Review: The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: The A.I. Who Loved Me
Author: Alyssa Cole
Genre: Sci-Fi Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators:
Length: 5 hours (126 pages)
Publisher: Audible Audio
Release Date: December 3, 2019
Source: My Audible Library

SYNOPSIS

A captivating romantic comedy with a thrilling sci-fi twist by award-winning author Alyssa Cole!

Trinity Jordan leads a quiet, normal life: working from home for the Hive, a multifunctional government research center, and recovering from the incident that sent her into a tailspin. But the life she’s trying to rebuild is plagued by mishaps when Li Wei, her neighbor’s super sexy and super strange nephew, moves in and turns things upside down. Li Wei’s behavior is downright odd—and the attraction building between them is even more so. When an emergency pulls his aunt away from the apartment complex, Trinity decides to keep an eye on him…and slowly discovers that nothing is what it seems. For one thing, Li Wei isn’t just the hot guy next door—he’s the hot A.I. next door. In fact, he’s so advanced that he blurs the line between man and machine. It’s up to Trinity to help him achieve his objective of learning to be human, but danger is mounting as they figure out whether he’s capable of the most illogical human behavior of all…falling in love.

MY THOUGHTS

This romance novella is set in a technologically advanced near future and features a sci-fi spin on the boy-next-door romance trope. I thought this would be a light and quirky love story, but the society was actually surprisingly dark and twisty below the surface, and the story built up to an unexpected, action-packed ending. This was an entertaining, quick listen with a star-studded cast, but it was a bit confusing. I appreciate the way Alyssa Cole bends genres, but this didn’t quite work for me like I thought it would.

Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Shadows Between Us
Author: Tricia Levenseller
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 326 pages
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Release Date: February 25, 2020
Source: personal collection
Recommended for fans of: The Bridge Kingdom, scheming lady assassins, dark romance
Content Warnings: violence, assassination attempts

SYNOPSIS

Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

MY THOUGHTS

I am surprised by how much I absolutely loved this book. I fully expected this to be a 4 star book, but I then I fell in love with the characters and their enemies-to-lovers romance!

I loved Alessandra’s ruthlessness, confidence, and her wardrobe (please someone help me find some fanart of her outfits)! And of course I fell for Kallias, the mysterious and seclusive Shadow King who secretly craves connection (because fantasy readers have a TYPE).

Although many of the plot twists were predictable (except one that absolutely blew my mind), the action, scheming, and romantic angst more than made up for it. This book is largely about plotting murder and actual murder, but it just made me feel good!

My only complaint is that this book is YA. The story would’ve been perfection as an NA fantasy romance with a little more steam.

Review: The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Dinner List
Author: Rebecca Serle
Genre: Magical Realism/Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 276 pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: September 11, 2018
Source: Personal Collection
Recommended for fans of: a good cry, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird
Content Warnings: breakup

SYNOPSIS

When Sabrina Nielsen arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also her favorite professor from college, her father, her ex-fiance, Tobias, and Audrey Hepburn.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Sabrina contends with in Rebecca Serle’s utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as Sliding Doors, and The Rosie Project.

As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together, and as Rebecca Serle masterfully traces Sabrina’s love affair with Tobias and her coming of age in New York City, The Dinner List grapples with the definition of romance, the expectations of love, and how we navigate our way through it to happiness. Oh, and of course, wisdom from Audrey Hepburn.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, The Dinner List is a modern romance for our times. Bon appetit.

MY THOUGHTS

This is the most honest review I have ever written and will probably ever write. This is one of those books that people either love or hate (see: my book club’s discussion), and I absolutely fell in love with this bittersweet story of love, loss, and letting go.

The Dinner List takes the familiar question If you could have dinner with five people dead or alive, who would you choose? and makes it literal. When Sabrina meets goes to meet her best friend for her 30th birthday dinner, she finds Audrey Hepburn and a handful of important people from her life also seated at the table. Chapters alternate between this surreal dinner and flashback that navigate us through Sabrina’s relationship with her ex Tobias, who is also at the dinner.

This book speaks to my soul. Six months before I read this book, I went through a breakup, and I thought it was the end of the world. I had been convinced that he was the one, that we were meant to be together, and I spent so much time looking back at our relationship wondering where it went wrong and what I could’ve done differently. Healing is a long, dark, and difficult process, and this book came to me at the perfect time in my healing journey–if I had tried to read it a few months prior, I don’t think I could’ve made it through this book because it would’ve hurt too much.

Was my relationship exactly like Sabrina’s? Of course not. Did I even like her as a character? Not really, but that’s not the point. I have felt what she felt, I have thought what she thought, and I have been where she’s been emotionally. This book helped me process the trauma of my breakup and ultimately brought me a bit of peace.

This book means so much to me, and I will forever consider it a favorite. Don’t let the magical realism and romance descriptors fool you: this book is real and raw and bittersweet. It will rip out your heart and empty your tear ducts, but somehow leave you with hope.

Review: A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: A Princess for Christmas
Author: Jenny Holiday
Genre: Holiday Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: October 13, 2020
Source: publisher
Recommended for fans of: Hallmark Christmas movies…but with lots of steam!

SYNOPSIS

Leo Ricci’s already handling all he can, between taking care of his little sister Gabby, driving a cab, and being the super of his apartment building in the Bronx. But when Gabby spots a “princess” in a gown outside of the UN trying to hail a cab, she begs her brother to stop and help. Before he knows it, he’s got a real-life damsel in distress in the backseat of his car. 

Princess Marie of Eldovia shouldn’t be hailing a cab, or even be out and about. But after her mother’s death, her father has plunged into a devastating depression and the fate of her small Alpine country has fallen on Marie’s shoulders. She’s taken aback by the gruff but devastatingly handsome driver who shows her more kindness than she’s seen in a long time. 

When Marie asks Leo to be her driver for the rest of her trip, he agrees, thinking he’ll squire a rich miss around for a while and make more money than he has in months. He doesn’t expect to like and start longing for the unpredictable Marie. And when he and Gabby end up in Eldovia for Christmas, he discovers the princess who is all wrong for him is also the woman who is his perfect match.

MY THOUGHTS

Haven’t I seen this movie before? A few times? Leo, an NYC cab driver raising his sister in the Bronx, gives a ride to Princess Marie of Eldovia and ends up becoming her chauffeur for the duration of her stay in the city. The relationship gets off to a rocky start as they are quite literally from different worlds, but it’s not long before sparks fly and the princess extends an invitation to spend Christmas in Eldovia.

This book was so much more than I expected. It was a sweet, hilarious, and steamy romance! I loved how self aware this book was, with characters comparing their situation to a Hallmark Channel movie, until the channel suddenly changed to HBO. Leo was so endearing, and Marie was inspiringly passionate for her country.

The ending felt a bit rushed and confusing to me, but overall I adored this holiday romance and I highly recommend it come December!

Thank you to Avon and William Morrow Books for gifting me a review copy.

Review: Faking Under the Mistletoe by Ashley Shepherd

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Faking Under the Mistletoe
Author: Ashley Shepherd
Genre: Holiday Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: ebook
Length: 327 pages
Publisher: Independently published
Release Date: November 8, 2019
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: fake dating, enemies to lovers, Christmas romances that don’t suck!
Content Warnings: sexual harassment, sexual assault

SYNOPSIS

Olivia Langley is the human embodiment of Christmas cheer, and she has absolutely no problem spreading it around for all to hear.

Christmas sweaters? She has twenty. Christmas cookies? She’ll take three dozen. Christmas movies? Yeah, she’s seen them all.

So it’s no surprise when she’s put in charge of Loveridge & McGowan’s holiday festivities. Secret Santas? Yep. Ice skating? Of course. Holiday trivia? Duh. Christmas-themed bar crawl? That’s one big jingle bell hell yes.

Kissing her boss at a Christmas tree lighting in front of his ex-girlfriend? Well… it is the season of giving.

And Olivia does not come with a gift receipt. No exchanges. No returns. No refunds. All sales are final.

In an effort to ungrinch the grinchiest man she’s ever met, Olivia enlists herself, Santa’s Executive Helper, to scheme up a plan that includes sleigh rides, snow days, and one too many mistletoe kisses, which certainly gets Asher’s tinsel in a tangle.

She’s pretty sure that she sleighed this whole fake dating thing.

Well… until she realizes there’s nothing fake about her feelings for Asher, and suddenly tangled tinsel, unsolicited Christmas trees, and celebrity heartthrobs are the least of her worries.

MY THOUGHTS

When it comes to holiday romances, I am a bit of a Grinch. The cheesy predictability that works so well in a 90-minute Hallmark just isn’t enough for the time commitment of reading 250+ pages. HOWEVER, Faking Under the Mistletoe has depth and all my favorite elements of contemporary romance novels PLUS a heaping serving of holiday cheer!

Enemies to lovers is my favorite romance trope, and I have recently developed an appreciation for fake dating. This book has BOTH! The dynamic between Olivia and Asher is spot on, full of banter, sexual tension, and HILARIOUS antics.

This book also addressed serious topics like the harassment of young women by men in positions of power, particularly in the entertainment industry. Shepherd addressed this issue in a respectful and empowering way while maintaining the light, humorous tone of the book.

I absolutely recommend you pick up this book around the holiday season. It’s not just a good Christmas romance, it’s a good contemporary romance in general!

Series Review: Wicked by Jennifer L. Armentrout

BOOK STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: Wicked
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance
Audience: New Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Amy Landon
Publisher: Tantor Media
Source: Library (Libby)
Recommended for fans of: Shadowhunters looking for a steamier romance, Sookie Stackhouse
Content Warnings: kidnapping, drug use, torture

Book 1: Wicked
Pub. Date: December 8, 2014
Length: 12 hours (376 pages)

Book 2: Torn
Pub. Date: July 19, 2016
Length: 10 hours (369 pages)

Book 3: Brave
Pub. Date: December 11, 2017
Length: 11 hours (362 pages)

SYNOPSIS – BOOK 1

Things are about to get Wicked in New Orleans.

Twenty-two year old Ivy Morgan isn’t your average college student. She, and others like her, know humans aren’t the only thing trolling the French Quarter for fun… and for food. Her duty to the Order is her life. After all, four years ago, she lost everything at the hands of the creatures she’d sworn to hunt, tearing her world and her heart apart.

Ren Owens is the last person Ivy expected to enter her rigidly controlled life. He’s six feet and three inches of temptation and swoon-inducing charm. With forest-green eyes and a smile that’s surely left a stream of broken hearts in its wake, he has an uncanny, almost unnatural ability to make her yearn for everything he has to offer. But letting him in is as dangerous as hunting the cold-blooded killers stalking the streets. Losing the boy she loved once before had nearly destroyed her, but the sparking tension that grows between them becomes impossible for Ivy to deny. Deep down, she wants… she needs more than what her duty demands of her, what her past has shaped for her.

But as Ivy grows closer to Ren, she realizes she’s not the only one carrying secrets that could shatter the frail bond between them. There’s something he’s not telling her, and one thing is for certain. She’s no longer sure what is more dangerous to her—the ancient beings threatening to take over the town or the man demanding to lay claim to her heart and her soul.

MY THOUGHTS

I absolutely loved this series. This is the perfect trashy fantasy romance about a secret order of fae hunters. Ivy is the kind of passionate heroine with a secret I love. Ren is ultimate book boyfriend material. Tink is delightful and provides much needed comic relief. I always love a New Orleans setting. The world building is straightforward and interesting, the romance is very steamy, and what the story lacks in depth it makes up for with an engrossing pace and addicting storyline. The twisty, action-packed, cliffhanger ending at the end of book one solidified it as a 5 star read for me.

I did not love the direction book 2 took as much. It took some strange turns that put the characters through hell. Ivy and Ren’s relationship was challenged, but there was still lots of steam.

Book 3 featured great character development, great action, and again, plenty of steam. Ivy struggles to overcome the aftermath of Torn, but Ren and Tink are there to help her through. Ivy has to make some difficult decisions to save the world from the fae, and there are plenty of surprising twists! The ending could’ve been a bit more satisfying, but overall I loved this series and it was just what I needed at the time.

Review: Mistletoe and Mr. Right by Sarah Morgenthaler

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Mistletoe and Mr. Right
Author: Sarah Morgenthaler
Series: Moose Springs, Alaska #2
Genre: Holiday Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Length: 12 hours (400 pages)
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca; Tantor Audio
Release Date: October 6, 2020
Source: Library (Libby app)
Recommended for fans of: Hallmark Christmas movies
Content Warnings: car accident, near drowning, sexual harassment

SYNOPSIS

How the moose (almost) stole Christmas.

Lana Montgomery is everything the quirky small town of Moose Springs, Alaska can’t stand: a rich socialite with dreams of changing things for the better. But Lana’s determined to prove that she belongs…even if it means trading her stilettos for snow boots and tracking one of the town’s hairiest Christmas mysteries: the Santa Moose, an antlered Grinch hell-bent on destroying every bit of holiday cheer (and tinsel) it can sink its teeth into.

And really…how hard could it be?

The last few years have been tough on Rick Harding, and it’s not getting any easier now that his dream girl’s back in town. When Lana accidentally tranquilizes him instead of the Santa Moose, it’s clear she needs help, fast…and this could be his chance to finally catch her eye. It’s an all-out Christmas war, but if they can nab that darn moose before it destroys the town, Rick and Lana might finally find a place where they both belong…together.

MY THOUGHTS

Holiday books have been very hit or miss for me, and this one fell right in the middle. It started off strong, making me laugh out loud in the first chapter with amusing narration, banter, and a ridiculous premise (the Santa Moose??). But ultimately I found this to be a fairly average romance.

I thought Lana and Rick’s romance was cute, but a little bit boring. They come from different backgrounds, but they were both mature adults who were always attracted to each other and perfectly capable of making their own decisions about what they wanted in life. Their relationship lacked the tension I like in a romance.

I also felt like the plot became meandering as the book went on, becoming a series of seemingly random and disjointed events. I seriously considered DNF-ing this book because it just wasn’t holding my interest, but it was worth the read for the hilarious squirrel B&B scene.

Review: A Deal with the Elf King by Elise Kova

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: A Deal with the Elf King
Author: Elise Kova
Series: Married to Magic #1
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: New Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 316
Publisher: Silver Wing Press
Release Date: November 6, 2020
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: fluffy romance with a dash of fantasy

SYNOPSIS

Perfect for fans of A Court of Thorns and Roses and Uprooted, this stand-alone, fantasy romance about a human girl and her marriage to the Elf King is impossible to put down!

The elves come for two things: war and wives. In both cases, they come for death.

Three-thousand years ago, humans were hunted by powerful races with wild magic until the treaty was formed. Now, for centuries, the elves have taken a young woman from Luella’s village to be their Human Queen.

To be chosen is seen as a mark of death by the townsfolk. A mark nineteen-year-old Luella is grateful to have escaped as a girl. Instead, she’s dedicated her life to studying herbology and becoming the town’s only healer.

That is, until the Elf King unexpectedly arrives… for her.

Everything Luella had thought she’d known about her life, and herself, was a lie. Taken to a land filled with wild magic, Luella is forced to be the new queen to a cold yet blisteringly handsome Elf King. Once there, she learns about a dying world that only she can save.

The magical land of Midscape pulls on one corner of her heart, her home and people tug on another… but what will truly break her is a passion she never wanted.

A Deal with the Elf King is a complete, stand-alone novel, inspired by the tales of Hades and Persephone, as well as Beauty and the Beast, with a “happily ever after” ending. It’s perfect for fantasy romance fans looking for just the right amount of steam and their next slow-burn and swoon-worthy couple.

MY THOUGHTS

This was my first book by Elise Kova, and I went into it with very high expectations. I’ve heard amazing things about her Air Awakens series (which I’m going to read soon, I promise!). This is inspired by Beauty & the Beast and Hades & Persephone, and I am a sucker for retellings. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, and I splurged on the hardcover because the design under the dust jacket is stunning. However, this book did not quite meet my expectations.

I really liked Luella. She is caring, passionate, hardworking, and clever. The magic system was interesting, if a bit simple. I loved Hook, . I wanted more from the Elf King. He was more grumpy and short-tempered than dark and brooding, and it didn’t take long to reveal his soft side.

I enjoyed the will-they-won’t-they between Luella and Eldas, but I wanted more from the romance. The romance was not particularly steamy, and it was a bit too much of a slow burn. In general, this book was slow. Luella does a lot of research, exploring, and thinking about how to break the curse. There was a subplot with a “villain” that felt very forced. This book could’ve used more tension in a lot of areas.

I enjoyed Kova’s writing, the world, and the story overall, and it gave me warm fuzzies at the end. I just wish there had been a bit more going on. I recommend A Deal with the Elf King if you are looking for a light, easygoing fantasy romance with a happily ever after. I will definitely pick up the next book in this series of standalones.

Series Review: Sookie Stackhouse by Charlaine Harris

SERIES STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆☆.75
Author: Charlaine Harris
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Audience: Adult
Publisher: Ace

Titles & Pub. Dates:

  1. Dead Until Dark (2001)
  2. Living Dead in Dallas 2002)
  3. Club Dead (2003)
  4. Dead to the World (2004)
  5. Dead as a Doornail (2005)
  6. Definitely Dead (2006)
  7. All Together Dead (2007)
  8. From Dead to Worse (2008)
  9. Dead and Gone (2009)
  10. Dead in the Family (2010)
  11. Dead Reckoning (2011)
  12. Deadlocked (2012)
  13. Dead Ever After (2013)

Content Warnings: sexual assault, rape, child molestation, torture, violence, kidnapping, infertility, pregnancy loss, infidelity, and probably more. Expect a lot of triggers going into this series, sorry I didn’t keep track of them all.

SYNOPSIS (Book 1)

Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Until the vampire of her dreams walks into her life-and one of her coworkers checks out….

Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn’t such a bright idea.

MY THOUGHTS

This series is like cotton candy. Sweet, fluffy, and ridiculously addicting, even if there’s not a lot of substance. I loved the show True Blood, my cousin is a huge fan of the book series, and I’m obsessed with vampire in general, so these books seemed like a perfect fit for me.

Every book has mystery, romance, humor, supernatural drama, and a host of endearing characters. Several plot lines are intense or ridiculous. The series definitely goes in some unexpected directions, but that’s what makes this series so enjoyable.

I love Sookie. I love her sass and no nonsense attitude. She is tough, humble, and independent. I appreciate that she preserves normalcy in her life despite her ever increasing involvement in the supernatural world: she worries about paying bills and maintaining her home; she refuses to quit her job as a waitress; she enjoys suntanning, getting dressed up, and painting her nails; and she never loses her Southern charm and hospitality. I also think it’s hilarious that Sookie never dated anyone before the first book, but throughout the series she goes through a series of passionate supernatural lovers.

This series is so bingeworthy. I listened to the first three audiobooks in fall of 2019 until library holds thwarted my plans, but I powered through the remaining 10 audiobooks in October. I really enjoyed this series on audio.

As much as I enjoyed this series, I was disappointed by the last book. My ship did not sail, and I think the author tried to give satisfying endings to too many characters from throughout the series. Still, I recommend this series if you are looking for a vampire romance to sink your teeth into. I rated each book (except the last book) between 3 and 4 stars, and I give the series 3.75 overall. My favorite was All Together Dead.

Review: Layla by Colleen Hoover

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Layla
Author: Colleen Hoover
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: ARC
Length: 301 pages
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: December 8, 2020
Source: Bookish Ladies Club VIP Giveaway; Netgalley; Amazon Publishing
Recommended for fans of: paranormal & psychological thrillers
Content: gun violence, emotional cheating

SYNOPSIS

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover comes a novel that explores life after tragedy and the enduring spirit of love.

When Leeds meets Layla, he’s convinced he’ll spend the rest of his life with her—until an unexpected attack leaves Layla fighting for her life. After weeks in the hospital, Layla recovers physically, but the emotional and mental scarring has altered the woman Leeds fell in love with. In order to put their relationship back on track, Leeds whisks Layla away to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. Once they arrive, Layla’s behavior takes a bizarre turn. And that’s just one of many inexplicable occurrences.

Feeling distant from Layla, Leeds soon finds solace in Willow—another guest of the B&B with whom he forms a connection through their shared concerns. As his curiosity for Willow grows, his decision to help her find answers puts him in direct conflict with Layla’s well-being. Leeds soon realizes he has to make a choice because he can’t help both of them. But if he makes the wrong choice, it could be detrimental for all of them.

MY THOUGHTS

WHAT A RIDE! Wow. Not what I expected from a paranormal romance, but just what I expect from Colleen!

When I hear paranormal romance, I think vampires, werewolves, or other creatures of the night. This is not that. With lots of thriller-esque twists, Layla will appeal to fans of Verity and other psychological thrillers. I can’t say more without spoiling, but just know that Colleen’s venture into this new genre is unique and unexpected.

This is not five stars for me because the storyline made it really hard to like the characters. I’ve enjoyed plenty of stories with unlikable characters in the past, but this plot line made it difficult to connect with the characters’ motivations. The things that didn’t make sense to me all added up in the end, but it was an issue for me throughout most of the book. I also just don’t think this was as well-written as other books from Colleen Hoover.

Still, I enjoyed the book overall. I thought it was bingeable and twisty and I couldn’t put it down. The ending left my jaw on the floor, and I totally need to catch up on CoHo’s backlist now.

CW: gun violence, emotional cheating

Thank you to Bookish Ladies Club VIP, Amazon Publishing, and Netgalley for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.