationship. I wanted safe for the workplace warfare! Not that I’m complaining, but I felt like the jump into the romance was too fast! I guess it makes sense once you finish the book and know what you know, but I always want “enemies-to-lovers” to go further than they usually go! She doesn’t have to have a knife up to his throat per say, but a few little staring contests and imitating each other’s sentences in that petulant voice like an annoying sibling…
  2. Would A Dual POV Have Been Better?…I like the romance novels that have you read from the minds of the two characters, and as I read this book I was wondering what Josh was thinking in so many cases of the story! I was disappointed we didn’t get into his mind in the story, but I can also say part of the experience that is reading this is knowing things through Lucy’s eyes, and learning things about herself and Josh and their relationship as she does too.

Conclusion:

The Hating Game is a fun, entertaining, and light read that any fans of the romance genre can enjoy, at least in my personal opinion! It’s a perfect book to kill time with if your (im)patiently waiting for an anticipated release or just need a quick standalone story to change your pace with. Fans of Christina Lauren novels will especially like this book too.

Romance novels are hardly ever the perfect book, so of course there are things that some people just don’t really enjoy, but I feel like some of those readers maybe make the mistake of taking these books too seriously! I mean nothing against the romance genre, but you have to admit the A Song of Ice and Fire series is much heavier and more immersive reading in comparison. I think romance novels are just lighter and easier and don’t need to be taken as seriously as other titles and other genres, and I find I enjoy titles more when I remember that. And before anyone gets on me about it, that doesn’t mean I consider the romance genre “less” than others…

If you’re curious about this title, I say go for it! I really enjoyed it and would want to reread it down the road someday if the mood struck. Any harsh critiques made on this book that I’ve seen are about really particular things, like fat-shaming and knocking “nice guys”….While I see where those readers are coming from, it personally did not affect my reading experience and I didn’t put the book down because of it. To each its own though!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell