The Widow: A Dark Romantic Fantasy by Naomi Valkyrie & Rebecca E. McEwen – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

The Widow: A Dark Romantic FantasyThe Widow: A Dark Romantic Fantasy by Naomi Valkyrie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Widow is an enticing romantic novel by Naomi Valkyrie and Rebecca E. McEwen. In it, we meet the beautiful and mysterious widow Vashti Paladin and gradually learn her secrets as she befriends students Absalom and Simeon.
In spite of its modern setting, The Widow definitely has a feel of the Gothic to it. Scenes reminded me of Northanger Abbey and Bluebeard’s Castle, but in this case our inquisitive young heroines were men. There’s a locked door which Simeon and the readers are both desperate to open and terrified of what might be behind.
It’s billed as a dark story, but has a warmth and a light to it that I wasn’t expecting. There’s a focus on found family and protectiveness – Vashti is private but kind to those she lets in.
The Widow is an engrossing read and gets five stars from me. I’d recommend it to fans of the Gothic who are eager to see gender roles reversed, and fans of paranormal romance. The twists and secrets will keep you turning the pages – I couldn’t put it down!

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Blessed: The Academy of Seraph by Brandi Elledge – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Blessed: Academy of the SeraphBlessed: Academy of the Seraph by Brandi Elledge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blessed: Academy of the Seraph is a YA fantasy book by Brandi Elledge which centres around a school for young adults who have been chosen by angels (and, sometimes, demons) and given special abilities. The protagonist Gabriella is extremely powerful, but knows that her powers could put her in danger and so has been hiding and avoiding going to the Academy for as long as she can.
My favourite characters are Gabriella’s best friends, Remy and Hannah. They’re both so fun and kind, and help to lighten the mood of the book. Also Remy spends a considerable amount of time asleep which is relatable.
There’s a bit of a love triangle, which I could live without, but it does link in to aspects of the story and adds to the tension. Generally, though, there is more focus on friendship than romance which is great!
For me, this is a five star read. Great for young adults who enjoy the whole school for people with special powers thing. It ends on a cliff-hanger, so I’m eager for the sequel to come out so I can find out what happens next!

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The Wandering Isles: A Crown of Stones Novella (The Crown of Stones Novella Series Book 1) by C. L. Schneider – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

The Wandering Isles, A Crown of Stones Novella (Novella Series #1)The Wandering Isles, A Crown of Stones Novella by C.L. Schneider
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Wandering Isles is the first in a series of novellas that continues the story of C.L. Schneider’s Crown of Stones series. It’s been a while since I read the series, so it’s great to get more of the story!
The novella format is a departure from the longer novels that made up the original series. It works well with this story, which focuses on a single incident on Troy and Kane’s journey. It’s an intense, mysterious story with strong psychological elements which is short enough to hold the reader captive for the duration.
The connection between Troy and Kane, both magical and personal, is a powerful force and motivator in the Crown of Stones series and the nature of this story, where the two are travelling alone and are forced to confront and expose some of their deepest and darkest fears, really develops that relationship.
For me, this is a five-star read. I was totally immersed in the strange world Troy and Kane found themselves in and couldn’t put the book down! It reminded me at times of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and also of a Stargate SG-1 episode (The Gamekeeper – S2 Ep4). It was also great to be reminded of the Crown of Stones series – I want to reread all of the books now!
This could be read as a standalone, but for me it was particularly powerful in that it reminded me of the events and tensions of the novels. If you have enjoyed the Crown of Stones series, this is definitely worth a read! If you haven’t read them yet, this might be a good place to start as a shorter story that gives you a taste of Schneider’s style and introduces the characters.

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Being Lost (Satan’s Devils MC San Diego #1) by Manda Mellett – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Being Lost (Satan's Devils MC San Diego #1)Being Lost by Manda Mellett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Manda Mellett’s Being Lost, we are introduced to the San Diego chapter of her Satan’s Devils MC. Other chapters of the MC – Colorado and Arizona – are already well established in Mellett’s books and San Diego has been mentioned before so it is exciting to get to know it properly!
Lost has made mistakes and trusted the wrong people, and suffered for it. He is still suffering, and worried about what the future could hold for him and the San Diego chapter. But this fear feeds a determination to do the right thing, and a carefulness about where he places his trust. He’s got a good team around him and is willing to work hard.
This story has plenty of tension and action in it. It’s a real page turner! But this doesn’t take away from the romantic story. It’s great to have an older couple as romantic leads, particularly with both of them dealing with the pain they have suffered in the past.
You can absolutely jump in at this story if you haven’t read the others. Mellett gives the reader all the backstory they need to understand what’s going on. That said, the story leads on from the events of Ink’s Devil, the 5th book in the Colorado Chapter series. And if you’re going to read that, you might want the backstory in Devil’s Dilemma at which point you may as well read the whole Colorado Chapter series, and the original Satan’s Devils series, because why not? They’re great books.
For me, this is a five star book. A great addition to a great series – I’m looking forward to reading more from the San Diego chapter!

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Feisty Heroines Romance Collection of Shorts Anthology – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Feisty Heroines: Romance Collection of ShortsFeisty Heroines: Romance Collection of Shorts by D.F. Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Feisty Heroines is a collection of short stories by 36 fantastic authors. The stories vary in genre, with two sections dedicated to paranormal and fantasy stories such as Tia Didmon’s Dragon Rules and Elleen Mint’s Banshee Kiss, one section of contemporary romance such as Maggie Adams’ Good Bones and Savannah Kade’s Redemption, and one section of historical fiction including To Rescue My Princess by Lane McFarland and Destiny’s Way by Karen Muir.
This collection is a great way to meet new authors. The short stories don’t require a big commitment, and after each one there is information about books the author has written. Romance fans are bound to find some new favourites, and the mix of genres might draw you out of your comfort zone.
As the title of the collection suggests, all of these stories present a strong female lead. I was particularly impressed by Casey in Adams’ Good Bones, who runs a palliative care home and is fighting a developer who wants to turn the property into a fancy golf course. Her unconditional care for others and determination to do what is best for the community is admirable.
For me, this is a five star collection. It’s introduced me to a lot of authors who I look forward to reading more of, and the short stories have been perfect for flicking through in a lunchbreak (they would also be great for reading on the train if I wasn’t stuck at home!). I’d definitely recommend this to romance fans who can’t decide what to read next!

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Deleted by Ruth Mitchell – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

DeletedDeleted by Ruth Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Deleted is a young adult sci-fi book by Ruth Mitchell. The story takes place in the near future – a few decades on from where we are now. Technology has progressed with digital assistants connected directly to most people’s minds.
Our protagonist Lucy, a philosophy student, is one of the few people app developer Marco has ever met who still relies on a smartphone rather than the much more convenient Spex. She is concerned about privacy and security, and it turns out her concerns are not unfounded. It is possible, it turns out, to hack people’s minds through their Spex and while Lucy’s reluctance to embrace the technology keeps her mind safe, it doesn’t stop other people’s memories of her being accessed and erased.
This is an enticing story, and an interesting exploration of the advantages and dangers of technology. It also touches upon how fragile our memories are, even without technology that’s vulnerable to hacking.
This is a great book for teens and young adults who are interested in how technology can develop in the future, and concerned about privacy and how their data is used. The near future setting means much of the world seems familiar, so it would be a good starting point for readers who are just beginning to get into sci-fi. It’s also a fun, thought-provoking read for adults – I thoroughly enjoyed it! It gets 5 stars from me!

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A Book Signing To Die For: Beach Reads by Judy Moore – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

A Book Signing To Die ForA Book Signing To Die For by Judy Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Book Signing to Die For is a cosy mystery book by Judy Moore. If you’re not sure what a cosy mystery is, you’re in luck because protagonist Becca tells us in chapter five as “kind of a Hallmark version of a mystery – no swearing, no extreme violence, and definitely G-rated”. A Book Signing to Die For definitely fits the bill, centring around a bookshop/café in a quaint seaside location with a book loving protagonist and a handsome detective. If you’re after something comfortably engaging, this is the book for you!
I particularly liked the cast of characters (human and animal!). At the outset, some seem a little two-dimensional and stereotypical (the sister who hates books and is obsessed with boys, for example) but over the course of the story they are fleshed out and developed. Miss Alice is one of my favourites, with her stern and driven attitude towards business and the soft side that we glimpse every now and then.
The setting, and the book signing event that gets the story going, will appeal to fans of mystery books, so it’s definitely a likeable book! And a holiday to Florida, even if only on the pages of a book, is a welcome escape for anyone stuck somewhere cold, rainy and far from the sea.
For me, this is a four-star book. A great comfort read, and an intriguing mystery!

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Saint Code: The Lost (Saint Code Book 1) by Megan Mackie – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

The Lost (Saint Code Book 1)The Lost by Megan Mackie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Lost is a vibrant cyberpunk novel by Megan Mackie. It is the first book in the Saint Code series and follows Saint Augustina as she reluctantly a mysterious and undoubtably dangerous job in partnership with Saint Benedict, with whom she has a complicated history.
It’s an exciting, immersive story. The world is well constructed and I quickly became invested in Saint Augustina as a character. It is good to see a women of colour as the protagonist, and she is a resourceful and complicated character. It is fascinating learning about her backstory, and rooting for her as she tries to find a better life for herself.
I particularly enjoy how Mackie blurs the lines between technology and magic. I found this very engaging, and it increased the sense of mystery surrounding the job the two Saints had set out to complete.
For me, this is a five star book. It’s original and exciting, with a good balance of action and character-driven scenes. I would recommend it to sci-fi fans wanting to escape into a dark, exciting world.

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Love the Way You Dance by Allison M. Boot – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Love the Way You DanceLove the Way You Dance by Allison M Boot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love the Way You Dance is the charming sequel to Allison M. Boot’s Just the Way You Are. Where the previous book focuses on Misty, this book’s protagonist is Kara.
Kara is a young girl who, after worrying that her disabilities would mean she would never find a family, was adopted by none other than the King and Queen of Starrycrest. Now a princess, Kara has plenty to worry about including whether she’ll nail an upcoming dance performance, and whether the Queen’s pregnancy is threatening Kara’s place in the family.
The world Boot has created is fun and exciting. In a fantasy land, anything goes and Boot has certainly had fun with this! Kara has access to all the delicious food a person can dream of (thanks, in part, to the friendly and talented chef Tony). She has a super wheelchair designed especially to enhance a dancer’s performance, and excellent instruction from pink-haired dance teacher Stella. There’s a cinema in the palace with a fairly comprehensive collection of Rom-Coms. And also trolls, which will grant wishes but always with an aim to furthering their quest to wreak havoc on Starrycrest.
This is a fun book, suitable for YA and teen readers (but also very enjoyable for adults!). It addresses emotional topics, including disability and foster care, but the fun and vibrant setting keeps the tone light and friendly. For me, this is a five-star book. I’m enjoying the series, and hope there’s more to come! (perhaps a book focusing on Tyler? Or a chance to revisit Kara as a young adult?).

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Hero High: Figure In The Flames by Mina Chara – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Figure in the Flames (Hero High, #1-3)Figure in the Flames by Mina Chara
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hero High: Figure In The Flames collects the first three parts of Friday Fitzsimmons’ story, written by Mina Chara. Friday, or “Fitz” as she is sometimes known, is a trainee superhero in a world where superheroes are celebrities, surrounded by cameras at all times. Friday doesn’t particularly want to be famous, and certainly doesn’t want to wear revealing clothes and smile for the camera, but she does want to make a difference and support her family.
The story is told within a framing narrative of an interview where an older Fitz is asked to discuss her origins. This works well, both reassuring the reader that Fitz will be alright in the end and allowing the older Fitz to break up the flow of the story every now and then to provide useful information or interesting commentary.
I particularly like Chara’s vivid descriptions of things. Everything from settings to clothes and food (food!). Chara gives the reader plenty of detail that really allows you to feel like you’re seeing and tasting everything.
For me, this is a five-star book. I would recommend it to fans of teen and YA superhero stories (it has a particularly X-Men feel to it with the special school for superheroes). There’s a good balance of character drama and action, and there are familiar tropes without it being boring or too predictable.

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