Are you ready for the next book in the Blairwood University series?
Get your first peek at #KissToBelong 👶
— BLURB —
Virgin, Nerdy Hero
Party Girl Heroine
Maddox has been in love with his best friend for as long as he can remember, but to Alyssa he’s always been just that, a friend. Now that they’re forced to live together, will she finally see what’s been there all along?
(By signing up you automatically enter to win one of TWO signed paperbacks of Kiss To Belong – OPEN INTERNATIONALLY. The winners will be chosen randomly at the end of the book tour and e-mailed for shipping info).
— ABOUT THE AUTHOR —
Anna B. Doe
Anna B. Doe is a young adult and new adult contemporary romance author. She writes real-life romance that is equal parts sweet and sexy. She’s a coffee and chocolate addict. Like her characters, she loves those two things dark, sweet and with little extra spice.
When she’s not working for a living or writing her newest book you can find her reading books or binge-watching TV shows. Originally from Croatia, she is always planning her next trip because wanderlust is in her blood.
She is currently working on various projects. Some more secret than others.
PLEASE NOTE: The Words will go live on Amazon on release day and will be going into Kindle Unlimited, so if you’re a non-Amazon reader, make sure to pre-order so you don’t miss out!
— ABOUT THE AUTHOR —
Ashley Jade is a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and top 20 bestselling Amazon author who craves tackling different genres and tropes within romance. Her first loves are New Adult Romance, Contemporary Romance, and Romantic Suspense, but she also writes everything in between including erotica and dark romance.
Her characters are flawed and complex, and chances are you will hate them before you fall head over heels in love with them.
She’s a die-hard lover of oxford commas, em-dashes, music, coffee, and anything thought-provoking…except for math.
Books make her heart beat faster and writing makes her soul come alive.
If she’s not paying off student loan debt, working, or writing a novel—you can usually find her listening to music, hanging out with her readers online, and pondering the meaning of life.
Check out her Amazon page and Facebook page for future novels.
She loves connecting with her readers—they make her world go ’round.
Guess who’s back with another favourite reads post!?
Yep. Last year I posted a round-up of my favourite reads, and this year I decided to do it again! Could it be the start of a new tradition… Who knows? 😊
Ha! I thought 2020 was a tough year to get through. Sheesh. If I knew how sucky 2021 ended up being, I wouldn’t welcomed it with open arms. Lol.
But like I said last year and every year I’ve been reading… it’s always been my form of sanctuary and escapism. I’m your stereotypical introvert who prefers books to company. Who prefers a cozy night in with a swoon-worthy book and comfort food over late-night partying with outfits that’s all-too binding, uncomfortable shoes, and the stench of sweat in the air. 😅
This year, I’ve compiled my top 12 favourite reads of the year. Ideally, I wanted one favourite book from every month but… some months had doubly amazing reads, whilst others had mediocre ones not completely worthy of this list.
Even though I had a few reading slumps along the way (nothing new), after compiling my top reads, I realized that the majority of the books were from new-to-me-authors, so despite a few hiccups along the road, this year introduced me to some incredible authors who’ve quickly become auto-buy authors!
So here we go!
• Contemporary Romance •
📖 Kiss Me First by Anna B. Doe
(Small Town, Coming of Age, Sweet New Adult Romance)
📖 Kiss To Remember by Anna B. Doe
(Second-Chance, Sports Romance, Love Triangle, New Adult Romance)
Annnnnd… there you have it! Yes, I snuck in a few books that technically did not make it to my top 12 list but came a very close (hence the mentions)!
Like last year, if you want to see all my reads for the year, check out my Monthly Wrap-Ups. I posted my December one earlier and I wanna say I have reviews up for all the books I read this year… but sadly there’s some still waiting to be written. Sigh. But links are up for those available.
I hope you all had a relaxing Christmas (if you celebrate), and now enjoying the holidays (hopefully you have holidays)! I sincerely wish everyone a safe yet happy New Year’s Eve/ Day! 🎉
Thank you for the support you’ve all given me for my reviews and my book blog in general! I’m in awe of the amazing people I’ve met through this bookish community and the copious amounts of books I’ve discovered over time. I’m truly thankful for the friendships I’ve made. As well as the opportunities I’m fortunate enough to be a part of.
I truly hope 2021 will be a year of nothing but happiness, love, good health, and good fortune for us all!
Happy reading, and as always catch you in my next one! Xo
Marcella gave Maddox the impossible choice, and he chose her.
Still, she wonders if Maddox is ready to commit to a relationship, or if he’s scared of losing the uninhibited freedom his biker lifestyle offered him.
All his life Maddox knew who his enemies were, but suddenly he’s at a loss whom to trust. Will he ever find a place in Marcella’s life and family, or will old companions give him a new home and purpose?
Can enemies ever truly become lovers if the odds are against them?
• MY REVIEW •
“Marcella is the queen I didn’t know I needed in my life. There’s no one I’d like to be led around by the balls by.”
*singsong voice* Everybody! Take a shot every time Marcella is remotely mentioned as being a “Queen.” LOL 🙄🥃
Hmm. I have a lot of strong thoughts and emotions swirling in my head right now that I’m trying to unjumble and put into words. I’ve been reading Cora’s books consistently for a few years now and I found fairly early on that her writing is white-hot and all-consuming. With detailed world-building that practically transports you to her characters’ world, and the characters themselves stand-out effortlessly from a crowd. It’s a big reason as to why she’s easily an auto-buy author of mine.
So, I really had trouble digesting that this book was written by the one and only Cora Reilly. When you have a much-loved OG series, it can be difficult to top or re-create the same likability in a spin-off or next generation series. The first book in this two-part story had potential, unfortunately I just think this conclusion missed the mark. It didn’t have the same vibe as the previous books set in this world. Other than the appearances from OG characters like Luca, Matteo, and Growl, it almost didn’t feel like a mafia-based backdrop, let alone one that had MC elements. 😐
The story is character-driven and focuses solely on Maddox and Marcella trying to navigate through their emotions about their relationship whilst figuring out how the Famiglia will accept Maddox into their fold—and for that reason, I found the book relatively repetitive.
I know I’m going to be in the minority here, and that’s fine. Not everyone is going to like the same books, or even the same characters— and I think that’s ultimately the reasoning behind this book being a miss for me. The characters. As I mentioned in my review for Part One, I am not a Marcella fan. As a child when her personality started to peek through, I knew when she would be of age, that either her “princess” personality would only grow tenfold, or Cora would revamp her character and show plenty of growth and maturity.
I found the preconceived notions the characters had of her in this book spot-on. She’s a spoilt, bratty princess who keeps insisting she can “rule” because she’s a Vitiello. Nope. Sorry. It’s one thing to say it, but it’s another to follow through and for people to believe it.
I couldn’t connect with either Marcella or Maddox, and I had trouble getting invested in their story. Their romance doesn’t seem genuine, and it was painful to easily see Maddox proclaim his “love” only for it to not be openly reciprocated by Marcella. The majority of the time it felt like Maddox was putting all the effort into their drama-filled “relationship”. It was not an equal partnership. Not even close. I almost pitied Maddox for being the one who constantly sacrificed a piece of himself whilst all Marcella did was take, take, take.
“Marcella makes the rules and I’ll follow her, if necessary, to the gates of Hades.”
*singsong voice* Everybody! Take a shot every time Maddox is willing to do anything and everything for Marcella! 🤦♀️🥃🥃
Is Marcella Vitiello really worth all this trouble? Ehhhhh. Not really.
They’re a pair of characters who I felt would’ve been fine and may have even done well all on their own. Their coupling lacked believability, visible connection, or even intensity that the past couples from this world had displayed time and time again.
The pace of the storytelling lagged, and lacked any in-depth development. In all honesty, the only positive aspects I found in this book is the fact that we get to see OG characters; more specifically Growl. 😍😍 I always hoped for another book for him just because I wanted to see how his life had turned out after he moved to New York and started working for Luca. (I know Growl and Cara have a novella in the Bound by Blood Anthology, but it wasn’t enough for me lol). This book actually shows a good number of snippets into what he’s been up to after all these years. All the parts that included Growl were by far my favourite scenes! I actually loved the contrast he brings in. There’s a cool dynamic between Growl and the Vitiello brothers.
I’m not crossing this entire series off, because that seems premature. I knew going into the Sins of the Fathers series that Marcella’s story would’ve been the book I probably would have liked the least. So now that hers is officially done, I am eager to see the next next-gen character in line. After reading this book, I have my eyes set on Amo’s story. He’s the only Vitiello offspring who I saw real potential in bringing back some of the old Mafioso flare that Luca Vitiello first ignited in Bound by Honor. He already has the vibe going for him, so I have my fingers crossed that his story ends up being an epic one!
I strongly recommend reading Cora’s Born In Blood series first before diving into Maddox’s and Marcella’s story, especially if you’re new to her books. This is not her strongest work, and it doesn’t provide enough world-building on its own. Reading the original series that started it all will not only give you the backstory behind the Vitiello family, but it explains the history behind the war between the New York Famiglia and Maddox’s MC (motorcycle club).
This may not have been my cup of tea but I have no doubt other readers will like it. Especially if they’re already a fan of Marcella. It’s light on both the Mafia and MC elements. It has more of a NA contemporary atmosphere to it.
Thank you Cora Reilly and Emily Alice for the opportunity to read an advanced copy! ❤
People like to say the devil made them do it. And they would be right. I can bend anyone to my will. After all, I am the devil of Pembroke Prep. Only one person dares defy me. The one person I’ve ever wanted to be an angel for. But she despises me almost as much as I crave her. Serafina van Doren is the one temptation I can’t indulge, not with the secrets that I keep. But with the clock running out maybe it’s time to tempt her to the dark side.
• MY REVIEW •
Oh sweet baby devil, this was one hell of a smoking hot, yet torturous love story! When it came to Serafina and Rhys I didn’t know whether to fan my face from all the blush-inducing scenes, or cry frustrated tears from all their taunting moments. 🙈 Either way I thoroughly enjoyed every little bit of their story!
“I smiled a little at the opportunity to have Sera all to myself. No friends, no underlings. Just us. The devil and the queen.”
Their romance was a long time coming since they were first introduced in Wicked Idol. Their intriguing dynamic only build-up suspense as more books in the series followed and it quickly became evident that they had quite an interesting history.
Like all the books prior, this had a zingy atmosphere that crackled whenever its protagonists were in near vicinity of one another. The banter was exhilarating and the constant one-upmanship between Sera and Rhys was as entertaining as it was jaw-dropping to see. 😈🤭
What I hadn’t expected from this story was the emotional rollercoaster ride that Rhys would take us on with his backstory and how much of his past is influencing his present day life. Have tissues nearby, because I have no doubt you will be as emotionally invested in Rhys and his story as much as I was.
The story progression was well-paced, perhaps a little brisk at times. But there’s never a dull moment as it continuously went from one development to the next, gradually turning Sera’s and Rhys’ fiery teasing into something more in-depth and heartfelt.
“Falling in love is not for the weak or the faint-hearted, because you cannot command your heart to do what you need it to do.”
They’re both outstanding individuals, and what I like about each of them is although this is ultimately a romance story, there’s complexity to these characters and they navigate through very real, very relatable life issues. I connected with Serafina’s struggles as a POC no matter her family’s high social standing. I found Rhys’ past and the impact it has had on his mentality understandable but nevertheless hard to swallow.
It was a relatively short read but it was punchy, multi-layered, and by the end left me feeling a sense of all is right with their world— as it should be. Told from dual POV, not only do we see character growth with these protagonists as they come to grips with their emotions, but it also provided insight to each of their lives outside of Pembroke Prep and into their contrasting family dynamics.
The suspense doesn’t disappoint. The band of supporting characters— the rest of the Hellfire boys and the girls who’ve all stolen their hearts have added extra oomph with their strong friendships and at times light-hearted and witty commentary. I ate up the unpredictability that came with Serafina and Rhys.
Overall, I thought it was a truly beautiful, bittersweet ending to the Hellfire Club. The much-anticipated wait for Serafina’s and Rhys’ story was well worth it. It ended up being the book from the series that evoked the deepest emotional outburst *cough* ugly cry *cough* out of me. I loved it and just like the previous books, this is one I will read again and again whenever I miss these charming Hellfire boys!
“Some things are worth the heartbreak.”
It really is the only set of books that had the right amount of pull in bringing me back to reading high school/ NA fiction again. I would absolutely recommend not just this book but the entire series to friends who love reading romance. With Rhys as the devil in disguise and Serafina as his goddess, their story had strong “love conquers all” vibes that was the perfect closer to the series.
Thank you Becker Gray and Valentine PR for the opportunity to read an advanced copy! 💙
Grace Shelton has experienced her fair share of loss and trauma, but moving to Blairwood is her chance for a new beginning.
For Trent Remington, going to college is a chance to break free of his overprotective parents and finally play basketball.
Some moments will change it forever.
When Grace collides into Trent by accident, she sees the last person she ever expected to find – the boy that’s been haunting her dreams for the past three years. Trent might belong to another girl, but he can’t seem to get the redhead with the sad eyes out of his mind no matter how hard he tries.
Together, they might risk everything for a chance at love, but will a kiss be enough to make him remember?
• MY REVIEW •
An utterly thought-provoking, emotional, and heart-clenching journey wrapped up in world-building perfection! I couldn’t get enough of it and never wanted it to end. Doe has time and time again written stories within the Blairwood University series that are so real, so worthwhile that they just stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them. Kiss To Remember is without a doubt an epic addition to the series! I’m still reeling! 😱
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each book, but Kiss To Remember evoked the same feels in me as when I had read Kiss Me First. There’s just something extra special about these stories, these characters that won me over so easily.
The world-building is vividly exceptional and I think a big reason to that is because of the prologue Kiss Before Midnight. Not only does it introduce Grace and her personal story, but it gives you a sense of time spent with her. There’s a three year span between the prologue and the main story, and you get a deep view of what has happened within that timeframe. Once you start this book, you’re already invested in Grace and understandably sympathising with her frame of mind.
What constantly had me thinking throughout were the “what-ifs”. There’s a truckload of them, and it’s always lingering near the foreground of the story as it develops. I was constantly second-guessing EVERYTHING! 😲🙈
Other than what the prologue provides this is one of those stories where you need to go in blind to get the full reading experience and to ensure you make up your own opinions about the characters and the situations they find themselves in.
I loved the unpredictability of it all! 👏👏👏 It’s the main factor in why I was so immersed in Grace’s and Trent’s story from cover to cover. It also has a beautiful youthful romance— an air of innocence in their developing feelings which at times I found angsty but still charming nevertheless. It’s well-paced, with a gradual build-up, and told from dual POVs. I can’t fault the storytelling as I thought it was well-written and brilliantly executed. It’s a story that I can go back and read over and over again and never tire of.
The supporting cast added extra dimension and provided secondary storylines in the background. If you’ve read the previous books in the series, these characters will be familiar to you and it’s always nice to see what they’ve been up to since their own stories were told. Other than the romance, there are genuine solid friendships present. They provided crucial support systems for both Grace and Trent, and I thought their concerns and overprotectiveness were understandable considering what both these protagonists have and are going through in their lives.
Another thing I’ve come to find about Doe’s writing is she creates characters with a distinctiveness to them, whether it be through their appearance, upbringing, personality traits, and/or even interests. Doe is slowly but surely building up her cast of characters as more books are added into the world yet you can effortlessly distinguish them apart from one another. They all have different backgrounds and each one is as intriguing as the last. Full of contrasts and dynamics.
Grace has quite a history and her character is totally fleshed-out as she develops in this book. She’s a likable, authentic heroine who straight-up just seems like a good-natured human being.
At first Trent seems like an easy-going, athletic hero but there’s more to him than meets the eye. Whilst this book has an overall heartwarming atmosphere to it that’ll have you sighing in happy contentment, the characters are complex, so trust me when I say Trent will have you stumped (but in a good, addictive way)! 😉
I strongly recommend it to fellow romance readers. If you like new adult, college romance reads, this one is perfect to snuggle up under the blankets with. It’s the fourth book in the series but it can be read as a standalone novel. If you’re new to Blairwood University, all the books can be read as standalone novels and, in any order, too, although I recommend reading them in publishing order.
Thank you Anna B. Doe for the opportunity to read an advanced copy! 💚
🔔 Interested in reading Kiss To Remember? Grab your copy here: Universal Link
❄ Prequel: Kiss Before Midnight
• BLURB •
From the very first moment, Grace Danielle Shelton laid her eyes on Mason LeBlanc, he stole her breath away, but what will happen now that he sees her too?
Kiss Before Midnight is a New York Knights/ Blairwood University crossover short story.
• MINI REVIEW •
After having recently read Kiss To Forget with Yasmin and Nixon’s story, I was curious about Grace (an old friend of Yasmin’s) and what her deal was. When it was mentioned at the end of the book that there was a little novella about Grace included in the romance anthology Mistletoe Kisses, I knew I had to read it. And well…?
OMG I need more! 🤗 Adorable young love, first dates and sweet kisses. This little snippet was perfection but nowhere near enough. I hope we got a full novel for Grace and Mason soon! Because I need to know what happens to them next.
Edit: It showed the innocence of young love, possibilities, and just an all-around feel-good atmosphere. Unbeknownst to me, this novella was the introduction to what ultimately ended up being a mammoth journey of star-crossed lovers and second chances.
🔔 Read Kiss Before Midnight for FREE! Grab your copy here: Universal Link
It’s no secret that Aurora Lincoln-Ward hates Phineas Yates, but what most people don’t know is the reason. Last summer, Phineas broke Aurora’s heart in the worst way, and she promised herself then and there that she would never fall prey to the sinner of Pembroke Prep again.
But now sin is in the air, and the Hellfire Club’s number one sinner has his sights set on her…
• MY REVIEW •
I am utterly obsessed with these Hellfire Club boys! I’m sorry, I meant men. Hellfire men. With each book I end up falling for that particular swoony hero, and in Ruined Sinner, with Phin… Sigh. I ended up swooning for him the most. But for all the reasons I hadn’t expected. He deserves hugs and all the love and credit in the world!
Who would’ve thought Hellfire Club’s very own smooth-talking charmer is the one with the biggest heart?! *clutches chest* 😍
Phin’s and Aurora’s heated romance was a gradual burning build-up as you progressed through the books in the series. The fiery snippets of their hate towards each other made Ruined Sinner the most anticipated story from all the books in my eyes. By the time I had this little book in my hands, I was raring to see what had happened in their past that altered Phin’s and Aurora’s feelings for one another.
It’s fast-paced storytelling— to be honest I actually think the stories are getting shorter and shorter with each book… or maybe I’m just reading through them faster and faster now..?
But as I said, it’s fast-paced, and told from dual points of view. The story provides the much-anticipated backstory between Phin and Aurora, but after the initial build-up from the previous books the backstory ended up lacking the depth and reasoning I had somewhat imagined. I was expecting some deep, heartbreaking event the rivals the hate going on between the two now but it ended being more of a question mark moment. Like, really?! 🤔
If I looked at it from a younger person’s perspective and took into consideration that these characters are young adults, then yes, I can accept the reasoning behind their rivalry, and sympathize that at that age everything is emotionally magnified. But as a reader who’s well past her teen years, I did find their past history a little… underwhelming and melodramatic.
However, I was surprised by the turn of events. This story certainly kept me intrigued and wanting more. I loved that each Hellfire boy so far has managed to stun me with their character and reasons behind their attitude and standing. When it comes to the ladies in this social circle, I’m all for their positivity, badassery, and hilarious revenge plotting. There’s a strong display of diversity amongst these girls not just in appearance but in personality traits. What sets Aurora apart is her own backstory which causes the biggest transformation amongst her friends.
From all the book in the series, this one had some edginess to it. It broaches certain topics that many in our society have gone through and still suffer from the trauma. The issues set part of the atmosphere in a gloomy state, but it also adds dimension and relatability to this otherwise young love story.
Please note, there are certain sensitive subject matters included that may be triggering for some readers such as violence, substance abuse (alcohol), stalking, and sexual abuse. This story contains non-consensual situations.
With the heavy topics included, I was hoping to see a deeper level of development in the storyline. I felt like they were touched on but didn’t completely go in-depth. Whilst I liked some of the decisions and steps made by the characters, I also thought a lot more could’ve been said or done.
But in saying that, I have to emphasize that I still loved reading this story. I might’ve had a few hang-ups with the storyline but it will most definitely be a book (along with the rest of the series) I’d read again and again. Right from the very first book; Wicked Idol, I was immediately hooked by Becker Gray’s easy-going writing style, and I’m happy to say by this fourth book, it’s still very much engaging, consistent writing.
I adore the world-building created and all the characters within. It transports you to their glitzy world. As a reader who has outgrown the high school setting in her romance reads, the elite preppy school that is Pembroke Prep effortlessly took hold of my attention and made itself my exception. 😊
Ruined Sinner was wildly unexpected but brilliant just the same. I loved the role reversal in certain situations that took place. I haven’t encountered it a lot in my romance reads so it was refreshing to see from a different perspective.
If you enjoy hate-to-love and fake relationship tropes, add this one to your TBR. Both protagonists have fierce personalities and neither one of them are hard-wired to back down. Putting aside the sensitive topics, there is plenty of lightness throughout. The diverse friendships are one of the main reasons as to why I’m addicted to reading this series. The different bonds and dynamics seem so genuine and truly lovable that it’s not hard to get invested in these characters.
There’s plenty of romantic development, and as the story progresses, you gradually see character growth from both protagonists. Phin and Aurora are more out there and risqué when it comes to their relationship. They’re dramatic yet angsty, and their romance is without a doubt frenzied. There were aspects in the story I wished had a little more oomph, and I’m not going to lie, there were situations between Phin and Aurora that needed a certain level of groveling and lacked thereof, but it is what it is. Their journey is messy and complicated but eventually seeing Phin and Aurora right where they’re meant to be had me happy sighing by the end.
A relatively quick read— I finished it in one sitting. It’s punchy, with a smidge of suspense, snort-inducing one-liners, and at one point I was even smacked with a strong wave of misty-eyed emotion. 🙈😅 Another swoon-worthy addition to the Hellfire Club. Phineas Yates is one of kind, and in my honest to goodness opinion Ruined Sinner is a must-try read for contemporary romance fans.
Thank you Becker Gray, Dangerous Press, and Candi Kane PR for the opportunity to read an advanced copy! 💙
She’s a figure skating prodigy. He’s a guy from the wrong side of tracks.
They belong to two completely different worlds…
After dedicating her entire life to figure skating, Rei Mitchell-Nagasaki is ready for a little bit of normal. And what’s more normal than attending college?
Zane West has had a rough life, but he’s found his way out of Ashton Heights and he isn’t about to lose it all when the demons of his past come knocking at the door.
… that are about to collide on the ice.
Rei has one semester to show her father that she can have it all—a normal life and making it to the Winter Games—but it’s not so easy when there is a broody hockey player standing in her way. Once heated arguments turn into sharing the rink and late-night kisses, neither of them will be able to resist the pull.
Will they manage to defy the odds or was their love doomed from the very beginning?
• MY REVIEW •
Another amaaaaazing addition to the totally addictive college romance series; Blairwood University by Anna! 🙌
Right from the very beginning this story had me engaged with that zinger of an opening scene between Rei and Zane… 🔥 *phew!*
If you adore sports romances, specifically hockey romances — this series is a must read. You can technically read each one as standalone books, but as someone who’s read them all, I can tell you now, you’ll want to read them in release order. The world-building from the first book sets the atmosphere not only within Blairwood, but amongst the friends, and from there it’s an ever-expanding world as you get to know more and more about each character in length through the books that follow.
Anna has kept it consistent with another character-driven story with well-paced storytelling as it delves into two opposite characters who find themselves having more in common than they first realized. The dual points of view was a perfect choice in sharing their story because you get in-depth insights into their relationship and compare where their heads are at on certain situations. Whilst Anna has already introduced some multicultural diversity when she first introduced these friends in the first book— Kiss To Defy is the first amongst them with leading characters who are POC (person/people of colour).
Although, both the hero and heroine are of colour, their different multicultural backgrounds alone wasn’t necessarily the biggest factor that was in the forefront of the story. If anything, it was mentioned more in passing as their overall social standing was more so the main obstacle in their budding relationship.
I connected with Rei fairly easily just from the description of her appearance alone. 😅 As a fellow Asian and a shorty to boot, Rei simply felt like someone I could relate and be friends with in real life. As the story progresses, you quickly discover with her personality she’s quite a likable character as well. She’s a person who’s ambitious yet yearns for some work/life balance by choosing to divide her time from skating with school and making friendships.
What I love about the books in this series is the dynamics amongst the friends, and this one was no different. It gave it a lot more dimension having all these secondary characters have some participation in creating layers within the story no matter how minor. In my opinion, Zane’s and Rei’s story was somewhat more sombre in comparison to all the previous couples that I found the few lighthearted moments throughout were refreshing breaks from the weighty issues that both Zane and Rei were dealing with. There’s just enough lightness and comic relief to keep their story from going too serious.
Please note this story contains some sensitive subject matter that may be triggering for some readers. It delves into addiction, domestic abuse, and violence. Recommended for readers of age only.
I do have to point out that whilst I found the majority of the friends in this story very agreeable, I did find one in particular I was not a fan of. I found them to be a little pushy, rude, in-your-face, and at times disrespectful of others’ feelings. I won’t be naming names for a couple of reasons, one being that this is a no spoiler review, and two, this particular character has a book in the works (if sources are correct), so I’m hoping that my annoyance of said character doesn’t go any further than this book and that in my eyes they’ll have some redeeming qualities. 🙏
The entire book was an enjoyable read, but I would’ve preferred more build-up not only in their relationship but in the overall storyline too. Yes, there’s quite a slow burn romance going that kept me on the edge of my seat, but the overall story felt like it lacked a little more oomph that the other books in the series had in spades. I found certain plots started out well enough but fizzled by the end leaving it a little anti-climatic, whilst other plots felt like they came out of nowhere that it left me a little taken aback.
I did however liked seeing no game-playing between Rei and Zane. They both knew they had a bond and it felt very genuine seeing them whenever they were together.
As I said at the very beginning, this is another great addition to the series. I think it’s a must read for those who have come to love the series and invested in seeing each character get their own story. I admit Zane wasn’t on my radar as much as some of the other guys, but after having read Kiss To Defy, I have a newfound respect for him. Despite his difficult upbringing, it’s never discouraged him from wanting a better life for himself and willing to work hard for it. He’s also quite a considerate gentleman— which he proves time and time again with Rei. 😊
What I also enjoyed about this story besides the slow burn romance between the two, is the vivid feature of both Rei’s and Zane’s perspective sports. Especially Rei’s figure skating. Anna has managed to put a lot of detail and sport “lingo” that wasn’t overly done or overbearing to read about. On the contrary, I found it all fascinating and at times felt like I was actually learning a thing or two about each sport. Both Zane’s passion for ice hockey, and Rei’s ambition in her figure skating career were evident and figuratively oozed out of the pages. Right along with the unwavering support they had for one another in achieving their goals.
Their romance was far from easy but it was sweet and, in the end, triumphant. What started out as a misunderstanding between the two ended up being such a solid relationship. They might have had differences, but Rei and Zane are undoubtedly perfect for one another. Anna has written another swoon-worthy couple whom I can look forward to seeing make appearances in future books.
This one in particular had a lot of elements and tropes included. If you like any and all in your romance reads, then I recommend you give this one a try.
Hate to Love
I may have had a couple of hang-ups with some plotlines and certain characters in this book, but I can’t deny Anna’s writing style is effortless to follow and gets you invested in fairly early on. I love the consistency in effort and detail Anna puts into each of her books in this series that it’s hard not to want the next one right away.
Thank you Anna B. Doe for the opportunity to read an advanced copy! 💜
🔔 Interested in reading Kiss To Defy? Grab your copy here: Universal Link
🏈 Read my reviews for the Blairwood University Series!
There’s no absolution for the things I’ve done.
But I found a way to control my impulses.
I became a priest.
As Father Magnus Falke, I suppress my cravings. As the headteacher of a Catholic boarding school, I’m never tempted by a student.
Until Tinsley Constantine.
The bratty princess challenges my rules and awakens my dark nature. With each punishment I lash upon her, I want more. In my classroom, private rectory, and bent over my altar, I want all of her.
One touch risks everything I stand for. My faith. My redemption. And even my life.
As if that could stop me. I need her pain, and her heart, and she needs my lessons in sin.
• MY REVIEW •
Oh holy book gods, Lessons In Sin was indefinably beautiful in all its forbidden and lustful existence! I thoroughly enjoyed all the books I’d read so far within the Midnight Dynasty but I can’t lie, this book blew all my good sense away!
Without a doubt, it not only took hold of my attention, but pushed my catholic-raised ways aside and convinced me that this age-gap, totally unbinding romance between just-of-age Tinsley and her much older boarding school headteacher and (off limits) priest was justifiable and despite all odds, is all around meant-to-be.
Genuinely heart-wrenching and soul-crushing, deepest of the deep kind of love — 👏 That is what you can expect to discover from reading this story. It’s a vivid and multifaceted world-building that Pam has created, with impressively well-developed and ever-evolving characters. I’m still in awe of how much emotion this book has evoked out of me. Right from the opening scene with Tinsley’s and Magnus’ first encounter set the atmosphere into intense climates and only expanded from there to suspense, thrill, and giddy excitement. If this was a scene from a movie, you would see little bright sparks fly out of the pages and my face in sheer wonder and delight.
I seriously can’t fault anything about it. Yes, it’s totally sinful, and in reality their situation would absolutely be all kinds of wrong… but that’s the beauty of fictional books, it’s all make believe, and fantasy, and escapism from the daily grind.
In my opinion Lessons In Sin was just that. The perfect escapism!
It had a compelling hero and heroine that oozed out such emotion that I found myself truly invested and saturated in their complexed lives. I loved the contrast and dimension between Tinsley and Magnus. There was definite demonstrations of their age difference throughout with their oh-so entertaining push-and-pull banter that was both perfectly timed and unsuspecting comic relief. But what made their relationship mesh so well was they connected through intelligence and understanding, and all banter aside, maturity levels that exceeded Tinsley’s youth.
There was plenty of intrigue to effortlessly keep you reading with bated breath. Besides Tinsley and Magnus, there’s a diverse range of secondary characters that all played a role in making this story layered in complexity — from the memorable dynamics of fellow students, to the other priests, to the glimpses of the Constantine tribe.
I’m not going to go into detail about the religious aspects within this story. Please note this is just my opinion, but as an avid reader of dark romance novels (and who happens to be Catholic), I don’t find this story offensive. If I hadn’t already made it obvious, I enjoyed reading this book. Despite its setting and some of the realistic aspects included, at the end of the day it is fictional. The blurb pretty much mentions the forbidden and taboo elements of Magnus being a priest and Tinsley being a student. If after reading the synopsis you take any offence, then you may want to give this one a miss.
It’s a contemporary romance first and foremost but with dark elements. Without spoiling the plot, I will say that Magnus has ghosts that can be haunting to read about (no pun intended). It may not necessarily be triggering content but I don’t want to risk it if you are a reader who has triggers. There is sensitive subject matter that may surprise or catch you off guard. But just know it’s mentioned in passing and not something that actually plays out in the story.
What I realized fairly early on is Tinsley is strong-willed, comfortable in her own skin, and knows what she wants. It’s a big reason as to why I favor her character and in general find her a truly likable young person. She could easily have been the rich, bratty teenager who you’d constantly roll your eyes at, but every emotion and action out of her is calculated and within reason.
I honestly haven’t read a storyline that’s intricate and as well thought-out as this one in a long time. The storytelling was well paced, flowed with ease, and effortless to follow with its first-person dual points of view. There’s constant build-up and plot twists throughout. Not going to lie, there were a couple of instances where I had inklings that proved true but even with those minor predictabilities my excitement levels were still up there in seeing how Tinsley’s and Magnus’ wild journey will wrap-up.
✔ High School
✔ Slow Burn
I can tell you, this story had tropes I don’t usually go for first in my romance reads, but it proved to be a romance story I didn’t know I needed! All those elements were written in brilliantly that the age difference and taboo of their relationship wasn’t even in the forefront whilst reading it. They had undeniable chemistry and an even more sizzling bond that only escalated as time passed.
What started out as a bit of diabolical game playing from Tinsley in pushing Magnus’ buttons, and with Magnus ever the strict rule abiding teacher and a man of faith determined to make her fall in line, progressively turned into companionship— to molten desire— to the inevitable forbidden relationship they so desperately wish would never end.
I was either in near tears with chin wobbles or full-on blubbering whilst reading this book. It was hearty, full of depth, and just simply winning. I adored the little friendships, the sibling solidarity, Tinsley’s passion, Magnus’ protectiveness, and all the minor characters—who I shall not name but nevertheless made an impact!
This is my first book of Pam Godwin’s but in no way will it be my last. If her writing style from this one is anything to go by, she has won herself another fan. 😊
Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. I would happily recommend it to fellow romance readers. It’s also a must read for fans who’ve been following the world of the Constantines and the Morellis within the Midnight Dynasty. I admit Tinsley Constantine wasn’t really on my radar as far as Constantine siblings go, but after reading Lessons In Sin she fast became my favourite (sorry Keaton)! An all-consuming love story that honestly rivals some of my all-time favourite classic romance novels. I will be reading this one time and time again.
Thank you to Pam Godwin, Dangerous Press, and Valentine PR for the opportunity to read an advanced copy! 💙
Midnight Dynasty is a brand new world where enemies and lovers are often one and the same.
Some things aren’t meant to be broken, and therefore can’t be mended – ever. I was one of those things. Whatever had been shattered in the incident would never be whole again.
Amber struggles with the memories of a cruel attack that destroyed her life years ago. Realizing that she’s close to ending it all – something she promised her family to never try again – she moves in with her brother Brian and his friend Zachary to start a new life, and maybe even college. But how can she possibly live a normal life, when even a hug from her brother sends her into a panic attack? While Brian pulls back, Zach seems determined to make her feel relaxed in his presence, and soon her longing to be near him is stronger than her fear. But how can someone like Zach, someone who can have any girl, want someone like her? Someone broken.
When Zach spots Amber for the very first time, he can’t believe she is the same girl his friend Brian described as broken. Suddenly, Zach wants to give up his womanizing ways and help Amber live again – show her that closeness can be something wonderful.
But her brother Brian isn’t the only one who’s worried about the bond that’s growing between Amber and Zach. Even Zach knows that there’s more at stake than the fury of a scorned woman. Amber isn’t like all the girls Zach discarded after a night together – if he messes up, that could break her for good. But Zach can’t stay away from Amber.
Can Zach help her heal? Or will he be the one to push her over the edge?
• MY REVIEW •
Please note: This book contains sensitive subject matter that may be triggering for some readers. It contains graphic sexual assault, violence, attempted suicide, and mental/ psychological abuse. Take into consideration before starting this story.
I’ve been a massive fan of Cora’s for years and whilst I had initially discovered her through her mafia series Born in Blood, I knew I wanted to go through her backlist of books when I had the chance. Not Meant To Be Broken was one of her most earliest stories and not mafia related at all. I had previously read reviews on this book and I admit it was partly the reason as to why I hadn’t read it sooner (and partly because for a while there I was strictly an adult, dark romance mood reader). 🤷♀️😅
After having read it, I have mixed feelings about the story… mostly the direction it headed and the overall flow. I loved the initial premise. I thought it was intriguing having a main character who had suffered from a brutal, totally heinous experience and is now living a debilitating and limiting life. I’ve read a couple of contemporary romance books that centred around young heroines who were rape victims. Their stories were personal, life-changing journeys of overcoming their demons and having the strength to move on and live their lives.
Whilst Amber’s story has the same structure, I found the vividness of Amber’s attack and the situations connecting to that event truly heart-wrenching. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of Cora’s earlier books, but one thing that she’s always managed to do with her writing style is capture readers’ attention. Right off the bat, you know there is something unusual about Amber, and as her story gradually unfolds, the more I was drawn to her as a person and wanting to see how her character would develop.
“Could I even feel safe in someone’s arms? Could I feel safe in Zach’s arms?”
There’s an unease in the atmosphere that plays well in making you feel not only for Amber and her circumstances, but those closest to her who have been just as affected. It feels overall realistic and quite relatable. It’s a tragedy; a work of fiction that hits so much with reality because it’s a situation that’s constantly happening in our society.
I felt for Amber’s struggle to interact with her brother and father the way she used to in the past. I also felt both Brian’s and their father’s frustration and heartbreak over not being able to help her the way they had hoped to. There’s a lot of guilt surrounding this family that you can’t help but sympathize their situation. But looking back, this entire storyline could easily have been depressing and all-out gloomy but Cora has managed to include some lighthearted and warming elements to keep it going too angsty.
I loved Amber’s cat, his presence alone always made me smile whilst reading this book, and I surprisingly adored Amber’s unexpected but very sweet friendship with Reagan. I hadn’t expected Reagan to have such a role that she did, but I quickly grew to love their girly time! To be real, she was the only constant goodness from all the secondary characters… *whispers* and the only one with good sense. 🤦♀️
Hmm. Is it weird to say that I actually preferred the hero, Zach when he was strictly being friendly and a hospitable roommate more so than when romantic feelings started blossoming between them?
There was something so endearing about Amber’s and Zach’s first introduction. I liked the dynamic he brought in by being the outsider who saw Amber in a different light in comparison to her family. What started swaying my opinion of him was his own personal issues outside of Amber and her circumstances. He’s described as a total man-whore who never even considered having a relationship with anyone, and whilst I always enjoy seeing a sexy hero eventually change his bachelor ways once “the one” comes a-knocking, for some reason I can’t quite pinpoint, I wasn’t completely sold on Zach. His behaviour gave me whiplash — one minute he’s the ever-so sweet and thoughtful guy, then the next he’s totally insensitive and such a…. ugh guy! 😒
“Maybe Zach was a mistake, but he was a mistake I wanted to make. It would be my choice.”
Unfortunately, the majority of the cast of characters in this story are of the male variant, and with the exception of Amber’s adorably broody cat and Amber’s father, the rest of the male population included are your stereotypical college douchebag boys — Yup. That’s including both Zach and Amber’s brother Brian! So in saying that, expect tons of eye-rolling drama that I, for one thought was both unnecessary and all around pesky to read through.
Honestly, more than half of the drama within this storyline was brought on by either Zach or Brian. If there wasn’t so much drama, this story would’ve been a lot shorter than it already was. Sigh.
I do however liked seeing the milestones and breakthroughs that Amber accomplishes. However, it would’ve felt a little more believable if they hadn’t come about all too quickly. She’s been in a reclusive, broken state for years, has extreme anxiety and not one for any physical contact… Yet she moves in with her brother and Zach, starts opening up, starts feeling more confident, which forms a romantic (and very much a physical) relationship with Zach all in a span of a couple months?! That’s quite a feat, am I right? 🤔
Whilst there were plenty of elements within that I thoroughly enjoyed, I can’t lie there were also parts that I wasn’t liking as much (hence my mixed feelings).
Amber’s and Zach’s relationship was somewhat of a slow burn at first. I thought their relationship was steadily developing, but halfway through I felt a shift in the pacing of the story. More issues started popping up at once and it felt like since it was nearing the end, it resulted in an abrupt wrap-up. Although the story was told from dual points of view, I truly think even a few more chapters would’ve done the trick in putting some depth to Zach’s life rather than a few scenes were you see him struggle and ultimately brush off his issues with his parents. Not to mention his parents’ relationship is totally fucked up!
The first half was gripping and set the world-building but in my opinion, the second half was a bit anticlimactic. I think if Cora was to ever go back and revamp this story, an epilogue is definitely in order. The ending completely left me with so much unanswered questions and the overall storyline just felt incomplete.
Not just with Zach and Amber but with the side stories and secondary characters as well. For example, Amber’s brother Brian had a seriously unhealthy relationship with his girlfriend. What happened to them? I can’t possibly (and sorta refuse to) accept that they’re still together. Then, there’s of course Zach’s own personal story and his own demons. They weren’t exactly sorted by the end. And one of the things I desperately was curious about was Amber’s self “therapy” sessions. It was never mentioned if she continued on with it, and if not, it seems a little sad knowing the girl she was having these chats with no longer has Amber as her support system.
Ugh. Questions. Questions. Questions. I could go on. I would’ve rated it higher if it had a proper ending.
It might not sound like it but despite all my hang-ups and issues with this story, I did overall enjoy reading it. There’s a bit of suspense included, and like all of Cora’s books it was easy to follow. I liked seeing Amber’s growth and the friendship she’s made. Even with Zach’s inconsistency, I respected the fact that he truly cared for Amber, a gentleman in regards to her feelings and ensuring her empowerment. And I can’t deny, despite all the drama surrounding Amber, she had people who were willing to go above and beyond to assist her, to make her as comfortable as possible, and to know that she is loved.
“Sometimes you’ve gotta fall before you fly.”
This was an ugly-cry type of new adult romance story. It had some great elements, an interesting plotline, and a complex heroine. Even though the storyline was centred around a tragedy, I found the realism of the characters’ emotions authentic that I couldn’t help but get invested in their lives.
If you’re a fan of Cora’s and like me, wanting to check out her non mafia related books, then give this one a go. You might find it refreshing to read one of her contemporary romance books! 😉