Thursday, February 28, 2019

Joint Review: Dukes are Forever by Bec McMaster


Dukes are Forever
(London Steampunk: The Blueblood Conspiracy #5)
Bec McMaster
Release: February 12, 2019
Goodreads Amazon
ARC provided by the author
A compromising situation forced him into marriage. But has his wife been working for the enemy all along?

In a steam-fuelled world where vampires once ruled the aristocracy, the Duke of Malloryn knows his nemesis, Lord Balfour, has finally returned to enact his plans of revenge.

Malloryn can trust no one, and when incriminating photographs surface—of an enemy agent stealing a kiss from his wife—he is forced to question just why his wife, Adele, trapped him into marriage.

Is she an innocent pawn caught up in a madman's games, or is she a double agent working against him?

The only way to discover the truth is to seduce her himself...

Adele Hamilton may have agreed to a loveless marriage in order to protect herself, but that doesn't stop her heart from yearning for more.

Her husband promised her a cold marriage bed. He swore he'd never touch her. But suddenly he's engaged in a campaign of seduction—and the only way to keep her wits about her is to fight fire with fire.

The ruthless beauty has locked her heart away, but can she deny the passion that flares between them? And when the truth emerges, will she be the only thing that can save Malloryn's life?

Or the weapon his enemy will wield against him?
Remember when we said that sometimes we both read the same book? And sometimes we both just have to share our thoughts? I hope you do, it was only two days ago. Well, we've done it again.

We both love Bec McMaster. In fact, one of the first joint reviews we ever did was for Of Silk and Steam, the finale of  the previous London Steampunk series. But today we want to talk about the final book of The Blueblood Conspiracy.

RoseRed: I’m so sad to see this series end but Adele and Malloryn were everything!

Gretl: I was surprised how much I enjoyed this couple. I didn't really care about either of  them when the series started, though Malloryn grew on me over the last few books. They almost have an enemies to lovers thing going with the competitive nature of their relationship which was fun.

RR: One of the things I loved about this book is how McMaster took these two characters that everyone sees as heartless (Malloryn) and cold (Adele) and shows us the other side of them that no one else really sees. The romance between Malloryn and Adele was very well done and drew me in from the beginning. Which honestly was a relief because I was a bit wary of the romance going into this book. But I loved them as a couple!

G: My only complaint about the romance is that I felt like it overshadowed the political aspects of the story, which are usually one of my favorite things. In a way though, maybe that was point - Malloryn had been putting politics and patriotism above everything else and his relationship with Adele showed him there was more to life. But I still wish I had felt more invested in the politics this time.

RR: I will say that I wish we had seen a bit more interaction between COR and Adele and Malloryn but what we got was golden!

G: Adele did seem to be either with Malloryn or with the ladies, rather than being part of the group as a whole. *scratches head* I liked her friendship with Lena from the original series though. I think everyone except Blade came back in this finale. 

G: I can't help but compare Dukes are Forever to Of Silk and Steam. The characters find themselves in a similar situation at the end. And what stands out to me about that finale is the explosions - I even made a joke about going out with a bang. But I think McMaster blew up even more stuff this time. I imagine her sitting at her computer going "Oh, did I leave that standing last time? My bad!"

RR: This was a very satisfying conclusion to this series but I’m sad to leave the world and characters behind. I will say that while I enjoyed the ending of this book, I really need McMaster’s next newsletter to be out so we can read that promised epilogue.

4/5 Stars


4.5/5 Stars

Our reviews of other books in this series:
Mission: Improper
The Mech Who Loved Me
You Only Love Twice
To Catch a Rogue

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

We Love Lists: The Fantasy Books Rose Red Thinks You Need to Read

A couple weeks ago on Twitter, one of the people I follow asked for fantasy recs in such a way that I haven't been able to get it out of my head.

Of course, I gave her some recs but I couldn't stop thinking about it. Fantasy books are my reading bread and butter. Across all subgenres, fantasy accounted for 72% of my reading in 2018 and that's a trend that has repeatedly happened over the last five years. So I got to thinking about what books would be on my definitive list of my must-read fantasy. The product of that thought plus a week of pondering and a bit of debating with the Bestie is this list. I present to you my list of fantasy books that I think everyone needs to read.

The Shades of Magic Series by V.E. Schwab
No one who reads this blog is surprised that a Schwab book made this list. I adore the Shades of Magic series and I love its take on portal fantasy. There are so many tropes that these books do right and turn on their heads and it's delightful! Also, Lila Bard just makes the series. I love her interactions with Kell and everyone else in the series. And it gets bonus points for the queer rep.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
This book was my gateway book into fantasy so it makes sense that it would make my list of fantasy books I'd make everyone read. It was also the first book I ever read where the chosen one was a girl. I've reread this book at least once a year for the last twenty years and it holds up. There's horses and swords and just a hint of romance. It's a book I still recommend all the time.

The Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson
I have loved all of Sanderson's adult fantasy books I've read but his Mistborn series is by far my favorite. And I think the unique magic system is a good part of that and the amazing characters make up the rest. And one of the things I love about this series is that it's a series of series. We get to see how the world evolves as time passes and it's an amazing thing I wish more series did. It's been fun to read the second series in the series for Easter eggs referencing the first series. These are the books I recommend people start with when wanting to get into Sanderson's work.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is an oldie but a goodie. Cimorene was my first runaway, unconventional princess who was going to go her own way and she's still one of my favorite heroines of all time. I love her and the group of friends and allies she collects on her way. It was also one of the first books I read where a place is essentially another character. Twenty plus years later and I'm still enchanted with the Enchanted Forest and its inhabitants.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk
This is a newer book but I'm absolutely head over heels for it! It was one of my favorite books of last year. It’s a magical murder mystery set in a post-WWI England-esque fantasy world. It’s delightfully tropey, quietly queer, and features bicycle chases. It's a shorter book at 302 pages but it packs a punch. It tackles a ton of hard topics in such a great way while still being fun and tropey and I can’t stop thinking about it. The comments on agency are particularly thought provoking. I really can't recommend this one enough.

The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrew
I could make a whole list of urban fantasy books I would love people to read but for the purpose of this list only one made the cut. The Kate Daniels series is everything I want in a fantasy book and more. The heroine is a badass force of nature, the love interest is supportive and protective, and all of the secondary characters could jump from the page fully realized. Add in the terrific post-magic apocalypse setting of Atlanta, the magic system, and all of the different mythologies that made an appearance throughout the series and it's no wonder why I included it on this list. This is one of those series that just gets better with each book and the stakes stay high throughout. This series is a master class that should be mandatory reading for everyone.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
I loved this series from the moment I read the first page of The Raven Boys. It was atmospheric and creepy as all get out in places but also darkly whimsical. I haven't been able to get Blue and her Raven Boys out of my head since I binge read the series in 2016 and I honestly wouldn't have it any other way. I was a little skeptical when a good friend described it as a group of teens looking for a dead Welsh king in the middle of nowhere Virginia but it's the best non-spoilery description of seen for it. The writing is almost lyrical and the characters will quietly (or not so quietly in Ronan's case) grow on you until you're completely obsessed with them. Just writing this blurb makes me want to reread the series again.

A Matter of Magic by Patricia C. Wrede
I can pinpoint the exact moment in my childhood where I become obsessed with fantastical thieves and heist and it was the moment I read Mairelon the Magician. I never knew that I needed a book about a cross-dressing street thief who tries to steal from a real magician before I read this and I'll admit that it's still a trope that I seek out. It was also my introduction into the fantasy of manners subgenre which is always a subgenre I need to read more of. I will forever mourn the fact that we only have two books following Kim and Mairelon's adventures. I still have my fingers crossed the Patricia Wrede will change her mind and write more in this series.

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
I never knew I needed a fantasy book about poison tasters and spy masters that's also full of political intrigue but that is what Poison Study is. I loved how the romance developed and how magic came to play in the story. This is a series where I think the first book is the strongest but the sequels are good supporting stories. It should be noted that when I recommend this series, I'm only recommending the original trilogy. In my mind they are the only books that exist in this series because the newest books the author added were just not good.

The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner
For short books, The Queen's Thief series packs a lot in. The story is incredibly layered and I'm still picking up new things four rereads later. I fell almost instantly in love with the thief, Eugenides, and have obsessively read his adventures as soon as I got my hands on each book. I can't even describe why I love this series so much. It's just so good! The series is set to end this year and I'm not ready to say goodbye yet.

Which fantasy books would you include on your must read list?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Discussion/Review: Polaris Rising by Jessie Mahalik


Polaris Rising
(Consortium Rebellion #1)
Jessie Mahalik
Release: February 5, 2019
Goodreads Amazon
ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.

Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancĂ© captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .

Every so often both Rose Red and Gretl get approved for the same ARC and sometimes we just can't decide who will be the one to review it here on the blog. Polaris Rising was one of those books so we decided to have both of us review it. We broke it down by topics so it was easier to follow so it's going to be more of a review/discussion than a regular review. We hope you'll share your thoughts in the comments. We've tried to avoid spoilers for this book so it should be safe to read this post if you haven't read it yet.

Rose Red: Ada really is a brilliant character who is both smart and fierce and sensible to boot. There were instances where she could have lashed out when things didn’t go her way but she never did. I found that I loved how her mind worked. Despite being fiercely independent, she allows herself to be emotionally vulnerable in certain situations. She was definitely the main highlight of the book for me. There are some references to events in her past throughout the story that are never really explained as well as I would have liked.

Gretl: I agree. I was also impressed with her political savvy, which really comes into play in the second half. Everyone wants to use her as a pawn, but she's able to outplay them all.

RR: Loch as a character felt awfully flat to me. He’s the typical brawny alpha male fugitive and we didn’t get to see much else from him. I would have loved to see him interact more with Ada instead of silently brooding in a corner. I probably would feel differently about him if we’d gotten some of the story from his POV.

G: Loch is an enigma for most of the book. I saw someone on Twitter compare him to Curran in the Kate Daniels series who's another alpha male that it took me a while to warm up to. I think including his POV would have made it harder to keep his secrets. Not that that would have been a bad thing necessarily - I realized right away that there would be more to his story than was public knowledge.

RR: I really loved the secondary characters in this book. I'm intrigued by a few of them and want to see more of them in future books. Most especially a certain gunrunner and head of security.

G: Definitely! I suspect that those two will both have their own books before the series is over.

RR: Another thing I really liked was the world building. Yeah, there are some info-dumpy parts but it doesn't feel awkward or unnecessary. I personally found the politics and ruling house structure fascinating and would like to learn more about it in the next book. I was kind of disappointed because everyone in this universe is human. No alien life at all so far. 

G: I've seen both schools of thought in space-set SciFi Romance. Either there are lots of other worlds with lots of different people in them, like Star Wars, or humans are alone in the universe and will one day colonize it all, like The Expanse. When I read Amanda Bouchet’s Nightchaser, which released earlier this year, I wondered why there were no aliens in it. With Polaris Rising, I didn't think that. Maybe because the politics were so interesting you don't need aliens? Or maybe I was expecting it since I had recently read a similar book?

RR: I don't think the political system would have worked if there were non-humans in the universe.

RR: I had a bit of an issue with the pacing, especially towards the end. The ending felt abrupt. I didn't worry much about it at first until I noticed that the next book will be following a new couple instead of sticking with Ada and Loch as I had first thought. As much as I want the next couple's story, I'm not ready to leave Ada and Loch yet. Their relationship felt so unfinished. I hope we get more of them in the next installment though. 

G: I can see that. I actually felt like the book was about to end at one point, but then they went to a new location and it kept going.

Final thoughts:
RR: This was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I've been debating about whether to give it a 3.5 or 4 stars rating. I'm leaning towards the 4 stars. There are plenty of things to like about this book and overall I really enjoyed it, but there are some things that I just wasn't feeling at all. Despite my mixed feelings, I'm excited for the second book and to see what else this author does with this universe.

G: I really enjoyed Polaris Rising - I gave it 4.5 stars. It's my favorite of the SciFi Romances I've read so far. And I'm so excited that SF Romance seems to be a trend right now.

The thing with this book though, is that it's not from a romance publisher so they really aren't emphasizing the fact that it's a romance. I'm not sure if it's deliberately being downplayed or if it's just that they're used to focusing on the SF elements. I wonder if that might have changed your expectations? When I read the blurb, I was kind of kind of scratching my head and going, "that sounds like a romance novel" so I was looking for it.

RR: I actually didn't know it was supposed to be a sci-fi romance series until after I finished it. And I'm pretty sure that did effect my expectations of the book.

4 / 5 Stars

Have you read Polaris Rising yet?
Tell us what you thought.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Blog Tour: Lost Souls by Chelsea Mueller

Happy Monday everyone! We're excited to be part of the release day celebration for Lost Souls by Chelsea Mueller. Keep reading to learn more about the book, including an excerpt and an awesome giveaway.

For more on the Soul Charmer series, check out our review of Borrowed Souls. And watch for reviews of the rest of the series coming soon.

Lost Souls 
(Soul Charmer #3)
Chelsea Mueller
Release: February 25, 2019
Get out of Hell free card? Not for Callie Delgado, Gem City’s newest soul charmer. Sin and salvation collide in this gritty and action-packed urban fantasy. 

Callie’s magic is finally her own. She and Derek dispatched Ford. They should have been able to breathe, but layers of sin run deep beneath Gem City. Another mob boss quickly rises, and his sights are firmly set on Callie—and her family.

Mobile soul rental shops begin to bite at the Soul Charmer’s business. His retribution is wicked, but the blowback threatens to crush Callie. If she can’t maintain the tenuous balance of souls in Gem City, more lives will be lost.

Only the more magic she uses, the more danger finds her. A break-in, pools of blood, and bare shelves at the Soul Charmer’s store force Callie to choose the fates of others. But which can she live with? Losing her city, her love, her family …or her very soul? 


“I’ve worked security at four other buildings.” Benton held up as many fingers. His nails were short and black. Whether from blood or dirt, Callie didn’t care to guess. 
She stood behind him and leaned forward to speak into his ear. Stale cigar stench clogged her nose. “You’ve worked jobs, but haven’t paid the Soul Charmer.”
Benton surged closer to the bar. His whiskey sloshed over the lip of the glass and onto his fingers. He slammed his shoulder backward and shifted to face Callie. The wide, milky eyes and taut tendons in his neck eased. Idiot. He licked the spilled liquor from his fingers. “I have experience, but they still won’t even let me take their exam.” 
She gave two fucks about his ability to get a job. “That must suck. You owe the Charmer.”
“What do you mean?”
That’s not how this worked, and he knew it. “Cash or souls.”
“I ain’t got anything on me.”
“How are you paying for that Wild Turkey?”
Benton shot scattered looks in either direction. “It just you?”
It was, and normally she hated that. Her boyfriend Derek typically made these collection calls. He looked the part. Hulking and covered in leather and scars. She hid her wounds on the inside, and wielded dark eyeliner as war paint. Not exactly scary mofo material. Callie needed more from Benton than a simple rented soul, though, and that information need to be acquired alone.

About the Author

Chelsea Mueller writes gritty contemporary fantasy. She founded the speculative fiction website Vampire Book Club, blogs about TV and genre fiction for numerous websites, and is co-chair of SF/F charity Geeky Giving. She loves bad cover songs, dramatic movies, and TV vampires. Chelsea lives in Texas, and has been known to say y’all.

For the latest updates, join her email list at or follow @ChelseaVBC on Twitter and Instagram.

To celebrate the release of Lost Souls, Chelsea's Giving away a $50 Amazon gift card and 2 signed copies of Borrowed Souls, book 1 in the Soul Charmer series.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Review: Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers

Behind the Throne
(The Indranan War #1)
K.B. Wagers
Release: August 2, 2016
Goodreads Amazon
Meet Hail: Captain. Gunrunner. Fugitive.

Quick, sarcastic, and lethal, Hailimi Bristol doesn't suffer fools gladly. She has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire. That is, until two Trackers drag her back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir.

But trading her ship for a palace has more dangers than Hail could have anticipated. Caught in a web of plots and assassination attempts, Hail can't do the one thing she did twenty years ago: run away. She'll have to figure out who murdered her sisters if she wants to survive.

A gun smuggler inherits the throne in this Star Wars-style science fiction adventure from debut author K. B. Wagers. Full of action-packed space opera exploits and courtly conspiracy - not to mention an all-out galactic war - Behind the Throne will please fans of James S. A Corey, Becky Chambers and Lois McMaster Bujold, or anyone who wonders what would happen if a rogue like Han Solo were handed the keys to an empire . . .
I'm a sucker for sci-fi books that feature runaway princesses that choose to go their own way. And Behind the Throne had that in spades plus the delightful trope of the reluctant royal being hauled back to their kingdom to be the next in line to the throne. Add in that the runaway princess turned gunrunner/smuggler ala Han Solo in her days away from the court and it made for a great read.

I'll be honest. Behind the Throne isn’t the best variation of this trope I’ve ever read, but I found it grabbed my attention and didn't let it go. My main complaint and it's a small one is that the book was more political maneuvering than action thriller. I wanted to see more of Hail the Gunrunner but the political conspiracies were intriguing and occasionally broken up by assassination attempts.

Hailimi, aka Hail, is a fairly typical Strong Female Protagonist. She's a badass fighter, a crack shot, and a snark master. I found her to be tedious towards the first part of the book with her acting like the reluctant heir but once she accepted her role the story became a lot more interesting. What I really appreciated was that this was an older female led book with no romance subplot.

While it took me a bit to warm up to Hail, I immediately fell in love with her two bodyguards, Emmory and Zin. I want to know more about their backstory and I hope we see a lot more of them in the next two books. My fingers are crossed that maybe we'll get POV chapters from them because I really want to see their thoughts on things. I want to know more about their tracker bond and relationship.

I loved the world building! The Indranan Empire is matriarchal and there were a few mentions of a cast system, but basically all of the power structures of the culture felt like they were told and not shown. I hope we see more of the culture. I also loved how the Empire had a lot of Indian influence and I found myself looking up the Hindu gods a couple times to get the references.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I can't wait to get my hands on the sequel and see what kind of trouble Hail and company get into next.

  4 / 5 Stars


Book 11/30

Monday, February 18, 2019

Graphic Novel Review: Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau

Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau
Release: January 19, 2019
Goodreads Amazon
Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

You know those books that not many people you know talk about and they kind of sneak up on you? This was that kind of book for me. I hadn't really heard about it until its release day when my best friend found it in Barnes & Noble and brought a copy home. As big fans of the webcomic/graphic novel Check, Please!, a graphic novel about two boys baking and falling in love was something that checked all of our boxes.

I will admit while I had a couple of little problems with the story this really was a cute graphic novel. But honestly, I fell in love with the art style first and enjoyed the story second. The monochromatic blue color scheme worked so well with the story as did the adorable cartoonishness of the characters. The baking montage pages that were absolutely beautiful and complex and added so much depth to the story. The art is seriously great and I have an overwhelming urge to check out the artist's webcomic because of it.

My biggest criticism for this book was that the story was pretty slow to start and rushed the ending. It also had a few time jumps that overall worked but I think the story would have flowed better if they had added in a few more scenes to explain things. My second criticism really isn't a criticism as much as something that annoyed me. The protagonist, Ari, is the definition of a moody teenager who doesn't know what he wants. I actually didn't mind that but I hated that he was kind of dick to everyone but it really bothered me how he treated Hector who was SUCH a sweetheart from the very first page. There's a part of me that feels like Hector deserves better and was a bit too forgiving about the thing that happens. 

The things I loved about this graphic novel far outweighs my two problems with it. I adored the family aspect of this book and seeing the relationship between Ari and his parents change and seeing how much Hector was an influence for that. I also loved that this is a story about not knowing what you want and that it is okay not to know. It explored different kind of friendships and that is so needed with both the good and the toxic. And even though he's kind of a dick, I found Ari and his struggles relatable. If you substitute out the music stuff with nerdy stuff, you pretty much have me at 18. I have never related to a scene so hard as I did the scene where Ari is sitting alone in a corner listening to music at his sister's wedding until he is forcibly thrown into being social and ends up having a great time.

One thing I really appreciated in this story was how being into someone of the same gender wasn't stigmatized at all. In the story it wasn't something that was focused on but everyone was so chill and supportive about it that it was one of those small things that are really big things. I need more queer stories like this in my life. Also, more stories that take place in family owned bakeries. I've discovered over the last couple of years that this is a setting I love in romances. The downside is that I end up craving all the baked goods and, in the case of this story, spanakopita.

If you're looking for a quick and cute read with lots of pictures, Bloom is definitely a graphic novel you need to look into. I'm going to just be over here with my fingers crossed that we'll get more books about Ari and Hector in the future. Now, if you'll excuse me, I really need to go find some sourdough bread to fill this empty hole in my stomach.

Recommended for fans of: Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

  4 / 5 Stars

Book 3: Subway Uptown- Chef/Foodie Romance
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