Mission: Improper (London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy) ★★★★☆

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Y’all, this book was the perfect palate cleanser! Mission:Improper was my first Bec McMaster’s book, but it certainly won’t be my last. I have a feeling I’m going to be a big fan.

There’s mystery, there’s mayhem, there’s blood, and (of course) there’s a romance featuring a blue-blood (think vampire-lite) and a verwulfen (think werewolf-lite). Apparently, these two met a year before (in the original series-this is a spin-off) and have had it in for each other ever since.  Like bad. And I don’t necessarily mean in the I-hate-you-I-wish-you-would-die-a-million-deaths-each-more-horrible-than-the-last kind of way either. More like I-hate-you-and-I-want-you-naked-in-my-bed-so-you-can-pleasure-me-in-a-million-different-ways-each-more-orgasmic-than-the-last. You know what I’m talking about.

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Yeah, I love the whole “enemies to lovers” trope. When it’s done right, it gets me right in the feels. This situation makes a play at that angle, but it never quite got the whole “enemy” part down. We’re told a bunch of times that the MC blue-blood Caleb “Byrnes” is cold, aloof, and lacking a heart, but it doesn’t really come across on page that way to me. He always seems pretty damn passionate about everything, especially when it comes to Ingrid, our female verwulfen lead. 

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(Yes, I know Klaus and Caroline are both technically vampires, but their chemistry is undeniable. Klaroline forever.)

And speaking of Ingrid, I really liked her. That doesn’t happen often for me with female leads, but Ingrid pulls it off. She was pretty fierce and was never one to back away from a fight. Of course, because she never backed away from a confrontation she had to be rescued by our main guy quite a few times. Insert mild eye roll here.

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I know I’ve played up the romance part, but McMaster’s does a great job balancing romance with all the other delicious action and intrigue. And there’s a surprising amount to be found here, folks. On top of that, there’s a whole slew of characters that we get to meet. Many are from the main series, I’m sure, as they feel like old friends, but there are others whose stories have yet to be told. Like right now, I’m super interested in Gemma and Obsidian. I need to know what’s going on there. Need. To. Know. I guess I’m hooked. Well played. 

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So here’s the main drawback: even though the description says it’s the first in a series, you basically get dropped into the middle of a lot of shit going on with a lot of people you have no idea about. Even with that going against it, by the end of the book I was able to get a good feel for the backstories of the previous players and get kinda sorta caught up on the current political atmosphere. I’m not saying you can’t start with this book, because I totally did, but I think it’s probably beneficial to start with her London Steampunk series first.

I know this is a really vague review. In fact, it’s less of a review and more of a statement of feels than anything else, but that’s pretty much how I related to it. It was just a lot of fun to read and it made me happy to do it.

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There’s a lot out to choose from in this genre, or at least a lot in a variation of HR/PNR/Steampunk, but I think this series is totally worth the time. I was never bored and was genuinely interested in all of the characters and their stories. I’m 100% on-board with reading the next book, and, in the meantime, plan to catch up on the original series, too. It was just that good.

Sam Says (1)

Stay-tuned for more reviews from this series!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Feature Characters Who Are Criminal Heroes

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s top ten is about books that feature characters who are criminal heroes. I have a penchant for bad boys in books. They tend to be more unpredictable and entertaining. Many of them live a life of crime. I’m okay with that. I love the dichotomy of the good and bad internal struggle. To be honest some of them don’t have much of a struggle; they’re just bad, but dark and dangerous is fun too. So here is my list of my top ten books with criminal heroes. To be clear the term hero is used extremely loosely.

The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer

Genre: Urban Fantasy

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Daniel Faust is one of my favorite criminal heroes ever! He definitely does things that are bad but still retains a moral code which keeps him from going to the dark side. Just so you know these books get better as they go along.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne

Genre: Historical Romance

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I enjoyed the hell outta this one! Dorian Blackwell is a rich and cunning thief. He is not a nice man, but if you dig deep enough he has layers. This is historical romance with a darker twist.

The Sordid Promise by Courtney Lane

Genre: Dark Romance

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This is my favorite book on this list. It’s really dark and demented, so it’s not for everyone. Eric is an asshole with a capital A, but there’s something alluring about him. If you’re looking for something on the dark side that’s original, read this.

The Heartstone Thief by Pippa DaCosta

Genre: Fantasy

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Curtis Vance made his living as a thief. In typical Pippa DaCosta fashion, he had highly questionable morals. A unique plot and good world building made this an entertaining read.

Sex, Lies, and Nikolai by R.J. Lewis

Genre: Romance

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Nikolai’s life revolved around shady criminal dealings. Compared to many of the others on this list he’s a good guy. This book sucked me in from the start. I’ve never read any other books by R.J. Lewis, but I need to rectify that soon.

Fear Me by B.B. Reid

Genre: Dark Romance

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Once again this a not a book everyone will like. It is dark. The characters are in high school, but this is not young adult. Keiran Masters is an asshole with loose morals and a dark and shady past. His redeemability is questionable at best. I promise you Keiran is memorable!

Blood Bound by Rachel Vincent

Genre: Urban Fantasy

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This was an urban fantasy with a mafiaesque theme. All of the characters lead disreputable lives. Cam was a character that I learned to love over the course of the book. Cam leaned more towards the good than bad side.

Menace by J.M. Darhower

Genre: Dark Romance

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Lorenzo Gambini is not a good guy, but I couldn’t help but love him. This is one you won’t want to put down!

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt

Genre: Historical Romance

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The Duke of Montgomery’s unscrupulous escapades began in other books in the series. By the time his book came around I was surprised to discovered how much I liked him despite the despicable things he’s done.

King by T.M. Frazier

Genre: Dark Romance

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People seem to either love or hate this book. I liked it although I’ve liked the subsequent books in this series less and less with each one. King was intriguing. He walked a fine line between good guy who does bad things and all around bad guy.

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Ghosted by J.M. Darhower

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I love J.M Darhower’s books, but this wasn’t one of my favorites. It had three strikes against it from the start. I don’t like books where a character’s fame is heavily focused on. I’m not into superhero/comic themes. One of the main characters was a recovering addict. Usually one of those things is enough to make me not read a book. Since it was J.M. Darhower I had to give it a shot anyway. I did like it. Personal preferences made this unappealing for me.

Jonathan became a famous actor when playing a comic superhero. The superhero element did tie into the story nicely. Parts of it were told in the present and the past. The comics and superhero played a part in both. That part of the story wasn’t bad despite the superhero being kinda lame. As his fame increased, Jonathan got caught up in the Hollywood lifestyle and partied a lot. His girlfriend Kennedy wasn’t happy with the direction his life was headed, so they separated although their feelings never went away.

I liked Jonathan. He was a good guy who lost his way. I have had a lot of experiences with alcoholics and drug addicts. When someone you love makes your life a living hell because they’re fucked up, it comes to a point where the bad vastly outweighs the good, and it’s hard to forgive them even if they’re doing better. Jonathan hadn’t been in recovery for very long. Relapse happens more often than not, and it’s common for relapse to occur more than once. Just because he was doing well for a few months doesn’t mean much in the long run.

I was rooting for him and Kennedy, but the mother in me desperately wanted Kennedy to tell him to get lost. She was a grown up and could deal with the consequences of being with someone like him, but the emotional damage it could have caused her daughter was too much. Her daughter didn’t know who her father was, so luckily she had lived her life completely unscathed. My kids were not so lucky. They saw first hand how destructive addiction can be. Some of the emotional damage their father caused will be with them forever. I wanted her to walk away to save them from suffering down the road. Then again Kennedy knew Jonathan had serious issues, but she didn’t live through it with him, which probably made it a lot easier for her to forgive since she didn’t really know how bad it could get.

Overall the story wasn’t dark. Jonathan’s problems weren’t heavily focused on although they played an important role. I am a fan of second chance romances. There is something so appealing about two people going through something rough and managing to overcome it. Jonathan and Kennedy had great chemistry. The way the past was introduced it blended seamlessly with the present. Despite the issues I had with this book, I’d highly recommend reading it.

Rating: 3 stars

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Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3) by Ilona Andrews

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The newest book in the Hidden Legacy series has just been released and some of us have already read it, of course. And loved it! Just when you think it can’t get any better, it gets better! Here is our interview-style review of the book and the series overall.

What are your overall thoughts about Wildfire?

Shelly: I thought it was so great, I could fangirl all day and  night. So much happens and its nonstop action and very plot-driven. Sergeant Teddy (the super-intelligent and genetically enhanced grizzly) and Zeus (the lion tentacle creature from the arcane realm) were such cool new “animal” characters. A lot of pieces of the puzzle were resolved, but there is still so much more left to discover!

Kira: I feel like the odd man out because I didn’t love this. It was wicked good but my least favorite in the series so far. The plot was great, and I love the direction the series is going. Victoria Tremaine was full of surprises. There were a couple of things that annoyed me with this. I’ll discuss those later on.

Do you have a favorite character?

Shelly: Well, Rogan of course. But, I really like so many of the supporting characters. Cornelius, and all the Baylors…

Kira: Hands down it’s Rogan. No one else even compares. Grandma Frida is cool too.

If you were a Prime, what ability would you have?

Shelly: If I could be a combination of a Summoner and then have the ability to communicate and control what comes out of that realm (like Cornelius’ House does with regular animals), I’d go for that one. Psionics and aegis are cool too.

Kira: Of all the abilities I’ve seen so far, I want to be able to teleport only as long as I could do it for long distances. It’d be great for getting out of dangerous situations. Traveling would be so much easier. Like they showed in Burn for Me, if thievery is your thing that is easier too. It would also be sweet to be a mnemonic and have nearly perfect memory recall.

If you were stuck on an island, which Baylor would you take with you and why?

Shelly: I think I’m gonna go with Arabella, only because of all the characters, I think she would be able to get me OFF the island. I wouldn’t want to be stuck on an island for ever (maybe just a nice sunny day). Even if we had to swim away, she could protect me from sharks.

Kira: Grandma Frida. She’s funny, witty, caring and protective. The woman is crafty as hell. She’d probably know how to take whatever random materials you’d have on an island and know how to build something from it.

Are there any criticisms or issues you had with Wildfire or the series in general?

Shelly: The ex drama and angst over Nevada and Rogan’s relationship was my one sore spot. Even considering that, it wasn’t heavy-handed and I could deal with it (and I’m allergic to drama).

Kira: The relationship ambivalence with Rogan and Nevada got on my nerves. The two of them clearly love each other, but Rogan is convinced Nevada will regret their relationship if their children aren’t primes someday. Since he planted that seed of doubt in her mind in White Hot, it kept popping up in her thoughts. Neither of them showed interest in other people, but Nevada had another guy expressing interest in her. Rogan’s ex was around for the whole book, creating lots of drama.

Genetics has been spoken about quite a bit in regards to magical abilities. It’s been emphasized that primes are more likely to come from two strong primes, otherwise the power weakens. Certain abilities are much more compatible than others, so two people without similar abilities are likely to produce children with weaker or no abilities. So why the hell is Nevada’s family loaded with people with special talents? Her dad had no abilities. Her mother and grandmother aren’t incredibly powerful. I’m not even sure if they have abilities or not. If they do it must be related to their military type of skills. This is a wild guess, but that magic doesn’t seem like it would be compatible with the magic from Nevada’s father side of the family. Between the father having no abilities and the mother not having considerable power, how did they produce three powerful kids? I know it’s possible the way genetics work. Sometimes things skip a generation, but it doesn’t seem like the most plausible scenario that all 3 kids are powerful with rare abilities. It’s not just them either. Leon has a rare and powerful ability, and Bernard has his own powerful ability. The two of them are cousins. Where did their abilities come from? With everything we’ve been told about how the magic passes genetically, this entire family is an anomaly. I’d like an explanation for this that’s better than genetics are random.

Who should get their own spinoff in this world (character or House)?

Shelly: I am really fascinated with the arcane realm that the Summoners pull these monster-like creatures from. I would love to learn more about Summoning and this strange other world. I think there could be a good trilogy’s-worth of material focusing just on a Summoner House. I would devour read that!

Kira: Catalina Baylor seems like she’d be a good choice for spinoff. I’d love to know what she can really do with her siren powers. Every ability has such depth to it. There must be more than simply luring people to her. It seemed like something was going on behind the scenes with her in Wildfire. It definitely seemed like there was mutual interest with Catalina and Alessandro Sagredo.

Any last thoughts?

Shelly: This series, in my view, shows how much the Andrews have grown as writers and is very indicative of their style. The humor, the action scenes, the world-building, and even the way they make a character come to life the minute they are on the page… it sounds cheesy, but it’s magical. They write amazing villains too. Victoria Tremaine was fantastic in this and stole all her scenes. This is book depression territory, it’s so good!

Kira: I am so happy there will be a fourth book! I love Nevada and Rogan. I’m not ready for their story to be done yet. It would be great to have a book where they can work together as a couple without doubts about whether or not they’re right for each other. This world Ilona Andrews has created is fascinating. Look how crazy everything is, and most of the characters we’ve met are just from one part of Texas.

7ya8izz

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Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

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I’ve loved Juliet Marillier since reading Daughter of the Forest.  She’s one of my bucket list authors that I hope to read, or at least attempt to read, all of her works. She has such an amazing way with weaving a tale, of creating emotions and atmosphere. Her books all feel a little bit like magic. I seriously love her style. So, when I discovered that she had written a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast it immediately went on my TBR list. Unfortunately, I have way too many books on that list with not enough time to read them (book reader problems, am I right?) so it waited patiently for me for 2+ years to get around to it.  This past weekend, we had no plans so it was the perfect opportunity to cozy up to a book and spend the weekend reading.

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“But hope is such a tenuous quality. To feel it and then to be denied what one most longs for…Better, surely, not to hope at all, than to open the heart to a hope that is impossible.”

Heart’s Blood maintains the feeling of what I consider the classic telling of Beauty and the Beast, having derelict castle whose curse encompasses all those who live within its borders, including its “beastly” master. But as with all her works, Mrs. Marillier was able to add her own spin to the story. Caitrin, our young protagonist, is the on the run from her wicked aunt and cousin. After the death of her father, the two of them swooped in like greedy vultures and claimed inheritance to the estate. Lost in her own grief, Caitrin was in no position to defend herself against them. She suffered at their hands, both mentally and physically, for nearly a year before finally finding the courage to get away. Her escape led her to Whistling Tor, with a village surrounded by a formidable barrier, with tales of a forest filled with whispers and manifestations, and with a warped and twisted chieftain who ruled over it all. Despite the warnings from the villagers, Caitrin gains employment as a scribe at the castle, home to an interesting array of characters, from the gnome-like Olcan and his giant dog Fianchu, to the austere lady but not quite Lady Muirne, to the bickering Rioghan and Brother Eichri, and at the heart of it all, Lord Anluan, the misshapen master.  It doesn’t take long for Caitrin to realize there is more to the story than just superstitious gossip and as she grows closer to this family of oddities, she knows that she must do everything in her power to help them.

 “Patterns could be broken; paths could be changed. All it took was courage.”

And hope.  That’s really what this story is about. It’s the hope that we can control our futures, that there is, even in the darkest of times, a way back into the light.

I loved the supporting cast, including the host. Give me a good, haunted, creepy forest any day.  I also really like the way the relationship between the castle inhabitants and the village was handled in the end, that they come together to fight a common enemy versus becoming the enemy to one another.

I think there were a few things that she left open, such as Olcan and his back-story (which hints at a fae ancestry though it is never expounded upon) as well as the history of the mirrors, which could have been explained a little more fully. Especially the mirrors. What’s the origin? Did Nechtan really create them all? And to what purpose? And one mirror is a little different from the rest. Why?

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I also found Anluan sending Caitrin away a little messy. If he really wanted her to leave and believe he did not want her, why send what he did with her? It doesn’t make sense. And the real reason behind the banishment seemed a little bit immature. It just didn’t quite click for me.  Plus, the “bad guy” reveal was definitely no shocker. I knew almost from the onset who it was.

However, I don’t read her works to be shocked, I read her works to be swept up in the characters stories and their emotions. Did she deliver here? Yes and no.Like I said, I loved the secondary cast, but I felt a little ambivalent when it came to Anluan and Caitrin. Don’t get me wrong, I always want the beast to end up with the beauty (or to end up with another beast, so long as he’s happy), but I found them both to be a little flat, a little dull, a little bit boring.

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So where does that leave me? I loved the setting, the atmosphere, and the secondary characters. I liked the story well enough, though the two main characters were a little on the meh side. I’m not disappointed, per se, but I do think there was something lacking. I’m giving it 3.5 stars, but I’m rounding it up to 4. Bam.

Sam Says (1)

Roar (Stormheart #1) by Cora Carmack

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Aurora/Rora/Roar (she has got a lot of names in this) is a princess with no power. She comes from a line of Stormlings, the elite who protect their kingdoms from violent storms of all types that ravage the world.

Twisters, hurricanes, thunderstorms, fires, any storm you can think of… they seem to be alive and even sentient. They have “hearts” that only Stormlings can take and extinguish, giving them more power and protecting the people.

Only it’s not quite so perfect and things have been kept from Rora. She has lived a sheltered life and discovers there’s a whole new world out there, after she sneaks out and follows her sketchy betrothed Prince Cassius. Stuff happens and Rora takes on a new identity as an apprentice with a rag-tag group of storm-hunters.

So, this started strong for me and somehow just fizzled out by the end. The world-building was fairly interesting, although this kind of magic is not my favorite.

I think my biggest issue was the romance. :/ There is a weird sort of maybe-love triangle, although not really? The main romantic interest was Locke and I just couldn’t get into the lust/hate relationship between him and Roar (as she is known to the hunters). Instead of fun bantering, it felt too angry and argumentative to me. I didn’t really feel any chemistry.

Cassius was the most intriguing, although I find it hard to believe there is a way to redeem him. He did some pretty crappy things in this. But the ambiguous villain is a personal favorite and we are never quite sure if Cassius is full-on bad guy or just warped from the upbringing and being forced to play palace politics.

There were several scenes with Cassius and Nova, who was Roar’s childhood friend and maid servant (whatever you call them). I think I saw somewhere that someone mentioned a ship between her and Cassius, but I don’t see how she could ever forgive him for being such a douche to her in this book. :/

I also felt there were too many “training” scenes, which are never a favorite of mine, and also, I dislike the plot device where the heroine is sick or mysteriously weakened by forces we don’t discover until the end of the book – and that happens to Roar.

I did appreciate how Roar is mostly capable of handling herself and wasn’t a damsel in distress (outside of that mysterious condition she developed around storms). She wasn’t run over by the cute men in her life, although there is a fairly good amount of angst (do I like him or do I hate him, why do we fight so much when all we really want to do is kiss, argh lol).

Overall, a decent fantasy that reads more Young Adult (even though the heroine is 18). It doesn’t quite read as “New Adult” either, and regardless of the genre, I just wasn’t able to push this from “liked” into the “really liked” category. 🙂 Three Stars. Review also found at Goodreads.

7ya8izz

Whispers and the Roars by K. Webster

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Kady had serious mental issues. Most of the people in her life did not seem like good people. Yeo and Kady loved each other but hadn’t been together since he left for college. Yeo came back and was determined that they’d be together again. They loved each other, but I never got to see why they developed feelings for each other. They never clicked as a couple for me. I didn’t understand why they loved each other so intensely.

Then it got kinda weird. Yeo was trying to be her protector and drive away all the bad people in her life. His role of boyfriend had a strong paternalistic feel to it. Yeo had relationships with all of the weird people in Kady’s life, some of them very close. Then a love triangle was thrown into the story but not the usual kind. It was like there were three people in a relationship, but the three of them were never together at the same time. The whole situation was incredibly bizarre.

About half way through there was a major plot twist. It completely flipped everything upside down. Many of the odd things going on made sense in hindsight. The book took an entirely different direction after that. The romance was no longer an issue. The solution to the reveal was overly romanticized. Love doesn’t make serious problems go away. It just doesn’t. Life is not that simple. The problem was resolved way too quickly as well. It was hard for me to get engaged in the story, but if the ending had been portrayed more realistically, I would have given it a higher rating. I’m sure plenty of dark romance lovers will like this, but it didn’t work for me.

Rating: 2 stars

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