Review: When It’s Real, by Erin Watt

When It's RealWhen It’s Real by Erin Watt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I picked up ‘When It’s Real’, I wanted something that was sweet and heartwarming. I loved ‘Paper Princess’ by Erin Watt, so when I started seeing this book pop up on friends’ pages, I knew that I’d want to read it. I was not disappointed.

This book was everything that I had wanted. It was the kind of light and fluffy read that puts a smile on your face and leaves you feeling contented. Although it was predictable and not particularly original, it was still a highly entertaining read. After all, who doesn’t love a modern-day, rags-to-riches love story?

The story centers on the “fake” romantic relationship between Vaughn Bennett and Oakley Ford. Essentially, their relationship is a publicity stunt concocted by Oakley’s management team to revamp his bad-boy image. Oakley is a famous singer. Vaughn is the everyday, girl next door teenager.

While Oakley is accustomed to a life surrounded by admirers, he is lonely. He has no doubt that if the fame were to go, so would everyone that claims to care about him. All the booze, drugs and women that fill his time cannot fill the void within him.

Worst of all, Oakley has been in a rut. He hasn’t written anything new in a while and everything is sounding the same to him. It’s like he’s lost his magic.

More than anything, he wants to work with a famous producer that is known for his ability to produce the best hits. However, Oakley’s irresponsible shenanigans have gotten in the way. The producer doesn’t believe that Oakley is a serious artist and is refusing to work with him until he proves himself.

Vaughn needs for their fake relationship to be as believable as Oakley does. Her family is depending on her. She knows that she will never be able to earn this type of money any other way and she desperately needs the money. Her “real” boyfriend will just have to understand.

Along the way there is plenty of humor, as Oakley and Vaughn banter back and forth. They kind of start off on the wrong foot and their relationship begins with a healthy rivalry. Of course, the more time these two spend together, the more they start to develop real feelings for one another.

There are a few bumps along the way, but nothing too surprising. It was pretty predictable, but a sweet and fun read. I listened to the Audible version and the narration was terrific as well. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone that is looking for a light-hearted, feel good type of love story. It is a standalone, so you won’t be left hanging. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a spin-off featuring Oakley’s bodyguard and Vaughn’s sister. I’ll be looking forward to reading that one also if it comes to light.

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Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3), by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3)A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not sure that I can say much about this book that hasn’t been said already, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. ‘A Court of Wings and Ruin’ was a great finale to the series. I have loved watching Feyre evolve over the course of this series and this book did a wonderful job of bringing everything full circle. If you’re a fan of the series, then this book is a must-read.

That being said, I honestly didn’t think that this book was as spectacular as the second book. This is probably a reflection of my personal tastes more than anything. I am primarily a romance reader. I like a little fantasy and adventure, but I need a healthy dose of romance thrown in.

While this third book definitely continued the love story, it wasn’t as smutty as I would’ve liked. There, I said it. I wanted more steamy, hot times with Feyre and Rhysand. The second book definitely provided more to work with in that regard, but I understand that this book is not marketed for adult romance readers, like me. Again, it is just a matter of personal preferences.

On the other hand, this book was action-packed. From start to finish, there was always something adventurous and deadly brewing. There was never a dull moment. It definitely kept me on the edge of my seat right to the very end.

I won’t say much about the storyline, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. There are a lot of changes that occur during this book. Some are heartbreaking, others will make you melt. I was left with a feeling of contentment, resolute that everything was “right” in this make believe world that I grew to love so much.

While this series has drawn to a close, I am left wondering if Ms. Maas has any plans to create a spin-off series. There were so many characters introduced in this series that have grown dear to me. I feel like their stories want to be told and she certainly planted the seeds to do this. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Overall, this was a fantastic book and series. I would definitely recommend this series to others. ‘A Court of Mist and Fury’ is still my favorite by far, but this one was great in and of it’s own right also.

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Review: Royally Screwed (Royally, #1), by Emma Chase

Royally Screwed (Royally, #1)Royally Screwed by Emma Chase
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Royally Screwed’ is a book that has been on my radar for quite a long time. After finishing a couple of mediocre books and being in a bit of a reading rut, I thought that it might be the time to change it up with something sweet and “fluffy”. It ended up being exactly what I needed to lighten the mood.

Nicholas Pembrook is the Prince of Wessco. His sex appeal is only rivaled by his arrogance. He seems to have it all – money, admiration, power, looks.

However, Nicholas knows that beyond the glamour and glitz there are drawbacks to being a prince. For such a young man, he carries a heavy burden. He is expected to do what is demanded of a man in his position, regardless of his personal desires. Prince to a country in turmoil, he is expected to marry a woman “fitting of a prince”.

With only a few months of freedom left before he will have to choose a bride, Nicholas sets out for New York City to track down his rebellious younger brother. Stopping into a coffee shop to escape a downpour, he is immediately attracted to Olilvia. She is everything that he longs for, but is forbidden. The more she resists his advances, the more determined he is to have her.

Olivia Hammond has her own set of stressors to live with. Following the death of her mother, she has had to step up to keep her family’s business afloat. As her father tries to drown his sorrows, Olivia is forced to assume the role of the “responsible adult” in her household, a role that she feels like she is failing at.

There is no denying the attraction between these two. Their connection is strong, but social conventions and global expectations work to keep them apart. They know from the start that there can be no happily ever after in their future. What starts as a short-term fling, soon becomes more.

This serves to provide plenty of angst and conflict along the way. Knowing where this story was bound to lead, I still couldn’t help but fall in love with this couple. Nicholas had his fair share of jerky moments, but they were easily forgiven.

If you’re in the mood for a sweet, feel-good type of love story with a touch of angst, then ‘Royally Screwed’ is a great choice. Was it predictable? Yes. Did that negatively impact my reading experience? Absolutely not. ‘Royally Screwed’ was a fresh take on a familiar storyline.

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Review: The Iron Knight (The Iron Fey, #4), by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Knight (Iron Fey, #4)The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the time I started listening to this series, I have been unable to pull myself away from it. Over the course of a week or so, I have read the entire series from start to finish. I have enjoyed every minute. (Okay, maybe not all of the time spent discussing Ariella.) Gladly, I can say that this series did not fizzle out at the end like many series do. This story was action-packed and engaging right to the very end.

Picking up where ‘The Iron Queen’ and ‘Summer’s Crossing’ left off, Ash and Meghan are separated for most of this book. He’s working diligently to find a way to get back to Meghan’s side, even if it means becoming human so that he can survive the Iron Realm. He’ll stop at nothing to get back to her.

In some ways it was kind of fitting that now that Ash has finally figured out that he loves Meghan that he would be kept apart from her. After all, Meghan endured his cold shoulder treatment repeatedly. So, I kind of felt like most of this book was Ash’s dose of karma for how he rebuffed Meghan in ‘The Iron Daughter’. (I’m blood-thirsty that way.)

I don’t want to say too much, but I will say that there were some pretty big twists along the way. I can’t say I was completely surprised, but there were definitely some wrenches thrown in the plans. One of my biggest pet peeves – the perfect, dead ex-girlfriend – continued to be an issue in a huge way. (Why can’t this dead girl just GO AWAY???)

Maybe I should be more sensitive and try to like Ariella, but I just can’t. Ash’s wishy-washy feelings also got on my nerves where the dead ex was concerned. It made me question the genuineness of his feelings for Meghan.

Meanwhile, Puck started looking better and better. The poor guy’s loyalty was infallible, but he was destined to forever remain in the “friend-zone”. My heart broke for him.

As Ash endures multiple trials on his quest to gain a soul and become human, Puck, Grimalkin and the great Wolf hunter are right by his side. Like ‘Summer’s Crossing’, Meghan was absent for a large part of this book. However, the robust cast of characters in ‘The Iron Knight’ did not leave me wanting the way that the earlier novella did. There was never a dull moment.

More so than any of the books that preceded this one, ‘The Iron Knight’ provided insight into Ash’s character. I felt like I really got to know him in this book. I won’t lie, he definitely had some pretty big skeletons in his closet. However, in my opinion, he had a soul all along. He clearly had a conscience, even if he was taught to ignore it from the time he was young.

I really felt for Ash, especially as a child. His world was so cruel and cold. Never was he nurtured like a child should be. It is a wonder that he didn’t turn into a total psychopath.

At long last, things worked out the way that they should have. I was left feeling relieved and contented at the end of this book. A part of me was even a little sad that I had reached the end of this series.

Overall, this was a fantastic book. It was the perfect finale to this series. I’m glad that I read it and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a “clean” fantasy/adventure/paranormal type of story. It has romance, as well as plenty of action.

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Review: Summer’s Crossing (The Iron Fey, #3.5), by Julie Kagawa

Summer's Crossing (Iron Fey, #3.5)Summer’s Crossing by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Much like ‘Winter’s Passage’, ‘Summer’s Crossing’ left me wanting. Another short novella in ‘The Iron Fey’ series, it takes place following ‘The Iron Queen’ and before ‘The Iron Knight’. This was one of those stories that you want to love but don’t, no matter how hard you try.

‘Summer’s Crossing’ surrounds Puck and Ash’s adventures as they work together to repay a debt that Ash owes to Leanansidhe. Along the way, Puck is offered what might be considered the opportunity of a lifetime. He has the chance to eliminate Ash as a rival for Meghan’s affections, if only he betrays his one-time best friend. It is definitely a tempting proposition that Oberon offers.

As the two work together to complete the required task, I can’t say that I ever really questioned what Puck’s decision would be…until I did. There was a big twist that I didn’t see coming that kind of threw me for a loop. Suddenly, I found myself wondering about Puck’s true motives. How far would he go to obtain the object of his affections?

In addition to the quest that they set out on, Puck and Ash find unexpected adventures along the way. From bearing their souls to one another, to nearly killing one another in a final attempt to keep a decades-old oath, this novella shed a great deal of light on their strained relationship.

Since Meghan has grown into my favorite character in this series, it was disappointing to find her entirely absent in this novella. I understand why she wasn’t there… I just didn’t like it.

In my opinion, the narration was also less appealing in this novella. This was probably due to the fact that this one was told from male POVs vs. Meghan’s POV. I’m not sure if it was a different narrator, or if it was the same narrator and I just didn’t care for the voices as much this time around. Whatever the reason, the narration didn’t pull me into the story and hold my attention like it did for the other books.

All in all, ‘Summer’s Crossing’ ended up being an “okay” one for me. It wasn’t horrible, but I definitely had plenty of gripes this time around. That being said, I still read the next book in the series immediately. It wasn’t enough to turn me away from ‘The Iron Fey’ saga and I am still dying to know where the story leads.

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Review: The Iron Queen (The Iron Fey, #3), by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Queen (Iron Fey, #3)The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Of all the books in ‘The Iron Fey’ series, ‘The Iron Queen’ is my favorite. This book is pivotal and takes the story in an entirely new direction. Not only is this book filled with action and adventure, but I finally got to see the romance between Meghan and Ash evolve.

Not only does the relationship between Meghan and Ash grow, but Meghan undergoes a great deal of self-discovery and growth as an individual. ‘The Iron Queen’ really is Meghan’s “coming of age” book. She grows stronger, both physically and spiritually. She is faced with many painful truths and twists along the way, but she rises to the challenge.

To say the least, I felt that this book had a strong “girl power” vibe going on. In earlier books, Meghan was always cast as the damsel in distress, waiting for Ash or Puck to come to her rescue. While she still has a plethora of male protectors to do her bidding, Meghan also rises as a leader in and of her own right. She is only beginning to learn about the power within her and I cannot wait to see what she will be able to do once she is able to access it fully.

Meanwhile, this book proved to be emotionally engaging and, at times, heartbreaking. Mostly, my heart went out to Puck. He made some mistakes along the way, but none more serious than anything that Ash ever did, in my opinion. He loved Meghan so much, but it was evident that he had been “friend-zoned” and had no chance at ever becoming anything more. As much as I loved Ash and Meghan as a couple, I couldn’t help but feel bad for poor Puck.

King Oberon and Queen Mab take on unexpected roles, as the false Iron King continues to gain power. In order to save faerieland, Meghan will have to rise to the challenge. She is faced with many difficult choices and adversity along the way.

More so than other books in the series, ‘The Iron Queen’ ended with a huge upset. I was left reeling. It felt like my heart was ripped from my chest. Knowing that the story wasn’t over yet kept me pushing forward. I knew that things wouldn’t be left like that.

Like the other books in the series, the narration for this book was superb. I continue to be enthralled with this story and the magical world that Ms. Kagawa has created. After finishing this one it was on to the next on immediately. I had to know how things would work out for these characters.

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Review: The Iron Daughter (The Iron Fey, #2), by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Daughter (Iron Fey, #2)The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in ‘The Iron Fey’ series, ‘The Iron Daughter’ definitely had my attention from start to finish. I’m a sucker for angst and emotional pain in my romances. This book was jam-packed with both. However, it also had a healthy dose of action for the adventure junkies out there.

‘The Iron Daughter’ begins with Meghan in captivity at the Winter Court. Ash has transformed into someone unrecognizable, denying any feelings for Meghan and turning his back on her. As his antics become crueler, Meghan is forced to come to terms with the possibility that she never really knew Ash at all.

Appearances aren’t always as they seem though. This is a lesson that Meghan learns time and time again as she attempts to navigate the politics and manipulative games of the Winter Court. The sadistic tendencies of the court members may be the only thing that Ash was fully honest about.

As you can probably guess already, Queen Mab played a much more significant role in this book. Prince Ash’s brothers were also introduced, making the story more multidimensional. Each has their own motives for their actions and their own agenda. The same is true for multiple characters in the Winter Court that also enter the picture during this book.

Eventually, all hell breaks loose. Meghan and Ash are thrust back together by circumstance. Ash is faced with the same feelings of betrayal that Meghan had been forced to cope with when the tables are turned on him. There’s nothing quite like the harsh sting of betrayal to put things in perspective.

While there was plenty of angst and adventure to keep me engaged, I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t something that drove me crazy with this series. This series featured one of my biggest pet peeves in a story, beginning in the first book and only becoming more pronounced in subsequent books–the “perfect, dead ex-girlfriend”. Every time I heard Ariella’s name I wanted to scream, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”. Seriously! Who can compete with the beautiful ex-girlfriend that is canonized upon death? Nobody – that’s who!

In spite of the infuriating fixation with the dead ex, I still found this book to be a fantastic read overall. Aimed toward a younger audience than most of my book choices, I was able to listen to this story with my kids. Other than a few “mild” naughty words (no f-bombs or anything), there was no content that was concerning or too controversial for them to hear. In fact, it was kind of provided some insight into my fifth-grade daughter’s blossoming interest in boys. I’ll just say that I wasn’t the only one in the car that was sick of the repeated mentions of the “perfect” Ariella.

As expected, the book doesn’t offer a lot of resolution. One adventure comes to a close and readers are primed for another one to begin. Luckily, I didn’t start this series until all of the books had been released so I was able to jump into the next one immediately. Otherwise, the wait might have killed me.

I listened to this book in the Audible format and I have to say that the narration was superb. I really enjoyed the voices for each character and the emotional responses of the characters was almost tangible. If you’re an audiobook listener, I’d definitely give this audiobook a shot.

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Review: Winter’s Passage (The Iron Fey, #1.5), by Julie Kagawa

Winter's Passage (Iron Fey, #1.5)Winter’s Passage by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At around 50 pages, ‘Winter’s Passage’ is a nice bridge between ‘The Iron King’ and the second full-length book in the series. This novella picks up right where ‘The Iron King’ leaves off, with Meghan journeying back to the Winter Court with Ash to fulfill her end of their contract. Of course, there is plenty of adventure along the way and the introduction of a few new characters.

This ended up being a very sweet and heartfelt novella. Ash and Meghan are falling in love and their feelings are getting harder to deny. It was pervaded with the sweet, innocent feel of first love.

However, this short read also had a sense of impending doom that was always lurking in the background. Ash and Meghan know that their romance is strictly forbidden. More than Meghan, Ash knows the cruelty of the Winter Court. The closer the two become, the more Meghan’s fate in the Winter Court haunts them both. With each step, the sense of dread grows.

This novella was a nice lead-in for the second book. However, it wasn’t absolutely necessary to follow and understand the series. After finishing this novella, I jumped right into the second book only to find that much of the information provided in this novella was also provided in ‘The Iron Daughter’. So, while this was a nice, quick “extra”, it isn’t really required in my opinion. It was sweet and I liked it, but there isn’t anything revolutionary or critical here.

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Review: The Iron King (The Iron Fey, #1), by Julie Kagawa

The Iron King (The Iron Fey, #1)The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve had ‘The Iron Fey’ series sitting on my Audible shelf for quite some time. Paranormal/Fantasy isn’t my “go-to” genre, but I was curious about this series after seeing some great reviews for it. Yet, every time that I was in the mood for this type of story there always seemed to be another book released that was higher up on my TBR priorities.

I finally got around to listening to this audiobook on a recent cross-country family road trip. Since my children, as well as my 89 year-old grandmother, were in the car, my usual smutty romance selections were off the table. After all, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for giving my grandmother a heart attack and I certainly wasn’t prepared to answer any questions that might arise from my children related to something they might hear in a dark romance novel.

Since this series is aimed at a younger audience, it ended up being the perfect time to give it a listen. Other than a few “mildly bad” words, which were no cause for a freak-out in my opinion, this book was clean enough for my girls (ages 5 and 10). It also had enough adventure and suspense to keep the adults in the car engaged in the story. While my youngest daughter wasn’t exactly following the story closely, she did pay enough attention to pick up on the general theme and point out who her favorite characters were. I’m not sure that I could’ve found another series that would have worked as well for our group.

The story centers on a high school girl, Meghan Chase. She is a heroine that is easy to relate to because she is flawed, but strong and personable. I appreciated the fact that Meghan was a good role model for young girls. She had the same insecurities of all young, teenage girls, but was able to rise above – and even make light of – teenage drama. Topics, such as bullying and body image were addressed, but not in an over-the-top, in your face kind of way that reeks of an after-school TV special. The author addressed these issues subtly and without much fanfare.

Meghan’s reality changes overnight, when she discovers that her younger brother, Ethan, has been taken into the Nevernever. A changeling has taken his place in the human world, while the real Ethan has been taken.

Everything that Meghan thought she knew was wrong. The man that raised her, and disappeared when she was six, wasn’t really her father at all. She is the daughter of Oberon, the King of the Summer Court. It ends up that Meghan is half faerie and not entirely human at all.

In addition, her neighbor/best-friend, Robbie, is really “Puck”, the faerie of legends. He had been sent by her father to watch over her for years. Revealing her true identity to her, Puck goes on to become her tour guide through the faerie world.

As Puck and Meghan set out to find Ethan and return him to the human world, they embark on a series of adventures. Along the way, Meghan meets Ash, the Winter Prince, who becomes her love interest. Meanwhile, she must carry on in spite of the contempt of the Summer Queen, Titania and other members of the faerie courts that look down upon her because she is a “half-breed”.

From start to finish, I was captivated with this story. The characters were easy to relate to and the storyline was compelling. I was lost in the fantastical world that Julie Kagawa created. It was absolutely magical!

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Review: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! There was so much about this book that I really loved. ‘Eleanor & Park’ was touching and beautiful in it’s simplicity. This book captured the essence of first love and the perils of high school, while also tackling some serious issues, like abuse.

I listened to the Audible version and I have to give kudos to the narrator(s). The narration was extremely well done. The voices of the characters really drew you in and made you feel like you were right there in the moment with the characters. It says a lot about the narration when it can pull you into a story so completely.

As I was listening to this story, my heart broke for Eleanor. She had such a horrible home life and her school life wasn’t any better. The poor girl couldn’t escape bullying wherever she went. I felt so bad for her as she tried to navigate her difficult teenage years while trying to stand proud in the face of such cruelty. She was so smart, but trapped by the life she was dealt.

Park’s life stood out in stark contrast to Eleanor’s. He was raised in a home that was pretty much “ideal”. Of course, he had the typical teenage concerns and conflict with his parents. However, his petty problems only served to highlight how fortunate he was to have loving parents when contrasted with Eleanor’s reality.

Although Park initially avoided any association with Eleanor, succumbing to peer pressure, he eventually opened up to the girl that sat beside him on the school bus. That took a great deal of bravery on his part. Let’s face it, teenagers can be very cruel. Park risked joining Eleanor at the bottom of the social hierarchy when he decided to go against the grain and be kind to her. Little by little, they formed a friendship. Eventually, that friendship grew into more.

Park became the single most positive part of Eleanor’s daily life. He was the only person that showed her concern and treated her kindly. As the two grew closer, his family also served as a safe haven for Eleanor. For these reasons, I grew to love Park also.

This is a coming of age story and a story of first love. Rainbow Rowell managed to transport me right back to high school. Everyone who has been a teenager can relate to the experiences and emotions of these characters. This is the type of story that serves to remind us of the consequences of our actions and the effect of our words.

From start to finish, I was enthralled with ‘Eleanor & Park’. I was sure that this would be a 5-star read for me right up until about the 90% mark. Then, the story ended rather abruptly and I was left wanting. I couldn’t believe that the author that wrote such a beautiful story would end it in that way. It just didn’t seem fair or right. After everything, I was furious to see it close in the manner it did.

Overall, it was still a fabulous story. I won’t lie. I hated the way that the story ended. I just don’t need my fiction to be that true to life.

In fairness, the ending doesn’t seem to be an issue for most of my friends that have read this book. For me, it was upsetting enough to knock a star off the rating. The ending wrecked me and I went in search of a second book or an extra something that would provide closure. It didn’t happen and I’m still reeling. So, I loved it….right up until the ending.

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