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

Editorial Articles, Writing/Articles

Digital Artists You Absolutely Need To Follow! – Part 2

Image created with canva.con

CLICK HERE to see Part 1!

Welcome back readers! If anyone remembers back to about a year ago actually, I posted a rather lengthy article on a list of digital artists that I think anyone who loves to look at art should absolutely follow; anyone from video game concept artists to professional illustrators to graphic designers and even tattoo artists, I made sure the list had some variety besides just some of my favorites who create amazing fanart commissions of my favorite books and series.

Well if it’s been a year later since then, it makes total sense that I’ve discovered even MORE artists that I want to showcase and organize into a beautifully displayed part 2 to my list. Art matters, and this new addition of artists also have quite a plethora of talent. I’ve only just begun getting back into drawing and I have began on the IOS app, Procreate. I know a few artists on here and part 1 use that program as well, but it’s for sure made me appreciate their work even more and aspire to have my work become even a fraction of how good these artist’s work looks!

Once again, I think this has a great amount of variety in terms of style and subject matter, I hope you discover a new favorite artist yourself! Find their profiles, give them a follow, go onto their websites, buy their prints, support your favorite artists!

Enjoy this list, the names and artwork are in no particular order!

***I do not own any of these artists’ work, and while all work is shared from their individual Instagram profiles, if any of them find this article and wish to have their artwork taken down, please reach out to contact me and I will happily do so!***

~~~

Jen Bartel

Instagram: @heyjenbartel

Website

I discovered this artist by her work illustrating a graphic novel titled “Blackbird,” and I absolutely loved her style and felt like she had a similar style to how I draw. I was happy to learn that this artist uses the program/app Procreate just like I do too! What really draws me in is her use of really bright and vibrant colors that really pop out at you and make so that there’s no way you can’t notice it!

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Marc Simonetti

Instagram: @marc.simonetti

Website

Marc is a concept artist who specializes in environments and has an eye for the little things. As you can see by his work shown above, he is able to capture amazing detail in the smallest of spaces. I guess I could say his work that really captured my attention was his work of the Iron throne image above that’s from George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series that everyone knows as “Game of Thrones.” The throne from the HBO show is iconic, sure, but Marc’s throne is actually a much more accurate portrayal to how the author describes it in the books, plus it’s about five times more intimidating looking!

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Lizzart

Instagram: @lizzart_zardonicz

This artist creates some absolutely gorgeous character design in their work and is a master of fantasy-genre artwork. I discovered this artist thanks to some artwork they did of a Sci-Fi series I’m reading: “Red Rising” by Pierce Brown. It’s a space opera that’s like Greek Mythology + The Hunger Games + Game of Thrones but in space! I definitely recommend giving the books a try if that sounds interesting to you at all!

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Philippe Lozinski

Instagram: @philippezolinski

Philippe creates some visually stunning environment concept art and really has a unique style that shows so much texture and really knows how to drive the eye across the canvas with well placed movement either in the environment or the characters he’s placed within. Some of his work really reminds me of the game “Journey” especially with the cloaked character you see in some of the work on the top of his section. I’m not sure if he’s actually worked on that game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out he did!

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Rovina Cai

Instagram: @rovinacai

I discovered this australian artist when she illustrated the fourth book in Holly Black’s “The Folk of the Air” series (as you can see by some of the images I selected.) I really dig her enchanting, gothic, fairytale-like drawings that are both whimsical and ominous and creepy, and I’d say you should go grab a copy of that book just to see these images up close for yourself!

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Jo Painter

Instagram: @po_jainter

This artist has commissioned fanart for a few of my favorite book series, so of course it was only a matter of time before I’d notice her work and fall in love with it. She’s made artwork for Sarah J. Maas’s “Crescent City” and “Throne of Glass” series, as well as Jennifer L. Armentrout’s “From Blood and Ash” series that is so so quickly becoming an all-time favorite of mine as well!

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Joon Ahn

Instagram: @joon_ahn_art

Joon is a concept artist out in Los Angeles, and I love all the work he’s done with both environments and characters. He really seems to specialize in either high fantasy or cyber-punk settings and looks like his work should be in video games, and I was first introduced to this artist by their artwork of the knight riding atop a giant eagle as seen above!

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Sam Yang

Instagram: @samdoesarts

Sam Yang seems to really focus on girls who have what I call the “Disney Princess” aesthetic, as in they look like they have very similar facial distinctions to the 3D animated princesses like Rapunzel, Elsa, and Anna. His artwork is so warm, welcoming, and soft with subtle texture infused to make his work stand out on its own. I especially love how he plays with light in his artwork that places his females in a setting like in a car; that’s where I truly think his art shines, no pun intended.

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Dan Mumford

Instagram: @danmumforddraws

Surely you have to recognize Dan’s subject matter in at least one of his pieces I’ve selected above! He adds a ton of detail and heavy outlines to familiar characters and environments in american pop culture history, and while some of it reminds me of some tattoo-like artwork I’ve seen elsewhere, I also appreciate how he also loves to incorporate the creepy factor in his art, or the classic set up of the main character having their back to us as they face out to their setting.

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Yare Yue

Instagram: @yueyare

Amazing environments come with this concept artist, and I’m a big fan of their use of color. I was originally drawn in by their work with the whale swimming through the clouds; the work I seem to love the most is the work of the little kid and his pet cat incorporated into his environment pieces.

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Liang Mark

Instagram: @liangmark

This is an artist where you really need to enlarge the image to enjoy it even more; there’s so much detail work in all of their art! They definitely specialize in dystopian, Sci-Fi settings and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out they’re a concept artist for the newer Star Wars movies, their art just really reminds of it the franchise, especially the newer movies that have been released later than “The Force Awakens.”

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Sasha Lee Coleman

Instagram: @sashac_art

When an artist gets compared to the great Charlie Bowater, that truly speaks to the artist on how great their digital artwork truly is! I can definitely see an influence or inspiration from Charlie’s style of character design, but Sasha is also a really great artist who enjoys making pieces of characters from some of my favorite books! If you don’t recognize some of the characters above, she’s done amazing artwork of Sarah J. Maas’s “Crescent City,” Holly Black’s “Folk of the Air” series, and even Margaret Rogerson’s “Sorcery of Thorns.”

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Rosie Thorns

Instagram: @rosiethorns88

Okay, I absolutely HAD to show this artist because they do so many different styles of artwork both on canvas or digitally, but what I really want to draw attention to is her papercraft fan art of popular YA Fantasy titles! That’s right, some of this artwork is crafted from paper and brought together like a master scrapbooker. She’s done projects of Sarah J. Maas’s popular “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series with Rhysand and Feyre at Starfall, her “Crescent City” series with Bryce and Dana on top, along with “The Folk of the Air” by Holly Black, “The Invisible Life of Addie Larue,” and Kerri Maniscalco’s “Kingdom of the Wicked.”

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Delaney Januzzi

Instagram: @delaneyjanuzzi

Here’s another noteworthy concept artist who specializes in character design! Their cartoony style reminds me of animated movies and I feel like they’d make some amazing work for Dreamworks animated movies. I especially love that they’re one of the only artists I’ve found who’ve created fanart of Madeline Miller’s debut novel: “The Song of Achilles.” Take a closer look at their artwork of when Patroclus meets Thetis for the first time (sometimes meeting your lover’s parents doesn’t end up working in your favor!)

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Sally Pham

Instagram: @sallteas

Sally is another digital artist I discovered because she’s done a fanart for a lot of my favorite book series! She’s done artwork for Sarah J. Maas’s “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” along with Leigh Bardugo’s “Six of Crows” series, Kerri Maniscalco’s “Kingdom of the Wicked,” plus even Adrienne Young’s “Fable.”

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Vanessa Ninona

Instagram: @nessa_ninona

Vanessa loves ancient Egypt, that much is obvious with her main focus on artwork for a graphic novel she both writes and illustrates called “Golden Brown.” I love her use of colors, especially the complementary use of browns, golds, and yellows mixed with blues to make it really pop!

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Darek Zabrocki

Instagram: @darekzabrocki

Another concept artist I found who specializes in environment design, this is another artist you also need to zoom in on their work to see all the little details he puts into his work. He’s done work for the “Assassin’s Creed” video game franchise, but my favorite work by him has to be either the pirate ships in the bay with the giant windmill, or the one right above of the small party of explorers walking into the ruins with the statue looking down over them like a guardian or an omen.

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Gukkhwa

Instagram: @gukkhwa

This artist does some gorgeous character design artwork with their subject matter focusing on mythological figures. Whether it’s deities of Greek mythology, Egyptian Mythology, Angels or Satan himself out of the christian bible, you have to admit that their work is certainly eye catching!

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Gretel Lusky

Instagram: @gretlusky

Gretel is another artist whose style really reminds me of the “Disney Princess” aesthetic, and that’s not just because she actually posts work of actual Disney princesses either! She switches between digital artwork and good ole watercolor and pastels on paper, but her use of color and the overall style of her work is one that I love, and wanted to showcase on this list to show others and get her name out there!

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Fran Garcés

Instagram: @dibujantenocturno

Fran is an absolute favorite of mine, I never get tired of his distinguishable linework and ultra amount of detail in his work. His love of dragons is what got him into drawing, but he just loves to draw monsters and nightmare imagery to create visually stunning artwork. I love his style so much that I had to buy his book to show my support!

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Gabrielle Ragusi

Instagram: @gabrielleragusi

I initially discovered this artist for their artwork of a series I’d recently started reading and really enjoy: “The Bridge Kingdom” by Danielle Jensen. Upon further looking into this artist, I found they’ve also done artwork for “Harry Potter” by JK Rowling and “Throne of Glass” by Sarah J. Maas and “To Kill a Kingdom” by Alexandria Christo, I really like their style and think they deserve to be as known amongst all the other artists who (thankfully) make stunning fanart of some of our favorite book characters!

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Abhishek Singh

Instagram: @abhiart

Drawing inspiration from his home country of India, this artist paints such awesome artwork of prominent figures from stories and myth. I love the amount of detail he puts into his work, especially with the costume and accessories of the figures as seen above!

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Marissa Clement

Instagram: @marissasketches

I discovered Marissa thanks to her artwork of Jude from Holly Black’s “The Folk of the Air” series along with Leigh Bardugo’s Alina Starkhov from her “Shadow and Bone” trilogy that’s gotten a lot of hype lately thanks to the new Netflix show premiering in late April 2021!

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Kelsey Eng

Instagram: @kelseyeng32

This artist has an adorable, cartoony style that I really enjoy, especially her artwork from what i assume is digital stills from actual episodes in “Game of Thrones.” I especially like the contrast she shows in her piece with Dany and Jon Snow, and even the one with Sansa and Arya Stark, the last of the Stark family line!

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Anato Finnstark

Instagram: @anatofinnstark

What initially introduced me to this artist was their artwork that showcases some truly iconic characters/monsters/figures in Fantasy literature: the darker characters from Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I instantly fell in love with their work of the Nazgul, or the Ring Wraiths as they’re also known as, but I also adore their art of the Balrog and Sauron as he’s taking on Isildur at the battle at the end of the second age where he fell. I really enjoy their overall dark and creepy vibes in their work and it all truly leaves an impression on the viewer, and someone who I believe is perfect to end this second list on!

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CLICK HERE to see Part 1!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Erotica, Romance

My Review: Crosstown Crush (Sins in the City #1): by Cara McKenna

Publish Date: September 1st, 2015
Number of Pages: 336 Pages
Publisher: Signet
Genre(s): Erotica, Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

After I happened upon this book totally by accident, I can say that this is definitely a smutty & erotic story worth checking out for those who are curious about what exactly is explored by the main characters…

I was doing a mini experiment with this title and decided to give it a try without looking into it on Goodreads, Amazon, literally nothing besides just reading the blurb and starting it based off just that. Honestly, it’s been wayyyyyyy too long since I’ve done that and I feel like I should do it more often; I might enjoy a lot more titles and not end up passing on a lot of them based off their Goodreads average rating or being scared off from others’ reviews. It makes me think of how many books I’d actually passed up on because of that, and it turns out I would’ve really enjoyed them?

So back to this book, but sex and a particular kink are the main focus of the story. I mean, that makes total sense when it comes to books within this genre, and one thing to remember is that with so much emphasis on the graphic sex scenes comes less actual plot and in-depth character development. Sometimes you do get all that in the story, but it can’t always be expected. What is expected is incredibly detailed sex scenes that really heat things up! This book is a dirty one and might even be too much for some readers! I enjoyed it because it was all about exploration of something that is taboo and forbidden and looked down on by a lot of people, plus I think it also depends on your personal views of marriage and how far a couple can go with their sex lives both as a couple but also as individuals.

So I’m kind of assuming a lot by this point, but I’m sure you know what’s going on in the book, so I’m just going to sort of go off about the “other man” in this whole relationship because he was by far my favorite character! I go into more detail about him later on in my review, but I thought the chemistry between him and the wife was so much hotter and undeniable than even her and her actual husband! There was definitely some major sparks happening there, and of course plenty of passionate, forbidden sex that was happening between them all!

The ending left a little more to be desired in my honest opinion, but again, I go more into detail on that below. I guess I can say that it was satisfying enough, but maybe not for those who read this and are leaning more towards the third man in this whole setup.

This erotic novel kind of hit different with its content and focus on cuckholding, which is when the husband is cheated on, but there’s also a lot more to it I think… This book doesn’t really give you a lesson in the topic and taboo subject matter, but it certainly paints it all in an interesting picture. Of course in this book it was all kind of hot, but would it be the same in your own sex life? What if instead of seeing red with rage and getting jealous, what if it was a huge turn on to have your significant other whispering in your ear all the torrid and dirty things they did with someone else? Maybe it leads to roleplaying and/or bringing a third party into the mix all for the sake of experimentation and fulfilling a dark and forbidden fantasy? I know that definitely doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I feel like exploring the idea through fiction might be a safer way to do so? It’s tricky because how accurate can it be? How much research did the author do? Is this just another 50 Shades of Grey mess? It certainly raises a ton of questions the more you think about it, but I’m going to leave it all up to you, the reader, to make up your mind on the topic. I appreciate you either way!

Each of the three characters has their own fantasies/fetishes that they admit to at some point in the story, some earlier than others. As the three of them explore themselves and their whole sexual dynamic, it actually gets kind of complex with how their feelings change and develop as they get to know more about each other, but the one thing that makes us unique gets in the way: human emotion. It certainly can lead to complications, especially with such a fragile and unique dynamic that the characters find themselves in with this book. Lines get crossed, as to be expected, but how exactly do they deal with it all? Thats the big question to ask that makes me say you need to read it for yourself to find out!

(or just keep reading on where I’m kind of giving a vague spoiler on the ending…fair warning).

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

The first in a new series from the “wicked-hot”* author of Hard Time and Give It All explores the fantasies of a daring married couple—and those of a stranger invited to play along in their scandalous little games… When he’s working, Mike Heyer is all business—every inch the alpha male, with the hard, capable body to back up his persona. But at home he can be a different man entirely, harboring appetites only his wife gets to glimpse…

When Samira first learned of her husband’s fantasies, she was reluctant, even alarmed. But after witnessing the way they set him on fire, she yielded, and happily indulged. As their games have intensified, so has the rush. And now so has the risk—they’re poised to take Mike’s indecent desires to the next level, by opening their bed to a sexy, brazen stranger. A man seeming custom-made to grant every last one of Mike and Samira’s sinful wishes.

Welcoming someone new into their lives was always a dangerous proposition, but the couple imagined if anything was at stake, it was their privacy…not their hearts.

What I Liked:

  1. Bern! He was a total highlight of this book, and I find it so ironic considering he’s the third party person whose brought into this unique pairing. He’s charming, he’s confident, down to earth, cheeky, and so intune with his sexuality and what all happens, he was fun to read in this story. I liked him almost immediately and wouldn’t mind if he was a real person if I ever bumped into him. He also has a dog who he obviously cares a lot about which is also a major plus, but also how he totally is down to go with the flow and change up the roleplaying almost quicker than either Sam or Mike. He has an exhibitionist in him and he’s not afraid to take charge and put his emotions out on his sleeve, I think anyone who reads this will absolutely adore him!
  2. The Smut! With the added thrill of the forbidden and taboo, the sex was absolutely so well done in this book. So much dirty talk and hot actions were said and done to heat up the pages and make you blush a couple times, plus these scenes take up a rather hefty amount of the book itself. Any fans of smut will absolutely love this book for this fact alone.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Ending… So this goes into spoiler territory, so read on at our own risk or skip to the conclusion……….but I wasn’t thrilled about the ending. It felt rushed and wrapped up a little too nicely, which always seems to be a problem I have with contemporary romance titles I swear! Well the main reason I wasn’t all that happy with it is because it honestly felt like it gave Bern the short end of the straw. So basically Sam ends up wanting both men in her life and being in a relationship with Bern while staying married to Mike, so they basically share her. Well, Mike shares her and pretty much chaperones anything that happens with Bern and Sam….It may have ended the book fine, but I was thinking about how it could come to be later on in their lives, like it doesn’t seem like it’d work long-term for them. To be fair, it was implied that Mike lessoned his strictness a little bit over time, but I just feel like Bern is going to resent how he doesn’t get enough over time… I just saw it going south, plus it’s not like throuples are really a big socially acceptable thing in this day and age. I’m not even sure if you can call it a throuple because Mike and Bern don’t really go too far with each other; there’s some exploration with that, but it’s more about them sharing Sam with little interaction between themselves…I don’t know, I just wasn’t thrilled with how it all wrapped together in the end.

Conclusion:

Certainly a HAWT erotica novel that fans of the genre should absolutely consider getting their hands on! It explores the dynamic of a man and wife and their adventurous sex life and how far they’re willing to go in order to live out some of their most forbidden and dark sexual fantasies. Those curious about it all have the chance to really enjoy this title, and meet the other man Bern, who was a total delight for this book!

This is also the first in a series, and while the couple in the next book isn’t anyone you meet in this book, I wonder if these characters make other appearances at all? I guess I’ll have to read on in order to find out!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell