Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: These Wicked Lies (These Wicked Lies #1): by Miranda Joy

Publish Date: June 22nd, 2022
Number of Pages: N/A
Publisher: Self Published
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

I’m not in the mood to murder someone tonight, but I must.

– Miranda Joy, “These Wicked Lies”

What It’s About:

the official synopsis:

When a princess with the ability to absorb and transfer life force energy discovers her mother, the queen, is manipulating her, she works with unexpected allies to steal the throne, battling magic-induced anxiety and unexpected attractions along the way.

Astrid is a vygora—a rare being that can absorb one’s life force energy and transfer it to another with a touch. Only two people know what she’s truly capable of: her best friend, Ilona, and her mother, the Queen of Hakran, a powerful myndox.

When foreign royalty and their handsome guard, Dashiel Dargan, show up unexpectedly with the ability to mute myndox manipulation, Astrid discovers she’s been a prisoner to her mother’s power her entire life, and she’s not the only one. Faced with a lifetime of memories built on lies, she’s caught between the story she thinks she knows, and the one she doesn’t remember.

But when she can’t trust anyone, how can she figure out which story is true?

~~~

This book actually already holds a special place in my heart because I’ve actually become a friend with the author on #bookstagram! NO, she’s not bribing me with this review in any way, shape, or form either…in fact, with this information I’m actually feeling more pressure NOT to make this a simply glowing review of the book.

BUT I can admit it’s become so cool to meet someone who’s published a book and that it’s totally a book you wanted to read too!

Okay so back to this review: For a debut novel, this was a pretty impressive story to get into. It was so easy to get wrapped into this world and meet Astrid, who’s more than just a regular Princess. She’s got some depth to her, and some morally gray traits to her personality. She’s got some fire to her spirit!

She’s feeling very conflicted in her position: Princess by day and lifeforce sucker by night. She disguises herself in a veiled costume and takes the life of a willing victim as a sacrifice in order to pass it to her mother in order to keep her alive and keep their whole island safe. The seeds of doubt were already planted that something more nefarious may be going on with all this, but it takes some foreign company visiting their lush island home to really set things in motion.

I’ll be honest, I got some major From Blood and Ash/A Shadow in the Ember vibes from this book, which isn’t a bad thing! If anyone reading this has followed my reviews on here, they should know the FBAA series is a big favorite of mine! I wouldn’t say this even comes close to copying it , TWL definitely still feels like it’s own entity, but I can definitely see some comparisons between the two or possibly the author even drew some inspiration from the story! Who knows?

Reading this book, I was easily sucked in to the exotic and tropical world the author created, and created fun and familiar dynamics between the cast of characters. Dashiel and Astrid had some great chemistry and lots of playful banter—think a similar vibe to Cassian and Nesta in the Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas—and I really got into their slow burn romance throughout. Dash was an easy guy to like, and Astrid wasn’t afraid to humble him and put him in his place when he (maybe) needed it.

The midpoint got a little slow for me, only because we already knew about the Queen’s manipulation of Astrid and her people because it’s in the synopsis, so that part wasn’t all that shocking to see develop. There is a question of which side everyone is on exactly, and the unknown of what everyone’s intentions are definitely keep you interested. Astrid and her friend Ilona grow closer to Dashiel and Prince Zale, but also more weary of them as questionable behavior shows; there’s definitely more going on beneath the surface.

You meet Lex later on in the story, and once again complete and total mystery surrounds him, but he’s a major character believe me! He’s not just a random addition to the story at all…

The ending sequences are the piece-de-resistance of the whole book. I’ll admit I didn’t see it coming, and it certainly leaves you with a brow-raising expression, and the final page ends on a dark and sexy way that leaves you yearning to see what could possibly happen next, and also wanting the next book, like, yesterday.

Once again, even if I didn’t get to personally know the author, I’d say this is a pretty remarkable debut novel that shows so much promise for bigger and better things! Miranda Joy is certainly a name to remember if she keeps this up!

~~~

I hate how alluring his accent is. I hate how everything sounds good coming out of his mouth, even my impending death.

– Miranda Joy, “These Wicked Lies”

What I Liked:

  1. Astrid is a Morally Grey Heroine! I love it when the MC’s have a dark side to them, they just become so much more interesting of a character. Everyone complains that Superman is boring because he always takes the moral high ground, and I have to agree. Astrid has dangerous magical abilities, and she also isn’t afraid to get violent when needed. the anxiety of all that happens to her and all that everyone isn’t telling her really wears on her psyche, and even I can agree sometimes it can just drive you a little crazy and want to pull a dagger on someone *shrugs*
  2. That Twist Towards the End! I totally didn’t see this twist coming towards the end, and the best ones are like that but they also totally make sense when you think about it afterwards. Bravo to the author, it was wonderfully done!
  3. Dash! Helloooooo new addition to my book boyfriend list! Dash was hot, not much more to say. I will however say that I’m curious what kind of decisions he’s going to make in the next installment in this story. It will be a determining factor as to how this relationship between us is going to continue and if we can stay together…we’ll see!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. You Don’t Meet A Major Character Until Much Later In The Book…Their appearance into the story raised a lot of questions, which I suppose is a good thing to get the reader to keep with the book, but part of the questions had me wondering if he really was an important character at all to be begin with. Part of me wonders if maybe this character made more appearances throughout the beginning a little more, even if they were short and brief, that this could’ve made the last minute addition feel less confusing?
  2. The Twist With The Queen…Part of got a little bored with the middle because the mystery of the queen wasn’t really even a mystery: we knew she was evil/the villain even from the synopsis of the book. With that already revealed, part of the allure wasn’t there, and I feel like it would’ve made the story stronger if we (the readers) discovered it for ourselves.
  3. I Want More Spice…This isn’t really a critique, but more a hope/request/plea: book two needs more sex. And don’t worry, I did say this to Miranda, and she confirms there will be 😉

Conclusion:

Overall, this was such an entertaining read that I for the most part really enjoyed! The warm and tropical climate and how things get heated in more ways than one makes for a fun book that I think fans of Sarah J. Maas, Holly Black, and Jennifer L. Armentrout would enjoy. It definitely shares a lot of the similar elements that these ladies of romantic fantasy used to put their names on the map!

I will definitely be reading the next book in this series; Miranda Joy ended it in such a juicy way, how could I not?

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

My Review: The War of Two Queens (From Blood and Ash #4): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: March 15th, 2022
Number of Pages: 628 Pages
Publisher: Evil Eye Concepts, Inc.
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

***Warning! This review contains spoilers from the previous books in the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – From Blood and Ash – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire – Click HERE

To see my review of book #3 – The Crown of Gilded Bones – Click HERE

To see my review of the prequel book #1 – A Shadow in the Ember – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

We’re two hearts … one soul. We’ll find each other again. We always will.

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The War of Two Queens”

What It’s About:

the official synopsis:

From the desperation of golden crowns…

Casteel Da’Neer knows all too well that very few are as cunning or vicious as the Blood Queen, but no one, not even him, could’ve prepared for the staggering revelations. The magnitude of what the Blood Queen has done is almost unthinkable.

And born of mortal flesh…

Nothing will stop Poppy from freeing her King and destroying everything the Blood Crown stands for. With the strength of the Primal of Life’s guards behind her, and the support of the wolven, Poppy must convince the Atlantian generals to make war her way—because there can be no retreat this time. Not if she has any hope of building a future where both kingdoms can reside in peace.

A great primal power rises…

Together, Poppy and Casteel must embrace traditions old and new to safeguard those they hold dear—to protect those who cannot defend themselves. But war is only the beginning. Ancient primal powers have already stirred, revealing the horror of what began eons ago. To end what the Blood Queen has begun, Poppy might have to become what she has been prophesied to be—what she fears the most.

As the Harbinger of Death and Destruction.

~~~

Ugh, I’m sorry folks, I don’t know whats wrong with me lately, it’s like I can’t find the motivation to do anything right now…like all my energy is purely for my job and anything else just keeps getting pushed back because I have no energy or motivation…maybe my depression is getting bad again? I don’t feel that way, but I’m just tired a lot lately and overwhelmed.

Anyways, this review…where do you really start? Ever since the day this book released there was some major controversy about it that left quite an impression on the bookish community who were aware of what was happening. I remember I was so incredibly excited to start this next installment and read to see what possibly was going to happen next with that epic ending TCOGB gave us…what I didn’t expect was the fandom to be in it’s own sort of civil war! Suddenly on March 15th, there was all sorts of negative reviews that were trashing the books, trashing the characters, and possible the most surprising of all, trashing Jennifer L. Armentrout herself as the author. I was shocked, upset, and incredibly disappointed to see all the negativity about this book. It felt like a bitter betrayal and it even made me question if I wanted to read this book myself…

But then I look at some of the negativity and thought to myself if some of these people actually read the book, or if they were simply reacting to what someone else may have said and blown it out of context and proportion. This is becoming a regular thing where the crowds overly react to something on the internet and express anger without even knowing all the facts and the full story. Unfortunately, this is pretty typical internet culture and what some may even consider “cancel culture” that people love to find something to be angry about in order to win themselves some “woke” points to ease some sort of internal guilt they may feel and can or can’t talk about quite yet…

Anyways, I’ve finished the book and can say that all the drama and negativity was so not deserved, not that any author should be attacked the way JLA was, and honestly the people who thought that was okay can honestly go f**k off and shut up for the rest of their lives for all I care…this is my blog and I can say that if I want to. There’s nothing wrong with not liking the book or having a different opinion because reading is so subjective and opinion based on what people’s preferences are, but personally going after someone and showing bullying behavior is ugly and toxic and there’s no way to justify it… Don’t join in the anger and hatred and negativity in a situation like this without actually reading the material and seeing for yourself what you honestly think and come to your own consensus on the subject, not just ride the coattails of whatever people on the internet are angry about today…instead of spending so much time and energy bashing something or someone for liking it, simply go out and find something to love and praise instead. it’s not that hard…

Now as for my thoughts for this book, I can admit that it wasn’t the strongest book in the series. As far as content goes, this book feels more like set up for what else is possibly to come down the road. The story has gone in a direction that I hadn’t expected from the beginning, and while I’m not 100% behind it, I’m still definitely a fan of the book series and it’s characters and will continue to read.

The writing stays consistently great, the characters in my opinion remain true to themselves, even as they’ve grown throughout the books, and this book really ties into what happened in A Shadow in the Ember and how it goes into what the major conflict in these books are…all I can say is we thought the Ascended were the biggest issue in this world, but as ASITE and this book reveal, that’s just the surface of how deep this truly goes. And yes, this is also me confirming it’s incredibly important to read ASITE before reading this book too!

Like I said earlier, this may be what I now consider the weakest book of the series, but that in no way means I think it was a bad book. There were many positives about it that I really enjoyed that I get into more later on, but I can’t help but feel like this was also just pure setup to what will most likely be an absolutely explosive conclusion! It’s a bit like Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 or Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows Part 1 in movie form if that helps you visual learners like myself.

~~~

Whether she ruled over all the lands and seas or was the Queen of nothing but a pile of ashes and bones she would – will – always be my Queen. Love is too weak an emotion to describe how she consumes me and what I feel for her. She is my everything.

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The War of Two Queens”

What I Liked:

  1. Reaver! Awesome new character alert!!! Just like I suspected, I absolutely loved his addition to the story. I was surprised he was more aloof and stoic and quiet instead of loud, proud, and cocky like I pictured he was going to be, but either way he had some hilarious zingers in the dialogue department! I’d say he was more like Azriel when I thought he was going to be more like Cassian for any ACOTAR fans out there…
  2. The Blood Queen Is Actually A Good Villain! JLA said this in an instagram live with Jillian Stein, but the best villains are the ones who believe they are the hero of their story. The Blood Queen has done nothing but shock and absolutely deliver whenever she makes an appearance, and even though she is multi-levels of messed up in the head, its certain that she behaves a certain way because of her origin story, to which I can respect!
  3. Kieran Gets More Attention! I felt like Kieran was definitely continuing to become a bigger character with each and every book, and with how the previous book ended with Casteel being taken by the Blood Queen, Kieran had to step up and he was very successful in doing so.
  4. That Thing Happens! That thing that the fandom was so torn about? …lets just say things happen and its so well done in my opinion, so pure, and there’s consent up the wazoo about all this!
  5. Casteel Continues To Be An Excellent Book Boyfriend! I love how much he loves Poppy and how devoted he is. Now, I can say his character felt a little cheapened in this book because it felt like he was just the love interest and everything involving him revolved around his feelings for her, and I feel like at this point there wasn’t as much depth to him like there was in the first two books!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. This Book Felt Like Pure Setup For The Next Installment…I can agree this is the weakest book in the series, but ONLY because it feels like setup for what will be the final battle with the final boss villain in the next book possibly!
  2. Secondary Characters Pushed To Back…While Kieran and even Reaver step forward and become more prominent characters, others like Vonetta, Tawny, Emil, Naill and Delano either weren’t in the book as much as they have in the past, or they were just stagnant and didn’t really do as much. there wasn’t a whole lot with any of them or anything really going on in this sense…

Conclusion:

Overall, The War of Two Queens is another great installment for the Blood and Ash series by Jennifer L. Armentrout, and even though I feel like this is the weakest book of the series, I still feel like it was still an enjoyable book to read! Things do somehow continue to get bigger and bigger, and this is no longer simply a “Vampires and Werewolves” type of series either.

Again, I urge anyone reading this to read the book and come to your own conclusions and not just follow in what a lot of other people are saying online. Obviously I’ve drawn my line in the sand and say where I stand in terms of this argument, so take that as you will…All I can say is I’ll definitely be keeping up with this series and am looking forward to the next Flesh and Fire book with Sera and Nyktos, and then the next FBAA book too!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult Romance

My Review: A Shadow in the Ember (Flesh & Fire #1): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: October 19th, 2021
Number of Pages: 647 Pages

Publisher: Blue Box Press
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers as this book is a spin-off out of the “From Blood and Ash” series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

Total Star Rating: 3 Stars

It is far easier to be lied to than it is to acknowledge that you have been lied to.

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “A Shadow in the Ember”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Born shrouded in the veil of the Primals, a Maiden as the Fates promised, Seraphena Mierel’s future has never been hers. Chosen before birth to uphold the desperate deal her ancestor struck to save his people, Sera must leave behind her life and offer herself to the Primal of Death as his Consort.

However, Sera’s real destiny is the most closely guarded secret in all of Lasania—she’s not the well protected Maiden but an assassin with one mission—one target. Make the Primal of Death fall in love, become his weakness, and then… end him. If she fails, she dooms her kingdom to a slow demise at the hands of the Rot.

Sera has always known what she is. Chosen. Consort. Assassin. Weapon. A specter never fully formed yet drenched in blood. A monster. Until him. Until the Primal of Death’s unexpected words and deeds chase away the darkness gathering inside her. And his seductive touch ignites a passion she’s never allowed herself to feel and cannot feel for him. But Sera has never had a choice. Either way, her life is forfeit—it always has been, as she has been forever touched by Life and Death.

~~~

Instead of moving forward with the story of the “Blood and Ash” series by Jennifer L. Armentrout, we kind of go backwards in time to go and meet an incredibly important character that we met in “The Crown of Gilded Bone:” The Primal of Death, Nyktos. We go back approximately 200 years before FBAA starts and meet Nyktos and his Consort, Sera, who we know are actually Poppy’s grandparents.

It’s the beginning of a spin-off series set in the same world, you definitely get to see some Easter eggs of what is to eventually come with the Ascended and everything Poppy, Cas, and Kieran are dealing with in more current times.

I was a little bummed going in because personally, I am not the biggest fan of prequels. You already know to some degree what’s going to happen, so the fact that the story is somewhat predictable to that degree makes me not as interested. In a way, you’re already spoiled how it ends. I told myself to keep my criticism and weariness to a minimum because if I learned anything from TCOGB, I can trust the author to satisfy me with her storytelling skills. For the most part, this book didn’t disappoint, but I can also say that it didn’t feel as good as it could’ve been.

For most of the beginning towards the middle of the book, it felt like I was just reading a version of “From Blood and Ash” all over again with similar character archetypes and relationships, and maybe that was something the author wanted to do with showing so many parallels between Sera’s story and Poppy’s, but personally I got incredibly bored with the book for this reason. It didn’t feel like it’s own story, just a remixed version of a story the author already gave me.

I’m definitely not saying this isn’t worth the read though! The last chunk of the book is where this book truly starts to feel like it’s own entity and starts to veer away from the many comparisons of FBAA with epic battles of gods vs. gods and many twists revealed to thicken the already intricately drawn out plot.

Also, there was some incredible sexual tension between Sera and the Primal himself as they can’t deny the mutual attraction they feel towards each other. There wasn’t as many sex scenes as I was hoping, but we got some incredible spice from what we were given!

Of course, JLA leaves us bewildered with a crazy reveal at the very end of the book that even I can admit, it’s making me really excited for the next book to see how exactly all this information comes into play! It seemed to definitely get a great reaction out of the fandom, at least those who’ve posted about it on the FBAA World Spoiler Group on Facebook!

What I Liked:

  1. I Love A Good “They’re Sent To Kill Them, But End Up Falling For Them Instead” Trope! I really discovered I loved this when I read “The Bridge Kingdom” by Danielle Jensen, but it was also just so spectacular in this book too! Sera has been trained pretty much since she was a child on how to seduce the Primal of Death and then kill him when he’s at his most vulnerable, but of course those dang feelings get in the way and complicate everything! I’m personally here for it, and the angst and drama when the other finds out about it…
  2. Sera Is Even MORE Badass Than Poppy! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I liked Sera even more than I did Poppy at the beginning of FBAA! She’s more badass with a weapon in hand, she doesn’t ask as many questions, and she and Nyktos have some hot AF chemistry too!
  3. The Twist With The History Of The Primals! I feel like I should have seen of this coming with how “Crown of Gilded Bone” turned out. But seriously, WHO could possibly guess the twists with the crazy family trees that the author reveals to us as the plot thickens, and even what happens at the very end of this book too….bravo Jennifer 👏🏼👏🏼

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. There’s Not As Much Spice As I Was Hoping…so I’m not saying there isn’t some very well written smut in this book, because there is, but I was hoping for more than what we actually got. I figured if Sera was sent to seduce the Primal of death, she’d really put that training into…ummm…action if you know what I mean.
  2. Maybe A Few Too Many Parallels To Blood And Ash?…I was very bored with this book for a large part of the beginning because it felt like I was reading “From Blood and Ash” all over again. There were so many similarities…the maiden and her elder knight mentor and guardian, douchey royals, and mysterious, snarky, dark, and sexy brooding man for the love interest…it just felt like the same book rewritten with minor changes to keep it somewhat new

Conclusion:

Overall, “A Shadow in the Ember” was a good book that I’d hoped would be great, but unfortunately some of my weariness with prequels came to be as this book just felt like recycled material with the same archetypes and type-cast of characters all like characters from FBAA that we’re familiar with.

HOWEVER, like I said, as you get to the last chunk of this book it really begins to feel like it’s own original story with a lot more excitement and plethora of twists and reveals that even though it’s a prequel, I’m very curious to see what happens further with Sera and Nyktos and everyone else!

NOW. as I’m typing this review, it’s around three months until the next installment of the FBAA series, “The War of Two Queens.” Now THAT is what I’m very excited to read! I need to know what happens to Cas, all the Draken who’ve woken up to join the battle, and possibly find yet another book boyfriend in Reaver! I can’t wait, and I can already tell it’s going to be a top book of 2022 for me!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: The Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: April 20th, 2021
Number of Pages: 600 Pages
Publisher: Blue Box Press
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers for this book plus others in the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – From Blood And Ash – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the series so far – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.75 Stars

‘You need to understand that I will do anything and everything for my wife.’ Casteel’s gaze latched on to his father‘s. ‘No risk is too great, nor is anything too sacred. Because she is my everything. There is nothing greater than her, and I do mean nothing.'”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout comes book three in her Blood and Ash series…

She’s been the victim and the survivor…

Poppy never dreamed she would find the love she’s found with Prince Casteel. She wants to revel in her happiness but first they must free his brother and find hers. It’s a dangerous mission and one with far-reaching consequences neither dreamed of. Because Poppy is the Chosen, the Blessed. The true ruler of Atlantia. She carries the blood of the King of Gods within her. By right the crown and the kingdom are hers.

The enemy and the warrior…

Poppy has only ever wanted to control her own life, not the lives of others, but now she must choose to either forsake her birthright or seize the gilded crown and become the Queen of Flesh and Fire. But as the kingdoms’ dark sins and blood-drenched secrets finally unravel, a long-forgotten power rises to pose a genuine threat. And they will stop at nothing to ensure that the crown never sits upon Poppy’s head.

A lover and heartmate…

But the greatest threat to them and to Atlantia is what awaits in the far west, where the Queen of Blood and Ash has her own plans, ones she has waited hundreds of years to carry out. Poppy and Casteel must consider the impossible—travel to the Lands of the Gods and wake the King himself. And as shocking secrets and the harshest betrayals come to light, and enemies emerge to threaten everything Poppy and Casteel have fought for, they will discover just how far they are willing to go for their people—and each other.

~~~

Wow wow wow wow wow was what I kept repeating to myself as I finished this book a couple days ago as I’m typing this review up. The third book in Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Blood and Ash was an absolute tornado that hit me right in the chest more than any other book in quite some time, and it took me a couple days to allow myself to soak it all in and collect my thoughts as I make sense of the pure craziness that happens in the last chunk of this book. I mean, the Admin of the Facebook group for these books said this one was going to absolutely wreck us as a fandom, and while I wasn’t on the floor weeping my eyes out or throwing my book across the room in a fit of heartbroken rage, I can say that yeah…that sequence really left an impression on me as a reader. I am filled with wonder, with shock, and most of all I get chills running down my arms because I have to say to the author: BRAVO!

The world and the story that this author has created somehow just continues to get bigger and bigger with every book, and JLA reached heights that I honestly didn’t even know it’d get to with all the information I now know surrounding Poppy, The Ascended, Queen Ileana, Queen Eloana, and even the gods that are now starting to wake back up on the brink of war! I remember thinking back when the first book came out and how maybe it was going to be a really good knight/princess centric romance, but OHHHHHHHH am I wrong and so happy to be so! It’s reached Sarah J. Maas level of amazingness with all the worldbuilding, the shocking twists, the bitter betrayals, the many different kinds of magical beings, and of course the steamy and heartwarming romance.

Whenever I get these books in my hands, and I do the more expensive hardcover versions from Barnes & Noble because I try to purchase anything off Amazon as a last resort after working there, I really take my time and slowly read so that I can savor all of it. Too many times in the past have I completely binge-read a book in two days and then I stare blankly at the wall as I realize I have to wait a whole other year until the next one releases. I guess it helps a little, but in reality I also already finished it and it still feels like it will be forever until I find out what happens next in this series. The next book will be a prequel, which is going to be released later in fall 2021.

There’s also so much growth that happens in this book in multiple ways: both Poppy and Cas as individuals and as husband and wife. Poppy continues to change even this far into the series, and she gains more and more confidence in her abilities, both normal and magical. As she discovers more and more about her past, she she also learns whose in her corner and who will betray her all the same. She becomes so much stronger and badass too; that ending gave me some series Daenerys Targaryen Khaleesi vibes that felt so powerful considering she started off as the pure and demure maiden at the very beginning. Casteel slowly learns to open up and let himself be vulnerable in front of her too, he admits/confesses things that he’s told no one else, and shows pure emotion when Poppy hears it all yet continues to stay by his side. His past is so dark and tragic, and you can tell it means more to him than he says when Poppy reassures him and reveals her true feelings to him as well. The softer moments when these two are alone and continue to just talk and get to know each other as a normal couple are some very low-key amazing moments that helps elevate their status as one of the best couples in Fantasy literature. While becoming more intimate in more ways than one (both smutty and intellectually), they also quickly learn to take on the hard task of learning to rule a kingdom while everything is going on with the Ascended and the possibility of war on the horizon. They have to become ruthless and make a lot of hard decisions in order to help keep their land and their people safe, and it was fun to see them as they held their own against players of the game of thrones who’ve been around for centuries when compared to themselves.

‘You will bow before your Queen.’ Casteel eyed the Atlantian coolly. ‘Or you will bleed before her. It is your choice.'”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

What I Liked:

  1. Poppy Continues to Grow/Develop As A Character! Like I said, her growth is seriously so amazing to read in this whole series. She becomes more confident in herself and her love for Casteel, and even grows quite a backbone when dealing with royals, nobility, and even celestial beings from another realm!
  2. SO MANY NEW CHARACTERS! But actually though…it’s crazy all the new faces we see in this third book, some are names we’ve been hearing about for quite some time now, while others are names you never thought you’d actually meet up with. First, there’s Casteel’s parents, King Valyn and Queen Eloana. Second, there’s Ian and Malec, both are brothers of our two main characters. There’s the infamous Miss Willa Colyns, who was such a total delight to finally meet! There’s a little reveal about her that I cheered with glee for that was absolutely hilarious! There’s Nyktos, the king of the Gods, who was also kind of an obvious addition considering the next book will be a prequel starring him. Then there’s Queen Ileana, the Blood Queen whose in charge of all the vamprys of the Ascended. She’s a real piece of work, that’s for sure!
  3. The Revenants! This was a very interesting concept that was introduced in this book, and while I guess it includes new characters, I wanted this to have its own part on the list. Let’s just say for now that the Blood Queen has a lot tricks and twists up her sleeves.
  4. Poppy’s Mysterious Backstory Finally Explained! This part was the big climax, and wow oh wow was it done in spectacular dramatics! There was so many twisting reveals, it’s no surprise that no one correctly guessed it on the FB group in the months leading up to this book’s arrival! I mean, with how complicated it all gets, who could’ve possibly gotten even close to how complex this whole family tree gets?!
  5. Casteel Continues To Be Book Husband GOALS! Rhysand who? But seriously, Casteel Da’Neer continues to raise the bar for ALL men who love that special someone in their lives. Like I mentioned before, he grows a lot too in this book and allows himself to show vulnerability and raw emotions when it comes to Poppy, and even better how he doesn’t get his masculinity called into question when Poppy becomes so much more powerful than him. He actually gets turned on by it, which for him is totally normal.
  6. Dragons! Yessssssssss Dragons…well Drakens to be more specific, but basically the same thing! Going to the lands of the gods, Poppy learns that Nyktos had his own group of warriors who could transform into Drakens at will and protect their land. You don’t see as much of them as you’d probably like if I’m being honest, but the set up with them for sure gets you excited for the later books down the road.
  7. There’s Set Up For The Prequel Coming Out Later! For those not in this FB group (The Blood and Ash Spoiler Group), it’s obvious that the next book out will not be the next book in this series, but actually will be a prequel that starts a new side series, and stars the King of the Gods, Nyktos. A Shadow In the Ember will come out October 19th, 2021 according to Goodreads, and there is a ton of set up for it for when it comes out. This just all adds to how much bigger and grander this whole story has become thanks to Jennifer L. Armentrout’s brilliant creative writing skills, like it makes me want to get back into my writing even more!
  8. The Smut! Oh yeah, those of us in the fandom are always looking for the steamy scenes that Poppy and Cas have in these books, and they didn’t disappoint in any way! Their passion continues to heat up the pages, and even get to try some new things out *wink*wink*

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. A Slower Midpoint In This Book…The beginning started off on such a strong note, but once it got itself all sorted out and things slowed down for a bit of the middle of the book, I found myself a little bored in all honesty. Sure, we got to see moments where Cas and Poppy get closer than ever, but my boredom was also beginning to make me worry; Was I losing interest in this book? Was I losing interest in this series? What’s going on with the Ascended? Are we just going to be forgetting about them for awhile? Luckily, my faith was restored later on in the book when the tornado hit when we finally meet the Queen. I’ll try to remember to keep my faith in JLA as an author after that!
  2. No Joining Scene…Yep, I’m on that side of the fandom. It’s been so funny to see how torn all of us fans are when it comes to all this, which is a threeway by the way. I’m all for supporting polyamorous relationships, and while maybe I can agree that maybe for this particular story it’s not as important of needing to happen, I wouldn’t mind if we got at least one scene where this goes down. So I was disappointed that it didn’t happen, BUT there was a scene with some interesting voyeurism going on that continues my hope that maybe it’ll happen! There are plenty of more books set to come out for this series, so that also means plenty of more opportunities to make it happen!
  3. The Repetitive Worldbuilding Formula…There were some major info-dumps in this book, and the way it’s all told to us as an audience has just gotten a little old for me. Basically with how Poppy has so many questions—much to Keiran’s dismay—and then either Kieran or Jasper are the human encyclopedias who have all the information she needs. It’s a formula that’s been used several times now, and maybe it didn’t matter as much to other readers, but I personally am getting a little bored with it by this point because it’s happened so many times already. I don’t know, maybe there just needs to be new ways JLA can give us this information if there still is by this point in the series.
  4. The Too Close To Matching Names of Big Characters…Malik and Malec, Eloana and Ileana…I know in a lot of Fantasy novels/series that sometimes people just have similar names, but it was getting a little annoying how close these names were, sometimes I got them mixed up. Is it Mal-Lick and Mal-leek? Il-ianna and El-oh-ana? that’s how I’ve been pronouncing them so far up to this point!

~~~

The dimple in his right cheek appeared, and he dipped his head, kissing just above my brow and then lower, over the scar. ‘Princess?

My lips curved up. What had started as a nickname had become a reality. ‘Yes?

His mouth moved over mine. ‘I love you.

The smile on my face grew as my heart did a little skip in my chest. ‘I love you.‘”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

Conclusion:

What a wild ride filled with just about everything you need to have an epic fantasy adventure: danger, drama, suspense, romance, humor, friendship, history, so many amazing characters, and shocking twists that take your breath away! This Blood and Ash series is literally EVERYTHING and was so enjoyable of a book for me. It would have been absolutely perfect if not for the slow midpoint for me, but with all that happens in the last chunk of it, it almost makes up for any boredom or concern I had at that point in my time reading this book.

I’ve never been a big fan of prequels, I always feel like they’re so limited in how far they can go as a story because they’re literally just set up for something you’ve already seen or read. In a way, you already know whats going to end up happening in the end, and the predictability factor of that isn’t all that interesting to me, so while I’m still looking forward to A Shadow in the Embers coming out this October that will shed some light on Nyktos and the Gods and all the rich history there, I’m not nearly as excited as I would be if book #4 of Blood and Ash was being released instead. Still, I trust JLA as an author by this point, so I’ll keep my inner reservation and reluctance and negativity to a minimum and I give this prequel a chance.

Blood and Ash book #4 is set to release March 2022 with the title and exact date to come at a later time than as I’m typing this review, but I’m sure those who’ve also finished this book can agree with me when I say that March feels like such a long ass time away!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

My Review: Wicked (A Wicked Trilogy #1): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: December 8th, 2014
Number of Pages: 398 Pages
Publisher: Self Published
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Grabbing a scarf off the chair, I threw it at him.

He caught it, clutching it to his chest as he flew into the air. ‘You gave Tink a scarf. Tink is free!’ He flew out into the hallway like a little cracked-out fairy, screeching, ‘Tink is freeeeee!

Ren looked at me. ‘What the actual f**k?’
I sighed. ‘He’s obsessed with Harry Potter. I’m sorry.

Tink darted back into the room, holding the scarf to his bare chest. ‘There is no reason to apologize when it comes to Harry Potter.’
‘You do remember what happened to Dobby, right?’ I said.

‘S**t.’ Tink’s eyes widened and he dropped the scarf.”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “Wicked”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Things are about to get Wicked in New Orleans.

Twenty-two year old Ivy Morgan isn’t your average college student. She, and others like her, know humans aren’t the only thing trolling the French Quarter for fun… and for food. Her duty to the Order is her life. After all, four years ago, she lost everything at the hands of the creatures she’d sworn to hunt, tearing her world and her heart apart.

Ren Owens is the last person Ivy expected to enter her rigidly controlled life. He’s six feet and three inches of temptation and swoon-inducing charm. With forest-green eyes and a smile that’s surely left a stream of broken hearts in its wake, he has an uncanny, almost unnatural ability to make her yearn for everything he has to offer. But letting him in is as dangerous as hunting the cold-blooded killers stalking the streets. Losing the boy she loved once before had nearly destroyed her, but the sparking tension that grows between them becomes impossible for Ivy to deny. Deep down, she wants… she needs more than what her duty demands of her, what her past has shaped for her.

But as Ivy grows closer to Ren, she realizes she’s not the only one carrying secrets that could shatter the frail bond between them. There’s something he’s not telling her, and one thing is for certain. She’s no longer sure what is more dangerous to her—the ancient beings threatening to take over the town or the man demanding to lay claim to her heart and her soul.

~~~

If anyone knows one thing about me, especially in the last year or so, they’ll hopefully know that Jennifer Armentrout’s From Blood and Ash has very very very quickly become a literary obsession! It is to me is like how obsessed every teenage girl (and a few guys like me who couldn’t admit it in public) was with Twilight back in my teenage years. Of course if an author can make me that crazy over a book series like this one has, I’d want to venture off and explore her other works. As I’m typing this review, she just admitted on the Blood and Ash Facebook group that the latest installment, The Crown of Gilded Bone, is her 62nd book written; that’s a lot of books to read…I’ll admit I’ve been aware of her Lux series for quite some time, but it never fully pulled me in. Wicked, however, is a different story.

With authors like Sarah J. Maas, Karen Marie Moning, and Holly Black all releasing books that star the magical folk called the Fae (Fairytale-like creatures that secretly snuck over to our world from another and secretly live among us), when I saw that JLA also joined in this popular fantasy trend, I had to check them out! It was even better that this first book popped up into the bookstore I work at as I’m thinking this too, and I think you’ll all appreciate this small tidbit: I read this while actually visiting New Orleans myself! There’s something about reading a book and physically being in the exact same place it’s set in; the visual aid is literally right there in front of you and helps make the imagery in your head all the more vivid and realistic, and if you’re a bit of a romantic like I am, it makes you sort of feel like you’re also in the plot of it all with the characters. It was amazing to try beignets for the first time; it certainly made it much more understandable why the characters in the book constantly craved them!

I also hardly find success in going backwards with an author’s list of books; I just notice their writing isn’t as honed in and as great with their earlier work, so I usually try to read in publication order, and these books were released almost half a decade earlier than the first Blood and Ash book, give or take. While the story here wasn’t as binge-worthy and obsessive for me, I can happily say with a breath of relief that I still for the most part enjoyed this book and plan to read on in the trilogy. The worldbuilding was intriguing enough with a beautiful setting to help give it an extra push, the characters were easy to get behind and root for as the plot thickened, and just like her other books is the case of I could mostly see some of her plot twists coming from a mile away but also managed to sneak a few past me all the same and actually surprise me.

The romance was (of course) easy for me to get into, and Ren and Ivy were a good couple to see develop as they came to terms with their feelings for each other. In both appearances and personalities, I definitely saw an impression of Poppy and Hawke in them, or I guess technically they’d branch off from Ivy and Ren since they technically came first…but the dynamic they had reminded me so heavily of them and made my chest ache since I was so so so excited for that next book to come out already. Ivy had a backstory that I’d seen before where her ex passed away and she feels guilty about starting to have feelings for another guy all these years later and feels like she’s disrespecting his memory, but Ren didn’t really have a past trauma that made it harder to become vulnerable with someone, or at least made it something that mentally held him back from the relationship in this book. Maybe there’s more there, but nothing was quite revealed yet from what I remember. The romance developed nicely with Ren being the big flirt and admitting his attraction to her while Ivy played hard to get and teased him while silently coming to terms with her mutual attraction, and the ending of the book certainly will make things much more interesting in this regard too. I’m curious to see how that will play out!

‘You like me.’ Letting go, he smiled up at me, that angelic face a picture of innocence. ‘You just aren’t ready to admit it.

All I could think as I gawked at him was, what an observant son of a bitch.

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “Wicked”

Speaking of the ending, while I knew some aspects of it were going to happen as it had to in order for the story to keep going, there was one thing that was a twist that I honestly didn’t see coming with a side character, and it also didn’t get an explanation amongst everything else that was going on, and it all came rushing at you all at once like dodgeballs and you’re the only one left on your side! I definitely need some answers for this.

I always enjoy a book with secret organizations with individuals who hunt and kill to keep the peace, and in this book, both Ren and Ivy are a part of one where they’re in an invisible war with the fae. It’s not as common of a thing to have the fae put into the spot of the villains of the story, and I wonder if JLA is going to make it not so black and white in the next books? We see a glimpse of it with a side character of hers whom I really enjoyed: a brownie named Tink! By brownie, I imagine a pixie, a spryte, or whatever you prefer to call them, but he’s a total delight! He wears ken doll clothing as his wardrobe, he’s got a gargantuan sweet tooth, loves to order things off Amazon Prime, and ********spoiler alert********* is secretly Ivy’s roommate! Even though it’s her task to kill the fae on sight, they formed an unlikely bond when she rescued him from one of the graveyards and brought him home with her to mend his wings and cure him back to his proper health. No one in The Order (the organization she’s a part of) knows about it, and Ivy wants to keep it that way.

So with all that in mind, you see some shades of grey that add some depth to the whole situation, and with some of the shady behavior of some members of the Order, or even The Elite (a secret org within the secret org), I wonder how far JLA will go with this aspect in her story? I have a lot of questions that need answering, but there’s only one obvious way to find them all out!

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance! Ren and Ivy’s relationship was the main draw to these books, and it was what was keeping me going in continuing reading on as the story progressed. Ren was pretty much all in from the start of when he first laid eyes on Ivy, and I have a feeling he’s as delectable as every other JLA male love interest. He definitely got some Hawke Flynn vibes from him with his confidence and flirty banter and looks; these two just really reminded me of a more contemporary version of Poppy and Hawke, but without her being the maiden and everything else, but I see a similarity for sure.
  2. Minor Character: Tink! He’s a sassy little pixie-like creature from the fae world whom Ivy forms an unlikely friendship with amongst the war their races are facing off against. I was reminded of the character Lehabah from House of Earth and Blood (The Crescent City series by Sarah J. Maas) and absolutely loved every single scene Tink was in! Show-stealer is a for sure nickname I’d give him, and I wonder what he’ll bring to the table moving forward?
  3. The Betrayal! While other events happen that obviously had to happen to further the plot, this small part of it all honestly did surprise me a little bit and threw me off guard! Even more interesting about it is JLA leaves it on a cliffhanger and doesn’t explain it as much; it’s more speculation from the other characters, so I’m curious to see what comes of this plot twist!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Was Fairly Predictable…I gotta agree with some of the naysayers, but there wasn’t a whole lot of shocking and crazy twists in this book that blow your mind. Sure, it’s also just the first book in the trilogy, and maybe more will go down in the next two books that will be more crazy and shocking, and the first book usually sets the scene and relies on the familiar in order to branch off to become more unique, which also feels like a good bridge into my next point…
  2. Nothing New Added to the Fae…There’s just nothing unique that sets them apart from any other books that showcase them. Sure, not every book has them simply set as the villains—except maybe the Fever series—but also the clumping them all together felt kind of lazy to me…I think it was told earlier on in the book that there used to be the different courts within their race, but then just got all jumbled together. Sure, the intricacies of the fae courts and the intrigue involved with all that are most likely not going to be a strong aspect of the story, once again it just felt kind of lazy how it was brushed aside.

Conclusion:

Overall, I’d say if you’ve enjoyed other books by this author, I feel like this will be another hit for you! It has the same elements that made me absolutely love From Blood and Ash: the worldbuilding, the entertaining plot, the mature and steamy romance, and a great cast of side characters to help drive the plot forward, and while there were maybe a few surprises that snuck past me, there was a cliffhanger that isn’t hard to see coming your way as you get closer to the reveal….It’s okay though, because the journey there is still fun along the way! I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m comparing the two series together too much, that’s not my intention, but I am seeing some similarities between them, or even some certain aspects that carried over into the next series…

I’d say those who also enjoyed books/series like the whole Shadowhunters universe by Cassandra Clare, The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, and the Crescent City series so far by Sarah J. Maas will be the readers who’ll enjoy this book very much. Maybe even the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, but I say this series by JLA is a much more toned down version of that by a landslide

Sorry for the horrible pun, but this book was a wicked little delight! Okay, glad we got over that hump together, and if you’re still here and haven’t cancelled me yet, I can say that YES: I enjoyed this book by Jennifer L. Armentrout! It definitely was wasn’t my favorite of hers, but I’m definitely interested enough to want to read on and see what possibly happens next. I have some questions that need answering, and I have faith that the author will reveal all those answers in her entertaining way like she has with her other series that is my literary obsession…

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell