2 star, NA

Review: Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Series: Blood and Ash #2

A Betrayal…

Everything Poppy has ever believed in is a lie, including the man she was falling in love with. Thrust among those who see her as a symbol of a monstrous kingdom, she barely knows who she is without the veil of the Maiden. But what she does know is that nothing is as dangerous to her as him. The Dark One. The Prince of Atlantia. He wants her to fight him, and that’s one order she’s more than happy to obey. He may have taken her, but he will never have her.

A Choice…

Casteel Da’Neer is known by many names and many faces. His lies are as seductive as his touch. His truths as sensual as his bite. Poppy knows better than to trust him. He needs her alive, healthy, and whole to achieve his goals. But he’s the only way for her to get what she wants—to find her brother Ian and see for herself if he has become a soulless Ascended. Working with Casteel instead of against him presents its own risks. He still tempts her with every breath, offering up all she’s ever wanted. Casteel has plans for her. Ones that could expose her to unimaginable pleasure and unfathomable pain. Plans that will force her to look beyond everything she thought she knew about herself—about him. Plans that could bind their lives together in unexpected ways that neither kingdom is prepared for. And she’s far too reckless, too hungry, to resist the temptation.

A Secret…

But unrest has grown in Atlantia as they await the return of their Prince. Whispers of war have become stronger, and Poppy is at the very heart of it all. The King wants to use her to send a message. The Descenters want her dead. The wolven are growing more unpredictable. And as her abilities to feel pain and emotion begin to grow and strengthen, the Atlantians start to fear her. Dark secrets are at play, ones steeped in the blood-drenched sins of two kingdoms that would do anything to keep the truth hidden. But when the earth begins to shake, and the skies start to bleed, it may already be too late.



I don’t understand why everyone loves this series, but Kingdom of Flesh and Fire was even harder to get through than its predecessor.

For such a long book, it’s entirely focused on Poppy’s feelings for Hawke, aka The Dark One aka Casteel, the enemy she was told about all her sheltered life. I get it, she’s been betrayed and she’s literally given him everything about herself. Of course there’s ramifications to deal with in the aftermath of what happened. BUT, this book spends TOO much time on this compared to growing the new lore of the Atlantians.

I have nothing against romance but this long book can be summarized with travel from Poppy’s home in Masadonia out east wherever the Atlantians are taking her, and her conflicting feelings for Casteel. Travel + romantic angst for 500+ pages is NOT a fantasy book. I don’t mind either, but it just was not interesting!

There were little tidbits signalling more about Poppy’s “Chosen One” status. While I don’t usually have a big problem with this trope, it’s just emphasized so much how she’s this precious gem that both sides of the conflict want that it starts getting tiresome. Why is she so important? We don’t get any answers here, and only until the very end of the book does it get interesting with this element of the story.

I’m keeping this review short because I honestly don’t have much more to say. It felt like a filler story wherein Poppy and Casteel deal with their “feelings” and Casteel’s people do not like her because they didn’t expect these feelings to be real. Poppy develops more powers – because of course a Chosen One has to be powerful in ways that is like no other – and we don’t get any answers so hold onto your hats for book 3! Just…I’m tired, friends. Yet I will probably still read the next one just to finally get some answers for my own morbid curiosity.

Overall Recommendation:

Apparently I’m a sucker for punishment because Kingdom of Flesh and Fire was barely a fantasy story with hardly much action or lore being added in a valuable manner. It could’ve been way shorter for the amount of non-action happening. The focus is on the romantic angst and conflict between Poppy and her dark prince, Casteel. If that’s what you’re looking for, then by all means, go ahead. Otherwise, this completely suffers from Middle Book Syndrome and I would recommend almost skipping most of it until the last 10 chapters or so before it actually gets somewhere. Will I be present for book 3? Didn’t I mention I’m a sucker for punishment already?

2 star, YA

Review: Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey

Don’t you just love the smell of old books in the morning?

Madeline Moore does. Books & Moore, the musty bookstore her family has owned for generations, is where she feels most herself. Nothing is going to stop her from coming back after college to take over the store from her beloved aunt.

Nothing, that is—until a chain bookstore called Prologue opens across the street and threatens to shut them down.

Madeline sets out to demolish the competition, but Jasper, the guy who works over at Prologue, seems intent on ruining her life. Not only is he taking her customers, he has the unbelievable audacity to be… extremely cute.

But that doesn’t matter. Jasper is the enemy and he will be destroyed. After all—all’s fair in love and (book) wars.



I’m a sucker for books about bookstores, and this definitely drew me into Last Chance Books. And as the title suggests, this story is all about saving an indie bookstore from closing when a larger chain store moves across the street from them.

Okay, full disclosure, while I absolutely ADORE indie stores (I get all the best secondhand books from such wonderful places where I literally can spend a whole afternoon among its stacks), I have also been an employee of such large chain bookstores. I can see the place for both types of stores, so this won’t be a review that bashes large chain bookstores (sorry).

With this premise, it automatically sets up an enemies to lovers story when indie store employee, Madeline, does everything to keep her beloved family store Books & Moore afloat. Jasper Tanaka, aka the absolute enemy, had to be terminated at any cost.

And I do mean literally at ANY cost.

It’s one of the things I felt the book took too far. Her pranks weren’t always harmless. Whether that meant almost physical harm to a Prologue employee or slightly shady dealings to keep profit from going their way, Madeline’s obsessive behaviour wasn’t endearing in any way. I understand her want to keep the store going when it seemed like everyone else, even her boss and aunt, were willing to give it up and throw in the towel. It just wasn’t a lovely thing to read about constantly.

I know typically people love enemies to lovers, but I’m a lot pickier when it comes to this trope and not just any book with it will win over my heart. However, I will say this romance didn’t really have anything special in it to make them memorable even for those of you who love anything with this trope. Jasper was definitely the nicer of the two, but that’s not hard when the other one was constantly thinking of ways to sabotage the rival business.

What I will say I did like, even in a minor way, was the character growth and family focus. As Books & Moore is a family business, we spent a lot of time with Madeline’s family which consisted of her aunt, half-brother, half-brother’s dad, and her estranged mother now coming back into all of their lives. First thing, I really enjoyed seeing such a unique family dynamic. I loved the portrayal of a good single father figure who also ended up adopting Madeline into his love and care even though she wasn’t his by blood.

But the focus was on their relationship with Madeline’s mom. She was always given the impression of being flighty and selfish, dropping her kids with her sister to take care of all these years so she could pursue her own acting career across the country. Having to deal with her rare and temporary presence in their lives was an interesting root issue to dig into and explore.

At the heart of this, Last Chance Books was still about saving an indie store and sharing the love of books with people. As a former bookseller (and even as a reviewer), that is something I stand by and I love to see in stories. How it was executed wasn’t the best, but I wouldn’t write off this book completely just because I wasn’t excited by it at all. I read half of this as an ebook and the other half as an audiobook. I definitely feel the audiobook helped make it come more alive for me (and probably why I finished through some of Madeline’s less-than-stellar inner monologue). It has potential, and I will still be checking out more from Kelsey Rodkey in the future.

Overall Recommendation:

Last Chance Books delivered on the family dysfunction piece as the Moore family (or rather, mainly Madeline) fought to keep the family bookstore afloat. But where the plot was supposed to be interesting when a rival large chain bookstore is fighting them on profits, it fell flat. Madeline was too intense in her rivalry against rival bookstore employee, Jasper, and regularly took things a bit far for just a rivalry. While there was character development, most strongly in Madeline, it made getting through the middle parts rather difficult. Overall, I always love a book that talks about bookstores and the beauty of reading (and its loyal communities), and this definitely has that in spades but its execution could’ve been better. With a lackluster enemies to lovers romance and a slow pace throughout the middle, the parts I liked couldn’t quite carry it through for my expectations.

2 star, adult

Review: While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

Series: The Wedding Date #6

Two people realize that it’s no longer an act when they veer off-script in this sizzling romantic comedy by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.

Ben Stephens has never bothered with serious relationships. He has plenty of casual dates to keep him busy, family drama he’s trying to ignore and his advertising job to focus on. When Ben lands a huge ad campaign featuring movie star Anna Gardiner, however, it’s hard to keep it purely professional. Anna is not just gorgeous and sexy, she’s also down to earth and considerate, and he can’t help flirting a little…

Anna Gardiner is on a mission: to make herself a household name, and this ad campaign will be a great distraction while she waits to hear if she’s booked her next movie. However, she didn’t expect Ben Stephens to be her biggest distraction. She knows mixing business with pleasure never works out, but why not indulge in a harmless flirtation?

But their lighthearted banter takes a turn for the serious when Ben helps Anna in a family emergency, and they reveal truths about themselves to each other, truths they’ve barely shared with those closest to them.

When the opportunity comes to turn their real-life fling into something more for the Hollywood spotlight, will Ben be content to play the background role in Anna’s life and leave when the cameras stop rolling? Or could he be the leading man she needs to craft their own Hollywood ending?



When it comes to romantic contemporaries, I applaud Jasmine Guillory for creating such fantastically real and charming characters. In this sixth installment that features cameos of some fan favourites in her previous novels, While We Were Dating follows Ben Stephens, younger brother of a certain charming Theo Stephens, in his own endeavours with a Hollywood actress he’s working with.

I think the ordinary citizen meets celebrity trope is an interesting one that can either be something I really love or think it completely missed the mark. I unfortunately land closer to the latter with this novel. Maybe it comes down to both the individual characters and their romantic relationship.

Ben was someone who just liked to have a good time with many different women (no judgment), but was always a gentleman to every woman he was with. He avoided issues related to his dad and was seeing a therapist to maintain a healthy balance in the things he’s acknowledged need working in his life (kudos to him for this!). Meanwhile, Anna was just returning to the acting scene after a hard year struggling with anxiety on her own that made working as an actress particularly difficult. She was focused on building her career and didn’t have time for a relationship (that’s cool, I like a focused, ambitious woman). But I didn’t feel like this really made them three-dimensional characters. It was just one aspect of each of them, and it felt kind of bland to only focus on these “defining” traits because that’s what would fill the story and be the issues they’d have to conquer.

However, when these two were together, I can feel the sexual chemistry, for sure. That’s a given. But that doesn’t make for a relationship. They always just wanted to get into bed, and I wanted a bit more for them. Yes, Ben supported Anna when she most needed it, but the way they never quite worked out their issues together for most of the story bothered me.

If you’re a fan of the fake dating trope, that’s also thrown in here, but unfortunately at quite a late time in the novel. I wished we got to this part sooner because it was a little slow going prior to this decision. Perhaps more of the fake dating aspect would’ve made the story pace better, and given the romantic leads more than just chemistry to make their relationship feel real.

The ending was also at a point in time right where I was excited for what was about to happen. I suppose it wasn’t absolutely necessary to include the conversation I so desperately was curious about, but after setting up so much of Ben’s growth arc on that particular issue, I would’ve thought we would get more closure on it.

Regardless of my thoughts on the ending and romance of it, I always appreciate a book that highlights anxiety and mental health. We need to normalize more books discussing mental health, particularly in POC communities. I loved the way it was effortlessly placed in the story and how it impacted both Ben and Anna. People with anxiety definitely need a great support system to help, and I speak this with experience.

While this was probably my least favourite of Jasmine’s books, if you loved some of her other works, especially The Wedding Party, the book may work better for you than it did for me. I wouldn’t write it off completely.

Overall Recommendation:

While We Were Dating definitely featured some of the characters we’ve come to love in Jasmine Guillory’s other books, but I had a hard time loving our MCs, Ben and Anna. The ordinary citizen meets celebrity trope just didn’t work for me here when it felt like the only thing drawing these two together was sheer sexual chemistry and nothing else. Their individual characters felt too one-dimensional, focusing on one major aspect of their character or a current issue they were struggling with. The slower pacing for most of the book also made it hard to feel like continuing at times, but the fake dating trope that surprisingly was thrown in at a later point helped propel me to the end. I wished it was there earlier. The only highlight was the lovely normalization of mental health and therapy written throughout the novel that shows us how important this is, in both good times and the bad. I will still look forward to future books from Guillory but I hope it’ll settle better for me than this one did.