Review: After Ever Happy (After, #4), by Anna Todd

After Ever Happy (After, #4)After Ever Happy by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth book in the ‘After’ series, ‘After Ever Happy’ is the first book in the series that had a different “feel” to it. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of dramatic shenanigans between Tessa and Hardin. However, this time around they aren’t the sole focus of the book. The result is a much more somber vibe.

After everything that went down at the end of the third book, Tessa is left markedly changed from the girl she was before. Those tragic events forced her to take a long, hard look at her relationship with Hardin. She finally faces the facts — they’re toxic.

Despite her love for Hardin, she knows that she needs to get away from him. Like the clichéd saying, “sometimes love isn’t enough”. Nothing could be more true for this dysfunctional couple at that point in time.

Even though Hardin comes to his senses and does his best to get Tessa to forgive him, it won’t come easy this time around. Tessa has made up her mind and it will take years for Hardin to prove himself to her. It was long overdue.

With Tessa and Hardin living separate lives for most of this book, the story definitely had a different feel to it than earlier books. As much as it was what the logical me said needed to happen, the illogical part of me couldn’t help but feel like this new direction wasn’t as captivating. After all, this series’ entire guilty pleasure appeal was based on the very same things that made this couple such a train wreck — fighting, angst, jealousy, breaking up and making up. With those elements largely missing from this book, I didn’t feel the same pull to the story.

That being said, I think that the author had used up all of the major angst-ridden story elements that readers could handle. Although the loss of this drama resulted in a slightly less engaging story for me, I don’t think I could’ve handled another book full of Tessa and Hardin’s back and forth fighting. This series has left me emotionally exhausted and I just don’t have it in me.

Luckily, Tessa and Hardin do get the HEA eventually. It was long overdue and I was glad to see it. Finally, they have started to mature and deal with some of the issues in their relationship. As much as I loved to hate this couple, I have to admit that if there was ever a couple that stuck it out, it was them. Talk about hanging in there for better or worse.

Overall, this was still a great read. I have been completely hooked on Tessa and Hardin’s story right from the start. It was one hell of an emotional rollercoaster ride. I feel content, but emotionally drained. I know that there are two remaining books in this series, but I’m stopping with this one for now. I don’t want to upset the balance. I’m feeling content with how this book ended and I’m not sure I could handle it right now if something disrupted that peace.

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Review: After (After, #1), by Anna Todd

After (After, #1)After by Anna Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you thought the ‘Fallen Crest High’ series was full of angst and teenage melodrama, you haven’t seen anything yet! ‘After’ is like many other teenage/college-aged romances, with all the “end of the world” dramatics…on steroids. I found this book to be equal parts irritating and addicting.

The “adult” part of me has to acknowledge the truth in much of the criticism I’ve seen regarding this story. Hardin and Tessa’s relationship was a train wreck. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes and thinking “hang it up already”. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy this story. It was a total guilty pleasure. Even though I was often annoyed, or even infuriated, by the goings on in this book, I couldn’t turn away. I really enjoyed this book, despite the responsible adult in me saying I should run far in the other direction.

The story centers on Theresa “Tessa” Young and her relationship with Hardin Scott. Tessa is portrayed as the quintessential sheltered prude. She is a sweet virgin, who dresses conservatively and arrives at her dorm with her over-bearing mother and high school sweetheart in-tow. Immediately, Tessa stands out and becomes a target for her roommate’s hard-partying group of friends.

More so than anyone else, Hardin seems to take extreme pleasure in tormenting Tessa. He is constantly toying with her and trying to humiliate her. He goes out of his way to put her down, but he’s always there. Despite all of his insults, he is constantly showing up in her daily life.

Little by little, Tessa and Hardin form a tenuous friendship. Eventually, it grows into more. There are plenty of obstacles along the way — none larger than Hardin’s broody, closed-off, and often volatile nature. Time and time again, Tessa forgives Hardin for his reprehensible behavior.

These two might take the prize for the number of times a single couple can go back and forth, breaking up and making up, in a single book. It did start to wear on my nerves, even as I couldn’t turn away. They were the perfect example of everything that only works in fiction. In real life, these two needed some serious counselling and intervention. They were toxic, to an extreme degree. No way would I ever want to be any where near a couple like this in real life. However, for a smutty romance, they definitely kept things interesting.

While I don’t want to give anything away, I will say that the ending of this book gutted me. I actually cried. I was so furious, I think I might have felt the betrayal as acutely as Tessa did!

So many times, I told myself that when this book was over that I wouldn’t be diving back in for another round of their melodramatic, childish antics. I was kidding myself. There was no way that I was going to skip the next book after that ending. It’s on to the next book for me.

As an aside, this book was apparently written as fan-fiction originally. It is supposed to be based on the lives of the boy band “One Direction”. Since I’m not very familiar with this group, I don’t have anything to offer in terms of how closely this book follows any of those band members. If it does closely follow one of the bandmate’s lives, God help the poor girls that are his prey.

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Review: Prince’s Gambit (Captive Prince, #2), by C. S. Pacat

Prince's Gambit (Captive Prince, #2)Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the ‘Captive Prince’ series progresses, I find myself completely lost in the story of Damen and Laurent. Talk about a slow-burn, I have been dying for something to happen between these two. The anticipation was absolutely killing me.

While the first book primarily focused on the hedonistic indulgences and cruelty of Laurent’s court, this second book shows more of the inner workings. Many of the pieces are beginning to fall into place. There is far more to Laurent’s situation than meets the eye. In many ways, he is every bit the captive that Damen is.

The nearer Laurent gets to the day that he will claim his throne, the more underhanded his uncle becomes. It is evident that he has no intention of ever relinquishing the power of being King. He does everything within his power to discredit and undermine his nephew at every turn.

Unfortunately for Laurent’s uncle, his own manipulations end up being unexpectedly counterproductive. He coerces Laurent into serving near the border, anticipating that he and the substandard group of soldiers that he sent him with will end up being killed off. The assassins that he sends will surely finish off the job if the poor state of the group does not manage to die of their own accord.

Instead, Laurent and Damen form an unlikely alliance. Their tenuous relationship grows much stronger, even becoming the best of friends. Damen often finds himself in the position of a trusted confidante for Laurent. Before long, the two are practically inseparable.

At last, it is evident that there is far more going on between Laurent and Damen than meets the eye. Of course, there is a pervasive ominous feeling to this book. Damen’s identity is still a secret at this point. The looming threat of discovery lingers, tainting his interactions with Laurent. The more he grows to care for Laurent, the more Damen fears that his betrayal will come to light.

I enjoyed every minute of this book. I was taken in by the evolution of Damen and Laurent’s relationship from enemies to friends to lovers. I want things to work out for them so badly, even as I know that disaster is lurking around the corner. So many secrets. So many feelings. My heart is breaking for these two.

Needless to say, I thought that this was a wonderful book. I will dive into the third book immediately. I absolutely must know how things work out for Damen and Laurent. Despite the fact that M/M is not my usual preferred genre, I have absolutely fallen in love with this story. I want Damen and Laurent to get the HEA so badly.

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Review: Wicked Abyss (Immortals After Dark, #18), by Kresley Cole

Wicked Abyss (Immortals After Dark, #18)Wicked Abyss by Kresley Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The ‘Immortals After Dark’ series is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. The over-the-top Alphas that fill this supernatural world are perfect, in a very primal sort of way. Kresley Cole knows exactly how to hit the spot when creating this type of male. I know I should be appalled by their obsessive and controlling caveman antics, but I just can’t help myself.

I have listened to the Audible edition of all of the books in this series, except for ‘A Hunger Like No Other’. Despite the fact that I usually prefer to avoid explicit erotica selections in this format, it has always seemed to work for me with this series. Usually, I find it kind of creepy to have the narrators bringing intimate sexual acts to life as I’m sitting in traffic.

For some reason, that has never bothered me with this series. This probably has something to do with the fact that the series is already ridiculous in many ways, so having the narrator grunt and groan so animatedly doesn’t really detract from this series in any way. Just know that you will laugh out loud if you choose to listen to this series. Again, it definitely falls in the “guilty pleasure” category for me. You will get some strange, and amused, looks in traffic if you roll down your windows. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

That being said, I didn’t find myself enjoying this story as much as the others. I can’t really pinpoint why, but it just didn’t do it for me. I’m a moody reader, so maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this light-hearted, over-the-top smutty romance.

This book is the story of Abyssian “Sian” Infernas, the King of Hell, and Calliope “Lila” Barbot. Like other couples in this series, they have a very love/hate relationship. As expected there is plenty of sexual tension and rivalry in the beginning, which eventually gives way to some pretty passionate mating action. If you’ve followed this series, you know the drill.

Also like earlier books in the series, the meddling Valkyrie, Nix, is instrumental in the story. If you’re a fan of the super-crazy Nix, like I am, then you’ll enjoy her interference and manipulations. I can’t wait to read her story. One day soon, I hope we’ll get it.

Despite the fact that this couple wasn’t one of my favorites from this series, I did enjoy their story. The imagery was especially remarkable. I could picture the jade beaches like I was standing there, feeling the smooth green sand between my toes. I absolutely loved that part of the story.

I have to say that I don’t regret reading this one, even if the story wasn’t a big stand-out for me. I was definitely in the minority with this one among my friends. I still plan to continue the series and it remains one of my favorite guilty pleasure go-tos. In fact, I might even return to this one at a later date to see if it holds more appeal when I’m in a different frame of mind.

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Review: Ruckus (Sinners of Saint, #2), by L. J. Shen

Ruckus (Sinners of Saint, #2)Ruckus by L.J. Shen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in the ‘Sinners of Saint’ series, ‘Ruckus’ tells the story of Dean Cole and Rosie LeBlanc. I was a little weary going into this book because of Dean’s history with Rosie’s older sister. I wasn’t sure that was something that I was going to be able to get past. Fortunately, I did.

Dean Cole is a hard-partying, manwhore. He is one of the hotholes and is used to getting everything he wants. If he was a spoiled rich kid in high school, he has only gotten worse as a grown man. His life is one of excess to the extreme.

Yet, the one thing that he wants most is the one thing that continues to allude him — Rosie, aka “little LeBlanc”. Dean knows that he irreparably damaged his chances with Rosie when he dated her sister in high school. He knew all along that he was with the wrong sister, but didn’t do anything about it before it was too late. Now, he’s hell-bent on proving himself to Rosie.

No matter how hard Rosie tries to live a “normal” life, she cannot forget that she is seriously ill. Growing up with Cystic Fibrosis, her entire life revolves around her medical care, as do the lives of everyone in her family. It has been a long time since she felt like she was a real person and not just her diagnosis.

As much as Rosie wants to be “normal”, she is perfectly aware of her prognosis. She will die young and will most likely never bear children. For these reasons, she pushes others away before they get too close. She doesn’t want to begin a relationship that is doomed from the start, leaving heartache in her wake.

Rosie has perfected the art of shutting others out. She tells herself it is for their own good and she’s never regretted it. The only exception is Dean Cole, the guy she has always fantasized about but could never have.

Rosie and Dean have a long history of taboo flirtation and stolen moments. She loves her sister, but she felt like Dean was hers from the first time she laid eyes on him. When he chose her sister, it broke her heart. Even though her sister has moved on, marrying one of Dean’s best friends, Rosie feels like crossing that line would be a betrayal.

Now, Rosie and Dean are both grown and living in New York City. To make matters more complicated, Rosie lives in Dean’s building and witnesses his sexual exploits first-hand. Of course, he plans to use his position as her landlord to bend Rosie to his will.

When the two travel home for Vicious and Emilia’s wedding, the sexual frustration is at an all-time high between these two. Over the course of a few weeks, their relationship grows far more intimate and they become inseparable. Despite everything working against them, they decide to give a relationship a shot.

However, their relationship is anything but smooth sailing. Dean has some major demons that he’s fighting. Rosie’s health poses it’s own set of risks. Both of them have a lot of work to do on themselves before they can make a relationship work.

All in all, I thought that this was a great read. Rosie and Dean were perfect for one another, despite his past with her sister. I expected it to be a much bigger deal in this book than it ended up being. Although that seemed to be a little inconsistent with his reaction to Emilia and Vicious’ relationship in the first book, I just went with it. This story was hot and with just enough angst to keep me emotionally engaged.

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Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3), by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3)A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not sure that I can say much about this book that hasn’t been said already, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. ‘A Court of Wings and Ruin’ was a great finale to the series. I have loved watching Feyre evolve over the course of this series and this book did a wonderful job of bringing everything full circle. If you’re a fan of the series, then this book is a must-read.

That being said, I honestly didn’t think that this book was as spectacular as the second book. This is probably a reflection of my personal tastes more than anything. I am primarily a romance reader. I like a little fantasy and adventure, but I need a healthy dose of romance thrown in.

While this third book definitely continued the love story, it wasn’t as smutty as I would’ve liked. There, I said it. I wanted more steamy, hot times with Feyre and Rhysand. The second book definitely provided more to work with in that regard, but I understand that this book is not marketed for adult romance readers, like me. Again, it is just a matter of personal preferences.

On the other hand, this book was action-packed. From start to finish, there was always something adventurous and deadly brewing. There was never a dull moment. It definitely kept me on the edge of my seat right to the very end.

I won’t say much about the storyline, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. There are a lot of changes that occur during this book. Some are heartbreaking, others will make you melt. I was left with a feeling of contentment, resolute that everything was “right” in this make believe world that I grew to love so much.

While this series has drawn to a close, I am left wondering if Ms. Maas has any plans to create a spin-off series. There were so many characters introduced in this series that have grown dear to me. I feel like their stories want to be told and she certainly planted the seeds to do this. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Overall, this was a fantastic book and series. I would definitely recommend this series to others. ‘A Court of Mist and Fury’ is still my favorite by far, but this one was great in and of it’s own right also.

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Review: Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror, #1), by Karina Halle

Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror, #1)Darkhouse by Karina Halle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have been wanting to read this story for a long time. I have had the Audible edition sitting on my shelf for months, if not years. Finally, I decided to give it a shot.

Unfortunately, this book ended up being a disappointment for me. It ended up being kind of “meh”. I just couldn’t ever connect with the characters or the story.

I’m beginning to think that I need to stick to Karina Halle’s dark romance/dark erotica. I love many of her other books that fall in those sub-genres. However, every book of hers that I’ve tried outside of those sub-genres has been a let down for me. Maybe this is related to my expectations for the author, based on her other works that I’ve loved. Who knows? What I do know is that this one didn’t work for me.

The heroine, Perry Palomino, is a young twenty-something that works a dead-end job and seems to lack much of a social life. She is trying to prove herself responsible after having problems with drug use and mental health issues in her teen years. She seems to have gone from one extreme to another, going from out of control to pretty boring.

Dex Foray, the “hero”, is mostly just a douchebag. He rubbed me wrong right from the start. I love an “a$$hole” leading male as much as the next girl, but somewhere along the way there has to be something appealing about the guy thrown in there to keep me hoping. There has to be a glimpse of a redeeming quality provided every now and again. Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen in this book until it was way too late. He remained an insulting, demeaning a-hole for pretty much the entire book. I couldn’t stand him!

These two cross paths one night at an old, abandoned lighthouse that is owned by Perry’s uncle. The lighthouse is rumored to be haunted. When Perry and Dex have a very creepy experience, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Perry shares the experience on her sister’s blog and it goes viral. Next thing she knows, Dex is proposing that the two of them do a “ghost hunters” web show. It sounds like a nice break from her boring day to day life, so Perry agrees.

Before long, Perry and Dex are traveling around together, visiting haunted places. Along the way, there are a few spine-tingling encounters. They keep running across an old “clown” lady that delivers cryptic messages and forecasts for their futures.

What hung with me more than anything else was irritation with Dex. I kept wondering why he had to be such a degrading jackass to Perry. More importantly, I couldn’t figure out why she kept putting up with his nastiness. Sure, he was supposed to be hot, but that was no excuse.

If I had to hear one more snide comment about how NOT hot Perry was, or how his girlfriend was so beautiful, I was going to throw up or punch something. I got it. Perry was nothing special in a superficial way. Why did it have to be brought up every other minute?

In the end, there was a twist or two. Admittedly, I didn’t see them coming. However, I’m not sure if that is because it was especially surprising…or if it was due to the fact that I had kind of tuned out a lot of this story.

This is one of those times when I find myself in the minority. I didn’t love this story like I expected to. It ended up just being kind of “meh”. In fairness, I was in a bit of a reading rut at the time and there weren’t too many books that appealed to me when I started this one.

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Review: The Iron Knight (The Iron Fey, #4), by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Knight (Iron Fey, #4)The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the time I started listening to this series, I have been unable to pull myself away from it. Over the course of a week or so, I have read the entire series from start to finish. I have enjoyed every minute. (Okay, maybe not all of the time spent discussing Ariella.) Gladly, I can say that this series did not fizzle out at the end like many series do. This story was action-packed and engaging right to the very end.

Picking up where ‘The Iron Queen’ and ‘Summer’s Crossing’ left off, Ash and Meghan are separated for most of this book. He’s working diligently to find a way to get back to Meghan’s side, even if it means becoming human so that he can survive the Iron Realm. He’ll stop at nothing to get back to her.

In some ways it was kind of fitting that now that Ash has finally figured out that he loves Meghan that he would be kept apart from her. After all, Meghan endured his cold shoulder treatment repeatedly. So, I kind of felt like most of this book was Ash’s dose of karma for how he rebuffed Meghan in ‘The Iron Daughter’. (I’m blood-thirsty that way.)

I don’t want to say too much, but I will say that there were some pretty big twists along the way. I can’t say I was completely surprised, but there were definitely some wrenches thrown in the plans. One of my biggest pet peeves – the perfect, dead ex-girlfriend – continued to be an issue in a huge way. (Why can’t this dead girl just GO AWAY???)

Maybe I should be more sensitive and try to like Ariella, but I just can’t. Ash’s wishy-washy feelings also got on my nerves where the dead ex was concerned. It made me question the genuineness of his feelings for Meghan.

Meanwhile, Puck started looking better and better. The poor guy’s loyalty was infallible, but he was destined to forever remain in the “friend-zone”. My heart broke for him.

As Ash endures multiple trials on his quest to gain a soul and become human, Puck, Grimalkin and the great Wolf hunter are right by his side. Like ‘Summer’s Crossing’, Meghan was absent for a large part of this book. However, the robust cast of characters in ‘The Iron Knight’ did not leave me wanting the way that the earlier novella did. There was never a dull moment.

More so than any of the books that preceded this one, ‘The Iron Knight’ provided insight into Ash’s character. I felt like I really got to know him in this book. I won’t lie, he definitely had some pretty big skeletons in his closet. However, in my opinion, he had a soul all along. He clearly had a conscience, even if he was taught to ignore it from the time he was young.

I really felt for Ash, especially as a child. His world was so cruel and cold. Never was he nurtured like a child should be. It is a wonder that he didn’t turn into a total psychopath.

At long last, things worked out the way that they should have. I was left feeling relieved and contented at the end of this book. A part of me was even a little sad that I had reached the end of this series.

Overall, this was a fantastic book. It was the perfect finale to this series. I’m glad that I read it and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a “clean” fantasy/adventure/paranormal type of story. It has romance, as well as plenty of action.

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Review: The Iron Daughter (The Iron Fey, #2), by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Daughter (Iron Fey, #2)The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in ‘The Iron Fey’ series, ‘The Iron Daughter’ definitely had my attention from start to finish. I’m a sucker for angst and emotional pain in my romances. This book was jam-packed with both. However, it also had a healthy dose of action for the adventure junkies out there.

‘The Iron Daughter’ begins with Meghan in captivity at the Winter Court. Ash has transformed into someone unrecognizable, denying any feelings for Meghan and turning his back on her. As his antics become crueler, Meghan is forced to come to terms with the possibility that she never really knew Ash at all.

Appearances aren’t always as they seem though. This is a lesson that Meghan learns time and time again as she attempts to navigate the politics and manipulative games of the Winter Court. The sadistic tendencies of the court members may be the only thing that Ash was fully honest about.

As you can probably guess already, Queen Mab played a much more significant role in this book. Prince Ash’s brothers were also introduced, making the story more multidimensional. Each has their own motives for their actions and their own agenda. The same is true for multiple characters in the Winter Court that also enter the picture during this book.

Eventually, all hell breaks loose. Meghan and Ash are thrust back together by circumstance. Ash is faced with the same feelings of betrayal that Meghan had been forced to cope with when the tables are turned on him. There’s nothing quite like the harsh sting of betrayal to put things in perspective.

While there was plenty of angst and adventure to keep me engaged, I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t something that drove me crazy with this series. This series featured one of my biggest pet peeves in a story, beginning in the first book and only becoming more pronounced in subsequent books–the “perfect, dead ex-girlfriend”. Every time I heard Ariella’s name I wanted to scream, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”. Seriously! Who can compete with the beautiful ex-girlfriend that is canonized upon death? Nobody – that’s who!

In spite of the infuriating fixation with the dead ex, I still found this book to be a fantastic read overall. Aimed toward a younger audience than most of my book choices, I was able to listen to this story with my kids. Other than a few “mild” naughty words (no f-bombs or anything), there was no content that was concerning or too controversial for them to hear. In fact, it was kind of provided some insight into my fifth-grade daughter’s blossoming interest in boys. I’ll just say that I wasn’t the only one in the car that was sick of the repeated mentions of the “perfect” Ariella.

As expected, the book doesn’t offer a lot of resolution. One adventure comes to a close and readers are primed for another one to begin. Luckily, I didn’t start this series until all of the books had been released so I was able to jump into the next one immediately. Otherwise, the wait might have killed me.

I listened to this book in the Audible format and I have to say that the narration was superb. I really enjoyed the voices for each character and the emotional responses of the characters was almost tangible. If you’re an audiobook listener, I’d definitely give this audiobook a shot.

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Review: Winter’s Passage (The Iron Fey, #1.5), by Julie Kagawa

Winter's Passage (Iron Fey, #1.5)Winter’s Passage by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At around 50 pages, ‘Winter’s Passage’ is a nice bridge between ‘The Iron King’ and the second full-length book in the series. This novella picks up right where ‘The Iron King’ leaves off, with Meghan journeying back to the Winter Court with Ash to fulfill her end of their contract. Of course, there is plenty of adventure along the way and the introduction of a few new characters.

This ended up being a very sweet and heartfelt novella. Ash and Meghan are falling in love and their feelings are getting harder to deny. It was pervaded with the sweet, innocent feel of first love.

However, this short read also had a sense of impending doom that was always lurking in the background. Ash and Meghan know that their romance is strictly forbidden. More than Meghan, Ash knows the cruelty of the Winter Court. The closer the two become, the more Meghan’s fate in the Winter Court haunts them both. With each step, the sense of dread grows.

This novella was a nice lead-in for the second book. However, it wasn’t absolutely necessary to follow and understand the series. After finishing this novella, I jumped right into the second book only to find that much of the information provided in this novella was also provided in ‘The Iron Daughter’. So, while this was a nice, quick “extra”, it isn’t really required in my opinion. It was sweet and I liked it, but there isn’t anything revolutionary or critical here.

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