Dark Illusion (Dark #29)

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At any other time, Julija Brennan would find solace in the quiet of the Sierra Mountains, but now the mage is in the race of her life. Having broken free from her controlling family, Julija’s attempts to warn the Carpathians of the coming threat has failed and put a target on her back—and those who hunt her are close behind…

After centuries locked away in a monastery in the Carpathian Mountains, Isai Florea can’t believe he’s finally found his lifemate—the missing half of his soul. The second he sees Julija his world blazes with color. But despite their explosive connection Julija rebels against what she sees as Isai’s intent to control her and rejects the bond that would prevent him from becoming a monster.

As their unfulfilled bond continues to call to them both, Julija and Isai aim to complete the task that brought them together. They are used to facing danger alone, but now the mage and the ancient warrior must learn how to rely on each other in order to stop a plot that threatens all Carpathians…

—                         —                         —

Dark Illusion is a traditional romance novel that has the slightest elements of BDSM in it. The book is very mainstream, but there are two short spanking scenes in the beginning of the book, while the ancient Carpathian hero and the modern mage heroine are feeling each other out.

One aspect of this romance that I loved is that even though the characters are in insta-lust with each other (destiny and all that), they don’t bond immediately, leading both to feel that the souls were mismatched or damaged. Their hesitancies drew me into the story, made the romance easier to relate to and definitely led to certain humourous moments.

There is quite a bit of conversation regarding lifemates, and whether or not it is fair to expect the women to give up her life when she is claimed, or fair to the Carpathian to allow him to turn vampire or suicide, so that the woman does not need to sacrifice herself. I think this conversation was long overdue and I am glad that Julija had it with several characters, working through her problems with Isai’s expectations. I enjoy a little supernatural romance but for me, it always needs to be grounded with some level of magical realism, and normal human emotions and behaviour.

The remaining sections of the book are devoted to the epic struggle between Carpathian and vampires and evil mages. Battles are fought, betrayals uncovered and through it all Isai and Julija enjoy some sheet-ripping good sex.

I enjoyed the book, although the Carpathian series is the one I like least from this author. Dark Illusion hinted at Elisabeta and Ferro’s upcoming story, and I am very excited to read that one.

Overall, fans of the Carpathian series should enjoy reading Dark Illusion. It should be read in order, as much of the plot will not make sense otherwise.

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The Hidden Power of Fucking Up by The Try Guys

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The Try Guys deliver their first book—an inspirational self-improvement guide that teaches you that the path to success is littered with humiliating detours, embarrassing mistakes, and unexpected failures.

To be our best selves, we must become secure in our insecurities. In The Hidden Power of F*cking Up, The Try Guys – Keith, Ned, Zach, and Eugene – reveal their philosophy of trying: how to fully embrace fear, foolishness, and embarrassment in an effort to understand how we all get paralyzed by a fear of failure. They’ll share how four shy, nerdy kids have dealt with their most poignant life struggles by attacking them head-on and reveal their – ahem – sure-fail strategies for achieving success.

But they’re not just here to talk; they’re actually going to put their advice to work. To demonstrate their unique self-improvement formula, they’ll each personally confront their deepest insecurities. A die-hard meat-lover goes vegan for the first time. A straight-laced father transforms into a fashionista. A perpetually single sidekick becomes the romantic lead. A child of divorce finally grows more intimate with his family. Through their insightful, emotional journeys and surprising, hilarious anecdotes, they’ll help you overcome your own self-doubt to become the best, most f*cked up version of yourself you can be!

—                         —                         —

The Hidden Power of Fucking Up is an epic fuck up. It feels like a cash grab from a group of young guys who need some revenue coming in after they started their own company, and are trying to compete with the likes of Buzzfeed.

If I were feeling more generous, I would describe it as an earnest effort that demonstrates how difficult it is for content creators to bridge the gap between mediums.

Buuuuuut, I don’t feel that nice today.

I am rating this book only one star and I didn’t even make it a quarter of the way through. I tried both the audiobook and the ebook versions as well. Firstly, the perspective changes often. Sometimes there is only a couple of sentences by one of the guys before it changes to a new one. But it isn’t in a conversational format, so I had a very difficult time keeping up. It was easier to follow in the audio version, accustomed as I am to their voices, but in attempting to read the ebook, all that I had to distinguish between “voices” was an itty bitty cartoon head of each of the guys.

One of the biggest issues I had with the audio file, is that their recording is so exaggerated that it is cartoonish. Reading a book is not the same as performing on youtube, another example of how difficult it is to cross content styles.

Overall, I still love all the old Try Guys videos, but this is not a book I will be attempting to read again, nor one I can recommend.

However, keep in mind that the old adage (Ranganthan’s Law) holds true.

Every person his or her book. Every book its reader.

*

xx

Twisted Emotions (Camorra Chronicles #2)

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* Note: This is a re-post, somehow my first one was lost.

Nino Falcone is genius and monster. As the right hand man and brother of the Capo of the Camorra, his lack of feelings is a blessing, not a curse – until his brother asks him to marry for the sake of the Camorra.

Kiara Vitiello, cousin of the Capo of the New York Famiglia, is chosen to marry Nino Falcone to prevent war with the Camorra, but what she hears about Las Vegas makes her veins pulse with terror. After her father betrayed his Capo and paid with his life, her family thinks marriage is her only chance to bring honor to her name; but only Kiara knows she’s a faulty prize given in return for peace.

A man incapable of emotions and a woman scarred by the past – an arranged marriage with the potential to unite, or destroy…

—                         —                         —

Note: Kiara was raped as a child by a member of her family. This book may have triggers to someone who is sensitive to this topic.

For a long time fans of Reilly, Twisted Emotions will feel like a throwback to her earlier style. Rather than a love match, Kiara Vitiello is forced to marry Nino Falcone in order to secure a period of peace between the Las Vegas and New York mafias.

Nino is a bit of a cold fish, much like the character Dante Cavallaro was in the second book. However, underneath that cold, calculating brain there is a simmering volcano of emotions, brewing from severe childhood trauma that he has yet to deal with. Slowly, Nino’s emotions break loose loose with Kiara, although he remains very emotionless in every other situation.

Nino was exceedingly patient with Kiara, especially considering his nature and history. I think that he approached their relationship and her trauma perfectly, and has become a solid support system with her.

Almost everything was perfectly balanced in Twisted Emotions. The plot, the relationship between Nino and Kiara, the supporting characters, it all worked beautifully together. I did feel that the book ended very abruptly, and I didn’t feel like the story built up to an explosive ending. It was a little bit anticlimactic other than the epilogue scene. However, that epilogue very clearly sets up the next book in the series – starring Remo – and I have a feeling that Nino and Kiara’s story will continue to unfold as secondary characters.

Kiara and Nino are my favourite couple of 2019. I really loved their story. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with Nino. He was so emotionally dead that I expected to have a difficult time warming up to him, but it was actually super easy …. too easy. I would definitely be that girl who transposed her feelings onto the scary serial killer. Whoops.

The one niggling thought I had as I read this book, was what do these women do all day? No kids, no job, no household responsibilities. No driving license or volunteer work because of the danger to their lives …. do they just sit and watch the dust collect on the windowsill? Seriously though. I think that is the one thing that I would like to see further developed in these books. Give the girls something to do! I guarantee you that a woman does not sit pining for her husband until he returns home from work.

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Twisted Bonds (Camorra Chronicles #4)

Twisted Bonds

Can you ever truly leave the past behind in a house full of haunted souls?

Kiara always wanted a loving family she could take care of. She never thought she’d find it with the Falcones.

Nino and Kiara both lost part of themselves in their traumatic childhood. Together they’re trying to recover the missing pieces, but they aren’t the only broken souls in the Falcone mansion; Kiara fears that not all of them can be saved. Determined to protect her new family and the future of her dreams, she’s on a mission to help each of them in her own way, even if it means stacking up secrets.

Four brothers bound together by an unbreakable bond forged in their dark past. If one of them falls, will they all?

—                         —                         —

* I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Twisted Bonds is the fourth book in the Camorra Chronicles series. I loved revisiting Kiara and Nino’s relationship and reading about events from their points of view. I was in love with their first book and have read it at least a dozen times, so it was a treat to get a second.

There is a lot of family drama in this book, but in a good way …? If that even makes sense. The bonds between Nino and his brothers cannot be broken. Serafina, and especially Kiara, have become integral members of their family as well. I love the community aspect of a book and seeing all the different relationships unfold; the secenes between Kiara and Remo were some of my favourites. Cora Reilly does this extremely well and it is something I always highly anticipate in her books.

Twisted Bonds has absolutely increased my appetite for another book. Unfortunately, the next will not be out until February 2020, so I will probably read this one several times over before then.

Please Note: Twisted Bonds must be read as part of the series, in order, or it will not make much sense!

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Reclaiming Emma (Cloudcroft Ranch #5)

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With credit card debt piling up and her marriage seemingly in trouble, Emma Lanyon makes an impulsive decision and flies to Cloudcroft Ranch unannounced to visit her sister. Upon her arrival, however, she is scolded about running away from her problems, and once her husband joins her at the ranch he quickly leaves Emma in no doubt that things are going to change. From now on, when she needs to be taken in hand her bottom will be bared and very soundly spanked.

Over the coming days, Emma is taught to surrender her body to her husband’s demands. His stern dominance arouses her intensely, and when he decides to share her with another man she is brought to heights of pleasure she never imagined. But obedience is expected, and she soon learns the hard way that putting her safety at risk will earn her a truly shameful punishment.

Emma’s desire for both men grows stronger with every new experience and every blushing climax, but will their shared bond endure even when the time comes to leave Cloudcroft?

—                         —

Reclaiming Emma is the fifth book in the Cloudcroft Ranch series.

This book is unique from the previous works of Isabella Laase. We see a couple who is already married, and attempting to integrate BDSM into their relationship, rather than two individuals who first meet in the book. Additionally, Emma’s husband Javi is mostly new to this lifestyle. This is the first book I have read where the Dominant is a novice.

Together, Javi and Emma decide to add in new friend Dylan to their kinky relationship and eventually form a strong emotion bond as a poly-amorous relationship.

Ms. Laase is a wonderful writer, and that is no small feat. Lately, I have been trying many new authors in the erotica/romance genre and there is so much dribble out there. Ms. Laase is descriptive and actually devotes word count to story and not just kinky fuckery.

That being said, there was a lot in this book that didn’t work for me.

Reclaiming Emma posits that adopting some form of D/s relationship will just fix the very serious relationship problems that exist between Javi and Emma from the start of the novel, and magically cure her depression. Which is ludicrous. Additionally, therapy for her, and for them as a couple is only briefly mentioned in one of the opening chapters and never pursued. I was also highly skeptical that adding in other partners for D/s play and Dylan as a serious third in the relationship was appropriate when Emma and Javi were throwing around the “D-word”.

There seemed to be the expectation among all the Doms in this book that spanking can cure Emma. It can’t. She is depressed and based off her decision to throw away her home and marriage by leaving, she is standing on the edge of an emotional cliff. Spanking may change some of her actions but it is in no way addressing any of the deeper reasons for those actions and is likely to lead to very serious emotional trauma.

The cover blurb suggest that Emma and Javi develop a D/s style relationship, but it almost immediately develops into a Daddy/babygirl style instead. That kink is not identified anywhere on the cover or blurb, and I think it should have been. There isn’t anything wrong with it, but it felt like the author tried to hide that aspect.

There is also a serious lack of conversation between Emma and Javi and Dylan in regards to the problems that developed in the first place in their marriage and how a consensual BDSM relationship would proceed. The consent on Emma’s part is assumed or implied beyond the first couple of scenes, with little discussion.

Finally … if anyone is still reading at this point …

Dylan is the brother of Olivia, the lead character in book four of this series. Olivia shows up repeatedly in Reclaiming Emma and although she and Dylan never interact sexually, they both publicly have naked, kinky sex with their respective partners while in the same room as each other, and discuss Olivia’s babygirl relationship with her two Daddy doms and the physical discipline aspect of that relationship … and that completely squirks me out!

Overall, this is a fun read but nothing that will ever top my list. I feel like the author is wasting her talent because she is quite a good writer, but doesn’t take the time – or possibly have the knowledge – to write a healthy D/s relationship. Maybe this is off base, but IMHO, she seems to be writing about the scene from an outsider’s perspective.

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Leah on the Offbeat

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Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

—                          —                          —

Leah on the Offbeat is set in the same universe as award winning book, Simon Vs. The Homosapien Agenda. It takes place roughly a year following the conclusion of Simon and is told from the perspective of Leah.

Leah and gang are in the twelfth grade and trying to navigate the transition to university, relationship drama and changing friendships.

This book is very high school. I stopped reading it around 15% in, because I couldn’t stand the teenage drama and hysterics. For fans of YA it might be great, but there was so much more drama than in Simon Vs. The Homosapien Agenda, which was already at my limit.

I did not enjoy this book but you may love it if you can overlook juvenile protagonists, maybe it will be a hit for you.

DNF

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I Will Not Beg (Mountain Masters and Dark Haven #9)

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She signed away her freedom…

Starved for affection, young Piper Delaney surrenders her life to a Master. But there is no love—only abuse. She’s told she can’t leave; she signed the slave contract. Years later, beaten and starving, she hears an English Dom say the contract’s illegal. Unenforceable. And she runs.

She reclaims her life and rises above the nightmare that was her past.

But her enslavement left scars. She longs for love, but the only men who truly attract her also terrify her–Dominants. Hoping to conquer her fears, she visits Dark Haven, but the sounds of the club are too much.

When a submissive panics, Sir Ethan steps in.

The powerful English Dom recognizes the shivering submissive in his lap. Years before, he’d corrected her Master’s deceit about a contract. She’s come a long way since then. Cynical at being pursued for his wealth, he finds Piper’s honesty compelling. She’s intelligent, brave…and she needs him. What Dom could resist?

He’s the Dom she’d dreamed about—perceptive, firm, and utterly self-confident.

His voice pulls her from panic attacks. His arms enclose her in safety. He treats her like a person, not something to mistreat. As he helps Piper overcome her fears, she starts to fall in love.

Then her past finds her and destroys…everything.

—                         —                         —

While reading I Will Not Beg, I kept trying to delay the story because I didn’t want the book to end. I guess that is just as much a mark of a good book as one you can’t put down!

Piper and Ethan have a slow burn romance compared to many of the couples in Ms. Sinclair’s books, which was necessary due to the heroine’s backstory. There is no sex until about halfway through the book. Ethan is extremely patient and forgiving, more so even than many of the previous Doms Ms. Sinclair has written about. I swear he is a saint. Just a saint with a penchant for kinky sex.

Piper is very brave to have come so far from where she was in the prologue, especially without any family or close friends in her support network and after just five years. She started her own successful business, overcame so much of the abuse, and worked her way out of a homeless shelter.

I loved regular updates on Dixon and Stan through I Will Not Beg. This couple didn’t get their own book, and Stan in particular was a bit of a question mark. If the author ever changes her mind and writes their M/m book, I would read it in a heartbeat.

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The Huntress (Kate Quinn)

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From the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling novel, The Alice Network, comes another fascinating historical novel about a battle-haunted English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot who join forces to track the Huntress, a Nazi war criminal gone to ground in America.

In the aftermath of war, the hunter becomes the hunted…

Bold, reckless Nina Markova grows up on the icy edge of Soviet Russia, dreaming of flight and fearing nothing. When the tide of war sweeps over her homeland, she gambles everything to join the infamous Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment wreaking havoc on Hitler’s eastern front. But when she is downed behind enemy lines and thrown across the path of a lethal Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, Nina must use all her wits to survive.

British war correspondent Ian Graham has witnessed the horrors of war from Omaha Beach to the Nuremberg Trials. He abandons journalism after the war to become a Nazi hunter, yet one target eludes him: the Huntress. Fierce, disciplined Ian must join forces with brazen, cocksure Nina, the only witness to escape the Huntress alive. But a shared secret could derail their mission, unless Ian and Nina force themselves to confront it.

Seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride grows up in post WWII Boston, determined despite family opposition to become a photographer. At first delighted when her long-widowed father brings home a fiancée, Jordan grows increasingly disquieted by the soft-spoken German widow who seems to be hiding something. Armed only with her camera and her wits, Jordan delves into her new stepmother’s past and slowly realizes there are mysteries buried deep in her family. But Jordan’s search for the truth may threaten all she holds dear.

—                         —                         —

The Huntress is one of the best books I have ever come across.

It is an absolute Must. Listen. To. The narrator, Saskia Maarleveld, does a fantastic job of performing many accents and different characters’ voices, both male and female. Maarleveld is the same narrator who performed The Alice Network, also written by Kate Quinn. Throughout the story, there are certain words repeated that are in various languages and to hear them pronounced in Russian, German and Polish is an enriching experience. I believe that the listener will get so much more out of this story by listening to it, rather than trying to read words in a foreign language throughout the book.

Words I have learned while listening to The Huntress

Rusalka (Russian)

Die Jägerin…. the Huntress (German)

Nachthexen … nightwitches (German)

From the beginning of the book I expected the plot to take a certain path based off of the initial information and cover blurb, but there are so many twists and turns that I did not expect. Each time I thought this is where character x dies, or where Nina meets The Huntress, I am wrong. It kept me guessing to the end.

There is a somewhat similar style of how the story unfolds between this book and The Alice Network. On its face, these look like fairly similar tales, but this book is so much more intricately woven, with more layers in The Huntress.

Could Anna really be Die Jägerin? She seems to genuinely like Jordan even though we know she is playing a role. Throughout the tale, I constantly asked myself, Can any one person be completely evil? Is evil incapable of loving anyone?

Kate Quinn is a superb writer who was able to make me feel sympathy for a war criminal.

I highly recommend The Huntress, especially if you choose the audiobook. I could not put it down.

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Luca Vitiello (Born in Blood Mafia Chronicles #0.5)

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I was born a monster. Cruelty ran in my veins like poison. It ran in the veins of every Vitiello man, passed on from father to son, an endless spiral of monstrosity. A born monster shaped into an even worse monster by my father’s blade and fists and harsh words. I was raised to become Capo, to rule without mercy, to dish out brutality without a second thought.

Raised to break others.

When Aria was given to me in marriage, everyone waited with baited breath to see how fast I’d break her like my father broke his women. How I’d crush her innocence and kindness with the force of my cruelty. Breaking her would have taken little effort. It came naturally to me. I was gladly the monster everyone feared. Until her.

—                         —                         —

Luca Vitiello is the retelling of Bound by Honor from Luca’s perspective. It is a full length novel from author Cora Reilly, but it does retell stories mostly already known by fans. I found that reading this one made me a little more sympathetic to Luca during his stupid moments.

There are a few new scenes from Luca’s POV, especially several from his childhood and induction into NY mafia.

I got the sense that if Luca and Dante were not from separate (warring) mafia families, they might have made good friends.

If you are looking for a brand new story by Cora Reilly, this would be a book to skip, but it is a fun addition to the series if you are Team Luca.

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xx

Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

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Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

—                         —                         —

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a YA book that I have been hearing a lot about the past few years. Last year there was a movie released based off of this bestseller, re-titled Love, Simon. I didn’t realize when I checked out the audiobook that I was reading a book about an LGBTQ character during PRIDE month, but that makes it an extremely timely review to post.

During the course of the book, I became extremely invested in the lives of these characters, including both Simon and his friends. I was constantly guessing as to who “Blue” was. There were a few times I rolled my eyes at some of the more teenager behaviour and drama, but the pace of the book is quick enough that the plot doesn’t become embroiled in high school.

The relationship between Simon and Blue unfolds over the course of half a year. It was sweet to watch friendship and then romance develop, based completely on personality and not looks, cliques, or popularity.

The audiobook is slightly less than 7 hours, awesome for getting through quickly. I was able to listen to the book in two days. The narrator’s voice is smooth and easy to listen to.

I plan to pick up the sequel, Leah on the Offbeat soon, and listening to it as well.

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