Review: Kingdom of the Cursed by Kerri Maniscalco

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: Kingdom of the Cursed
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Kingdom of the Wicked #2
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy/Romance
Audience: New Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 448 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: From Blood and Ash

SYNOPSIS

After selling her soul to become Queen of the Wicked, Emilia travels to the Seven Circles with the enigmatic Prince of Wrath, where she’s introduced to a seductive world of vice.

She vows to do whatever it takes to avenge her beloved sister, Vittoria… even if that means accepting the hand of the Prince of Pride, the king of demons.

The first rule in the court of the Wicked? Trust no one. With back-stabbing princes, luxurious palaces, mysterious party invitations, and conflicting clues about who really killed her twin, Emilia finds herself more alone than ever before. Can she even trust Wrath, her one-time ally in the mortal world… or is he keeping dangerous secrets about his true nature?

Emilia will be tested in every way as she seeks a series of magical objects that will unlock the clues of her past and the answers she craves…

One sister.
Two sinful princes.
Infinite deception with a side of revenge… Welcome to Hell.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author of Stalking Jack the Ripper Kerri Maniscalco comes the sizzling, sweepingly romantic sequel to Kingdom of the Wicked!

MY THOUGHTS

I can’t remember the last time a book made me want to stay up late into the night because I couldn’t put it down, but I flew through this hefty book in just a few days. This series transitions from YA to NA in Kingdom of the Cursed, and it gave me all the romance I was missing in the first book. Wrath is prime book boyfriend material.

This book is more character driven than the first, focusing on lingering mysteries surrounding Vittoria’s death and the curse, Emilia and Wrath’s relationship, and world building Hell. The writing is so lush and atmospheric. Looking back, not as much happened plot-wise in this book compared to the first, but it didn’t feel like a filler middle book to me; I was completely absorbed.

I really liked the way a certain reveal was handled. This had a lot of great twists and turns, and so many mysteries that still need answers. Don’t even get me started on that ending. What a tease! I am so excited for book 3 and I think it will be epic.

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls #1
Genre: Fiction/Paranormal Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Jennifer Ikeda
Length: 24 hours (579 pages)
Publisher: Viking Penguin; Penguin Audio
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Source: Library
Content Warnings: torture, death of parents, panic attacks

SYNOPSIS

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

MY THOUGHTS

This book started off strong with a fascinating premise: the origins of witches, vampire, and daemons may be revealed through a lost alchemical text and genetic biology. However, this book was way too long and desperately needed some better editing. The compelling aspects of the plot were bogged down by tangents on history, alchemy, rare books, and everyday life. There were maybe two scenes in the entire book that I would describe as “exciting,” and even though a sense of urgency increased throughout the book, the slow pace never picked up.

This has been described as “Twilight for adults,” and I thought it was exactly that: hundreds of pages of mundane descriptions, a possessive male vampire with ample red flags, a heroine who loses agency and common sense as the book progresses, rushed marriage, weird attitudes toward sex, and very little action despite a lot of build up.

The audiobook is 24 hours long. It truly drags and put me in a bit of an audio slump where all I wanted to listen to after I finished were podcasts with bite sized stories. I am interested enough in kernels of this story that I think I will read the next book after the odd cliffhanger ending. The blend of history, alchemy, science, magic, and paranormal lore in this book is fascinating, but the storytelling and romance leave something to be desired.

Review: It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: It Happened One Summer
Author: Tessa Bailey
Series: Bellinger Sisters #1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Charlotte North
Length: 11 hours (397 pages)
Publisher: Avon; HarperAudio
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Schitt’s Creek, The Simple Wild
Content Warnings: death of loved ones

SYNOPSIS

Piper Bellinger is fashionable, influential, and her reputation as a wild child means the paparazzi are constantly on her heels. When too much champagne and an out-of-control rooftop party lands Piper in the slammer, her stepfather decides enough is enough. So he cuts her off, and sends Piper and her sister to learn some responsibility running their late father’s dive bar… in Washington.

Piper hasn’t even been in Westport for five minutes when she meets big, bearded sea captain Brendan, who thinks she won’t last a week outside of Beverly Hills. So what if Piper can’t do math, and the idea of sleeping in a shabby apartment with bunk beds gives her hives. How bad could it really be? She’s determined to show her stepfather—and the hot, grumpy local—that she’s more than a pretty face.

Except it’s a small town and everywhere she turns, she bumps into Brendan. The fun-loving socialite and the gruff fisherman are polar opposites, but there’s an undeniable attraction simmering between them. Piper doesn’t want any distractions, especially feelings for a man who sails off into the sunset for weeks at a time. Yet as she reconnects with her past and begins to feel at home in Westport, Piper starts to wonder if the cold, glamorous life she knew is what she truly wants. LA is calling her name, but Brendan—and this town full of memories—may have already caught her heart. 

Tessa Bailey is back with a Schitt’s Creek-inspired rom-com about a Hollywood “It Girl” who is cut off from her wealthy family and exiled to a small Pacific Northwest beach town… where she butts heads with a surly, sexy local who thinks she doesn’t belong. 

MY THOUGHTS

I’ve seen this book described as Schitt’s Creek meets The Simple Wild, and that is 100% accurate. Piper is a fish out of water when she is forced to leave behind her glamorous life in LA for a small fishing town in the Pacific Northwest, where she meets the hunky Brendan in this opposites attract romance.

Piper had a lovely character arc as she connected with her past and finally had a chance in her life to do some real soul searching and figure out who she wants to be and what she wants to do with her life.

However, while Piper and Brendan had great chemistry, I thought the romance got way too serious way too fast. I felt like Brendan constantly pressured Piper to take their relationship to the next level before she was ready. The romance was also incredibly steamy and might be too much for some readers.

This was my first book by Tessa Bailey, and I would read more from this author!

Review: The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: The Ex Hex
Author: Erin Sterling (Rachel Hawkins)
Genre: Contemporary Romance/ Paranormal
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 308 pages
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Source: Publisher/BiblioLifestyle
Recommended for fans of: small town romances & cozy witches, Practical Magic (the movie)

SYNOPSIS

New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hawkins, writing as Erin Sterling, casts a spell with a spine-tingling romance full of wishes, witches, and hexes gone wrong.

Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.

MY THOUGHTS

I swooned for this second chance, small town, witchy rom com (doesn’t that sound like the coziest combination of tropes?). This book offers the perfect blend of magic and romance for October.

Vivi and Rhys had top notch banter, and their romance had the perfect amount of steam without being over the top. I also loved Vivi’s cousin Gwyn and Aunt Elaine! The magic system was simple and straightforward. The setting was so cozy. The plot was a bit superficial, but it was perfectly enjoyable.

I need this book to be a Hallmark-style Halloween movie. Netflix, are you listening?

Thank you to the publisher for the gifted copy.

ARC Review: Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Payback’s a Witch
Author: Lana Harper
Series: The Witches of Thistle Grove #1
Genre: Romance / Paranormal
Audience: Adult
Format: eARC
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Recommended for fans of: lgbtq+ witchy romances
Content Warnings: sexual harrassment

SYNOPSIS

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word in this fresh, sizzling rom-com by Lana Harper.

Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn’t been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoore, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams.

But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She’s determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Linden Thorn; and get back to her real life in Chicago.

On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov—an all-around badass adept in the darker magical arts—who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoore. Talia had let herself be charmed, only to discover that Gareth was also seeing Linden—unbeknownst to either of them. And now she and Linden want revenge. Only one question stands: Is Emmy in?

But most concerning of all: Why can’t she stop thinking about the terrifyingly competent, devastatingly gorgeous, wickedly charming Talia Avramov?

MY THOUGHTS

This is a cute lgbtq+ witchy romance about the power of friendship, family, and going home, set in an idyllic magical town. The beginning of the story reminded me of John Tucker Must Die, with three witches uniting to publicly humiliate the man who wronged them all in Thistle Grove’s upcoming magical Gauntlet that will determine the town’s new leader.

However, this book couldn’t decide if it wanted to be more of a romance or a fantasy adventure, and as a result both aspects fell a bit flat. Emmy and Talia had amazing instant chemistry, but their relationship had an unnecessarily slow build as it kept getting pushed to the side for Gauntlet research. The Gauntlet contests themselves were a bit underwhelming.

I wasn’t a fan of Emmy’s internal conflict throughout the book, and the ending was definitely cliche, but this was a fun spooky book with sweet friendships and spicy romance, and it definitely put me in the mood for fall.

Review: The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Love Hypothesis
Author: Ali Hazelwood
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Berkley Books
Release Date: September 14, 2021
Source: Book of the Month subscription
Recommended for fans of: Emily Henry and Christina Lauren
Content Warnings: sexual harassment, cancer, death of a parent

SYNOPSIS

When a fake relationship between scientists meets the irresistible force of attraction, it throws one woman’s carefully calculated theories on love into chaos.

As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.

That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding…six-pack abs.

Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.

MY THOUGHTS

Is this my favorite romance of 2021? It’s definitely top 3.

I could not stop grinning while reading this book. It checks off all my favorite romance trope boxes: Meet cute. Fake dating. Enemies to lovers. Grumpy/sunshine. I loved that the main characters are scientists in an academia setting. They are smart and doing important work. The book is also HILARIOUS and had me laughing as much as an Emily Henry or Christina Lauren book. And knowing that this story originated as Reylo fanfiction made it very easy to cast the characters in my head.

Like the best romcoms, there is so much more to this story than romance. The story includes important perspectives on misogyny and sexual harassment in STEM and power dynamics in academia. There are some amazing (and not-so-amazing) friendships. And we see how both Olive and Adam’s childhoods shaped them into the people they are today.

I could gush about this book all day. I absolutely ADORED it, and I want everyone to read it!

Review: Gods and Monsters by Shelby Mahurin

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Gods & Monsters
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Series: Serpent & Dove #3
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: YA/NA
Format: Hardcover
Length: 624 pages
Publisher: Harper Teen
Release Date: July 27, 2021
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: ACOTAR, From Blood and Ash

SYNOPSIS

The spellbinding conclusion to the New York Times and IndieBound bestselling trilogy Serpent & Dove. This stunning fantasy take on French witches and forbidden love is perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas.

Evil always seeks a foothold. We must not give it one.

After a heartbreaking loss, Lou, Reid, Beau, and Coco are bent on vengeance more than ever before—and none more so than Lou.

But this is no longer the Lou they thought they knew. No longer the Lou that captured a chasseur’s heart. A darkness has settled over her, and this time it will take more than love to drive it out.

MY THOUGHTS

The best thing about this series is the characters. I absolutely adore the found family and the romance, and I’m sad my time with them is over.

Despite my love for the characters, I had a few issues with this conclusion. I was not a fan of a particular plot device that created unnecessary conflict between Lou and Reid when there were so many other potential sources of conflict that could’ve been explored. Considering the length of the book, the story should’ve been way more epic. Even though the book was building toward a final battle, the journey felt disjointed, and the final battle didn’t completely make sense to me.

I would give the plot three stars, but the way Shelby Mahurin writes characters deserves four. The epilogue gave me all the feels. This isn’t a perfect series, but I recommend it to readers looking for a witchy fantasy romance that’s perfect for spooky season!

Review: Meet Me in Paradise by Libby Hubscher

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Meet Me in Paradise
Author: Libby Hubscher
Genre: Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 328 pages
Publisher: Berkley Books
Release Date: March 23, 2021
Source: Once Upon a Book Club VIP influencer program
Content Warnings: terminal illness, death of a loved one, grief

SYNOPSIS

Marin Cole has never:
Seen the ocean
Climbed a mountain
Taken a risk on love
….But if her sister’s plan works, she just might do all three.

Ever since her journalist mother died on assignment, Marin has played it safe, refusing to set foot outside the state of Tennessee. Her wild-child younger sister, Sadie, has trotted the globe as a photographer, living off of art and adrenaline.

When Sadie returns from a tough assignment abroad and looks a little worse for wear, Marin reluctantly agrees to a sisters’ spa weekend on the tropical island of Saba. But her lifelong fear of travel is affirmed when Sadie misses the flight, Marin’s luggage gets mixed up with another passenger’s, and an episode of turbulence sends her hurtling into the lap of Lucas Tsai, the handsome stranger who stole her sister’s seat.

For the first time in a long time, Marin has to step outside of her comfort zone as she explores the island with Lucas and learns what she’s been missing out on. With each breathtaking new experience, Marin gets closer to her real self, the man she’s falling for, and the heart-wrenching truth about why she’s there in the first place.

MY THOUGHTS

On the surface this seems like a fun vacation romcom, but it will gut you in the feels with surprisingly heavy topics. I may have cried a few times before the end, but I also laughed a lot. I don’t think this book did the best job of balancing the funny and serious moments.

Marin was a relatable MC who likes to play it safe. I loved her journey of self-discovery and how she learned to stop holding herself back for the sake of others and finally pursue her dreams. However, Sadie was actually the worst. She was so incredibly selfish, and it took away from that sister relationship.

I also wanted a bit more from the romance between Marin and Lucas. It started off strong, but overall it was meh. The pacing of their relationship was inconsistent, and there were some unnecessary obstacles in their way! The ending felt a bit rushed, but it was overall satisfying.

Thank you to Once Upon a Book Club for sending me this book in a gifted subscription box.

ARC Review: If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: If the Shoe Fits
Author: Julie Murphy
Series: Meant to Be #1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: eARC
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Avenue
Release Date: August 3, 2021
Source: Netgalley
Recommended for fans of: Disney princesses
Content Warnings: death of parents

SYNOPSIS

After having just graduated with a degree in shoe design, and trying to get her feet on the ground, Cindy is working for her stepmother, who happens to be the executive producer of America’s favorite reality show, Before Midnight. When a spot on the show needs filling ASAP, Cindy volunteers, hoping it might help jump-start her fashion career, or at least give her something to do while her peers land jobs in the world of high fashion.

Turns out being the only plus size woman on a reality dating competition makes a splash, and soon Cindy becomes a body positivity icon for women everywhere. What she doesn’t expect? That she may just find inspiration-and love-in the process. Ultimately, Cindy learns that if the shoe doesn’t fit, maybe it’s time to design your own.

MY THOUGHTS

If the Shoe Fits reimagines Cinderella as a contemporary romcom about Cindy, a plus-size shoe designer fresh out of design school competing reality dating show called Before Midnight. It is such a sweet story!

This is a very quick read that I finished in half a day. The sincere characters, vibrant descriptions of fashion, and easy-to-read writing kept me turning pages, and I applaud the representation for plus-size and queer characters.

One of my favorite twists on the original fairy tale in this retelling is that Cindy has a positive relationship with her step-family. It’s not all sunshines and rainbows, but they support each other and share the grief of losing Cindy’s father. Also, the fact that the talking mice from the film appear as Cindy’s triplet half-siblings!

I do wish there were more depth to the conflict and romance. It’s hard to avoid superficiality with a Bachelor-inspired story, and some of the plot lines were a bit simplistic.

I haven’t actually read any of Julie Murphy’s young adult novels yet, but I enjoyed her adult debut with this clean, Disney romance.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the eARC.

Review: Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Life’s Too Short
Author: Abby Jimenez
Series: The Friend Zone #3
Genre: Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Christine Lakin and Zachary Webber
Length: 9 hours (384 pages)
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Source: Library
Content Warnings: terminal disease (ALS), addiction, unwanted pregnancy, hoarding

SYNOPSIS

A brilliant and touching romantic comedy from the USA Today bestselling author of The Friend Zone and The Happy Ever After Playlist.

Vanessa lives life on her own terms — one day at a time, every day to its fullest. She isn’t willing to waste a moment or miss out on an experience when she has no idea whether she shares the same fatal genetic condition as her mother. Besides, she has way too much to do, traveling the globe and showing her millions of YouTube followers the joy in seizing every moment.

But after her half-sister suddenly leaves Vanessa in custody of her infant daughter, she is housebound, on mommy duty for the foreseeable future, and feeling totally out of her element.

The last person she expects to show up offering help is the unbelievably hot lawyer who lives next door, Adrian Copeland. After all, she barely knows him. But as they get closer, Vanessa realizes that her carefree ways and his need for a structured plan could never be compatible for the long term. Then again, she should know better than anyone that life’s too short to fear taking the biggest risk of all. . .

MY THOUGHTS

So cute! I love the way Abby Jimenez addresses serious life-and-death topics in her romcoms, in this case ALS. This is the third book in her Friend Zone series, and while each focuses on a different couple and acts as a standalone, I recommend reading this series in order to avoid spoiling major events from the first two books that are referenced.

Vanessa and Adrian’s neighbors-to-friends-to-lovers romance was so swoonworthy. I appreciated how the book didn’t just focus on the leads, but also shined a light on Vanessa’s family and their mental health struggles.

I was very frustrated by the miscommunications between Vanessa and Adrian! She made a lot of assumptions about how much he knew about her personal life from her YouTube channel, and he came off as a bit oblivious. But overall this was very funny and heartwarming, and I highly recommend it!