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Book Review: Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross, a Stellar Paranormal Romance

Wolf Gone Wild (Stay A Spell, #1)

Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross (Stay a Spell, Book 1)

Genre: paranormal romance

Rating: 4 stars

Release date: January 14th, 2020

 

I have so many good things to say about this book, I’m struggling to figure out how to form them into a coherent review. Romance, and paranormal romance in particular, can be really subjective and I can definitely get pretty picky about it; though I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary romance recently, I had yet to find a new paranormal romance author I loved in recent years until I picked up this book.

Wolf Gone Wild follows Evie,  who works with her sisters and fellow witches at the bar and magic shop they own in New Orleans, alongside ruling over NOLA’s magical community as their most powerful faction. Evie is a witch with a specialty in breaking hexes, and she’s also an unapologetic, delightfully nerdy aspiring comic book artist whose insecurity from a past relationship is keeping her from sharing her skills with the public. Mateo Cruz is a werewolf, and also a metalworking artist/gallery owner, with a very urgent problem–he’s been put under a hex that forbids him from shifting with the full moon and unleashing his wolf on a regular basis, so now his wolf is talking to him. Like, all the time, and it’s driving him crazy. When Evie starts working with Mateo to help him break his curse, Evie finds herself drawn to Mateo–and both Mateo and his wolf are drawn to Evie. But the hex is more complex than it first appears, and it’s going to take help from Evie’s sisters, and a whole lot of forced proximity, to help Mateo and his wolf find balance again.

OK, so as I alluded to before, there are so many great things to talk about with this one. Let’s start with the romance, which manages to be both cute and steamy, and lacks so many of the miscommunication tropes that tend to frustrate me. Evie and Mateo are both genuinely good people, with art as a shared interest, and I really loved how their relationship slowly developed over the course of the book. I also loved how Mateo’s wolf side was handled–because of the hex, his wolf presents as a secondary entity in his mind that argues with him and constantly urges him to give in to his werewolf instincts (I saw one review comparing this to a Venom scenario, and I think that’s pretty apt) which adds a secondary level of interest to Evie and Mateo’s dynamic, and also presents a genuine obstacle in their getting together.

One of my other favorite aspects of Wolf Gone Wild was the side characters, and more specifically the plethora of opportunities for the next books in the Stay a Spell series. Evie has five sisters, all of whom are witches with different abilities and very distinct personalities, and we also meet several of their potential love interests over the course of the book. (Juliette Cross, if you’re reading this for some reason, I’m very much hoping that book 2 focuses on Evie’s older sister and badass head witch Jules, and intriguing vampire leader Ruben, but honestly, I’ll read any book you come out with next in this series.) The side characters never feel gratuitous or underdeveloped, and Evie’s family dynamic of a group of sisters who may disagree but ultimately love and support each other is so much fun to read about.

But I think my absolute favorite aspect of this book was its message. Yes, it’s a stellar romance, and very fun to read, but it’s also a really inspirational story about learning to have confidence in yourself and embrace and nurture your creative aspects, and not to be afraid to share them with the world. It’s a message that I, as an aspiring writer, really needed to hear at this exact moment, and there are quotes from this book I know I’ll return to again and again when looking for inspiration.

Other things I loved (yes, we’re just listing them at this point): the New Orleans setting, which is perfect for a paranormal romance series (and also happens to be one of my favorite places to read about); the multitude of Star Wars discussions; all of Evie’s hilarious T-shirts; and the world-building surrounding the different supernatural entities, including the twist on werewolf mythology where each has a creative talent in addition to their wolfy curse.

To summarize: read this book. I think it’ll appeal to fans of paranormal and contemporary romance alike; it’s very modern, very fun, and also has a lot of heart.

 

I received an eARC of Wolf Gone Wild from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey

 

Love Her or Lose Her (Hot & Hammered, #2)

Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey

Release date: January 14th, 2020

Genre: contemporary romance

Rating: 3 stars

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this second installment in Bailey’s Hot and Hammered series quite as much as the first book, Fix Her Up, but it was still a fun, quick read that I think a lot of contemporary romance readers will likely enjoy. Love Her or Lose Her follows a married couple (unusual for a romance novel!), Rosie and Dominic, who, despite a deep love for one another that began when they were childhood sweethearts, find themselves at a point in their marriage where they’re only truly able to connect in the bedroom; otherwise, their communication has completely broken down. Rosie in particular has been feeling the strain, and kicks off the novel by leaving Dominic, as she’s feeling unappreciated and unsatisfied both professionally and in their relationship. The plot of the novel revolves around Rosie and Dominic’s attempts to reconnect through a hippie version of last-ditch couples counseling Rosie initially proposes as a challenge to Dominic, thinking there’s no way he’ll let his guard down enough to try therapy, and Rosie’s efforts to start her own restaurant, which she’s been dreaming about her entire life.  We also get to see glimpses of Georgie and Travis, the main characters from Fix Her Up, as well as what’s presumably the setup for the third book in the series, a meet-cute between Bethany and new-in-town, cowboy hat-wearing Wes.

On the positive side, this eARC really saved me when I found out that my flight had been delayed for 4 hours and was stuck at the airport, finding myself not quite in the right mood for any of the physical books I’d brought with me but looking for a fun contemporary romance. It’s a quick read, Rosie is a likable main character, and Bailey’s writing is snappy and funny. I continue to enjoy the girl-power aspect of this series that centers around the women in their community forming the “Just-Us League,” a group designed for female support and empowerment, and how Georgie, Rosie, and Bethany lean on each other and have each other’s backs.

On the negative side, I wasn’t so much a fan of Dominic, and I felt that there was a lot of his backstory that wasn’t explored thoroughly enough for me to root for him and Rosie as a couple. He was also very possessive, and there was a definite feeling of him reinforcing traditional gender roles in certain aspects of their relationship, which very much did not work for me. The actions of all the male characters in this book were often very unappealing; one scene in particular, when Rosie and her friends are planning a girls’ night out in the city, and their love interests are so insecure and upset by this that they follow them all the way to New York to exhibit possessive behavior and deny them a night out with their girlfriends, really rubbed me the wrong way. I’ll still definitely look to read more Tessa Bailey in the future, as I did enjoy Fix Her Up quite a bit, but overall I don’t think this was quite the right book for me.

I received an eARC of Love Her or Lose Her from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Genre: contemporary romance

Release date: November 5th

Rating: 3.5 stars

This contemporary romance, set in England, follows web designer Chloe Brown, a guarded woman dealing with her fibromyalgia diagnosis, and Redford Morgan, an artist-turned-property-manager, who’s dealing with insecurity and the aftermath of a traumatizing relationship. Our story kicks off when Chloe undergoes a near-death experience and decides that she needs to, well, get a life–to stop being afraid to make bold life decisions and go out and experience the world. She initiates this by moving out of her family’s house, but stalls trying to accomplish any of the next few tasks (ride a motorcycle, travel the world with minimal luggage, have meaningless sex, etc) until she meets Red, who she seems to think is the sort of “dangerous” guy who could help her with her list, but who in actuality is a complete sweetheart who happens to ride a motorcycle. While working through Chloe’s list, with some necessary modifications, the two confront their mistaken first impressions of each other (Red assumes Chloe is a rich snob, Chloe assumes Red is carefree and full of himself) and end up falling for each other.

There’s a lot to like about Chloe Brown, chief among them being the titular main character. Chloe is smart and fierce, but she’s also grappling with a lot of insecurities and still working on figuring herself out, especially in the context of the aftermath of her fibromyalgia diagnosis. She’s instantly likable, and scenes from her perspective are hilarious, full of surprising quips and witty observations; she’s a character I would happily spend more time with. I would also be completely on board with more books involving Chloe’s family, since her two awesome sisters and badass grandmother stole every scene they were in. I wasn’t as much of a fan of her love interest, Red, who wasn’t nearly as charismatic of a viewpoint character, and I felt that their romance, once it began, progressed much more quickly than felt natural. But there was another issue I had while reading this book, which I’m probably going to explain terribly, and which probably will be a reason many people love this one.

At risk of sounding like a terribly cynical person, I was taken aback by how considerately everyone treated each other in this book. Let me explain: Chloe Brown is ostensibly a hate-to-love romance, but the main characters never actually hate each other, and even if they make certain assumptions, they always treat each other with an abundance of consideration and respect. There are misunderstandings and disagreements, sure, but they’re all dealt with incredibly nicely. Which is fine! It’s fiction, it’s a romance novel, I totally understand that respect, consideration, and niceness are how we should all treat one another in life and in relationships. But for me, a lot of the time it did feel unrealistic, as people tend to be much more imperfect and messy when it comes to emotions, and although I can of course suspend disbelief when it comes to fiction and romance a lot of the time, I think I’d have preferred a messier story to a more perfect one. I think a lot of people might disagree with me on that, but I think it comes down to a matter of preferences in romance: I tend to like a little less ease and a little more angst, whereas Chloe Brown definitely falls into the “sweet” category, which was why, although I did overall enjoy the read, it didn’t get a higher rating from me.

I received an eARC of Get a Life, Chloe Brown from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Wilder Girls

Wilder Girls by Rory Power (release date 7/9/19)

Genre: YA weird fiction

Rating: 4 stars

A lot of people have been calling Wilder Girls a female version of Lord of the Flies; I’d say it’s much more of a YA take on Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, since both involve an all-female cast, weird fiction focused on a very specific environment, and an overlying sense of unease and strangeness. Unlike Vandermeer’s creation of humid Florida otherness, Wilder Girls is set on an isolated island off the coast of Maine, home to an all-girls boarding school that has been completely cut off from the mainland for a year and a half after the outbreak of a mysterious disease referred to as the Tox. The Tox, along with causing intermittent episodes of crippling pain and affliction, warps the bodies of the girls to suit its opaque purposes: one character’s hair glows, and the cover illustration shows a metaphorical look at the potential for beauty in these mutations, but the reality for the rest of the girls is much more sinister: our main character Hetty’s eye has been sealed shut, her best friend Byatt has grown a second, alien spine, and our hair-glowing friend Rae can’t use one of her hands.

The disease and quarantine, however, are affecting more than just the girls’ bodies. The majority of their teachers are dead, and no other adults are left alive on the island; the Navy sends food intermittently, but it’s never enough; and the girls are forced to be constantly vigilant against the threat of attack from Tox-warped wild animals from the surrounding forest. Contact with the outside world is almost non-existent, but the girls still left alive have become survivors, adapting to an unthinkable new reality with pragmatism and strict adherence to the new rules of their lives. Until a few crucial things change: Hetty acquires new information that makes her question what’s really happening on the island, and her best friend, seemingly irrepressible, blue-blooded, capricious Byatt, goes missing.

I love weird fiction (think Vandermeer or Samanta Schweblin) and am delighted to find the genre finding a foothold in YA. Powers creates an intensely atmospheric setting in Raxter Island that feels like a character itself, and the mysterious illness plaguing the island’s inhabitants is a constantly creeping antagonist, at times forced to the background and at other times reasserting its presence forcefully, throughout the other horrors that the characters encounter. Hetty is a tough, survival-focused main character, and I loved her loyalty to her friends, her determination, and her slowly developing romance with Rae. I also loved complex, morally grey Byatt, who I could easily read another entire book about.

Wilder Girls is fascinating and immersive, and I didn’t see a lot of the plot twists coming, but the pacing is a bit irregular and unconventional, which may bother some readers, although it wasn’t an issue for me personally. And I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but I do need to address the ending. I really don’t mind an open-ended or thought-provoking ending as long as it’s done well–Kelly Link is one of my favorite authors, for example, and all of her stories both end and begin ambiguously. But I didn’t feel that this was the case in Wilder Girls, and rather than feeling ambiguous, the ending struck me as unfinished, and unfortunately didn’t work for me, which is why I’m giving this 4 stars rather than 5.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read an eARC of Wilder Girls in exchange for an honest review.

 

Book Review: Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

Never-Contented Things

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter (4 stars)

This is a story about love, and about consent. It’s one of those fantasy novels that uses its fantastical elements to emphasize real-world issues and turn them hyper-real, which is one of my favorite things the genre can do. It’s an exceedingly disturbing book at times, not only due to the creepy magical imagery but because it explores how sometimes even the people who love you the most can do terrible things to you.

Never-Contented Things is the story of Ksenia and Josh, foster siblings with trauma in their past who love each other more than anything, and also of their best friend Lexi, who Ksenia has never truly let in the way she wants to. Ksenia, the older sibling, knows that Josh has come to love her in a more-than-brotherly way, but their more immediate problem is their impending separation as Ksenia is about to turn eighteen. Before this can happen, however, their entire reality shifts after the introduction of a group of frighteningly beautiful strangers appears one night at the gorge. I really don’t want to give much away about the plot; I think this is a book where it’s better to let things unfold slowly, because it enhances the disturbing qualities of what in many ways reads like a very dark fairy tale.

It’s beautifully written, with a continuous battle between describing the inhuman and unreal things happening and allowing the reader to realize along with the characters that some of what they’re seeing is too difficult for a rational mind to perceive. It feels like a dream and a nightmare, and I’d highly recommend it to readers of dark fantasy, dark fairytale retellings, and anyone looking for a story to get lost in.

I received an eARC of Never-Contented Things from NetGalley.