Monday 27 December 2021

#CBR13 Book 56: "Fated Blades" by Ilona Andrews

Page count: 222 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This was an ARC from Netgalley. My views and opinions are my own. 

On the alien planet of Rada, most of the powerful families have genetic abilities in some way or another, but the ones born with lethal combat abilities are the fiercest of rivals, and none more so than the Adlers and the Baenas. They are constantly vying to be the most dominant, and now both families are close to discovering the secrets behind their genetic abilities. 

Matias Baena, head of his house, is surprised when he is told that Ramona Adler, head of hers, has come to see him unannounced. He's even more shocked when she has undeniable proof that her husband has been having an affair with his wife, and the couple is currently on the run with the business secrets of both the Baenas and the Adlers. Matias and Ramona have no choice but to join forces in tracking down their cheating spouses, to prevent possibly universe-altering technology being leaked and exploited. 

It quickly becomes apparent that there are some very deadly groups wanting the business secrets, and Matias and Ramona do not have a lot of time. They need to keep their personal alliance hidden from their families and business rivals, escape the lethal forces trying to kill them, and resist the rapidly growing attraction between them. Not only are they both still married (although that's not going to be lasting long), but their families have been bitter rivals for more generations than anyone alive can remember.

Previous to releasing this novella, author-pair Ilona Andrews hadn't written or published anything in their sci-fi series Kinsmen since 2011. So I think it's fair to say that this story took a lot of their fans by surprise. At the same time, die-hard Ilona Andrews fans, affectionately nicknamed the Book-Devouring Horde on their website(of which I am certainly a member), will buy and probably love anything they publish. The good news for those readers who haven't read any previous Kinsmen stories is that this stands entirely on its own and can act as a jumping-on point to the other stories in the series or just act as a very nice taste of what the authors have to offer.

There is interesting world-building, which even in a story this short, feels perfectly established. There are intricate power struggles. The protagonists are both extremely capable at what they do, top of their field and also start out as antagonists. The chemistry between the leads and the dialogue, both between primary and supporting characters, sparkles. In this story, there is a clear goal, some very impressive action sequences, some hot personal moments, and a wholly satisfying ending. Well, if I was going to quibble, the ending came a bit too soon for my taste and I would have loved to spend more time with Matias and Ramona than a longish novella. 

This story is available now and has been since late November. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to review it, but I am hoping to do better with my reviews in the coming year. 

Judging a book by its cover: After seeing this cover, and the one for Blood Heir, from the start of the year, I am of the opinion that Louisa Pressler should design and create all of Ilona Andrews' covers. Considering so many of their books are eye-sores, these recent self-published books are a welcome change. I love Pressler's art and even if Ilona Andrews were number one on my pre-order list, I would have bought the book based on this cover. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Thursday 16 December 2021

#CBR13 Book 55: "Donut Fall in Love" by Jackie Lau

Page count: 366 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer! This was an ARC from Netgalley. My views are my own, and I had already pre-ordered the book before getting the advanced reader copy.

Ryan Kwok is grateful for the opportunities he's been given. While his latest movie, a romantic comedy, isn't getting the ravest of reviews, he's fully aware that it's unusual enough for rom coms to star Asian actors and he's lucky to have gotten the chance as a romantic leading man. He'd also like to be famous for more than his abs (which someone's started a Twitter account on behalf of). He's hoping to take some much-needed time off in Toronto, though, supporting his sister who just had her first baby, coming to terms with the loss of his mother, and trying, somehow, to reconnect with his father, who never seems to want to talk or fully acknowledge his grieving children. 

Lindsay McLeod is working hard to figure out new flavours and keep customers coming to her donut bakery, while her best friend/business partner is away on honeymoon. Her mother insists on bringing her dates to the bakery, to the embarrassment of both Lindsay and said awkward suitor, not to mention Lindsay's brother, who still shares a home with their mother. Lindsay certainly does not need some clumsy oaf crashing into her and knocking over two dozen of her speciality matcha tiramisu donuts, completely ruining hours of hard work. She doesn't care how handsome his smile is or how apologetic he seems. 

Ryan's agent suggests that he do a celebrity episode of the popular show Baking Fail, and he agrees because it was one of the shows his mother really used to enjoy watching. He doesn't want to make a complete fool of himself on air, however, so he's clearly going to need someone to give him some baking lessons. Who better to ask than the very attractive, yet prickly bakery owner he'd love to have an opportunity to see again? If she's giving him baking lessons, Ryan will have a chance to see her regularly and get a chance to get to know her better.

I feel so very guilty about this review. I got the ARC months ago, and finished the book in October, just before its October 26th release date. Only now am I getting round to actually reviewing it, which isn't in any way ideal. The even worse part is that I really enjoyed the book. Jackie Lau is quickly becoming one of my favourite contemporary romance authors. She combines likeable leads with great chemistry and usually excellent banter, absolutely amazing descriptions of food and beverages, there's always a fun supporting cast and usually an undertone of something a bit more serious to keep the books from being too frothy and forgettable. 

In this book, the more serious subplot is the way both Ryan and Lindsay have to process grief from losing a parent. Ryan's loss is a lot more recent than Lindsay's, but since her mother is now dating regularly again, she's still forced to come to terms with the death of her father. Ryan is also struggling with how to forge a new relationship with his father, without his mother there to act as an emotional bridge. Add to that worrying about his sister, who really seems to be having a hard time as the mother of a new-born boy, Ryan has more than enough things on his plate without also having to worry about being mixed up with other Canadian Asian actors on social media, and concerns that his career isn't going as well as it might because audiences just won't accept an Asian leading man in anything but an action movie.

This is a lovely romance, and I very much enjoyed it. I'm sorry that work stress, depression, corona, and familial responsibilities have kept me from posting a review until now. My normal warning about reading Ms. Lau's books while hungry applies - you WILL want donuts or other sweet treats when reading this book. 

Judging a book by its cover: While Ms. Lau normally self-publishes her romances and tends to be pretty good about finding good stock photos to illustrate her covers, this book is traditionally published and therefore has the pretty common cartoony illustrated romance cover instead. While I'm sometimes not a huge fan of these, this one is very cute. I love the background colour, the positioning of the characters and the playful swirl of the no-doubt delectable scent of the donuts on Ryan's tray. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Wednesday 15 December 2021

#CBR13 Book 54: "Breaking Badger" by Shelly Laurenston

Page count: 378 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer! This was an ARC from Netgalley. It has in no way influenced my review. 

This is the fourth book in an ongoing series. While this book works on its own, it will be much more enjoyable if you've read the first three books in the Honey Badger Chronicles, which start with Hot and Badgered. 

While the first three books in the Honey Badger Chronicles introduce us to the three MacKilligan sisters Charlie, Stevie, and Max who have different mothers but the same utterly irredeemable deadbeat dad. Not only do a lot of people hate and shun the women because of actions perpetrated by their father, or seek them out to hurt them in some misguided attempt to get revenge on him, but on more than one occasion, he tried to sell Stevie to drug cartels or Max into domestic slavery. No matter how bad the scrapes he gets himself into, their horrible dad seems to manage to survive against all odds to every so often pop up in the women's lives like a malevolent jack in the box to disrupt their peace. In the first three books, the sisters each find a romantic partner, and they also settle down in a New York suburb mostly populated by shapeshifters. Their closest neighbours are all various kinds of bears who are willing to put up with Max stealing honey from their hives because of the huge amount of baked goods provided when Charlie stress bakes (which she does a lot). 

In book 3, Badger to the Bone, the MacKilligan sisters discover that they have another half-sister, a young deaf woman with a devious mind and truly exceptional computer skills. Her entire family is comprised of Siberian tiger shifters and she has her three eldest half-brothers, known in the shifter community as the Black Malones, wrapped entirely around her scheming little finger. Only her youngest half-brother, who is also constantly berated and underestimated by the older Malones, has any idea of his sister's true nature. In Breaking Badger, Laurenston, having already paired up her first three MacKilligan sisters, moves on to the members of Max' basketball team, all honey badgers (they are also Max' gun-toting backup crew who get her out of trouble)

Finn Malone and his two eldest brothers are determined to find out not only how their father was killed but are out to avenge his death.  In this book, Finn is thrown together with Mads Galendotter, one of Max' best friends. Because of her truly awful family, Mads has a number of trust issues and has trouble even trusting that her basketball crew (they are clearly all sisters from different misters) won't abandon and disappoint her. However, by now the truly bonkers adventures of the MacKilligan sisters and their various loved ones take up most of the plot. The romance between Finn and Mads is rather secondary, and I didn't even mind, because I just love spending time with these characters. Learning more about the various women in Max' basketball team was enlightening, and it's very obvious that Laurenston has plans for at least a few more of these dangerous ladies and the other two Black Malone brothers.

In April 2020, I read The Unleashing by Shelly Laurenston, the first in a series of books especially beloved by several of the reviewers on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. I had trouble getting into the story and didn't find the romance particularly convincing. I was therefore a bit reluctant to start the Honey Badger Chronicles, but I shouldn't have worried, they are incredibly entertaining, ridiculously violent and the plots are completely crazy. The bonds between the MacKilligan sisters and later the found family of Max' basketball team was a lovely touch, as are the various ways in which these women are all utterly kick-ass. You do not want to mess with honey badger shifters, but you especially don't want to get on Charlie MacKilligan's bad side. There's a scene in this book that had me literally gasping out loud at the audacity of Laurenston, and if I wasn't completely sold on the books by now, that scene probably ensured that I will be buying and reading these books in perpetuity.

This book came out in late August 2021. Thanks to circumstances really keeping me apathetic much of the time, I didn't find the time to finish reading the book until early October and I feel really bad that it's taken me so long to finish this review. If you're unsure of whether these books are for you - ask yourself this - do you like the Deadpool movies and James Gunn's The Suicide Squad? Then you'll love them. I firmly believe that Harley Quinn and Max MacKilligan would be BFFs. 

Judging a book by its cover: While the first three books in the series have dudes (who are clearly meant to be the various heroes of the books) prominently featured on the covers, I really like the cover redesign which just has a tiger and a stylised heart - so the reader can use their own imagination to picture the protagonists. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read