About Lauren Willmore

For as long as I can remember I’ve had two passions: writing and design. After working for eight years in the greetings card industry, I decided to combine my two passions and begin work designing book covers. My days are divided between raising two young boys, and either writing or designing in the evenings (and nap times). I’m currently editing my first novel and hope to query it this year. It’ll be an incredibly nerve-wracking journey, but one I’ll share on here. That’ll be the lows and, fingers crossed, the highs too.

Roots of Rookeri Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Check out Crispina Kemp’s latest masterpiece, Roots of Rookeri, available to purchase on Amazon as of now! Do it!

A Key, a Tree, a Prophecy

The Cast:
Booderas Rookeri-Sharmin – better known as Boody, playwright, poet, dancer and chorusmaster – orphaned nephew of the Elect of Raselstad, disciple of the Forty-First Avatar who brought the Founders to this new world.
“Worth is not measured in gold. To ban a word is not enough. To forbid the metals silver and gold will not lessen their attraction. The Guided Guilds give no protection against the Old-World demons.”
Eshe, daughter of Judge Madir, believes herself tough (she enjoys caving and climbing), unsuccessful in matters of the heart, fears her father will intervene and arrange a marriage.
Kalamite, head of the quasi-religious Runman Order, son of a queen no one has seen, for to ensure her safety he keeps her locked in the mysterious Wood Tower at the heart of Citadel Lecheni. He is her sworn protector.
Sifadis Lafdi, heiress of the wealthiest House in Lecheni. Owns every ship in the Luant; no one eats fish except by her catching. But marriage arrangements threaten, and a ruling husband would separate her from her passion – the study of the ancient documents stored in her library.

The Play:
A violation of Wood Tower has astrologer-priest Kalamite in fear for his mother, his queen. Planetary alignments foretell an invasion from the south. When Eshe arrives in Lecheni from southern Raselstad, Kalamite moves into action. He insists a spy is sent to Eshe’s hometown. Sifadis jumps at the opportunity to be that spy, to pursue a project of her own and to delay further marriage arrangements.
In Raselstad Sifadis meets her antithesis, Boody with his abhorrence of everything northern and Rothi. Yet they share a love for ancient books and Daabian plants. They also share an ancient connection which on meeting neither expects.

I once accused Crispina Kemp of being an Asar. Her being an immortal fallen angel was the only explanation I could find for her complete knowledge of every culture and time in The Spinner’s Game series. These were not works of fantasy, these were her memoirs. But I was wrong. Because if Crispina were an Asar and using such a cheat to create the rich world of her previous novels, she would not have been able to do so again in her latest book, the standalone Roots of Rookeri. Read this book and step through a portal to a totally immersive world, filled with so much fascinating detail you will lose yourself in.

But it’s not just world building. The characters will grip you too. With four POV characters to captivate—scholar on a mission Sifadis, underdog poet Boody, headstrong Eshe and lunatic Kalamite—it’s hard to pick a favourite. 

While not set in the same world as Crispina’s previous novels, this book will definitely appeal to any who loved the Spinner’s Game series, and ensnare plenty of new readers too. If you love fantasy (especially if you love it with a hint of sci-fi), this is a must read.

So again, do yourself a favour, and make a purchase.

Cover design by yours truly. So why not treat yourself to the paperback 😉

Memories of Dad

Today, I shall be reading my dad’s eulogy, something I’m not entirely prepared for, but then who is? Anyone who knew my dad would also know of his temper, and my brother and I didn’t always have the easiest childhood as a result. But now I choose to focus on the good memories, memories I’ll share below.

Memories of my dad.

How could I start without remembering him as a Manchester United fan? Something my brother, Nathan, and I understood from a young age was you do notinterrupt a match, Alex Ferguson is the greatest manager there has ever been, and that when United score, you go deaf. Besides Dad’s cheering, there are two soundtracks to my childhood. The first is the drone of formula one. This always brings me back to sunny afternoons playing in the garden, with dad in the lounge, curtains closed and in the dark to see the cars better. The second noise would be the harrowing opening to The World at War series. Dad began my love of history, with endless documentaries, a trip to the Cabinet War Rooms primary aged children aren’t supposed to enjoy, and he’s the reason I still have to explain to people why I own a copy of Mein Kampf. History was a passion we shared, but now I’ll have to watch Dunkirk without him.

Dad was also passionate about his work. When I was at school, he turned creating a British Gas poster into a class competition, and everyone went wild for it; I’m still gutted I didn’t win. But that was the love he brought to his work, and the love he passed on. When Dad met my father-in-law, they spent the entire meal competing over who had the better job, fancier watch, and fastest car.

Cars are another thing I’ll remember about Dad. The uncertainty of not knowing which car he had each week, whether it was the Subaru, the Mercedes, or the Maserati, and whether I’d get in the right one when he picked me up from work. Regardless of which car it was, eventually, it would breakdown, which might be a comment on the speed he drove at.

Whenever I went to Dad’s, I was guaranteed a good lunch. I was also guaranteed to be eating that lunch at six in the evening. Wine would be on tap, at some point an argument would start, and we would finish the evening laughing at Dad’s awful dancing. And if he wasn’t dancing, he might be trying out his acrobatics, like the time he hung upside down from the pergola. He always kept us laughing, whether it was the holiday tattoo—the Chinese symbol for heaven, or possibly ironing—the bleached hair, or the whole Eminem’s Dad phase.

Most of all, I want to remember Dad with family. Nathan and I lost our mother young, and Dad did his best to fill both roles. Unfortunately for me, that led to many awkward conversations about, as he phrased it, “whether womanhood was imminent”. It was, therefore, lucky when Tracy came along, and she and dad tried for a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest engagement.

I’ll remember dad walking me down the aisle, and his insistence on what he’d wear when doing so. I’ll remember him buying my oldest son the biggest and most difficult to store Christmas present—but what one-year-old doesn’t want an Audi to drive? And I remember when my youngest son fell over, Dad gave him the biggest hug. He always gave the best, rib crushing hugs, like he was hugging for all the times we weren’t able to see each other too. I’ll miss those hugs most of all.

Reading Round Up – December

64. Queen of Coin and Whispers

Helen Corcoran

Rating: 2 out of 5.
Queen of Coin and Whispers

‘She loved me as I loved her, fierce as a bloodied blade.’

When teenage queen Lia inherits her corrupt uncle’s bankrupt kingdom, she brings a new spymaster into the fold … Xania, who takes the job to avenge her murdered father.

Faced with dangerous plots and hidden enemies, can Lia and Xania learn to rely on each another, as they discover that all is not fair in love and treason?

In a world where the throne means both power and duty, they must decide what to sacrifice for their country – and for each other …

This books attempts to be a political fantasy as well as a romance, and fails at both.

I love courtly intrigue and I love a good romantic subplot, and once I heard this was a sapphic romance I couldn’t resist reading it. Perhaps I expected too much from the blurb, but my expectations fell short. I political aspect of the book felt both overly complicated and over simplified in all the wrong places, and I just couldn’t take it seriously. While at the same time I felt the romance began strong but something about it sort of fizzled at the midway mark and never quite recovered.

65. Morning Star

Pierce Brown

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Morning Star (Red Rising Saga, #3)

Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied—and too glorious to surrender.

This is a fantastic book and a great conclusion of the trilogy. An ending that truly did not disappoint.

After the dramatic ending of the previous book, I was very keen to get stuck into this one, so I don’t know why I left it over a year to begin reading it. But one of the issues I had with this book was that it wasn’t very forgiving towards readers who hadn’t just that second completed the previous book. There were a lot of places where a reminder was sorely needed about who characters were, how they related, and what events had gone on previously. It took a long while for me to feel comfortably back in this world as a result.
The other issue that stopped me giving this book the full five stars was the weird references to other works–I’m going to assume they were heartfelt homages rather than plagiarism. Whatever their intention, they sucked me right out of the story. For example, the moment that’s meant to be very deeply emotional between Darrow and Mustang, where she repeatedly tells him it’s not his fault in a scene plucked straight out of Good Will Hunting. It just undercut the moment for me, and left me feeling disappointed.

Other than that, I loved the book. And in a world of bittersweet or just unhappy endings, I was so pleased with this one.

66. A Court of Thorns and Roses

Sarah J. Maas

Rating: 1 out of 5.
A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

Why did I read this book? Maybe because I hate myself…

I knew nothing more about A Court of Thorns and Roses other than it was considered very inappropriate for the teenage audience it was intended. “Inappropriate for teenagers,” I thought, “I’m in!” What people should have said was it was just… pants. 

Apparently, the MC falls in ‘love’ but really she’s just in ‘lust’. That’s fine, whatever, but it all became very hard to believe the MC is going to risk her entire life because some fairy has a hot body…

67. A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens

Rating: 5 out of 5.
A Christmas Carol

‘If I had my way, every idiot who goes around with Merry Christmas on his lips, would be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. Merry Christmas? Bah humbug!’

To bitter, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, Christmas is just another day. But all that changes when the ghost of his long-dead business partner appears, warning Scrooge to change his ways before it’s too late. 

Part of the Focus on the Family Great Stories collection, this abridged edition features an in-depth introduction and discussion questions by Joe Wheeler to provide greater understanding for today’s reader. “A Christmas Carol” captures the heart of the holidays like no other novel.

As soon as I read this I understood why A Christmas Carol is such a classic and why it’s been adapted so many times (The Muppets Christmas Carol is my favourite, followed by Scrooged). I listened to this on Audible, and can’t recommend the Hugh Grant audio book enough. When reading previous Dickens books I’ve occasionally found his meandering style a little tiresome, but when done in the Hugh Grant mumbles and waffling he’s so known for, the writing feels perfect. All Dickens should be read by Hugh Grant! 

It has been a long time (if ever??) since a book has brought me to tears, and I did not expect that to change now. But change it did. When the story concluded and Tiny Tim lived, tissues were required. I’m welling up now thinking about it.

This book also brings up a great code to live by. “I wear the chain I forged in life.” I think that’s something everyone should remember, regardless of religion, and remember the message of the book.

I loved this book so much I immediately bought the Penguin Classics hardback and vowed to read it every Christmas.

Reading Round Up – November

58. Frankenstein

Mary Shelley

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Frankenstein: The 1818 Text

Mary Shelley’s seminal novel of the scientist whose creation becomes a monster.

I read this at Halloween, looking for the creep factor, and it certainly delivered. The scenes are wonderfully painted, as are the characters. You really feel for everyone involved, and experience both characters’ pain as both Frankenstein and the monsters worlds crumble.

59. The Guest List

Lucy Foley

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Guest List

The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body 

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why? 

I really enjoyed how different this story felt, with multiple point of view in first person as well as the tie jumps. I expected a straight forward whodunnit, but enjoyed the addition of trying to work out who died. By the time you find out, you hate this character just as the murderer (and everyone else on the island!)

60. The Glass Woman

Caroline Lea

Rating: 3 out of 5.
The Glass Woman


Betrothed unexpectedly to Jón Eiríksson, Rósa is sent to join her new husband in the remote village of Stykkishólmur. Here, the villagers are wary of outsiders.

But Rósa harbours her own suspicions. Her husband buried his first wife alone in the dead of night. He will not talk of it. Instead he gives her a small glass figurine. She does not know what it signifies.

The villagers mistrust them both. Dark threats are whispered. There is an evil here – Rósa can feel it. Is it her husband, the villagers – or the land itself?

Alone and far from home, Rósa sees the darkness coming. She fears she will be its next victim… 

** spoiler alert ** This book did a really good job of placing you in the mindset of the people of this time, and all the restrictions that face main character Rosa. The downside was that the mysteries were answered way too soon and that the reveals just felt a little… flat. Additionally, despite what I said about the differences in society at this time, I wish this book hadn’t included the Bury Your Gays trope. Rosa got a ‘happy’ ending, why couldn’t Jon?!?

61. You

Caroline Kepnes

Rating: 4 out of 5.
You (You, #1)

When a beautiful aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

A terrifying exploration of how vulnerable we all are to stalking and manipulation, debut author Caroline Kepnes delivers a razor-sharp novel for our hyper-connected digital age.

hat a creepy book! I went straight from it to watching the TV show. I really enjoyed both, but you can see how the TV show tried to make Joe more likeable (quickly having his Saves the Cat moment by being kind to neighbour kid Paco). In the book… I don’t think anyone comes off well! A fucked up story about fucked up people, that’s deeply uncomfortable to read, and yet so good!

In conclusion… I’ve set my Instagram account to private!

62. The Hunting Party

Lucy Foley

Rating: 3 out of 5.
The Hunting Party

Everyone’s invited…everyone’s a suspect…

For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.

All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.

After really enjoying The Guest List, I borrowed this one from the library and… I almost thought I was reading the Guest List again. Different circumstances, but same bunch of rich entitled people, the poorer character who doesn’t fit, and the staff all in a remote location with the same time jumps. I did get into the story eventually, but couldn’t shake how repetitive it felt. And yet while it was telling the same story all over again, it didn’t even do it as well, with the end reveal feeling… meh. 
I don’t know what other books the author has out, but it’s put me off of reaching for another of hers quite so quickly.

63. The Pariah

Anthony Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Pariah (Covenant of Steel, #1)

From the international best-selling author of the Raven’s Shadow and Draconis Memoria series comes the spectacular first novel in an all-new epic fantasy trilogy.

Born into the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the freedom of the woods and the comradeship of his fellow thieves. But an act of betrayal sets him on a new path – one of blood and vengeance, which eventually leads him to a soldier’s life in the king’s army.

Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman beset by visions of a demonic apocalypse, Alwyn must survive war and the deadly intrigues of the nobility if he hopes to claim his vengeance. But as dark forces, both human and arcane, gather to oppose Evadine’s rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a fantasy now (like two months 😱) so I decided to get back into it with The Pariah. I’m not a huge fan of the narrative style. It’s told in first person, with main character Alwyn looking back on his life, so not only do you know he lives long enough to write all this down, but he gets to say things like ‘little did I know…’ or ‘he would meet his end in a much worse way…’ It’s fine, but it’s not my cup of tea. 
I’ve been spoiled a little by my run of thrillers and romances, so suddenly having to keep track of the bajillion characters present in fantasy was a little much, and I often forgot names. Mostly this was okay, with the text providing enough to jog my memory, but there were a few scenes (including the climax) where I had to go back and reread to work out what had been revealed and about whom. Similarly, on its length, I would say it could have used a trim. There is a lot going on in this book, and perhaps cutting back on characters would have helped to have a more concise story. 
All that aside, when I finished the book I was curious to know what came next, and unlike other fantasies I’ve read recently, nothing about it pissed me off. So that’s a bonus!

Reading Round Up – October

51. Cinder

Marissa Meyer

Rating: 2 out of 5.
Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless Lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . . Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. 

She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Cinder was a strangely addictive novel. I say strangely, because I can’t quite explain why I kept reading despite how predictable the story was. I should say as well, that I don’t mean it was predictable in the sense that it’s a Cinderella retelling, so of course she’ll go to the ball, she’ll meet the prince etc. No, it was that the central “mystery” of the book was so incredibly obvious. It was so obvious I kept reading to see if the twist would in fact be that the incredibly obvious mystery actually wasn’t true at all. 

Additionally, none of the events of the book seemed to impact the characters. Both Cinder and Kai lost people during this story, but aside from the occasional mention that someone looked like they’d been crying, did these character deaths actually affect the characters? Nope. But that would probably get in the way of all the flirting.

Overall, this was a very shallow book. However, it was easy to read, and I shot right through it. Will I read the sequel? I’ve heard the series improves, and it’s just become available to take out at my local library. But… it doesn’t rank very high on my TBR list.

52. Promise of Blood

Brian McClellan

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Promise of Blood (Powder Mage, #1)

It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…
Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved…
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…

In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets?

I had high hopes for this book. I’m a history nerd and so was drawn in by the French Revolution style setting, as well as being interested by what I’d heard of the powder mage magic system. 
On reading it… I’d say it was fine. I think the many magic systems and the magic driven storylines got in the way of the historical aspect I was hoping for, but that’s on me. I’ll find a historical fiction for that next time. I had some interest in some parts of the book, with my favourite parts usually in Taniel’s storyline. 
Overall, my main complaint was the lack of female characters. True, of the four POV characters, one is female, but her chapters probably make up ten percent of the book. Yes, the world it’s set in is sexist, blah blah blah… I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse. There are plenty of books in similar worlds that have great female characters, so why is this one mostly just about men? It’s especially annoying as the magic systems in this book affect men and women equally, and there are female powder mages and privileged, so why does the world not reflect this?
Will I read the sequel? Possibly, but there are a lot of other books I’d rather read first.

53. Not Without Your Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Not Without Your Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor #7)

Colton McKinley has turned his life around—no more booze, no more drugs, no more self-sabotage. With a new business to run and old promises to keep, the last thing he needs is wild, impulsive Veronica Maddox disrupting his world. But when his friends ask him to give her a job as a personal favor, Colton doesn’t feel like he can say no. Even if she pushes his buttons and makes him want to pull his hair out. Even if the only time they get along is when they cave to the inexplicable chemistry between them. He doesn’t want this complication in his life, but soon enough he realizes he just might need her.

I’m such a sucker for this series, so when this book came out I knew I had to read it. While it didn’t disappoint, it wasn’t as good as the previous novel (If It’s Only Love, my favourite of the series). 
I must admit I’m getting a little tired of these books now. I like all the different situations each half of the couple brings to complicate the romance, but ultimately every book seems to be about the same people (perhaps more differences are there with the female characters, but the men are just the same character with a different name/job).
Without getting into spoilers, the ending of this one was weak. As usual, obstacles are constantly thrown at the couple, and of course by now I know the routine in Lexi Ryan’s books, I know they’ll overcome them. But… this one just felt a little sudden and easy. Especially as there was a child involved, the motivations of one of the antagonists and the resolution felt unbelievable. 
Furthermore, I think the character of Kristi needed more exploration. She was set up only as an antagonist, but like Veronica has likely suffered the same manipulative abuse from Marcus. She clearly can’t have children, and to go to the lengths she went to to try to have one, then suddenly stop at the end of the book, she must have been under great pressure from her husband (who acts like it’s all her, but given what we know about him, is it?). The fact that Kristi wasn’t explored more as a character also made her motivations feel a little… offensive? Not a healthy way to portray women who can’t have children? That didn’t sit right with me. I hope Kristi returns in later books as a main character.

54. The Hound of the Baskervilles

Arthur Conan Doyle

Rating: 3 out of 5.
The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes, #5)

Could the sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville have been caused by the gigantic ghostly hound that is said to have haunted his family for generations? Arch-rationalist Sherlock Holmes characteristically dismisses the theory as nonsense. And immersed in another case, he sends Watson to Devon to protect the Baskerville heir and observe the suspects close at hand. With its atmospheric setting on the ancient, wild moorland and its savage apparition, The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the greatest crime novels ever written. Rationalism is pitted against the supernatural, good against evil, as Sherlock Holmes seeks to defeat a foe almost his equal.

This was my first Sherlock Holmes novel. It’s very much written as books were at the time and would not get published today. Because of this writing style, I found myself distanced from the story, though I was still able to appreciate it, and what it was for its time.

55. Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Jeff Lindsay

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Dexter, #1)

Meet Dexter Morgan, a polite wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s handsome and charming, but something in his past has made him abide by a different set of rules. He’s a serial killer whose one golden rule makes him immensely likeable: he only kills bad people. And his job as a blood splatter expert for the Miami police department puts him in the perfect position to identify his victims. But when a series of brutal murders bearing a striking similarity to his own style start turning up, Dexter is caught between being flattered and being frightened—of himself or some other fiend.

I was a big fan of the TV series (until, you know, it got terrible…), and with a new TV series coming I thought it time to finally read the books.
Firstly, I loved Jeff Lindsay’s narration. I don’t know which came first, but this narration felt very much like Michael C Hall’s Dexter, so it almost felt like extra footage of season one. 
I’d forgotten enough of the show to make the twists and turns enjoyable, and the things I could remember played out differently between book and tv, so even more surprises. 
My only criticism was that it wasn’t long enough. I felt like a lot of time was spent building up the character of Dexter, and how he lives his double life, and then the plot was quickly rapped up. But it’s not too much of a criticism to wish there was more book! 

55. This Lie Will Kill You

Chelsea Pitcher

Rating: 4 out of 5.
This Lie Will Kill You

Tell the truth. Or face the consequences.

Clue meets Riverdale in this page-turning thriller that exposes the lies five teens tell about a deadly night one year ago.

One year ago, there was a party.
At the party, someone died.
Five teens each played a part and up until now, no one has told the truth.

But tonight, the five survivors arrive at an isolated mansion in the hills, expecting to compete in a contest with a $50,000 grand prize. Of course…some things are too good to be true.

Now, they realize they’ve been lured together by a person bent on revenge, a person who will stop at nothing to uncover what actually happened on that deadly night, one year ago.

Five arrived, but not all can leave. Will the truth set them free?
Or will their lies destroy them all?

I borrowed this book from the library after reading the blurb and knew nothing more about it. It took me a while to get into it, mostly during the debate of whether they should go to the strange mansion or not (obviously the answer was no, come on guys!), but once they all got there and the fun began, I was hooked. 
Were teenagers this shady at my school? Not that I remember, but then, i thriller probably wouldn’t have been written about my friends… we didn’t murder anyone. 
Each character had great pasts and motivations, and certainly at the start I suspected everyone. However, once we learned a little more about everyone, nothing happened that really surprised me. I guessed the ring master, I guessed the character responsible for Shane’s death, and I guessed who was behind everything. I kept looking for further twists because I thought it was surely all too obvious, but nope. I guessed it all, sigh.

56. Dearly Devoted Dexter

Jeff Lindsay

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Dearly Devoted Dexter (Dexter, #2)

He’s a charming monster… A macabre hero… A serial killler who only kills bad people.

Dexter Morgan has been under considerable pressure. It’s just not easy being an ethical serial killer – especially while trying to avoid the unshakable suspicions of the dangerous Sergeant Doakes (who believes Dexter is a homicidal maniac…which, of course, he is). In an attempt to throw Doakes off his trail, Dexter has had to slip deep into his foolproof disguise. While not working as a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department, he now spends nearly all his time with his cheerful girlfriend, Rita, and her two children, sipping light beer and slowly becoming the world’s first serial couch potato. But how long can Dexter play Kick the Can instead of Slice the Slasher? How long before his Dark Passenger forces him to drop the charade and let his inner monster run free?

In trying times, opportunity knocks. A particularly nasty psychopath is cutting a trail through Miami – a man whose twisted technique leaves even Dexter speechless. As Dexter’s dark appetite is revived, his sister, Deborah (a newly minted, tough-as-nails Miami detective), is drawn headlong into the case. It quickly becomes clear that it will take a monster to catch a monster – but it isn’t until his archnemesis is abducted that Dex can finally throw himself into the search for a new plaything. Unless, of course, his plaything finds him first…

With the incredible wit and freshness that drew widespread acclaim to Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Jeff Lindsay now takes Dexter Morgan to a new level of macabre appeal and gives us one of the most original, colorful narrators in years.

This one wasn’t as enjoyable as the previous book. Two slight irritations I over looked in Darkly Dreaming were the telling style of the book and that everyone other than Dexter was useless. The former was perhaps not so heavy or I was too invested to notice, while the latter I could write off as La Guerta’s politics hampering things. This time… the only other component player was the serial ‘killer’ Dexter was up against. Even the special agents brought in to help tackle him, who certainly talked a big game, were useless. 
The crimes of the serial ‘killer’ (yes’m the quotations are needed), are particularly gruesome, and stayed with me more than the last book. I don’t want to know how Jeff Lindsay came up with that one… well done.

57. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

Holly Jackson

Rating: 5 out of 5.
A Good Girl's Guide to Murder (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, #1)

The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it.

But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the murder, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final year project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth?

Blooming fantastic! If the library had the sequel available on audiobook, I’d be reading it now instead of writing this review.
Firstly, I really enjoyed the format of the book (especially with the audiobook, different voice actors were used for the interviews). It was really well done. Secondly, there were just so many suspects! It was almost impossible to guess at who did it! I called the outcome of one part of the investigation on an early hunch, but even the reveal of it through surprises out there. I devoured this book and would highly recommend it.
Also, after recently reading so many American novels, the Britishness of this one was fantastic. The word ‘Plonker’ was used. Enough said.

Reading Round Up – September

At the start of the year I set myself the challenge of reading one book a week, and am actually ahead of schedule – go me! For fun, I’ve started to number the books in my reviews.

46. 1984

George Orwell

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life—the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language—and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written.

Is my three star rating unfair given what a classic this book is? Perhaps. The world is terrifying (and given the current state of things, the reason I decided to read the book at last), but I had little interest in main character Winston, who served as no more than the vessel through which we see this terrifying world. Apologies for what is probably my unpopular opinion, but honestly, who has ever mentioned 1984 to discuss Winston and not Big Brother?

47. Half a King

Joe Abercrombie

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)

Betrayed by his family and left for dead, prince Yarvi, reluctant heir to a divided kingdom, has vowed to reclaim a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the shattered sea itself – all with only one good hand. Born a weakling in the eyes of a hard, cold world, he cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so has sharpened his mind to a deadly edge. Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast, he finds they can help him more than any noble could. Even so, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, traps and tragedy.

Thanks to this book, I’ve really pinned down my love of the Coming of Age trope. As a character, Yarvi is instantly relatable, which is not a surprise as this book is penned by Character Master Joe Abercrombie. What is a surprise is that not everyone in this book is a back stabbing stain on society, as I’ve also come to expect from Abercrombie, who can sometimes take Grimdark to such depressing depths I feel the need to shower in Rom Coms afterwards.

While I absolutely loved this book, I have two criticisms. First, was that the “surprise” twist at the end was so obvious it may have been flashing headlights and banging a drum. Second, I have no desire to read the next is the series. Perhaps one day I’ll read it and call myself an idiot, but right now reading the blurb of what’s to come… no interest.

48. 100 Days of Sunlight

Abbie Emmons

Rating: 4 out of 5.
100 Days of Sunlight

When 16-year-old poetry blogger Tessa Dickinson is involved in a car accident and loses her eyesight for 100 days, she feels like her whole world has been turned upside-down. 

Terrified that her vision might never return, Tessa feels like she has nothing left to be happy about. But when her grandparents place an ad in the local newspaper looking for a typist to help Tessa continue writing and blogging, an unlikely answer knocks at their door: Weston Ludovico, a boy her age with bright eyes, an optimistic smile…and no legs.

Knowing how angry and afraid Tessa is feeling, Weston thinks he can help her. But he has one condition — no one can tell Tessa about his disability. And because she can’t see him, she treats him with contempt: screaming at him to get out of her house and never come back. But for Weston, it’s the most amazing feeling: to be treated like a normal person, not just a sob story. So he comes back. Again and again and again.

Tessa spurns Weston’s “obnoxious optimism”, convinced that he has no idea what she’s going through. But Weston knows exactly how she feels and reaches into her darkness to show her that there is more than one way to experience the world. As Tessa grows closer to Weston, she finds it harder and harder to imagine life without him — and Weston can’t imagine life without her. But he still hasn’t told her the truth, and when Tessa’s sight returns he’ll have to make the hardest decision of his life: vanish from Tessa’s world…or overcome his fear of being seen.

100 Days of Sunlight is a poignant and heartfelt novel by author Abbie Emmons. If you like sweet contemporary romance and strong family themes then you’ll love this touching story of hope, healing, and getting back up when life knocks you down.

I decided to read this book after watching Abbie’s YouTube series about character and her mantra of ‘Why It Matters!’ I would say in this she has achieved to set out what she intended, with characters built to test each other, with Tessa and Weston (I keep wanting to say Tessa and Will) perfect for each other’s issues.

Is the book perfect? (Are any?) No. The opening is a tad cliched and all the characters are just too… good? Perhaps it’s that I lurk in the realms of Grimdark Fantasy that skewed my opinion here. I’m not asking for Weston to be Jorg Ancrath (poor Tessa if he were…), but I wish there was a little more lurking beneath the surface. But maybe that’s just me! Overall, a good read.

49. Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Great Expectations

‘In what may be Dickens’s best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of “great expectations.” In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride.

I knew enough about this book going in (thanks to adaptations and parodies) that I was familiar with the characters of Pip, Estella, and Miss Havisham. But I was not prepared for the character of Joe Gargery, who I absolutely fell in love with. Starting the book, I expected Joe to be Pip’s childhood antagonist (rather than Pip’s sister). How wrong I was and how I raged at Pip every time he treated Joe badly.

This novel was Grimdark before Grimdark was a thing, a complete study of character and human flaws. It could have done with an edit (I say, passing judgement on a classic), but in a book already so long did we need scenes about Pip and Herbert writing lists of debts, or the many, many characters there were to keep track of. 

The bonus of Dickens’ works (I say after reading just two of his novels) is that even when writing, he set his novels in the past already, and as a result explains how things are different. There’s no assumptions from the author as there are in Austen’s work, for example, where owning a chaise and four makes a gentleman of a certain wealth bracket. So it’s easy to read and understand, despite its age.

50. The Court of Miracles

Kester Grant

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Court of Miracles (A Court of Miracles #1)

In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie). 

When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.

I decided to read this book after hearing about it at Voyager Con. I’m a huge fan of Les Mis, though I must admit to not having read Victor Hugo’s original (the audiobook is 57 hours! I’m daunted, okay!), and have always had a soft spot for Eponine. Author Kester Grant is right, she is the best. 

I had expected something more like the film Ophelia, with the novel simply playing out from Eponine’s point of view with scenes previously unseen. This was definitely better. I loved the story, but in a way would have preferred it to have been an original. That way, I wouldn’t have been constantly comparing changes. [SPOILERS AHEAD] For example, I love Val Jean and Cosette in the original, and to find that even in the two years they spent together they had no bond… crying… And perhaps controversially, I love the original Javert. I was a bit devastated to see the new Javert reduced to a woman scorned (she’s hunting Val Jean because he hit it and quit it; he banged her then canned her). This is supposedly a feminist retelling, and that one just didn’t sit right with me. But I loved the other changed involving Nina (Eponine) and Ettie (Cosette). [NO MORE SPOILERS]

I was disappointed with one aspect of the plot, where the reader is essentially tricked into believing something which it is later revealed POV character Nina knew was a lie all along. That knocked a star off for me.

One thing to point out, because for a while it confused the hell out of me, is that the blurb states the book takes place ‘in the wake of the French Revolution’. So you aren’t confused when Nina runs across the Dauphin, the novel is set in an alternative Paris where the French Revolution was only a failed uprising and the monarchy is still very much in play. 

Reading Round Up – August

The Secret Commonwealth

Philip Pullman

Rating: 3 out of 5.
The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2)

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is seven years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .

The second volume of Sir Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed.

Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.

Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost – a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust. 

I was surprised when I read the blurb for this that we didn’t stay with Malcolm’s story, a prequel to His Dark Materials, and instead jumped to events following this series, with a grownup Lyra. Perhaps I should have read His Dark Materials again during this break, but as I’d borrowed this from the library, I decided to read it, regardless.

Listening to this as an audiobook likely helped with my enjoyment of it. Had I been actually reading it, I might have struggled in places where the story meandered. Even when the relevance of the rose oil was revealed, I still couldn’t bring myself to care each time it was mentioned. I didn’t find Malcolm’s feelings for Lyra (and Lyra’s emerging feelings for Malcom) quite as icky as other readers did. Having read about Lyra as a baby and a child, it can be hard to remember that Lyra is now an adult. Once I reminded myself that I know people with this same age gap in their relationship (and at their ages – 21 and 32), I got over the initial uncomfortableness. However, was it necessary for Malcolm to have feelings for Lyra when she was still his student? Couldn’t his feelings be relatively new too?

My biggest gripe with the book, though, was that it didn’t end, it just stopped. There were so many story threads that should have been brought together and weren’t. I know there is supposed to be another book in the trilogy, but that doesn’t mean that The Secret Commonwealth shouldn’t be a complete book by itself. Very unsatisfying.

I went away on a few UK holidays this month, and during this time I found myself turning away from the darker fantasy books I usually choose and to romance. Traditional holiday reads (though, not my usual… I read The Dark Tower on honeymoon… so…)

Anyway, I returned to a series I accidentally jumped into the middle of at the start of the year when I started reading an extract on Facebook. That was the sixth book in The Boys of Jackson Harbor series by Lexi Ryan. So on holiday I read the previous five!

The Wrong Kind of Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Wrong Kind of Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor, #1)

From New York Times bestseller Lexi Ryan comes a sexy new romance novel about a runaway bride, a single dad who’s sworn off love, and the kind of family secrets that can threaten to break even the deepest bonds.

You never forget your wedding day. Or the moment your twin sister pukes on your bouquet and confesses she’s pregnant… with your fiancé’s baby.

I wanted to get away, to hide until my heart mended. I found myself in a strange town with a mysterious stranger whose talented mouth and hands almost made me forget it was supposed to be my wedding night.

Afraid to go home to face my broken life, I pretend to be my twin so I can take her job in Jackson Harbor caring for a six-year-old girl. Imagine my surprise when I find out my new boss is my mysterious stranger — Dr. Ethan Jackson.

I never meant for Ethan to discover my secrets. I never meant for them to matter. But the longer I work with him and his sweet daughter, the harder I fall, and the clearer it becomes that I’m not the only one carrying a secret that could tear us apart.

Get ready to fall for the boys of Jackson Harbor in Lexi Ryan’s sexy new contemporary romance series. These books can all be read as standalones, but you’ll enjoy reading them as a series!

This had all the elements of the classic romance that pulled me into this series. A love pulled apart by personal baggage and almost ridiculous circumstance. It’s interesting to see in this book and those that follow how Lexi crafts couples that are ultimately perfect for one another, yet their problems are perfectly matched too. Growing up in foster care, Nic is desperate for family. Ethan is one of six and has a strong family unit that she fits into easily. Lexi also knows exactly the buttons to push to tear relationships apart (which is absolutely perfect in the sixth installment in the series). It’s definitely something I’m paying attention to. A great read.

Straight Up Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Straight Up Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor, #2)

From New York Times bestselling author Lexi Ryan comes a sexy new standalone romance about a woman who’d do anything to have a baby and the man who’d do anything to have her…

For my 30th birthday, I’m giving myself the one thing I want most: a baby. Sure, this would be easier if I had a husband—or even a boyfriend—but I refuse to be thwarted by minor details.

When I drunkenly confess my plans to my friends, they convince me to ask Jake Jackson for help. Jake, the best friend who’s been there for me through thick and thin. Jake, who also happens to be smart, funny, ridiculously good looking, and the winner of all the genetic lotteries.

So when Jake takes me up on my request—with the stipulation that we get the job done the old-fashioned way—I’d be a fool to decline.

The only problem? I don’t know if I can separate sex from all the things I feel for this amazing man. If I can’t keep my heart under lock and key, I risk losing the relationship I need the most.

Jake has his own reasons for granting my baby wish. But when I discover his secrets, it could mean the end of us. I have to choose—run or stay and fight for love.

While the previous book focused on Ethan Jackson, this book followed his younger brother, Jake Jackson. It was good to see characters carrying over into the next novels (and have them explained a little better. You can apparently jump into the series wherever, and while this is true, the family dynamics became a lot clearer as I went through the series compared to when I started on book 6).

Unlike the last book, which was farfetched in its premise, this one was almost a little too close to home for me. Female lead Ava and I just had too similar a background. Not everything was the same, of course, but there were certain aspects of her family that mirrored mine, as well as having once been stung by a friend wanting more, as Jake is to Ava. So personally, I didn’t find the same escape in this book as I did with the previous one, though objectively, it was still a good read.

Dirty, Reckless Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 2 out of 5.
Dirty, Reckless Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor, #3)

I’m in love with a man who tried to kill me. At least that’s what they tell me . . .

Six weeks ago, paramedics found me unconscious in my apartment. Beaten. Bruised. Hardly breathing. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember the last three years or anything about my life in Jackson Harbor. They tell me my fiancé, Colton McKinley, is on the run for what he did to me. They tell me I’m safer if I stay away. 

I don’t care if my memories ever come back. I want nothing to do with those missing years . . . until a sexy stranger with angry eyes shows up on my doorstep and demands I stop ignoring him. 

Levi Jackson is my fiancé’s best friend, but seeing him sparks something inside me. As the truth unravels in my mind, I know they’re wrong about Colton. My own secrets are far more dangerous than the man I was engaged to.

I return to Jackson Harbor to search for answers and find myself running from a faceless boogeyman and seeking refuge in Levi’s arms. And in his bed. 

I can’t deny my feelings for Levi. But as the pile of lies between us grows, I realize that sometimes the truth can’t set us free. Sometimes, it’s the very thing that can destroy us.

This book took what I said about Ava’s family having a similar dynamic to mine and made that an absolute lie. We now follow Ava’s best friend Ellie and Jake’s younger brother Levi as they attempt to find love in circumstances that went from being farfetched to just too much. Ellie has been seeing Ava’s brother, and is entangled in that family’s business, which includes the father I had seen some similarities to my own… except now the father is some sort of criminal mastermind, paedophile, and rapist. The change is explained by daughter Ava not seeing this side of her father, and while I’m sure my own father has secrets, he’s certainly not this guy!!!

The downside of this novel was that it was a romance trying to be a thriller. I’ve read thrillers, this is not it. Perhaps if I only read romance I might have been gripped by this book, but honestly, to me it fell flat. I guessed every twist, and what should have been the high stakes of the thriller were constantly undermined by the romance, and vice versa. They didn’t work together, they worked against each other. The weakest of the series.

Wrapped In Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Wrapped in Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor, #4)

A one-night stand with the boss was never in her plans. Neither was falling in love . . . 

The rumors are true. I am a hot mess with an awful track record at love. Single mom. Down on her luck. Yeah, I’m bad news. 

So if the hardest part of moving back home to Jackson Harbor was going to be people talking? I’d be fine. I’ve kept my chin up through worse than their decade-old gossip. 

I was wrong. The hardest part is resisting my boss. Brayden Jackson is the very picture of tall-dark-and-handsome. And thanks to an ill-advised one-night stand we had seven months ago, I know exactly what I’m missing when I turn him down. Every. Single. Delicious. Inch. 

But I have my son to care for and my job to keep, so I’ll keep on saying no. 

Until my string of bad luck continues, and suddenly my precious four-year old and I find ourselves with nowhere to live. At Christmas, no less. It’s for my son that I accept Brayden’s offer to stay at his place. One by one, my defenses are falling, as fast as I am. If Brayden was smart, he’d run, because it’s only a matter of time before he realizes he deserves better than what a girl like me can offer. 

Unless, for once, my bad luck is leading me exactly where I need to be.

Now we return to the oldest of the Jackson boys, big brother Brayden. He falls for Ava’s step-sister (it’s a small town, so the book says, everyone knows everyone so basically everyone shags everyone). Sadly, Ava’s sister Molly was the victim of the child abuse and rape in the previous book, and while that book had me considering whether to take a break from the series, this book was so well done I launched into the next.

Back on form, each characters insecurities played off the other, making them perfect for one another once they could pull their heads out of their arses (or if Brayden gets his head out of Molly’s you-know-where…). Thumbs up!

Crazy For Your Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Crazy for Your Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor, #5)

A family wedding with a fake boyfriend, meddling parents, and an obsessive ex . . . What could go wrong? 

The only thing worse than being single at my sister’s wedding is finding out that my ex will be there too. Not just any ex—the guy everyone expected me to marry, the man I came to Jackson Harbor to escape.

Now I need a date, and fast. Enter Carter Jackson—the firefighter who’s dealing with an unwanted five minutes of fame ever since a shirtless photo of him saving a puppy went viral. He’s warding off propositions left and right, and he needs a fake relationship as much as I do.

Sweet and sexy, Carter is completely off-limits. See, I have a rule. A no heartache rule. Not only is Carter my friend and a known heartbreaker, but his job as a firefighter puts him in danger daily, and that’s something I just can’t handle. 

The commitment between us might be pretend, but the passion all too real. As crazy as it makes me, I have to keep Carter at an arm’s length. Even that might not be enough to spare my heart.

Only slightly fatigued from finishing my fourth romance in a week, I began this book carefully, and really fell for it. My firm favourite in the series is still the one I started with, but I think Lexi’s improvement in the series really kicks in here. The book had great highs and lows, and fun shenanigans. The issues keeping the couple apart felt a little forced compared to the rest (Teagan’s secret was a good one, one she lied to keep, but Carter doesn’t like lies… I mean, who doesn’t but in the circumstances, just let it go). But other than that, a great book.

If It’s Only Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 5 out of 5.
If It's Only Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor #6)

From New York Times bestseller Lexi Ryan comes a sexy new standalone romance in the bestselling Boys of Jackson Harbor series. Meet single dad Easton Connor as he leaves the NFL and returns to Jackson Harbor to fight for another chance with the love of his life.


I don’t regret much. 

Not my decision to enter the NFL draft before finishing college. 
Not fighting custody of my daughter—even if, biologically speaking, it turns out she’s not mine. 
And certainly not seducing my buddy’s little sister ten years ago. 

But when it comes to Shayleigh Jackson, my no-regrets attitude stops there. I screwed up royally where she’s concerned. Then I made another mistake when I let her shut me out of her life. 

Now after more than a decade living in different time zones, I’m coming home to Jackson Harbor. My first priority is getting my daughter away from the media circus in LA, but the moment I see Shay, I know I’ll stop at nothing to win her back.

So what if she won’t speak to me? So what if she’s changed? So what if she’s fallen for some douchebag professor? I’ve never gotten over her and I know she feels the same about me. I’ve let her go twice. I won’t make that mistake again.

If It’s Only Love and all other books in this series can be read as standalones, but you’ll enjoy reading them together.

I didn’t read this one during this stint, but as I’ve reviewed the rest here, I thought I may as well give my thoughts on this one. 

Now that all the Jackson brothers have been paired off, we finally focus on Shay, the baby sister. I went into this book knowing nothing, but was gripped by the opening chapter, an extract I stumbled across. Here we follow a couple that started so well, but through a series of flashbacks we learn where life got in the way. I could not put this book down. Up till 3am reading! The dilemma for the two characters… as this was my first introduction to the series, I hadn’t yet cracked that the couple always end up together, and let me tell you, the worry I felt for these two was an actual ache in my chest. When we hit the present timeline and Shay discovers the issue that threatens to keep the two apart – perfection! It was so well crafted into the story. I felt dread leading to the discovery, pain at its revelation, and tears of happiness as it was resolved. I absolutely loved this one. 

Reading Round Up – July

Another month, another round of reviews. Despite spending the first half of the month concentrating on writing, I did manage to find a little time as the summer holidays started to sit down and read. And I mean read a physical book, which is a rarity for me. As I usually work my design job with an audiobook on the go, I tend to let the pile of physical books build up, but with the weather good, I was able to get into two of them, swinging in my hammock while the boys played or drew in the garden. Success!

The Ivies

Alexa Donne

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Ivies

Everyone knows the Ivies: the most coveted universities in the United States. Far more important are the Ivies. The Ivies at Claflin Academy, that is. Five girls with the same mission: to get into the Ivy League by any means necessary. I would know. I’m one of them. We disrupt class ranks, club leaderships, and academic competitions…among other things. We improve our own odds by decreasing the fortunes of others. Because hyper-elite competitive college admissions is serious business. And in some cases, it’s deadly.

Alexa Donne delivers a nail-biting and timely thriller about teens who will stop at nothing to get into the college of their dreams. Too bad no one told them murder isn’t an extracurricular.

I started watching Alexa Donne’s YouTube channel a few years ago, not only for her writing tips but her insight into traditional publishing. Her previous two books (sci-fi retellings of classics) were more my usual read, but when her latest book came out, I decided to take a look regardless of the genre. And the book did not disappoint. 

I wouldn’t say I was on the edge of my seat (or hammock), but I was pretty close. There were just the right amount of clues dropped that I was able to guess most of the twists (though not all), but that’s perfect for me. I love being able to guess what comes next. 

When I started the book, I kept thinking I should recommend the book to a friend’s daughter in a similar schooling situation to the main character Olivia. She’s at a competitive private boarding school, but not one of the rich kids. But as the book progressed, revealing the dark underbelly of the fictional Claflin School, Olivia’s friends’ treatment of her, and Olivia’s own faults, I reconsidered! 

At first I disliked the ending. It wasn’t the conclusion I expected, and after such an intense read I was almost deflated. Until I hit the last page. That ending! It was perfect.

Breach of Peace

Daniel B Greene

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Breach of Peace (The Lawful Times, #0.1)

When an imperial family is found butchered, Officers of God are called to investigate. Evidence points to a rebel group trying to stab fear into the very heart of the empire. Inspector Khlid begins a harrowing hunt for those responsible, but when a larger conspiracy comes to light, she struggles to trust even the officers around her.

I was clearly on a YouTube kick, so went from The Ivies into Breach of Peace. A few years ago I went into a panic that I didn’t read enough. It was probably true. At one point I read all the time, but in writing my first book, having two young children, and just life in general, my reading levels had dropped. But I felt like I’d been out of the game for so long I didn’t know where to start. I stumbled across Daniel’s YouTube channel while on the hunt for reviews, and love his honest and helpful reviews (if he dislikes something, the reason is clearly explained and we’re not just told ‘the book was shit’).

To start, I don’t often read novellas, so I’m not certain how the book compares on that level. When reading it, I often wished more time could be spent on world building, or certain aspects of the investigation, or with the characters. When bad things happened to characters, I didn’t feel invested enough in them to care. But the time we did spend with each character was great, and something really special was being forged. There just wasn’t enough of it for me. I would have preferred a full novel.

I had heard the opening was fairly brutal (it opens on a crime scene). It definitely set the tone of the novel, though it did in part feel gratuitous—there’s a reason I don’t watch Saw movies. There were a few too many characters introduced too quickly, but again the novella format likely played a role in this.

But overall, I was impressed. It was a good introduction to the world, and it was the world really loved in this one. Very dark. My kinda read!

La Belle Sauvage

Philip Pullman

Rating: 4 out of 5.
La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1)

Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy…

Malcolm’s father runs an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his dæmon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.

He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust–and the spy it was intended for finds him.

When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, Malcolm sees suspicious characters everywhere; Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; an Egyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a dæmon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl–just a baby–named Lyra.

Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.

This one has been on my bookshelf since it was released, so finally I found time to read it. But did I read the physical book? No. Despite all my best intentions on the day I added it to my Christmas list, it was the notification from the library letting me know the audiobook was available that kicked me into gear. Some design work had come in, so the timing was perfect.

It was great to revisit this world so many years after reading his Dark Materials. I will always remember telling my mum how much I wanted to see a film of Northern Lights (back when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was being turned into a movie), and she said it would never happen because training all those animals would be too hard. Lucky for me technology did the work of an animal trainer, though unluckily the resulted in The Golden Compass… still the BBC series was much better. I digress only to say that I purposefully haven’t reread His Dark Materials as I didn’t want to spend my time watching the series comparing the two, so stepping back to Lyra’s Oxford in La Belle Sauvage was very welcome.

The book started slow, meandering as Malcolm did in his canoe. Having completed this book and started the next one, I can see exactly why La Belle Sauvage started as it did. I wouldn’t say I was bothered by the slow start, I enjoyed enough about it that I was gripped. Once things heated up (or should I say once things were flooded and destroyed) in the middle, I was glued to my headphones. Certain parts of the book lost me a little. I was thrown by the inclusion of fairies, but then when I think back to His Dark Materials, it wasn’t completely out of place. 

I made the mistake of thinking the book was middle grade, so when the shit really hit the fan I was completely thrown—do we normally drop f-bombs and rape and paedophilia in MG?—but no. It’s an adult book. Not that that meant I was happy reading about these subjects, but I wasn’t quite as baffled by their inclusion.

After leaving it so long to read this book, I dove straight into the sequel. I’m still reading The Secret Commonwealth at the moment, so shall post a review next month.

Saturday Cake Day – Gin and Tonic Cupcakes

This Saturday Cake Day, I’m looking back to Father’s Day (I know, I’m a little late posting this one!). Anyone who’s kept up with my other cake blogs knows it’s not been the easiest time recently, so Father’s Day came with a strong hit of emotions, which given that I love writing, I didn’t struggle to express at all… (and as you may have guessed, I also love sarcasm). 

So this Father’s Day weekend, my little family of four celebrated Father’s Day on the Saturday, which included a trip to a restaurant. The boys began the meal almost in shock, after so long away from a eating out, and by the end of it they begged to come again. On the Sunday, my brother and I made the drive to the Royal United Hospital in Bath to visit our dad. As he enjoys a tipple (possible understatement), I brought Gin & Tonic cupcakes, which went down very well. I also baked extras, to ensure there was some for the nurses taking great care of him, which he could either give as gifts of trade for favours, like cigarettes in prison. 

I baked these not only with gin in the cake mix but also included a syrup, made by boiling tonic water, sugar, lime and juniper berries. Gin was to be added after the boiling, but given the circumstances, I thought it best to add during the boiling to burn off the alcohol but keep the flavour. I had loads of the syrup left, so mixed with extra tonic it made fab cocktails.

Reading Roundup – June

June’s book selection is a little smaller than last months, but my reading levels do vary depending on whether I’m working the day job (always done with an audiobook), or writing. I can’t read fiction while writing, I find it too distracting, and given that halfway through the month I started a new project, the reading stopped. But here’s the round up 🙂

We Ride the Storm

Devin Madson

Rating: 4 out of 5.
We Ride the Storm (The Reborn Empire #1)

In the midst of a burgeoning war, a warrior, an assassin, and a princess chase their own ambitions no matter the cost in Devin Madson’s visceral, emotionally charged debut.

War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down.

Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.

In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder.

In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall.

And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die.

As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.

This was a multi-POV book that really made me look at and evaluate how I might use multi-POVs in writing. Some multi-POVs are different views on one immediate story, this one was different POVs that lead their own story, until they all eventually collided. From time to time I found that my interest in some of the characters stories was dropping, and I was reading their chapters in order to reach the characters I preferred, though equally a few chapters later my interest would have risen in them and it was their chapters I devoured. But occasionally I did feel like some characters had filler chapters in order for the reader to keep checking in with them.

That being said, I did really enjoy the book. It took me a while at the start to sort who was who, and how they and their countries related to the rest. Some parts of the book had my mouth hanging, and I blazed through the finale. I would have preferred the ending to feel a little more concluded, but it is the first in a series (not certain a series of how many, but given that it’s called We Ride the Storm, The Reborn Empire #1, I assume it’s not a standalone!) so I’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.

The Bone Maker

Sarah Beth Durst

Rating: 3 out of 5.
The Bone Maker

Twenty-five years ago, five heroes risked their lives to defeat the bone maker Eklor—a corrupt magician who created an inhuman army using animal bones. But victory came at a tragic price. Only four of the heroes survived. 

Since then, Kreya, the group’s leader, has exiled herself to a remote tower and devoted herself to one purpose: resurrecting her dead husband. But such a task requires both a cache of human bones and a sacrifice—for each day he lives, she will live one less.

She’d rather live one year with her husband than a hundred without him, but using human bones for magic is illegal in Vos. The dead are burned—as are any bone workers who violate the law. Yet Kreya knows where she can find the bones she needs: the battlefield where her husband and countless others lost their lives.

But defying the laws of the land exposes a terrible possibility. Maybe the dead don’t rest in peace after all.  

Five warriors—one broken, one gone soft, one pursuing a simple life, one stuck in the past, and one who should be dead. Their story should have been finished. But evil doesn’t stop just because someone once said, “the end.”

This was an enjoyable read, and I got quite into guessing at twists before they came (always good fun). It couldn’t pick fault with joy in the fun of the story, but I struggled with the originality of it. Likely it’s because I’d just read both The Bone Shard Empire and Kings of the Wyld, but comparison niggled at me. Given the release dates of the books, I’m sure The Bone Maker and The Bone Shard Daughter were coincidences, but given that there was even an overlap of terminology, I occasionally found myself confusing the magic of both books. 

But until about halfway through this book, I was fairly convinced I was reading a gender swapped Kings of the Wyld. We follow our hero who, who is well past the glory days, who must get the band back together to save someone they love. The story to switch thing up about halfway through and went in a different direction, but for a while I was matching up characters, etc.

Overall, I preferred The bone Make to The Bone Shard Daughter, but Kings of the Wyld wins hands down. Is that fair? I don’t know; I guess female protagonists just can’t accidentally get hit by erectile dysfunction potions mid battle. And I’m immature, so that will always win!

Peaky Blinders: The Legacy

Carl Chinn

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Peaky Blinders: The Legacy

The Peaky Blinders as we know them, thanks to the hit TV series, are infused with drama and dread. Fashionably dressed, the charismatic but deeply flawed Shelby family have become cult anti-heroes. 

Well-known social historian, broadcaster and author, Carl Chinn, revealed the true story of the notorious gang in his bestselling Peaky Blinders: The Real Story and now in this follow-up book, he explores the legacy they created in Birmingham and beyond. What happened to them and their gangland rivals?

In Peaky Blinders: The Legacy we revisit the world of Billy Kimber’s Peaky Blinders, exploring their legacy throughout the 1920s and 30s, and how their burgeoning empires spread across the UK. Delve into the street wars across the country, the impact of the declaration of War on Gangs by the Home Secretary after The Racecourse War in 1921, and how the blackmailing of bookmakers gave way to new and daring opportunities for the likes of Sabini, Alfie Solomon and some new faces in the murky gangland underworld.

Drawing on Carl’s inimitable research, interviews and original sources, find out just what happened to this incredible cast of characters, revealing the true legacy of the Peaky Blinders.

No reading fiction while writing, I’m turning to non-fiction. I recently binged Peaky Blinders, loving the atmosphere of the early seasons and then hooked by the story. So one a late night browse of the history section on Borrow Box, I stumbled across this one, and thought why not? Let’s get the true history behind the series (and I love history, so it has to be done).

I love the cover, how it’s clearly not affiliated, but they’ve done their absolute best to match the characters in the show.