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    One Line Reviews Of Some Books I Read This Year (July – December 2023)

    This is a round up of the books I read on the 2nd half of this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.

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    REVIEW: Malum Discordiae by Ashlyn Drewek

    Tennebrose: Malum Discordiae – Ashlyn Drewek

    After Cassius Corbin’s mother was murdered by fellow witches, he learned an invaluable lesson: death comes for us all—even Necromancers. Six years later, enrolling at Tennebrose University with vengeance on his mind, the last thing he expects is to come face to face with Graeme Hewitt, the son of his mother’s killer. As much as Cassius tries to avoid the naive weather witch, fate has other plans.

    In spite of their families’ ongoing feud, they’re forced to work together if they have any hope of passing their required class. But as late nights and stolen moments turn to something more, a rash of demonic murders plagues the university. If they don’t get to the bottom of it, they could both be next.
    MALUM DISCORDIAE is a dark academia, paranormal MM romance about witches, Necromancers, and a blood feud that has lasted centuries. It features plenty of steam, a lot of snark, and the pile of bodies you’d expect in a magical Romeo + Juliet retelling—except this one has a happy ending. It is intended for a mature audience and reader discretion is advised. A full list of triggers can be found in the front matter of the book and at my website under Tropes & Triggers.

    If there’s one MF romance writer whose shift to MM made me so happy, it’s Ashlyn Drewek. She blew me away with the devastating Stockholm Syndrome romance, The Solnyshko Duet, and I also loved her Beauty and the Beast retelling, Wither. Her stories are typically dark and come with a chockful of trigger warnings.

    Malum Discordiae is the opener of the dark academia paranormal series Tennebrose. This is a Romeo and Juliet retelling but with witches and magic revolving around the secretly magical Tennebrose University. The town and the school are a mix of unaware humans, certain people in the know, and old witch families.

    The story centers around the centuries-old feud between the Corbins and the Hewitts. The Hewitts are nature witches, considered the good ones. The Corbins are necromancers, mostly shunned and reviled because of their dark magic. The rest of the old families fall between light, dark, and neutral.

    Cassius Corbin and Graeme Hewitt considered themselves sworn enemies, until they were forced by their botany professor and plant witch, Ainsworth, to work together on the semester’s project to grow the mythical poison apple tree. It was one tumultuous getting-to-know-you scene after another, where they cycle through hate, lust, generations-old biases, and grudging clarifications.

    Hands down, our boy to die for here is Cassius! Sporting gothic villain good looks, he’s snarky and standoffish, with a big heart hurt too often. A necromancer and a blood witch, his spells frequently involved disturbing methods (skulls on display, tasting blood, talking to ghosts), and he knows full well the stigma against dark witches of his kind.

    Still, Cash went out on a limb for Graeme several times, trying to help him open his eyes. He explained what necromancy really is and why the spells are like that, aware that the cost is revealing family secrets that could easily be used against the Corbins and other necromancers.

    Graeme is why I didn’t give this book 5-stars. Touted as the next deacon of their witch congregation, he’s a powerful weather witch but spectacularly ignorant of his legacy and magic. Seriously, this witch didn’t even know what his family herald looks like. I could forgive this part because he can learn that in Tennebrose.

    But Graeme would listen to Cash explain something, then quick as a flash, turn against Cash because of age-old bigotry compounded by his ignorance. He broke Cash’s trust, and I’m not even sure he made up for the hurts.

    It might sound contradictory, but I do love Graeme and Cash together. Their chemistry is off the charts! The hatesex was sizzling! The push/pull was exciting!

    When Graeme wasn’t being an idiot, you can tell he’s crazy about the snarky necromancer. Usually brass and self-assured, he lets Cash see his vulnerable side. He does acknowledge his lack of training and genuinely tried to learn from Cash, so yeah, not so bad. His magic is supercool, too!

    The supporting cast was great, many of them memorable. Aside from the botany professor Ainsworth, the Corbins, dad Caius and sister, Claudia, surprised Graeme. Meanwhile his parents, Maryann and George, had some secrets of their own. The congregation is lead by the deacon and the selectmen, who arbitrate and record events. The rest of Cash’s and Graeme’s relatives and friends stand in for the Capulets’ and Montagues’ allies.

    Flawed characters aside, the plot hooked me in immediately and kept me riveted for hours. It would have been a one-sitter if not for the need to sleep. It’s a spectacular retelling, with enough familiar elements and not too on the nose. It’s filled with just the right amount of details to establish the setting and the magic system without resorting to info-dumps.

    There’s also several murders, demons lurking, lost grimoires, and centuries of family history to unpack. And with the lovely gothic vibe that speaks to my grim self, this is a well-conceived fictional world I’d love to be in!

    Malum Discordiae is a Shakespearean tale full of heartbreak, revelations, family woes, and a pair of star-crossed lovers who dealt with life and death. All in all, a dark witchy delight!

    4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits

    Soundtrack: Tethered to the Dark
    Artist: Anya Marina

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    MALUM DISCORDIAEKindle | Audiobook

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    REVIEW: The Solnyshko Duet by Ashlyn Drewek

    I grabbed this series on a whim because I like the word ‘solnyshko.’ I was glad it was the weekend because I ended up reading until 5:00 AM. I finished the first book in one sitting. This duet is just sooo good.

    Now this might not be most people’s cup of tea. This comes with a list of warnings, from homophobia to graphic violence and PTSD. Things get nasty, even horrific, at some points. So please do head the TWs.

    Beyond all that darkness, this is a story of ‘two broken people who found each other,‘ according to the author’s notes. It all started with a kidnapping…

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    The Solnyshko Duet: The Kidnapping Of Roan Sinclair – Ashlyn Drewek

    Roan Sinclair’s life is perfect, just ask anyone. Set to graduate college and bound for grad school at Georgetown, Roan’s life has been all planned out for him. Except, he doesn’t want it. Dedicated to his music, he dreams of a life free from his parents’ expectations. Those dreams are gone the minute he’s kidnapped by a group of Russians, led by the tall, dark, and broody Sasha — a man ripped straight from Roan’s fantasies. Determined to make it out alive, Roan will do whatever is necessary to secure his freedom, even if that means seducing his captor.

    Aleksandr Vassiliev doesn’t care about anything except surviving in a merciless world. Known as the Wolf of Verkhoyansk, Sasha’s reputation for brutality is far-reaching and well-deserved. When a bank robbery goes wrong, he’ll do whatever he can to fix it — including kidnapping the bank owner’s son. Instead of complying like he should, Roan defies Sasha at every turn. Worst of all, he makes Sasha want things he can’t have, things that are a death sentence for men like him. Things like Roan Sinclair.

    Content warning: This book contains references to alcohol/drug use, sexual assault, graphic violence, self-harm, ethnic and homosexual slurs, and a lot of profanity. Reader discretion is advised.

    Roan Sinclair is a poor little rich boy trapped in a gilded cage. Music is his passion, but his banker dad blackmailed him to take a business major. He has one year to go before he leaves for business school.

    Aleksandr ‘Sacha’ Vassiliev is a feared, ruthless killer, not a bank robber and certainly not a kidnapper. But when a bank heist had gone wrong, a heist they didn’t fully understand why they had to do, he and his fellow bratva members were forced to change tactics. They kidnapped the banker’s son instead.

    It wasn’t the most ideal meeting, to say the least, but right from the get-go, Roan got under Sacha’s skin. Given his environment, the Russian is deeply in the closet. But he pinged Roan’s gaydar, and our boy used it to his advantage.

    One of the things I really loved about the books was the writing. There were no long paragraphs, and it’s very easy to read. The prose is straight to the point. Just 3-4 sentences per paragraph, yet they conveyed everything the reader needs to know. You feel the emotions jumping off the page. The graphic bits were written to show the nastiness without being gratuitous.

    Thawing the cold, dead heart of a man like Sacha is an impossible feat. Our boy Roan not only brought it back to life, but he became the center of Sacha’s universe. I was completely riveted to their journey, swept away by a tide of emotions. The story is devastating, painful, and, as mentioned, quite dark. But the lighter moments when they come is as heart-warming and bright as the proverbial solnyshko the duet is named after.

    It ends with a HFN but this is one of the best Stockholm Syndrome romances for me!

    5 Stars – absolutely perfect

    Soundtrack: Captivate You
    Artist: Marmozets
    Album: The Weird And Wonderful Marmozets

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    The Solnyshko Duet: The Vengeance Of Roan Sinclair – Ashlyn Drewek

    After a lifetime of death and suffering, Aleksandr Vassiliev finally has everything he could ever want — the most important being someone to share his future with. Somehow a spoiled American named Roan gave Sasha a reason to see life could be more. Except, that’s where the fairytale ends. He’s not surprised Roan hasn’t been the same since his attack, but with every day that passes, Sasha sees less and less of the boy he fell in love with. He would do anything to get his Solnyshko back, but old enemies from Sasha’s past might end up costing him everything, even Roan.

    Roan Sinclair used to have it all. Now? He’s a shell of his former self. No longer the rich, carefree college guy who brought a Russian criminal to his knees, all he’s trying to do is recover from an assault that nearly killed him. Roan knows he should be grateful to be alive… but he’s not. He’s humiliated. Ashamed. Most of all, he’s angry. He hasn’t forgotten the part his dad played in everything that happened and when he threatens Sasha’s freedom, Roan takes a page from the Russian’s playbook. Maybe vengeance will piece him back together. Maybe then Roan can move on and get to the happily ever after he so desperately wants with the Wolf of Verkhoyansk.

    Content warning: This book contains references to alcohol/smoking, ethnic and homosexual slurs, sexual assault, mental health issues including PTSD and depression, on-page torture, and a lot of profanity. Reader discretion is advised.

    The second book picks up on the aftermath of the very traumatic events of Book 1. Roan is not in a good place, and Sacha is at his wit’s end. He does everything he thinks would help Roan, but the younger man isn’t taking it well.

    Here we have the major presence of Misha, Sacha’s boss, who is also sort of a friend and Misha’s nephew, Ilya. Sacha hired the young man to be Roan’s bodyguard. The easy going man provided a normalcy in Roan’s life during these troubled times.

    Misha has intrigued me since Book 1. He offers Sacha advice on his Roan situation. Where Sacha is a grumpy mofo, Misha is all easy smiles. But make no mistake, they are both wolves. I am so thrilled the bratva boss is going to have his own book!

    I struggled for a bit in the first part because going through Sacha and Roan’s rocky patch wasn’t a pleasant experience. It was angsty and raw. Communication isn’t their strongest suit, and you can really feel how bad they were struggling. All of these is worth going through just to get to the part where Roan smiles and Sacha declares, his sun is back!

    And that’s when we get to the vengeance portion of the story. Roan wants revenge for what his father did, and a ghost from the past is out to get Sacha. I really enjoyed this arc because it felt happier and lighter despite the gruesome bratva business.

    Sacha and Roan evolved to become the power couple they were meant to be. The pace here was also smoother and faster, and there was more action. Characters from the author’s other series popped up, the very mysterious Leander and his flamboyant husband, Bennet. I must investigate these two.

    Both books go through suspenseful, brutal climaxes where the piper is paid in blood and gore. But this time, the ending is a solid and very satisfying HEA. It was such a sweet and uplifting conclusion that sensation of relief was very palpable. I couldn’t ask for a better one for Sasha and Roan! Sometimes all you need in life is a new lease and some sunshine.

    4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away

    Soundtrack: Who Needs The Sunshine?
    Artist: The Heavy
    Album: Great Vengeance And Furious Fire

    If you like my content, please consider using my Amazon affiliate links below to buy your copy of The Solnysho Duet. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying Amazon purchases at no additional cost to you.

    The Kidnapping Of Roan Sinclair :US | UK
    The Vengeance Of Roan Sinclair :US | UK

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    LAST YEAR I WAS READING…(March 23, 2022)

    Here are the rules:

    Take your current read and compare it to what you reading this exact time last year. Which one do you like better? What is different about the books? Any special facts/things you want to make note of or bring attention to?

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    LAST YEAR I WAS READING…(February 16, 2022)

    Here are the rules:

    Take your current read and compare it to what you reading this exact time last year. Which one do you like better? What is different about the books? Any special facts/things you want to make note of or bring attention to?