Review: Always the Best Friend by Emily EK Murdoch

Always the Best Friend (Never the Bride #4) by Emily EK Murdoch ☆☆☆☆
Published July 7, 2020 by Dragonblade Publishing, Inc.

Always the Best Friend is the story of Lady Harriet Stanhope (or Harry to her friends) and Montague Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire. They, along with Harry’s twin brother, have been thick as thieves for as long as they can remember. Harry has always had feelings for Monty, but Monty has always seen Harry as his best pal. Now Monty is a duke, and in order for him to keep his title he has to be married by his 26th birthday. But who could he possibly marry so quickly?

Monty is very hung up on how silly all the girls he meets are, how they wouldn’t be able to run his household like he needs them to. He wants a wife who can be his partner and also someone who loves horses like he does. The entire time he is searching the parties for this perfect woman, his pal Harry is there next to him. His pal Harry, who also loves to ride horses, and who is an independent woman with an income of her own that she manages.

You see where I’m going with this. Monty takes forever to see Harry as a possible wife. Harry decides to take it into her own hands and force him to see her as a woman – by seducing him.

The pining was so good at the beginning of this book. Harry has it bad for this man. Monty is just so willfully oblivious to her feelings. It made me so frustrated on her behalf. I did think Harry’s plan to seduce Monty kinda came out of left field, but once I accepted it (I thought Monty was dreaming at first and was waiting for him to wake up and be horrified at having a wet dream about his bestest pal, but then it was real so I just rolled with it), it really drove the rest of the plot.

Harry does that thing where she can’t believe Monty would ever want her, even when he clearly does want her, that made me want to shake her, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of this book.

I’m going to be real with you in this review – this book would have to have been seriously bad for me not to like it. Best friends to lovers is one of my favorite tropes of all time, and I will read literally anything with that premise. Just that trope alone will add at least 2.5 stars to a review. If there is some serious pining going on, I am there. Bring me all the angsty pining, and then make it better. I just eat that up.

This book is only 174 pages, so it was a breeze to get through. The characters were very well written, and the drama I sensed from the twin brother and his wife makes me want to know what happened in their book. This is book 4, but can be read alone. I have not read the others in the series and I enjoyed it a lot.

Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag 2020

Why is it almost July?? The only good thing about it is that it’s time for the Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag.

best book you’ve read so far in 2020

This is so hard, I’m not even going to lie. I’ve read so many great books so far this year. If I had to choose between the 17 books I’ve given 5 stars this year, I would have to go with You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle. I started out very confused about why these 2 people even got engaged, to being devastated by the heroine’s insecurities, to being delighted by the couple’s antics in trying to get the other to call off the engagement. Their eventual healing and newly renewed connection was so satisfying in the end.

best sequel you’ve read so far in 2020

I’m going to go with Passage (The Sharing Knife volume 3) by Lois McMaster Bujold. Volume 1 is still my favorite of the quartet, but I feel like volume 3 really delved deeper into the magic of the world and into patroller/farmer relationships. It got a lot more political and philosophical, which is something Bujold excels that. Trust me, I love her romances a lot, but she is incredibly skilled at building nuanced worlds that have real, high-stakes political and social systems.

new release you haven’t read yet, but want to

*gestures vaguely around me at the towering stacks of unread books* I have to choose??? Ok, fine, here’s a short list:

  • Network Effect by Martha Wells
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by T J Klune
  • 40-Love by Olivia Dade
  • Slippery Creatures by K J Charles
  • The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K S Villoso

I could honestly keep going. And going.

most anticipated release for the second half of the year

Daring and the Duke by Sarah Maclean comes out soon, which I’m super stoked about. Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir comes out later this year as well. Most of my most anticipated are sequels to things I loved last year.

biggest disappointment

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee I have 2 for this one, and I feel like neither one will be a popular answer but here we go: for such a hyped book, The Blacksmith Queen by G A Aiken was so, so, so bad. I hated it to much. The humor in this book was such a miss for me. It grated on my nerves so bad.

The other one is Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. This was a disappointment mainly because I’d wanted to read it for so many years and was intimidated by it’s size and scope. It spans 5000 years, which is just bananas long. But then I read it – and hated it. It’s Math: the Novel. It goes into so much depth describing every detail of that space station I could build my own. I am not meant for such mathy-wathy books. My poor little humanities brain goes *poof* and turns to dust.

biggest surprise

This has to be Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. I bought this because it was $0.99 and I wanted to try something by these two romance authors. I absolutely loved this book. I never thought a book about rival frat brothers could tug my heartstrings like that, and it was just so incredibly well-written. I stayed up until 3am to finish this book and was an absolute mess the next day. It was that good.

favorite new author (debut or new to you)

I have a couple authors that I’ve read a book by and will be watching out for others by them from now on, including Layla Reyne, who wrote a beautiful book called Dine with Me, and Sarah Hogle, who wrote You Deserve Each Other.

newest fictional crush

I’m invoking my magical asexuality powers to skip this question.

newest favorite character

Can I choose 2? I absolutely loved Dag and Fawn from the Sharing Knife quartet. they were so well-rounded as characters and I loved their relationship and how it grew.

book that made you cry

A fact about me: if a book can make me cry I will love it forever. You Deserve Each Other made me cry and then it put my heart back together. The book that made me cry the hardest was Cryoburn which is the 14th Vorkosigan novel. The ending was SO SAD and it absolutely broke my heart. I still think about that ending at least once a week.

book that made you happy

I’m a romance reader, so a lot of books make me happy, but if we’re talking just pure joy, Headliners by Lucy Parker was a fun time. I loved dipping back into this world she’s created. I will read anything Lucy Parker puts out for as long as she wants to publish books. I will be 80 and have my Lucy Parker pre-orders put in.

most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

I made an entire post about how much I love the Penric and Desdemona novella bind-ups coming out from Baen (pretty covers from Baen?? Is the world ending…um, nevermind)

what books do you need to read by the end of the year

uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, all of them? Please see the list of unread books above, and add in the books from that book haul I made a couple posts ago, as well as all the books I’ve bought that were on sale via kindle. I want to prioritize Network Effect by Martha Wells, and the Penric and Desdemona bind-ups. I also want to made headway into the backlog of Linnea Sinclair books I’ve bought (all of them – I bought all of them).

I named this blog The Neverending Unread for a reason, y’all 🙂

Weekend Reads for June 19-21

Happy Friday, frands! I hope you all are keeping safe and are planning to read amazing book this weekend.

I will be working all weekend :/ so most of what I plan to read will be audiobooks. I just started listening to Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, and I will also be listening to Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski (the 3rd Witcher novel). I have been listening to one non-fiction and one fiction audiobook at the same time, and so far it has been working for me. It has been keeping my reading from getting stale.

If I somehow get to read something in print this weekend (very doubtful but who knows), I will be reading Veterinary Partner by Nancy Wheelton or Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon. I’ve started Veterinary Partner and so far it is pretty bland and the dialogue is super awkward. I’ve been trying to get into it but it’s just…not great. I want to push through, but I’m also worried it will push me into a slump.

Not the most exciting weekend plans, but it’s what I can manage right now.

What’s on your radar this weekend?

June TBR, featuring Anti-Racist and Queer Books

Unless you’ve been living on Mars or are being willfully ignorant, you have seen the unrest going on in the US recently. The US has always been a country that pats itself on the back for being a beacon of freedom, while also building a system that favors white men over all others. Police brutality has always been an issue, but the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others have fanned the fires into an inferno.

I’m white and southern, which means I have been steeped in racism from birth. I have tried to be informed and aware of the privilege that comes with my pale skin, but there is always work to do. Hence why I am dedicating the majority of my June TBR to anti-racist nonfiction. I will also be reading queer books, because it’s Pride month.

I was originally going to participate in the Seasons of Reading: Sci-Fi Summer Readathon this month, but with the way the world is looking I feel like I need to read more anti-racist texts right now.

I currently have 4 audiobooks downloaded, 2 on Hoopla and 2 on Libro.fm. There are a couple more I have bookmarked on Hoopla that if I get through these I will try to add.

  • Eloquent Rage by Brittany Cooper has been on my radar for quite a while. I own this in print, but will be listening to the audio as well. I started this book when it first came out, but put it down because I was slumping super hard and couldn’t finish anything. I think listening to it on audio will make sure that doesn’t happen again.
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo has been recommended to me a couple times and was on a couple anti-racist playlists I saw. I feel like this will help me be more conversant on racism – I feel like just knowing racism is awful is not enough, and being able to talk about it and its impacts on people is essential.
  • White Fragility by Robin Diangelo is probably the most popular anti-racist book right now. It’s out of stock basically everywhere in print, and I see it mentioned on Twitter almost constantly these days.
  • The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale seems to be getting to the heart of the matter – that our current system of policing is violent and is frankly not working for our society, and that alternatives have to be implemented.

That’s a lot to get through on audio, but if I do manage to finish them all, I will be reading Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi and The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist. If you have any anti-racist recommendations, please leave a comment down below. I am very interested in recs.

As for queer books, I feel like happy queer stories are essential for Pride month. Especially to offset the heavy reading I’m going to be doing on audio. I have a couple books lined up to balance things out.

  • Veterinary Partner by Nancy Wheelton comes out on June 16 and I got myself an e-arc. I think I’ve mentioned before that I work at a vet clinic, and I couldn’t pass up an f/f veterinary romance when I saw it on Netgalley. It will either be really good…or really bad.
  • Met Cute Club by Jack Harbon looks like the fluffy, bookish m/m romance of my dreams
  • The Hideaway Inn by Phillip William Stover is a small town, m/m, second-chance romance and I am here. for. it.
  • I am currently listening to Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes, which has a kind-of f/f romance, and I don’t know if it ends happily but I guess I’ll find out in about 4 more hours.

I don’t know what else I might pick up this month. Y’all know I’m a mood reader and might choose completely different books that I planned. Let me know in the comments what you plan to pick up this month.

I want to leave a link to the Libro.fm anti-racist playlists page. There are some very good recs on there for anyone who wants to educate themselves. I am not personally affiliated with Libro.fm, I just really liked how they promoted BLM books on their main page and in their playlists.

Stay safe out there.

Weekend Reads for 5/29-5/31

Happy weekend, friends!

I have to work all weekend (we’re suddenly open on Sunday now?? To catch up on work after COVID-19, oh yay) so most of my reading with probably be on audio. I’ve just started listening to The Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski, which is the second Witcher novel. I probably won’t finish it this weekend, but should be able to get through most of it. I’ve decided to listen to all the of Witcher books on audio, because I want to know if the hype for this series is due to the video games or if the books themselves are worth the hype.

So far the evidence is leaning toward the games boosting the popularity of the books, but I’m holding out hope that the quality improves the farther along I go.

If I manage to read anything in print, I will be finishing Office Hours by Katrina Jackson, which is a short romance between 2 professors, one who has tenure and the other who is still working toward tenure. There are a lot of grammatical errors, but it hasn’t taken away from the story at all. There has only been one error that stumped me, and I just gave up on figuring out what it was supposed to say and kept going. I think my many, many years of reading fanfiction has inoculated me against grammatical errors. As long as I can understand what the author meant, I am fine with it.

I am also in the middle of The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, which is a short story collection exploring the lives of comics heroines that have been “fridged” to give the hero a tragic backstory. I have been piecing out the stories every couple days this week. The stories contain so much anger that it makes it a little hard to read all at once. I like to read just one story either before or after work, and then I try to decide which comics heroine the story is based on. So far, the first 3 stories have been based (I think) on Gwen Stacy, Jean Gray, and Harley Quinn.

I wish my reading plans were more elaborate, but I work basically the entire weekend (yay) and will not have much in the way of free time.

What’s on your weekend TBR?

PTO Week Book Haul

My tall stack of books

Happy Sunday! Week before last, I took a short staycation to unwind after a very stressful March and April. It turns out that when I have nothing to do, I buy books (whoops).

I saw a booktube video from The Naughty Librarian where she was hauling some books she got from BookOutlet and it made me curious about what was on BookOutlet, and I just spiraled into a massive book haul. This is actually what my haul was after I pared it down. It was initially larger. So that should tell you how good some of the deals are on there.

In case the spines are too blurry to see, I got:

  • God’s War by Kameron Hurley
  • Infidel by Kameron Hurley
  • The Legend of Lyon Redmond by Julie Anne Long
  • One-Eyed Dukes are Wild by Megan Frampton
  • The House Of The Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
  • The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst
  • The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth Durst
  • The Affrair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall
  • The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
  • Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff
  • The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi
  • Contagion by Erin Bowman
  • The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear
  • The Red-Stained Wings by Elizabeth Bear
  • Governess Gone Rogue by Laura Lee Guhrke
  • Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan

That’s a lot! And that’s not counting the e-books I buy when they go on sale. Or the audiobooks on sale on Chirp.

…I might have a book buying problem. I’m a sucker for a sale. If it’s 99 cents I’m probably going to buy it, that’s just science.

Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie

Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie ☆☆☆ 1/2

I have been trying to read this book for several weeks now and something about it has made me put it down after only a chapter or two. At first I was put off my the 1st person narration – the older I get, the less I like books written in 1st person. But that’s not this book’s fault and I was determined to get past my hangup over it.

I first paw this book being hyped on Twitter long before it came out. I was pretty excited by the premise. A high-stakes, political gay space adventure? Sign me up.

The original cover was pretty generic and told basically nothing about the book. The cover was redesigned after the ARCs were sent out to the cover image above, and it looks better, but it also looks like a YA novel. This book is not being marketed as YA, so it threw me off. But it became apparent after I started to read it why the cover change.

I have no idea why this book is not being marketed as YA. The protagonists are 17 years old and are about to graduate from a military academy. A large part of the early plot hinges on the fact that Gal is about to turn 18 in a couple months. The writing is also very reminiscent of a lot of the YA that I have read. The prose reminded me so vividly of reading the Hunger Games trilogy that it was startling.

Don’t take this review as some kind of diss on YA. I have loved some YA novels in my time. I just was not expecting Bonds of Brass to be one. I also think the way they marketed this book was a missed opportunity. This book would be a much better fit for the YA shelves than the scifi shelves. It has a lot of political machinations but it also deals with the pitfalls of first love and trying to figure out who you are going to become as you move from a school setting to a wider world setting.

It just so happens that in this book the wider wold is in, like, space.

I really did like this book. The two main protagonists, Ettian and Gal, are both pretty complicated characters that have their moments of just being young and silly, then are weighed down by their circumstances and their responsibilities. The world-building was pretty solid, and the action scenes were super well choreographed. I could see the final “twist” pretty early on, so it wasn’t very shocking to me, but I like where the plot ultimately ended up going. This book sets up the second one nicely, and I am interested in seeing where Skrutskie goes with it.

Ultimately, I gave this book 3.5 stars because it was a solid book, slightly better than average, but it did not wow me. I am hoping that with all the set up in this book that the second one will step up its game and knock my socks off.

Why You Should Read The Vorkosigan Saga

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that I spent almost a year reading the entire Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold in chronological order. I have mentioned it in several posts over the last couple years, and it’s honestly one of the best-written series I have ever read.

I’m not going to lie – if you’re going to read the whole thing, it will be a massive undertaking. The Vorkosigan saga is comprised of 16 novels and 5 novellas spanning over about 40 years. Each book is written to read more-or-less as a standalone, but there are some through-line stories that are carried throughout the entire series. All of the books are set in the same world, several hundred years in the future. There are several space colonies around the galaxy, but the primary world the Vorkosigan saga is set on is Barrayar.

Barrayar is such an interesting planet. It was settled by primarily Russian, French, and Greek people, and is only connected to the rest of the planets by one wormhole. The planet was settled and had begun terraforming when its one wormhole collapsed and it was isolated from all the other planets for a couple hundred years. They called this the “Time of Isolation” and it basically reset the entire planet to a very conservative, heavily stratified, militaristic society. Once another wormhole is discovered and Barrayar has reconnected with Earth and the other colonies, it has become apparent that the rest of civilization has moved in a much more leftist direction, with far more scientific advancement. It puts Barrayaran civilization in a very unique position, and it leaves room for a lot of interesting commentary on societal norms and culture clashes.

I fell in love with this series when I listened to Shards of Honor on audio in July 2019. The first 2 books follow Admiral Lord Aral Vorkosigan and Captain Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan from their fraught meeting and through their first year of marriage. From then on, most of the series follows their son, Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, from his first assignment at age 17 through his late 30s/early 40s. The very last book returns to Cordelia.

This series is written in such an accessible way, and even though it often deals with some very plotty political situations, it never failed to keep my attention. I listened to most of this series as an audiobook, but for the few that were not available on Hoopla I found the transition to print very smooth.

I think one reason this series resonated so well with me was that it varied it’s core genre enough from book to book that it kept my attention. It is still a science fiction series, don’t get me wrong, but some of the books read more like romances and others read a lot like mystery/thrillers. Some of the books are very whacky whodunits that made me laugh ridiculously to myself the whole way to work, while others are more hard-hitting tearjerkers that made me weep like a baby.

It is such a shame that this series is not more widely known. Science fiction nerds know and love this series, but I think the wider culture would absolutely love this series. Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of the books in the Vorkosigan saga and what you thought!

Beautiful & Dirty by Katrina Jackson

Woo boy, this novella was A Lot.

I have been having a hard time finishing books lately, which is why I haven’t been posting as much. I wanted something short to just plow through to see if I could spark my reading mojo. What better than to read the newest Katrina Jackson book?

It’s short (62 pages) but it has so much packed into it. Shae and her long-time boyfriend Steve are on the vacation of a lifetime to Rome. They’ve been saving up and have it all planned out, including a day trip to Naples for wine and pizza.

Their trip starts off badly, when Steve’s luggage is left behind, but it gets worse when he continues to complain about every aspect of their vacation.

Finally, Shae leaves his whiny ass behind and goes to Naples on her own, where she meets Salvatore. The spark between them immediately fly, and Shae has to reckon with both her attraction to Salvatore and her realization that Steve has always been a terrible boyfriend.

As for Salvatore, his life is tangled up in being the head of a crime family, and he’s very much getting tired of living that life. He’s instantly drawn to Shae’s innocence and it makes him think more about what he wants from his life.

Of course, this is Katrina Jackson, so things get pretty steamy pretty quickly, but I think she managed to weave in enough back story to really sell Shae and Salvatore as having potential. Since it’s such a short book and is basically a teaser for the rest of the series, there are some things left unresolved that I really, really hope get resolved in later books.

I definitely recommend this novella for anyone looking for a quick, steamy read!

April Reading Wrap Up

Uhhhhhhhhhh, this is going to be a very brief update, since I’ve been working a lot and not really reading much.

I finished 7 books in April – 3 SFF books on audio and 4 romances. Ever since COVID-19 hit, I have been working overtime, coming home and passing out until it was time to go back to work. We had several people out on COVID leave, which left the 5 of us left running around like crazy. I have not had the motivation to read things with my eyes. If it wasn’t for audiobooks, I would not have been able to read hardly anything.

I read the first 2 books in Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series, The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny. I don’t know if it is the translation or the audiobook narrator, but a lot of the story is very stilted and the characters felt a lot like cardboard cutouts. Maybe the writing gets better once you move into the novels, maybe they get better the further you get into the series — I don’t know. I plan to continue the series once I’ve listened to some other audiobooks I already own.

The other audiobook I listened to was Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. Y’all…this book was so freaking technical. If all the technical explanations of the space station and scientific principals of space living were removed, the plot elements would take up maybe 150 pages. It was honestly a slog. I zoned out so many times while listening to this book, and I know for a fact that if I had tried to read it in print I would have DNF’d it. As it stands, I think I gave it 2 stars.

I read You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle, which I reviewed last month. I ***loved*** this book. It was honestly the highlight of my entire reading month.

I then read The Babysitter by Jack Harbon, which is a short story of ~40 pages about a babysitter (uh, duh) who has lusted after the dad of the kid he babysits, and hooks up with him after he gets divorced from his wife. For being such a short story, it was very well-crafted and had a believable romance. It’s hard to have a true HFN/HEA with something that short, but the HFN felt genuine. It makes me really excited for the full-length novel he has coming out this month.

The library had a copy of Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey available from CloudLibrary, so I jumped into that. It’s the second already-married, second-chance romance I read in April, and I enjoyed it a lot. I really enjoyed reading about their couple’s therapy sessions and how they used the techniques to reconnect. It felt very real and by the end of it I was very satisfied with their HEA.

I had a very bad day about a week and a half ago and I wanted something either really sad or really funny, so I settled on Dine With Me by Layla Reyne, which has one of the MCs dealing with cancer and the other MC working in oncology. It was not as heart-wrenching as I was looking for, but the relationship between the two MCs was so, so lovely that I didn’t mind. Don’t get me wrong, there was definitely angst, just not the epic level of angst I thought I wanted.

The last book I read in April was Your Dad Will Do by Katee Robert. As you can maybe guess from the title, this was a very smutty, smutty romance between a woman and the man who was almost her father-in-law. When Lily catches her fiance sleeping with his secretary, she decides to get her revenge by seducing his father, who she has had deep-down-dirty thoughts about. It veers into a very steamy weekend together, daddy kink, and exhibitionism. Like, this book was a lot. A lot a lot.

And that’s it. That’s all I managed to read in April. I’m taking time off in May to recoup some of my sanity, so I hope my May roundup is more interesting.