Hot billionaire with issues + classy career woman + drama = a good time. Need a say more???
Elsa Cohen is a celebrity journalist in New York City with an up-and-coming news segment and a social media follower base on the rise. She covers the real stories, she steers clear of the drama, and she's determined to succeed to the top.
There's just one small snag in her setup: Hale Wheeler.
Billionaire Hale and his famous family are often on Elsa's radar—it's hard to avoid them as their beautiful family is mired in drama and involved in everything.
But Hale's been burned by Elsa's news before, and he refuses to allow for a repeat. So Hale and Elsa made a deal: Elsa wouldn't report on Hale's family, and Hale would break his reclusive media silence and give Elsa a one-of-a-kind interview.
But like every conflict, there's more than one side to the story...
And when sparks fly between Elsa and Hale during their interview, Hale's promise of eternal bachelorhood and Elsa's need to protect her heart are going to be tested.
AHHHHH this was a lot of fun, y'all. Fighting the Pull had all of those city-vibes, billionaire lover, and family drama ingredients that you could ask for in a contemporary romance. And it delivered in the heat and feels too, like every good Kristen Ashley book.
Now, in full and complete transparency, this was my first dip into the River Rain series. (I know!! This is book five!!) But I couldn't resist reading it when I was given an early copy as a member of the author's ARC team.
So, to my potential fellow new readers, I'll say that this book was a satisfying entry novel to the series. Hale and Elsa's backstories were fully fleshed out in this novel and I didn't feel like the late person to the party like other romances. This vibe did get... harder... as the book reached the 75% mark as the references to past books' relationships/dramas came to the forefront as the drama started to involve Hale's past and the side characters more. But even then, for me as a reader I felt that this book was its own complete story, and the references just made me curious to go back and read the other pairings. This might not be the case for all readers, but I'm game for pretty much anything so it didn't bother me a bit.
Elsa was my queen in this book. I loved her, I loved cheering for her in her dramas, and I loved her complex dynamics with Hale. She was my favorite part of this book.
Hale... was interesting. Would I date him myself? Absolutely not. Not a chance, even if he asked (which he wouldn't). His daddy issues mixed with an ego the size of a small country was kind of a lot to take in for this reader. I know this comes with the territory for billionaire romances in general, so let me just say that I'm also not a frequent reader of this trope... I came here for KA, and found myself warming up to the billionaire thing as the story unfolded.
However, the two of them were perfect for each other and it obviously sorted itself out—to the point where by the end, I did come around to liking Hale!
Another banger from KA! Don't miss this one if you're a fan of these tropes.
It's a rare thing to find a high fantasy that takes a familiar playbook and shakes something fresh out of the dust. This one does it, and she does it WELL. Don't sleep on this indie fantasy series.
World building: ★★★★
When you start Daughter of No Worlds, you're likely going to think about its similarity to a few very popular fantasy and young adult fantasy popular works. That's okay, because this novel does start in a somewhat familiar setting: it's a girl in a world against her, with some unique traits that make her a target who starts at the bottom of the ladder in an oppressed way—and she's going to do something about it.
That's a template that we know. Especially when it is paired with the older male, world-weary yet powerful, who finds himself drawn into the young woman's powerful, world-shaping energy.
But once you move beyond that surface-level introduction, Daughter of No Worlds begins to shine from the deep and grow with intensity with each reveal and new element. This author is playing the long game, and the further you dive in, the prettier the pearls.
A formerly enslaved woman with a need to succeed. A former warrior captain with scars and a weary acceptance of power corrupts. A world on the brink of war. A change in the air.
Enter the world of Daughter of No Worlds. I promise you won't be disappointed, and I promise that the bland blurb that you read—which, yes, I agree is like many a blurb for many a romance fantasy--is hiding some really cool and very unique things.
Tisaanah is a female protagonist that I understood on a deep level. She's not the best at everything, but she doesn't have to work for everything overly hard either. Her passion is deep but her capacity for brute force and single-minded focus allows her to make the difficult calls when others would balk. She's aware of her place in the world, and she's aware that everything between her and her goal is a fight that she needs to strategize to win.
Max is a male love interest/mentor figure who REALLY surprised me. He is no Rowan Whitethorn with his past battles and trauma. (I am the biggest Rowan stan, so let's not slander my man here either, Rowan is great and has his place.) Max is a soft boy with hard edges, less than 10 years older than our protagonist, and he'd rather garden all afternoon than train Tisaanah in the art of magic and power plays—until, of course, push comes to shove and his claws come out. His arc was one of the freshest I've read for this kind of fantasy and I loved that.
And there's a third intriguing character here that stands apart from our two mains and slightly off from our side characters... I won't spill the secret, but let's just say that element took me COMPLETELY by surprise and immediately catapulted this series into another unique level for me. This is where the series deviates dramatically from others you've read before and cracks open into something fresh.
I can't wait to see how this all plays out in the trilogy. Time for book two!
The first book from this author from a male point of view?? And a heavy mystery plot?? Kristen Ashley is really branching out, and I'm here for it.
Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
Writing style: It's a KA book, so keep this in mind as her writing style is Very Dramatic and she loves a good one-sentence paragraph (like, REALLY loves it)
The Girl in the Woods is the sequel to The Girl in the Mist. Yes, you could start with this one first as it's a new story arc—but it's a richer reading experience if you read them in order.
Rus is an FBI detective on the hunt for the Crystal Killer. He's tired, he's jaded, and he's pretty sure he's done with FBI work in general. And he's definitely done with murderers.
But when the Crystal Killer strikes in Misted Pines, a small town in the Pacific Northwest that's already seen their fair share of shit, Rus has no choice but to make the trek.
And it's another murdered girl. (Rus is bone-weary of finding cold girls in the dark.)
Unfortunately for Rus, there's a twist to this murder: while it's done in the style of his Crystal Killer, it's not...quite... right. So now Rus has a copycat killer on his hands AND the worrisome wrath of the real murderer to come once he finds out someone's got his calling card.
Suffice to say, things are not going well for Rus.
But things look up when he meets the local burlesque club owner, Lucinda (Cin) Bonner. She's everything Rus could want in a woman, and she's a level of competent that he can't help but want to have at his side.
Misted Pines might have more for Rus than just his ticket out of dodge. It might be what he was looking for all along...
Y'all, this series continues to be unlike any of this author's prior works. It's obviously a KA book—swoony men, drama-drama, and her characteristic writing style that drives me nuts but keeps me coming back--but there were several things in this one that really shook up her canon. And I loved it.
1.) The ENTIRE story was from the male perspective?? Rus is running the show, we don't get Lucinda's POV. This was fresh for KA and honestly fresh for most indie romances I've read. Rus was a very interesting and clearly male gaze for us to have. I liked it, I wouldn't mind seeing more of this.
2.) Of all the Kristen Ashley romances I've read, this pairing was the most mature and lowkey of all of them. Lucinda was an adult who made sound choices, Rus was an adult who made very reasonable choices, and their romance itself was solid. No spoilers, but let's just say there is usually more drama in the romance itself for KA stories. (I love that drama, but this was interesting and I liked it more than I thought I would.)
3.) It completely blurred the line between a mystery/thriller and a romance story. Was it romantic? Yes, as much as I could find a sole-male POV window romantic from my cis-het female perspective. Was it also a gory, descriptive, and pulse-pounding thriller? Also yes. In fact, if I had to pick one shelf for this series to sit, I'd actually place The Girl in the Woods on my thriller shelf, because that's the more natural spot for it to sit. The romance took a backseat to the plot in this one. Which ALSO surprised me, by fact that I loved that too more than I assumed I would.
Overall, another winner in the KA index for me. (I am a very biased audience.) Pick this up if you like male POVs, thrillers, and well-rounded romance leads.
Thank you to the author for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was an addictive read--fun and flashy, yet still a normal "competition" fantasy romance...until it surprised me and ripped open into something devastating and shiny. Then it became a new favorite.
Before we begin, a rambled note on TikTok:
In my opinon, TikTok is an odd zone for the book community. It's large, obviously, and a lot of people love it. I love that for them. But overall... I struggle. I almost never agree with the flashy/quick recommendation videos based on hype and aesthetics vs. actual similarities between books. I think they're formed on the fly in the hype culture of fast recs vs. quality recs, and I also think it's often the same books in the rec pot across the board. (This isn't a TikTok specific hate, I've always grumbled about Instagram and YouTube too when it comes to "if you like this, try this" content.) So usually, I avoid all TT recommendations like the plague until someone I trust and/or actually know takes a bite of the apple.
In a totally unexpected and surprising turn of events, Amy read a TikTok-recommended fantasy romance. (Did you hear that? It was the reality paradigm, it cracked in half when I typed that sentence.)
No, seriously, it's true. This ridiculous anti-platform gremlin/stick-in-the-mud reader picked up The Serpent and the Wings of Night because it refused to leave her alone, and there was something deep down that made her go... maybe they're right, maybe this is awesome.
And it WAS.
Imagine if you took everything you liked and stirred it into one pot. For me, it's a combination of the following ingredients (let's make a potion together):
-A deadly game, competition, or high-stakes survival scenario
-A female protagonist with *actual* hard edges/reasons to be a badass
-A male love interest who has more character traits than 1) I Am Powerful/Deadly/The Black Sheep, and 2) Relentlessly Attracted to FMC" (it's amazing how many SFF men fail this test—even some of my favs.)
-A unique world, bonus points for a clever twist of the usual tropes
-A sense of actual doom/high stakes/death impending
-A well-done, slower-burn romantic pacing
-Decent dialogue for the steamy scenes
-Great writing all around
-More than 1 side character with a backstory and personality
And that's it. I'm a simple girl, with simple needs.... and a longgg laundry list of things that need to hit right for me to love the fantasy romances. I usually love books that include at least two thirds of my list—it's not like I sit there with my checklist, but anecdotally, I've noticed I tend to follow this list subconsciously in my book selections.
The Serpent and the Wings of Night hit every. single. one.
I read this book in ONE DAY and then read all of book two two days after that. Don't sleep on this one, fellow fantasy fans and those who like those things on my checklist. This book has it all.
This book was wayyyy too long. But I loved this small town and the family of characters! It gave me all of the fuzzies. (Knox though?? Good grief. Not my choice of male love interest, but that's okay.)
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
Things We Never Got Over is a book that I have seen all over the place. It's an adorable cover. Every time I saw it on the shelves, I was like "man, I've got to check out that book!" Many props to the graphic designer for making a really appealing design.
So clearly, the marketing worked and I picked this book up! And the verdict is.... It was a fine romance read.
I don't often read random contemporary romances these days—there's got to be some sort of complicating hook for me, like motorcycle clubs or paranormal twists—so I'm not sure if this book was a standard for the genre or not. But I think it had some great elements and some meh ones.
The great: the sense of community, the character depths in the secondary arcs, the small town vibes, the family drama.
The not-so-great: the sheer length of this book, how annoyingly two dimensional the male love interest was, and the unbelievable romance dynamics between our two main characters. But the main con takeaway is the sheer length. This could have lost 100 pages without even FEELING it, and could have shaved 150 pages with a decent trim of the side quests.
However - if you're looking for a community-rich and lingering feel good read, give this one a try!
It's Ali Hazelwood, of course I devoured it. But it wasn’t *quite* the same level of awesome as her first two books for me. (Still dang good though.)
Characters: ★★ for him, ★★★★★ for her
Elsie Hannaway is a theoretical physicist struggling to make ends meet in adjunct professing hell. So to pay her bills, she sidelines as a fake girlfriend for hire.
This gig requires relatively little from Elsie. She's already used to morphing versions of herself for each person she interacts with—some call it masking, some (Elsie) call it being amenable and whatever said person in front of her needs.
Elsie is always looking out for those around her, even when it is at the expense of herself.
But her fake-girlfriending side hustle goes pretty poorly when her client's older brother, Jack Smith, ends up poking into her veneer. And then to make matters WORSE, Elsie discovers that Jack works in her field of physics and is on the hiring committee for a job that she's trying to get.
Will Jack stop Elsie from this job opportunity? Will he blow her cover as a fake girlfriend? Or will he do the unthinkable and wreck Elsie's chances just like he wrecked her field of study years ago when he torpedoed the field of theoretical physics in a scathing academic essay takedown?? (Oh yea, there's science issues too!)
Cue the drama...
Love, Theoretically takes the classic Ali Hazelwood fable and turns it further into the realm of STEM women in love with this latest installment of intelligent women falling haplessly in love with stoic yet heartwarming men.
I think this novel did several things incredibly well: Elsie's characteristics, her journey toward self-prioritization, the academic drama, the banter. You KNOW Hazelwood has her banter down.
But I do think this novel lost me a bit when it came to the love interest, Jack. Hazelwood seems to always write her men as internally heartwarming and loving with a gruff exterior—ripe for that miscommunications trope to come in—and then shows us their soft side as the romance progresses.
I felt like Jack was TOO nice, TOO accommodating. He felt like a 2D man who fulfilled Elsie's needs a bit too perfectly. You know? Elsie's not perfect and makes a fair few mistakes and offenses. And Jack just completely rolled with every one of them, no doubt, no drama, hardly any justification. And I felt the conclusion hinged too much on that and I didn't understand the full motivations of why Jack cared so much, and why he was obsessed with Elsie in particular.
I don't know. Love, Theoretically lost me a little bit because of that. I did still love it, but readers beware if you're the kind of person who needs some depth to your men. (Hazelwood always is lighter on her mens' character traits, so this was even more so in that line of thinking!)
Yarros had the AUDACITY to put all of my favorite things in one book?? *fans self* Dragons, fights to the death, enemies to lovers, and a perfectly accessible writing style have made this an addictive series to watch.
This book really said, "Let's combine everything that worked in a bunch of fantasy books before and mash them into something awesome." And it worked.
Fourth Wing has been all over the book community this spring. If you've somehow not heard of it yet, you will, and if you haven't broken under the hype train and tried this story out, then you are an insanely strong personality and I fear you.
I had no desire to avoid this hype train—I've been eagerly awaiting it since this book popped up on my Amazon "you might be interested in..." window in late 2022.
Dragon riders. A college segmented into quadrants. A quashed rebellion with lingering consequences. A longstanding war. Magic powers. A girl caught in the middle, tugged on by Fate.
I know, I know. We've heard those things before, right? That's like Eragon + Divergent + Deadly Education + Red Queen + [insert blockbuster series here].
But Y'ALL. When I tell you that I couldn't put this book DOWN, I mean that I literally took it into the bathroom with me so that I could keep reading it. (Outing myself here, but you need to hear me right when I talk about this level of obsession.)
I ignored texts for this book. I ignored meal times. Like I've already said, I took this book with me for calls of nature. Fourth Wing couldn't be stopped, and I was obsessed beyond reason.
Addictive is the only word I can use to describe this reading experience and the subsequent fandom hype that happens after you finish. Unlike some popular reads out there—where let's be honest, once you gain some distance you realize flaws and your passion fades—I don't see this happening with Fourth Wing. I'm days out from my first read and I'm still wishing I could dive back into this world.
This is so clearly a reaction review that I don't think I want to talk about anything specific in this story. The blurb pretty much covers it.
My only caveat for Fourth Wing is related to its fanfiction-like status as a remix of the greatest trope hits: Listen, I know this book isn't a unique snowflake. But I literally don't care.
There's something to be said for the talent required in taking an established set of ingredients and still baking something tasty that feels like a handmade treat tailored to you, you know?
Ride the wave, y'all. It's so much fun.
Thanks to the author for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Intriguing concept. This entire first book felt like it could have easily been a condensed prologue instead of a drawn-out novel…. But I am seeing the glimmer of a cool plot here for the later books in the series.
Disclaimer: This is a reaction review. If you are interested in the book's plot, please see the book description!
As someone with a pulse and access to the online book community over the past few years, I'd heard of this book. It's hard to be in this community and somehow avoid seeing the Plated Prisoner series somewhere. For a while there, it felt like it have the ubiquitous staying power of Sarah J Maas—it was everywhere!
I went from interest, to zero interest, to extreme interest over the years. Fantasy romance with a lot of TikTok hype? I don't know... It's about King Midas and involves toxic relationship vibes and trigger warnings? Absolutely zero interest. But wait, it's actually got [soft spoiler] in there and involves some strong character redirections? Okay, never mind, sign me up.
It's been a journey. So I finally sat down and picked it up!
Gild is one of those books that I feel like I will never read again. Let me explain. Similarly to Maas' Throne of Glass novel (as in, the actual first book in the series and not the series itself), there are some introductory books out there that exist as barely-there prologues that are necessary evils for "first books" and then are immediately improved upon with later books in the series. Sometimes SO dramatically improved, that when you pick up the series later for a reread you don't even bother with that dull first book. (While I reread Throne of Glass as a series every year, I never actually go back to book one, I skip right to book 3 and onward.)
This was a similar reading experience. Gild had a really cool hook: Auren, a woman with literal gold skin/body parts, is kept in a gilded cage by King Midas. It's a toxic, well-worn love between Midas and Auren involving her pining for him and excusing his toxicity and Midas keeping her as his ultimate prize and allowing Auren just enough affection that she stays docile. As the Midas mythos goes, this was a very unique place to start. And it had enough world building to really intrigue me as a reader.
But then... this novel stalled out for me in a major way.
Auren's situation is the definition of two-dimensionally flat. She's essentially an enslaved sexual object in this scenario, and she both acknowledges that fact and simultaneously thinks she's more than that. And for the entirety of this novel--
MILD SPOILERS, STOP HERE IF VAGUE SPOILERS BOTHER YOU
—every single interaction between Auren and any male character was stripped down to this. She's lusted upon, constantly threatened with sexual assault, and then occasionally treated nicely for the purposes of showing the reader why Auren hasn't completely revolted in her cage by now. This dichotomy of an abusive relationship between Auren vs. Everyone was seemingly endless and, after a point, useless as a plot device.
And, problematic reliance on sexual assault as a plot device and lack of conversations around enslaved sex workers aside, this led to an extremely uninteresting and depressing narrative. I kept questioning why people enjoyed this series if this was all there was. Regardless of your opinions on dark topics in your fiction, this wasn't a well-told story!
But I kept going, because I'd been softly spoiled for some of the later elements in the books and I wondered if this series would follow another of Maas' books, A Court of Thorns and Roses, with its unique bait-and-switch structure to that series.
Let's just say that things got much more interesting in the last 10% of this story. So interesting, in fact, that I downloaded the second book IMMEDIATELY and thought to myself, "here we go, finally" and got to reading. More POVs, a new character has arrived, and the chess board has changed... I'm ready for the real plot. Let's go!
NOTE: Not recommended for sensitive readers. Trigger warnings for sexual assault, graphic sexual situations with murky consent, toxic relationships, emotionally abusive relationships, death, internalized mental health struggles.
Long-time fans of Kristen Ashley will be pleasantly surprised—I sure was! Very plot-forward and emotionally wholesome, The Girl in the Mist is the start of a new leg for KA.
Emotional angst: ★
Let's get two things out of the way right at the top: This book felt EXACTLY like a Kristen Ashley book in many ways. It also, surprisingly, did not.
Ashley's extremely distinctive writing style was present here—in particular, her dramatic pacing of single sentences as paragraphs used in a blatant way for dramatic layering of thoughts. This is a "love it or hate it" style, and I'll be honest, I have to be in the perfect mood for it. (I also seem to feel differently about it based on the format I consume the story? Kindle is the way to go, folks. The printed page really highlights this style and drives me nuts to look at from a distance, whereas the ebook format disguises this technique and you get into the groove.)
However, the distinctive KA styling aside... I was taken aback by this story. The Girl in the Mist was a different type of romance for my expectations, and the setting/plot/characters were a refreshing experience.
Unlike many, many other KA stories, this one makes a fantastic entry point into the KA universe and could be read as a standalone series too.
Delphine LaRue is a famous actress-turned-author who has a stalker. At the beginning of this novel, we learn that Delphine's stalker has escalated to the point where she needs to leave town and go lay low for while—she's not in the witness protection program, but she's in the KA commando version of it. (Longtime fans will recognize some names, even though none of the names are actually present as active characters in this story.)
So Delphine escapes to a cabin on the lake in the small Pacific Northwest town of Misted Pines.
It's a small town where everybody knows everybody. And everybody already knows Delphine LaRue.
This interesting, small town vibe aside, Delphine also has an interesting development. She meets her smoking-hot neighbor—single dad and retired FBI profiler, Cade Buchanan.
When a local girl is discovered dead, Misted Pines circles the wagons and Cade Buchanan gets involved. Delphine, being an empty-nest mother herself and an independent woman of means, also gets involved.
Sparks fly and situations escalate as the murder mystery at the core of this small town exposes the rotten roots of the "picture perfect" Misted Pines neighborhood.
I have some complicated feelings for this story. On the one hand, I think it's one of the most well-plotted and well-built worlds that I've read from this author. The mystery had some twists that I didn't see coming. The characters experienced quite a lot of emotional growth and unique situations. The town as a character was strong.
But... your girl loves drama. (Me, it's me, I love the drama.)
And I come to Kristen Ashley for that bad-boy, ridiculously Alpha male drama that involves a lot of running around, relationship drama complete with fights, making up, and all that jazz.
And Delphine and Buchanan just...didn't engage in any of that. I think it was a combination of their ages (they've done that before, they're wiser, they don't have the time for that B.S.), and the fact that the romance wasn't the core of this story. Their real-life drama was the murder mystery, so they didn't bring that into the home space.
Which was... fine. But there were several moments where Delphine and Buchanan had lots of reasons to have a lovers' drama and/or at least a playful dialogue about things and KA just... dropped it. We didn't get any of those highs and lows. This was emotionally wholesome to the point of being flat for the romantic pairing.
And, because of that, I found myself taking forever to finish this book. (Forever in KA standards, at least, whereas I usually start a KA book and don't put it down until it's done.) I think this book will have a wide readership, and it deserves it, but I do hope that the further books in the series give us a little Drama Drama for my drama-queen soul. Lol!
Well I've clearly wasted many previous years without the joy that is Kennedy Ryan. Before I Let Go was nothing short of flawless.
Emotional Range: ★★★★★
Sense of Joy: ★★★★★
Yasmen and Josiah Wade are divorced. After a cataclysmic series of tragedies, the Wades couldn't keep their foundation strong—they fractured in the aftermath of a sorrow so deep they couldn't reach each other. Their vows included "til the wheels fall off." They never imagined that anything could shake that unbreakable, lifetime love.
But something did, and now they're two separate ships.
Well... Not quite.
They're still co-parents of two beautiful children, Deja and Kassim, which they both co-raise with love and daily support.
They're also still co-owners of their business—the highly successful restaurant, Grits, is something they grew together and is almost as important to them as their children.
So the Wades are still a team... even if that team looks a little (lot) different these days.
Yasmen's spent two years in therapy, and with a healthier way to cope and the assistance of her therapist and medication, she's finally starting to feel like herself again after two years of endless night. She'll never, NEVER stop loving Josiah, even though she's the one who forced their hand into the situation of separation.
Josiah's always been strong. He won't stop for the bad things, because if he keeps moving those bad things will fade. He's been in constant motion ever since the wrecking ball hit. Every bone in Josiah's body will always love Yasmen. However, he knows that door is closed and all he can do is try to pick up his pieces and love what's left.
But where there is love... there is always a way back in. And the Wades are going to find that the light and love could reach them if they find a way to follow it.
Before I Let Go is a story of pain, grief, and recovery. It's a second-chance phoenix rising from the ashes. I sobbed my way through this reading experience—sometimes sad tears, sometimes happy tears, sometimes more. This was an emotional release of a book!
I aspire to have a life as rich and beautiful as Yasmen and Josiah's. From the tears and pain to the light and love, this was such a beautiful, real journey and I feel blessed to have had this reading experience in my life. I have no complaints, besides of course my own internal AGH! that it took me this long to try Kennedy Ryan.
This book might include some serious darkness, true, but it is really about the light that shines in all the cracks. What a stunning, utterly perfect read. Pick it up!
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.