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

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

My Review: The Chase (Briar U #1): by Elle Kennedy

Publish Date: August 26th, 2018
Number of Pages: 372 Pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing
Genre(s): New Adult, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

The Off-Campus series is one of my absolute favorite romance series to date with Elle Kennedy’s ability to perfectly mix humor and steam into one heck of a juicy story, so imagine my excitement when I learn that there’s another series set to release that’s in the same world! If I like something enough, of course I’m like every other member of a fandom who begs and pleads and prays to the creator of whatever it is to PLEASE GIVE US MORE, and it’s insanely satisfying when they do, add some extra YAY in there when it’s not terrible and a total cash-grab.

The Briar-U spinoff series definitely feels like the former in that sense when I got to reading this title as soon as I was able to find a hard copy. Even though it’s a new batch of main characters, the same chemistry and the same amount of angst, banter, sexual tension, and love scenes were all present in how the previous characters may have been so memorable for you like they were for me.

If anyone read my review of The Goal (Off-Campus #4), you’ll remember that I was less than thrilled about it. It’s not that I hated it, but it was definitely the weakest of the series, and that’s rather unfortunate considering it was the finisher to the series. My point is that this time around I was way more behind the couple from the get-go; their chemistry was plain as day and I couldn’t get enough of it all! It was a great bounce back from the less-than-stellar previous book for me.

It was a smart decision for the author to bring back some somewhat familiar faces from the previous books too: There was Hunter: the freshman who Dean kind of took under his wing, there was Collin Fitzgerald or “Fitzy,” the quiet, tattooed, game design student, and then there was also Summer, who is Dean’s younger sister. They were all really minor characters before, but now it’s great to see them get the spotlight this time around!

That doesn’t mean there also aren’t plenty of new faces to add to the bunch: there’s Summer’s instant new BFF, Brenna, who also happens to be the coach’s daughter, and Hollis, who’s Hunter and Fitz’s roommate. I think it’s also cool to add that these guys live in the same house that Garrett, Logan, Dean, and Tucker all lived in; it’s a great way to further connect the two series together like that.

For the most part, this book is pretty light in tone, there are some major social issues that are brought to light within the story, but I go more into that later down in the review.

What It’s About:

With the start of a new semester at Briar University, and while some faces have graduated and moved away, there are plenty of new faces to stir up some entertaining drama and romance much like the previous Off-Campus series! Some of the characters are some familiar names; they were underclassmen Hunter and Fitzy who have taken over the very same house that Garrett, Logan, Dean, and Tucker lived in their junior and senior years.

Another returning character is Summer DiLaurentis, Dean’s younger sister, who’s transferred from her previous ivy league university under some mysterious circumstances…but she has nowhere to go. Even as a legacy to join one of the top sororities on campus, they reject her due to her circumstances at her previous school, so she calls in a favor to her brother, and believe it or not, winds up rooming with Hunter, Fitzy, and another teammate named Hollis.

The issue with this set up? The obvious spark that’s between Summer and Fitzy that only grows bigger and bigger as they live under the same roof. He tries to act like there’s nothing going on, but just perhaps the lady doth protest too much…It’s total opposites attract: Fitzy’s an introverted, broody, heavily tattooed, and has Game Design as his major while Summer is kind of a total Elle Woods: Blonde, bubbly, gorgeous, and a Fashion Design major. On paper, it appears like there’s no way they’d be right for each other, but that certainly doesn’t stop the sexual tension to keep rising and rising until someone’s about to explode!

What I Liked:

  1. The Familiar Faces! I really enjoyed seeing some returning characters like Summer, Hunter, and Fitzy; they were really minor characters in the previous series and didn’t get a whole lot of attention, so it was enticing to see them get the spotlight on them this time around. There were also some cameos from some previous Briar University students like Garrett, Hannah, Tucker, and of course Dean and Allie. Happy to see that the couples are all still together and moving forward with the next step of their lives. It was like paying homage to the base this series grew from and you kind of got that jolt of excitement you usually get when you get to have a big reunion with your friends.
  2. The Social Issues Brought Up! Learning disabilities, sexual assault on college campuses, girl-on-girl hatred, judging people based off appearances, and broken families are issues that a lot of us face in our daily lives. These were some serious issues that were brought up in this book that I also think were handled incredibly well and respectfully by the author. It made the story feel a lot more meaningful and relatable because yeah, I definitely have experience with at least one of them myself. These were much more realistic than some of the other issues Elle Kennedy has brought up in her books, so you can tell there’s been some maturing of her writing ability by this point!
  3. The Laughs! Hilarious one-liners, ongoing jokes with certain characters, and the steamy banter all make what I believe make Elle Kennedy an incredibly popular author within the NA Romance genre.
  4. The Love Triangle! I know….weird to say since everyone seems to be completely over this whole trope indefinitely, but I can say I still enjoy it from time to time depending on how it’s handled. There’s some major angst that brews between Summer, Fitzy, and Hunter (who also shows major romantic interest in her). Kind of awkward since they literally all live in the same house together, and of course you know who Summer is going to end up with, so part of me was also torn on how Hunter reacts later on, but I can say it made me wonder how in the heck the two main characters will end up together!
  5. Nerd Culture! Fitzy’s a Game Design major and is also a pretty intelligent guy, he falls pretty far from the stereotypical dumb jock, so of course that means he’s going to have a vast knowledge of video games and technology in general. Someone else pointed it out on Goodreads too, but I had to agree that it seemed like Elle Kennedy really did her research and made all the terms and platforms she mentions feel authentic and genuine. I’m by no means a game nerd in any way so I’m not the most legit source on whether this part was done correctly, but it for sure felt real to me.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Slow-Burn…I mean, the sexual tension was good, don’t get me wrong, but part of me was kind of hoping for more steamy smut scenes than what we actually got in this book. What we did get was some absolutely scorching, off the charts hot stuff, but based off what’s gone down in the books of the previous series, I was just kind of hoping for more.

Conclusion:

It was a total joy to come back into the world of Briar University with all the hockey players and the ladies who rock their skates off, one by one with each new installment! I’m so happy that there’s going to be even more books, because like the Off-Campus series, this new cast of characters seem like an exciting bunch who’ll make you excited to see what will possibly happen next, and also wonder who’ll end up together.

If you loved the previous series, you’re going to adore this one too, and I can also say you’ll even enjoy this book even if you haven’t read them at all. First: I definitely say you SHOULD read them because of how amazing I think they are as a series, and second: The beginning might be a little jarring with the listing of so many names of people—the characters of the previous series—who make a cameo return before the story goes to focus more on the newer batch of the cast. Just want to throw that out there for anyone’s consideration.

Elle Kennedy continues to be a favorite Romance genre author for me with this new spinoff series, I’m really looking forward to the next three books too!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: The Bridge Kingdom (The Bridge Kingdom #1): by Danielle L. Jensen

Publish Date: August 13th, 2019
Number of Pages: 354 Pages
Publisher: Context Literary Agency LLC
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

A princess who’s secretly a trained assassin…

An ACTUAL enemies-to-lovers where one of them tries to kill the other at one point…

A marriage of Convenience…

Twisty political intrigue and espionage…

Lots of exciting action scenes…

Slow burning sexual tension mixed with distrust up the WAZOOOO…

Tropical and lush scenery…

Snarky grandmas…

Um…Yes, LOVE that journey for me!

The Bridge Kingdom was a book that’s been thrown around multiple Facebook groups I follow for Sarah J. Maas and Jennifer Armentrout, and I’ll admit that upon looking into this book that I was definitely curious! I hadn’t heard much about the author nor have I read anything by her—Although I do have a hardcover copy of Dark Shores on my shelf at home to be read soon!—but with how often I saw this title brought up, I knew it’d eventually end up in my hands.

I must say this book surprised me because I was instantly hooked! We have a Game of Thrones Red Wedding-esque scene almost right away in the beginning of the story, and within the first three chapters I’m slightly terrified of our heroine, and emotionally invested in her when a big secret is revealed right away afterwards in explanation of her shocking scene beforehand, and can’t wait to see what else she can do!

The story itself is nothing too groundbreaking or unique or innovative, but my higher rating simply is because of how this story is told. I feel like I’ve read plenty of ‘deadly girl infiltrates enemy kingdom and plans to kill the king after marriage-by-convenience, but falls in love instead,’ but the author just tells it so well; it really draws you in. She also has vivid descriptions of the world as you explore it with one of the main characters, and the pacing keeps you riveted and turning the pages when you convince yourself “Just 1 more chapter…” like 5 chapters ago. The action, plus the agonizingly slow romance building between the two main characters kept my attention, then thankfully making me satisfied when it finally happens (Although, it would’ve been fine to have happened, like, fifty pages ago too, but whatever…) The growth that the main character goes through was also fun to read, both her and her love interest discover the important lesson of how maybe we shouldn’t give in to certain prejudices about people from another culture, but then again, if there’s tension and the threat of war between the two kingdoms, it’s kind of inevitable…but there’s also the idea to consider that you also shouldn’t believe everything someone tells you about a certain group of people either.

Despite how short the book appears, it felt like a really long story; It was like there was a lot more words crammed in on every page than most other published books, so after reading fifty pages it actually felt like I’d read an additional hundred with all the material that fits just in that small chunk of pages.

A fair heads up, not really a warning, but despite this being within the Fantasy genre, there’s not a whole lot of typical Fantasy elements: namely, a magic system and mythological creatures. It’s a tropical climate setting with islands that makes me think of exotic destinations like Hawaii, Thailand, or the Caribbean with a lot of snakes that inhabit the land while the sharks make several appearances when the characters travel by boat through the water. Not that I’m trying to knock the worldbuilding because it’s still a fictional land and is still wonderfully done, but let me just say that you shouldn’t go into this book expecting wizards casting spells or any dragons flying around. While these aspects of Fantasy may be lacking, the world is still rife with lots of political intrigue and militaristic strategies being made around a particular landscape phenomenon referred to as “The Bridge” (hence the title of the book/series), and for any of you visual learners, the bridge is like the Chinese Wall that travels for miles and miles, except this time it’s not man-made.

Like I said, this book surprised me by how much I found myself enjoying it, and I even already ordered the sequel because that ending……oofda! I need to read on and get some more answers and just see what will possibly happen next! I loved how the author tied in the very beginning of the book to let you see how much the character has changed throughout the story and how the stakes have changed so drastically. If this is the first book I finish reading in 2021, I can happily say that the new year for books is already looking pretty bright!

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

What if you fell in love with the one person you’d sworn to destroy?

Lara has only one thought for her husband on their wedding day: I will bring your kingdom to its knees. A princess trained from childhood to be a lethal spy, Lara knows that the Bridge Kingdom represents both legendary evil – and legendary promise. The only route through a storm-ravaged world, the Bridge Kingdom controls all trade and travel between lands, allowing its ruler to enrich himself and deprive his enemies, including Lara’s homeland. So when she is sent as a bride under the guise of fulfilling a treaty of peace, Lara is prepared to do whatever it takes to fracture the defenses of the impenetrable Bridge Kingdom.

But as she infiltrates her new home – a lush paradise surrounded by tempest seas – and comes to know her new husband, Aren, Lara begins to question where the true evil resides. Around her, she sees a kingdom fighting for survival, and in Aren, a man fiercely protective of his people. As her mission drives her to deeper understanding of the fight to possess the bridge, Lara finds the simmering attraction between her and Aren impossible to ignore. Her goal nearly within reach, Lara will have to decide her own fate: Will she be the destroyer of a king or the savior of her people?

What I Liked:

  1. The Characters, Especially Lara Veliant! I personally liked them and thought lara especially went through a lot of growth as the story developed. I liked that she was already an established assassin by the time the story takes place, and you aren’t treated to her training and coming into her deadly skills. She gives me some major Aelin Galathynius-Whitethorn vibes with her looks, her attitude, and her physical prowess. I liked Aren too, but not quite as much and didn’t feel like he changed except for his feelings towards Lara. I also feel like he didn’t stand out as much from other male hero/love interests in these types of stories. Sure, he’s brave and noble and caring and charming, but so is every other male character in his position! Hopefully he gets more characterization in the second book.
  2. Good Pacing! There was a lot of action to keep you excited that mixed perfectly with the slower moments where dialogue and character is revealed. I found this surprising since they’re wasn’t an actual villain present for a large chunk of the story; it was more about Lara’s change in attitude and swerving of which side she truly belonged to by the end of the story. I think this also added to why I found this book so easy to want to keep reading, even if I was so familiar with basically all the story’s elements.
  3. They’re Actually Enemies-to-Lovers! A lot of the time people say a romance storyline is this trope when in actuality it really isn’t…I don’t feel like going into examples, but what I liked about this story with the trope is that the two characters actually almost kill each other on several occasions. When they say “enemies,” I want instances where they’re nearly coming to blows, they plot to assassinate the other, and actually have an animosity towards the other…sure, it eventually burns into a passionate love, but they always love and hate have a varied line between them!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Not As Much Romance As I’d Liked… What I mean is that it’s a really really slow slow-burn of a romance, which if I think about it, makes total sense. Lara and Aren are from two different kingdoms and have been raised to believe certain prejudices about each other, so I can say the romance grew rather realistically, but I don’t know…I kind of just wanted some more romance scenes. Maybe there will be a lot more in the next book!
  2. Not Many Fantasy Elements… I mentioned this earlier, but for a book that falls under the Fantasy genre, there’s not a whole lot of elements that show up in this story. There’s no magic, there’s no mythological creatures, no charmed/cursed item or relic, and so on…The world is entirely fictional, but that’s about it. The animals are snakes and sharks; I feel like the author could’ve reimagined them as some sort of creature that’s similar, but more on the mythological side.

Conclusion:

The Bridge Kingdom is an adventurous and exciting enemies-to-lovers tale with plenty of distinctive characters, slow burning romance thick with tension and distrust, bloody action and military strategization, and of course beautiful and exotic locations that are used incredibly well into the story: you could say I definitely recommend this title, just maybe…

…no but actually, READ this book!

Specifically, if you loved books like The Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes, Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin, The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, and of course, just about ANYTHING by Sarah J. Maas or Jennifer Armentrout, I know you’ll most likely also enjoy this book as well. It’s got all the same elements that these other authors offer to the genre, and is yet another beautifully told story that will wrap you up and drag you in without a second thought.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell