Throne of Truth (Truth and Lies Duet #2) by Pepper Winters

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#1.) Crown of Lies ★★★★

This conclusion fell so flat for me. Throne of Truth was nothing close to what Crown of Lies was.

The basic premise of this story is that our main protagonist, Elle, has never really had a childhood or really a life outside of work and responsibilities. She is in her early twenties and is running her father’s multi-million dollar department store chain/company. Yet, she cannot stop thinking about the nameless boy that saved her after she decided to be reckless and escape her structured and safe life on her nineteenth birthday, three years ago.

Elle is an amazing character. She is strong, smart, hard working, empathetic, and just an all around good human being. I loved her dynamic with her father, I loved watching her balance her life with her work, and I loved how much she selflessly did for others.

“I don’t need someone to claim me. I claim me.”

And, to be honest, Penn just doesn’t deserve her. It has nothing to do with his past, or that he was homeless, or that he was in jail; it has to do with the fact that he’s an asshole. He treats her so bad, over a vendetta that doesn’t even make sense. I mean, he would never give her his name and that’s on him. How the hell did he expect her to save him? And how did he decide that she was a rich spoiled girl, all because he got one glimpse through a window? Gross. He is so hot and cold, and puts her through a rollercoaster of emotions that aren’t fair. Seriously, she could do better.

I do think there is a good discussion on this about the prison systems in America, and how unfairly we prosecute some with very little evidence. Also, how those with money and connections will always triumph, or at least get a better deal, than those with nothing. It actually felt pretty bad that this book proved that, too, but I still think it is important for more people to see the unfair treatment that happens with our judicial system in their reading, because it truly is a problem we have in America.

The thing that I disliked the most about this entire book was that Penn was cool with, and even went as far as giving a job to, Gio, a man that was going to rape Elle. Like, I don’t care if he has a bad influence for a friend, I don’t care that he didn’t have anyone growing up, I don’t care what events lead him to that alley where he was about to rape someone; he’s fucking disgusting and shouldn’t be a part of their lives. Rapist and attempted rapist will never get sympathy from me regardless of their victims, but that goes even extra if they tried to rape my significant other, and I’m sure most people would feel this way.

And can we talk about how Greg was the worst kidnapper ever? Like, his plan didn’t make sense and he made it so easy for everyone to find them. Like, I was actually scared over the attempted rape scene from Crown of Lies, but this one was just ridiculous. From the cabin, to the extremely long chain, to the dinner scene, and to every single one of this thoughts and actions. Greg was legitimately one of the worst villains I’ve ever read about.

And on a lighter note, never have I ever, before this book that is, read an erotic conjugal prison visit before. Also, I never thought I would ever write those words on my blog or Goodreads. This is my life.

Overall, I’m happy I read this duology; I just wish this final installment was better. I loved Crown of Lies, but I hated how the two main protagonists weren’t together for most of this story, I hated Penn’s unnecessary angst break ups, and I hated the sympathy for the attempted rapist. Like, ew.

Crown of Lies (Truth and Lies Duet #1) by Pepper Winters

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Happy Easter to all my friends and followers! I’m so thankful for each and every one of you, and I hope you all have an amazing day filled with love, laughter, and good books! And what better way to celebrate Easter than with some New Adult Erotic Romance CHICK-Lit?
(I’ll see myself out…)

It’s been a while since I’ve read a New Adult book, and I truly forgot how addicting and fast paced they are. And I don’t think we should feel guilt for reading anything, but if I have a “guilty pleasure” book, it is without question the entire Debt Inheritance Series by Pepper Winters. Her plots are so un-put-down-able, her characters are so fleshed out and real feeling, and her sex scenes are the absolute best. She writes dark and twisted romances better than anyone, while also being one of the best New Adult writers out there. I can’t recommend her stories enough!

Trigger Warnings: attempted rape and graphic violence.

“Careful what you wish for, Elle. Sometimes, secrets make things better not worse.”

Crown of Lies is a story told over the span of three years. Our main protagonist, Elle, is almost running her father’s multi-million dollar department store chain/company. She’s happy with her life, even though she throws all of it into work, while never truly having a childhood.

On her nineteenth birthday, Elle decides to make a rather reckless, but believable, trip into New York City all by herself after she is finished working that night. She is tired of always having a scheduled and sheltered life, so she decides to take matters into her own hands and chooses to see what it is like out in the real world. And it is fun and games until two men drag her into an alley to rob and rape her.

We are then flashed three years into the future, where Elle is very successfully running her father’s company, and is still making work her main priority. She has never dated since that frightful night three years ago, but she can’t help thinking about the man who saved her and what happened to him. She didn’t even get to learn his name.

Even though she hasn’t stopped thinking about “Nameless”, her father won’t stop trying to hook her up with people, because, after a heart attack that he endured and lived through, he wants to make sure she is happy when he is no longer there. It has worked to no avail, that is until she meets up and coming business man, Penn Everett. You guys aren’t stupid; you can see where this is going.

I loved Elle, I thought she was a little realistic sweetheart, but Penn was a little too much for me at times. I always go into New Adult guessing that there will be a brooding egomaniac alpha male, but he still was a little over the top for me. Also, I hate the miscommunication trope, and I didn’t understand why he would act like he didn’t care and dance around the bigger issues at hand. And, let’s be real, he was a little stalker-ish to be completely sexy and unproblematic. Plus, there was a few very FSOG influenced elements of this story, too, but don’t let that scare you off, because Crown of Lies is only like a million times of a better read.

That ending, in true Pepper Winters’ fashion, gutted me. Even though she’s the Queen of New Adult, she is also the Queen of heart wrenching Cliffhangers. But, thankfully for me, Throne of Truth, the second half to this duology, is already available and on my Kindle just waiting for me to devour.

Obviously if this were not an Erotic New Adult Romance, I would for sure talk more about Penn being problematic and his actions, no matter his intentions, were pretty questionable at times. Yet, I knew what I was getting into when I picked this book up, and I’m much more slack on the content for this genre than I am for others. Regardless, I am trying to let you guys know, in case you don’t like the controlling, personal space lacking, won’t take no for an answer, alpha male protagonists in your Erotic Romances, because that truly is Penn.

These problematic elements, plus Penn’s pointless vendetta towards Elle, were the only thing that kept me from loving this story completely. It also helped very much that Elle was constantly shown as a strong, powerful, and capable woman. She really was such a surprising character, who I ended up loving. And I loved her sidekick kitty, Sage!

I also want to say that Pepper Winters handled the attempted rape and the PTSD afterwards really well. I loved that we saw Elle still struggling with it three years later, and I think there is a really important discussion to be had on what strangers can take from us, even without invading our bodies, but just taking away our power and self-worth.

Seven Princes of the Thousand Year Labyrinth, Vol. 2 by Aikawa Yu & Atori Haruno

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Vol. 1 (Chapters 1 – 4): ★★★★★

“Blood is nothing but a liquid. It carries no miracles.”

Gosh, I am so addicted to this manga series. The basic premise of this story is that seven princes from seven different places of this land are trapped in a castle that was long forgotten. Now, the only people who talk about the Thousand Year Labyrith think about it as a fairytale. The boys are now forced to discover how to get out of this castle, with a whole lot of problems, traps, puzzles, and riddles adding to their problems. Oh, and there is constantly rising water increasing the difficulty of surviving, too!

All seven of these young men are not just princes of their land, but they are also masters/prodigies of a certain thing:
Laurence Ackroyd – Master of martial arts, unbeaten champion, and my soon to be husband.
Titus Ram – Leader of a band of thieves, has been living in imprisonment.
Messiah Reed – Master Detective, who captured Titus before this adventure.
Zan Audubon – Very beloved singer, who is also blind and never forgets a voice.
Gideon Redfield – Prominent public rights activist, was the front runner for the throne.
Amadeus Frockhert – Student body representative and top mathematics student.
Katherine/August Morgan – From the wealthiest merchant family, also keeper of this mysterious castle, and also harboring a pretty big secret.
Ewan Juno – The only non-prince, student from the island, typical normal/ordinary guy.

In Vol. 1 we discovered our first dead body, but in Vol. 2 we discover another in addition to learning about the treasure of a thousand years. Once discovered, it is said to also find a testament of the ruler, which will make the finder the controller of worlds.

In this volume we learn so much about the leader of thieves, Titus, and why he is not only in the castle with the other boys, but why he is so desperate to find this treasure. Seriously, I love Titus and this installment warmed my heart.

My only real complaint is that, despite being on the cover, we do not get to see much from my favorite character, Laurence, even though the main protagonist, Ewan, is always in search for him. Also, with the *extra* ending scene that is in this bind-up, I better not be getting queer baited here, because… I’m currently living for this ship. Be still, my heart.

Speaking of endings, Vol. 3 is going to be so highly anticipated! Like, I need it now and, more importantly, I need to find out who Othello Blackmore is. Is he the traitor or “the devil” or is he a helpless victim in all of this?

Again, if you’re a fan of the video game series Danganronpa then I think you’d really enjoy this. If not, then you should give this a try anyway because it’s a growing murder mystery surrounding seven hot princes who I’m pairing up and shipping like the world is ending. I love these characters and this story, and I recommend this with every bone in my body!

The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley

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ARC provided to me by author Ben Galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Heart of Stone is a very addicting read, with very heart filled characters that will make you question your empathy. It may also be the only book I’ve ever read that’s main protagonist is a Golem.

“A knight. A girl. A lord. A golem.”

Task is a Windcut Stone Golem, the last of his kind, and was solely made for killing, destruction, and war. Yet, Task has a soul, a heart, and feelings, no matter how hard he tries to suppress them. After being made and then sold from warmonger to warmonger for 400 years, unable to do anything but listen to his master’s orders, Task has been taught to turn his feelings off and never get close to anyone. That is, until a little girl teaches him that feeling things do not make you weak and everyone is capable of love and doing the right thing, always.

“Friendship was a dangerous thing for a golem.”

Lesky is a stable girl, carrying all the lessons her mother taught her, while still having a sharp wit and tongue. Lesky made this story for me. She was so wise beyond her years, yet still so vulnerable. She was the heart of this story, and she constantly broke mine while reading. Despite being young and being dealt such an unfair hand at life so early, she is so strong and capable. Lesky was everything in this story to me.

Besides Lesky, my favorite character was Alabast Flint, the Knight of Dawn. He has a preceding reputation from slaying a dragon in his youth, which has given him a lot of fame, which he has chosen to squalor in gambling halls and brothels. Now he has a drinking problem and owes some very scary people money. That is, until his debt is paid and he is recruited, maybe against his will, to kill a Windcut Stone Golem. It should be no problem since he’s killed a dragon, true?

Last, but not least, we have Lord Lash. I always get so disheartened when I read books surrounding war and none of the leaders are disabled in any way. This book gives you the representation and it feels so believable and authentic. Lash leads Last Fading, who has been winning this civil war for 9 years. That is, until the other side, the Truehards, purchase a Windcut Stone Golem named Task!

“You humans are fascinated by the death of your own kind. You bicker as an excuse to battle, caring not what damage it wreaks in the process. There will always be wars. And I will always fight them”

The main villain in this book is also so expertly written. I was constantly reevaluating and making up crazy theories, just trying to figure out whose side this person was on. The constant twists and turns with this character were nothing short of amazing, and the emotional journey I went on reading about them was pretty insane. Honestly, this was one of the best villains I’ve ever read about, and I’d love to know their complete backstory.

“History was a bloody mess, scraped up and strained into the books of the people who made the mess in the first place”

But even with the amazing characters, The Heart of Stone’s pacing is just so very slow. I was constantly getting fed breadcrumbs and promises for this huge civil war, but all I got was a few gory and violent snippets, but never any real war action. I also felt like the first 85% was very world building and character based, with drawn out promises of war, then that last 15% had everything coming at me really quickly, with a new promise of a brand new story line.

This book was still super enjoyable, and don’t get me wrong, the messages within this book were great and very important, but it made the almost 400 page book feel even longer. In addition to as much as I loved the characters and their growth, it just didn’t help the book and its constant war theme from not dragging. It also made for a very anticlimactic ending, which for sure leaves a foot in the door for additional stories in this world. (Which I totally would read!)

And I know there is a lot of world building to do in a standalone novel, but the magic system didn’t feel completely cohesive, either. I wish I knew more about Glimpses and Grims, and the full spectrum of their power. I feel like we were only privy to certain aspects, since old magic is banned in this world, but it left me with a lot of questions. Again, I know only so much be done with 400 pages, but with the down time of the war developments I feel like we could have learned more about the magical abilities in this world.

“Humans put far too much trust in their muskets. They wielded them like wizards’ staffs, as if just pointing and praying could solve any problem.”

Despite those two qualms, I really enjoyed this book and think it was a pretty strong stand alone. Plus, I love these characters and will cherish a few for days to come. I also love supporting independently published authors and I truly think this book is a gem of 2017’s fantasies. The Heart of Stone is unique and captivating, and has some really important messages inside of it.

Seven Princes of the Thousand Year Labyrinth, Vol. 1 by Aikawa Yu & Atori Haruno

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Ah, okay, I’m in love. I know I haven’t read that much manga, but Seven Princes of the Thousand Year Labyrinth is, hands down, my favorite. Like, nothing has even come close. It was whimsical, action packed, intense, mysterious, funny, and all around just amazing. Seriously, this deserves all the stars!

The basic premise of this is that the Emperor of the seven lands has passed away, and the seven Lords of those seven lands find themselves trapped in a medieval castle. Inside the castle that was thought just a fantasy, the Lords are met with constant rising water, traps, puzzles, and riddles, that they must figure out or they will lose their lives. Together they must decide who will be the new Emperor.

Upon a few trials and while the group is still just meeting, a body is found of one of the Lords, without anyone having even spoken to them. This quickly spirals the story into a murder mystery where we are trying to find out which of the boys has committed the crime, while also trying to keep the lives they have, while also trying to choose a new Emperor.

All seven of these young men are not just princes of their land, but they are also masters/prodigies of a certain thing:
Laurence Ackroyd – Master of martial arts, unbeaten champion, and my soon to be husband.
Titus Ram – Leader of a band of thieves, has been living in imprisonment.
Messiah Reed – Master Detective, who captured Titus before this adventure.
Zan Audubon – Very beloved singer, who is also blind and never forgets a voice.
Gideon Redfield – Prominent public rights activist, was the front runner for the throne.
Amadeus Frockhert – Student body representative and top mathematics student.
Katherine/August Morgan – From the wealthiest merchant family, also keeper of this mysterious castle, and also harboring a pretty big secret.

There is also a boy trapped in the castle that wasn’t a Lord to begin with, just a student who caught the Lord of his land’s eye. This is the main protagonist of this volume, and he truly is a little sweetheart:
Ewan Juno – Student from the island, typical normal/ordinary guy.

I couldn’t help but find myself completely addicted to which candidates will make it out to still be able to rule the seven lands in this world, and which candidate will rule all those Lords as the new Emperor. This was such a good volume, and I would completely recommend this to anyone who is a fan of the video game series Danganronpa.

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The Ghost Line by Andrew Neil Gray & J.S. Herbison

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ARC provided by Tor in exchange for an honest review.

The Ghost Line is a short story that surrounds four people on a mission to hijack an abandoned space ship named the Martian Queen.

Saga – Our main protagonist, married to Michel, is obsessed with exploring abandoned ships and has a fan-base from her haunted finds.
Michel – The husband of Saga and one of the most sought after hackers in the universe.
Gregor – A Russian pilot with a drinking problem.
Wei – The woman who hired these three crew members, even though she answers their questions about the mission very begrudgingly, while keeping many secrets close to herself.

Saga and Michel accept Wei’s mysterious mission, even though they were going to settle down and start a family, because the money she offered them was tremendous. I’m guessing that is also why Gregor accepted, but it is never clearly stated.

The Martian Queen was once a great and luxurious hotel ship, equipped with casinos, spas, nightclubs, and even more built inside. While active, it was a home and place to sleep for people traveling between Earth and Mars. Now, the ship still travels back and forth from Earth to Mars, constantly being lead by our orbit, even though it hasn’t had a crew or passengers for twenty years.

This story feels like you’re walking through and exploring what’s left of the Titanic, but in space. It feels eerie and ominous, while you’re trying to piece together the mystery of this ship and why it is still part of our orbit. I am not sure I would consider this part of the horror genre, but it is for sure creepy and will leave you on edge while reading.

This is ultimately a story about love and loss, and making sacrifices that you don’t ever believe you are brave or capable enough to make until you are forced to make them. I loved the message, and I very much enjoyed the ending, but I still feel like this was too grand of a story for only 70ish pages. I, personally, feel like it would be been much better as a full length novel, or even if 100 extra pages were tacked on, so we could have explored more of the ship, more of the characters, and more of the mysteries. Instead, I feel like the message was way less impactful and I wasn’t nearly as invested as I probably should have been. This definitely wasn’t a bad read; it just left a lot to be desired and a lot of questions to be answered.

I would be very interested in a continuation short story, just to see how certain people felt with the conclusion. Yet, I do think this is a decently strong story to stand upon its own, too. Regardless, this was a good short story, and for sure worth the short amount of time it takes to read!

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2) by V.E./Victoria Schwab

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1.) A Darker Shade of Magic ★★★

Readalong for the BooktubeSFF Awards which is being hosted by Adriana from Perpetual Pages, Chelsea from TheReadingOutlaw, Samantha from Novels and Nonsense, Connor from Connor O’Brien, Elizabeth from Books and Pieces, Kaitlin from Kitty G, Sam from Thoughts on Tomes, Elena from Elena Reads Books, and Thomas from SFF180!

Four months have passed since the events that took place in A Darker Shade of Magic. The dust has settled in Red London, but the memories and repercussions are still haunting our princes.

And in this world there are four parallel Londons that coexist in this universe:
Grey London – (smells like smoke) is like our real world’s London, with no magic. Delilah Bard is from this London.
Red London – (smells like flowers) is the home of the main protagonist, Kell, where he and his royal family rule. There is an abundance of magic in this London, most coming from a red river which lights up the whole city.
White London – (smells like blood) is a city in war with itself. It was ruled by evil twins, but now has a new king. Everyone in this London tries to fight for magic and power within this corrupt city.
Black London – (we don’t know what it smells like) and is still basically a mystery. It is essentially a lost city, since regular people cannot travel between worlds.

“You can kill people, but you cannot kill magic.”

I completely gushed about this in my A Darker Shade of Magic review, but this plot and concept is truly unique and unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I did enjoy this more than A Darker Shade of Magic, but I still wasn’t as in love as most people are with this series. I am completely head over heels captivated with this cast, but the Tri-Wizard Tournament reminiscent storyline left a lot to be desired.

This is a very character driven story and, bless V.E. Schwab, the characters in this are nothing short of amazing:
Kell – Our most powerful magician.
Rhy – Our king in waiting.
Delilah Bard – Our finally found pirate!
Alucard – Our brand new captain.

Like, two amazing ships are full sails ahead, but I always feel so underwhelmed by the romantic scenes. Like, I know not every book has to have romance and/or sex, but throw a girl a freakin’ bone. I would do sick and terrible things for a mutually romantic understanding with either of these OTPS, because the missed-connections are killing me.

“You two are circling each other like stars. It is not my cosmic dance. But I do know that you come asking after one another, when only a few strides and a handful of stairs divide you.”

And let me say, I, Melanie Parker, was personally living for any interaction with Alucard and Rhy. Like, I was such a hot mess when the scene in Rhy’s room happened. If you’ve read this book then you know the scene. Like, I was gasping, screeching, rolling around in my bed. It wasn’t pretty. All I want in A Conjuring of Light is a play by play of their daily interactions with each other. It truly is all I need in this life.

Delilah Bard is one of the best characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. Seriously, she is exactly the type of girl I would want my future daughter to read about. Seeing her overcome her past is one of the greatest things in this book. The fact that she always puts herself, her adventures, her needs, and wants first is so admirable and so important to see. Yet, seeing her struggle with being able to love and being able to be vulnerable is something I haven’t got words for. Delilah Bard is so important to me. She is truly a 10 out of 10 character.

“People could only hurt you if you cared enough to let them.”

Also, the opening scene in this book? Holy shit. One of the best I’ve ever read. I actually was unsure of what I was going to start in April, so I took like five books off my bookshelves and figured I’d read the first chapter of each and see what interested me the most. I started with this book, and I never picked up another, because this opening chapter was so freakin’ outstanding! Thank you, Delilah Bard!

And now I feel bad because I didn’t write anything about our main protagonist, Kell, but he’s a little cinnamon roll, too! I live for his brooding moments, and the amazing banter between him and Rhy! And the angst between him and Alucard was everything I could have ever asked for in a protective big brother! Seriously, I loved that backstory! I also love seeing Kell actually just enjoying life, even though those moments are few and far between.

As much as I love this quartet of characters, I’ll be honest, nothing really happened in most of this book. The pacing didn’t feel slow, because, like I’ve said 100 times, the characters grow and develop a lot, but the events in between leave a lot to be desired. The start and the end of this book were action packed, tense, and completely amazing, but the middle of the story was very uneventful, even with a big tournament happening. I for sure wouldn’t recommend this for people who don’t like very character driven stories.

But if you do like character driven stories, this book is home to four amazing ones! I do plan on reading A Conjuring of Light very soon, because I have to know how this series wraps up! Hopefully it wraps up into two relationships, because my heart can’t deal with any other outcome.

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