ARC Review of Sugar Spells by Lola Dodge

Sugar Spells
The Spellwork Syndicate Book 2
by Lola Dodge
Published 30 October 2018
by Ink Monster LLC

For fans of Hex Hall, The Magicians, Practical Magic, and Food Wars!

After her run-in with a jealous warlock, apprentice baker Anise Wise can’t wait to get back the kitchen where she belongs. But thanks to her brush with death, the land of the living isn’t all cupcakes and marshmallows.

Anise’s magical mojo is way out of whack and her evolving powers are stirring up trouble. As the town buzzes with news that Anise can bake deathly spells, unsavory characters start lining up for a taste. They’ll stop at nothing for the chance to use Anise and her witchcraft to further their own plots.

She plans to hole up researching magic recipes until the attention dies down, but then she discovers the horrifying terms of her bodyguard’s contract. Wynn has saved her life so many times, she can’t leave him trapped. But doing the right thing will mean risking death or worse—being cast out of her dream job.

For this witch, justice might not be as sweet as advertised.

Let's just get this one thing out of the way before we do anything else in this review, readers. These covers are killing me! I have died and gone to purple heaven and you cannot make me leave.
I want paperbacks so I can have these books facing outwards on my shelf just facing the room and when I need a bookish pick-me-up, I can just glance over and BAM! Shot of purple power! I'm not saying purple is one of my top 3 favourite colours but I did dye all of my hair purple for a few months a few years ago. No, really. It was a tacky purple explosion of rebellion I enjoyed flaunting in a small Southern Baptist Georgia town. *sigh* Ah, memories. Moving on!
In Sugar Spells, we return to Taos, Arizona and our heroine, Anise Wise, and her compatriots weeks after the events of Deadly Sweet. We quickly learn that Anise has been banned from working at her great-aunt Agatha's magical bakery for the time being as her magic's gone a tad bit awry following her near-death experiences of the first book and she's now filled with death magic. Because you don't want to accidentally sell any tourists a death-laced custard bomboloni, right?
Well, Anise decides that, yes, she's going to sell death-laced macarons to see if that will get the death magic to wear off. To a well-paying shifty customer who actually wants to eat an entire batch on a regular basis, and she's doing it in order to help her Shield, Wynn, pay off his indentured servitude contract.
Now. For the whosits and whatsits. I'm glad to see that Gabi gets more of a role in Sugar Spells than she had in Deadly Sweet where you had to skip back to remind yourself who she was a few times. When her new death magic starts to act up, Anise seeks refuge at Gabi's animal rescue/hospital and stays in a cottage apartment away from other lifeforms. We also see a fair bit of Blair, Anise's other best friend, including a bestie shopping trip with all three of them and their bodyguard contingent.
Thankfully, Anise steps away from the bumbling blonde routine she had developed in Deadly Sweet and it seems as if she's found her feet in Sugar Spells. I'm so thankful for that, too. She doesn't sit about waiting for her mum or Aunt Agatha for Wynn or anybody and everybody BUT her to do the figuring out of things for her this time. Instead of waiting around for someone or something to fix her magic, she takes the magic bull by the horns and keeps trying to find a way.
My favourite part is, of course, the magical baking. I mean, if I could make good fortune blueberry-lemon bars, well, I wouldn't be typing, I'd be baking. And, if anybody wants to try to make macarons after reading Sugar Spells, here's 12 Tips for perfect macaron feet because the feet are important!
Wynn maintains his steadfast role of silent but deadly throughout the story, except for moments where Anise manages to break his stony façade and he gifts us with a full sentence or two. Call the news, it's a miracle!
I'm giving Sugar Spells 4 stars because it improved a lot from Deadly Sweet and it gave me the edge of my seat feeling a few times. You know how much I love that edge of my seat feeling.

Lola is a compulsive traveler, baker, and procrastinator. She earned her BA in English from Stonehill College and MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University—and hasn’t stopped moving since. When she’s not on the road, Lola spends her time indoors where the sunlight can’t melt her, writing or bingeing on K-dramas and cherry soda. She can be summoned in a ritual involving curry, Hello Kitty idols, and a solid chocolate pentagram.
You can find some of her stories at Ink Monster. The rest are in progress and are represented by Rebecca Strauss at DeFiore & Company.
Questions? Concerns? Fears for Miss Dodge's sanity? E-mail Miss Dodge at or visit her at any of her public social media.

Portrait credit to the supermegatalented nomadic photogoddess Katie May Boyle

Other books by Lola Dodge that I've reviewed include the first in The Spellwork Syndicate Series, Deadly Sweet, back when I first started this blog.

I was going to post this yesterday, but I've spent the past 3 days trying to make words into proper sentences. I pretty much had "book good. you buy." for a review until today. I spent the weekend moving from one apartment in my complex to another because they're renovating my old building and my new one is already renovated, we have all tile floors now, so everything echoes now. That's going to take some getting used to. I'm heavy into procrastinating on the unpacking thing. I've gotten my books partially unpacked and that's about it. I have my priorities, right?
Also, here's the one photo left of my purple hair rebellion, there's probably more with my friends back in Georgia and my ex and his daughter but this is the only one I sort of liked. This was right before all the piercings and tattoos, actually. I only had 2 sets of piercings and they were in my ears! I'm actually piercing-free because of all my medical issues right now, but I'm going to re-pierce this winter. I miss all the metal.
Since today is Halloween, I think I'll use this as a time to share Magic Wheelchair, a nonprofit that builds amazing costumes for children in wheelchairs - at no cost to families. You can donate time, money, fundraise, or raise awareness by purchasing Magic Wheelchair t-shirts (which look pretty amazing).
And with that, darling readers, I bid you all adieu. I'm exhausted and headed to bed. Until next time, have a happily ever after!

Review of Knuckle Down by Chantal Fernando

The Cursed Ravens MC, Book 2
Chantal Fernando
Published on 9 July 2018 by Pocket Star

A single father struggles to change for his daughters and the woman he loves in this second book in the Cursed Ravens Motorcycle Club series from New York Times bestselling author Chantal Fernando.

As a single father of two girls and the sergeant at arms for the Cursed Ravens Motorcycle Club, Jack “Knuckles” Chester doesn’t have much free time. And having earned his road name from his reputation as a fighter, Knuckles isn’t one to back away from a challenge.

But what he'll never admit out loud is that his two daughters have changed him irrevocably, softened him even. And these two girls are the only women who will ever hold his heart forever. That is, until he meets Celina.

Celina is nothing like the women Knuckles used to date. She’s a journalist for the local newspaper, and basically just has her life together. And the last thing she wants is to be involved with a Cursed Raven. But when the ripped, badass biker worms his way into her heart, she has trouble remembering all the reasons they would never work.

But when a shocking story is published her newspaper, it breaks the thin trust she has with Knuckles. Will she lose him forever? Or will Knuckles fight to keep Celina in his life?

I received a digital copy of Knuckle Down from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The following review contains opinions that are mine and mine alone.
I was honestly in love with Knuckles the Cursed Ravens’ Sergeant in Arms in Ace of Hearts and I was overly excited to learn that he was next in line to receive his own story ( there was squealing) and I quickly made the request to review as soon as I saw the listing go up on NetGalley.

I had some worries about pairing Knuckles with Erin’s journalist cousin, Celina, since journalists and bikers totally go well together, right? Ha. I just knew that our sweet and amazing Knuckles was in for a rough time of it. But I buckled my seat belt and prepared for the ride. No, really. I read this on the way to the medical centre for my MRI scans. I buckled up, my mum’s not a Sunday driver. Knuckles and Celina work, they have a bumpy journey, but Knuckles isn’t your stereotypical biker and Celina isn’t your stereotypical journalist. And that’s what makes this work, thankfully. I’d have been heartbroken if Knuckles didn’t get a HEA.
Knuckles is enamoured of his bestie’s cousin, Celina, the moment he sets eyes on her at Erin’s birthday party. He politely bulldozes his way through the roadblocks Celina’s erected to keep all men at bay since her disastership with her workmate and Celina recognises that yes, she likes Knuckles and she’s letting her past relationship and her daddy issues cloud her vision when it comes to Knuckles. We also see Knuckles letting his past relationship with his daughters’ mother cloud his relationship with Celina a few times. If nothing else, we do learn that open communication is important, right?
From the very beginning of the story we see Celina having an internal struggle between her journalistic drive and her morals. Should she use her family connection to the Cursed Ravens MC to get an all-access pass to write a front-page story or not? She even tries to reason that if it's a positive story on the MC, it'd be okay. Can I have some of whatever she's on? We see this tug of war go back and forth for a good portion of the book, and it only gets worse as her relationship with Knuckles progresses. Be forewarned, this storyline will frustrate you and you will be tempted to pull your hair out.
I loved the bit we saw of Celina's best friend, Akeira, she reminded me of my sister and that's always a good thing. No filter and a taste for adventure. I wish there'd been more of her!
I was a bit disappointed that Knuckles didn’t get a more action-packed story for being an enforcer but I’m also glad he got a more emotional story because it showed him as more than a stereotyped biker. Oh, look at me. I learned something. Ha. I’m kidding, y’all.
I loved how Knuckles was always a gentleman towards Celina, never invading her personal space except when they were flirting, and it was still done respectfully. No groping! Even when they’re playing chase at the beach in bathing suits, Knuckles doesn’t grab Celina inappropriately. I was just so proud of him. Don’t judge me.
Knuckles, along with his two daughters, Willow and Westley, quickly become regular fixtures in Celina’s home. It’s a normal occurrence for Knuckles to bring the girls over for dinner and a movie. While she’s consciously still fighting the lasting relationship aspect of their relationship, Celina’s already acting maternal towards the girls. You might as well just give them keys, honey.
The big event at the end really freaked the living tar out of me, readers. I actually had to take a moment to just breathe – both times I read it! I can’t tell y’all about it, because spoilers and all, but eesh, it made me thank the deities my momma is my momma. Long story and it'd be a bit of a spoiler. But y'all, 
I had a lot of laughs reading Knuckle Down, and I even reread it because I enjoyed it the first time through. I don’t like rereading books within the first year because I’ve got a photographic memory and I loathe déjà vu. But I reread Knuckle Down and it was totally worth it. Because I took notes! Don't expect that to happen again, it was so constrictive and I couldn't knit while I read. So annoying.
Overall, I'm giving Knuckle Down a 4 out of 5 stars and 2 flames for the sexy times. Although, that one scene on the stairs had my friend and I both hoping Celina has some good insurance for a chiropractor!

New York Times, Amazon & USA Today Bestselling Author Chantal Fernando is thirty years old and lives in Western Australia.

Lover of all things romance, Chantal is the author of the best selling books Dragon's Lair, Maybe This Time and many more.

When not reading, writing or daydreaming she can be found enjoying life with her three sons and family.

Ms Fernando can be found on FacebookGoodreads, and Twitter.

That's all for today, folks. Tomorrow I have yet another doctor's appointment and another blood draw and I am not looking forward to it. If you're looking for a place to donate to, the American Red Cross has a donation page set up to help aid people affected by Hurricane Michael. Until next time, have a happily ever after.

A Bookworm's Exchange

You grow up never knowing who will make the most impact in your life until you reach a certain age and then you hear that someone’s died and it hits you. They shaped your life in ways you didn’t even notice before. That's what Miss Bev of The Bookworms' Exchange did. She shaped my life in ways I'm just discovering now that she's dead.
Beverly Brown ran a used bookstore that my family frequented every time we drove to Burlington, Vermont. We lived in small-town St Albans, Vermont and Burlington was and still is the bustling city where everything happens. And Miss Bev had The Bookworms' Exchange where you could bring in your read books and she’d give you store credit for other books. Why am I explaining the concept of an used book store to y’all? Anyways. I grew up in The Bookworms' Exchange and Miss Bev was always recommending books to me. I’d burst through the door – because I was a wild child and never did anything calmly back then, and run up to the counter where she’d be reading crocheting something for charity and I’d ask her what book she thought I’d like. And sometimes she’d have a book or two stashed under the counter with a note on them with “Miss Margo” written on it and they’d be definite buys for that trip. Even after we started moving around the Eastern Seaboard, we’d make it back home every now and then, and we’d stop by Miss Bev’s place and I’d come bursting through that door same as always and she’d still remember me, even on my last trip home when I was a week away from turning 13. She still remembered me and she still had the best book suggestions for me.
She introduced me to so many amazing books that took me to far off places and different worlds, and as a kid going through absolute hell, that was a wonderful gift she gave to me and I can honestly never repay that debt.
Every time I buy gifts for kids, it's always books because of Miss Bev. Every time I walk into a used bookstore, I think of Miss Bev's place. Every time I start writing a review for this site, I think about all of the books and authors Miss Bev introduced me to. I constantly weeble wobble between becoming an ACA accredited librarian and owning a cafe/bookstore and it's in great part because of Miss Bev. Miss Bev made a major impact on my life and I never got to tell her that because I stopped going home.
But what I realised just recently was, she also impacted my life in another way. She also crafted for charity and I never really put it together with my thing. Next time I'm asked why I mainly knit for charity, I won’t answer with “otherwise, I’d be buried in finished projects”. I’ll answer with “because a bookworm taught me to”. I didn’t know it, but she did. Miss Bev's final act of charity was to request that instead of sending flowers, people donate to the Children’s Literacy Foundation that serves Vermont and New Hampshire or to the Chittenden County Humane Society.
This post was written while I was crying and there’s like, no editing, but Miss Bev was an amazing woman and she will live on in the hearts of every bookworm she helped create and I wanted to do something to say she was a part of my creation. In memorium of Miss Bev, I present to you, my first book list - in no particular order.
10 Books Recommended by Miss Bev
 Goodreads links are in the covers as usual!

 Wolfwalker by Tara K Harper
Dion was a healer and a wolfwalker, and the unique telepathic bond that she shared with the wolf Gray Hishn sometimes seemed to amplify her sensitivity to her patients. But she never guessed how strong that bond could be, or what kind of power it could wield, until she found herself lost in the wilderness, with angry slavers at her heels and war on the horizon. Suddenly she and her fellow travelers were fighting for their lives in the snowy winter wastes, where the wolves were their only guides, the greatest secret of the ancients their only salvation...and Dion their only hope to survive.
 Redwall by Brian Jacques
As the inhabitants of Redwall Abbey bask in the glorious Summer of the Late Rose, all is quiet and peaceful. But things are not as they seem. Cluny the Scourge, the evil one-eyed rat warlord, is hell-bent on destroying the tranquility as he prepares to fight a bloody battle for the ownership of Redwall. This dazzling story in the Redwall series is packed with all the wit, wisdom, humor, and blood-curdling adventure of the other books in the collection, but has the added bonus of taking the reader right back to the heart and soul of Redwall Abbey and the characters who live there.
 Nemesis by Louise Cooper
This first book of the series establishes the setting for the following seven. Princess Anghara had no place in the Forbidden Tower, and no business tampering with its secrets. But she did, and now the seven demons are loose and her world is cursed, prey to the wrath of the Earth Goddess.

 Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Andrew "Ender" Wiggin thinks he is playing computer simulated war games; he is, in fact, engaged in something far more desperate. The result of genetic experimentation, Ender may be the military genius Earth desperately needs in a war against an alien enemy seeking to destroy all human life. The only way to find out is to throw Ender into ever harsher training, to chip away and find the diamond inside, or destroy him utterly. Ender Wiggin is six years old when it begins. He will grow up fast.
But Ender is not the only result of the experiment. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway almost as long. Ender's two older siblings, Peter and Valentine, are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. While Peter was too uncontrollably violent, Valentine very nearly lacks the capability for violence altogether. Neither was found suitable for the military's purpose. But they are driven by their jealousy of Ender, and by their inbred drive for power. Peter seeks to control the political process, to become a ruler. Valentine's abilities turn more toward the subtle control of the beliefs of commoner and elite alike, through powerfully convincing essays. Hiding their youth and identities behind the anonymity of the computer networks, these two begin working together to shape the destiny of Earth-an Earth that has no future at all if their brother Ender fails.
 Acorna: the Unicorn Girl by Anne McCaffrey
"Something's Alive In There!"
She was just a little girl, with a tiny horn in the center of her forehead, funny-looking feet, beautiful silver hair, and several curious powers: the ability to purify air and water, make plants grow, and heal scars and broken bones. A trio of grizzled prospectors found her drifting in an escape pod amid the asteroids, adopted her, and took her to the bandit planet Kezdet, a place where no questions are asked and the girl might grow up free.
But Kezdet has its own dark secret. The prosperity of the planet is based on a hideous trade in child slave labor, administered by "The Piper" -- a mystery man with special plans for Acorna and her powers. But free little girls have a way of growing into freedom-loving young women, and Acorna has special plans all her own. . .
 Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
No one ever told Margaret Simon that eleven-going-on-twelve would be such a hard age. When her family moves to New Jersey, she has to adjust to life in the suburbs, a different school, and a whole new group of friends. Margaret knows she needs someone to talk to about growing up-and it's not long before she's found a solution.
 The Giver by Lois Lowry
Twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a seemingly ideal world. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver does he begin to understand the dark secrets behind this fragile community.
 Dragon's Blood by Jane Yolen
Dragons are trained to fight to the death, and two determined teens help free them in this spellbinding saga.
Training a dragon to be a fighting champion is the only way to freedom for fifteen-year-old Jakkin.
 Ronia, the Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren
Ronia, who lives with her father and his band of robbers in a castle in the woods, causes trouble when she befriends the son of a rival robber chieftain.
 Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C Wrede
Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart - and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon - and finds the family and excitement she's been looking for.

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