A Julia Review: Her Hometown Girl (Belladonna Ink #3) by Lorelie Brown

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I had doubts before the Big Day—doesn’t everyone?—but I didn’t expect to find my fiancée banging the caterer’s assistant right before the ceremony. Especially because he’s a guy. And we’re lesbians. The proper sort of Southern Californian lesbians who invest in hedge funds and wear bedazzled wedding dresses and wouldn’t be caught dead in a Subaru.

But then I became a runaway bride, headed straight for Belladonna Ink to get the kind of tattoo I always wanted and my ex always called trashy. She didn’t approve of a lot of things I did. I think maybe she didn’t approve of who I am.

So I’m determined to be as much of myself as I can manage. Dating my tattoo artist? I’m in. Cai is smart, sexy, and mysterious. Exactly what I need for a rebound. She keeps herself guarded, but I understand—I’m holding on to secrets too. The kind of secrets that make a girl want to run home to Mom, even if home is Idaho. Maybe especially then. I just didn’t expect Cai to come with me.

I wonder what it would take to get her to stay forever.

Her Hometown Girl by Lorelie Brown is the 3rd novel in the Belladonna Ink series but from what I can tell the entries are largely standalone stories that don’t build up on each other. This is my first book from this author and I have a feeling it won’t be the last.

The story is told alternately through the eyes of the two protagonists, Tansy and Cai. What got me immediately hooked on this novel was those two characters and the way they are portrayed. They each are given a very distinct kind of voice and the author grants us a very intimate look into their personalities, tastes and inner as well as outer personal problems and fears. When I started with this novel, I was expecting a more light-hearted romance story but both the depth of the characters as well as the broached subjects surprised me (in a good way).

Tansy is only starting to recover from a both mentally and physically abusive relationship with her ex-fiancée. The author does a great job in portraying the marks that this has left on her and her struggle to find her own strength again. Even the smallest, seemingly most insignificant actions have a huge impact on her in this battered state of mind like how she panics when she messes up ordering drinks at a bar. It made her a very relatable character and I couldn’t help rooting for her and admiring her struggle against her own anxieties and fears (just like Cai does).

Cai appears at least on the outside to be the very opposite of Tansy. She seems like a strong, determined woman who knows what she wants and has her shit together. But as soon as we get to hear her own inner voice, we learn that she too has her own demons from her past to contend with. The two of them showcase how appearances can deceiving: how someone who appears weak and flustered (and maybe even thinks of themselves that way) can find a great strength within and how someone who seems tough and badass still carries the pain and scars from their past inside them.

The other characters were interesting and entertaining to read about as well – especially Tansy’s grandmother who was very inspiring to me.

The sex scenes are solely f/f and contain elements of submission and domination. They are hot, emotional and never meaningless. Each one feels like it adds to the characters and the development of their relationship. There’s just the right amount of them too – enough to keep things spicy but also not so many that the story might suffer from them. Warning: The book also contains a rape scene and further mentions of sexual as well as intense emotional abuse.

This novel really caught me by surprise about how much I got into it and felt for the characters. The subject of manipulation and abuse in a relationship is dealt with in an insightful manner as we get to see what kind of things it can do to a victim. I can recommend this book to anyone who is not looking for just a quick, steamy read about characters without any problems. I will definitely be looking into other works by this author as well.

The cover design by L. C. Chase is pretty and the soft tones with the pink sky suit particularly Tansy’s character rather well.

Sales Links:  Riptide Publishing | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 243 pages

Published September 4, 2017

by Riptide Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-62649-646-0

Edition Language: English

A Julia Review: Heat Wave (A Seasons of Love story #3) by Elyse Springer

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sara Walker’s life is going nowhere fast: she has a job she enjoys but doesn’t love, friends who are too busy to hang out with her, and no boyfriend in sight. Then a phone call on a lonely Friday night changes everything, and suddenly she’s spending her weekends with Laura. Newly single and openly bisexual, Laura makes Sara think decidedly not-straight thoughts.

Laura Murphy, with her red hair, freckles, and killer curves, is any guy’s wet dream. But Laura’s done with guys for now, and it’s Sara who can’t stop dreaming about her. When Sara finally gives in to the curiosity, Laura blows her mind and pushes her further than she’s ever gone before.

But Laura makes it very clear that this is only a rebound fling, and she’s still planning to move to California. She’s more than happy to tie Sara up, but she’s not ready to be tied down. If Sara wants to keep her, she’s going to have to work hard to convince Laura that New York is worth staying for . . . and so is she.

Heat Wave by Elyse Springer is the third volume in the “Seasons of Love” series which I got hooked on after reviewing the second entry “Thaw”. Though having read the previous books will certainly enrich your experience due to the reappearance of several characters, it is not necessary to get into the individual volumes. I’d still recommend checking out all of them as it is well worth it.

What I find particularly appealing about this series is that it features characters from a range of different sexual orientations and addresses this fact in a natural and genuine way. This time the story is told from the point of view of Sara, who is now faced with being sexually and romantically attracted to another woman after she has thought of herself as being exclusively heterosexual her entire life. Sara is a character many can sympathize with, in my opinion. She is relatively content with her current living situation but is also in need of new and more profound experiences both in her work and love life – even if she does not quite realize it or can openly admit it to herself at first. She is a strong person who enjoys organisation and efficiency as well as testing her own limits (though she is still hesitant to give it a try in certain areas).

Sara is made aware of her own ambitions and hesitations when she gets closer to Laura who is by now the ex-girlfriend of Sara’s ex-boyfriend. Laura, who identifies as bisexual, is a very open and direct person who makes no secret out of her physical attraction towards Sara and the fact that she is only looking for a friendship with sex and nothing more (at least at first). Her directness challenges Sara to re-examine aspects of her life and herself that she had previously thought to be set in stone. And it was just the thing that Sara needed in her current situation. It is inspiring and quite admirable to witness how Sara finds at last the motivation to give it her all and take her life into a new direction she had not anticipated up to this point – especially her fight to keep Laura in it.

As I mentioned, we also encounter other characters from throughout the series – most notably Nathan, the protagonist of the first book and Sara’s best friend, who acts as a source of encouragement and support. I found it quite endearing to meet familiar faces again and learn a bit about how they have been getting on with their lives.

The sex scenes here are much more numerous and explicit than in the previous book (which is only appropriate considering the characters involved). We are treated to some steamy lady on lady action with light elements of sexual submission and domination as well as a cheeky scene of public sex in a dance club.

While I greatly enjoyed the previous entry to this series, I enjoyed this one even more. The author has a clear, expressive style of writing that gives the characters very distinct voices. They are depicted as realistic and relatable with their own individual sets of strengths and challenges. The frequent reappearance of characters – one time as a protagonist facing the ups and downs of their own relationship troubles and another as a supporting friend – makes you invested in them more and more. I can honestly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a heartfelt and motivational love story.

The cover design by Natasha Snow is quite pretty and fits in well with the rest of the series.

Sales Links:  Riptide Publishing | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 262 pages

Published July 31, 2017

by Riptide Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-62649-515-9

Edition Language: English

A Julia Review: The Sidhe (The Heart of All Worlds #1) by Charlotte Ashe

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In the nation of Villalu…

Since his childhood, Brieden Lethiscir has admired The Sidhe, the beautiful and magical beings native to the Faerie world outside his homeland of Villalu. Though he grew up in a culture accepting of Sidhe enslavement by Villalu’s elite, Brieden turns against the practice when he becomes a steward to Prince Dronyen, who is viciously abusive of his sidhe slave Sehrys. Captivated by the handsome and mysterious sidhe slave, Brieden vows to free and return Sehrys to his homeland.

As they escape the capital and navigate a treacherous path to the border, Breiden and Sehrys grow close. Breiden soon learns both the true power of The Sidhe, and that the world that he thought he knew is not what it once seemed. If they survive to reach the border, he will have to make a choice: the love of his life, or the fate of his world.

The Sidhe is Charlotte Ashe’s first volume in her Fantasy series “The Heart of All Worlds”. And what a strong start it is! The sequel is titled “The King and the Criminal” and I will definitely be reviewing that one as well. So let’s waste no time and take a look at how the journey begins!

When it comes to lore and world building, I believe that the devil really lies in the detail. While for example history and geography form the basis of creating an imaginary world, it’s those precise details about the everyday lives of its inhabitants that allow it to become a seemingly living and breathing organism. Things like what do the people eat, how do they live, what do they work and so on. At least that’s what draws me in the most when reading a fantasy story and I was delighted to discover that the author did not disappoint in that aspect. In contrast to the coexistence of several different races living in one place, this novel introduces two main cultures that exist in a kind of tense proximity and yet largely separated from one another: humans and the Sidhe (elf-like beings). Both societies offer rather different takes on a variety of subjects from ways of living to attitudes towards sexuality. The only things they seem to have in common are feelings of distrust, fear and ignorance towards each other. I especially found the unveiling of the shared history of these two peoples quite fascinating. Themes of race, subjugation and freedom feature heavily in this story and are addressed from several different points of view.

I took a liking to both main characters and found myself rather invested into their relationship since they make simply an adorable couple. Brieden is a kind, brave young man who finds himself before a big decision: staying complacent and giving up on his true believes or risking his very life and future. I deeply respect him for his courage in choosing the latter. His care and devotion to his partner were as heart-warming to witness as Sehrys in turn slowly starting to warm up and eventually coming to trust Brieden. What I also found most interesting when it comes to Sehrys was learning about how the six years he spent in slavery affected and changed him.

Despite the fact that I found those two very likeable and was rooting for them all the way, my absolute favourites were amongst the supporting characters: queen Brissa and her sister Cliope, who intrigued me so much that I wish they could have their very own story, as well as Firae, who features as a protagonist in the second book. In fact, the only flaw I might give this novel is the fact that I found myself wishing that these characters would feature more prominently and we would get to learn more about them.

The sex scenes were very well done which is good because there are quite a lot of them! Still, they never really felt out of place and although they are quite steamy and described in vivid detail, you can tell that the author always tried to give them meaning and draw them as an important aspect of the characters’ relationship to each other. They are mostly m/m with only a brief hint of f/f. There are mentions of sexual abuse and rape. 

This book was a wonderful read and had me engaged into the world, the narrative and the characters from start to finish. If you like fantasy or just a touching romance story against all odds, you should definitely pick up this book. I know I certainly am looking forward to delving into the second volume of this series!

The cover and interior illustrations by Sarah Sanderson are simply beautiful, they caught my attention right away. The drawing of Brieden and Sehrys framed by their special red flowers is a lovely piece of art and sets a wonderful stepping stone for entering their magical world. I also want to give credit for the map illustration by Sarah Sanderson and R.J. Shepherd.

Sales Links:  Interlude Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 442 pages

Published July 21, 2015

by Interlude Press

ISBN: 978-1-941530-50-4

Edition Language: English

A Julia Review: The Rest is Illusion by Eric Arvin

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Magical realism meets coming of age as four Verona College students are thrown together by choice as well as circumstance. When their lives and loves are threatened by blackmail and violence, they respond by using all the means at their disposal—including some they aren’t even aware they possess. But will that be enough to prevent tragedy or even death?

The Rest Is Illusion was first published in 2006 and a second time in 2016. This new third edition allows readers once more to enjoy the incredible story behind Eric Arvin’s first novel. And incredible it is indeed.

The fact that this is the author’s very first novel makes it all the more impressive how refined and confident his writing style already felt by then. Every phrase and sentence seems to be placed precisely and deliberately contributing to the unfolding of the plot and reading experience as a whole. The author upholds this style unbroken throughout the entirety of the book, nothing ever seems out of place. At this point, I usually talk about how location was handled, but since the environment plays such a pivotal role in this novel, I decided to dedicate a whole paragraph to it further down. Let’s take a look at the characters first.

The novel is written in third-person and the perspective, from which the story is told, switches frequently between five students: Dashel, Ashley, Sarah, Tony and Wilder. The author makes very good use of this technique by, for example, hinting at what one character is about to do through the eyes of another or presenting the consequences of the same event from different points of view. The transitions between characters feel fluid and unobtrusive. What’s best, each character is given a very distinct voice befitting his or her unique personality. They all have their own strings of story to tell that frequently intertwine and part ways. I never found myself not getting into a line of narrative or wishing that it would switch back to another. Every single one felt meaningful and worthy of attention.

It would be difficult to pick a favourite character since they are all interesting, likeable or hateable in their own right. But I would say that Ashley, the albino agnostic (as he has been described), and Dashel, who is stricken with a terminal illness, are probably the ones I felt the strongest sympathy for. They both look at other people free of prejudices and strive to embrace life (and death) on their own terms. I loved their free and creative spirits and how they imagined the world around them. Sarah, the Baptist minister’s daughter who struggles to come to terms with the relationship to her father, completes the trio of close friends (and maybe more). They complement each other very well and their interactions were heart-warming to witness.

Tony and Wilder feel very much like outsiders in contrast to the above group and yet they all come to play a significant part in each other’s lives. Tony, who despite first impressions turns out to be a considerate and caring person, tries to suppress his homosexual orientation in fear of losing his current way of life. Wilder’s horrible schemes to assert dominance over his fellow students, on the other hand, present a thoroughly hateable as well as deeply pathetic and wounded character. Seeing how these five people – each one with their own specific set of values and worldviews – interact and clash with each other was a thrilling and fascinating experience.

As mentioned above, the environment in this novel plays a role unlike any I have ever seen before. The deep forests, hidden vales, steep cliffs and hillsides that surround Verona College are alive and teeming with an ancient magic of their own. Being a fan of Magical Realism myself, I was in love with the way the author teases, hints and opens the possibility to a secret otherworld that lies beyond our common field of perception and understanding. But at the same time it is not painted as unreachable for us but closer than we think as long as one approaches it with an open mind free of preconceived opinions. Through his descriptions of the natural world Eric Arvin creates a truly enchanting and deeply mysterious atmosphere that had me hooked immediately and unable to stop reading. The landscape felt so full of personality and life as if it was a character (or many, in fact) on their own.

The story deals with a number of fundamental and timeless issues: the fear of dealing with one’s own mortality, the struggle for recognition and acceptance from others, finding and learning to embrace your true self in a world that tries to dictate who you should be. The subject of sexuality (as well as sexual violence) is breached too but if you’re looking for some light-hearted, steamy tussles beneath the sheets, you will not find them here. This is definitely not a quick read to just kill some time with a bit of superficial distraction.

I loved and enjoyed every aspect of this novel – from the characters to the plot to the world it took place in. I can only highly recommend this to anyone really who is looking (or not) for a profound narrative about the way people interact with one another and the world – or rather, worlds – around them. I know that I will certainly pick up more from this author in the future.

I very much liked the effect of smoothly changing colours and light patterns for the cover art by Wilde City Press. It gives the whole design an almost ominous, eerie feeling that is befitting of the story. The photos of the students looking directly at the reader lend support to that impression as well.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press  | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages, also available in paperback where if you buy paperback you get the ebook free

Published April 3, 2017

by Dreamspinner Press

ISBN-13 978-1-63533-825-6

Edition Language: English

A Julia Review: Thaw (Seasons of Love #2) by Elyse Springer

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Abigail is content with her quiet life as a librarian. But when she’s invited to a high-profile charity auction, she finds herself dancing with one of the most beautiful women she’s ever met. Abby’s sure she’ll never see her again, but then Gabrielle calls and asks her on a date. And soon after, another.

Supermodel Gabrielle Levesque has a reputation as the Ice Queen—cold and untouchable—except she warms up whenever she’s with Abby. Only Abby isn’t interested in the heat between them; she’s asexual, and she’s worried that admitting as much to Gabrielle might spell the end of their blooming romance.

They’re two different women from two very different worlds, but Abby knows she can love Gabrielle. Her passion for books, travel, and theater prove there’s more to the Ice Queen than meets the eye.  But they’ll have to overcome Abby’s fears—and Gabrielle’s own threatening secrets—in order to find their way to love.

Despite Thaw by Elyse Springer being the second volume in the “Seasons of Love” series, it is still a complete standalone novel. Characters from the first volume “Whiteout” appear or are mentioned but it is not at all necessary to have read it to understand this entry. Although after getting to read this one, I am very tempted to pick up more from this series. The other two volumes are scheduled for release later this year with each one getting published in the respective season they represent.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was the main protagonist, Abigail, and how endearing and relatable I found her to be. The story is told in third-person from her point of view and I could not help but smile at the way she interacted with the world and people around her. Despite being rather introverted sometimes, she watches the people around her with care and interest as she strives to uncover the unique story behind each person. I could immediately relate to her love for books and stories and it made my heart warm to read how she slowly came out of her shell of insecurity (which she hid herself in partly out of worry that people would react badly to her sexual orientations) also thanks to the support of her friends.

Gabrielle was also a very captivating character right from the beginning. Just like Abigail you wish to know what secret or truth lies behind the rumours of the cruel “Ice Queen” who seems perfectly amiable for the most part. I very much enjoyed the fact that I found myself rooting for their relationship for the sake of both women: I wanted Abigail to find the kind of connection with another person she was hoping for and I was convinced that Abigail would be a positive influence and just what Gabrielle needed to turn her current way of life (with which seemed rather unfulfilling to her) around.

The narrative was well-paced and there was never a moment that felt superfluous. The environment was also described in just the right amount of detail to get a feeling for the atmosphere without becoming tedious. A minor point of critique was that a couple of times the characters reacted a bit too “oblivious” to situations that seemed quite predictable to me (like Abigail being surprised when she learned that she got photographed on her date with a famous model).

Nevertheless, I found myself being genuinely drawn in the by the characters and the development of their relationship. I will certainly be looking forward to reading more from this author.

The cover design by Natasha Snow is quite lovely and very fitting for the story from the open book to the contrasting types of landscape. What I also appreciated were the painted spring flowers decorating the chapter headings within the book itself, a very nice touch.

Sales Links:  Riptide Publishing | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 222 pages

Published April 24, 2017

by Riptide Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-62649-513-5

Edition Language: English

A Julia Prerelease Review: The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Having long wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the merfolk’s fortress. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: Say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.

Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from the divine Loki. But such deals are never straightforward, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.

Being an avid reader of the Fantasy genre myself, The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember had me intrigued as soon as I laid eyes on it. I find mermaids to be one of the most fascinating mythical creatures and yet I can hardly recall any Fantasy novels in which they play more than a supporting role. So, since the protagonist in this one is in fact a mermaid, I was really hoping that the author would grant a closer look into the society, customs and lifestyle of the merfolk. And thankfully I was not disappointed in the least!

The novel features a close-knit community of merfolk living inside a glacier far up in the frozen North with strict societal rules and traditions. As a reader you get to experience their way of life through the eyes of young Ersel from whose first-person perspective the story is told. World and lore building are one of the key aspects of Fantasy writing and I was immediately drawn in by the loving details the author used to describe how the merfolk lived and their society worked. The people of the sea really take the centre stage here and we are handed only small pieces of information on what the lives of humans are like in this world. I also very much enjoyed how the merfolk’s way of life was so closely entwined with the harsh and cold environment they lived in. The author did a good job in depicting the icy landscape and some of its inhabitants (most prominently a pod of beluga whales). A nice touch of magic and Norse mythology is added as well.

The novel features a varied cast of characters with the mermaid Ersel as its main protagonist. She does not want to lead the life dictated to her by the community’s traditions and laws but is too scared and timid to openly oppose them at first. A focus of the story lies on her personal development as she is repeatedly faced with new experiences and difficult decisions that impact her own future as well as others’.  The most profound of said experiences being when she meets Ragna, a fierce young human woman bent on survival and revenge. Ragna acts in many ways as a mirror for Ersel: They both have dreams and goals they want to achieve but unlike her Ragna has the courage and will to actively work towards and fight for them. At the same time Ersel comes to Ragna’s aid and becomes the friend and support the human girl desperately needs. The relationship that starts to blossom from this encounter was a delight to witness and I found myself rooting for them to succeed in their ambitions as well as their growing feelings for each other. Their story is one of self-discovery, compassion, determination and sacrifices.

Other types of relationships are explored as well, especially the one between Ersel and her childhood friend Havamal with whom she used to share a strong bond before he decided on a different path in life than the one they had once dreamed of together. And then there is of course Ersel’s deal with the infamous trickster god himself who, while being a divine entity, displays some rather human-like traits as well. I also quite enjoyed the magical aspects of this part of the story. 

Since this is a Young Adult novel the sex scenes are not described in detail but they are still teased enough to let the imagination run wild.

I had a great time reading this novel and enjoyed learning about the fascinating world the author had created. The characters, their motivations and interactions were very engaging as well. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more from this author. 

The intricate cover design by CB Messer is what drew me to this novel in the first place. It is probably one of the most beautiful book covers I have ever seen. The art and colour choices are truly lovely. It immediately invokes a sense of ancient legends and fairy tales.

Sales Links:  Duet, an imprint of Interlude Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 224 pages

Published May 4, 2017

by Interlude Press

ISBN: 978-1-945053-34-4

Edition Language: English