Review of ‘Gnarled Hollow’ by Charlotte Greene.

I really enjoyed this. This is the fifth book I have read by Greene and by far my favorite. The best way to describe this would be paranormal/mystery/crime, with a little romance. The paranormal is on the darker side, you could almost put a horror tag on this. I was well and truly creeped out at times. This would be a perfect book to read around Halloween time.

Emily is an English professor, who has just been laid off before reaching tenure. She is feeling bleak and a bit depressed with no new jobs on the horizon. When she gets a letter, inviting her to study the papers of an important deceased author, she hopes this is the break she needed. Little is known about the author’s life since she became a recluse in her estate of Gnarled Hollow until death. Emily and a few other scholars will be spending the summer living and learning about the estate, art, and the author’s diaries. But when Emily gets to Gnarled Hollow she quickly realizes there is something strange going on. Gnarled Hollow is hiding secrets that may put their lives in danger. Can Emily and her fellow scholars figure out the mystery before it is too late?

When I read the blurb for this book I was very excited to read this. This sounded like my kind of book. The book ended up being everything I was hoping for. I have to be honest that Greene felt like a new author to me. Not sure if she was just having fun writing this book, but I felt like it was a big step up from her previous books. I really hope she would consider writing more paranormal or mystery-crime books in the future.

As I mentioned above this book is a little dark, some violence, and touches on some disturbing subjects. I could easily see this as a movie that makes you jump and hold the covers up by your face. But it’s far from all dark. It has a very interesting mystery and a bit of a sweet romance. The main character of Emily was pretty easy to root for and get behind. Her blossoming romance with another scholar was a nice change of pace to have in the book. There are no explicit sex scenes, but with everything going on in the house, it might have felt a little odd to be reading about steamy sexy time in the middle of a haunted house.

In mentioning words like almost horror and violence, I hope I’m not putting people off. While yes this book is dark, but it wasn’t really graphic if that makes sense. While I was jumpy and creeped out at times, I was never really scared. The book was more intense and hooked you in, not a stomach-turning too hard to read kind of book. It had some good twists and kept me in suspense until the end. In fact, I was a little sad when it ended. While this is longer than the average Bold Strokes’ book, I would have loved even a little more.

I would absolutely recommend this to paranormal-crime/mystery fans. Because it is a bit dark and creepy, I know it might not appeal to everyone, but this was definitely my kind of book. I really hope Greene takes the opportunity to write more books in similar genres. I would love to read them if she does. 5 stars.

An ARC was given to me by BSB for an honest review.

Review of ‘The Fall’ by Robin Alexander.

This was just fantastic. However, before I declare that, I have to admit a couple of things. I listened to this one since it was included in Audible’s Romance Package. Once upon a time, I started the audiobook but quit early on. I could not get through the first family dinner scene. I was so overwhelmed by, wait for it, the Italian family (too close to home folks) that I had to move on. Since then, I’ve read two other Alexander books and loved them. Also, I have listened to two books narrated by Lisa Cordileone and also loved them. So, here I was looking for my next audiobook when I bumped into ‘The Fall’ again. I will not lie. I struggled through that same dinner scene at the beginning. Then I realized I had listened to it before and I had a choice to make. Well, since now I’m older and wiser, I pushed through and I am so happy I did!

Noel Savino is a dentist only interested in casual relationships after failing at finding true love a few times. She meets town newcomer Sunny Chase, who has only done serious dating but is looking to change to casual in order to leave her dating rut. After agreeing to casual, Noel puts her foot down and wants to date Sunny for real. This after her niece, Harper, made her promise to stay away from Sunny. Meanwhile, Harper is a teenager struggling with finding her sexual identity after meeting Lydia, Sunny’s daughter. This book just becomes a family affair.

‘The Fall’ is really two stories in one. Yay! This is about Noel/Sunny and Harper/Lydia. They were both fantastic on their own but worked so well together. Noel and Sunny were great together and tackled adult issues. Harper and Lydia were sweet and were in charge of navigating the first love waters. Together they touched on family, parenting, dating guidelines and more. Ms. Alexander wrote so many hilarious scenes that I just volunteered to mown the lawn so I could continue to listen. I’m sure some neighbors are wondering why one needs to laugh out loud while doing such an ordinary chore. The thought behind a person being a dog or a cat in terms of dating…that was priceless. By the way, I am so a dog! Everyone needs to read this to understand, then we can discuss it!

The characters are likable and so entertaining. The ones that are less likable grow on you and end up making you laugh along. The dialog is spot-on but never fails to be outrageously funny. Now, what really pushed this one to 5 stars was the secondary and surprisingly endearing topics such as first love and even some thought-provoking ones such as homosexuality and church. All these were in the background but when the story hits the proverbial fan, it was wonderful to see the author skillfully take the story along these paths without outlandish behaviors. Everything in this book seemed over the top without actually being over the top. That was refreshing!

Overall, a sweet and hilarious story that will no doubt win Ms. Alexander new fans. 5 stars.

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Review of ‘And Playing the Role of Herself’ by K.E. Lane (Audiobook)

It is unfortunate that I simply had no clue lesbian fiction existed until a couple of years ago. On the upside, I am fortunate to be able to look at reviews and pick and choose books that have been well received in the past. Sometimes I feel just darn spoiled! I have been wanting to read this book for some time now as one can look at reviews, and even awards, and see how successful it was. I’m happy to say it lived to those expectations.

Caidence Harris is an actress in a hit primetime cop show. She is in her thirties, has come to terms with her sexuality but has not been able to act on it. Her attention for the past couple of years has been on another actress, Robyn Ward, who makes her heart race and her mouth babble when in her presence, but who is also very unavailable and involved with a handsome and charismatic tennis player.

The story is told from Caidence’s first-person point of view (POV). I love, love, love first person POV. I feel it lends to such intimacy and yet, the ability to have such witty internal dialog without simply stating it. I find the obvious thoughts of a character sometimes eye-roll inducing when they are just stated in third person POV. They are simply not funny unless someone is narrating it as they came up in their heads. I mean, we all have killer humor and witty internal dialogs right? If we don’t, please don’t embarrass me by pointing it out!

In a way, it is easy to see why this book was well received. There are the actress/Hollywood characters, the fauxmance and the misunderstanding of intentions amongst other tropes. The characters are endearing and I absolutely loved Caidence, who was very level headed and just real. The relationship between the main characters was great as I thought the arguments were legitimate and both of them held each other accountable for their actions. They manage to start the relationship sooner rather than later and Ms. Kane did a fantastic job at keeping things challenging and interesting through the remaining of the book. 

This was my second audiobook narrated by Lisa Cordileone, and another wonderful performance. She narrates the sarcasm and wittiness just like I would read it, so it simply was enjoyable to listen to and with several laugh-out-loud moments. The challenge was finding the time to listen to it. No time like the present to follow the low-speed limits in one’s neighborhood! I will point out I listened to it at 1.25x speed as I thought the regular speed was prolonging things a bit.

I did not realize this was an older book, although perhaps looking at the cover, it shows some. Nothing was outdated in the story and reads like a much more recent release.

Overall, a great romance with a fantastic and humorous inner monologue. 5 stars.

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Review of Waking the Dreamer by K. Aten.

What a thrill ride! This was a great action-packed romance that was exactly the kind of book that I love to read. While you can put the sci-fi tag on this, this really is a futuristic dystopian story with a good romance. I know some people don’t care for sci-fi, so don’t let that put you off. There are no aliens or spaceships or different planets, this is a look into a possible scary future of the world we know.

Around a century into the future the world is a much different place. With natural disasters, the sun heating up and air quality diminishing there are fewer and fewer good places to live. The USA is run by a general with his military in charge. Chicago is the new Capitol and that is where Julia lives. Julia is wanted woman because she is a Walker. A Walker is a person who can project out of their body into the world around them. The government has been collecting Walkers to force into service and be experimented on. Julia hides in plain site as a courier for a tech company. She lives her life alone with no family or friends. This all changes the day she runs into another Walker being hunted by the government. Julia can’t help but be attracted to Niko and wants to help her. These two women are the most wanted women in the USA. Is there any way for them to be together and stay free?

The book starts out and Aten takes the time to really explain what has happened to the world and what it is like now. It is a bit of info to take in, but it really works. Once you get by that first chapter you understand everything this new world is built. Then the story starts up and it’s this fast pace ride until the finish. I thought it was all well written. I never felt like I had questions unanswered or didn’t understand. Once the story picks up, everything flows very smoothly.

I’m such a character driven reader and I am happy to say I loved both characters. I was surprised how instantly I cared and connected with them. This is what I look for in a book and was very happy to find it. These are characters that I will remember for a long time. I also loved the Walker abilities. Julia is a real badass and it just made the book a lot of fun.

While this book is like reading the equivalent of a big blockbuster action movie, Aten takes the time for a good romance. I know romance fans are going to be happy; I loved these two as a couple. It is not insta love, but it is quick. Usually I like it to take longer, but in this kind of book with life and death in the balance I’m okay with it. And it’s not just that, it’s also that I believed in these two together. I believed in them as a couple and the connection they had. The sex scenes were all done well too.

Aten is a newer published author but every book she puts out is just a winner for me. She has quickly climbed her way to being one of my favorite authors. This book was just pure entertainment that I easily recommend to dystopian and romance fans. It was a joy to read and I can’t wait to see what Aten puts out next.

An ARC was given to me for a honest review.

Review of ‘Survival instincts’ by May Dawney.

I was really excited about this book. I’m a big post-apocalyptic fan and they seem to be few and far between in lesfic. But I’m also an animal lover, and when I heard about some of the violent scenes, I started to worry. It came to a point instead of rushing to read this, I kept putting it off. After some advice from a friend who had read this already, I finally felt okay with reading it. I’m so glad I did because I flat out loved this book.

I do want to give a warning first, yes, this book is violent. After war has ravaged the world, predator animals are back on the top of the food chain. Not only are animals a worry, but humans are too in this extremely dangerous new world. Due to the violence, this probably won’t be a book for everyone, but if you can handle it I highly recommend reading this.

I’m not going to go into a summary; there are a lot of reviews already if you need one. I do want to mention there are two main characters Lynn and Dani. This book is in third person, but we are only ever in Lynn’s headspace. I actually thought it was an interesting choice for a book like this, but it really worked. Lynn is a fantastic main character. She was one of those strong badass female characters I just love. Dani has her flaws and the author is not always that nice to her, but I loved learning about her as Lynn did. Even not being in her headspace, you still felt like you really understood Dani.

There is a romance. For this being an adventure book that keeps you on your toes with danger at every corner, the romance really worked for me. It progressed at a nice slow pace as these characters slowly learned to depend on each other. I loved the dialogue when the characters would discuss their feelings. The one main sex scene was so well done. It wasn’t steamy but it felt like a love scene not just sex. There was so much emotion behind it, it actually blew me away a bit. I think it would actually go into my top ten favorite intimate scenes in lesfic. I usually reserve them for super steamy scenes, but this was just so well written I won’t forget it anytime soon.

There are a few tiny negatives. There were a few times that I had to suspend disbelief a bit. Or I thought the time period didn’t match up perfectly with what the characters knew. This take place (if I remember correctly) 200 years after the war that really ended civilization as we know it. I think if Dawney would have cut that time in half, everything would have lined up so much better. But in the grand scheme of things, these complaints were so tiny they didn’t affect my love for the book at all.

The book is long, but in a good way. The pace of the book hardly even slowed down enough for me to catch my breath. I soon found myself staring at my Kindle’s percentage complete, wishing it would slow down. But it ended and I was left knowing this book would stay with me for a long time. It ended and I knew I was going to write one of my rarer full five star reviews. When a book is this damn good, it’s hard to do it justice in a review. If you are a post-apocalyptic fan, an adventure/action fan, I absolutely recommend this. I can’t wait to see what Dawney puts out next.

An ARC was given to me by YLVA, for a honest review.

Review of ‘The Priory of the Orange Tree’ by Samantha Shannon.

The hype surrounding this book is real. I started reading this book on Saturday morning and only stopped reading it to sleep. And while I devoured this book page after page, now that it if over I almost feel at a loss as to what to do next. I was so connected to the story and the characters that it feels a little crushing that it is over. While I raced to the end of the book, I now wish there was more story left to read. But that is what a really good book does to you so I have no complaints.

Make no mistake this is a wonderful, sweeping, epic fantasy book. If you are a fan of ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Game of Thrones’, or ‘Dragonoak’, this book is for you. And like those books, this book could have easily been broken up into a trilogy but we are lucky Samantha Shannon let us have it all in one book. I have to give her props for that. How many times have we all had to wait, sometimes years for another installment in a trilogy to come out?! Not only that but it is financially better for an author to draw it out in multiple books. Instead Shannon let us have three years of her work all at once and I could not appreciate it more.

I do have to be honest that the book takes a little while to get used to in the beginning. There are a ton of character names, places and things that are newly invented for this book. It was a lot to learn and I found myself thinking, “I don’t know what that means, just keep reading.” And I did keep reading and all of the sudden everything clicks. I did not even notice when it happened but I suddenly knew all the characters and understood their world. And once that happened I became so wrapped into the story I didn’t even realize I was reading anymore. I was in this magical world going on a grand adventure.

There are four characters whose stories and point of view you follow: Ead, who is a Mage and Lady in Waiting for The Queen. Tane, a young woman who has trained her whole life in hopes of becoming a dragon rider. And two men named Loth and Niclays. While I love epic fantasy, the reason I picked this book up was the promise of LGBTQ characters. And while I don’t want to give anything away, I will say that yes, thankfully there was a lesfic romance in this book. Actually, the main romance in this book is lesfic. While there is talk of some het characters in love and a gay male couple, the main romance was between two strong, kick-ass women in love.

One thing I really noticed while reading this book is how amazing Shannon’s imagination must be. I would read passages and think how could someone actually come up with this in their mind? The whole book was really impressive. It’s going to be hard for me to read a new book. This is the kind of book that will stay with me for quite a long time. One of my first full 5 stars reads of 2019. If you are an epic fantasy fan, don’t pass this book up!