Ilona Andrews

Dynamite Review Best of 2020

This was a unique year. Books were plentiful, movies were not, and I dedicated myself to one game. So in some ways it was easy to make my lists this year. In other ways it wasn’t.

Movies

I have ten movies to list but the ones at the end weren’t necessarily movies I loved, but they were movies I enjoyed.

  1. Hamilton on Disney+ – I have re-watched this movie so many times. Years ago when everyone was into the soundtrack I could never get into it. The visual made all the difference. I love it.
  2. The Old Guard on Netflix– The first time I watched The Old Guard I thought it was a good generic action movie. With each re-watch, and there have been a few, I love it more. It’s almost everything I’ve ever asked for in an action movie. I hope they’re able to make a sequel.
  3. Bill and Ted Face the Music – This was the movie I needed in 2020. It was so hopeful and fun. When it came out I streamed it with friends and when we finished I felt so happy. It wasn’t amazing, but it was definitely something I needed.
  4. Jingle Jangle on Netflix – This was such an amazing Christmas musical. The songs were great, the story was heartwarming, and oh my god those costumes.
  5. Enola Holmes on Netflix – This was a fun watch. Enola was an entertaining character and I enjoyed seeing her make her way in the world.
  6. Birds of Prey – The one bright spot in the DCEU. Seriously, the only DC movie I like after Wonder Woman 1984 retroactively ruined any goodwill I had for Wonder Woman.
  7. Happiest Season on Hulu – Another Christmas movie but one that I connected with on several levels. I know that sounds stupid, but it’s true so I’m leaving it.
  8. A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting on Netflix – This was another Netflix movie that I hope ends up birthing a new franchise. It was one of those rare movies that my kids and I both enjoyed.
  9. Sonic the Hedgehog – How did this end up being such a better movie than Detective Pikachu?
  10. The Babysitter: Killer Queen on Netflix – I had no idea this was a sequel and despite my extreme dislike of horror movies I plan on watching the first one. It was so ridiculous and over the top that I found it difficult to ever be too scared to continue.

Books

I tried to read all the books in 2020 that I was interested in. I failed. Epically. If I was to wait until I’d read them all this list wouldn’t come out until the middle of next year. Still, I read a LOT and there were several that I loved. I’m going to include one book that didn’t come out this year that I read for the first time because I enjoyed it that much.

  1. Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews– Is there every going to be a list without an Ilona Andrews book? I hope not.
  2. The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan– My historical romance reading this year was off the charts and this was my favorite.
  3. The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler– I laughed so much while reading this book and the sequel was just as good.
  4. How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole – The first book in the new Alyssa Cole series and it was easily just as good as the Reluctant Royals series.
  5. The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk– Wow I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did but it is one that stuck with me even after I finished reading.
  6. Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams– This series is one of my best finds of 2020. It’s so much fun and I love the premise.
  7. The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix – After being disappointed by the last Garth Nix book I read I was so excited after I read this one. It reminded me why I consider him to be one of my favorite authors.
  8. When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare– This is the older book I’m including on my list. This entire series was excellent, but this book in particular was highly entertaining. It was a sexy romantic comedy.
  9. The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde – Ughhh this book was so good. Even better after the recent events in the US.
  10. Snapped by Alexa Martin – I’m not a fan of football, but this series has been one I’ve enjoyed reading. I thought Martin did a good job in Snapped handling a very difficult issue.

TV Shows

Like with books I had a lot of TV Shows I re-watched. It was the year of finding comfort wherever I could. I’ve tried to keep this list to just 2020 seasons, but in cases where there were older seasons I often re-watched the entire series.

  1. Brooklyn 99 on NBC – Easily one of my all-time favorite TV shows, it’s a miracle I didn’t re-watch this more than once last year.
  2. Bridgerton on Netflix – Please, please, please Netflix make this entire series!!
  3. Julie and the Phantoms on Netflix – The music was great and completely overshadowed the teenage angst for me.
  4. The Good Place – I legitimately forgot this ended this year. I loved the ending. I thought there was no way it could live up to the rest of the show and it did.
  5. The Babysitter’s Club on Netflix – This was apparently the year of babysitters, I believe this is the third one to end up in this post. I loved the book series and I was so happy to see how they modernized it.
  6. The Mandalorian on Disney+ – This season was so much better than the first and I enjoyed the first. There were several great episodes and they better get Mando back with baby Yoda.
  7. The Umbrella Academy on Netflix – Five, Aidan Gallagher, is such an amazing actor. I can easily see him as an old man. The story this season was better than last season and I’m glad the family seems to have gotten back together. After that cliffhanger ending I’m eagerly waiting for the next season.
  8. Sex Education on Netflix – Last year was just too long of a year. Shows came out that I enjoyed that I forgot came out. This was one of them. Every time I watch Sex Education I’m surprised at how much I enjoy it.
  9. Doctor Who on BBC America – I’m enjoying the new Doctor and companions so much, though, honestly I barely remember this season.
  10. Guys Grocery Games on Hulu – This was one of my biggest comfort watches of 2020. This beat out The Great British Baking Show to be my favorite cooking show of the year. It’s fun and yummy.

Video Games

Did games that weren’t Animal Crossing come out in 2020? I couldn’t scrape together ten games that I played and liked this year. I play most games on the PC through steam, but included links to Amazon versions. So here is my abbreviated list.

  1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons by Nintendo – I played hundreds of hours of Animal Crossing in 2020. I’d play an ungodly amount, take a break, then come back and play an ungodly amount again. I’m currently taking a break, but I’ll be back, there’s no question.
  2. Hades by Supergiant Games – Holy shit this game was so unexpectedly amazing. The voice cast was phenomenal. The art style was beautiful. The game play was fun. I knew nothing about Hades until all my friends started playing it and I am so freaking glad I went out on a limb and bought it.
  3. Stardew Valley by ConcernedApe– Technically this game didn’t come out in 2020, however it had a pretty big update so I’m including it. The update got be back into the game and it’s currently replaced Animal Crossing in my obsessive playing.
  4. No Man’s Sky by Hello Games– Another game that didn’t technically come out in 2020, but it had several updates. It’s crazy to think back to when this game first released and compare it to now. They’ve added so much. It’s one of those games that I love to go back to again and again.
  5. My Time at Portia by Pathea – Yeah, yeah, I know it didn’t come out in 2020 either. I filled my time before Animal Crossing came out playing it though.
  6. The Sims 4 by EA Games – The Sims 4 had two Expansion Packs that came out this year. I wasn’t a fan of Eco Lifestyle and haven’t played Snowy Escape yet. However, I needed another game for the list and it’s one I played a fair amount of earlier in the year.
  7. Two Point Hospital by Two Point Studios – I mean, there was DLC released this year so…I’m including it.
  8. Civilization VI by Firaxis – Just deal with it.

2020 Goodreads Choice Award Nominations

Today starts the nomination process for the Goodreads Choice Awards. I try to participate every year, but like most years, I haven’t read most of the books initially nominated. For those new to the awards to be nominated, the book has to be published this year. Goodreads uses their algorithms to come up with fifteen books in the twenty categories to start the process off. Considering some of the books nominated don’t come out until this month, I’m not sure how fair their algorithms are.

Each year I discover books I’ve overlooked or never heard of, but I also get incredibly frustrated. How am I supposed to take all the books I’ve read and narrow them down to the categories provided?? There’s only one romance category?? There’s no Juvenile Non-Fiction category?? There’s a sci-fi category, a fantasy category, a young adult fantasy category, but no young adult sci-fi category?? How am I supposed to vote when I still haven’t read all of the books from this year?? Why is this being held now when there are still almost two months left in the year?????

It’s too much!

So, I’m just going to post my favorite books of 2020, so far, here. None of them have been nominated, but the best part of the awards is that you can select them yourself. So if you too liked these books, then please head over to Goodreads and do your duty.

First, The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde. I nominated this one under the fiction category, though it could probably go under the humor category as well. It was a fantastic satire novel that called out racism using absurd creativity.

I’ve got two historical romances, and I wish I could nominate both. The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite and The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan. Waspish Widows is the story of two older women who fall in love in a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote. The Duke Who Didn’t had a hero and heroine fall in love despite their incredibly different backgrounds. The backdrop was a small village in England that was predominantly people of Asian descent. Plus, there was a lot of good food mentioned.

Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams, Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey, and The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler were the contemporary romances that I wanted to nominate. Undercover Bromance is the second book in a series that I fell in love with earlier this year. The concept of a book group of men reading romance novels is one I love. Love Her or Lose Her made me realize I was missing out on an entire trope of married couples learning to fall back in love with each other. I absolutely loved the sweetness and humor in The Tourist Attraction.

Five romances, and I can only nominate one. It’s horrible. I ended up going with The Duke Who Didn’t because, well, it came down to the food. Lol It was really close, though. The Tourist Trap nearly edged it out for the coveted top spot. If only there were historical and contemporary romance categories.

The science fiction and fantasy categories were easier. The only five-star fantasy book that I’ve read this year was Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews. I did think about nominating N.K. Jemisin’s  The City We Became, I liked it, but I liked Emerald Blaze better. Jemisin’s book was one of the fifteen nominated by Goodreads, so she will probably make it to the next round. If Andrew’s book doesn’t make it will make my next vote easier.

At first, I didn’t think I had a science fiction pick. Not only have I not read many this year, but I haven’t rated the ones I did read highly. I’m trying only to nominate books I rated five stars. I’ve started reading Christopher Paolini’s To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, but there’s no way I’ll finish it in time. So I decided to go with Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews. Yes, it’s another Ilona Andrews book, but they’re my favorite authors.

Last, but certainly not least, is my non-fiction selection. I’ve slacked on non-fiction this year. I could not concentrate like I need to to read non-fiction. So I ended up nominating This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell. It’s a juvenile non-fiction book, so I don’t believe it stands a chance, but it was an excellent book. It clearly explained the issues for young people as well as adults with limited knowledge of the issues.

There are many categories where I didn’t nominate any books, which always bugs me. I don’t have enough time to read everything I want to unfortunately. I’m curious what books everyone else will be voting for, and I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead. Even though I know most of the books I love, if not all, will not win their much-deserved awards.

Emerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy #5)

Emerald Blaze

Emerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy #5)

Release Date: August 25, 2020

By: Ilona Andrews

Blurb:

As Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers—powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart.

The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won’t rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that’s tearing their world apart.

Review:

When I got the email saying I’d won an ARC of Emerald Blaze, I screamed. I then proceeded to be so swamped with library books that I had to set it aside. Three, or so, weeks later, I was finally able to read, and it was definitely worth the wait.

At this point, it should be clear Ilona Andrews is my favorite author.

Catalina is very different from Nevada, her older sister and the star of the first three books. They’re both smart, but Catalina is more analytical. She’s also an overachiever. If a teacher mentions a book in passing, she is the type of student who would go out and read the book, then probably the author’s entire catalog. She is thorough.

She has the weight of taking care of her entire House on her shoulders, and Catalina does everything she can to protect them. It’s a trait that she shares with the rest of her family. She keeps things closer to her chest than Nevada did and plans years in advance like a chess player. She’s a woman after my own heart.

Alessandro is not as cocky as he was in the previous book. Things have happened to him that has made him reassess his life and goals. He’s still a badass, he’s still gorgeous, and he’s still into Catalina. But he’s matured, and it looks great on him.

The story in Emerald Blaze might be the biggest in the series in terms of threat. However, since the family is so overpowered, you never doubt that they’ll succeed. I like that in my books, but I can see why others wouldn’t. The entertaining part is discovering how they’re going to save the day, not in wondering if they will.

There is a decent amount of development with the entire Baylor family in Emerald Blaze. Unlike the last book Nevada and Catalina talk in this one several times. It was nice to see Nevada again. Everyone in the family has their moment, and all the characters I liked from previous books were here as well. That’s one of the difficult things with later books, the cast of characters is larger. It never felt like people were being forced into the story, though.

If you haven’t read the previous books, you would be able to follow the story, but you’d miss out on so much that I wouldn’t recommend jumping in here. Emerald Blaze was a great addition to the series and more than lives up to what I’ve come to expect from Ilona Andrews. I’m incredibly excited to see what happens next.

5/5

2019 Top 10 Books of the Year

Yeah, so January is almost over, but it took me a bit to catch up on the books I was most looking forward to that came out in 2019. There are still books from 2019 that I haven’t read, but what’s left I don’t believe would make the list. Maybe I’m wrong, I’ll find out in ten years if I ever catch up on my to-read list.

  1. Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell – Great LGBT fantasy with wonderful characters.
  2. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang – Love Helen Hoang, this book was a great romance with an autistic hero and a mixed race heroine.
  3. The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite – Holy shit I never knew astronomy could be so hot. Same sex historical romance that was just beautiful.
  4. A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole – This is a book in the Reluctant Royals series and like all the others I devoured it. So freaking good.
  5. Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh – Book 18 in the Psy-Changling series and somehow this series just continues to deliver amazing stories. I loved this empath wolf story and all the development that was done in the universe.
  6. Well Met by Jen DeLuca – I never expected a book to make me want to attend a Ren Fair but this one did. Cute romance with wenches in corsets.
  7. Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews – I love Ilona Andrews, there will always be a book from them on my list (I hope)
  8. Paper Girls Vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson– Final volume in this series and it was a wonderful wrap up to the story. I love the art in this series and the fact that it’s a mostly female cast.
  9. Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears and Unleash Creativity by Felicia Day – This book was so positive and uplifting. Even though I haven’t finished it yet I had to include it on my list.
  10. Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore – I’m loving these historical romances that infuse a lot of modern day ideals. I don’t care if it bends historical accuracy, the books are fiction after all, I just want more.

 

Honorable Mentions

  1. Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon – This book was ridiculously hot. Like holy cow fanning my face as it turns beet red.
  2. Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews – Maud is a kickass mom that is so smart and capable and I have a weakness for characters like that.
  3. Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks – Great art, super sweet story, lovely characters.

Dynamite Review Best of 2018

Each year I try to make a list of all my favorites for the year. Most years I don’t see or read or play much that came out in the actual year, but for once I was able to make lists of stuff that exclusively came out in 2018.

Black Panther

Movies
I feel like I should place a warning here before anyone can read my list. It is going to be heavy on the Superhero films. I watched Hidden Figures and Girls Trip for the first time in 2018 and loved them, but because they didn’t come out in 2018 I decided not to include them. So I apologize for the following boring list of movies.
1. Black Panther
Holy shit I still love this movie. I watched it recently, wondering if it would hold up from my original viewing and it did. If anything I like it more than I did the first time around.
2. Deadpool 2
I really need to re-watch this. I was finally able to get ahold of the unrated cut and I haven’t yet watched it. Still, the first viewing was incredibly memorable and I’m looking forward to seeing what was added. Also, they fucking made a PG-13 version with a tie in to my favorite movie, The Princess Bride!
3. BlacKkKlansman
This movie stands out like a sore thumb on my list, but I can’t help it. It was a great movie and hit me right in the soul.
4. Ant-Man and the Wasp
I loved the Wasp, she was such a badass.
5. Avengers: Infinity War
I’m still not sure about this movie. It was great, hit all the right notes, and got me super excited for the 2019 Marvel movies, but my final opinion of it is not going to be settled until those come out.

Honorable Mentions
Incredible 2
Oceans 8
The Hurricane Heist

Magic Triumphs

Books
The wonderful Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is not on the list since it didn’t come out in 20118, but it is definitely one I loved reading. Sadly, this will also be the first time I’m not including a Patricia Briggs book on my list, Burn Bright just did not cut it for me. I debated whether or not I should add Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews to my list since it’s a novella, but ultimately decided I liked having a nice round number for my total.
Like my movie list, my book list is kind of heavy on one side, namely Ilona Andrews’s book. Often in the past I’ve just listed them as one entry, but I did not read much this year, and my list would be bare without them.
So without further ado, my best of 2018 books!
1. Magic Triumphs (Kate Daniels #10) By: Ilona Andrews
This was THE climactic conclusion of possibly my favorite series. It was well worth the wait.
2. A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1) By: Alyssa Cole
This was my favorite find of the year. I freaking LOVED this book and I’m so excited for the books to come.
3. Ocean Light (Psy-Changling Trinity #2) By: Nalini Singh
Nalini Singh is such a great author and I was so happy to finally have a human love interest in this series. It was all so sweet.
4. Diamond Fire (Hidden Legacies #3.5) By: Ilona Andrews
This may have been a novella but it packed a lot into the limited pages. I’m beyond exited for the books coming up and looking forward to seeing more of Catalina.
5. Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1) By: Ilona Andrews
Before I read this I was not excited that Hugh was getting his own series, but I have now been converted. I never should have doubted Ilona Andrews.

murphy-brown-season-11-cast-photo

TV Shows
I watch a LOT of TV. I also, rarely write reviews for what I watch. I try to do season recaps after I binge, and I succeed at that about fifty percent of the time. I do better reviewing pilot episodes.
Like everything else, I’m going to limit myself to seasons that aired in 2018, which means that one of my favorites, Dramaworld, won’t be on the list. I’ll also try and include shows that I wrote reviews for, but sadly I haven’t gotten around to writing a review for The Good Place and I have to include it on my list.
So here we go!
1. Murphy Brown
You have no idea how much I love this series. I honestly had no idea how much I loved it until it came back and I actually set my little rabbit ears up and watched it live. I know the likelihood that I’ll actually get another season is slim to none, but I can’t stop myself from hoping for more.
2. The Good Place
Holy shit this show does not fail to deliver. Every episode I have no idea what the fuck is going to happen and it does not disappoint. It’s one of the best TV shows I’ve ever watched.
3. Westworld
Just when I think I’ve got a handle on what’s going on I’m thrown for a loop. Then they have an episode that shows an entirely new side of the hosts and I learn even more. It’s an interesting and beautiful show.
4. Jane the Virgin
Apparently, I love twists. That’s what my list is teaching me this year. Jane the Virgin gave me the biggest twist of the year with the season finale and I’m still on the edge of my seat to find out what happens next.
5. 12 Monkeys
The final season wrapped up a complicated story very well. It gave me closure and had me guessing right up until the very end. It was a fitting conclusion to a great time travel sci-fi TV show.

Honorable Mentions

Timeless

Doctor Who
Anne with an E
Sense 8

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Games
I love playing games, but it is one of my hobbies that ends up getting pushed aside for other things, so I don’t play as much as I would like. I also, don’t review many games, but here’s a list of my 2018 favorites.
1. No Man’s Sky: Next (PC)
I’ve enjoyed No Man’s Sky since the beginning, but the Next expansion brought me back to the game. The added content was amazing, and was quickly followed by more expansive updates. I spent well over 100 hours playing it this year and had so much fun doing it.
2. Smash Bros Ultimate (Switch)
Smash Bros Ultimate just came out and I haven’t had much time to play it. I’ve definitely not beaten the “story mode” yet, but I’m having a blast. I haven’t liked a Smash game since the original on N64 and I’m so excited to finally be enjoying the franchise again. There is so much content that it’s going to take some time before I’m able to finish it, if I’m able too.
3. Splatoon 2: Octoling Expansion (Switch)
It honestly feels like this came out forever ago. I downloaded it day one and somehow ended up beating it. The Octoling Expansion felt like the story we should have gotten with Splatoon 2 originally. It was fun and creative, several times infuriating, and just an all-around pleasure to play.
4. Civilization VI (Switch)
I love the Civilization franchise. I’ve been asking for it to come back to consoles ever since I moved away from playing on the XBOX 360 and I finally got my wish this year. I’ve only had it for about a month, but I’ve already spent over 60 hours playing. It’s so easy to say just one more turn and since I can play in bed, instead of at the PC, I’m playing it more than ever. It doesn’t have as much as the PC version, but so far I’ve been incredible happy with all that’s been included and with how it runs. I tend toward the Standard map, so I’m not sure how well it goes on larger maps, though.
5. Overcooked 2 (Switch)
My husband and I beat the original Overcooked together and for Christmas we started the sequel. Overcooked 2 is everything that I love about the first, but with polish. It looks nicer, the mechanics are better, and it still has all the fun and frustration of the first. It’s been a great game to coop with my husband and we’ve both been enjoying it.