In the Midst of Shadows – Nicola Italia

This book contains:

  • Attempted and committed murder.

Lavinia is a modern young woman who lives with her two aunts in the house her father left her when he passed. While she lives a comfortable life, she longs for something that’s hers. Something that she made herself, such as the stories she writes and sharing those with the world, or at least London.

Before passing, Lavinia’s father kept the books for a lawyer and a doctor, a habit that Lavinia has kept up since he passed since it’s a trade he taught her. One day, the doctor (Malcom) suggests sharing Lavinia’s writing with a publisher friend of his as he believes she could write great Penny Dreadful’s.

When the publisher Courtney Publishing loves her writing, she soon becomes a favourite of London Penny Dreadful readers. That is, until recent deaths appear to resemble her stories a little two closely.

I really enjoy the dark and sometimes twisted way Nicola’s stories find themselves going. Not only are they accurate for the age in terms of sex and races and their positions in society, but they also enable more enlightened thinking on what women can do and achieve as the outliers rather than the norm which fits in with the age the stories are set in.

Normally, while the writing of the stories flows easily and the language between characters might feel a little bit stilted by today’s standards, it’s an accurate depicted of the time period. This time, the whole thing felt a little bit stilted.

Not enough to truly detract from the story, especially if this is your first Nicola Italia read. But it was enough for me to notice and wonder what happened.

Normally the little details are written in such a way to draw you in. But I felt like I was missing some of this. Instead, the attention to the detail seemed to focus more in the dark and scary places rather than a mixture to give you the balance you need.

Basically, it feels much darker and more twisty with all of the writing feeling like it’s more suited to that age than I’d normally find in Nicola’s writing. Not a bad thing, just different.

Her Orc Warrior – Zoe Ashwood

This book contains:

  • Homelessness from childhood
  • Thievery
  • Attempted murder
  • Domestic/close relationship abuse.

Hazel is a single mum of a 4-year-old little girl doing her best to make the best of her life. She’s resourceful, quick and determined making her potentially difficult for others to work with.

Vark is an Orc we’ve met in the previous 2 books, but now he’s finding his own love. He’s still coming to terms with the trauma he experienced in the first book, Her Orc King, but he’s doing his best while also trying to accept a mate that he wasn’t expecting at his “lowest” point in life.

Vark is surprised to discover his mate in the back of his wagon, almost as surprised as Hazel is to find out that the wagon driver is an Orc!

Because of this surprise for them both, things heat up, get complicated and of course, drama ensues. Together, they need to find their way to clear communication, safety and security for them both and a future together.

In some ways, this felt a little slower than some of Zoe’s other books, but in others it felt perfectly paced. For those that like fast paced books, I can understand why this might not be for them. But I really enjoyed the slow character development and reveal for both of these characters.

Since we met Vark back in the first book, it felt right that everything happening between Hazel and Vark was careful, considered and measured. We of course had our moments of erotic fun, because how could it be a Zoe book without some smut?

Although in the grand scheme of things, this was still very tame for Zoe!

Her Orc Guardian – Zoe Ashwood

This book contains:

  • Death of parents (discussed)
  • Criminal accusations.

Poppy’s world turned upside down when her father got sick and it was clear her stepmother wouldn’t do right by her (in a very Cinderella vibing kinda way). So she sneaks off in the middle of the night with a letter from her father to find his friend Streagor who will help her start anew, away from her stepmother. While she’s got limited resources and a long way to go, her ingenuity, smart wits and confidence stay with her, even after finding Streagor.

Streagor is one of King Gorvor’s trusted soldiers and while he’s quiet, he’s fiercely loyal and upholds the orc values even to his detriment. If you’ve read Her Orc King, you’ll recognise Streagor as one of Dawn’s guards and boy does his fierce personality come through even more in this book!

Poppy has travelled across the human kingdoms all the way to the Black Bear Clan’s lands to find Streagor, a man her father has assured her will help her after his death. The only problem is, when she does find him, she’s caught stealing food supplies from him and he’s not a man, he’s an orc. A very large, green, scarred orc.

Streagor to his credit reads the letter her father wrote him and immediately takes responsibility for Poppy and does everything he can to set her up for a prosperous future. Including interviewing eligible men to marry her, with a significant dowry provided as well.

My biggest disappointment with this is that there were a few spots I would have enjoyed being more fleshed out. While what we got was amazing, there were a few scenes that I would’ve loved to have seen more of to get more depth for the characters.

I know it’s hard to get that when there’s a fair bit to pack into the book, especially because Zoe’s book tends to be a fairly consistent length so it’s hard to add in the extra’s. But I really would’ve enjoyed this one being just a little longer than it was to give those scenes the attention that I think they deserve, and I know Zoe can write.

Otherwise, I loved little miss feminist and all the ways she embodies equal opportunities while also respecting the thoughts and feelings of those around her. Where possible, she was thoughtful, considerate and compassionate; all while standing up for what she believed to be right for her and her future.

I know I don’t normally share this, but my absolute favourite scene in the whole book was when she comes into the common room in the inn to find Streagor interviewing all the village men. Classic! I loved it!

Thank you Zoe for writing such a fun scene between such strong characters!

Her Orc King – Zoe Ashwood

This book contains:

  • Slavery
  • Kidnapping
  • Attempted murder
  • Treason and betrayal.

Dawn has worked and supported herself for some time, until she was kidnapped and sold as a slave. Although she’s now considered property, she doesn’t give up her fighting spirit and insists on continually trying to find a way to escape her new orc owners.

Gorvor is the Orc King of the Black Bear Clan and it’s his duty to ensure the continued prosperity and safety of his clan. With his brother and mate both arriving in the same week, he needs to carefully manage the goings on at the Black Bear Clan to make sure he keeps Dawn safe.

Dawn was kidnaped in the human town she worked in before being sold as a slave to orcs that live under King Gorvor’s rule. Little does she know they purchase slaves in order to free them, so while she’s doing her utmost to escape the brutes and get to the safety of a human village, they’re just trying to give her a chance at a second life.

But with Gorvor’s brother also visiting the Black Bear Clan, things aren’t as simple as it appears.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know I love Zoe’s books. Yet going into this one I actually thought it might be the first book I wasn’t going to enjoy.

I mean… it’s orcs.

When you think about Lord of the Rings and the orcs there… how could that be sexy? How could anyone want to be with them? How could a human even SURVIVE?

Well. I should have trusted Zoe to work her magic and create a whole different type of orc that is so far removed from those in LOTR that you don’t need to worry at all!

In fact, grab the book, grab some popcorn or whatever snack you like and just enjoy! With a good balance between the romance, sex, sassiness, action and mystery; you’ll be sure to find something you’ll love in this book.

Mara’s Awakening – Leo Flynn

This book contains:

  • Corruption and betrayal.

Mara is a former peacekeeper for the galaxy, and yet she’s now in jail for something she didn’t do. She’s a soldier to the letter and when she reported the illegal activities that come of the Council members were involved with, she soon found herself in jail.

We begin the story with Mara already in jail, specifically “protective custody” where she’s then moved into the general population. There are flashbacks to her past as a peacekeeper early on as we get to know Mara before progressing as she meets her knew cell mates and learners how to live in general population.

I think as I was reading this, I was being overly critical since I read the novella length version a year ago. After my suggestion to write a full book so the characters really get to shine, Leo mentioned he’d received similar feedback from other reviewers and would be releasing a full book, which is this one!

I believe I was being overly critical as I’d read an earlier version and wanted to see how Leo had taken that feedback and improved upon his original novella, and so my teacher/editor brain came into this read. So please take my thoughts with a grain of salt!

I love that the story itself is more fleshed out, the characters have had more character development and generally speaking we gain a much richer world from the time Leo was able to take to develop it.

What got me the most was the flashbacks and pacing. Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen the flashbacks as more of a prologue that could have been condensed a little bit which leads into Mara in jail. At which point some of the thinking back could be incorporated in the various conversations she had with her cellmates.

In terms of the pacing, because of the flashbacks being used instead of a prologue, the first portion of the book is fairly calm and slower and then all of a sudden accelerates as we get to the action portion of the book. In the same amount of pages, if the flashbacks were written as a slightly condensed prologue, the first portion of the book would’ve been shorter which would have then allowed a little bit more time for the very end that felt like it ran out of pages to finish off so was rushed.

A great improvement on the novella, this book has the makings of a really good space opera that can span across multiple books. As Leo matures in his writing I’m really looking forward to seeing where he takes Mara and co.

Two for Charging – Lasairiona E. McMaster

This book contains:

  • Divorce
  • Adultery
  • Teenage pregnancy, including father walking away
  • References to drug use (steroids).

Elliott is the coach of the Snow Pirates and has been for quite some time. After attempting to make it to the NHL, he came home in his 20s to coach and develop the next generations of hockey players. After discovering his wife was cheating on him and that she never wanted children, they got divorced leaving him in a sad apartment trying to move on with his life.

Clare is a single mum of two kids by two different fathers. While her daughter was the result of a high school pregnancy, she thought her son would be raised with his father, her husband in the picture. Unfortunately, he cheated on her with his secretary and apparently had been doing so for most of their marriage, so Clare is left just trying to keep the family running with little time for herself.

Elliott and Clare reconnect after two decades apart, and while they both seem to have an interest in the other, they each have their own reservations about when and how to proceed. As they muddle through relationships when there are children involved, they also need to cope with their individual family dramas and how to navigate those when there’s another party wanting to be included in their lives.

I’m really glad Las changed this book from Seb to Elliott. Not because I’ve got anything against Seb, just because Elliott and Clare’s story had so much depth and emotion in it that it was just the perfect ending to the Snow Pirate’s series.

I really enjoyed the flashbacks from Elliott’s perspective as it gave us insight into what happened to them in their past, even if it meant one of my guesses about what happened was wrong. While Clare had her own moments of flashbacks, I feel like I got more of an emotional understanding about Elliott from his than I did about Clare in hers.

Also, I clearly misinterpreted what Kenzie’s home was like based on the descriptions of Clare’s. Given how close it sounded like they lived, the lack of yard etc for Kenzie, I honestly thought they were in like little town houses, side by side duplex or condos (I know in my mind what I mean, in Australia we’d call it a town house or unit). Yet Clare has a full-on yard, two story house and a laundry big enough to get busy in. So clearly, I was wrong!

Overall, a great end to the season and I’m really looking forward to Two for Taco’s that comes out in December!

Two for Tripping – Lasairiona E. McMaster

This book contains:

  • References to and descriptions of statutory rape/assault and their after effects
  • Minor discussion on the effect of teen abortions
  • Slut shaming (calling out and not allowing this behaviour to continue).

Will is the older brother of Molly and best from of Finn from Two for Roughing, and after that book, it’s hard to think about how we could possibly want to root for Will to get his own happily ever after. If you haven’t read that one, you really need to read it before jumping into this one otherwise you won’t get the full emotional impact Lasairiona gives us in this roller coaster.

Quin is a character that’s been referenced in previous books, but not someone we really know anything about just yet. While we find out that she’s confident and knows what she wants out of life, she’s also highly conflicted in ways that don’t quite make sense until we get to know her better.

Quin saves Will from random girls hitting on him while at her weekly karaoke session, and unintentionally falls into “bed” with him. The guy she’s had a crush on for a few months but somehow lost his number after he gave it to her and so thought he was gone for good.

Only problem is, Will goes on to slut shame her and since it’s not his first offence, things seem pretty dicey until we get to know Will better. As Quin can’t keep herself away from Will, we inevitably learn more about him and somehow we go from hating his guts in Two for Roughing, to somehow rooting for him, disbelief at what he’s gone through and a sincere hatred for an unexpected character.

I really enjoyed this, despite not wanting to. While I was warned from Lasairiona’s emails that we’d like Will by the end of this book, I was sceptical coz I just didn’t think anything could make up for how Will had behaved previously. And yet, she pulled it off!

We also got such a cute little throw back to Austin which made my heart sing just a little. I loved his character from Two for Boarding (the previous book), so reading him make the appearance he did made me happy. Even if it was only for that very short moment in time!

But you should also be prepared for either tissues or a punching bag to get out all the emotions you’ll feel by the end. If you don’t have those handy, I don’t recommend going past like… the first third of the book?

It’s an amazing read, breaking stereotypes while also highlighting the very real and scary side of society and what humans can be capable of. I also highly recommend reading Lasairiona’s acknowledgement at the end to understand why Will’s character was so important to her.

The Shop Girls Forbidden Love – Jenni Fletcher

This book contains:

  • Domestic violence (financial control).

Nancy’s father died when she was young and when her mother remarried, her stepfather slowly took control of their finances even though he slowly stopped working. This control extended to ensuring they ended up with almost no money despite needing to pay rent and board and continued even after she found her own way in the world.

James is the son of a successful grocer and has encounters throughout his teen and early twenties with Nancy have him reeling and pushing back against his parents wishes for his future. While he’s sure he wants to continue his father’s grocer business, he’s got his own plans for who he wants to marry and how he wants to grow the business, he just needs to convince his father to listen to him.

Nancy and James cross path several times over the span of about 10 years, during which time they learn little, tiny facts about each other. Not enough to consider each other friends, but enough to spark an interest.

When they reconnect later in life, they start to get to know each other and overcome their own challenges to find their way to each other.

Continuing on in the Belles of Bath series, Jenni continues to weave a fascinating tale of independent women fighting for independence in a world that’s not yet ready to give women their independence. In this case, Nancy’s determination to not let anything get in the way of her successfully running Belle’s is inspiring.

Although her complete resistance to letting love in is not something anyone should aspire to. We all need to be loved and to love others.

Meanwhile, James is endearing in his assurance that Nancy is the girl for him, without pressuring her or forcing her in any way to be with him. Having a guy depicted in this time as being sensitive like this is such a great change of pace, especially since he still needs to make a living by working every day.

Since I haven’t read the first two books in the series, I definitely think I need to go back and read those!

Freed in Love – Zoe Ashwood

This book contains:

  • Murder
  • Physical and psychological torture.

Nora and her three men (Levi, Raphael and Isak) are back for the final instalment and their relations are pretty strained to begin with.

Nora is struggling to come to terms with the revelations at the end of Captured in Love but Isak (sea dragon) is at her side supporting her. Meanwhile, Raphael (vampire) and Levi (witch) are desperate to find Nora again and try and rekindle their relationship before things go too badly.

Nora, Levi, Raphael and Isak are racing into the final challenge in the hopes of winning the Ballendial Games. As they find their way to Greece to face the final challenge they’re confronted by mythology and other creatures they never anticipated but have to overcome.

I’m so in love with this series!

This was SUCH an amazing ending to a thrilling adventure. The sheer level of adversity they need to overcome, not just to win the Games, but also to find happiness is gargantuan.

As I got closer and closer to the end I didn’t want it to end. I mean, how could I possibly be happy with the ending given how much amazing action was happening?!

And yet, Zoe didn’t fail me and rather than leave me on yet another cliff hanger she gave me a satisfying ending that was beautiful and exactly what all four of them deserved.

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