Saturday, September 30, 2017

Stacking the Shelves (#249)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews, in which bloggers share the books and swag they've received in the past week!

So, what did I get in the week of Sunday, September 24th to Saturday, September 30th?

(all links to Goodreads are provided!)

In the mail:

A color-changing mug

This package is so cool! The books are a smaller size in terms of stature, which is neat. And I love the mug! Apparently it changes color when you fill it. So I will experiment soon! Thank you, BHM!

Reviews from this week:

(Click on the covers to go to my reviews!)

Favorite Instagram post from this week:

As you see from my Instagram post... I got to meet Kristin Cashore! She was amazing and so lovely. And she signed all 17 of my books, and my tote bag. Fun fact: she'd never seen a UK ARC of Bitterblue before. So she said that I officially have the only signed UK ARC of Bitterblue. Isn't that cool?! I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to have met her. It was a wonderful experience, as was B-Fest. You can check out my Jane, Unlimited & B-Fest recap HERE. Huge thanks to my sister and her boyfriend (who made the trip to the Jane, Unlimited event possible), B&N Fairfax, Penguin, and all of the other contributors who made the events extra special! 

ALSO: I'm going to be in Chicago from Friday to Sunday evening. I won't be able to return comments until Monday or after. I'm sorry! But you all know how I am about STS comments. I will return them, I promise! Thank you for your support! =)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Review: The Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz

The Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Penny is a lead dancer at the Grande Teatro, a finishing school where she and eleven other young women are training to become the finest ballerinas in Italy. Tucked deep into the woods, the school is overseen by the mysterious and handsome young Master who keeps the girls ensconced in the estate – and in the only life Penny has never known.

But when flashes of memories, memories of a life very different from the one she thinks she’s been leading, start to appear, Penny begins to question the Grand Teatro and the motivations of the Master. With a kind and attractive kitchen boy, Cricket, at her side, Penny vows to escape the confines of her school and the strict rules that dictate every step she takes. But at every turn, the Master finds a way to stop her, and Penny must find a way to escape the school and uncover the secrets of her past before it’s too late.

What I Liked:

I've read a number of books published by Swoon Reads, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing. This imprint is unique because it is crowd-sourced in terms of the work, and there are always a ton of manuscripts available to read and explore on the website. The Midnight Dance is one of many that has been picked up for publication by Swoon Reads. I've had mixed results with the Swoon Reads books I've read so far, but this one is among my favorites. I adore Cindy Anstey's books, but I think those will share the spotlight with this book. The Midnight Dance was haunting and mysterious, yet swoony and seductive. It was an interesting book to read, and while I could definitely see the author developing her writing and craft, I have a good feeling about her future work.

Penny is one of the lead dancers of the Grande Teatro, a coveted dance school that is selective about its students. There are only a handful of students at any given time, with rare new faces on occasion. The girls are educated in many subjects, but their focus is dance, as they all strive to be the best ballerina in Italy. The school is overseen by Master, who is shrouded in mystery and handsome looks. Every girl has a crush on him... except for Penny, who can't shake the creepy feeling she has started to feel when he is near. What's more, her memory is starting to jumble, and she isn't sure what is real and what isn't. Somehow, Master is messing with her mind. With the help of the charming kitchen steward, Penny is determined to find out what happened in her past that will determine her future at the school.

I love how this story is set up. At first, I was just as confused as Penny; what is happening to her memories? Why is she starting to remember this or that? And then - why did she suddenly forget what she started to remember? Usually I hate being enveloped in this kind of confusion, especially so early on, but I found that this only intrigued me even more. From start, we know that there is something wrong with Penny's memories. And soon after, Penny finds out that Master might have something to do with it, and Cricket seems to have an idea as to what is happening to her. But these realizations are only the tip of the iceberg. Master is a lot worse than she expected. and Cricket is so much more than a kitchen steward.

I liked Penny just fine, though I didn't love her, nor did I hate her. I really felt for her, as she tried to navigate her life while realizing that she had no idea who she really was. She had no idea what her life before the school was like. She didn't even know what her favorite food was. It was easy to root for her, because she was so clearly wronged. But I also liked her persistence, even when she was throwing herself into obvious danger. She wanted nothing more than to understand what was happening to her, stop Master, and save the other girls.

Cricket is such a sweetheart! He is the kitchen steward which basically means that he brings everyone their meals and clears tables. There is a lot more to him than meets the eye, but Master keeps him on a tight leash. Cricket is smart, loyal, protective, and stubborn, and he never stops trying to help Penny regain her true memories. He is one of the constants of the story that is inherently good and kind. But he also has a protective streak that shows up every now and then, which I loved.

I was hooked soon after the story began, and I didn't want to stop reading. It's too bad I started reading the book on the Metro to work, because I really wanted to keep reading. Hate or love this book, you have to say that it is engaging (well, hopefully). There are so many revelations dropped, as the story goes on. Some might be obvious, but the placement and timing are really good. 

I love the Italian influence and setting. There are so many Italian food references - it was impossible not to get hungry, after reading this book. I really want some antipasto or ciabatta or something now (it's nearly midnight at the moment!). The author references a lot of Italian food, but also sprinkles in the occasional term or phrase in Italian. You can't not know that the story is set in Italy!

The story is also a historical one, set in the 1800s. I love this time period and it definitely worked well for this story. The types of things that Master was doing were very advanced, yet the author made them fit into the story. 

There is some sci-fi to this book! I don't want to say anything specific, but it's pretty cool. Terrible, but cool. I love that we get to see Master's backstory and how he came to work on the sci-fi stuff. Again, it is terrible stuff (what he is doing), but it is also fascinating. You kind of feel bad for him? At least initially.

There is a romance and it is swoony! And very non-love-triangle-y. I promise there is no triangle or square or anything of the sort. Cricket and Penny are adorable together, even if they aren't actually a couple for most of the book. There is obvious but subtle chemistry between them, and I couldn't wait for them to finally acknowledge their feelings, or kiss! See my 09/28 Swoon Thursday post.

Overall, this book worked for me. I enjoyed it, especially for the entertaining and mysterious story. The adorable romance definitely didn't hurt, and the fact that this book is a standalone makes it a great choice. 

What I Did Not Like:

I acknowledge the fact that there definitely could have been more plot and character development. The author's writing and craft seems new and unpracticed. It's hard to describe what I'm talking about without sharing whole pages or talking about specifics, but basically, we know this is a debut. I fully believe that the author will get better as a writer the more she writes. This story felt juvenile on occasion, which I noticed several times, but it wasn't too distracting. I see the author's potential!

Would I Recommend It:

If you like historical fiction novels with romance and some slightly creepy sci-fi elements, check out this book! It has an air of mystery to it, and it's a fast read. The ending is really good and it is perfect as the ending of a standalone. And the romance was definitely swoony! Swoon Reads is living up to the name.


4 stars. I am glad this book is a standalone, but I definitely want to read more by this author! I'll be looking out for her 2018 book. I'm sure her next book will be even better!

Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Swoon Thursday (#244): The Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz

- From the book you’re currently reading, or one you just finished, tell us what made you SWOON. What got your heart pounding, your skin tingling, and your stomach fluttering

- Try to make the swoon excerpt 140 characters (or less), if you are going to tweet about it. Use the hashtag #YABOUND when tweeting

This week, my swoon is from The Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz!

Penny couldn't stop looking at him. Her eyes drifted from his hair to this eyes to his lips to his chest, skipping like a stone across the smooth surface of a lake. She lifted her hand and splayed her fingers, resting them just above his heart. His pulse leapt beneath the pressure of her touch. Cricket reached out and gripped her waist, pulling her closer. Their breaths came faster, and she tipped her head back to look at him. His voice was barely a whisper. "I fear Rosaura is going to  be unhappy with me."

Penny opened her mouth to ask him why, but before she could get the word out, he'd cupped his palm against her cheek, his fingers stretching to the soft skin at the base of her neck, and leaned in to press his lips against hers.

Cricket's touch was petal soft at first. She leaned into him, pressing her mouth against his, desperate to inhale the air from his lungs, the spicy scent of his skin. Her hand slid up his back to his beck, and her fingers gripped the back of his fair to pull him closer. Her lips parted against his and the kiss deepened into something more urgent.

- ARC, page 267

Catch my review  tomorrow! I adored the book. It is definitely one of my favorite Swoon Reads books so far!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday (#248): Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week, I'm featuring:

Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: April 17, 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Suitors and Sabotage is an engaging (pun intended) story of love, art, and secrets in which there are nefarious goings-on (as well as a mischievous dog, called Jasper).

Shy Imogene Chively, artist extraordinaire, has caught the interest of a young gentleman of whom her father approves. However, all does not go smoothly… or as planned when Ernest Steeple visits her at the family estate with his brother, Benjamin, by his side.

Ben has been gifted with easy charm but, unfortunately, not a natural ability to draw; it’s a rather significant deficit for a first year architectural apprentice… one that he has hidden from his mentor thus far. Imogene readily agrees to tutor Ben and with the collusion of his brother and her best friend, Emily, they do so in secret.

However, many complications arise as Imogene realizes that her heart is leaning away from Ernest and toward Ben. The situation takes a turn for the worse when Emily declares her love for Benjamin and they are made the brunt of nasty hoaxes and perilous accidents. But who is perpetrating these incidents and why?

Like Love, Lies and Spies and Duels & Deception, Suitors and Sabotage is a comedy of manners—a Regency Romp. It’s a story of ruins and romance, friendship and fear, and trouble and terror. Yes, it is a comedy. I can’t wait for you to read it!

I can't wait to read this book! I'm actually cheating a little because I have an ARC already. :D But I've not read it yet, so this counts! I loved Anstey's previous books and I'm sure I will adore this new one.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Release Day Blitz and Giveaway: Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey

Welcome to the release week blitz for Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey! This final novel in the Romancing the Clarksons series publishes TODAY! Go get Belmont, and enjoy the finale.

About the Book:

Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey
Book Four of the Romancing the Clarksons series
Publisher: Forever Romance
Publication Date: September 26, 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

A love of a lifetime . . .

Leaving Belmont Clarkson is the hardest thing Sage Alexander has ever done. From the moment they met, she knew Belmont was the one, and getting up close and personal with him on his family's epic road trip has taken her desire to a new, even hotter level. But there's no way she can go there---not without revealing secrets that could devastate them both.

Losing Sage is not an option. Belmont's heart is hers, has always been hers. He knows she's hiding something from him, but nothing will stand in his way of telling her just how much she means to him. Finding her is easy---saving her from her past could cost him everything.

Check out the series:


Follow Forever Romance:

About the Author:

Tessa Bailey is originally from Carlsbad, California. The day after high school graduation, she packed her yearbook, ripped jeans and laptop, driving cross-country to New York City in under four days.

Her most valuable life experiences were learned thereafter while waitressing at K-Dees, a Manhattan pub owned by her uncle. Inside those four walls, she met her husband, best friend and discovered the magic of classic rock, managing to put herself through Kingsborough Community College and the English program at Pace University at the same time. Several stunted attempts to enter the work force as a journalist followed, but romance writing continued to demand her attention.

She now lives in Long Island, New York with her husband of eight years and four-year-old daughter. Although she is severely sleep-deprived, she is incredibly happy to be living her dream of writing about people falling in love.

Tessa Bailey's Top Five Favorite Road-Trip Books:

Hello! Thank you for having me! You really gave me a hard one. I had to do some thinking to come up with five road trip books. LOL. Here we go. I did my best! 

TRUST THE FOCUS by Megan Erickson. Two best friends, Justin and Landry, go on a road trip in a Winnebago, each escaping pressure in their every day lives. One friend is an out and proud gay man, but the other is battling his growing attraction. It’s a beautiful story. 

A HUNGER LIKE NO OTHER by Kresley Cole. A lot of the books in the Immortals After Dark series count as road trip books, because the hero/heroine are usually traveling together to find a common enemy or something equally delicious. This one is a particular fave, because the hero literally severs his leg to reach the heroine (his mate). That’s true love. 

SPELL OF THE HIGHLANDER by Karen Marie Moning. I spent years of my life being completely obsessed with this series. In this particular one, a time traveling Scot hero and a modern day heroine travel back to Scotland (modern day) and it’s spell binding. 

MANAGED by Kristen Callihan. Loved this one! Heroine gets hired as the social media manager of a rock band and falls for the David Gandy lookalike manager. Such a hot book. And it totally counts as a road trip book because the band plays all over the world!

A WEEK TO BE WICKED by Tessa Dare. Oh, this one it too good. A rake and a spinster need to get out of town. They travel four hundred miles together to Scotland. There are armed robbers and witty banter aplenty. Also a fake elopement. What’s not to like? 

The Excerpt:

“You don’t have to leave right away,” Sage said when Belmont turned, watching her from beneath his eyebrows. “Can you wait here while I take a quick shower?”

Maybe that hadn’t been the right thing to say. His big back heaved and the touch of his tongue in her mouth came crashing in like a behemoth wave. They had crossed an unspoken boundary on the train platform. There was no going back to before, to when they stopped at rough, crushing embraces. As if that hadn’t been…more than sexual somehow.

“Yes, I’ll wait,” he said, his voice sounding like serrated metal. “I can light the fire for you.”

I’ll say. God, why did everything sound like an innuendo now? If her body weren’t flush and sweating beneath the jumpsuit, she would have laughed about it. But there was nothing funny about having Belmont looming mere yards away, looking like one word of encouragement would snap his chain and send him barreling toward her. “That would be perfect. I’ll just be…a few minutes.”

Sage all but dove into the itty-bitty bathroom, pressing her back up against the door and willing her racing heart to calm down. Why had she asked him to stay? Her resolve would weaken with every passing second. Biting down on her lower lip, she began the excruciating task of lowering the zipper of her jumpsuit, which kicked up a protest in her triceps and shoulder muscles. When she finally got it down, she gripped the hem of her T-shirt and attempted to lift it over her head.

Her arms wouldn’t cooperate. They flat out wouldn’t rise any higher than her ribs, leaving the T-shirt suspended in midair. Her muscles burned like someone had doused them in lighter fluid and held them above a flame. Sage’s agony must have escaped in the form of a whimper, because Belmont’s boots scraped just outside the door. And her stomach hollowed with awareness, lightning racing all over her skin.

“Sage.” His voice was deep, urgent. “Do you need help?”

No. Say no. She’d only gotten finished reminding him she didn’t need him. But in this case, it would be a lie and she’d done so much of that lately. With Belmont. The most truthful person she knew. “I can’t get my shirt off.” Her nose started to ache, the tip probably turning red. “My arms hurt.”

His growl was short and broken. A beat passed before the door opened and she felt Belmont filling the doorway behind her. She flicked a glance up to the ancient mirror and confirmed what she’d seen in her mind’s eyes. Belmont towering over her like an avenging angel, outlined by candlelight. He’d taken off his coat, leaving him in a black long-sleeved shirt, which he’d rolled up to the elbows. Every inch of visible skin was shot through with strained cords of muscle, as if his frustration were written on him like a road map.

Sage still had the shirt halfway lifted, so her lower back was visible. Not a big deal to most people. But Belmont had never seen anything below her neck. Or above her knees. With the jumpsuit peeled halfway down, the band of her underwear might even be peeking out.

Breathing grew difficult as Belmont took one step closer and took hold of the T-shirt, his knuckles grazing the small of her back. “You’re wearing”—his breath ghosted down her neck—“my shirt.”

Sage only realized she’d closed her eyes when they popped open. Oh God. In the shock of Belmont arriving, she’d forgotten. “I am?” Her mouth was parched. “L-look at that.”

“I am looking.” She jumped when Belmont reached over her shoulder with his left hand and turned on the shower, the sound of spray filling the room. Then the roughness of his knuckles returned, sliding up her spine along with the shirt. “I like knowing there was a layer of me standing between you and the earth.”

Her legs took on the consistency of Jell-O. His touch was a drug, making her languid, although it was different than the way he usually touched her. There was sex this time. So much of it. And it was that major difference that allowed Sage to accept the skimming of his fingers. Accept the part of herself that lusted. They were in a dark room and time had surely suspended anywhere outside this little plot of square footage. Words ached to leave her mouth, words that wouldn’t be suitable in the sunlight. This man, so warm and brave and large at her back, knew things about her no one else did. What was one more secret? “I stole it out of your suitcase. I broke a commandment and everything.”

“Why?” He breathed into her hair, sinking heat like an anchor in her belly. The shirt came off, her arms dropped to her sides, and she was left in nothing but a bra from the waist up. Inches from Belmont. “Why, sweetest girl?”

A light steam had begun curling in the air like beckoning fingers. Maybe this is a dream. It felt like one of the fevered fantasies she woke from on occasion, sweat slicking her breasts and neck. “Because I like the way you smell and it hadn’t been washed.”

His exhale was gravelly. “Sage.”


She thought he might not respond, but finally he asked a question that made her nipples turn to hard points. “Can you manage”—a long, windy inhale—“the bra?”

Sage tried. She really, truly did. Her arms felt as though they might break off and hit the floor, but she reached back until her muscles locked up, refusing to move farther. But Belmont was already there, pushing them back down, holding them at her hips.

Jesus. Please, stop. I can’t watch it.” His touch disappeared only for a second and then the cotton material of the bra tightened over her breasts. She could feel him working the back clasp with fingers she knew so well. They’d tunneled through her hair so many times, twisted in her clothing, but had never, ever, touched her with any kind of…intent. Intent to seduce. And that’s what he was doing, intentional or not. The inhibitions she’d held close forever, circled the drain, along with the shower water. “Your back is so beautiful.” A ghost of a fingertip traced down her spine. “But I need to leave before I—”


“Before I turn you around.” They weren’t touching, but she could sense the shudder that ran through him. “Or look in that mirror.”

Right or wrong, the mine, their codependency aside, Sage knew if she let him leave just then, she would regret it for all time. Her body had been woken up. By one man. He’d kept her on the razor’s edge for thousands of miles, surrounding her with his power and taking it away. Over and over. And this fever wrapping around them in the tiny bathroom was completely different from easing his anxiety. Finally, she felt like a woman standing in front of him, instead of a calming device. This was mutual and alive and she couldn’t stand it to end. Tomorrow might be a different story, but this moment was the culmination of a thousand dreams and she could no more deny herself than she could forget his face.

“Belmont, do you think of the kiss?”

“I never stop,” he groaned into her hair. “Never.”

She took a deep breath for courage. “Will you shower with me?”

The Giveaway:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Jane, Unlimited Event Recap!

Good morning, friends! I hope everyone had a decent weekend. I was away for most of the weekend and so I was very busy... too busy to have a review ready for today! I may post a review tomorrow, if I finish the book I'm reading. 

Today, I'm sharing my recap of the Jane, Unlimited event from the 23rd, in Fairfax, Virginia!

The Recap:

I live in Baltimore County, so traveling to Fairfax is a little lengthy, and very tricky for someone without a car. But I am lucky to have a very nice sister who was willing to drive me, and carry half of my books (I had sixteen), and stay with me at the event. She had read Cashore's Graceling Realm books too, so this event interested her.

Coincidentally enough, B-Fest was also on Saturday! So we went for 1 PM in order to catch the B-Fest fun. The B&N staff started by introducing the panel of YA authors in attendance - Mary Rand Hess, Jessica Spotswood, Miranda Kennealy, Katy Upperman, and Christina June. 

Mary Rand Hess, Jessica Spotswood, Miranda Kennealy, Katy Upperman, and Christina June.

We all played Ad Libs with a short excerpt from each of their books. And then we did the B&N trivia, which was super hard. My sister and I ended up in a close third place, but we still got some cool prizes, like The Hazel Wood tote bags and a few books. I missed out on Batman, sadly!

Mary Rand Hess, Jessica Spotswood, Miranda Kennealy, Katy Upperman, and Christina June with the Three Dark Crowns crown swag from B-Fest!

Fun fact- Christina June used to be a book blogger! Her blog was Allodoxaphobia and she was part of the YADC blogger group. Now she is a YADC author!

The staff at this B&N were awesome. They were all so nice and engaging. And they were totally cool with me bringing 16 books to the signing. I asked if Kristin Cashore had any limitations and they said she said she didn't, and they said they didn't. I bought a book from the store so I ended up with 17 books. 17! It was a lot. 

The Jane, Unlimited event officially started at 4 PM. Kristin came, accompanied by a reporter (whose name I sadly cannot remember!). First Kristin read a short excerpt from the book. Then the reporter asked some questions, and so there a discussion ensued. Kristin is so intelligent and introspective! It was amazing to hear her talk about Jane, Unlimited, her other books, and her life.

Kristin Cashore, reading from Jane, Unlimited.

Then we in the audience got to ask her questions! Some of the things I remember: Kristin is currently revising a new book. She is open to the possibility of writing new Graceling Realm books, though they wouldn't be the next project (or two) in the future. The book she is revising has been influenced by her travels to Iceland. She doesn't think about categorizing her book as "Young Adult" or "Adult", etc. Including sex in her books (specifically, the Graceling Realm books) is more about what the characters would do, rather than what the age level of the book would allow. Kristin isn't interested in doing a lot on social media, because that is time she could be writing or researching. She used to work a "day job" that wasn't writing, and she would try to be as mediocre as possible to stay at the same level and not get promoted. Which is strange and neat!

And then the signing began! There were four of us who were there for B-Fest since 1 PM, so we got to go through the signing first. I asked the other B-Fest early birds to go before me, because of my enormous stack. Behold!

She signed all of them. =) Fun fact: Kristin had never seen a UK ARC of Bitterblue before. So she said to me, "You officially have the only signed UK ARC of Bitterblue!" That was exciting. 

Everyone loved my foreign copies, and my tote bag!

Tote bag from Bitterblue publication time. Catalan version of Graceling.

I remember winning two of these during the Bitterblue release week/month events, hosted by Penguin Teen and bloggers. I gave one to my sister and unfortunately my original has since disappeared - it got pretty worn out so I'm sure I had to dispose of it. But luckily, Sara came to the rescue and sent me hers! I am so grateful!

Kristin was so inspiring and lovely, and I'm honored to have had the opportunity to meet her and chat. She is my favorite author and her books are my favorites!

Me, Kristin Cashore, my sister Lily.

I would like to thank Kristin for doing this tour, and for her stories. Thanks to B&N Fairfax for hosting such wonderful events. Thank you, Penguin Teen, for sponsoring this tour. Thank you, B&N, PRH, HarperCollins, etc. for the amazing B-Fest 2.0. And thanks to my sister, who was a real trooper to drive me and carry half of my books and spend the whole day doing "book stuff". She had fun!

Aaaaaand I rounded to the day off with my first pho. Thanks to my sister and her boyfriend Luke for this particular experience (and hosting me for the weekend)!

It was amazing!

That's my recap! Stay tuned for a giveaway, possibly on my Twitter or Instagram. I have a ton of B-Fest goods and an extra Jane, Unlimited ARC that is now signed. =) Have a great week!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt

Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt
Book Twelve of the Maiden Lane series
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Rating: 5 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):


Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked-and nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him . . . only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.


Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.


Much to Raphael's irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life-and bed. Soon he's drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael's past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael's own demons?

What I Liked:

This book. Was. Perfect. Friends, I wanted to weep after finishing it. It was so excellent for so many different reasons - I can't even begin to describe how wonderful this book was to me. I definitely won't do the story justice with this review. You all know how much I love this series? This is only the third of twelve books that I've rated five stars. It's definitely tied with the other two as my favorite. I will be thinking about this one for a long time.

We met Raphael and Iris in Duke of Pleasure, in which Iris and the Duke of Kyle (Hugh) are friends. Iris attends Hugh's wedding and they fool society into thinking that they (Iris and Hugh) got married, because they don't want anyone to know that Hugh married Alf... at least not yet. Little does Iris know that the Lords of Chaos have it out for Hugh, and they kidnap her, thinking that she is the new Duchess of Kyle. But she is rescued by a man whom she never would have expected - the Duke of Dyemore. Raphael de Chartres wants no part of the Lords of Chaos, but he does want to destroy them. Rescuing Iris from them isn't part of his revenge plan, and it only makes things harder, because he must defy the Dionysus (the leader of the Lords of Chaos). He does not kill her - instead, he marries her, to protect her. Iris slowly learns more about her new husband, and she finds out that his past is even darker than she might have imagined. 

This book broke my heart and made me swoon at the same time, which is pretty difficult to do. The story is darker than any of the other Maiden Lane books, with the heart of it involving the horror of the Lords of Chaos. Raphael's father used to be the Dionysus, and Raphael was to be initiated into the Lords. The tone of this book is bleaker than any other book in this series, but this makes the book so much more compelling and intriguing. I enjoyed it so much, darkness and all. Much like Raphael.

I'd go as far as to say that this book is Raphael's (as opposed to it being Raphael's and Iris's). Yes, both have POVs in the story. But this story is one of growth and healing for Raphael. He went through a horrible, traumatic event during his childhood, and it affected him through adulthood. It broke my heart to see him react to certain things, because of this event. He doesn't like this or that, he doesn't want children, he never planned on getting married. Raphael thinks he is such a monster, and he shrouds himself in darkness, but really he is a good man. He is bent on revenge, trying to take down the Lords, but he is a selfless, good person. 

Iris is hands-down one of my favorite heroines of the Maiden Lane series, just like Raphael. Both are in my top three for sure. Iris... she isn't a plucky, feisty, outspoken heroine. She isn't brash and loud, opinionated and demanding to be heard in any way. She is soft and quiet and caring, a light to Raphael's darkness. But she is so strong in her caring, loving nature. She isn't an alpha female and she doesn't need to be - her whole self is just as tough and assertive as an alpha female, except she is Iris Daniels, a loving, gentle soul. I adored her. I especially loved her for sticking with Raphael, for never running away or giving up on him. There is so little drama in this book because Iris had the strength to be patient with Raphael. Every time he told her to leave him, she never did.

There is a certain amount of angst in this book that I loved so much. I know, it's weird for me to be loving angst. But it was so perfect. Raphael and Iris are nearly strangers when they get married. Iris doesn't know anything about Raphael's past, the scar on his face, why he won't have sex with her like any husband would. Every time Iris would learn something new about Raphael, my heart would break a little. The angst in this book is so perfect. Raphael is so complicated, with layers and layers of hurt from many years of build-up, and it's beautiful and heartbreaking to see Iris slip through those layers one by one.

That being said, the execution of the "tough issues" of this story was excellent. The execution of the story in general was excellent. Hoyt's writing is superb as always, her world-building flawless, and her craftsmanship solid. This story is so much darker, because of the Lords of Chaos and because of Raphael's past, and Hoyt did an amazing job with bringing across the story without depressing readers. The tone of the story is darker, but it's also hopeful. 

The romance is so sweet and slow-burn. I loved watching Raphael and Iris fall for each other - especially Iris falling for Raphael. How she learns more about him and is still drawn to him. How she grows to care about him more and more, with every secret she uncovers. Raphael can't help but fall for her, because she becomes a constant that he wants, needs, and loves.

This book is quite steamy, which I appreciated! I mentioned earlier in my review that Raphael refused to have sex with Iris (at first). He has his reasons. But that doesn't mean they couldn't do... other things. The sexy times get creative, before there is "actual" sex. I was all for it!

This book has an edge and an excitement to it that isn't as present in the other books. Likely because this book deals with a man who wants revenge and he is out for blood. Taking down the Lords of Chaos is everything to Raphael. There is a lot of blood and murder in this book. There are a lot of high stakes. But this book ends extremely well, so don't worry about the HEA. It's an awesome ending to a wonderful series. Yes, this is the end of the series!

What I Did Not Like:

I can't think of anything I didn't like!

Would I Recommend It:

I highly recommend this book, and the entire series in general. The Maiden Lane series is quite possibly my favorite historical romances series ever. I've never stuck it out with a twelve-book series before, but there is no way I would have missed any of the books in this series. This final book is particularly good, a masterpiece that Hoyt has perfected for readers. It's worth all of the pain and hurt and angst, because this book is still a sweet novel, above all of that. If you don't want to read the entire series (you should though!), read Duke of Midnight, Duke of Sin, and Duke of Desire.


5 stars. Hoyt has outdone herself with this conclusion novel. I am so happy with this book, and the series, and I'm also so sad to see the series end. I am definitely excited about new projects that Hoyt might be working on though!

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Stacking the Shelves (#248)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews, in which bloggers share the books and swag they've received in the past week!

So, what did I get in the week of Sunday, September 17th to Saturday, September 23rd?

(all links to Goodreads are provided!)

In the mail:

An ARC of My New Crush Gave to Me by Shani Petroff

This package is so adorable! Thank you, Swoon Reads!

I. Am. OBSESSED! Thank you, Daphne! 😍😍

From Edelweiss:


Phew! I went a little click-happy with the Harper books! Auto-approval is so dangerous. I'm excited about all of these!

Reviews from this week:

(Click on the covers to go to my reviews!)

Favorite Instagram post from this week:

This weekend features the Baltimore Book Festival, and the Kristin Cashore event at Fairfax! Unfortunately I'll only be at the BBF for one day - yesterday. You can check out my Instagram story and Twitter for updates. I'll be attending the Cashore event in Fairfax, and I'll be updating during that event too! I can't wait. She is my favorite!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey

Too Beautiful to Break by Tessa Bailey
Book Four of the Romancing the Clarksons series
Publisher: Forever Romance
Publication Date: September 26, 2017
Rating: 2 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley 

Summary (from Goodreads):

A love of a lifetime . . .

Leaving Belmont Clarkson is the hardest thing Sage Alexander has ever done. From the moment they met, she knew Belmont was the one, and getting up close and personal with him on his family's epic road trip has taken her desire to a new, even hotter level. But there's no way she can go there---not without revealing secrets that could devastate them both.

Losing Sage is not an option. Belmont's heart is hers, has always been hers. He knows she's hiding something from him, but nothing will stand in his way of telling her just how much she means to him. Finding her is easy---saving her from her past could cost him everything.

What I Liked:

I have so many mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it wasn't horrible, and I can see readers enjoying it. On the other hand, I didn't really like it. I love Tessa Bailey's books, and I have been a huge fan of hers for a long time. But this book just didn't do it for me.

This is the fourth and final novel in the Romancing the Clarksons series, and it features Belmont Clarkson and Sage Alexander. They have been circling each other during this entire series, but never together romantically. At the start of this book, it's just Belmont and Sage, since the other three Clarksons have taken detours during the trip, and will meet Belmont in New York for the Plunge. But Sage knows she can't stay with Belmont for this trip - she needs to take care of some business at home. Business that she knows Belmont won't like. She uses their dependency on each other as an excuse, but really, she needs to go back to her sad, terrible life in Sibley, Louisiana, so she can make things right. But Belmont will follow Sage to the ends of the earth, and he stops at nothing to help her when he learns of her situation. They both have a lot standing between them, but their love is stronger than they know.

Things I liked about this book: the characterization. I may not have loved Belmont like most readers of this series, but I can really appreciate how unique and different he is. Bailey has made him stand out completely, compared to the rest of her heroes of her various romance books, and in the romance world in general. Belmont is one of a kind. We can clearly see his character development in this story; he goes from putting Sage on a pedestal, to understanding her and loving her all the same. He overcomes some of his fears, and begins to understand his own self better.

The same can be said about Sage. She goes through a lot in this book, and she learns a lot about herself, and about Belmont. From start to finish, she is working towards a healthier, stronger relationship with Belmont. She also works through a lot of feelings she had stored up from her past, dealing with her parents and her childhood. She didn't have a traumatic or "terrible" childhood, but let's just say she had to come to terms with forgiving her parents, for a lot.

As always, Bailey writes a good romance. The chemistry between these two was always there, from the beginning of the series. This romance was interesting because Belmont and Sage clearly already love each other, but they were never together, so it's not a second-chance romance. They are a simmering fire together, and there is a pretty awesome part of the romance that I loved (but I won't say because it's something cool to discover). I wouldn't say this is one of Tessa's hottest books, but the chemistry is still good.

I liked how the book ended, for Belmont and Sage, and for the rest of the characters. We always expect a HEA from romance novels, but this book (and series) had a great HEA, and for everyone. This book was a quick read and while I didn't totally love it, I'm glad I gave it a chance.

What I Did Not Like:

If I'm being honest (which I always am!), I never really loved Belmont, like most readers I've seen. People were dying to read his story and I was just... kind of ambivalent? I didn't really care to read his story. The whole I'm-so-devoted-to-her thing that Belmont has going on was strange and sometimes a turn-off, because it was too intense. You'd have to read one of the books to know what I mean. Belmont is obsessed with Sage's well-being, her happiness, her family's situation. All of this sounds good on paper, but it's weird and a little unhealthy.

Cue my next complaint: how Belmont decides to take on Sage's burden himself (and the fact that she let him). The whole thing is that Sage goes home because her father is physically unwell, because his mining job is too demanding. So Sage goes to his employer (a mean, spiteful man) and offers to work in her father's place. And guess what Belmont does, when he shows up to Sibley? He offers to take Sage's place. I hated this. Keep in mind, Sage felt responsible because she borrowed money years ago from the man in order to get out of Sibley and to San Diego, and didn't pay him back. Her father took on her debt, as well as added his own, and he worked for the man in the deep of the mines.

It seemed incredibly unfair and unrealistic that Belmont would take Sage's place in the mines. And the fact that she let him? That's honestly ridiculous. I would never in 1000 years let a friend or a friend's brother do that (which was what Belmont was to her, at the time - not "boyfriend" yet). I definitely wouldn't let my boyfriend or husband do that. It's my responsibility, and no one would talk me out of it. Not even creepy Belmont who was obsessed with Sage's well-being. He'd have to suck it up and deal with the fact that I will pay off my and my family's debts. By myself. I would never endanger my partner like that, especially knowing he hates underground.

And to begin with - there were SOOOO many options such that Sage wouldn't have to take her father's place and work in the mines? Like, get a loan from a larger bank? From Sallie Mae? Bring in law enforcement or a legal team? Better yet - take your family and move? Or even better - pay your debts? It would be hard to leave family to suffer, but that's an option too (not a good one, obviously). My point is, there were so many better options than offering to take someone's place in the mines. And then there is the fact that Sage got a day's worth of training, before going into the mines. You need licenses and certifications to operate heavy equipment and machinery and whatnot... Sage couldn't have obtained any of that in a day. That just isn't plausible. And even if the owner were doing some illegal/shady business by letting Sage go into the mines with one day of training, that's when I would bring the law into it. You see how this makes no sense?

AND there is the fact that Belmont ended up working for MONTHS in the mines, while Sage went back to San Diego to do her wedding planning business thing. (I think? This wasn't entirely clear but that was the impression I got.) You're joking, right? I wouldn't let anyone replace me for any of my debt to begin with, but even if I did, I wouldn't just leave the man in my hometown and go? I would stay with him? This literally made no sense. 

In essence, nothing about the plot made sense. This whole plot could have been dismissed, had Sage paid the debts back, or called the police, or simply walked out of there and let her parents reap what they sowed (most of the debt came from her parents and their alcohol addiction). 

Would I Recommend It:

I don't really recommend this book. It's not a steamy, swoony love story. It's not even a satisfying story in general. The story frustrated me to no end and I couldn't connect with Belmont, or Sage. I liked how Tessa Bailey developed their characters and shed a lot of insight into their personalities and minds, but I just didn't connect. This romance novel didn't do anything for me. It wasn't enjoyable and I don't even know how I would recommend the book (like, in what situation or context). I feel like only fans of Tessa Bailey would try this book? It's not that compelling of a story if you're not a die-hard Bailey fan. Which I am. I'm so sad I didn't really like this book.


2.5 stars -> rounded down to 2 stars. It's a shame. I started the review thinking that I would give this book a 3-star rating. But the more I think about it, the less I enjoyed the book. I wanted to like it, but I pretty much knew, as soon as Sage offered to take her father's place, that I wouldn't enjoy this book (because I knew that Belmont would offer to take hers, and the whole story was doomed from there). At least the story ends well... to a point. I'm glad this series is over because I don't think I would read the next book (if there were a fifth book).

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