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.

Hideaway in Iceland – Victoria Walker

Anna is a hot shot PR professional based in London, she knows who she is and what she’s worth and she makes sure things go to plan. Being a strong, independent woman; she’s capable of facing off any challenge to make her life the best it can be.

Ned has just left the boyband he’s been a part of for the past decade and he’s figuring out what to do with his life now. Leaving behind everything he’s known before; he’s taking the time to figure out how to navigate life and relationships without a team of people and his bandmates there to support him. All the while trying to keep out of the paparazzi’s way.

Anna and Ned run into each other at the wedding for one of Ned’s ex-bandmates while still in the UK. After the events surrounding the wedding, both Anna and Ned find their way to Iceland where they bump into each other again.

When the chance encounters continue to happen, they decide to explore the attraction they both feel. Over the span of a few months, with a few bumpy points along the way, they figure out exactly what it is they’re feeling between themselves.

I had such an amazing time reading this. The descriptions of Iceland and Reykjavik were so magical I just wanted to hop on a plane to visit.

As I was reading this, I got the sense that Rachel and Jonas had had a book of their own prior to Anna and Ned’s story, and I was right. So, if you do like these fairly sweet but emotionally complex romances set in beautiful scenery, then you might like that (judging by how much I liked this book). While you don’t need to read Rachel and Jonas’ book to enjoy this, if you like to read a series in order, just be aware that this isn’t the first book in the series.

While there were a few things that I confused me (Brun and Olafur for instance, took me ¾ of the book to realise they were two different men!), overall I just had a great time enjoying the romance in a beautiful location.

Continue to read further down to find out about the author.

Author Bio

Victoria Walker has been writing romantic fiction since a visit to Iceland in 2014 inspired her first novel. As well as writing, she spends her free time dressmaking, knitting and reading an inordinate amount of contemporary romance, occasionally punctuated by the odd psychological thriller and saga.

In the past she has worked as a cinema projectionist, a knitting and sewing tutor and has owned a yarn store, all things which will no doubt appear in her books if they haven’t already.

Victoria lives in the Malvern Hills with her husband and occasionally her two adult children.

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!

A Time of Prophecy – Rebecca Crunden

This book contains:

  • Civil war
  • War crimes
  • Human experimentation (without consent)
  • Genocide
  • Murder.

Following Kitty, Nate and Thom throughout the book we’re constantly changing perspectives depending on what’s happening. All three are fighting fit and ready to accomplish anything they set their minds to.

Kickstarting the overall storyline for this book is Kitty being brought back into the Kingdom to stand trial for releasing a strain of the Plague that had no antidote and resulted in millions of people dying. When Kitty goes with them to be interviewed on her part in this happening, she learns the current state of the Kingdom and realises that she can’t continue with her life in the Outlands knowing what’s happening within the Kingdom.

I’m going to come right out with my main gripe about this book.

It needed to be longer.

There, I said it!

Rebecca has created such an intricate, complex world that the events that play out in this book can’t be covered in the same depth as the previous books in the same number of pages. It just doesn’t work.

Kinda like the final Harry Potter book was split into two movies coz they knew they couldn’t do it justice in one movie. This book needed more time than a single book can provide AND give us the same level of detail and quality I’ve come to expect from this series.

So in a way this gripe is also a compliment (because Rebecca has created such a rich world), so you should definitely take that as the positive it is!

I just really wish Rebecca had decided to write a longer final book since we couldn’t make it 6 books given the name of the series (The Outlands Pentalogy). While it’d take longer to read, I definitely think it would’ve been worth it!

A Dance of Lies – Rebecca Crunden

This book contains:

  • Revenge (including psychological torture, physical torture, bloodshed and murder/killing).

Unlike the first three books, this book mostly follows Kitty, but also has moments of following Thom or Nate allowing us to gain perspectives from all three of them during their time in the Outlands.

Kitty, Nate and Thom are building a life for themselves in the Outlands despite Quen constantly attacking them and the others from the Kingdom wanting to return to fight for freedom. As tensions reach breaking point, Riddle and Kitty develop a special bond that has Nate questioning the future of his relationship with Kitty.

Coming straight off the back of A Promise of Return, the pace and drama of this just wasn’t the same. It’s not that it was bad, it’s just that I wasn’t constantly wishing I could stop what I was doing and keep reading.

There were certainly stretches of the book where I felt that way. But to set up for those parts, others needed to be a bit slower, more relationship focused and less adrenaline pumping.

The main reason for scoring this one a little lower was that we’ve gone from following just one character then whole way through, to occasionally swapping perspectives. Being book 4 and the first time this is happening it thew me off a little which also threw me out of my reading zone.

If you go in expecting to suddenly change perspectives a couple times you may not experience that “thrown” feeling quite so much. But I wasn’t expecting it, so it did throw me.

Otherwise, the culmination of all the build up at the end surprised me, drew me in but also left me wondering what was left to cover in the fifth and last book of the series.

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