Book Review: Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross

Wolf Gone Wild (Stay a Spell #1)
Pub Date: 14 January 2020
Genre: Adult Paranormal Romance

Panda Rating:

(3.5 pandas)

📖 SYNOPSIS

What’s the worst thing that can happen to a werewolf? Unable to shift for three months, Mateo Cruz knows all too well. His wolf has taken up residence in his head, taunting him night and day with vividly violent and carnal thoughts. Convinced he’s cursed, he needs the help of a powerful witch before he literally goes insane.

​Evie Savoie has always obeyed the house rules of her coven–no werewolves. They’re known for being moody and volatile. So, when a distempered, dangerous werewolf strolls into the bar and almost strangles one of her late-night customers, she’s ready to bounce him through the door. But the desperation in his eyes when he begs her to help him softens her heart and convinces her to bend the rules.

​What Evie doesn’t know is that Mateo’s wolf has a mind of his own. And now that she’s in his sights, he wants only one thing. Her.

⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS

Kidnapping, torture

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Book Review: The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

The Ex Hex (Ex Hex #1)
Publisher: Headline Eternal
Pub Date: 28 September 2021
Genre: Paranormal Romance

Panda Rating:

(4 pandas)

📖 SYNOPSIS

The Ex Hex is a spellbinding rom-com with a twist, think Practical Magic in the Gilmore Girls Stars Hollow…

New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hawkins, writing as Erin Sterling, casts a spell with a spine-tingling romance full of wishes, witches, and hexes gone wrong.


‘You broke my heart, Rhys Penhallow. And we curse you. You and your whole stupid, hot line.’

Vivienne Jones handled the biggest break-up of her life the way that any witch would: vodka, bubble baths, and a curse on her ex.

That was nine years ago. Now Rhys Penhallow, descendant of the town’s founders, breaker of hearts and still irritatingly gorgeous, is back. Rhys has returned to the quaint town of Graves Glen to recharge the ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival. But when his every move results in calamity, Vivi realises that hexing her ex might not have been so harmless after all…

As the curse starts to affect the magic of the town, resulting in murderous wind-up toys, an outraged ghost, and a surprisingly talkative cat, Vivi and Rhys must put their personal feelings aside and work together to break the curse and save not just the town, but also Rhys’s life.

⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS

Parental death (recounted)

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Book Review: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy
Publisher: Orbit
Pub Date: 23 August 2022
Genre: Fantasy Romance (Romantasy)

Panda Rating:

(5 pandas)

📖 SYNOPSIS

Hart Ralston is a demigod and a marshal, tasked with patrolling the wasteland of Tanria. The realm the exiled old gods once called home is now a forsaken place where humans with no better options or no better sense come seeking adventure or spoils, but more often end up as drudges: reanimated corpses inhabited by the souls of those who’ve died in Tanria before. Hart tells himself that his job is simple: neutralize the drudges with a quick zap to the appendix and deliver them back to polite society at the nearest undertaker’s, leaving the whys and hows of the drudge problem for men without the complexities of a god in their family tree. But working alone, Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder exactly those questions he’d most like to avoid.

Too much time alone is the opposite of Mercy Birdsall’s problem. Since her father’s decline, she’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son undertakers afloat in small-town Eternity—despite definitely not being a son, and in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart Ralston, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest. The work’s not the problem—Mercy’s good at it, better than any other Birdsall—but keeping all her family’s plates spinning singlehandedly, forever, isn’t how Mercy envisioned her future.

After yet another run-in with the sharp-tongued Mercy, Hart considers she might have a point about his utter loneliness being a bit of a liability. In a moment of sentimentality, he pens a letter addressed simply to “A Friend,” and entrusts it to a nimkilim, an anthropomorphic animal messenger with an uncanny connection to the gods, (and in Hart’s case, a bit of a drinking problem). Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.

If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most–Mercy. As the two unlikely pen pals grow closer, the truth about Hart’s parentage and the nature of the drudges creeps in. And suddenly their old animosity seems so small in comparison to what they might be able to do: end the drudges forever. But at what cost?

⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS

Parental abandonment, physical injuries including gunshot wounds, emesis, heart attack recounted, dead bodies, grief & loss depiction, death of a father recounted, death of a mother from cancer recounted, death of a grandparent from a stroke, attempted murder, animal death recounted (dog)

TL;DR: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is an entertaining, hilariously quirky and slightly morbid fantasy romance mixed with so many well-executed rom-com elements. This curious world sucked me in and the characters had me falling head-over-feet for them and I had such a hard time putting this down when it came time to fall asleep! I would definitely recommend it to those who love the hate-to-love/enemies-to-lovers trope, delicious emotional angst, all the grumpy/sunshine vibes in both romance and friendship, strong family banter and MCs who are so very easy to love.

Countless people told me that I was sure to love this romantasy and they weren’t wrong. I’m upset that it took me so long to read it but I’m glad that I finally picked it up on a whim yesterday because omgoodness, I adored it so very much! 😍 I don’t often re-read books but the minute I finished this I immediately missed these characters and wanted to dive back in again. Thank you in advance for reading this essay I wrote! 😂

Bannen swept me away to this weirdly quaint and macabre world where zombie-like creatures existed alongside portals to lands that served as a magical prison for Gods. The setting was a mix of old-fashioned historical western and magical modern quirkiness that sounds like such an odd combination but really worked so well for this story—it’s unlike any fantasy romance setting I’ve read before which made it so much more fun to read. Although the world-building was pretty light, I liked that it wasn’t so complex that I’d get lost in the intricacies but it was still enough for me to get a clear picture of what was happening, where and why. This had a mystery element too and though it was kind of predictable and only played a minor-ish role in pushing forward the romance and character development, it was still fun to figure it out.

As intriguing as the world-building is, the characters are 100% what won me over and I knew I would love all of them—main and side characters alike, the moment we are introduced to them! 💜

Mercy was absolutely wonderful! She has such a big heart and has so much love and kindness to share with everyone. She’s the oldest child and has worked tirelessly to support her family, from helping raise her siblings when their mum passed to now handling the family business since her dad got sick. Although everyone assumes she’s being held back from “living her life” due to these obligations, she actually loves being an undertaker and it was such a pleasure to read about her passion for providing people with the best care she can give them even if they’re no longer alive to see it. She’s selfless, which often meant she puts her wants and needs last, but her responsibilities also made her feel a little lonely and friendless. She is an easy character to admire and I loved her sunshine positivity!

“Oh. It’s you,” she said, the words and the unenthusiastic tone that went with them dropping off her tongue like a lead weight. Hart resisted the urge to grind his molars into a fine powder. “Most people start with hello.”
“Hello, Hart-ache,” she sighed.
“Hello, Merciless.”

In total grumpy contrast to her is Hart. He is a super-sad and super-lonely demigod and honestly, that romance hero archetype is absolutely my kryptonite so it’s safe to say that I LOVED him. He’s lost so many loved ones in his life and is understandably jaded because of it, but it’ll surprise no one to know that under his gruffness, Hart is an ooey-gooey softy who’s scared to live his life (in case he lives forever and has to lose everyone he loves all over again—y’know, immortality and all that jazz), and yet he craves the comfort of companionship though he doesn’t know how to show it. As much as I loved Mercy and her personal growth, I was most invested in Hart’s because he’s so harsh on himself but he deserves so much happiness and it was so satisfying to see him open up thanks to Mercy and Duckers entering his life. I honestly didn’t expect to get so emotionally invested but by the end of this book, I was full-on weeping (yes, I am a crier in general but it’s been a while, okay)!

And aah, don’t even get me started on their romance! It was everything! Totally *chefs kiss!* and I feel head-over-feet for these love birds! 💜 If you are a fan of the hate-to-love trope, with plenty of “I loathe this person and yet I can’t keep my eyes off them or stop thinking about them” vibes, then you’re for sure going to love the dynamic between Hart and Mercy. They both come in hot with slinging insults at each other and their snippy hate-filled banter is just as good as their friendship-turned-lovers banter! The emotional, physical and sexual tension was palpable each time they met and it created such delightfully angsty moments that had me questioning if they were going to take swipes at each other or launch themselves at each other for what we know will be a devastating kiss. Plus, knowing that they’re unwittingly writing to one another and cracking their chests wide open in those letters only served to ratchet up the tension and I loved every second of it! 😍 If you enjoy epistolary stories or mixed media formats, then you’ll enjoy the inclusion of their letters in this. The vulnerability, the cheeky banter, and the comforting connection they formed all came through so well in these letters and let me tell you, that last one had me seriously ugly crying, negl! 😂

“Bassareus regarded Hart, studied the bottle in his hand, then turned his attention back to Hart. “She must be a hot piece of ass.”
“You look like a rabbit, but you’re actually a pig, aren’t you?” Hart said, making it clear that this was a statement, not a question.”

Aside from our two wonderful MCs, the side characters all won me over too. Mercy’s family is delightfully weird and wonderful and it was such a blast to read all their interactions. They’re small but loud, rambunctious, and so full of life! I also adored Pen Duckers—Hart’s apprentice and the one who starts injecting more joy and life into Hart’s world. Their connection was all sorts of heartwarming and together they not only made a great team but also a little family unit that made my heart so happy. I can’t forget to mention the nimkilim Horatio and Bassareus, the latter who was shockingly and vulgar but it was so comical and somehow fitting for this giant magical rabbit’s personality. 😂 Honestly, so many of the characters and their dynamics in this book were hilarious and had me cracking up! This book was a lot funnier than I thought it’d be which just made reading Bannen’s writing all the more enjoyable to read.

I can really go on about this book but long story short is that I absolutely loved it, couldn’t put it down, want to go back to these characters immediately, and would highly recommend it to all of those who love romance and aren’t afraid to get it with a lite dose of fantasy. This is definitely one of my favourites this year (yes, I really loved it that much). Please read it! 💜

Have you read The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy or is it on your TBR?

Mini Book Review: Fake Empire by C.W. Farnsworth

Fake Empire
Pub Date: 23 June 2022
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Panda Rating:

(3.5 pandas)

📖 SYNOPSIS

There’s rich. Then there’s the Ellsworth family. The Kensingtons. American royalty.

Money buys power, and power always has a price. The fear of those who already possess both? Losing it. The best way to ensure keeping it? Alliances. And elites don’t marry down—they marry equal.

For Scarlett Ellsworth and Crew Kensington, that leaves one option: each other. Accepting that inevitability is very different from embracing it. That’s the only thing they agree upon. It was meant to be a union for better and for business.

Instead, it challenges everything Scarlett and Crew thought they knew about themselves, their families, and most of all…each other.

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Mini Book Review: Blind Side by Kandi Steiner

Blind Side (Red Zone Rivals #2)
Pub Date: 15 June 2022
Genre: Contemporary (Sports) Romance

Panda Rating:

(4 pandas)

📖 SYNOPSIS

The hottest college football safety in the nation just asked me to be his fake girlfriend.

And I just asked him to take my virginity.

Clay Johnson has the abs of Adonis and the deadly smirk of the devil, himself. There’s hardly a day he’s not headline material during football season, and never a day he isn’t a bullseye target for every girl on campus.

He used to be the easiest of all the players for me to wrangle as the Public Relations Coordinator, but after a nasty breakup with his high school sweetheart, he’s a mess.

And a complete pain in my ass.

We meet to discuss his behavior and review media relations standards. But when he witnesses how I fall to pieces in front of my guitar-toting crush, his wheels start turning. And he cooks up this absurd plan.

He helps me get noticed.
I help him make his ex jealous.
All by pretending to be in a relationship.

What he doesn’t realize is that this bookworm is a virgin, and far from versed in seducing a musician. So, to sweeten the deal, I convince him to help me — not just to get my crush’s attention, but to knock his socks off once I have it.

But the more I come unraveled at the hands of Clay Johnson, the more trouble I have discerning what’s fake and what’s undoubtedly real — particularly, the way my heart flutters every time that breathtaking man touches me.

We set the rules. We put the safeguards in place.

But they say rules are meant to be broken.
They probably should have added that hearts are, too.

Blind Side is a fake dating college sports romance with “lessons” and opposites attract. It is a complete stand-alone.

TL;DR: This had the fake-dating and popular jock/bookish virginal nerd tropes with a good bit of angst and a whole lot of funny, swoony and steamy moments in between! This was my first book by Kandi Steiner and I’m glad to say that I really enjoyed it! Blind Side was simply a good-time read and with how much I enjoyed it, I’m looking forward to checking out more by this author.

I really liked Giana and Clay together and I loved how their relationship evolved from something surface-level to something deeper and much more romantic. It’s so great when couples develop a strong friendship and the level of openness and trust that forms between these two made their romance that much stronger. There was a genuineness to their interactions that made this romance feel a lot more realistic!

Giana was an absolute sweetheart and a romance-loving bookworm. She’s shy and doesn’t see herself as anything special coming from a family of overachieving siblings but I loved how she grew confident in herself as the book progresses. She is an ‘innocent/virginal’ FMC but I don’t feel like she comes off as “not-like-other-girls” and actually, it was great to see her actually open up sexually (also thanks to romance novels)! I loved Clay and my heart went out to him in his situation. He’s a typical jock in many ways but he also has a people-pleasing side and would do anything to help the people he cares about even if it means putting himself last. It took him a while to get to a place where he’d put himself first and it did generate a fair bit of angst but it didn’t get overly dragged out and I loved the support he got from his friends and teammates to get him there. That grand gesture at the end was so swoontastic and honestly, sickeningly sweet and I loved it! 😍 Their chemistry was off-the-charts and the steamy moments were fire-hot thanks to Clay reading Giana’s romance novels and taking notes on what she likes! 😉🔥

Overall, this was a really fun sports romance though it did have a few more serious moments dealing with a toxic parental relationship and a bit of romantic angst at the end. Giana and Clay were really great characters who more than deserved their HEA and I’m already really looking forward to the next book in the series.

Have you read Blind Side or is it on your TBR?

ARC Review: Off the Ice by Jaqueline Snowe

Special thanks to the author for providing a digital ARC via Grey’s Promotions in exchange for an honest review!

Off the Ice (Central State #4)
Pub Date:
11 October 2022
Genre: Contemporary (Sports) Romance

Panda Rating:

(4.5 stars)

📖 SYNOPSIS

Falling for the hopeless romantic was never part of the plan…

Elle Van Helsing wants to start her life away from home. Constantly living under the shadow of her brother, she plans to find romance and survive on her own: even if it’s financially harder than she thought. Getting a job at a dive bar three doors down from her new place is the perfect solution. Well, it was until the owner has a family emergency and asks his nephew to help out in his absence. The guy she used to have a crush on until he ruined it.

Cal Holt might be a legend on the ice, but off it? He’s alone and likes to keep it that way. It’s easier to protect himself when he’s always a jerk, but the one person who gets under his skin is Elle. Torn between wanting to get to know her and pushing her away, he’s surprised when he learns she hates him. She looked at him differently the year before, and now that they’re stuck managing a bar for a few weeks, tensions rise.

She’s a hopeless romantic who wants grand gestures and sees the world through rose-colored glasses. He’s a grumpy cynic with a permanent scowl. She dreams of love, and he wants a one-night stand. She plans to build a life on campus, and he plans to leave and head to the NHL. Complete opposites in every way, they shift from enemies to friends…but Cal refuses to fall in love, and Elle deserves more. For the girl who never felt enough, and the guy terrified to feel, fear might ruin their chance at finding love.

⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS

death of parents (off-page)

📚 BUY A COPY
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Book Review: Consider Me by Becka Mack

Consider Me (Playing for Keeps #1)
Pub Date: 22 March 2022
Genre: Contemporary (Sports) Romance

Panda Rating:

(3.5 pandas)

📖 SYNOPSIS

Carter Beckett is the NHL’s resident badboy, top player both on the ice & in the bedroom, and quite possibly the sexiest man to ever grace my field of vision. But worst of all? He knows it.

He’s arrogant, self-centered, and the man doesn’t seem to know what a filter is, let alone how to use one. He’s had everything served to him on a silver platter, including endless strings of women, and apparently, I’m up next.

His only problem? I have no intention of falling for his shi—um, charm.

I have the solution to all my sexual frustrations in a drawer at home, and it’s far less complicated than Carter Beckett. Sure, he may be pretty, but he’s also a walking, talking reminder for you to wrap it before you tap it.

But then I start letting my guard down, and he starts showing me pieces of himself I had no intention of seeing. The bricks surrounding me may be tumbling down one by one, but I’m not sold yet, which means for the first time in his life, Carter’s the one begging.

For my time, my trust, for a single chance.
For me to just…consider him.

TL;DR: This is an ultra corny, cheesy sports romance that I wasn’t sure would work for me at the start because of some of the things the MMC was doing/thinking/saying, but Carter’s frantic golden retriever energy really grew on me by the end! This was a pretty angsty romance filled with plenty of drama (including OW drama) and it honestly could’ve been shorter but I had a lot of fun reading it! I’m really excited to read about the other guys on the team already—especially sweet, sweet Adam! 😍

What I Liked:

  • This was an all-around good time. Were the characters, interactions and dialogue OTT sometimes? Yes. But I genuinely laughed out loud several times and often had a grin on my face while reading. This friend group was definitely awesome even though they were slightly messy at times!
  • The chemistry was intense!✨ Carter and Ollie had an amazing connection that jumped off the page and only served to heighten the sexual tension as they circled each other and their feelings. This was pretty steamy (featuring a dirty-talking hero who loves to eat! 😉) and there were a lot of steamy moments but I think the author balanced all of it well with the sweeter and more romantic and swoony moments.
  • Speaking of swoony… When Carter falls, he falls hard! This man is an absolute SIMP for Olivia and of course, we loved to see it. If you love a simp hero that will do anything for his heroine, then you’ll definitely love Carter. He adored spoiling Olivia in the most loved-up ways, and though he’s goofy AF most of the time, when he decides to get romantic, he holds absolutely nothing back. It’s really cute and reading about how much he loves Olivia was swoontastic to the max! 😍
  • You’ll enjoy this if you’re a fan of sports romances, particularly hockey romance. I loved that this is set in Canada (the second one I’ve ever read!) but I also really loved the team dynamic between the guys. Carter, Emmett, Garrett and Adam had such great chemistry and their banter was everything I love about the team aspect of sports romance—they had me cracking up!
  • This brings me to the friendships and other relationships in this story and I loved all of them! The guys were a great group and I appreciated how they could genuinely count on each other’s support and also be vulnerable with each other. Ollie’s bestie, Cara, was *a lot* and I felt her character was slightly exaggerated at times, but she was a true ride-or-die bestie and I loved how you could feel that through the writing. The relationship between Carter and his mum + sister was hilarious and definitely made me understand where his goofiness came from, plus, I really liked Ollie’s dynamic with her brother Jeremy and his family (Alannah is adorable!).
    • However, my fave relationship was between Hank and Carter. OML, Hank was an absolute GEM and I would protect him at all costs. I love how he became a pseudo-father/grandfather figure to Carter when he lost his dad and their dynamic was just perfection! Even better, he loved his steamy romances and even formed a mini-book club with Ollie! 😂 It was too cute.

What I Struggled With:

  • Carter says he’s not immature and he’s just goofy but there were moments when that line was very thin, very blurred or just wholly demolished. I wish he took things a little more seriously at times but I suppose when it really counted, he was. His thoughts about Ollie would also sometimes start out very sweet but end very weirdly sexual—like, it was too much and it felt weird to read it.
  • This romance was very swoony but sometimes also trod the line of being overly cheesy for me. I do enjoy cheesy romance but it got a bit much for me here when the characters kept repeating the same mushy things and continued to spout endless professions of love mostly because they kept repeating it over and over again!
  • The drama was a lot and it was mostly OW drama—which I hate—and I didn’t really see the point of it. Why was this woman such a horrible human being and fully obsessed with ruining their relationship when she already had a hockey bf but decided to ruin her own relationship too? It only served to fuel Ollie’s insecurities and to bring up Carter’s past but it felt unnecessary!

Have you read Consider Me or is it on your TBR?