Series Review: Magic and Mayhem

Book CoverKissed by Magic, Must Love Magic, & Smitten by Magic by Erica Ridley
My Rating: 3.5-Stars
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Release Date: out now
Formats: Kindle Unlimited or eBook ($1/$3/$3)

The Magic and Mayhem series by Erica Ridley consists of books that were previously released before and are being edited and re-released. Out of the three, I had only read Kissed by Magic in the past when it was titled Let It Snow. The book Must Love Magic was previously released as Charmed, and Smitten by Magic was previously released as Midwinter Magic.

What I really enjoy about Erica Ridley’s writing is that her books are fast-paced, adventurous, and full of character development. While each title varies in the depth in which that is accomplished, she writes memorable stories that will stick with you in the days that follow.

Magic and Mayhem‘s books are all lighthearted and fun as well as a bit sexy. They each feature magic in different ways, from fairy tale castles to a paranormal courtroom to a bureaucracy of angels. There’s curses and talking horses and backfiring mechanical wands that turn things into pumpkins. Each book promises a fun fantasy adventure with a HEA.

The one thing the stories suffer from is something I find myself mentioning more and more often: the endings can be sudden and there’s no epilogues. When I spend time taking that romantic journey with the story’s main characters, I also want either an ending that doesn’t feel rushed or a glimpse into the future to show that yes, things continued to work out. In Must Love Magic, how did Daisy and Trevor juggle two completely different worlds? Did Sarah and Javier make a difference in the world with their new positions in Smitten by Magic? I don’t need all the answers, but I do desire some reassurance.

Individual book comments:

Kissed by Magic (3.5 stars): Lance needs some money and decides to rob a cursed castlewhat could possibly go wrong? There he meets Marigold, who has been trapped in a loop that repeated her birthday day for the past 6,000 years. It’s a lonely existence, and it’s up to Lance to break the curse and set them both free. This story has a classic fairy tale vibe that will give you warm fuzzies inside. Marigold must grow beyond her fears that she’ll lose Lance just like she’s lost everyone else, but it’s Lance that transforms the most throughout the story as it takes some unexpected twists and turns.

Must Love Magic (4 stars): Daisy le Fey just wants to earn her wings, and the tooth fairy business is sure to do that. It’s a shame that her mentor sent Daisy to retrieve a recently unearthed tooth that happens to be resting beneath an archaeologist’s face. Trevor needs more credibility and less crazy-fairy in his life. Up for tenure against an exasperating colleague, Trevor needs to decide what’s more important: work or love. Must Love Magic has some fantastic world building as we’re introduced to the realm of Nether-Netherland. Both the main and side characters were fully fleshed out. The biggest flaws of Daisy and Trevorthat the both were status-seekerstook longer for the characters to overcome than I expected. The few times to story went to the villain’s point of view detracted from what could have been an interesting element of surprise in the story’s events. However, I really enjoyed getting to know these characters and the many humorous hurdles they had to overcome.

Smitten by Magic (3 stars): Sarah Phimm is Javier’s guardian angel. She’s been there since the day he was born, and he was blissfully unaware of ituntil now. Forced to reveal herself, Sarah struggles to do her job by keeping Javier alive as he battles his conscious by performing risky good deed after risky good deed. The setting lost me mid-story though: where did that hardware store come from in the middle of nowhere? Why did Javier have cell phone service? Little details like that detracted from the believability factor of the setting, which was quite the contrast right after reading Must Love Magic. Regardless, this story had me hooked until the end, when it dropped off in an extremely rushed and convenient ending (that Javier did not react enough to at all).

The entire Magic and Mayhem series is available now!

I received an ARC of all three books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Review: Brazen and the Beast

Book CoverBrazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean
My Rating: 4-Stars (actual: 3.75)
Genre: Historical Romance
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Formats: eBook ($7), Paperback ($14), Hardcover ($18)

Brazen and the Beast is the second book in MacLean’s Bareknuckle Bastards series. I went into this book without reading the first, and it read perfectly fine as a standalone despite the main characters from Wicked and the Wallflower making a few appearances.

Lady Henrietta “Hattie” Sedley has a plan for her 29th year of life: take control of her future in many ways, and that includes her father’s shipping business. Fate, however, has other plans when Whit (aka Beast), a ‘king’ of Covent Garden, is stashed, unconscious and restrained, inside her carriage.

The “Year of Hattie” is off to a poor start, but she isn’t about to allow a man to get in the way of her goals.

I enjoyed both Hattie and Whit in Brazen and the Beastthey were full of life, their motivations are clear, and their interactions were fun and engaging. Good characters can be hard to find, so it’s refreshing to find two likeable (though imperfect) main characters.

What dragged this story down for me wasn’t the romance, but rather the subplot. There’s dishonesty and betrayal, and the situation devolves into ridiculousness. What should have been clear-cut becomes convoluted, and the antagonist’s reasoning is pretty weak. The plot seems to have been devised simply to set up the next book.

I’d love to see the clever writing we got from MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels series, which gave us relevant-yet-building plot and a great romance in each story. While Brazen and the Beast is a fun romantic read, and I recommend it for anyone looking for an engaging historical summer romance, it’s missing the magic of MacLean’s early-2010s writing. I hope the next entry in this series finds it again.

Brazen and the Beast will release on July 30, 2019.

I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Blood, Book and Candle

Book CoverBlood, Book and Candle by Robyn Bachar
My Rating: 3.5-Stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance
Release Date: July 22, 2019
Formats: eBook ($4)

Blood, Book and Candle is the sixth book in the Bad Witch series. The first book, Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, is available for free in eBook format. I strongly suggest reading it if you’re new to the series, otherwise the world and overall plot that Bachar has created may be confusing and unengaging. I reviewed book #1 two days ago; you can check that out here.

Someone is hunting magicians, and Anne Williams is on their list.

Anne is a Seer, a magician who gets visions about the past, present, and future. Most of her life she hid this fact, pretending to be a Librarian, but recently that knowledge has become public. When Anne is attacked, she finds herself within the protective wards of a Chronicler’s home. Simon St. Jerome—whom she discovers is her soul mate, and not for the first time. He’s immortal (fangs and all), and Anne’s past self didn’t survive the immortality ceremony.

This book leaned a bit more heavily on the romance storyline over the main plot, but Anne and Simon are both very strong and very interesting characters, so it was fun to discover how their past and present collides.

Most of the action occurs as the pair hunt the hunters—a group of demons and non-magical humans seeking a way to harness magician magic for those without. Anne’s powers can help turn the tide for local magicians. Everyone around her fears her involvement because she has neither defensive nor offensive magic, but Anne proves to be a warrior princess who was prepared in advance.

It was awesome reading a female character who wasn’t the one that needed rescuing. That’s an easy cliché for authors fall into, but with Anne, we’re given a character who is aware of her limitations and did something to overcome that.

The drawbacks of this book are similar to the same criticisms I had of book #1. While Anne and Simon were much more interesting characters than Lex and Catherine from the first book, Blood, Book and Candle is again only a single first-person narration from Anne’s point of view. This is somewhat more bearable because Anne’s powers make her able to surface read some thought impressions from Simon, but I still wanted to join Simon for his part in the story as well. The worst offender that kept this book from being four stars for me was the sudden ending. While Anne and Simon were involved in the final scene, the story wrapped up focused on a secondary character’s story. I enjoy when books give glimpses of the next story to come, but there should have been one more chapter to bring Anne and Simon’s story to a more satisfying conclusion.

Given that both books #1 and #6 had the same style of one narrator and sudden ending, it’s safe to expect this type of writing from any of Bachar’s books.

That aside, these are dynamic characters in an intriguing world rife with conflict. I enjoyed my time with Anne and Simon, would read it again, and do look forward to the next in the series. It’s fun, it’s action-packed, and full of heart.

Blood, Book and Candle will release in eBook format on July 22, 2019.

I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Review: Blood, Smoke and Mirrors

Book CoverBlood, Smoke and Mirrors by Robyn Bachar
My Rating: 3.5-Stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance
Release Date: out now
Formats: eBook (FREE), Paperback ($13)

Blood, Smoke and Mirrors is the first book in the Bad Witch series. I’m currently reading the upcoming book #6 for Netgalley, and the author’s note suggested to grab book #1 first if you’re new to the series. Since it was a freebie, I happily took that advice, and I am so glad that I did—book #6 would’ve been fairly confusing without it.

In Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, we meet Catherine Baker, who is a witch, and Alexander “Lex” Duquesne, who is a guardian. Catherine and Lex have a romantic past, but their relationship ended several years prior when Lex did his guardian duty and turned in Catherine for causing harm (which isn’t allowed for a witch) when someone attacked her. Self-defense or not, she was exiled; rightfully so, she felt betrayed.

Lex comes to Catherine when their region’s Titania—an ambassador of sorts between the human and faerie realms—is murdered. Not only does Lex believe that she should try to become the next Titania, but he also has a warning: her death might be next. Like it or not, he’s there to protect her.

Of course, chaos ensues.

This book had a lot of magical action going on. At times, and especially after Catherine becomes a guest to a vampire, I teetered on the brink of thinking that there was more happening than my brain can believe is possible. Catherine goes through the good and the bad—mostly the bad—on her path to reclaiming her role in magical society. While the many events acted as a fantastic introduction to the hierarchy of magicians and the world Bachar is building, it neared overwhelming.

Despite, or because, of that, there was also never a dull moment. Catherine and Lex rebuild their shattered relationship and show the magical world what a power couple they are. This is also where I think the book didn’t do itself any favors by only being narrated in Catherine’s first person point of view. I wanted to see inside Lex’s head and understand more than what he chose to say to Catherine about why he turned her in and how he felt afterward. Because we’re missing his point of view, he doesn’t seem to develop as much as a character as Catherine does until near the end of the book. (We’re also subjected to the “Big Misunderstanding” romance trope because we have no insight to his thoughts.)

The secondary characters are quite interesting as well (and I was thrilled to discover that one of them is the male lead in book #6). They offer more insight into this world of magicians and give opportunities for levity in an action-laden environment. They’re dynamic and offer this world further potential to expand.

One of the biggest complaints I see in other reviews is that Catherine is a weak character. I have to agree with that—she’s quite pessimistic about herself, her family, her past with Lex, and her limitations as a witch for much of the book. I’m willing to accept that if she’s bound by a “do no harm” tenant (which there should be a self-defense exception for, but I digress), that she’s unwilling or untrained to use her magic offensively. What makes Catherine appear weak is her mental state, and unfortunately that lasts longer than it should. She does progress, but also regresses; it’s not until we’re nearly at the sudden finale that she hits her stride.

While this series opener has some rough spots, it’s still a fun read and holds a lot of promise for the series. I would have liked to spend more time with these two in the final chapter instead of being rushed through the ending, especially since it was such an ordeal to get to that point. There are details that aren’t wrapped up (related to the overall series plot), but the main story of Catherine and Lex does reach a satisfying conclusion. The couple does have a second book (Bewitched, Blooded and Bewildered; #3 in the series) that wraps up one Catherine-related event left unresolved in Blood, Smoke and Mirrors. I have yet to read it, but the reviews are complementary.

My review for Blood, Book and Candle (book #6; releases July 22) will hopefully be up within the next few days. I’m finishing up three summer semester courses this weekend, so that comes first. If you’re interested in checking out the series, you can grab the Blood, Smoke and Mirrors eBook for free.

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Review: The Duke is But a Dream

Book CoverThe Duke is But a Dream by Anna Bennett
My Rating: 3-Stars
Genre: Historical Romance
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Formats: eBook ($8), Paperback ($7)

Look at that cover. So pretty!

This is my first Anna Bennett book. While I wasn’t swept off my feet, I did enjoy the organic way the two characters got to know each other. The premise that Lily (a Miss from a well-to-do family) is left alone while everyone leaves town and has a head injury/memory loss and then Eric (the Duke of Stonebridge) decides to take her in until her family is discovered is far-fetched—but it worked for this particular plot, as the two wouldn’t have socialized otherwise.

Lily is energetic and enjoyable, and I loved the snippets of her columns prior to each chapter. The friendship between Lily and Delilah, Eric’s sister, helped both characters grow and accept realizations and realities of the world around them.

I really liked Eric as a person, but absolutely didn’t like his reasons for not wanting a romantic relationship. He aspired to have great intentions but his decision-making skills need some improvement. He’s unwilling to commit, but gets involved with Lily anyway—even when she doesn’t know who she is.

The circumstances of the story force both Lily and Eric to open up in ways they may not have otherwise. While I would have liked to have seen these characters come together in a less-forced manner, their story was still a fun and quick read. It isn’t the most memorable of stories, but is an intriguing one. The book is part of the Debutante Diaries series, but can be read as a standalone.

I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Regarding the swearing in the book:
Several other reviewers have mentioned profanity in this book. I noted two f-bombs and six s-words. Etymology: The f-bomb originates all the way back to the 16th century (and possibly before), making an appearance in poetry and even in an Italian-English dictionary, both in the 1500s. The s-word is believed to date back to Old English and first appeared in Middle English writing, though it’s more likely that our British hero would have pronounced it differently than how it’s spelled in the book. The author isn’t writing something too “modern” or “out of time,” as these words have been around for centuries.

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