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Erica (Nottingham, England)

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The Countess Conspiracy (The Brothers Sinister Book 3)
The Countess Conspiracy (The Brothers Sinister Book 3)
Price: £2.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Milan has saved the best for last, 11 May 2014
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Well, hasn’t Milan just saved the best for last in the Brothers Sinister series? I adored the prequel novella and really enjoyed the first and second entries, but this… This was something else altogether.
I should say that right from the moment he was introduced in The Duchess War, I adored Sebastian Malheur. Presented as an educated rake who gives lectures on genetic theory, he is one of the most reviled men in the country. Bear in mind that this takes place in a time when Darwin was still alive, so public lectures which include the topic of reproduction are scandalous beyond measure.
Then in this book we find out that things are even worse, because the theories Sebastian defends with such fervour aren’t his at all – they’re all the work of Violet Waterfield, the widowed Countess of Cambury who has also been Sebastian’s closest friend for most of his life. As a woman she would never be taken seriously (even though she tried), so Sebastian has been presenting her work as his, and got famous for it. That he has also been in love with her for most of his life is by the by, especially since Violet is prickly and, by her own admission, difficult and eminently unlovable.
The biggest strength of this book is the depth of Sebastian and Violet’s relationship, which right from the start is shown as going beyond what most friends do for each other. They have their own secret code, they know exactly what the other does or thinks or needs, but for the longest time they never knew or understood that what they needed most was each other. Sebastian never pushed Violet because he knows that her marriage had secrets that she’s never shared with anyone, and they have left their marks on her. When you finally find out what happened it’s profoundly disturbing, and no, it’s not what you might think it is.
As always, Milan has come up with a hero and heroine who defy convention, who are anything but your run-of-the-mill romance couple, and Sebastian especially often surprises with his insight and unexpected reaction. As a man who thrives on making people laugh, it’s heartbreaking to see that no one takes him seriously because of that, even when it should be clear that there is so much more to him than his jokes.
Milan never disappoints, but this book was an absolute beauty and I loved it from start to finish.

Letter From a Rake: Destiny Romance
Letter From a Rake: Destiny Romance
Price: £1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't quite suck me in, 11 May 2014
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This novel started quite promising. Our heroine, Millie Ashton, English but born and raised in India, is rich and of good standing, but she is plumper than is fashionable, and her peers are all nasty enough to let her know it. We meet her shortly after she has arrived in England for the first time, as she sits through an excruciating social visit with her mother, where all the other girls of her age are whispering behind her back and pointing at her.
Unfortunately it all deflated a bit after that. Millie hates everyone and wants to return back to India as soon as possible, even though she realises that her parents – and probably her brother too – are much happier back in England. Then she meets Lucy Radley at a party, and they instantly become friends. The way this happened felt a bit forced to me, since the conversation they shared just didn’t work for me as instant heart-bonding. The first encounter between Millie and the hero, Lucy’s brother Alex, was even worse. Alex sees Millie and is immediately so entranced and enamoured that he gets a raging hard-on and is too dumbfounded to try and make polite conversation, which Millie naturally interprets as him being unforgivably rude.
That part in particular really didn’t work for me, though the subsequent shenanigans of Alex trying to apologise to Millie and winning her heart went well enough.
My next stumbling block was the letter from the title. I won’t give away too much, but it forms the main barrier between Millie and Alex, and I found the set-up and execution of it rather convoluted. Also, frankly, it made Alex look rather stupid, which is never really a good thing to do to your hero.
All the above might make you think that I didn’t enjoy the book, but overall I did. It was easy to read, it didn’t bore me, it was just one of those romances that left me rolling my eyes a little, and to be fair, that happens with a lot of romances.
Good if you want some light reading to entertain you, just don’t nitpick it too much.

Magic Study (The Chronicles of Ixia - Book 2)
Magic Study (The Chronicles of Ixia - Book 2)
Price: £4.80

4.0 out of 5 stars Better than the first, but a little messy, 11 May 2014
Definitely a better effort than the first part of this series, though it was too messy to give it the full five stars.
After being forced to leave Ixia (it’s that or be executed for being a magic-user), Yelena goes back to Sitia to be reunited with her family, from which she was kidnapped so long ago. Not that she’s particularly keen to see them, since she doesn’t remember them, and she’s being forced to leave her lover Valek. This is further complicated by the fact that her brother Leif seems to hate her on sight, despite the loving welcome by their parents, and the fact that Yelena has real difficulty adapting to Sitian society.
Yelena soon moves to the Citadel to start learning to use her magic, and that’s when things start to get a bit messy. She is too strong – and intuitive? – a magic-user to start at the bottom, so gets put among the apprentices as a personal student of Irys, one of the four master magicians, which makes her an instant hate-target for the rest of the faculty. Then she gets involved in trying to stop a rogue magician who captures young girls, then rapes and tortures them for several days before killing them to increase his power. This is soul-magic, and since Yelena appears to be the first soul-finder magician in several hundred years she is unavoidably drafted in to help.
On the whole I rather like Yelena. Her stubborn, if-you-want-something-done-do-it-yourself personality appeals to me, and I can understand her exasperation at people debating something for days on end before finally doing something. However, time and again she subsequently messes something up, so after a few times you’d think she’d become a little more cautious, not still keep rushing in to fix things.
As far as the writing goes, I found it a lot less bland than Poison Study, which is where a good part of the extra star comes from. I felt more invested in Yelena, which definitely helps. However, some of the characters in the book fell a little flat, and Cahill especially went from enemy to friend and back to enemy a little too artificially. An entertaining read, but to me it didn’t fully lift itself out of the ‘first-novel-syndrome’ type of writing.

A Rogue's Proposal (Cynster Series)
A Rogue's Proposal (Cynster Series)
Price: £3.77

4.0 out of 5 stars A little different, but otherwise par for the course, 11 May 2014
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While this book features your average Cynster – arrogant, dominant, unwilling to commit to one woman and terrified of the words ‘I love you’ – I was glad to see that it finally seemed to deviate a little from the previous three efforts.
Harry Cynster, mostly known as Demon, flees London and its flock of women of marriageable age, terrified that he too might fall prey to the shackles of marriage, like three others of the Bar Cynster have done so far. Things don’t quite work out that way, of course, since the moment he arrives at his stables in the country he spies Felicity – Flick – Parteger, disguised as a boy and riding one of his best horses. Flick is trying to uncover a syndicate that fixes horse-races, something which the son of her ward has managed to get himself involved in, so when Demon finds this out he has to get involved, being the Cynster he is.
I liked Flick, up to a point. Determined, unafraid and rarely intimidated by Demon she pretty much does as she pleases, much to Demon’s exasperation. He is used to instant and unquestioning obedience, after all. Demon is, as said, a typical Cynster. I still have to roll my eyes at a man who is supposedly your typical alpha-male, yet too macho to admit that it is possible to love just one woman, but I did like the fact that he accepts that Flick can’t be reined in, so rather than trying to do so he just follows her to try and mitigate any possible damage she does or danger she gets herself in.
What I didn’t like about Flick was her lack of common sense. At one point she hares off to follow the one man they know is involved in the race-fixing, taking a room in an inn while disguised as a young widow. So far so good. Demon follows her, of course, and ends up in her room. Another man tries to approach this obviously rich and therefore appealing young widow, and is rebuffed by Demon. At this point no one knows who the widow is, but Flick is daft enough to show herself to the other man, who is then free to tell everyone that Demon is alone in a room with Felicity Parteger. The times being as they are, this means her reputation is ruined, and it irked me that Flick didn’t have the sense to realise that. Instead she stubbornly maintains that nothing happened, so nothing is wrong.
Still, on the whole this was an entertaining read. The sex scenes were as always steaming hot, and there was enough deviation from the previous novels to not make this a repeat of what happened before.

Beyond Jealousy (Beyond, Book #4)
Beyond Jealousy (Beyond, Book #4)
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely worth the wait, 11 May 2014
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I love it when you spend ages waiting for something and then it doesn’t disappoint when you get it. I have so far adored the Beyond series, but this book was my most anticipated one since it’s all about Ace, my favourite character in this series. He’s just that perfect mix of cocky, snarky and vulnerable that hits all my buttons.
But I don’t love this book just because of him. Up until now this series has pretty much been romance but with lots and lots of awesome sex thrown in. So you have two people who have the hots for each other but have obstacles to overcome, and all of it is played out against the dystopian background of the O’Kanes of Sector Four, one of the areas around (supposed) paradise city Eden, in a world where civilisation has partly broken down after a massive solar flare destroyed lots of stuff (sorry, it’s all a bit vague, but it’s not really important anyway).
This book bucks that romance trend in that we have a threesome: Ace, Rachel and Cruz. Cruz was introduced in the previous book, Beyond Pain, as a special agent from Eden who has now defected to the O’Kanes. Until he showed up the book always looked like it would be about just Rachel, who comes from Eden but had to leave to save her family, and Ace, who was born in Sector Four and spent most of his pre-O’Kane time as a prostitute (gigolo?) to the wealthy, bored wives of Eden. He is credited with having destroyed dozens of marriages, and everyone knows he is scum, including Ace.
The brilliance of this book is that this is not just two men in love with the same woman, and a woman who can’t choose. That would just be a love triangle without a resolution, and whilst the lack of resolution would be unusual, nothing else would be. No, this triangle is a proper one, where each person is in love with the other two, and the sex doesn’t try to pretend that the two men have nothing to do with each other and just happen to be in the same bed with a woman in the middle. It’s refreshing, it’s awesome, and it’s brilliant to see how both Ace and Cruz are worried for each other and get themselves into trouble for it.
I also found the background plot of trying to find out who is bootlegging O’Kane liquor one of the more engaging ones in this series, and my only gripe is that now that my favourite character has his resolution, the next book will be a bit of a let-down. Then again, this is Kit Rocha, so I’ll probably be pleasantly surprised instead.

Sorcerer's Knot
Sorcerer's Knot
Price: £2.62

4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good, but too short!, 11 May 2014
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This review is from: Sorcerer's Knot (Kindle Edition)
Since I really enjoyed Thick as Thieves by this same author, I figured I’d give this one a try, and once again I was pleasantly surprised. The plot is pretty straightforward – the sorcerer Cian is on a quest to acquire all forms of magic, and only has the magic of the sea left to learn. Word is that the only one who can teach him is Muir the Scarred, who lives on a small island in the sea, so Cian sets out to find him and wrest the information from him in any way possible, seduction being high on the list.
There really isn’t an awful lot more I can say about either the plot or the book. It is well-written, without clunky dialogue or awkward sentences, has plenty male on male action to keep you entertained and a plot that never bores. Tali Spencer serves up another world where every man appears to be gay or at least bi-curious, yet manages to make it so that either it seems plausible or it simply doesn’t matter.
There are two reasons I didn’t give it five stars – I found the ending a bit light on delivery for the situation presented, which in my head was far graver, and it was too short. I’d be surprised if this was more than novella-length. Other than that it was a solid fantasy romance, recommended for anyone who likes M/M.

The Sweetest Taboo
The Sweetest Taboo
by Carole Matthews
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A bit too cringe-worthy for my liking, 11 May 2014
This review is from: The Sweetest Taboo (Paperback)
Well, I’d never heard of Carole Matthews before, and then I read two of her books in a row. Unfortunately I found this one to be the weaker one.
Sadie used to have a job in the high-flying banking world, until she was laid off. Since then she has been forced to grab every temporary job that’s offered to her in order to make ends meet. During a stint of handing out leaflets at a book fair she is approached by Gil McGann, a Hollywood movie producer who is on his last day in London, and they end up spending the night together… sitting on a sofa and talking, then falling asleep.
This marks the start of their rather unconventional romance, which ultimately results in Gil sending Sadie an open-ended ticket to Los Angeles because he misses her too much. Sweet, right? There’s just one problem: Gil hasn’t actually got round to divorcing his wife yet.
To his credit, he’s not the type of guy who knowingly messes around with another woman while still being married. He does genuinely seem to want to move on with Sadie. Unfortunately he’s also a spineless idiot who ends up continuously being manipulated by his almost-ex-wife, which makes it hard to root for him and Sadie getting their act together.
Sadie herself I found a bit… Well, I’m not sure what I thought of her really. I didn’t dislike her, but I can’t say I really liked her either, and as the book progressed, the situations she ended up in became progressively more convoluted and groan-worthy. She meets a drop-dead-gorgeous young actor, Tavis, and throughout the rest of the book she constantly bounces between him and Gil, never getting anywhere with either of them even though they are both crazy about her.
The writing in this book was excellent, I have no qualms with that. The problem lay with the content. It was enjoyable on the whole, but it just became increasingly difficult to suspend my disbelief, and the ending was rather meh.
Read if you don’t want to think too much, have no problem with cringing your way through a book and can handle the very British atmosphere that permeates it, for all that it mostly takes place in Hollywood.

The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot)
The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot)
by Anne Lyle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.03

4.0 out of 5 stars A really enjoyable read, 15 Dec 2013
This was my first foray into historical fantasy, and if all of it is this good I'm going to have to read a lot more of it. The story takes place in an alternate version of Elizabethan England, where the Virgin Queen of yore has actually married and has two adult sons. If the book stated an actual date when the action takes place I have forgotten it, but since this is an alternate reality it's not really relevant.
The other significant difference is that when the explorers discovered America, they also discovered a race of people called skraylings. They are disconcertingly alien to humans, with their slit-pupiled eyes, pagan customs and strange magic, even if otherwise they don't look too different. However, they are also important trade partners, and as such there is a slightly uneasy relationship between humans and skraylings. Added to that there is the tension between England and Spain and the old division of catholics and protestants, which all makes for a volatile climate.
Thrown into the midst of all this is our hero, Maliverny Catlyn. Mal is a trained swordsman but down on his luck and desperate for money when he is offered the position of bodyguard to the skrayling ambassador, who is coming to London to strengthen the ties between the English and the skraylings. This includes being the judge in a competition between theatrical companies for who puts on the best play. Mal is hesitant due to a dark, skrayling-related event in his past, but cannot really afford to decline the offer.
The plot pretty much centres on that - Mal's history with the skraylings and the playwright competition, but even though that sounds slight, the book is never boring. I have often mentioned the `debut novel syndrome', but even though this is Lyle's debut novel (insofar as I could see), there was nothing of that to be found here. The writing is assured, evocative and engaging, and all the characters are fully fleshed-out. Since I'm Dutch I'm not as well-versed on my English history, so apart from the bit about Elizabeth the First having married I don't really know what is authentic and what has been changed, but I really liked the fact that one of the secondary characters is a Dutch girl disguised as a boy, having fled the war with Spain in the low countries. I also liked the fact that Mal's best friend is gay and in a relationship with one of the actors. I don't know how historically accurate it is that people more or less turn a blind eye to it, but this was of course the time when male actors played all roles, even the female ones, because having a female on stage would be sacrilege, so I can very well imagine that the profession would have attracted gay people.
The final part of the book where various matters are resolved felt a bit overly easy to me, but on the whole I very much enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to reading the remaining two books in this trilogy. I would also like to say that I absolutely adore the cover of this book. I commend the artist on a perfect rendition of Mal.

Unveiled (Mills & Boon M&B)
Unveiled (Mills & Boon M&B)
Price: £4.20

5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute gem of a romance, 2 Dec 2013
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I really cannot fault Courtney Milan. In all her novels I have read so far she has consistently delivered an engaging read with believable characters, and stories with just that little extra twist to them that turns them into a breath of fresh air in the romance genre.
This novel had Mills & Boon plastered all over it. To me that normally means that you get an entertaining few hours which won't blow you away, and which will give you a few moments of mild annoyance because the characters don't talk to each other when they would clearly resolve all their differences by doing so. Once you finish reading it you stick it in the pile of books to give to your friends to read, or to a charity shop, because they're not books to read more than once. When you consider that standard, this book stood head and shoulders above that.
The book has some of the standard romance tropes. Our hero, Ash Turner, takes one look at our heroine, Margaret Dalrymple, and decides that she will be his. Except then you find out that this is how Ash works. He has an instinct for things, a way of knowing that this is what he needs to do right now, because it will bring him profit. It has taken him from his impoverished origins to his current status as successful businessman. He is also a distant relative of the Duke of Parford, a man who once refused the help Ash required to save his sick sister, and ever since then Ash has sworn revenge on the callous man who condemned his sister to die.
This revenge is made easy by the fact that the Duke has married twice, and never bothered to have the first marriage annulled. Ash exposes this fact, thereby instantly demoting Parford's three children to bastards. As the only remaining relative the Dukedom will revert to him, provided that Parliament does not decide to pass a bill to legitimise Parford's children. One of those children, Parford's daughter Margaret, has remained behind on the estate in the disguise of a servant so she can spy on Ash and discover incriminating evidence that will harm his case before the Lords.
It is an intriguing premise, and sets an intricate backdrop for the developing attraction between Ash and Margaret. Ash is a complicated man, driven by his instincts and a burning desire to give his two brothers the best possible life, even if his brothers don't appear to be too bothered about it. He also loathes Parford and his sons, and never stops to think what bastardy will mean to young men who are used to the luxuries of nobility.
Margaret, in turn, is determined to hate the usurper, but finds herself unable to resist his relentless ability to be liked. She is also torn between loyalty to her brothers and her growing realisation that Ash would probably be a better Duke than her eldest brother will be. Not just that; Ash treats her like she matters, when from her father she gets nothing but contempt, and from her brothers little more than absentminded affection.
The motivations of these characters are utterly believable, and the resolution is nothing short of perfect. An absolute gem of a romance which will not disappoint.

Poison Study (The Chronicles of Ixia - Book 1)
Poison Study (The Chronicles of Ixia - Book 1)
Price: £4.79

3.0 out of 5 stars Decent, but a bit bland, 27 Nov 2013
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If I had to pick one word to describe this book it would be bland. Entertaining enough, and interesting enough, but overall just rather bland.
Much of it I believe to be due to `debut novel syndrome'. Even brilliant authors such as Terry Pratchett suffered from this, and quite often there is just a certain indefinable quality to a book that marks it as someone's debut novel. This isn't a bad thing, it just means that you have to give the author another chance and see how well they've come into their voice. So I'll make this clear quite early on: I liked this book well enough to want to see how the series continues.
The plot of the book is quite light to Fantasy standards. It is written from the 1st person point of view of Yelena, a young woman who has been locked up in the dungeon of Ixia for over a year because she murdered the only son of her benefactor. On the day before her execution she is offered a choice: rather than die she can become the food taster for the Commander, Ixia's highest ruler. She is taught the peculiarities and flavours of the various poisons by Valek, the Commander's chief of security. As Yelena gets used to her new position in life, it becomes clear that there are certain forces who wish to depose the Commander, and she unwittingly becomes involved in this. She also has latent magical talent, something which in Ixia is outlawed and punishable by death, and in all she spends most of her days simply trying to stay alive.
If that sounds exciting it kind of is, but in a bland way. The book is well written, but I did not find the prose as gripping as some other books I've read. Competent but not riveting. I also found the development between Yelena and her love interest to be lacking a certain level of believability. Again, it wasn't that I couldn't believe they were into each other, it's just that there could have been much more to it.
A decent debut effort, and on the whole I'm definitely intrigued enough to see where this will end.

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