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

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

New Adult Romance, Paranormal, Romance, YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1): by Kerri Maniscalco

Publish Date: October 27th, 2020
Number of Pages: 372 Pages
Publisher: JIMMY Patterson
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, New Adult Romance, YA Romance, Paranormal Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Pages

There are victors and victims. Decide who you want to be. Or the choice will be made for you, witch. And I doubt you’ll like it.

I threw my head back and groaned. ‘It’s a game of scopa, not a battle between life and death. Are you always this dramatic?'”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

Kingdom of the Wicked was a slow burn of a book for me; the beginning started off like any other YA Fantasy title, but once you get further into the story and discover more and more myth and lore in the world that the author of the Stalking Jack The Ripper series has created, I can really say that the book takes off with a jolt in some witchy delight!

This is actually my first novel by Kerri Maniscalco, and after reading it I can say I’m definitely more and more interested in reading her other series I mentioned above because there are still some familiar themes of murder, mystery, romance, and historical settings to make the reader engaged and wanting to stay up late to see what happens next. What I’m noticing with this newer series, however, is that the author seems to have more room for fun and creativity to take her story even further!

The romance was a huge draw for me, and for the most part, it certainly didn’t disappoint! I easily got into the chemistry that oozed between the two main characters, Emilia and Wrath, and loved their whole dynamic; I never get tired of an enemies-to-lovers dynamic. While both characters weren’t anything brand new or entirely unique to the genre, I can say they’re still fun to read as they argue and (attempt) to ignore their growing attractions for each other as they work together to solve a murder mystery.

It wasn’t a perfect read; The the overall pacing with the chapters and how they’re set up was a little strange for my liking, and some of the ending needs to be clarified for me—or I need to go back and reread it for myself and make sure I pay more attention!

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Two sisters…

One brutal murder…

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance…

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe—witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin… desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked Princes of Hell that she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…

‘One day you might beg me to kiss you.’ He stepped close enough for me to stab him.”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

What I Liked:

  1. The Many Food Descriptions! Several other reviewers pointed this one out, but there are some seriously delicious italian dishes that get mentioned in this book since the main character’s family owns and operates a restaurant. Cannoli’s are amazing, and I had some major cravings for some once I arrived to that part within the story…yum!
  2. The Romance Between Wrath and Emilia! This book is a great addition to the enemies-to-lovers romance trope as Wrath and Emilia have some immediate sexual tension that builds and builds between them as they reluctantly work together to solve the murder of her twin sister. They irritate each other and start verbal lashings from each other, but underneath it all is an obvious attraction that neither can ignore the closer they become. Their dynamic also grew rather realistically as they slowly begin to trust each other—at least until certain things happen—and rely on each other’s strength into a begrudging respect for one another.
  3. The Worldbuilding! I actually liked the class systems of demons the author presented us, there are also the seven demon princes of hell representing the seven deadly sins, the witches living amongst the normal folks and the witch hunters who are secretly members of the church, even werewolves; it’s all mixed together to create an interesting world that may or make this series an incredibly memorable one!
  4. The “Whodunnit” Murder Mystery! I always love a good mystery where the main character is on the hunt for a killer who leaves a bloody trail of bodies behind.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Beginning Felt Very Generic…This book was pretty boring at first and felt like any general YA Fantasy title out there, but once Emilia and Wrath run into each other and meet for the first time, that was when things really begin to take off!
  2. Not Enough Steam…I know this is a YA Fantasy book so the sexual content (a.k.a. smut) is supposed to be very limited, but really do feel like this story would be even better if there were more steamy scenes. I mean like let’s see truly how “wicked” Prince Wrath can be *wink*wink.* Maybe there’ll be more scenes like this in later books, but again, I know it can only go so far within the YA reading level.
  3. The Ending…Okay, so this one may be on me because I maybe wasn’t fully paying close enough attention and missed something, but part of the ending kind of went over my head. For most of the book, it felt like a pretty light read that didn’t require my entire attention, but then all of a sudden SO MUCH was happening at the end and I blinked and missed some vital information I think…if someone sees this review and wants to message me to fully explain it all to me, you’d officially be my favorite person!!
  4. The Short Chapters…Some chapters were only like a page and a half long, and I was wondering to myself why a single conversation was sometimes three whole chapters when it could’ve been just one? It was weird pacing to me and kind of annoying at times…

Conclusion:

This is my first Kerri Maniscalco novel, and this book really does make me interested in reading her Stalking Jack The Ripper series that put her name on the map!

Like the romance between the two main characters in this book, the story was a slow burn that definitely left me interested to keep reading on once the next book arrives later on! It wasn’t the next binge-worthy series for me to become obsessed with, but this book shows that the series has a whole lot of potential to become a huge fan favorite among the many other incredibly popular YA Fantasy series most of us readers know and love!

A reckoning awoke in me. The more I gave, the more he returned. We traded kisses like blows. And if this were a fight, I wouldn’t know who was winning. I understood why some thought kissing one of the Wicked was addictive. Each time his tongue touched mine, it felt as if the ground beneath me quaked. Like we were a cataclysmic event that shouldn’t be.”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

I recommend this book to those that really enjoyed other titles like Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin or the Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black; the dynamic between Wrath and Emilia for sure gave me some impressions of Jude and Cardan with the whole enemies-to-lovers, then back to enemies dynamic!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: The Hookup (Midnight and Motor Oil #1): by Kristen Ashley

Publish Date: December 19th, 2017
Number of Pages: 358 Pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 3 Stars

The going will get tough, and you’ll stick. We’ll fight, and you’ll stick. Our world could rock, Eliza, and there’s one thing I’m certain about, you’ll stick.”

– Kristen Ashley, “The Hookup”

This was an alright book that was a nice change of pace from what I’ve been reading recently. Lately I’ve been trying to overstock on more Fantasy-genre titles, and I think I’ve burned myself out with it trying to memorize all the different names and places and magic systems, so I tend to switch over to the Romance-genre when it all becomes too much. Romance titles are usually lighter and easier to read through, but are also limited by way more consistent tropes and clichés that you see in so many other titles. It’s a balance you just have to accept, but sometimes just going into a new title with the acceptance of knowing they’ll be there is how you’ll really enjoy it more.

This title has been on my “To-Read” shelf on Goodreads for quite some time, but not because someone recommended it to me by someone or I’ve heard really good reviews of it. To be honest, I really liked the design of the cover and at the time I guess I was just in the mood for a small-town setting with two young and attractive people who meet and fall for each other. You’ve gotta admit that has a nice appeal to it! For me, it makes me think of those romantic country love songs that are so popular in the summer. Anyways, one day while I was extremely bored while working at the bookstore, I looked through our database that shows us if any of the other stores have a copy of whatever specific title you’re looking for, and wouldn’t you know it, one store out of state just happened to have a copy come in! Since I’d never seen a copy come into my location in the two years I’ve worked, so I thought why not? I get a 50% off discount anyways.

The Hookup is an alright book to enjoy if you’re like me and you’re looking for some easy, mostly lighthearted romantic beach read that has the small town aesthetics; it’s nothing too special or unique, but still enjoyable nonetheless. I gotta stop thinking I’m going to find the next most innovative, distinct romance title because I just think that in order to count as a romance title, it has to follow a somewhat strict set of guidelines, and that’s where I think the clichés and overly familiar tropes stems from. Just because you see something over and over again doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad, so long as the author makes something unique about it.

The romance was, of course, the main highlight of the story along with the exploration of what the two main characters struggled with in their pasts before they met and how those issues came between them. I really loved the message towards the end of the book where it tells you that while you may have been dealt a shitty hand at life at some point and that there’s no going back from it or receiving any closure for it, sometimes those things can also lead you to what could possibly be the best thing that happens to you. Life throws many curveballs at you, some bigger than others, but it’s always a nice reminder to really enjoy the sweeter moments too, especially when life takes a more tragic turn for the worse.

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

When the new girl in town, Eliza “Izzy” Forrester decides to hit the local drinking hole, she’s not ready to meet the town’s good, solid guy. She’s definitely not prepared to engage in her very first hookup with him.

Then Izzy wakes up the next morning in Johnny Gamble’s bed and good girl Izzy finds she likes being bad for Johnny.

Even so, Izzy feels Johnny holding her at arm’s length. But Johnny makes it clear he wants more and Izzy already knows she wants as much of hot-in-bed, sweet-out-of-it Johnny Gamble.

Floating on air thinking this is going somewhere, Izzy quickly learns why Johnny holds distant.

He’s in love with someone else. Someone who left him and did it leaving him broken. Whoever was up next would be runner up, second best. Knowing the stakes, Izzy will take what she can get from the gentleman that’s Johnny Gamble. And even knowing his heart might never mend, Johnny can’t seem to stay away from Izzy.

Until out of nowhere, his lost love comes back to town. He’s not going back, but Johnny still knows the right thing to do is let Izzy go.

And Izzy knew the stakes, so she makes it easy and slips through his fingers.

But that’s before Johnny realizes Eliza moved to town to escape danger that’s been swirling around her.

And that’s why Johnny decides to wade in.

That and the fact Eliza Forrester makes breakfast with a canary singing on her shoulder and fills out tight dresses in a way Johnny Gamble cannot get out of his head.

What I Liked:

  1. The Two Leads’ Inner Conflicts! Both Johnny and Izzy have some major baggage that threatens to keep them apart: Johnny was ditched three years prior by the love of his life and has been going through the motions ever since, and Izzy is secretly escaping from a psycho-ex. Add to the mix that both come from a childhood where one of their parents was gone, but for different reasons; one being more tragic than the other. I won’t spoil what I mean by that, but it certainly adds to the depth of what these characters have been through in the past, thus making you more emotionally invested that the two help each other and end up together because of it.
  2. The Love Story Between Johnny and Izzy! The story starts the morning after they hooked up for the first time, and from then on the main drive of the story is their relationship and how it changes over time as they get to know each other on a much deeper and intimate level than just FWB’s. It wasn’t insta-love, but there was definitely an immediate attraction from both of them, and I thought their romantic relationship developed rather organically and realistically

We’re allowed to want things and not only earn them and work for them and fight for them, but have someone maybe once in a while give them to us because they love us and they want us to have what we want.”

– Kristen Ashley, “The Hookup”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Where’s the Conflict?… Hate to say it, but the blurb made it sound like there was going to be a lot more drama in this story than there actually was. Yeah, Johnny’s ex makes a surprise reappearance in town after running away three years ago, but that ended up being such a minor part of the whole story and Johnny was hardly even affected by it to be honest. Izzy was way more wigged out about it, but most of the story is just them and how their relationship strengthens, so this may feel like a slower read for most readers. There’s something that happens at the end to add some level of stress and worry, but it’s really quick and over with before you know it.
  2. Leads May be Too Perfect… There’s the cliché character turn named the “Mary Sue” where a character seems so perfect and hardly has any flaws that it’s almost annoying. That’s kind of the case with both Izzy and Johnny here. Izzy is like a straight up Disney Princess and has a plethora of pets that follow her around as she works from sunrise to sundown plus has other characteristics but too many times when you’re in Johnny’s head in his perspective chapters does he look at her and it literally seems like she’s the sun shining all up on everything she touches or stands by. There’s things about Johnny too, but overall it felt like the author put way too much emphasis on making sure her two main characters were absolutely morally and physically spotless despite both having difficult things from their pasts.
  3. Male Lead Gets Angry When She Tries to be Independent… This was a minor thing, but it felt odd whenever Johnny got annoyed at Izzy for doing something heavy lifting and absolutely insisted he always do it for her, like only he was allowed to do what he considered “man’s work.” While it’s sweet that he offers to clean out the barn, mow her large lawn and plenty of things tasks, it’s weird how much it irks him when she still tries to do it too. Like when she sets up a table she had to grab out of the shed, he tells her to watch an infant when he put it away, and there was no room for debate…I don’t know, something about that seemed off to me.
  4. Felt Very Little for the Minor Characters… There are plenty of side characters that also encompass the story and add to the relationship between Izzy and Johnny: there’s an elderly couple who are like Johnny’s parents with the wife being extra spunky and full of southern sass while the husband gives her a hard time but it’s obvious they’re very much still in love, there’s Izzy’s less-than-perfect sister who shows up with her baby unexpectedly and moves in, there’s also Johnny’s brother who shows up so late that I really felt very little for him…these characters just felt very cliché and didn’t really stick out to me; i’ve seen them in countless other romantic books/movies/tv shows before

Conclusion:

Overall, I found The Hookup to be an overall light & easy book; a sweet, small-town romance that can be a comfort read for anyone who’s a fan of the romance genre. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking or obsession worthy, but it was still a joy to read and definitely checks all the marks of what readers are usually looking for when it comes to books like it: two lead characters who have emotional baggage they both need to sort through while helping each other and falling for each other at the same time, an ex who “unexpectedly” shows up and causes drama, an elderly couple with plenty of spunk to remind us all what a long lasting love can look like, side characters who may or may not end up together later on, and of course pets and a baby. The story was equal parts sweet & tender mixed with a little steam and spice with some well written smut for romance readers who like the more descriptive side of the material, but the scenes of heartfelt confessions and admissions will also pull your own heartstrings.

I feel like fans of authors like Colleen Hoover and Christina Lauren will really enjoy this book; they have a similar style of writing with quirky female leads who have some heavy baggage that really gives them some great depth and great character development.

While I did think the story was pretty decent and Johnny and Izzy are easy to get behind and support, I don’t find myself caring enough to read the second part of this series—or duology—just because the side characters didn’t draw me in nearly as much, and most likely the next part will somewhat be centered around a baby of a single mother and I’m sorry, but those kinds of stories don’t interest me.

2021 has been a weird year so far, and I’m also bummed to admit that I think I may be in my first ever major reading slump…books just aren’t hitting me like they used to lately, and it’s been like that for the last month. I just can’t seem to sit down and want to concentrate. So I regret to say that maybe I won’t be posting as many reviews as I normally do, but it could also just be that my seasonal depression is just really hitting me different with everything like COVID and whatever the latest scandal on the news is because the writing for my college story has been on hiatus too…I’m not happy about it, but I’m also trying not to beat myself up about it too much as well. We’ll have to wait and see, but I also have a new iPad and downloaded Procreate to get back into drawing too, so there’s hope!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell