“The Wicked Bargain” by Gabe Cole Novoa (ARC Review)

Novoa, Gabe Cole. The Wicked Bargain. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-0593378014 | $18.99 USD | 368 pages | YA Historical Fantasy

Blurb

El Diablo is in the details in this Latinx pirate fantasy starring a transmasculine nonbinary teen with a mission of revenge, redemption, and revolution.

On Mar León de la Rosa’s sixteenth birthday, el Diablo comes calling. Mar is a transmasculine nonbinary teen pirate hiding a magical ability to manipulate fire and ice. But their magic isn’t enough to reverse a wicked bargain made by their father, and now el Diablo has come to collect his payment: the soul of Mar’s father and the entire crew of their ship. 

When Mar is miraculously rescued by the sole remaining pirate crew in the Caribbean, el Diablo returns to give them a choice: give up their soul to save their father by the harvest moon, or never see him again. The task is impossible–Mar refuses to make a bargain, and there’s no way their magic is a match for el Diablo. Then Mar finds the most unlikely allies: Bas, an infuriatingly arrogant and handsome pirate–and the captain’s son; and Dami, a gender-fluid demonio whose motives are never quite clear. For the first time in their life, Mar may have the courage to use their magic. It could be their only redemption–or it could mean certain death.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

The Wicked Bargain is a fun debut, and I was drawn to the concept of a queer Latinx pirates, especially since much of the pirate-centric media is overwhelmingly white and cishet. I love how the narrative focuses on taking the power back from people who benefited (even indirectly) from colonialism and exploring the truly diverse world of the Caribbean and piracy. The choice to  pepper in Spanish liberally throughout the text further helps with the immersion, and it’s still fairly easy for non-Spanish speakers to pick up the context, or to rely on translation aids to assits in their comprehension. 

And the choice to center LGBTQ+ people in a historical (albeiit fantastical) setting is radical too, even if there is precedent for it in pirate history. It shows that queer history hasn’t always been about struggle and bigotry, and there have been societies where there was a more fluid understanding of gender identity or two people of the same gender could marry and reap the benefits of that arrangement, similar to their cishet counterparts. 

Mar is a great lead, and a great example of how you can have a queer character dealing with complex issues and high stakes without being defined by all the struggles that can come from being queer. They’ve dealt with loss and are reckoning with the trauma, as well as the impact their magical powers have on their perception of them in society. Throughout the book, they go on a realistic journey of grappling with their issues and growing, coming to terms with them.

I also  love how the story centers found-family, with Mar being saved by another pirate crew and being taken in, while he is dealing with the loss of his birth family. There are truly some colorful characters among the bunch, like the ever-friendly Bas, who is incredibly loyal to Mar. And with there being a fantasy element, there’s also the genderfluid demon Dami, and I love the dynamic that develops between them and Mar. 

With equal focus on the adventure and the protagonist’s personal growth, the story moved at a consistent pace, and kept me invested throughout. My personal engagement in the story remained constant throughout, and I finished the book feeling satisfied with the overall trajectory of the narrative. 

This is a wonderfully original story, and one I’d recommend to anyone who is looking for a pirate story that centers a more diverse lens. 

Author Bio

Gabe Cole Novoa (he/him) is a Latinx transmasculine author who writes speculative fiction featuring marginalized characters grappling with identity.

Now leveled up with an MFA in Writing for Children, when he isn’t being nerdy at his day job, or buried under his TBR pile, you’ll likely find him making heart-eyes at the latest snazzy outfit he wants to add to his wardrobe.

Gabe is the author of The Wicked Bargain (out Feb 2023), an untitled Pride & Prejudice retelling (Winter 2024), and the Beyond the Red trilogy, written under a former pseudonym. He also runs a popular writing-focused YouTube channel, bookishpixie and is very active on Twitter @thegabecole

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“Skye Falling” by Mia McKenzie (Review)

McKenzie, Mia. Skye Falling. New York: Random House, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-1984801623 | $17.00 USD | 320 pages  | Contemporary 

Blurb

GOOD MORNING AMERICA BUZZ PICK • A woman who’s used to going solo discovers that there’s one relationship she can’t run away from in this “hilarious, electric” (The New York Times) novel, a probing examination of the complexities of family, queerness, race, and community

LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD WINNER• ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Boston Globe, Autostraddle, Shondaland • “A new kind of love story, the best kind.”—Ashley C. Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Somebody’s Daughter

When she was twenty-six and broke, Skye didn’t think twice before selling her eggs and happily pocketing the cash. Now approaching forty, Skye still moves through life entirely—and unrepentantly—on her own terms, living out of a suitcase and avoiding all manner of serious relationships. Maybe her junior high classmates weren’t wrong when they voted her “Most Likely to Be Single” instead of “Most Ride-or-Die Homie,” but at least she’s always been free to do as she pleases.

Then a twelve-year-old girl tracks Skye down during one of her brief visits to her hometown of Philadelphia and informs Skye that she’s “her egg.” Skye’s life is thrown into sharp relief and she decides that it might be time to actually try to have a meaningful relationship with another human being. Spoiler alert: It’s not easy.

Things get even more complicated when Skye realizes that the woman she tried and failed to pick up the other day is the girl’s aunt, and now it’s awkward. All the while, her brother is trying to get in touch, her mother is being bewilderingly kind, and the West Philly pool halls and hoagie shops of her youth have been replaced by hipster cafés.

With its endearingly prickly narrator and a cast of characters willing to both challenge her and catch her when she falls, this novel is a clever, moving portrait of a woman and the relationships she thought she could live without.SEE LESS

Review

4 stars

I discovered Skye Falling while perusing my library’s catalog for sapphic books. The fact it also featured a Black lead was a further draw, given how white much sapphic lit is. The premise also spoke to me, as someone with a messy life, which has also resulted in ultimately deciding not to have children, but liking the idea behind the book. 

As the blurb hints, the characters are very much the heart of the book. Skye, in all her chaotic glory, is a lot to take in, but she’s ultimately an endearing heroine I couldn’t help but relate to. I love that her choice to sell her eggs both allowed her to make something more of her life on her terms, while enabling her friend to have a child and fulfill her dreams. Not that Skye’s life is perfect, as her family remains somewhat toxic, but I love how she almost instantly feels a connection to Vicky, both as “her egg” and the child of her now-deceased friend. 

I also loved the twist where things came together and Skye found out that the random stranger she had tried to flirt with turned out to be Vicky’s aunt…that’s a heck of a meet-cute! While the book is not primarily a romance, I love how Skye and Faye bonded over their shared interest in Vicky’s well-being now that Vicky’s mother is gone. They’re opposites in a lot of ways, but that means they play off each other. 

And while the characters are central to the narrative and it is a very lighthearted story, I love the way relevant social issues are interwoven into the narrative. From racism and homo/bi/transphobia to gentrification (the latter of which is also thematically expressed in the cover art), I appreciated how each of these was touched on and their impact on the characters, as well as the real life communities they represent, without beating the reader over the head trying to explain it. 

This is a solid read, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for Black and/or LGBTQ+ fiction. 

Author Bio

Mia McKenzie is the award-winning author of The Summer We Got Free and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous Media, an independent media and education project that centers queer Black women and girls. She lives with her parenting partner and two children in the Happy Valley of Western Massachusetts.

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“Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim” by Patricia Park (ARC Review)

Park, Patricia. Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim. New York: Crown Books for Young Readers, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-0593563373 | $18.99 USD | 304 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb

The award-winning author of Re Jane makes her young adult debut in a funny, poignant, and powerful novel about a multicultural teen struggling to fit into her whitewashed school, her diverse Queens neighborhood, and even her own home as her family reels from the loss of her father.

“…A dazzling YA debut…that is deep, real and scathingly funny.” —Gayle Forman, New York Times best-selling author of IF I STAY.

“…brimming with insights while being un-put-downable and just plain fun. Simply brilliant!”-David Yoon, New York Times best-selling author of FRANKLY IN LOVE

Alejandra Kim doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere. At her wealthy Manhattan high school, her súper Spanish name and súper Korean face do not compute to her mostly white “woke” classmates and teachers. In her Jackson Heights neighborhood, she’s not Latinx enough. Even at home, Ale feels unwelcome. And things at home have only gotten worse since Papi’s body was discovered on the subway tracks.

Ale wants nothing more than to escape the city for the wide-open spaces of the prestigious Wyder University. But when a microaggression at school thrusts Ale into the spotlight—and into a discussion she didn’t ask for—Ale must discover what is means to carve out a space for yourself to belong.

Patricia Park’s coming-of-age novel about a multicultural teen caught between worlds, and the future she is building for herself, is an incisive, laugh-out-loud, provocative read.

Review

3.5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. .yAll opinions are my own. 

Imposter Syndrome and Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim is a unique book that I respect for what it’s trying to do. Growing up  as part of a cultural diaspora and bridging your birth culture and the culture of where you live  is one thing and one that I’ve seen explored before, but I appreciate the simple ways it delves into the more layered existence of being multicultural through the lens of being Korean-Argentine-American. The little ways in which she’s seen as a bit of an oddity to those around her, such as the mispronunciation of her name or how people perceive her first and last names to not fit together, are told so frankly, and it explores how people struggle to classify her in a society that defaults to those classifications to make their assumptions. 

But the book strikes a good balance between seeing Alejandra and those close to her dealing with racial and other weighty issues  and also focusing on the typical growing pains of being a teenager, such as navigating life at the elite school she attends, working toward getting into college, and dealing with friendship troubles and school bullies. The ultimate goal is to follow Alejandra’s coming-of-age and into her own. 

I did feel the pacing of the book was a bit off, as I found myself going through periods where the book felt rather mundane. It’s clearly more of a “me” thing, as while I don’t mind more introspective coming of age books, I didn’t vibe as much with the style here. 

But I did enjoy this book for what it was trying to do for the most part overall, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a YA contemporary coming-of-age narrative from a multicultural lens. 

Author Bio

Patricia Park was born and raised in New York City. She earned her BA in English from Swarthmore College and an MFA in Fiction from Boston University, where she studied with Ha Jin and Allegra Goodman. A former Fulbright Scholar and Emerging Writer Fellow at the Center for Fiction, she has published essays in The New York Times, Slice, and The Guardian. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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“Falling in Love on Sweetwater Lane” (Mistletoe, Maine #3) by Belle Calhoune (ARC Review)

Calhoune, Belle. Falling in Love on Sweetwater Lane. New York: Forever, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-1538736050 | $8.99 USD | 368 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

Will a big-city veterinarian give this small town—and the single dad who’s caught her heart—a chance?

Veterinarian Harlow Jones knew returning to small-town life, even temporarily, would be a disaster. She just never guessed it would start that way—with her car skidding off the road outside Mistletoe, Maine. And while her rescuer is both charming and handsome, Harlow isn’t about to get involved with a local. She’s in town for one reason only—to pay off her vet school bills—and then she’s back to her real life in Seattle.

Nick Keegan knows all about unexpected, life-altering detours. He lost his wife in the blink of an eye, and he’s spent the years since being the best single dad he can be. He’s also learned not to take anything for granted, so when sparks start to fly with Harlow, Nick is all in. He senses Harlow feels it too, but she insists romance isn’t on her agenda. He’ll have to pull out all the stops to show her that love is worth changing the best-laid plans.

In the series

#1 No Ordinary Christmas

#2 Summer on Blackberry Besch

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Falling in Love on Sweetwater Lane is the third in Belle Calhoune’s diverse small-town Mistletoe, Maine series. You can read this one as a standalone, although the recurring town aspects are a lot of fun for returning readers (although, full disclosure: I somehow missed that there even had been a book two!)

I did enjoy this one a tad bit more than the first, as there was some surprising character depth, particularly to Nick. He lost his wife in a car crash, and his grief over the loss, including his blame toward the other person involved (who he describes as having “killed” his wife) feel so visceral. The sheer anger at having come face-to-face with that person and having to deal with that unresolved trauma really spoke to me. 

Harlow is equally compelling due to having some baggage of her own that she must contend with throughout the book, and which she spends a lot of the story running from. I like that this formed both a sort of bonding point for her and Nick, while also serving as an obstacle, as she continues to run and he has roots in the community and with Miles, his young son who he’s raising as a single parent. Their path to love is predictable, but sweet…especially with the role Miles plays in their romance. 

This is a cozy, fun read, and will satisfy anyone looking for small-town, Hallmark-style romance with Black and other diverse characters in leading roles. 

Author Bio

Belle Calhoune writes heartwarming, inspirational romance novels set in small, cozy towns. Married to her college sweetheart and living in southern Connecticut, she is the mother of two girls. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she is one of five children. Growing up across the street from a public library allowed her to become an avid reader who aspired to be a romance writer. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, spending time in Cape Cod, traveling and enjoying time with friends and family.
Belle hopes her books will provide readers with inspiration, entertainment and an escape from day to day life.

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“A Line in the Dark” by Malinda Lo (Review)

Lo, Malinda. A Line in the Dark. New York: New York: Dutton Books, 2017. 

ISBN-13: 978-0735227482 | $17.99 USD | 281 pages | YA Contemporary/Thriller

Blurb

The line between best friend and something more is a line always crossed in the dark.

Jess Wong is Angie Redmond’s best friend. And that’s the most important thing, even if Angie can’t see how Jess truly feels. Being the girl no one quite notices is OK with Jess anyway. While nobody notices her, she’s free to watch everyone else. But when Angie begins to fall for Margot Adams, a girl from the nearby boarding school, Jess can see it coming a mile away. Suddenly her powers of observation are more curse than gift.

As Angie drags Jess further into Margot’s circle, Jess discovers more than her friend’s growing crush. Secrets and cruelty lie just beneath the carefree surface of this world of wealth and privilege, and when they come out, Jess knows Angie won’t be able to handle the consequences.

When the inevitable darkness finally descends, Angie will need her best friend.

“It doesn’t even matter that she probably doesn’t understand how much she means to me. It’s purer this way. She can take whatever she wants from me, whenever she wants it, because I’m her best friend.”

Review

4 stars

A Line in the Dark is kind of an odd book in that it straddles a few different genres. It perhaps leans most into the thriller genre, and that was the best written part, making up for the half-baked thriller elements of the Adaptation duology. I don’t know if it’s particularly edge-of-your-seat thrilling, but I think that’s why I would balk at calling it a pure thriller. 

The center of the book is ultimately the twisted relationships between its central characters and how these things lead to crossing the “line in the dark” into deep trouble. Jess has a deep, unrequited love for her best friend, Angie, and that makes Jess susceptible to doing anything for Angie. While neither is particularly likable, their dynamic is incredibly relatable, especially as Jess is the less attractive of the two, and consigned to tagging along as Angie gets into mischief. 

The introduction of Margot adds drama to their lives, as Angie falls for her, and it slowly comes out that Margot isn’t exactly the best person. The story develops into a compelling sapphic love triangle with a lingering sense of danger and doom that I felt was really unique. While obviously we’re not meant to root for anyone to get together (no HEA here!), I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a love triangle between three women (or teenage girls, as it is here). And to completely delve into the messiness and drama of it all?! It just works. 

Given the hybrid nature of the book, the pacing reflects that. The first part of the book, with the setup of the dynamics, is a bit slower paced and provides groundwork for what’s to come. But the thriller plotline is well incorporated in the second half, picking up the pace. And the book is on the shorter side overall, so ultimately the pages fly by either way. 

This is a unique read by Malinda Lo, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys books that mix contemporary teen drama with mystery/thriller. 

Author Bio 

Malinda Lo is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including A Scatter of Light (2022). Her novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club won the National Book Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, a Printz Honor, and was an LA Times Book Prize finalist. Her books have received 15 starred reviews and have been finalists for multiple awards, including the Andre Norton Award and the Lambda Literary Award. She has been honored by the Carnegie Corporation as a Great Immigrant. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, or her website at malindalo.com.

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“Harlem Sunset” (Harlem Renaissance Mysteries #2) by Nekesa Afia (Review)

Afia, Nekesa. Harlem Sunset. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2022. 

ISBN-13: 978-0593199121 | $16.00 USD | 286 pages | Historical Mystery

Blurb

Named a 2022 People Magazine best book of the summer!

A riveting Harlem Renaissance Mystery featuring Louise Lloyd, a young Black woman working in a hot new speakeasy when she gets caught up in a murder that hits too close to home…


Harlem, 1927. Twenty-seven-year-old Louise Lloyd has found the perfect job! She is the new manager of the Dove, a club owned by her close friend Rafael Moreno. There Louise meets Nora Davies, one of the girls she was kidnapped with a decade ago. The two women—along with Rafael and his sister, Louise’s girlfriend, Rosa Maria—spend the night at the Dove, drinking and talking. The next morning, Rosa Maria wakes up covered in blood, with no memory of the previous night. Nora is lying dead in the middle of the dance floor. 
 
Louise knows Rosa Maria couldn’t have killed Nora, but the police have a hard time believing that no one can remember anything at all about what happened. When Louise and Rosa Maria return to their apartment after being questioned by the police, they find the word GUILTY written across the living room wall in paint that looks a lot like blood. Someone has gone to great lengths to frame and terrify Rosa Maria, and Louise will stop at nothing to clear the woman she loves.

In the series

#1 Dead Dead Girls

Review

4 stars

Harlem Sunset is the second book in Nekesa Afia’s Harlem Renaissance series. It’s a self-contained case, so it can stand alone, but I do feel that readers would benefit from reading in order and being familiar with the character dynamics, as they do play a big role in this installment. 

Louise has come up in the world somewhat since the end of the last book, being in a happy, if clandestine relationship with her partner Rosa Maria, and managing the Dove, which is owned by Rosa Maria’s twin brother, Rafael. But she’s still dealing with the trauma and ghosts from her past as Harlem’s Hero, and she can’t even enjoy a simple birthday celebration with another of the survivors of her kidnapping years ago without incident. And the case is even more deeply personal, because the killer attempted to frame Rosa Maria, which puts strain on their relationship. While Louise doesn’t have any doubts about Rosa Maria’s innocence, I enjoyed how the accusations provided new stakes for them to work through. 

I also liked exploring more of Louise’s family dynamics, from her complicated relationship with her father to the dynamics with her sisters, and how they are shaped by the loss of their fourth sister, Celia. 

The mystery is once again pretty compelling, and I actually think the personal connection made the story work a lot more, given that the intertwining of the personal with the mystery impacted the pacing of book one in a somewhat negative way. But as a result, this book felt like a punchier, faster read, with well-executed and incorporated intimate and personal moments. 

This is a solid second installment, and I am eager for more in the series, as well as anything else Nekesa Afia writes. If you’re looking for a compelling sapphic historical mystery with Black characters, I recommend picking this one up!

Author Bio

Twenty-five-year-old Nekesa Afia recently finished her undergrad degree (bachelor’s in journalism, with a minor in English) and is a publishing student. When she isn’t writing, she’s dancing, sewing, and trying to pet every dog she sees. The Harlem Renaissance Mysteries is her debut series.

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“Exes and O’s” (The Influencer Series #2) by Amy Lea (Review)

Lea, Amy. Exes and O’s. New York: Berkley, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-0593336595 | $17.00 USD | 400 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

An International Bestseller!

One of Amazon’s Best Romances of January · A January LibraryReads Pick · One of Buzzfeed’s Romance Books To Look Out For In 2023

A romance novel-obsessed social media influencer revisits her exes on her hunt for true love in this romantic comedy from the author of Set On You.


Romance book connoisseur Tara Chen has had her heart broken ten times by ten different men—all of whom dumped her because of her “stage-five clinger” tendencies. Nevertheless, Tara is determined to find The One. The only problem? Classic meet-cutes are dead, thanks to modern dating apps. So Tara decides to revisit her exes in hopes of securing her very own trope-worthy second-chance romance.
 
Boston firefighter Trevor Metcalfe will be the first to rush into a burning building but the last to rush into a relationship. Love just isn’t his thing. When his new roommate Tara enlists him to help her reconnect with her exes, he reluctantly agrees. But Tara’s journey is leading him to discover his own new chapter.
 
The more time they spend together, the more Tara realizes Trevor seems to be the only one who appreciates her authentic, dramatic self. To claim their happily ever after, can Tara and Trevor read between the lines of their growing connection?SEE LESS

Review

5 stars

I’ve eagerly anticipated Exes and O’s since finishing its predecessor, since I liked what I saw of both Tara and Trevor as secondary characters. And upon reading this one, I was even more blown away, especially how it explores romance novels and tropes in such a fun meta way, and with a generous dose of self-awareness. 

Tara is a romance influencer, and I love the way this aspect is peppered throughout the book with little excerpts with transcripts of her videos, in similar fashion to how Crystal documented her fitness journey in the prior book. I love how these little entries paralleled Tara’s own romance journey as she navigated exploring the possibility of a second chance with one of her exes to the possibility she may be falling for Trevor, in spite of his playboy reputations and him giving her mixed signals. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the way one of her posts about playboys  at a vulnerable moment was received, with her choosing to delete it due to some backlash, given I don’t share her baggage and have had no issues sharing my own aversion to it and the weird double standards around gender roles in that regard. But it is a somewhat realistic response of romance readers to having their favorite tropes and fantasies critiqued, so I can’t take too much issue with it. 

While I was unsure about Trevor as a romantic interest for romance-loving Tara at first, I ended up really rooting for them. While Trevor is in some ways the archetype of the playboy who wants to avoid emotional attachments due to baggage from his past, I like the way he was written. He had a lot to offer Tara in terms of perspective regarding dating, and vice versa, and I really liked how they learned from each other and grew in their openness to love with each other. And while their surface-level approaches are different, I love that both are struggling with past heartbreaks and hoping to avoid new ones. Their romance is a sweet, simmering slow burn, and I loved when they finally gave into their feelings. 

And Grandma Flo, who was also a gem in the first book, remains delightful here. She inspires Tara’s initial “second chance romance” quest, but is also there to provide some sage advice during a particularly low moment once Tara’s priorities have shifted. The fact that this conversation contains a wink at the audience about the miscommunication trope is a much-appreciated bonus!

Amy Lea has once again written a romance I really loved, and I’m excited for whatever she releases next! If you’re a fan of contemporary romances with a lot of meta references to the romance genre, I recommend checking this one out!

Author Bio 

Amy Lea is a Canadian bureaucrat by day and international bestselling romance author by night (and weekends). She writes romantic comedies featuring strong heroines, banter, mid-2000s pop culture references, and happily ever afters.

​When Amy is not writing, she can be found fan-girling over other romance books on Instagram (@amyleabooks), eating potato chips with reckless abandon, and snuggling with her husband and two goldendoodles.

Amy is represented by Kim Lionetti at BookEnds Literary Agency.

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“The Woman with the Cure” by Lynn Cullen (ARC Review)

Cullen, Lynn. The Woman with the Cure. New York: Berkley, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-0593438060 | $17.00 USD | 432 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

“Huge applause… women have always been in science—despite those who would pretend otherwise.” –Bonnie Garmus, New York Times bestselling author of Lessons in Chemistry

She gave up everything — and changed the world.

A riveting novel based on the true story of the woman who stopped a pandemic, from the bestselling author of Mrs. Poe.

In 1940s and ’50s America, polio is as dreaded as the atomic bomb. No one’s life is untouched by this disease that kills or paralyzes its victims, particularly children. Outbreaks of the virus across the country regularly put American cities in lockdown. Some of the world’s best minds are engaged in the race to find a vaccine. The man who succeeds will be a god.

But Dorothy Horstmann is not focused on beating her colleagues to the vaccine. She just wants the world to have a cure. Applying the same determination that lifted her from a humble background as the daughter of immigrants, to becoming a doctor –often the only woman in the room–she hunts down the monster where it lurks: in the blood.

This discovery of hers, and an error by a competitor, catapults her closest colleague to a lead in the race. When his chance to win comes on a worldwide scale, she is asked to sink or validate his vaccine—and to decide what is forgivable, and how much should be sacrificed, in pursuit of the cure.

Review

3 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

The Woman with the Cure has a great concept, exploring the race to create a polio vaccine from the perspective of Dorothy Horstmann, a woman who played an instrumental role, but who has gone largely uncelebrated compared to her male colleagues, which was an unfortunate reality for women in science in the past. And I also appreciate the author’s hindsight, exploring this time period while living through the COVID-19 pandemic, presenting a challenge for readers to draw parallels between the past and today. 

But I don’t know that this story lends itself well to a novel structure, at least not in a way that personally keeps me engaged. I’ve often struggled with historical fiction that takes place over long periods of time, and the issue here is that there’s a long timeline of work that goes into the creation of the polio vaccine. With each passing year, the story just dragged on and on, and my investment flagged. 

The writing style also didn’t give me a sense of intimacy with the characters either, so while the story attempted to incorporate stuff from Dorothy’s personal life, I just didn’t care. She goes through some romantic and domestic dramas, but it was all so forgettable. 

While this book didn’t work for me, my opinion is definitely in the minority. If you enjoy biographical historical fiction, you might enjoy it more than I did. 

Author Bio

Lynn Cullen grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and is the bestselling author of The Sisters of Summit AvenueTwain’s End, and Mrs. Poe, which was named an NPR 2013 Great Read and an Indie Next List selection. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, their dog, and two unscrupulous cats.

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“Huntress” (Ash #0.5) by Malinda Lo (Review)

Lo, Malinda. Huntress. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011. 

ISBN-13: 978-0316039994 | $11.99 USD | 416 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Taninli, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo’s highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance.

Review

4 stars

While I previously read Ash last year, I didn’t have much in the way of concrete thoughts on it, especially being shorter than average. However, as debut books go, I did enjoy it, and I like that it was a standalone. However, I was also interested in how the prequel, Huntress, would expand the world, especially with the basic premise of this story itself being referenced as part of the lore in Ash. And I did more or less enjoy it. 

Lo was still very much a fledgling writer at this point, so a lot of the book feels very similar to what was published at the time 2011/12). As a result, it doesn’t hold many surprises plot-wise. And even in terms of many of the character archetypes and world building elements, they do feel somewhat dated. 

But I’m also a big proponent of taking a common character type or relationship  dynamic and making it queer, and that’s pretty much what Malinda Lo does here. I particularly was intrigued at how Taisin’s precognitive abilities play a role in their relationship, with her not feeling anything initially, but being able to foresee a time when she will love Kaede, and having to figure out how to reckon with that. And even knowing the outcome, there’s still an element of surprise in that neither she nor the reader really knows the path their romance will take to get to that end point. 

With the narrative being so travel-centric, it’s a great way to get a greater feel for the world, and Lo manages to capture that bleak, snowy, sunless atmosphere very well, as well as its impact on the journey the characters are taking. The travel narrative does sometimes mean the pacing is a little uneven, but the strong focus on the romantic growth between Taisin and Kaede made up for it for me. 

This is a fun, fast read, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for sapphic YA fantasy. 

Author Bio

Malinda Lo is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including A Scatter of Light (2022). Her novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club won the National Book Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, a Printz Honor, and was an LA Times Book Prize finalist. Her books have received 15 starred reviews and have been finalists for multiple awards, including the Andre Norton Award and the Lambda Literary Award. She has been honored by the Carnegie Corporation as a Great Immigrant. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, or her website at malindalo.com.

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“Isha, Unscripted” by Sajni Patel (ARC Review)

Patel, Sajni. Isha, Unscripted. New York: Berkley, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-0593547830 | $17.00 USD | 336 pages | Contemporary 

Blurb

Unwilling to yield to familial expectations, an aspiring screenwriter attempts to pursue her dreams during an unforgettable night of chaos in this hilarious and heartfelt novel by Sajni Patel.

Isha Patel is the black sheep of the family. She doesn’t have a “prestigious” degree or a “real” career, and her parents never fail to remind her. But that’s okay because she commiserates with her cousin, best friend, and fellow outcast, Rohan.

When Isha has a breakthrough getting her script in front of producers, it doesn’t go according to plan. Instead of letting her dreams fall through the cracks, Rohan convinces her to snag a pitch session with an Austinite high-profile celeb: the one and only Matthew McConaughey, who also happened to be her professor at the University of Texas years ago—he has to remember her, right?

Chasing Matthew McConaughey isn’t easy. Isha needs a drink or two to muster up courage, and she gets a little help from the cutest bartender she’s ever encountered. But when the search for the esteemed actor turns into a night of hijinks and unexpected—albeit fun—chaos, everything falls apart. Isha’s dreams seem farther than ever, but she soon realizes who she really needs to face and that her future may just be alright, alright, alright.

Review

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Isha, Unscripted was the perfect read for me at this present moment. I’ve been going through a lot on the personal side of things, and I wanted something a little fun. But it also left me feeling seen, especially in terms of the journey Isha goes through. 

Like me, Isha is a writer (albeit in a different field) and she’s really been struggling to make something of her life. She’s also an incredibly  chaotic person, and one I couldn’t help but smile and sympathize with as she fumbled through life. 

And while I’m not South Asian, the “take any job” convo has absolutely come up with my parents (albeit under different circumstances). And I can totally relate to that feeling of being expected to be an adult, while still being treated like a child by your parents at times. 

I also love the general theme of the book being about Isha’s friendship/bond with her cousin Rohan (“Brohan”). I love how both of them don’t really fit the traditional mold, and that they support each other even when others don’t. 

The one weak spot is the romance. This book is marketed and categorized as a romance, despite the fact the book focused more on Isha’s own personal arc. There is a romantic subplot, but I can’t tell you very much about Tarik, beyond the fact that he’s generally pretty successful in life, as a contrast to Isha’s constant failures. It was charming that he tended to be present at her lowest moments and was nonetheless interested in her, but I can’t say I was super interested in him in his own right. 

Even so, the other aspects were strong enough for me to forgive this one aspect, although I would caution other readers to not go in expecting the romance to be too prominent. With that in mind, if you enjoy diverse contemporaries about finding oneself and navigating familial expectations, I would recommend you give this a try. 

Author Bio

Sajni Patel is an award-winning author of women’s fiction and young adult books, drawing on her experiences growing up in Texas, an inexplicable knack for romance and comedy, and the recently resurfaced dark side of fantastical things. Her works have appeared on numerous Best of the Year and Must Read lists from Cosmo, Oprah Magazine, Teen Vogue, Apple Books, Audiofile, Tribeza, Austin Woman’s Magazine, NBC, The Insider, PopSugar, Buzzfeed, and many others.

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“World Running Down” by Al Hess (ARC Review)

Hess, Al. World Running Down. London: Angry Robot, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-1915202239 | $17.99 USD | 312 pages | Sci-Fi 

Blurb 

A transgender salvager on the outskirts of a dystopian Utah gets the chance to earn the ultimate score and maybe even a dash of romance. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch…
–––


Valentine Weis is a salvager in the future wastelands of Utah. Wrestling with body dysphoria, he dreams of earning enough money to afford citizenship in Salt Lake City – a utopia where the testosterone and surgery he needs to transition is free, the food is plentiful, and folk are much less likely to be shot full of arrows by salt pirates. But earning that kind of money is a pipe dream, until he meets the exceptionally handsome Osric.

Once a powerful AI in Salt Lake City, Osric has been forced into an android body against his will and sent into the wasteland to offer Valentine a job on behalf of his new employer – an escort service seeking to retrieve their stolen androids. The reward is a visa into the city, and a chance at the life Valentine’s always dreamed of. But as they attempt to recover the “merchandise”, they encounter a problem: the android ladies are becoming self-aware, and have no interest in returning to their old lives.

The prize is tempting, but carrying out the job would go against everything Valentine stands for, and would threaten the fragile found family that’s kept him alive so far. He’ll need to decide whether to risk his own dream in order to give the AI a chance to live theirs.SEE LESS

Review

5 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Having previously enjoyed some of Al Hess’ Hep-Cats of Boise series, I was excited to see his next book, World Running Down, had been picked up by a  publisher. Like those precious works, it has a somewhat

smaller scale (in terms of world building) sci-fi feel, but with a compelling adventure with high stakes, and great queer rep and romance at its heart. 

Valentine is a sympathetic human protagonist, and one who deals with issues not unfamiliar to anyone who is or knows someone who is trans in this day and age. He’s struggling with body and gender dysphoria, while also being unable to access the resources that will provide the life-affirming care he needs. 

And these issues are paralleled perfectly in Valentine’s AI companion and love interest, Osric. He’s in a human body for the first time, and there’s great introspection as to what that means for someone who was already sentient, but had not had a corporeal form before. 

And I love how their romance grapples with the complications of technology in this world, and how it provides help for Valentine, but makes life more complicated for Osric. Their bond in spite of their contradicting, yet parallel experiences is so beautiful. 

The plot is compelling, with some great twists and turns as Valentine and Osric go on their adventure. The action scenes are well executed, interspersed with more intimate moments in a way that doesn’t impact the pacing. 

This is a delightful sci-fi adventure, and one I’d recommend for anyone who has wanted a more queer and trans-inclusive take on the genre. 

Author Bio 

Al Hess is author of World Running Down and the self-published Hep Cats of Boise series. Semi-finalist in the SPSFC with Mazarin Blues.

When not hunched before a computer screen, Al can be found at his art desk. He does portraits in both pencil and oil paint, and loves drawing fellow authors’ characters nearly as much as his own. He writes cozy and uplifting stories with queer, trans, and neurodiverse representation.

Al is represented by agent Ren Balcombe at Janklow & Nesbit.

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“And Other Mistakes” by Erika Turner (ARC Review)

Turner, Erika. And Other Mistakes. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250834843 | $19.99 USD | 320 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb

A Black teenage girl has something to prove in And Other Mistakes, a debut Young Adult coming-of-age novel by Erika Turner about first loves, broken friendships, family tension, and what it means to run toward your future instead of running from your past.

Aaliyah’s home life has never been great, but she thought she’d survive her last years of high school with at least her friendships and cross-country stardom intact. That is, until junior year struck: she got outed by a church elder and everything came undone — including Aaliyah.

Now, senior year is about to start and she is determined to come back faster and wiser. No more letting other people define her. No more losing herself to their expectations.

Except… well, with new friends, old flames, nosy school counselors, and teammates who don’t trust her yet, the route already feels rough. And what’s with the new girl, Tessa, who gives Aaliyah butterflies every time she looks at her? Regardless, everything is fine. She’ll be fine. Because this is the year to prove to everyone—and most of all, herself—that she’s more than her mistakes. After all, even Aaliyah can’t outrun everything.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

I requested And Other Mistakes based on the cover and premise alone, and I am happy to say I enjoyed it. It’s a great debut that explores a lot of the issues of being a teenager and coming of age. 

Aaliyah’s a wonderful protagonist that I’m sure many teens will relate to, especially if they’re Black and/or queer. She deals with a somewhat fraught home life including an alcoholic father and homophobic mother, and has recently been outed by an elder at her church. She’s also dealing with drama with a friend who kissed her, but then distanced herself. But I appreciate how she isn’t kept down by all these adversities, as she resolves to try to combat people’s expectations and preconceived notions of her. Even when she’s under so much pressure, from family drama to friendship conflicts to school to sports, she never breaks, and I admire her for that. 

I love how Aaliyah’s talent for running ends up being so symbolic throughout the book. She tries to outrun her problems, but eventually it all piles up and she has to reckon with them…and that includes seeing impacts of that pressure in her poor track scores. It’s just such a well-thought out novel that uses running in such a great thematic way. 

The romance with Tessa is somewhat of a weak point, in that I didn’t feel like Tessa was hat fleshed out. But I did like that Aaliyah did have someone in her life that existed to provide something more or less positive, and they do have cute moments. 

This is a solid debut, and I’m eager to try more from Erika Turner in the future. If you enjoy queer YA contemporaries, I recommend picking this one up!

Author Bio 

Erika Turner is a writer, a poet, and the daughter of storytellers. Sometimes, she writes songs she may one day share. Once, in a Brooklyn community center, she read James Baldwin’s quote “You can’t tell the children there’s no hope,” and she carries those words from the city to the desert and beyond. She lives in California with her family and a dog who is suspicious of stationary street objects. And Other Mistakes is her debut novel.

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“Thornfruit” (The Gardener’s Hand #1) by Felicia Davin (Review)

Davin, Felicia. Thornfruit. [Massachusetts]: Etymon Press, 2018. 

ISBN-13: 978-1386580140 | $3,99 USD | 367 pages | Fantasy

Blurb

There were two secrets in Varenx House, and Alizhan was one of them.

Alizhan can’t see faces, but she can read minds. Her mysterious ability leaves her unable to touch or be touched without excruciating pain. Rescued from abandonment and raised by the wealthy and beautiful Iriyat ha-Varensi, Alizhan has grown up in isolation, using her gift to steal secrets from Iriyat’s rivals, the ruling class of Laalvur. But Iriyat keeps secrets of her own.

When Alizhan discovers that she isn’t the only one of her kind, and that a deadly plot threatens everyone like her, there’s only one person she can trust.

Ev liked having a secret. None of the other girls in the village had a thief-friend.

Evreyet Umarsad—“Ev” to her parents and her one friend—longs to be the kind of hero she reads about in books. But the rest of the world feels impossibly far away from her life on a farm outside Laalvur. Ev will never lay eyes on the underground city of Adappyr, the stars of the Nightward Coast, or the venomous medusas that glow in the dark depths of the sea.

At least on her weekly trip to the market, Ev gets to see her thief—the strange young woman who slips by her cart and playfully steals a handful of thornfruit. When the thief needs help, Ev doesn’t hesitate. Together, they uncover a conspiracy that draws them all over Laalvur and beyond.

Review

4 stars

I’ve owned Thornfruit for a while, having scooped up the Kindle book free (and then subsequently acquired the rest of the series). Having read Felicia Davin’s collaborative (with two other coauthors) episodic novella series Errant last year, written under the pen name L.K. Fleet, I had an idea of the style I might expect. And in some ways, I was correct, but there are some surprises here, especially as this is a longer-form work. 

The world building is intriguing, and I definitely had to stick with it for a bit to get into it. But I really like where the series is going. I like how the culture and politics is influenced by the isolatedness of the landscape, with some hints of other lands across the sea. The time and chronology references are the part that take the most to get used to, but it’s consistent throughout and makes it work and you get used to it. 

Both the leads are pretty compelling characters. Ev is a great twist on the fantasy protagonist who rises from humble beginnings, who ends up following Alizhan into trouble. Alizhan also has a complex backstory plagued by abandonment, and she has intriguing, but dangerous, and even painful (for her) powers. They play off each other well, what with Alizhan being rather daring and a bit reckless, and Ev is an incredibly sweet and open person who is up for anything. 

While it’s not primarily a romance, being a fantasy first, there is a strong fantasy arc, and given I read a fantasy recently that did that balance somewhat poorly, I was pleased how much I liked what these characters had to offer and how well their romantic chemistry played against the external plot. 

Plot wise, this is just the first part of a larger story, but it’s pretty engaging, and kept me interested overall. I am definitely eager to keep reading the series to see how the story continues. 

This is a solid series starter and romantic fantasy read, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for sapphic fantasy. 

CWs available here

Author Bio

Felicia Davin is the author of fiv novels, including the queer fantasy trilogy, The Gardener’s Hand and the sci-fi romance Edge of Nowhere, which was a finalist for the Best Bisexual Romance in the 2018 Bisexual Book Awards. Her shoer fiction has been featured in Lightspeed, Nature, and Heiresses of Russ 2016: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction.

She lives in Massachussetts with her partner and their cat. when not writing and reading fiction, she teaches and translates French. She loes linguistics, singing, and baking. She is bisexual, bugt not ambidextrous.

She writes a weekly email newsletter about words and books called Word Suitcase. You can also find her on Twitter @Felicia Davin or at https://www.feliciadavin.com/.

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“The Pledge” by Cale Dietrich (ARC Review)

Dietrich, Cale. The Pledge. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250186973 | $20.99 USD | 304 pages | YA Horror

Blurb

Scream meets Clown in a Cornfield in this young adult horror novel by bestselling author Cale Dietrich featuring a masked killer who targets frat boys.

Freshman Sam believes that joining a fraternity is the best way to form a friend group as he begins his college journey – and his best chance of moving on from his past. He is the survivor of a horrific, and world-famous, murder spree, where a masked killer hunted down Sam and his friends.

Sam had to do the unthinkable to survive that night, and it completely derailed his life. He sees college, and his new identity as a frat boy, as his best shot at living a life not defined by the killings. He starts to flirt with one of the brothers, who Sam finds is surprisingly accepting of Sam’s past, and begins to think a fresh start truly is possible.

And then… one of his new frat brothers is found dead. A new masked murderer, one clearly inspired by the original, emerges, and starts stalking, and slaying, the frat boys of Munroe University. Now Sam will have to race against the clock to figure out who the new killer is – and why they are killing – before Sam loses his second chance – or the lives of any more of his friends.

Elements of horror, mystery, and a gay romance make this a story readers won’t want to miss.

Review

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

I really enjoyed Cale Dietrich’s collaboration just over a year ago with Sophie Gonzales, If This Gets Out, and while I had subsequently tried one of his older books and didn’t gel with the writing style, I didn’t give up hope that he might write something else on his own that would wow me. And The Pledge could possibly be that book. 

While I still don’t read a lot of horror, the ones I do tend to be queer, and I love how Dietrich’s approach is really normalizing queerness, without all the angst and bigotry; those have their place, but sometimes you just want a morbidly cool slasher with a queer lead, and you absolutely get that here. 

And with writing style having been such a dealbreaker for me previously, I admit to being a little nervous, but I was immediately sucked in with the opening lines, hooking me with a moment of video-game violence prior to delving into the real horror that sets the stage for Sam’s story. 

And having gone through that trauma in the recent past, and now in the present seeing similar events happen during his first weeks of college, I like the way all of his emotions are depicted. While it’s not unheard of for survivors of horrific events to go on to see the similar events again, in real life or in fiction (the amount of horror franchises with recurring characters in victim roles attests to this), I like how Sam’s experience felt unique in its exploration of the impact it had on him. He’s definitely a horror protagonist worth rooting for. 

The supporting cast doesn’t have a ton of depth, but given the genre, it’s not too surprising…I don’t find myself feeling too attached to casts of characters in horror, because of the macabre purpose they’re meant to serve. 

I did appreciate how the story did make room for a fairly sweet queer romance, and while I didn’t feel very much for the love interest, I rooted for it for Sam’s sake, as he had been through so much and deserved something positive in his life. 

Plot and pacing wise, it’s fast paced and very compelling. There’s some great twists and turns that kept me engaged in the story, as I feared for Sam and even the others (albeit more as a collective than as individuals). 

This is a great read, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for YA horror wiry queer main characters. 

Author Bio 

Cale Dietrich is a YA devotee, lifelong gamer, and tragic pop punk enthusiast. He was born in Perth, grew up on the Gold Coast, and now lives in Brisbane, Australia. He is the author of The Love Interest and The Friend Scheme.

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“The Unbroken” (Magic of the Lost #1) by C.L. Clark (Review)

Clark, C.L. The Unbroken. New York: Orbit, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-0316542753 | $16.99 USD | 529 pages | Fantasy

Blurb

Every Empire Demands Revolution.

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.

Review

4 stars

I bought The Unbroken back when it first came out, setting it aside upon hearing some mixed things. I picked it back up again in anticipation for the sequel, determined to go in with more measured expectations. And fortunately, this worked out, as while this book isn’t the best of the sapphic fantasy we’ve gotten lately, it has a lot of good ideas, and there’s a lot of room to grow going forward. 

The themes are a big part of the draw of the book, with the blurb openly talking about rebellion, and the world being inspired by colonial North Africa. I love how it grapples with that legacy, and explores how two people from different backgrounds come together to fight back. 

Touraine is perhaps the more compelling of our two leads in that regard, exploring how she as an army conscript is impacted by the colonial system. While many others have big, hopeful dreams, she has no such illusions, but she also remains determined to survive, no matter what dire situation she ends up in. 

Luca is more complex, as she is a princess, and very much used to living a more luxurious life, even at the expense of others, only finding herself inconvenienced due to the actions of the rebels. This makes her an unlikely partner, much less a love interest, for Touraine, what with both their opposing ideologies, not to mention the power imbalance. 

But Clark navigates this dynamic with care, with the text acknowledging the work Luca needs to do, and slowly providing her with at least some growing sense of self-awareness on her path toward making reparations, which likely continues into the next book. 

As for the specifics of the romance itself, I did feel it was lacking in the chemistry and passion department. Even if it’s not the main aspect of the book, I at least want to be convinced that the characters like/love each other, and I didn’t feel any sparks. I hope this is something that is also developed a little more in the sequel. 

This is a solid series starter with a lot of promise, and I can’t wait to see how it develops from here. If you’re looking for an intriguing sapphic political fantasy with subtle romantic elements, I recommend checking this out!

CWs: depictions of colonial violence, gore, past attempted rape, threats of rape, threats of torture

Author Bio

C.L. Clark is a BFA award-winning editor and the Nebula-nominated author of The Unbroken, the first of the Magic of the Lost trilogy, several short stories, and a few essays. When she’s not imagining the fall of empires, she’s trying not to throw her kettlebells through the walls.

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“If a Poem Could Live and Breathe” by Mary Calvi (ARC Review)

Calvi, Mary. If a Poem Could Live and Breathe: A Novel of Teddy Roosevelt’s First Love. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250277831 | $28.99 USD | 320 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

A fact-based romantic speculative novel about Teddy Roosevelt’s first love, by Mary Calvi, author of Dear George, Dear Mary.

Studded with the real love letters between a young Theodore Roosevelt and Boston beauty Alice Lee—many of them never before published—If a Poem Could Live and Breathe makes vivid what many historians believe to be the pivotal years that made the future president into the man of action that defined his political life, and cemented his legacy.

Cambridge, 1878. The era of the Gilded Age. Alice Lee sets out to break from the norms of her mother’s generation. Women are fighting for educational opportunities and exploring a new sense of intellectual and personal freedom. Native New Yorker, Harvard student Teddy Roosevelt, is on his own journey of discovery, and when they meet, unrelenting currents of love change the trajectory of his life forever.

If a Poem Could Live and Breathe is an indelible portrait of the authenticity of first love, the heartache of loss, and how overcoming the worst of life’s obstacles can push one to greatness never imagined.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

I don’t know a ton about Theodore Roosevelt prior to picking up If a Poem Could Live and Breathe, beyond the “Bull Moose,” man’s man and 20th century Progressive politician personas he cultivated later in life, so the prospect of a book delving into his earlier life and first romance and marriage with Alice Lee seemed promising (especially as I had gleaned some inklings about how the tragedy of that relationship impacted his relationship with his tempestuous only daughter from that union, also called Alice). And Mary Calvi did a great job fleshing out what that young man may have looked like and following the trajectory of his relationship with Alice Lee. 

Given that correspondence between Teddy and Alice survives, I love how that aspect is woven into the narrative, with some portions of the book allowing their letters to each other speak for themselves. And as the title suggests, this correspondence not only consists of those letters, but poetry as well. I love how this book explores the true romantic soul that quite possibly died with Alice. 

I also love how it explores who they are as people. Teddy is coming into his own as a young man, and he has yet to reach the heights we know he will reach. Alice is also a great partner for Teddy, being a champion of gender equality when women’s suffrage is a hot-button issue. Given Teddy’s later more Progressive leanings, it’s interesting to speculate how she may have influenced him. 

The narrative not only follows them in the throes of their love and marriage, but also follows Teddy as he falls into his grief following Alice’s passing, and refuses to have her name said in his presence. These portions are the most moving, especially when you think about how, while he did move on, he likely never really got over this loss, and it impacted his relationship with his daughter. 

I will note the most engaging bits were probably the courtship parts, along with the bits from Teddy’s POV while grieving Alice. It falls into somewhat of a lull, pacing wise, after their marriage, but the story comes together and ultimately packs an emotional punch. 

I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially about the lives of American presidents. 

Author Bio 

MARY CALVI is an author of historical fiction. Her upcoming book, IF A POEM COULD LIVE AND BREATHE: A NOVEL OF TEDDY ROOSEVELT’S FIRST LOVE, is based on never-before-published love letters to and from Roosevelt, which Calvi researched and transcribed from the originals. The publication is set for Valentine’s Day 2023 (St. Martin’s Press). Her in-depth research for her debut book, DEAR GEORGE, DEAR MARY: A NOVEL OF GEORGE WASHINGTON’S FIRST LOVE is the basis of a Smithsonian Channel documentary, airing now. Calvi is a 14-time New York Emmy® award-winning journalist, the morning news anchor for WCBS-TV, and national anchor for Inside Edition Weekend.

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“Meet Me in Mumbai” by Sabina Khan (Review)

Khan, Sabina. Meet Me in Mumbai. New York: PUSH, 2022. 

ISBN-13: 978-1338749281 | $18.99 USD | 340 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb

Two generations, eighteen years apart

Ayesha is a world away from home when she meets the boy of her dreams. Like her, Suresh is from India but going to high school in Illinois. Once they get together, they are inseparable… until a twist of fate takes Suresh back to India right when Ayesha discovers she’s pregnant. Suddenly she feels she’s on her own, navigating the biggest decision she’ll ever make.

Seventeen years later, Ayesha’s daughter Mira finds an old box with letters addressed to her from her birth mother. Although Mira loves the moms who adopted her, she’s intrigued to discover something more about her history. In one letter, Ayesha writes that if Mira can forgive her for what she had to do, she should find a way to travel to India for her eighteenth birthday and meet her.

Mira knows she’ll always regret it if she doesn’t go. But is she actually ready for what she will learn?

Meet Me in Mumbai is the extraordinary story of two teenage girls forced to understand the power and the consequences of their choices, and how family can be both formed and found over time.

Review

5 stars

I really enjoyed Sabina Khan’s two previous releases, but  Meet Me in Mumbai may just be my favorite of her work so far. It was ambitious in its premise, telling a story of a mother and a daughter, a teen pregnancy/giving the child up for adoption and the now-teenage child finding her birth mother again. And while it can be risky to divide your book into two parts with two different protagonists, instead of the more common alternating POVs and timelines, I feel this approach worked, with Ayesha’s story perfectly setting up Mira’s journey, and Mira’s reunion with Ayesha in turn helping Ayesha find closure for some unresolved issues from her part of the narrative. 

In terms of Ayesha’s story in its own right, I liked the sensitivity with which it discussed teen pregnancy within the context of her Indian and Muslim heritage, with emphasis on the potential shame she could bring to her family. The stakes are also complex, what with her belief she was in love with the father, but he had obligations of his own that kept them apart. 

Mira is equally compelling as a protagonist, and I love how her story explores what it’s like for transracial adoptees to feel connected to their heritage. She’s raised by two white mothers, and I love how her relationships with them are fairly healthy, while still allowing her to explore her cultural identity and find her birth mother. 

This is a beautiful book that explores a lot of complex issues, including teen pregnancy, transracial adoption, racism, and prejudice. If you’re looking for a hard-hitting YA contemporary that will tug at your heartstrings, I recommend checking this one out!

Author Bio

Sabina Khan writes about Muslim teens who straddle cultures. She was born in Germany, spent her teens in Bangladesh, and lived in Macao, Illinois, and Texas before settling down in British Columbia with her husband, two daughters, and the best puppy in the world. She is also the author of The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali and Zara Hossain Is Here. Visit her online at https://sabina-khan.com/.

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“Take the Lead” (Dance Off #1) by Alexis Daria (ARC Review)

Daria, Alexis. Take the Lead. 2017. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250817969 | $17.99 USD | 352  pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

From Alexis Daria, author of the critically acclaimed, international bestseller You Had Me at Hola, comes a fun, sexy romance set against a reality dance show.

Gina Morales wants to make it big. In her four seasons on The Dance Off, she’s never even made it to the finals. But her latest partner, the sexy star of an Alaskan wilderness show, could be her chance. Who knew the strong, silent, survivalist-type had moves like that? She thinks Stone Nielson is her ticket to win it all—until her producer makes it clear they’re being set up for a showmance.

Joining a celebrity dance competition is the last thing Stone wants. However, he’ll endure anything to help his family, even as he fears revealing their secrets. While the fast pace of Los Angeles makes him long for the peace and privacy of home, he can’t hide his growing attraction for his dance partner. Neither wants to fake a romance for the cameras, but the explosive chemistry that flares between them is undeniable.

As Stone and Gina heat up the dance floor, the tabloids catch on to their developing romance. With the spotlight threatening to ruin everything, will they choose fame and fortune, or let love take the lead?

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

I missed out on Take the Lead when it first released, but having more or less enjoyed Alexis Daria’s more recent work, I was excited her debut would be getting a print release with a new cover. Having heard good things about it from friends back in its first run, I am pleased to concur with them in that this is largely an enjoyable read. 

Gina is an interesting character, and I like how it focuses on the complexities of being a professional dancer on a dance show, a la Dancing with the Stars. She faces immense pressure to make the finals, after not seeing much success with previous celebrity partners. She also has greater aspirations to get into acting, and her fears about the PR machinations the producers are pushing, and its impact on her career potential,  feel very real. 

I had mixed feelings about Stone at first. He’s kind of your standard massively tall (6’7”) man, and super broody to boot. The latter has been done to death, although the former is somewhat more forgivable as this is an older title and I don’t think men were as big back then (I could be wrong, I didn’t read much contemporary in 2017)? But I do like how that translates into his overall persona, being more at home in the wilderness and his own reality-tv environment chopping wood, as opposed to Gina’s more sparkling ballroom-dance environment. However, he has his own family to worry about, including his mother’s medical bills. 

Gina and Stone play off each other very well, with great on- and off-stage chemistry. And while there are some misunderstandings between them, they are executed in a way that isn’t annoying or casts doubt on the potential of their relationship. 

This is a solid debut book from a well-loved author, and I am glad it’s getting a second life and a wider release. If you enjoy diverse contemporary romance, I recommend checking this out if you didn’t read it the first time around!

Author Bio 

Alexis Daria is the award-winning and international bestselling author of You Had Me at HolaA Lot Like AdiósWhat the Hex, and more. Her books have been featured on several “Best of” lists from outlets like Oprah MagazineEntertainment WeeklyNPRBuzzfeed, and Washington Post, and have received starred reviews from trade publications like Publishers WeeklyKirkus Reviews, and Library Journal. A former visual artist, Alexis is a lifelong New Yorker who loves Broadway musicals and pizza. Her next release, a special edition of her debut novel Take the Lead, will be available in print for the first time in early 2023.

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“Always the Almost” by Edward Underhill (ARC Review)

Underhill, Edward. Always the Almost. New York: Wednesday Books, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250835208 | $18.99 USD | 320 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

A trans pianist makes a New Year’s resolution on a frozen Wisconsin night to win regionals and win back his ex, but a new boy complicates things in Edward Underhill’s heartfelt debut YA rom-dram, Always the Almost.

Sixteen-year-old trans boy Miles Jacobson has two New Year’s resolutions: 1) win back his ex-boyfriend (and star of the football team) Shane McIntyre, and 2) finally beat his slimy arch-nemesis at the Midwest’s biggest classical piano competition. But that’s not going to be so easy. For one thing, Shane broke up with Miles two weeks after Miles came out as trans, and now Shane’s stubbornly ignoring him, even when they literally bump into each other. Plus, Miles’ new, slightly terrifying piano teacher keeps telling him that he’s playing like he “doesn’t know who he is”—whatever that means.

Then Miles meets the new boy in town, Eric Mendez, a proudly queer cartoonist from Seattle who asks his pronouns, cares about art as much as he does—and makes his stomach flutter. Not what he needs to be focusing on right now. But after Eric and Miles pretend to date so they can score an invite to a couples-only Valentine’s party, the ruse turns real with a kiss, which is also definitely not in the plan. If only Miles could figure out why Eric likes him so much. After all, it’s not like he’s cool or confident or comfortable in his own skin. He’s not even good enough at piano to get his fellow competitors to respect him, especially now, as Miles. Nothing’s ever been as easy for him as for other people—other boys. He’s only ever been almost enough.

So why, when he’s with Eric, does it feel like the only person he’s ever really not been enough for…is himself?

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Always the Almost promises to be a book about trans and queer joy, and it delivers on that front. While there’s a lot of bleak headlines associated with the trans community of late, and these issues are apart of the trans experience, I like that this book’s first goal was to promote the little moments of gender euphoria and feeling right in your own skin, as well as the real experiences a queer teen will face with their friends or while navigating their first relationships or breakups. 

Miles is a wonderful protagonist. YA is full of stories about teens coming of age and finding themselves, and I love how this archetype perfectly fits Miles in his own way, as he’s finally able to be comfortable in his skin as a trans boy. He’s also incredibly relatable as he navigates his somewhat messy relationships, including with his ex and a potential new love interest. He makes a lot of mistakes, but he remains endearing throughout. 

Eric is a delightful love interest, and I love how immediately he accepts Miles for who he is (a contrast to Miles’ ex, for whom Miles’ transition is a much more awkward subject). Their romance takes a bit of an angsty and somewhat overly drawn-out turn in the second half, when Miles messes up, but their romance is ultimately really cute, and ends up working out in a believable way. 

This is such a delightful book, and I’m glad queer and trans kids are getting more euphoric rep these days. If you’re looking for a sweet queer YA contemporary, I recommend checking this one out! 

Author Bio

EDWARD UNDERHILL(he/him) is a queer trans man who grew up in the suburbs of Wisconsin,where he could not walk to anything, which meant he had to make up his own adventures. Hestudied music composition in college at the OberlinConservatory, and earned a masters in filmmusic composition at NYU. After a few years living in very tiny apartments in New York, hemoved to California, where by day he writes music and by night he writes stories. When notdoing either of these things, he’s probably gardening or hanging out with his cat.

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“Inheritance” (Adaptation #2) by Malinda Lo (Review)

Lo, Malinda. Inheritance. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013. 

ISBN-13: 978-0316197991 | $20.99 USD | 480 pages | YA Sci-Fi 

Blurb 

In the series 

#1 Adaptation 

Review

3 stars

Inheritance was a letdown compared to book one. I liked some aspects of it in theory, but it fell flat for me in execution. 

Just like with the first book, the strongest aspects were the personal ones. I liked the development of the romantic arc, evolving from a sort-of love triangle into a polyamorous relationship. While this is an older title at this point, I think that just makes it even more intriguing to see it take that direction, given that polyam relationships are still not super mainstream. 

In terms of the science aspect, I was still reasonably intrigued, and I enjoyed how it tied into the thriller aspect in theory, as there are a lot of questions around the Imrians and their presence on Earth. 

Pacing wise, this book was super slow, and it really did not need to be as long as it was (at least 100 pages longer than the first!), and I don’t feel the story gained anything from that. 

While I didn’t care for this as much as book one, I continue to enjoy Malinda Lo as an author and am eager to continue exploring her backlist! If you’re interested in queer YA sci-fi with mystery/thriller and romantic elements, I do still recommend giving this duology a try for the sake of the few positives! 

Author Bio 

Malinda Lo is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including most recently A Scatter of Light.

Her novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club won the National Book Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, a Michael L. Printz Honor, and was an LA Times Book Prize finalist.

Her books have received 15 starred reviews and have been finalists for multiple awards, including the Andre Norton Award and the Lambda Literary Award. She has been honored by the Carnegie Corporation as a Great Immigrant. Malinda’s short fiction and nonfiction has been published by The New York Times, NPR, Autostraddle, The Horn Book, and multiple anthologies. She lives in Massachusetts with her wife and their dog.

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“Not Your Valentine” by Jackie Lau (ARC Review)

Lau, Jackie. Not Your Valentine. Toronto, Ontario: Rakuten Kobo, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-1774538487 | $4.99 USD | 136 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb 

From the author of THE UNMATCHMAKERS and THE STAND-UP GROOMSMAN comes a chocolate-filled love story starring a heroine who is convinced she knows what will make her happy and a hero who seizes the opportunity to prove her wrong.

——————–

Helen Tsang is tired of the pitying looks. From her parents, her friends, and even the bubble tea shop guy, who recognized her from the video. Almost one year ago, some loser couldn’t mind their own damn business and filmed an unsuspecting Helen’s very public break-up during what was supposed to be a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner. A video of her ex-boyfriend saying, “It’s not me, it’s you. You’re holding me back” went viral.

Desperate to give everyone something else to talk about and with Valentine’s Day approaching once again, she asks her long-time friend Taylor Li to be her fake boyfriend, just to prove that she’s moved on and hasn’t sworn off love. (Spoiler alert: She’s totally sworn off love.) Taylor is the perfect option—single for once, and for some godforsaken reason, he loves Valentine’s Day.

But Helen didn’t expect was how easy it would be to get Taylor on board, fitting right into the boyfriend-shaped hole in her life. All she wanted was a couple sickeningly sweet dates to fill her social feeds, not corny text messages of silly heart-shaped cakes, and bouquets of flowers that harbor hidden meanings. Wanting to be around his sunshine attitude and delicious forearms all the time? That definitely wasn’t expected.

With February 14 quickly approaching, it’s getting increasingly difficult to ignore her feelings, especially when she starts wishing it wasn’t all an act.

Oh God. What has she done?

——————–

Perfect for fans of Talia Hibbert’s TAKE A HINT, DANI BROWN and THE DATING PLAN by Sara Desai, NOT YOUR VALENTINE is a grumpy/sunshine, fake-dating romance that will convince even the biggest Valentine’s Day non-believers that heart-shaped cakes are just as delicious as regular ones as long as they’re baked for the right person.

Review

3.5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.

Not Your Valentine is another sweet read from Jackie Lau, and I like how it generally captures the theme of Valentine’s Day. Fake dating between someone who’s burned by love and her good friend who happens to be a bit of a romantic is always super cute. 

And in essence, it is. I love the dynamic between Helen and Taylor, as he helps her heal her broken, jaded heart, in the midst of trying to prove  to others she’s not struggling. And the payoff was ultimately really great, with the happy ending feeling pretty worth it. 

But I couldn’t help but find the setup very convoluted, due in part to the public nature of what happened in the past. She was publicly broken up with and said breakup was spread around the internet, but I wasn’t sure, given the short lifespan of most internet trends, why that would play a role in the plot after a year, even if she would obviously have emotional baggage from it. And the pressure she felt to fill her social media by fake dating Taylor after all that time felt odd, given surely people would have forgotten about her by now, if she wasn’t some consistently posting social media star. While I’d have had issues for other reasons if it were the case, a more compressed timeline for the breakup-to-fake-dating may have been more believable to incorporate the social media aspect. I feel like if it had chosen to either run with the viral breakup or the concerned family and friends a year post-breakup, and not tried to find a way to do both, it would have been much more believable. 

I enjoyed this book for what it is, even if this isn’t Jackie Lau’s strongest work. If you’re looking for a fun, short contemporary romance to read for Valentine’s Day, I recommend picking this one up!

Author Bio

Jackie Lau decided she wanted to be a writer when she was in grade two, sometime between penning “The Heart That Got Lost” and “The Land of Shapes.” She later studied engineering and worked as a geophysicist before turning to writing romance novels. She is now the author of over twenty books.

Jackie lives in Toronto with her husband, and despite living in Canada her whole life, she hates winter. When she’s not writing, she enjoys gelato, gourmet donuts, cooking, hiking, and reading on the balcony when it’s raining.

Represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan at Handspun Literary.

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“Luck Be a Lady Pirate” (Sass and Steam #5) by Catherine Stein (ARC Review)

Stein, Catherine. Luck Be a Lady Pirate. [Michigan]: Steam Cat Press, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-1949862423 | $3.99 USD | 225 pages | Historical/Steampunk Romance

Blurb

The most dangerous pirate in the skies might be the one who steals your heart.

Yvette Séverin has piracy in her blood. The only child of the vile Captain Redbeard, she has commandeered his name, his best smuggling routes, and a perfect airship. Now she’s determined to shove all her past failures aside and make herself the best possible captain. The new Captain Redbeard leaves no woman behind. If protecting her crew leads to kidnapping a prim and proper—and irresistible—psychologist… C’est la vie.

The last thing Catalina Navarro needs is an alluring and chaotic pirate upending her orderly life. The offer to join Redbeard’s crew of unconventional women is tempting, but Lina will only accept under her own terms: It’s a job, and it’s only for a few months. When her attraction to the pirate captain swells into something undeniable, Lina lays down the rules again: The affair will be casual, private, and temporary.

But when mechanical monsters attack the pirates and threaten civilians, Yvette and Lina will be flung headlong into an ocean-spanning whirlwind of danger and intrigue. With enemies on their heels, they must rely on old friends, new crewmates, and on one another. Teamwork means time together, and soon Yvette and Lina will question both their intimate arrangement and their long-held beliefs. Saving the world won’t be easy. But it might be possible if the captain and her mate can open their hearts and fight side-by-side.

In the series

#0.5 Love is in the Airship

#1 Eden’s Voice

#1.5 What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

#1.75 A Shot to the Heart

#2 Priceless

#3 Dead Dukes Tell No Tales

#4 Beyond Repair

Review

5 stars

I received an ARC from the author and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

I admit I was ecstatic when I saw the cover and premise of Luck Be a Lady Pirate. While Catherine Stein’s steampunk world has taken a while to grow on me, now that it has, I love the idea of pirates also running airships…and one of them happens to be a crew of badass women. It should be noted that this book does stand alone, and all connections to the previous books are tangential at best, so absolutely feel free to start here if it strikes your fancy the most. But I have more or less liked what the series has to offer so far, and would recommend them. 

I love how Stein plays with recognizable character archetypes and tropes here, especially as she’s paying homage to classic pirate historicals. The spin on the abduction/kidnapping trope is particularly fun, turning a somewhat problematic trope on its head, with an explicit statement of the “abductee’s” agency. 

Yvette and Lina are both engaging characters, opposites who play well off each other. Yvette is a pirate, born and bred, taking on her father’s mantle and legacy and Captain Redbeard, determined to prove herself in spite of past failures. Meanwhile, Lina is much more staid by comparison, pursuing a career as a psychologist, when she finds her life upended. Their initial spark was  believable, despite their surface-level differences, and while they did initially agree to a temporary affair, I love how easily things translated into something deeper without a lot of waffling on either of their parts. There’s some deep, tender moments between them that really touched my heart. 

This is one of my favorite Catherine Stein books to date, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a sapphic steampunk pirate romance. 

Author Bio 

Catherine Stein started reading at age two, when her mother noticed that she could tell the difference between words that started with the same letter. Ever since, she has wandered around with a book in her hand, her backpack, her purse, or even tucked down the back of her pants. A few years after she began to read, she also began to write. She spent the majority of her school career writing non-school-related stories in her notebooks.

In college she took the daring step of majoring in art history, the ultimate “do you want fries with that” degree. Thankfully, however, her degree did allow her to study abroad. In a small town in Tuscany, she participated in an archaeological dig and found copious amounts of Etruscan roof tiles. She had the distinction of being the only student to enjoy cataloging the artifacts.

As an adult, Catherine continues to read and write during whatever spare time she can scare up. She takes frequent long walks, no matter what the weather, and does a lot of her best thinking during these times. She plays the trumpet in multiple groups and loves art of every genre. She is a sports fanatic who will literally watch any sport, though she does prefer football and hockey. She plays beer league hockey on Friday nights with a team that has a sheep for a mascot. She may not play well, but she plays fiercely.

Catherine can often be found dressed in clothing that was purchased at a Renaissance Festival, drinking copious amounts of tea.

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“Adaptation” by Malinda Lo (Review)

Lo, Malinda. Adaptation. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012.

ISBN-13: 978-0316197984 | $19.99 USD | 416 pages | YA Science Fiction 

Blurb 

Reese can’t remember anything from the time between the accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: She’s different now.

Across North America, flocks of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. Fearing terrorism, the United States government grounds all flights, and millions of travelers are stranded.

Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens. Everyone knows the world will never be the same. On their drive home to San Francisco, along a stretch of empty highway at night in the middle of Nevada, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won’t tell them what happened, where they are—or how they’ve been miraculously healed.

Things become even stranger when Reese returns home. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction—and threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.

Adaptation is a bold contemporary science-fiction thriller from the acclaimed author of Ash.

Review 

4 stars 

Malinda Lo became one of those authors I wanted to read more from after really liking her most recent works, and I’ve finally set aside time to do that. And I love that she’s experimented with so many different genres, such as sci-fi and thriller, which is the case with Adaptation. 

I will admit, the somewhat dystopian vibe, especially with the government involvement is wild to read about today, having gone through both the Trump administration and especially  the COVID-19 pandemic, events which created a similar atmosphere of panic that’s depicted in the book. However, I can still respect Lo’s creativity, as it was from the early 2010s, in imagining what such an extreme event would cause for the country, or the world. 

Even with the mass panic and confusion, I like that it’s also balanced with character development. Reese is obviously disconcerted as she navigated the strange turn her environment has taken, but I also appreciate the time taken to explore her personal life in the midst of that, especially her growing awareness of her sexuality. She has a crush on her friend and classmate David, but also meets the mysterious Amber and begins to explore the possibility of being “not straight.” I appreciate how this was explored without demonizing her. She also has two equally valid love interests, who are equally fleshed out, so I rooted for each of them. 

While it is partially billed as a thriller, I found that aspect to be the weakest. There is some suspense,  but it gets a bit lost in the shuffle of everything else going on. However, this is just book one of a duology, and I am cognizant of the possibility that that aspect may be much stronger in the sequel. 

This is a solid backlist book from Malinda Lo, and a great earlier example of her talent. If you enjoy sci-fi with a strong queer romantic arc and some thriller elements, I recommend giving this a try! 

Author Bio 

Malinda Lo is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including most recently A Scatter of Light.

Her novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club won the National Book Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, a Michael L. Printz Honor, and was an LA Times Book Prize finalist.

Her books have received 15 starred reviews and have been finalists for multiple awards, including the Andre Norton Award and the Lambda Literary Award. She has been honored by the Carnegie Corporation as a Great Immigrant. Malinda’s short fiction and nonfiction has been published by The New York Times, NPR, Autostraddle, The Horn Book, and multiple anthologies. She lives in Massachusetts with her wife and their dog.

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“Miss Newbury’s List” by Megan Walker (ARC Review)

Walker, Megan. Miss Newbury’s List. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-1639930524 | $15.99 USD | 320 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

England, 1820

Rosalind Newbury is counting down the days until her wedding to the Duke of Marlow, a man she has only met twice. The marriage is more an agreement between two families and less a romantic connection between two hearts, but Rosalind becoming a duchess will elevate her family’s status to dizzying heights. And the duke is a kind man who will care for Rosalind, even if he doesn’t love her.

She only has three weeks before her life changes forever, and she knows exactly how she wants to spend her days. As a child, Ros was inspired by her adventurous Aunt Alice and created a list of ten things to do before her wedding day. So far, Ros has done none of them.

She is determined to tackle each item, though she’ll have to accomplish them all in secret. After all, a soon-to-be-duchess is not usually allowed to bury treasure in the pasture, eat sweets all day, or learn how to swim. She enlists the help of her best friend, Liza, who brings along her cousin, Charlie, a prodigal son-turned-boxer who has come to the countryside to mend his reputation and learn how to be his father’s heir.

Together, the three of them work to complete the list, and as each item is crossed off, an unlikely friendship blossoms between Ros and Charlie. The more time they spend together, the more Ros falls in love with this imperfect man and his good heart.

With the wedding looming, Ros must decide to either admit her romantic feelings for Charlie and risk her family’s future, or keep her promise to marry the duke and start a new life as a noblewoman.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Miss Newbury’s List is another sweet Regency romance from Megan Walker. It utilizes some familiar tropes, and does them in a way that I really enjoyed. For one, after a couple recent/upcoming releases I felt misused the list concept as a framing device or character builder, I liked how the titular list Miss Newbury creates was applied here. It helps create the blueprint for Ros and Charlie’s boundary-pushing romance in a cool way. 

I’m also just happy for a duke as the villain, instead of the hero (although that archetype is much less archetype in chaste romance circles). I did foreshadow the rather nefarious turn he took, but I like that it created complex, high stakes for Liza to work through. 

As for Ros, I admire her dedication to trying to do the honorable thing and fulfill what her family wants, even if her own desires don’t entirely align. I also admire  her desire to do something a bit daring and live life for once before being resigned to her new life as a proper duchess. 

I also love that, while her family are generally proper society people who are interested in social and financial betterment, they do genuinely love their kids and are willing to take a hit to their social standing  for the sake of their happiness. Given how awful the Duke turned out to be, I’m glad Ros didn’t also have tyrannical parents. 

Charlie is a wonderful hero, and I love how organically his and Ros’ relationship developed from their initial meeting and through their various adventures as he helped her fulfill different tasks on her list. I like how well they complement each other in their respective desires: her wanting to experience life, and him wanting to reform and change, as well as  prove his own worth of his familial legacy. 

This is an enjoyable read that provides a delightful spin on familiar tropes. I would recommend it to fans of chaste/no-sex historical romance.

Author Bio 

Megan Walker was raised on a berry farm in Poplar Bluff, MO, where her imagination took her to times past and worlds away. While earning her degree in Early Childhood Education from Brigham Young University, she married her one true love and started a family. But her imaginings wouldn’t leave her alone, so she picked up a pen. And the rest is history. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and three children.

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“The Vermilion Emporium” by Jamie Pacton (Review)

Paxton, Jamie. The Vermilion Emporium. Atlanta: Peachtree Teen, 2022. 

ISBN-13: 978-1682634882 | $18.99 USD | 409 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

The heart-wrenching story of The Radium Girls meets the enchanting world of Howl’s Moving Castle in a story of timeless love and deadly consequences.

It was a day for finding things…

On the morning Twain, a lonely boy with a knack for danger, discovers a strand of starlight on the cliffs outside of Severon, a mysterious curiosity shop appears in town. Meanwhile, Quinta, the ordinary daughter of an extraordinary circus performer, chases rumors of the shop, the Vermilion Emporium, desperate for a way to live up to her mother’s magical legacy.

When Quinta meets Twain outside of the Emporium, two things happen: One, Quinta is sure she’s infatuated with this starlight boy, who uses his charm to hide his scars. Two, they enter the store and discover a book that teaches them how to weave starlight into lace.

Soon, their lace catches the eye of the Casorina, the ruler of Severon. She commissions Quinta and Twain to make her a starlight dress and will reward them handsomely enough to make their dreams come true. However, they can’t sew a dress without more material, and the secret to starlight’s origins has been lost for decades. As Quinta and Twain search the Emporium for answers, though, they discover the secret might not have actually been lost—but destroyed. And likely, for good reason.

A powerful and romantic adventure set in a whimsically magical world. The Vermilion Emporium shines a light into the darkest spaces. It’s about healing in a world shrouded with despair and discovering a spark of magic when you need it most.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. Review based on the final copy. All opinions are my own. 

I went into The Vermilion Emporium with very few expectations, other than recognizing Jamie Pacton’s name as an author I wanted to try, but never had before. While more whimsical fantasy is very hit-or-miss (Pacton openly cites The Night Circus as one of her inspirations, and I’ve long put off picking that up due to the mixed things I’ve heard), but I enjoyed this overall, especially once I learned more about some of Pacton’s other inspirations and saw how those also were reflected in the text. 

Quinta and Twain are very much central to the narrative, in terms of both their respective journeys and their romance. I love that there’s a great balance between giving them gritty backstories and hardships to deal with, without making this a bleak book. They come together and come to rely on each other for support and love in such a beautiful and affirming way. 

And while it does lean cozy, it’s also not afraid to amp up the action, adventure, and grit when necessary. And the pacing reflects this, with the early part of the book setting up the magical world, while the later part amps up the stakes and the mystery. 

This is a solid fantasy read, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, lighthearted YA fantasy. 

Author Bio 

Jamie Pacton is a Young Adult and Middle Grade author who grew up minutes away from the National Storytelling Center in the mountains of East Tennessee. She has a BA and MA in English Literature, and currently teaches English at the college level. While pursuing her dream of being an author, she worked as a waitress, pen salesperson, lab assistant, art museum guard, bookseller, pool attendant, nanny, and lots of other weird jobs in between. Her writing has appeared in national and local magazines, and she spent many years blogging for Parents.com. Currently, Jamie lives in Wisconsin with her family. Her YA contemporary books include Lucky Girl and The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly, and, her YA fantasy debut,The Vermilion Emporium, is forthcoming from Peachtree Teen in November 2022. Find Jamie online at www.jamiepacton.com and on Instagram and Twitter @JamiePacton.

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“Wildblood” by Lauren Blackwood (ARC Review)

Blackwood, Lauren. Wildblood. New York: Wednesday Books, 2023.

ISBN-13: 978-1250787132 | $18.99 USD | 336 pages | YA Historical Fantasy 

Blurb 

A thrilling new fantasy from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Blackwood!

Eighteen-year-old Victoria is a Wildblood. Since she was kidnapped at the age of six and manipulated by the Exotic Lands Touring Company, she’s worked as a tour guide ever since with a team of fellow Wildbloods who take turns using their magic to protect travelers in a Jamaican jungle teeming with ghostly monsters.

When the boss denies Victoria an earned promotion to team leader in favor of Dean, her backstabbing ex, she’s determined to prove herself. Her magic may be the most powerful on the team, but she’s not the image the boss wants to send their new client, Thorn, a renowned goldminer determined to reach an untouched gold supply deep in the jungle.

Thorn is everything Victoria isn’t – confident, impossibly kind, and so handsome he leaves her speechless. And when he entrusts the mission to her, kindness turns to mutual respect, turns to affection, turns to love. But the jungle is treacherous, and between hypnotic river spirits, soul-devouring women that shed their skin like snakes, and her ex out for revenge, Victoria has to decide – is promotion at a corrupt company really what she wants?

A fierce, lush fantasy by New York Times bestselling author Lauren Blackwood, Wildblood tells the story of a girl who must find the strength to defeat the demons of the jungle as well as her own to find where she truly belongs.

“A lyrically told story of healing after trauma and finding home, Wildblood is as fierce as it is beautiful, and as hopeful as it is heartbreaking.” – Hannah Whitten, New York Times bestselling author of For the Wolf

Wildblood is a poignant, thrilling, emotionally complex story of love and sacrifice. Victoria’s tense journey through the haunted jungle is filled with terror and beauty, both supernatural and human, and will grip you until the very last page.” – L. Penelope, award-winning author of the Earthsinger Chronicles

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.

As she did with her debut, Lauren Blackwood once again delivers another immersive historical fantasy with Wildblood. This one is centered around the Jamaican jungle, with very obvious mystical parallels to the real impact of colonialism and eco-tourism. I appreciate how Blackwood captures the lushness of the jungle setting, juxtaposed against the depravity of the touring company’s actions. 

Victoria is a great lead to follow for this story. I love exploring her complex relationship with the jungle landscape: on the one hand, it’s being used and abused by the Exotic Land Touring Company, who also kidnapped her as a child and abused her. But I also love her own personal relationship of comfort with it, in spite of it all. And I love that she still had spunk and determination in spite of all she’d been through, and didn’t allow those things to keep her down or complacent. 

I had mixed feelings about her romance with Thorn. He presents himself well, and I do believe Victoria does deserve happiness after all she’s been through. However, it took a while for me to truly trust him, because of what she had been through. 

This is a solid second novel, and I am eager for whatever Lauren Blackwood writes next! If you’re looking for a fun historical fantasy with similar aesthetic vibes to Beasts of Prey, that also touches on the impacts of colonialism and abuse, I recommend picking this up! 

CWs: depictions of blood, gore, physical/sexual assault, sexual trauma, and death. 

Author Bio

LAUREN BLACKWOOD is a Jamaican American living in Virginia who writes Romance-heavy Fantasy for most ages. When not writing, she’s a musician and a tiramisu connoisseur. Her debut YA Fantasy Within These Wicked Walls is a New York Times Bestseller and the Reese’s Book club Fall 2021 YA Pick.

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“Stardust in Their Veins” (Castles in Their Bones #2) by Laura Sebastian (ARC)

Sebastian, Laura. Stardust in Their Veins. New York: Delacorte Press, 2023.

ISBN-13: 978-0593118207 | $19.99 USD | 576 pages | YA Fantasy 

Blurb 

Immerse yourself in the second book in a fantasy trilogy from the New York Times bestselling author of the Ash Pricess series. The sequel to Castles in Their Bones is the story of three princesses and the destiny they were born for: seduction, conquest, and the crown.

Princesses Daphne, Beatriz, and Sophronia have trained their entire lives for one purpose: to bring down nations. Their mother, Empress Margaraux of Bessemia, is determined to rule the continent of Vesteria, and her daughters are her weapons. Promised for marriage since birth, they are her ticket across enemy lines. And also her decoys.

Still, not even Empress Margaraux can control the stars. Sent to their new kingdoms, orders in hand, the princesses have found their own paths, changing the course of their mother’s plans entirely—and tragically. Sophronia chose love, and for that, she lost her life. 

Daphne and Beatriz can hardly believe their sister is dead, but both are determined to avenge her. And now, separated by a continent—and their mother’s lies—they see more clearly with every passing day that they might not be working toward the same end.

The stars whisper of death, but Daphne and Beatriz are just beginning to understand the true power coursing through their veins. And their mother will do anything to keep them under her thumb—even if it means killing them all.

In the series 

#1 Castles in Their Bones

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Stardust in Their Veins is a solid sequel, and really shows how Laura Sebastian has stretched her wings and grown as an author. I was already on board with the concept from book one, but she built on it and made some really solid developments here. 

For one, I appreciate that she was willing to let Sophromia, a major character. die at the end of book one and not feel pressured to resurrect her…at least that’s how it’s looking at the moment (there’s still another book to go). It radically changes the dynamic for the narrative and the surviving characters, especially as a new player comes onto the scene. Instead her maid, Violie, becomes a POV character, and she’s very intriguing, especially as she’s interacting a lot with Daphne. 

I also liked seeing how Daphne and Beatriz continue to develop. Daphne is perhaps the most interesting, especially given all she’s been through, and her issues with not being sure of who to trust. Beatriz’s side presented more exploration of the magic and the stars, which helped flesh out that aspect of the narrative. 

The Empress remains as evil as ever in her climactic appearance, and I do wonder if there will ever be anything for consequence done with her, but I did like the developments and bombshells that came out where she was concerned. 

Pacing/plot wise, it was fairly even, especially as there’s intrigue woven throughout that impacts all the characters. It does lag a tad in the middle, but it picks up in the second half. 

This is a solid middle book, and I am eager for the next one! If you enjoy YA fantasy, I recommend checking this series out! 

Author Bio

Laura Sebastian grew up in South Florida and attended Savannah College of Art and Design. She now lives and writes in London, England, with her two dogs, Neville and Circe. Laura is the author of the New York Times bestselling Ash Princess series, comprising Ash PrincessLady Smoke, and Ember Queen, as well as Castles in Their Bones and its sequel, Stardust in Their Veins; Half Sick of Shadows, her first novel for adults; and Into the Glades, for middle-grade readers.

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“Out on the Ice” by Kelly Farmer (Review)

Farmer, Kelly. Out on the Ice. Toronto, Ontario: Carina Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0369701176 | $4.99 USD | 347 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb 

Don’t miss this tender and funny contemporary romance from debut author Kelly Farmer.

Caro Cassidy used to be a legend.

During her career, Caro was one of the best defense players in women’s hockey. These days, she keeps to herself. Her all-girls hockey camp is her life, and she hopes it’ll be her legacy. Sure, her new summer hire is charming and magnetic, but Caro keeps her work and personal life strictly separate.

Amy Schwarzbach lives life out loud.

Amy’s as bright and cheerful as her lavender hair, and she uses her high-profile position in women’s hockey to advocate for the things she believes in. Ten weeks in Chicago coaching a girls’ training camp is the perfect opportunity to mentor the next generation before she goes back to Boston.

Letting love in means putting yourself out there.

When the reticent head coach offers to help Amy get in shape for next season, her starstruck crush on Caro quickly blossoms into real chemistry. As summer comes to an end, neither of them can quite let go of this fling—but Amy can’t afford a distraction, and Caro can’t risk her relationship becoming public and jeopardizing the one thing that’s really hers.

Review 

4 stars 

Out on the Ice is yet another book I bought a while ago that fell by the wayside, that I’m now picking up thanks to some reading challenges (including a couple sapphic ones) I’m currently doing. While I’m still not a big sports romance reader, Farmer’s style and approach suited me, exploring why the characters love hockey, without the story being too much about hockey in the technical sense. One topic I did appreciate that was tackled was the homophobia that exists in sports (especially those oriented around kids), and how challenging it can be when the community’s judgments invade the private lives of the coaches. 

Caro and Amy are both compelling leads, both to explore these issues through and in their own right. Amy in particular is a delight, a charismatic ball of energy that immediately won me over, just as she did the more tightly wound Caro. And Caro is a bit of a workaholic, incredibly dedicated to her community’s girls’ hockey camp, although this dedication to work is a substitute for her fear of attachments and heartbreak. 

The pacing here was a bit weird, as I found the relationship didn’t have too many bumps in the road, but a lot of the drama came from external factors. The romantic side of things took a while to build in momentum, with me feeling the initial spark, but having moments of lull with it, although it ultimately came to a satisfying conclusion. 

This is a solid first book, and I’m curious to see how Farmer’s writing develops in the subsequent books in the series. I would recommend this if you’re a fan of sapphic and/or sports romance. 

Author Bio

Kelly Farmer (she/her) has been writing romance novels since junior high. In those days, they featured high school quarterbacks named Brad who drove Corvettes and gals with names like Desireé because her own name is rather plain. Her stories since then have ranged from historical and contemporary male/female romances to light women’s fiction to LGBTQ+ romance. One theme remains the same: everyone deserves to have a happy ending.

When not writing, she enjoys being outside in nature, quoting from Eighties movies, listening to all kinds of music, and petting every dog she comes in contact with. All of these show up in her books. She also watches a lot of documentaries to satisfy her hunger for random bits of trivia. Kelly lives in the Chicago area, where she swears every winter is her last one there.

To connect with Kelly, talk about current TV binges, and subscribe to her newsletter for access to FREE bonus stories in the Out on the Ice Series, please head over to:
www.KellyFarmerAuthor.com/
www.Facebook.com/KellyFarmerAuthor
www.Twitter.com/KellyFarmerAuth
www.bookbub.com/authors/kelly-farmer

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“After Hours on Milagro Street” by Angelina M. Lopez (Review)

Lopez, Angelina M. After Hours on Milagro Street. Toronto, Ontario: Carina Press, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1335639929 | $15.99 USD | 393 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

Guapo pobrecito her grandmother calls him. The “poor handsome man.”

Professor Jeremiah Post, the poor handsome man, is in fact standing in the way of Alejandra “Alex” Torres turning Loretta’s, her grandmother’s bar, into a viable business. The hot brainiac who sleeps in one of the upstairs tenant rooms already has all of her Mexican American family’s admiration; she won’t let him have the bar and building she needs to resurrect her career, too.

Alex blowing into town has rocked Jeremiah to his mild-mannered core, but the large, boisterous Torres clan is everything he never had. He doesn’t believe Alex has the best interest of her family, their community or the bar’s legacy in mind. To protect all three, he’ll stand up to the tough and tattooed bartender with whom he now shares a bedroom wall—and resist the insta-lust they both feel.

But when an old enemy threatens Loretta’s and the surrounding neighborhood, Alex and Jeremiah must combine forces. It will take her might and his mind to save the home they both desperately need.

Review 

4 stars 

With Lush Money having been a favorite of mine  when it first came out, I was certain Angelina M. Lopez would be an author I followed from then on. I’ve since bought all her books, but haven’t picked one up again until now (oops!) And while I knew vaguely what to expect from past experience with her, After Hours on Milagro Street was still a pleasant surprise. 

While the small-town romance subgenre has been slowly diversifying, this is the first I’ve come across starring a Latina lead, and I appreciate the way Lopez reckons with that. She openly states in her author’s note how incompatible her identity seems with the genre, even if it reflects her (and many others’) existence. And as a history buff, I love the little nuggets of history embedded in here about the town and the Torres family’s long relationship with it. 

And as such, I love how central the Torres family dynamics were, especially in how they helped inform who Alex was as a person. I did sometimes feel like the large clan overwhelmed the narrative at times, but it didn’t take away from the romance too much. 

Alex is very much a prickly heroine, and while some readers won’t like her, I found her endearing. She’s a mess, and a delightful one at that. There’s one questionable moment of dubious consent  early on in her interaction, but I never got the sense that Jeremiah was ultimately without agency, and their relationship develops beautifully from there. 

As for Jeremiah himself, he’s what I wish more romance heroes were: cute and nerdy. He’s a professor, and while I did sometimes feel like that was his only main character trait, he’s ultimately super sweet and a great partner for Alex in all things she needs. 

This is a delightfully original story, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for multicultural contemporary romance. 

Author Bio 

Angelina M. Lopez has been writing professionally her whole life: first as a journalist for an acclaimed city newspaper, then as a freelance magazine writer, and now as a romance author. She writes sexy stories about strong women and the worthy men lucky to love them. Her first book in a new high-heat, small town, Latinx series, After Hours on Milagro Street, was named a Top 10 romance of 2022 by The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and the Fated Mates podcast. Her debut book, Lush Money, was named a Top 10 Romance Debut of 2020 by ALA’s Booklist. Angelina lives with her family in Houston, Texas. You can find more about her at her website, http://www.angelinamlopez.com/ and at @AngelinaMLo on Instagram and Twitter.

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“The Bone Spindle” by Leslie Vedder (Review)

Vedder, Leslie. The Bone Spindle. New York: Razorbill, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0593325827 | $18.99 USD | 404 pages | YA Fantasy 

Blurb 

Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones in this thrilling fairytale retelling for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and All the Stars and Teeth.

Fi is a bookish treasure hunter with a knack for ruins and riddles, who definitely doesn’t believe in true love.

Shane is a tough-as-dirt girl warrior from the north who likes cracking skulls, pretty girls, and doing things her own way.

Briar Rose is a prince under a sleeping curse, who’s been waiting a hundred years for the kiss that will wake him.

Cursed princes are nothing but ancient history to Fi–until she pricks her finger on a bone spindle while exploring a long-lost ruin. Now she’s stuck with the spirit of Briar Rose until she and Shane can break the century-old curse on his kingdom.

Dark magic, Witch Hunters, and bad exes all stand in her way–not to mention a mysterious witch who might wind up stealing Shane’s heart, along with whatever else she’s after. But nothing scares Fi more than the possibility of falling in love with Briar Rose.

Set in a lush world inspired by beloved fairytales, The Bone Spindle is a fast-paced young adult fantasy full of adventure, romance, found family, and snark.

Review 

4 stars 

I want to start this review with a belated thanks to Leslie Vedder, Razorbill, and Longhand Pencils for the free copy I won in a giveaway a while back, along with some themed items. I was very much hyped for The Bone Spindle when I first received it, and regret it took so long to get to it. 

But anyway, this book delivered on what I expected and more. I was promised a genderbent Sleeping Beauty retelling, and I love how the story built on that initial concept. The world gives me classic fairytale vibes with a twist, and I got some light nostalgia for Once Upon a Time while reading this, what with all the myriad references and archetypes. 

I like that one of the bonds that the story follows is the reluctant allyship-to-friendship between Fi and Shane, especially as I feel like you don’t often see female leads in YA fantasy together in this kind of relationship. I loved seeing them work together and come to trust each other, even if they don’t always agree with each other’s decisions. 

And each of them has interesting romantic lives  too. Fi’s romance with Briar was one I expected, and while it is a bit on the instalove side, it works for their dynamic, and they are cute together. Fi also has a traumatic past relationship which is hinted to possibly play a future role in stirring up drama. 

As for Shane, I liked exploring her past romantic life as a noblewoman. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that she was once set for an arranged marriage with a woman, which struck me as a very unique approach to queerness. Far too often, even fantasies will have the approach of tolerance, but acknowledging the societal bigotry, so I loved seeing one where same-sex arranged marriages were considered as a possibility with the same stakes as the heterosexual counterparts.

The pacing was pretty good, although I did find that the flashbacks did slow things down somewhat. However, there was usually something going on, so I was pretty consistently engaged. 

This is a fun start to a series, and I can’t wait to read more. If you enjoy fairy tale inspired books, I recommend picking this one up! 

Author Bio 

Leslie Vedder (she/her) is a queer ace author who loves fairytale retellings with girl adventurers and heroes! She grew up on fantasy books, anime, fanfiction and the Lord of the Rings movies, and met her true love in high school choir. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in creative writing and currently lives in Colorado with her wife and two spoiled house cats.

When she’s not reading or writing, you can find her watching anime and sci-fi shows, walking in the woods and pretending they’re enchanted forests, or playing old video games. She always collects all the Skulltulas in Zelda and all the Dalmation puppies in Kingdom Hearts.

Her debut YA novel THE BONE SPINDLE (Penguin/Razorbill) was an indie bestseller. The sequel THE SEVERED THREAD comes out Feb 7, 2023. Find her online at leslievedder.com.

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“Curled Up with an Earl” (The Byronic Book Club #2) by Amy Rose Bennett (ARC Review)

Bennett, Amy Rose. Curled Up with an Earl. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2023.

ISBN-13: 978-1728248325 | $8.99 USD | 360 pages | Victorian Romance 

Blurb 

“Ever since we first met, I’ve imagined what it would be like to be in your arms, to feel your lips upon mine. I’m twenty-eight years old. A shy and oft-times awkward spinster with singular scientific interests, and I’ve…I’ve never been kissed. Not once. In fact, I never thought I would ever want to be kissed. But then I met you and…and I do want this. Very much.”

Miss Lucy Bertram is content to spend her days writing scientific articles or curling up with a Gothic romance novel. Indeed, she’d rather stick a hatpin in her eye than attend a ball. But when her father, the eccentric botanist Sir Oswald, insists she accept the suit of a wealthy but stiffer-than-a-poker industrialist to save the family from penury, Lucy decides to act. She’s certain her disowned brother, Monty, will take her side. But first she must find him in St. Giles’s cutthroat rookeries. 

A covert agent for the Crown, William Lockhart, the Earl of Kyle, is on the hunt for a ruthless killer determined to destroy the Linnean Society. Sir Oswald, a botanical poisons expert, is the prime suspect. Posing as a groom in the baronet’s household, it shouldn’t take Will long to unearth the evidence Scotland Yard needs. If only the beguiling Miss Bertram wasn’t so damn distracting…

As an unexpected but undeniable passion flares between Lucy and Will, confidences are exchanged and dark secrets come to light. But will a murderer, determined to stay hidden, destroy their chances of finding a happy-ever-after?

In the series 

#1 Up All Night with a Good Duke 

Review 

3 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Curled Up with the Earl is the second book in Amy Rose Bennett’s Byronic Book Club series. It can be read as a stand-alone, although I do recommend book one. And sadly, I found myself very underwhelmed by this installment, especially after the first did so many things so well. It’s not offensive or bad in any way, but it just didn’t deliver, which is often par for the course for much of the white, cishet historical  romance market for me these days. 

I continue to like the concept of the series, especially on the heroine’s end. I love how nuanced Lucy is in her interests. She’s another member of the Byronic Book Club, so she, like Artemis, loves a good novel, but she’s also into science and actively engages in scholarly works in that field. While  I’m not scientifically inclined myself, I like heroines who break stereotypes, as women in STEM are still rare, much less women in STEM who also love to read novels. 

I also liked how her pursuits were interwoven with the mystery, leading to lots of cool references to the landscape of scientific thought at the time. It was especially cool to read about Darwin’s theory of evolution as a new discovery, and how it shook the world. And the thread of suspense, from the missing brother to the goings-on with the Linnean Society, was enough to keep me turning pages. 

But the romance left me feeling a bit cold. Lucy and William lacked the spark and connection that won me over in the first book. And William himself lacked the personality of the previous book’s hero. There’s some references to his sad backstory, but other than that, he felt very vanilla to me. 

While I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, as I said, a lot of historicals aren’t really doing it for me anymore. But if you still enjoy the genre, I recommend picking this up, in hopes you’ll enjoy it more than I did. 

Author Bio 

Amy Rose Bennett is an Australian author who has a passion for penning emotion-packed historical romances. Of course, her strong-willed heroines and rakish heroes always find their happily ever after. A former speech pathologist, Amy is happily married to her very own romantic hero and has two lovely, very accomplished adult daughters. When she’s not creating stories, Amy loves to cook up a storm in the kitchen, lose herself in a good book or a witty rom-com, and, when she can afford it, travel to all the places she writes about.

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“The Romance Recipe” by Ruby Barrett (Review)

Barrett, Ruby. The Romance Recipe. Toronto, Ontario: Carina Press, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1335506917 | $15.99 USD | 299 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

A fiery restaurant owner falls for her enigmatic head chef in this charming, emotional romance 

Amy Chambers: restaurant owner, micromanager, control freak. 

Amy will do anything to revive her ailing restaurant, including hiring a former reality-show finalist with good connections and a lot to prove. But her hopes that Sophie’s skills and celebrity status would bring her restaurant back from the brink of failure are beginning to wane…

Sophie Brunet: grump in the kitchen/sunshine in the streets, took thirty years to figure out she was queer. 

Sophie just wants to cook. She doesn’t want to constantly post on social media for her dead-in-the-water reality TV career, she doesn’t want to deal with Amy’s take-charge personality and she doesn’t want to think about what her attraction to her boss might mean…

Then, an opportunity: a new foodie TV show might provide the exposure they need. An uneasy truce is fine for starters, but making their dreams come true means making some personal and painful sacrifices and soon, there’s more than just the restaurant at stake.

Review 

4 stars 

The Romance Recipe looked like a fun sapphic foodie/chef  romance, and for the most part it is. I had some issues with the execution of the story, especially as far as the characters are concerned, but I liked it overall. 

I love that Ruby Barrett dedicated this book in part to the “Later in Life Queers,” which I definitely identify as. It’s great to see a book with two people who are in different places in their journey with their queer identities. Sophie in particular has only recently come to some catharsis about queerness, and I love the conversation she and Amy have about how each “knew” they were queer…how it doesn’t always manifest in the same way for everyone. 

I was further intrigued by the dynamic between Amy and Sophie, because while there is some shade of boss/employee there, it is much deeper than that. Amy is compelled by Sophie’s celebrity status to bring her on as chef at her restaurant, while Sophie is somewhat wary of continuing to kick a dead horse where her dwindling reality-star career is concerned. That created a great working dynamic to start the book with. 

I love difficult women, and while Amy was a lot even for me at times, I get where she’s coming from…I love that she’s opened her own restaurant so young and wants it to succeed. However, she does take it to extreme lengths, and I appreciate that she is brought back down to earth over the course of the book and her romance with Sophie. 

And Sophie is just the sweetest. In addition to her arc with her bisexuality, she has a lot of baggage she’s reckoning with from her past, and even as Amy was being stubborn, I loved that Sophie was willing to open up to her. 

This is a sweet read, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for sapphic chef/food oriented romances! 

CWs: homophobia (off-page, no slurs), parental emotional abuse, reference to death of a parent (cancer)

Author Bio

Ruby Barrett writes steamy romances about big feelings, featuring but not limited to: soft boys, angry girls who are secretly soft, and hot sex. Ruby is inspired by the intimate details of everyday life and always being the thirstiest friend in the group chat. Mutual pleasure, pining, and healing are common themes in her romances.

Before she was a romance author, Ruby worked as a groom on a horse farm, a cigarette package warning label researcher for the Canadian Cancer Society, an essayist for a millennial parenting website, and a matchmaker where she was really good at meeting new clients but terrible at creating matches. 

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“The House of Eve” by Sadeqa Johnson (ARC Review)

Johnson, Sadeqa. The House of Eve. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2023.

ISBN-13: 978-1982197360 | $27.99 USD | 352 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb 

From the award-winning author of Yellow Wife, a daring and redemptive novel set in 1950s Philadelphia and Washington, DC, that explores what it means to be a woman and a mother, and how much one is willing to sacrifice to achieve her greatest goal.

1950s Philadelphia: fifteen-year-old Ruby Pearsall is on track to becoming the first in her family to attend college, in spite of having a mother more interested in keeping a man than raising a daughter. But a taboo love affair threatens to pull her back down into the poverty and desperation that has been passed on to her like a birthright.

Eleanor Quarles arrives in Washington, DC, with ambition and secrets. When she meets the handsome William Pride at Howard University, they fall madly in love. But William hails from one of DC’s elite wealthy Black families, and his par­ents don’t let just anyone into their fold. Eleanor hopes that a baby will make her finally feel at home in William’s family and grant her the life she’s been searching for. But having a baby—and fitting in—is easier said than done.

With their stories colliding in the most unexpected of ways, Ruby and Eleanor will both make decisions that shape the trajectory of their lives.

Review 

4.5 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

The House of Eve is another beautiful book about Black women’s history, this one set in the 1950s. However, with it set in the not-so-distant past, it also focuses on an issue that has once again become relevant in political conversation today: women’s reproductive choices. The narrative follows two Black women: one of whom ends up pregnant out of wedlock, potentially jeopardizing her promising future: the other, who wants a child with her husband, but is unable to carry one to term. 

It can be hard to make a story with two separate narratives that don’t intersect for most of the book work, but Sadeqa Johnson makes it work by remembering to set up the thematic elements, and to establish what each respective woman needs that the other has. I expected more intersection between them than just a bit at the end,  but ultimately respected the choice to keep things ambiguous, simply highlighting the nature of how most traditional closed adoption processes work. 

And it also helps that both Ruby and Eleanor are compelling and easy to root for. I wanted Ruby to succeed academically and get the career she wanted, even if it meant making the ultimate sacrifice. And I truly felt for Eleanor, marrying into an upper crust world and struggling to belong, feeling a child would provide that, and then not being able to have a child. 

This is a beautiful book highlighting elements of history that remain relevant today. If you’re interested in Black or women’s history, I recommend picking this one up!

Author Bio 

adeqa Johnson is the internationally best-selling author of four novels. Her accolades include being the recipient of the National Book Club Award, the Phillis Wheatley Award and the USA Best Book Award for best fiction. She is a Kimbilo Fellow, former board member of the James River Writers, and a Tall Poppy Writer. Originally from Philadelphia, she currently lives near Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and three children.

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“Chef’s Kiss” by TJ Alexander (Review)

Alexander, TJ. Chef’s Kiss. New York: Emily Bestler Books/Atria, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1982189082 | $17.00 USD | 308 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

A high-strung pastry chef’s professional goals are interrupted by an unexpected career transition and the introduction of her wildly attractive nonbinary kitchen manager in this deliciously fresh and witty queer rom-com.

Simone Larkspur is a perfectionist pastry expert with a dream job at The Discerning Chef, a venerable cookbook publisher in New York City. All she wants to do is create the perfect loaf of sourdough and develop recipes, but when The Discerning Chef decides to bring their brand into the 21st century by pivoting to video, Simone is thrust into the spotlight and finds herself failing at something for the first time in her life.

To make matters worse, Simone has to deal with Ray Lyton, the new test kitchen manager, whose obnoxious cheer and outgoing personality are like oil to Simone’s water. When Ray accidentally becomes a viral YouTube sensation with a series of homebrewing videos, their eccentric editor in chief forces Simone to work alongside the chipper upstart or else risk her beloved job. But the more they work together, the more Simone realizes her heart may be softening like butter for Ray.

Things get even more complicated when Ray comes out at work as nonbinary to mixed reactions—and Simone must choose between the career she fought so hard for and the person who just might take the cake (and her heart).

Review 

4 stars 

 I’m loving that publishers are starting to give trans and non-binary rep (especially from actual trans and non-binary authors) the attention it deserves, and while I did have issues with how Chef’s Kiss was executed, I feel the Big Publisher Treatment is likely why this book ended up going the way it did, if other stories about publishing and “representation” are anything to go by. Marginalized authors are often told to make their stories more palatable to mainstream white/cishet/Christian/able-bodied/some mix of the above audiences, and I wouldn’t be surprised if TJ Alexander was advised to do this to be published. 

I personally can’t speak for the choice to focus the narrative from the cis bi ally lead, as opposed to the non-binary love interest (or having their perspectives share page time), as I’m a cis queer myself, and I’m also still learning when it comes to how to support  my non-binary peers. But I do trust that TJ Alexander thought it through, as non-binary person themself, so even though some of Simone’s accidental misgendering of Ray and other behavior early on came off as cringey, there was a self-awareness to the writing. I do understand if this book’s treatment of the issue doesn’t work for people, however, even in the hands of a compassionate author. 

And while Simone is a lot to take in, I could somewhat understand where she was coming from for the most part, and appreciated her growth over the course of the book. And Ray is the sweetest ball of sunshine and creativity  throughout most of the book, although I appreciated the deeper side of them as well as they confided their experiences coming out as non-binary. While their relationship has its rough moments, they ended up being super cute together, and I couldn’t help but root for them. 

This is a super cute read, and I’m excited to read more from TJ Alexander! If you’re looking for more non-binary rep in romance (with  the caveat that this story isn’t told from their perspective), I recommend giving this story a chance! 

CWs: biphobia, transphobia, misgendering, deadnaming 

Author Bio 

TJ Alexander is an amateur baker and author who writes about queer love. Originally from Florida, they received their MA in writing and publishing from Emerson College in Boston. They live in New York City with their wife and various houseplants.

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“Their Marchioness” (Theirs #1) by Jess Michaels (ARC Review)

Michaels, Jess. Their Marchioness. Dallas: The Passionate Pen, LLC, 2023.

ISBN-13: 978-1947770904 | $$0.99 USD | 138 pages | Regency Romance/Erotic Romance

Blurb 

After nearly a decade of marriage, the Marquess and Marchioness of Egerton are going strong. A power couple with an intense physical connection. Only Elliot knows a secret about his wife. He knows that Merritt was torn away from her first love, Peter Reid when they were very young, hurtling her into their arranged marriage instead. So as her birthday approaches and they head to a secluded retreat for a week of pleasure, he has a very special gift in mind.

Merritt cannot believe it when Peter Reid arrives at the cottage her husband has let. Believes it less when Elliot suggests that for this week she could have every fantasy she ever imagined…with both men. It’s a suggestion impossible to refuse and she surrenders to pleasure more powerful than anything she’s ever experienced.

Peter is not the same man he was when he lost Merritt. Now a celebrated playwright, his patron none other than the Marquess, himself, he has more confidence in himself and what he wants. He wants Merritt. And he wants Elliot.

The question remains if the three can take a week of intense passion and allow it to become a lifetime of love.

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the author/publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Their Marchioness is the first book in a hot new series by Jess Michaels, and while her books of late have always been steamier than average, I’ve heard this one is a bit more akin to her older, much hotter style. It’s lighter on plot, but it’s not lacking in emotional connection between the central characters, which is enough to convince me as a reader. 

I love the setup here. Far too often, historicals have an aristocratic woman who had to leave behind her first love for a boring/stuffy/borderline abusive aristocratic husband. However, that’s not the case here, as Elliot and Merritt are genuinely happy together, even if Merritt does still miss her first love, Peter. 

Peter has become a much more mature and worldly person in the intervening years, bringing that into the new, unconventional arrangement, and Merritt even frames that as a positive outcome of their initial separation. And I love how Elliot was initially willing to do something selfless for his wife, but ended up discovering something about himself and his sexuality too. 

This book is deeply sensual and emotional in equal measure, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for steamy/erotic, character-centric historical romance. 

Author Bio 

USA Today Bestselling author Jess Michaels likes geeky stuff, Vanilla Coke Zero, anything coconut, cheese, fluffy cats, smooth cats, any cats, many dogs and people who care about the welfare of their fellow humans. She is lucky enough to be married to her favorite person in the world and live in the heart of Dallas.

When she’s not obsessively checking her steps on Fitbit or trying out new flavors of Greek yogurt, she writes erotic historical romances with smoking hot heroes and sassy heroines who do anything but wait to get what they want. She has written for numerous publishers and is now fully indie and loving every moment of it (well, almost every moment).

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“The Boleyn Heresy: Part One–The Time Will Comee (The Magdalene Line #4) by Kathleen McGowan (Review)

McGowan, Kathleen. The Boleyn Heresy: Part One—The Time Will Come. [Place of publication not identified]: Asherah Press/Flower of Life Press, 2022.

ISBN-13: 979-8987395462 | $22.00 USD | 359 pages | Historical Fiction/Contemporary/Feminism 

Blurb 

We all know how Anne Boleyn’s story ends. Now learn the secret of how it began…

◆◆◆

Following a successful global tour for her bestselling book about the Lost Gospel of Mary Magdalene and preparing for her own nuptials, author Maureen Paschal isn’t looking for a new project—and certainly not a discovery that will tear apart the world of Tudor history. But when a cache of 16th-century documents is found in the wall of the French Chateau she is renovating with her fiancé, her world is turned upside down by a new, demanding muse: Anne Boleyn.

The second wife of the infamous King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, is best known for her gruesome death by beheading—and the alleged scandalous behavior that led her to the chopping block. But as Maureen is drawn deeper into the secret world that Anne Boleyn inhabited during her youthful years in France, what evolves is the unexpected and sometimes shocking portrait of a complex, courageous and profoundly faithful woman. Anne comes vividly to life as both a heroine of religious reform and as a charitable champion of the common people who call her queen. This Anne Boleyn exists in stark contrast to the scheming, ambitious adulteress depicted in most modern accounts of Tudor history. This is an Anne Boleyn who changed the world indelibly, courageously, and intentionally. She is also a woman who died brutally for her audacity and power.

Maureen’s immersion into Anne’s life in France fuels her determination to defend this much-maligned queen, but not everyone shares her perspective. History pushes back on those who try to change it, and Maureen finds herself in a deadly quest for the truth. As a body count of smart, outspoken women begins to pile up across the UK and Europe, Maureen must face the facts: a serial killer is stalking the women who would change history, and she is next. If she wants the truth of Anne Boleyn’s story to be told, she will first need to find a way to stay alive…

◆◆◆

In Kathleen McGowan’s signature style of moving between the present and the past, The Boleyn Heresy: Part 1—The Time Will Come is brilliantly researched, an uncommon blend of fast-paced fiction, epic love stories, and unparalleled, fresh insights into the history, art and religious turmoil of the 16th century.

Review 

3.5 stars 

One of my old favorite series is Kathleen McGowan’s Magdalene Line series, which whetted my appetite for obscure feminist history. As a Tudor fan, I’ve long awaited her Anne Boleyn project, even as she dealt with myriad personal losses and other setbacks. And while I knew plans had evolved over the course of her writing and now, she had split the project into multiple parts, I still remained optimistic. Even so, I found myself feeling rather mixed about the results with The Boleyn Heresy: Part One-The Time Will Come. 

First, the positives: I love the way she is able to convincingly immerse the reader in any historical time period she tackles. Granted, a lot of that is likely due to her on-the-ground research, but it’s still worth remarking on. And I loved hearing about an aspect of Anne Boleyn’s life that is so frequently glossed over: her time with Margaret of Austria in Mechelen and with Louise of Savoy, her daughter Margeurite, and daughter-in-law the eventual Queen Claude of France. It perfectly sets the stage for her to become a champion of religious reform that would make an impact on history. And given she’s yet another example (like Mary Magdalene and other women who have featured prominently in the series prior) of a woman whose reputation has been blackened or had her contributions diminished due to the patriarchal society in which she lived, the placement she has within the series feels believable. 

I do have some gripes with some of the choices made with the other historical characters, but I think it can be argued it’s simply a matter of perspective in a lot of cases. Mary Boleyn is portrayed as rather dim with loose morals, and briefly as mistress to King Francis, and I find that the strongest offense, given a lot of that was hearsay or exaggerated, and McGowan ironically stated in her author’s note she wanted to avoid discussing Anne’s other romances prior to Henry, as she felt those had been exaggerated by her detractors. Mary Boleyn, even more than Anne, is a blank slate which misogynists have done what they like with, and it sucks that McGowan bought into that.

I find the portrayal of Princess Mary, Queen of France, a bit more forgivable, even though she is one of my favorite Tudor people. Anne and all the people she associated with have believable reasons for disdaining her (although the fact that Louise’s line supposedly “overcame” their connections to Melusine and Princess Mary’s didn’t is laughable), and it makes sense for the vain King Henry’s sister to be equally vain and somewhat self-absorbed. And Louise does praise her in the end for daring to follow her heart and marry as she pleases, even if it means facing her brother’s wrath. 

Unfortunately, with the book being split into multiple parts, the contemporary arc suffers, even if the historical one feels self-contained. On the one hand, I enjoyed getting an update on where everyone was at. Maureen and Berenger finally getting married and Tammy and Roland having had a baby made me super happy. And to see Peter finally moving on to the next phase of his life with his new partner, Petra, was nice. And it was cool to see them all working together again to unravel Anne Boleyn’s place within the Magdalene story. 

However, there’s an attempt to tease a mystery element, with an assassin targeting feminist scholars in on the Boleyn/Magdalene connection. While I didn’t expect a full-on resolution, I expected a bit more than the story delivered. The ending to her arc was so anticlimactic, and while it makes sense, since it wasn’t the end of the book, I just felt this sense of confusion, like “What about Maureen?!” She was robbed of page time and stuff to do, when she had much more in prior installments. 

I also felt that the approach in the modern arc to Anne scholarship felt very dated. Maureen and others’ claims that Anne is still seen as adulterous, incestuous, or a homewrecker, are being actively refuted by some mainstream Tudor scholars (my personal favorite, Claire Ridgway, comes to mind), even if popular media hasn’t quite caught up yet. It is believable that a hack scholar might continue to peddle old myths, but for them to be the popular, accepted belief? I struggled to accept that. 

While it was a more underwhelming return to the series than I expected, I am still eager for the forthcoming next book, upon which I may look back on this one more favorably. I recommend this to anyone who is open to an alternative look at Anne Boleyn and the Tudors, and their connections to European history. 

Author Bio 

Kathleen McGowan’s journey to becoming a foremost expert in the field of women’s histories encompasses decades of research and global travel, as well as her own life’s initiations. She has spent nearly 30 years studying the legends of Mary Magdalene in France, and that of the women who have claimed her as their spiritual godmother for over 2000 years: queens, warriors, scholars, mystics, women who changed the world but have been unsung. As the New York Times and global best-selling author of “The Magdalene Line” trilogy, her books broke foreign language distribution records, appearing in 40+ languages, even while the content was controversial and ahead of its time. 

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“Sorry, Bro” by Taleen Voskuni (ARC Review)

Voskuni, Taleen. Sorry, Bro. New York: Berkley, 2023.

ISBN-13: 978-0593547304 | $17.00 USD | 368 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

An Armenian-American woman rediscovers her roots and embraces who she really is in this vibrant and heartfelt queer rom-com by debut author Taleen Voskuni.
 
When Nareh Bedrossian’s non-Armenian boyfriend gets down on one knee and proposes to her in front of a room full of drunk San Francisco tech boys, she realizes it’s time to find someone who shares her idea of romance.
 
Enter her mother: armed with plenty of mom-guilt and a spreadsheet of Facebook-stalked Armenian men, she convinces Nar to attend Explore Armenia, a month-long series of events in the city. But it’s not the mom-approved playboy doctor or the wealthy engineer who catch Nar’s eye—it’s Erebuni, a woman as immersed in the witchy arts as she is in preserving Armenian identity. Suddenly, with Erebuni as her wingwoman, the events feel like far less of a chore, and much more of an adventure. Who knew cooking up kuftes together could be so . . . sexy?
 
Erebuni helps Nar see the beauty of their shared culture and makes her feel understood in a way she never has before. But there’s one teeny problem: Nar’s not exactly out as bisexual. The clock is ticking on her double life—the Explore Armenia closing banquet is coming up, and her entire extended family will be there, along with Erebuni. Her worlds will inevitably collide, but Nar is determined to be brave and to claim her happiness: proudly Armenian, proudly bisexual, and proudly herself for the first time in her life.

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Sorry, Bro is a delightful debut romcom with a lot of heart and humor. While it does wade into complex and emotional territory, related to the identities it depicts, the main theme of the story is finding community and one’s journey of self-discovery, which are depicted in very affirming ways. 

One aspect I loved was the tribute to Armenian culture. I knew next to nothing about it going in, but Taleen Voskuni strikes a great balance of writing a book that welcomes in outsiders without overexplaining or watering things down, thus making it clear her primary goal is to write for other Armenian-Americans like herself. And while exploring the community and its history does involve touching on tough topics, such as the Armenian genocide and its impact, I never felt like discussing this event brought down the overall tone of the book; Voskuni maintains both  the light touch and sensitive approach throughout. 

While I don’t share Voskuni or Nar’s ethnic background, I could relate to the circumstances Nar finds herself in. I’ve only begun to embrace the fact that I’m not 100% cishet relatively recently, and articulating that to my family has been something I’ve been struggling with. I also have only begun to really appreciate my own culture recently, although my path was somewhat different from hers. On both counts, I found her journey beautiful and affirming. 

Her romance with Erebuni is super cute too, and I loved it both for its own sake, and how it aided in Nar’s growth. 

The conflict is a bit of a mess, pacing wise, especially at the breakup point, with a lot of it hinging on them being caught (multiple times!), and Nar denying her relationship to her mom. And then there’s the fact she was technically still with Trevor. I feel like if the sequence of events had been a little less convoluted, perhaps I would find it a little more believable, especially with the quick turnaround toward reconciliation. 

Despite any minor issues, I enjoyed this book overall and can’t wait to see what Taleen Voskuni writes next! If you’re looking for a sapphic multicultural romcom, I recommend this one! 

Author Bio 

Taleen Voskuni resides in San Francisco with her spouse, a normal human man, and her toddler, a dictator of chaos with the face of an angel. She is the founder and principal researcher of a UX Research consulting firm. She’s been published in Cleaver Magazine, The Bold Italic, Mic, and Cal Literature & Arts Magazine.  Her debut novel, SORRY, BRO is set to be published in Spring 2023 by Berkley – Penguin Books.

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“The Princess and the Scoundrel” (Star Wars Canon Novel) by Beth Revis

Revis, Beth. The Princess and the Scoundrel. New York: Del Rey, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0593597644 | $28.99 USD | 348 pages | Science Fiction 

Blurb 

You are cordially invited to the wedding of Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo.

The Death Star is destroyed. Darth Vader is dead. The Empire is desolate. But on the forest moon of Endor, among the chaos of a changing galaxy, time stands still for a princess and her scoundrel.

After being frozen in carbonite, then risking everything for the Rebellion, Han is eager to stop living his life for other people. He and Leia have earned their future together, a thousand times over. And when he proposes to Leia, it’s the first time in a long time he’s had a good feeling about this. For Leia, a lifetime of fighting doesn’t seem truly over. There is work still to do, penance to pay for the dark secret that she now knows runs through her veins. Her brother, Luke, is offering her that chance—one that comes with family and the promise of the Force. But when Han asks her to marry him, Leia finds her answer immediately on her lips . . . Yes.

Yet happily ever after doesn’t come easily. As soon as Han and Leia depart their idyllic ceremony for their honeymoon, they find themselves on the grandest and most glamorous stage of all: the Halcyon, a luxury vessel on a very public journey to the most wondrous worlds in the galaxy. Their marriage, and the peace and prosperity it represents, are a lightning rod for all—including Imperial remnants still clinging to power.

Facing their most desperate hour, the soldiers of the Empire have dispersed across the galaxy, retrenching on isolated planets vulnerable to their influence. As the Halcyon travels from world to world, one thing becomes abundantly clear: The war is not over. But as danger draws closer, Han and Leia find that they fight their best battles not alone, but as husband and wife.

Review 

5 stars 

The Princess and the Scoundrel was most likely my most anticipated Star Wars book. I’ve read all the Leia centered canon books so far, and liked them, but this one was different, as it reminded me of the Legends title The Courtship of Princess Leia, which I have major nostalgia for, cheesy as it is. However, I was also glad to see Beth Revis and Disney taking their narrative in a different, more poignant direction.

I love the characterization of Han and Leia here. The story is set at a tense time for the galaxy, in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Endor. Both Han and Leia are dealing with the impact of recent events, with Han grappling with having lost a year being frozen in carbonate and Leia dealing with the revelations she received from Luke that not only are they siblings, but Darth Vader is their father. I particularly liked how Leia looked back on her interactions with Vader, and is chilled by them, also pondering why Luke was so willing to forgive him. I also liked how Han was so unfazed by the revelation of her heritage, as he already loves her. I also really liked getting more of the Year between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi fleshed out from Leila’s perspective, especially when she reveals to Han about her encounter with his first love Q’ira. 

And while there’s still a lot to do in the aftermath of the Empire’s fall, I love that this story largely focused on Han and Leia getting to have this brief interlude of happiness, even as they grapple with their and the galaxy’s uncertain future. And while anyone who’s seen all the Star Wars films knows the fate of Han and Leia’s relationship (not to mention Han himself), meaning the ending is more of a “happy-for-now,” romance readers will still likely be satisfied. 

I loved this book, and would recommend it to anyone who loves Han and Leia. 

Author Bio 

Beth Revis is a NY Times bestselling author with books available in more than 20 languages. Her most recent title, The Princess and the Scoundrel, is a Star Wars adult science fiction novel featuring the marriage and adventure-riddled honeymoon of Leia and Han. 

Beth’s other books include the bestselling science fiction trilogy, Across the Universe, Star Wars: Rebel Rising, the dark fantasty duology Give the Dark My Love and the twisty contemporary A World Without You. She’s the author of additional novels as well as numerous short stories and articles. Beth is the co-owner of Wordsmith Workshops and the author of the Paper Hearts series, both of which aid aspiring authors. A native of North Carolina, Beth is currently working on multiple new novels. She lives in rural NC with her son and husband.

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“Behind the Scenes” by Karelia Stetz-Waters (ARC Review)

Stetz-Waters, Karelia. Behind the Scenes. New York: Forever, 2023.

ISBN-13: 978-1538709252 | $15.99 USD | 352 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb 

Fans of Abby Jimenez and Meryl Wilsner will fall in love with this hilarious and refreshingly authentic novel about second chances, pugs, and finding the perfect muse . . .

Business consultant Rose Josten might not have officially reached “pug lady” middle age, but she’s already got the pugs—along with their little Gucci coats and trash-lovin’ appetites. Still, life is good, with her work, her sisters, and a secret hobby creating incredibly tactile (if surprisingly sexy) mindfulness videos. So why does it feel like it’s not quite enough? Which is exactly when former filmmaker Ash Stewart enters camera left, and Rose’s world suddenly goes full technicolor . . .

Ash never looks at anyone. Not since her ex ripped her heart from her chest in Spielberg-esque style, crushing Ash’s reputation, dreams, and directorial career in one brutal blow. But Rose is altogether different. She’s curvy, beautiful, and just so damn put together. And her business expertise might be Ash’s best bet for getting her last film—and her last chance—financed. Now if they can just keep their attraction under wraps, Ash’s lost dream could finally come true. But are they creating movie magic . . . or setting the stage for disaster?

Review 

3 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

After now having read two books from Karelia Stetz-Waters, I can now admit she’s not for me. And that sucks, as like with the first book I tried, Behind the Scenes has a lot I should have enjoyed. Pugs! Older heroines! Sex positivity and discussions about intimacy! 

And I did like aspects of Ash and Rose, especially as they’ve both been through tough stuff, and provide a source of comfort for the other. And while it was a bit much, I did like the detail that went into the film production scenes. 

I’ve struggled to pin down why I find Stetz-Waters’ books so lacking, and I think it has to do with either writing style or pacing. I don’t find myself super drawn in to her books, and I again felt like the story was enjoyable enough, but constantly wondered why it was moving so slowly. 

While this book wasn’t to my taste, I am still glad it exists, as we can always use more sapphic romance. If you’re a fan of sapphic romance with a bit of a slower burn, I recommend giving this a try. 

Author Bio 

Karelia Stetz-Waters writes happily-ever-afters for women who love women. Whether it’s romance or thriller, her characters get the epic wins they deserve and more. She lives her own happily-ever-after in Oregon with her wife of 20+ years. 

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“The Lies We Tell” by Katie Zhao (Review)

Zhao, Katie. The Lies We Tell. New York: Bloomsbury YA, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1547603992 | $18.99 USD | 294 pages | YA Thriller

Blurb 

Anna Xu moving out of her parent’s home and into the dorms across town as she starts freshman year at the local, prestigious Brookings University. But her parents and their struggling Chinese bakery, Sweetea, aren’t far from campus or from mind, either.

At Brookings, Anna wants to keep up her stellar academic performance and to investigate the unsolved campus murder of her childhood babysitter. While there she also finds a familiar face – her middle-school rival, Chris Lu. The Lus also happen to be the Xu family’s business rivals since they opened Sunny’s, a trendy new bakery on Sweetea’s block. Chris is cute but still someone to be wary of – until a vandal hits Sunny’s and Anna matches the racist tag with a clue from her investigation.

Anna grew up in this town, but more and more she feels like maybe she isn’t fully at home here — or maybe it’s that there are people here who think she doesn’t belong. When a very specific threat is made to Anna, she seeks out help from the only person she can. Can they root out the ugly history and take on the current threat?

Review 

3.5 stars 

Katie Zhao’s second YA thriller, The Lies We Tell, is another fairly solid read, even if I didn’t feel like it kept the same momentum of her previous work. It’s thematically strong, once again exploring anti-Asian hate, especially in how it manifests in more recent times. 

And I did like the intentions when it came to developing the characters. Anna is given an amazing opportunity to attend this elite school, and I enjoyed both learning the ropes and digging into the deeper intricacies alongside her. She’s intelligent, but still believably out of her depth in this situation. And while it’s not the central focus, she develops a cute partnership-turned-romance with a former childhood rival.

But the mystery felt very half-baked. The suspense was well executed to draw me in, but I never felt there was any context given for what the Order of the Alpha was, in terms of history or why it was such a major, all-encompassing threat. The secret-society angle is usually such a fun aspect of books that include it, I didn’t feel like it was developed to its full potential.

While I didn’t love some aspects of this book, I still mostly enjoyed this overall. If you’re a fan of YA academic thrillers, I recommend giving this one a try!

Author Bio 

Katie Zhao is a 2017 graduate of the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and Political Science, and a 2018 Masters of Accounting at the same university. She is the author of THE DRAGON WARRIOR duology (Bloomsbury Kids), HOW WE FALL APART (Bloomsbury Kids), LAST GAMER STANDING (Scholastic), WINNIE ZENG series (Random House Children’s Books), THE LIES WE TELL (Bloomsbury Kids), and forthcoming THE DESCENDANTS duology (Random House Children’s Books). She is represented by Penny Moore of Aevitas Creative Management. She’s a passionate advocate for representation in literature and media.

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Hunter, Kristi Ann. A Return to Hawthorne House. Stockbridge, GA: Oholiab Creations, LLC, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1959589020 | $3.99 USD | 203 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb 

lways a Lady

Despite the fact that her daughter is not cooperating, Caroline, Duchess of Riverton is determined to ensure every one of her children marries someone they love as much as she loved their late father. William, the widowered Earl of Blackstone, is delighted to have his days of escorting daughters approaching an end. The last thing he expects is to find himself drawn to a woman who is just starting such a journey. Are they each too set in their ways to grasp this chance to have a second love?

The Lady’s Maid

When Lydia Smith began her career as a parlor maid, she knew love and marriage wasn’t likely in her future. Dreaming about the boy next door as she dusted seemed harmless until he started working as the new valet under the same roof. When Finch needs her help with a special project, will it give them a chance to defy expectations and find love or ruin their happiness forever?

BONUS – PRINT ONLY – A Lady of Esteem

In the series

#0.5 A Lady of Esteem

#1 A Noble Masquerade

#2 An Elegant Facade

#3 An Uncommon Courtship

#4 An Inconvenient Beauty

Review 

4 stars 

I received a complimentary review copy from the author and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

While I’ve enjoyed most of what Kristi Ann Hunter has written, the Hawthorne family continues to have a soft spot in my heart, especially as it’s her first series, as well as the one through which I discovered her. And I love that she’s gone back to write stories fans were asking for connected to that series. 

“Always a Lady” 

Caroline, the matriarch of the Hawthornes, and her romance with William, Earl of Blackstone, is delightful. I’ve always liked how Caroline walked that line between being a proper society lady and mother, while also encouraging her children to marry for love (which was only starting to become more common at the time the series is set). And the fact that she also deeply loved the late Duke, which is not something you often see in historicals with widowed heroines, is nice. And I love that she and William meeting while escorting their respective daughters during the Season made for a great rivalry/flirtation setup that beautifully transitioned to something deeper, as Caroline learned to put herself first in something for once. 

“The Lady’s Maid” 

This is another unique story, as you don’t often see historical romances between servants. I like that the focus was about the proximity between Lydia and Finch, and them confronting those feelings, with the reality of their situations touched on, but not in an overly bleak manner. And given the way I was reminded of how it ties to Trent’s story, I love how he ended up playing a role in helping them find their happy ending! 

This is a delightful collection of stories that adds more to the world of Hawthorne House and its characters, and can also serve as a fun intro if you want to start with something shorter before diving into the other, longer works. 

Author Bio 

Kristi is the RITA® award winning author of romance novels from a Christian worldview. Her books include the Regency era set Hawthorne House, Haven Manor, and Hearts on the Heath series. Look for her first contemporaries in early 2023. 

She is also speaker, teaching classes in writing as well as Biblical and spiritual topics. She has spoken to writers’ groups, schools, and young women’s groups at churches. 

When she is not writing or interacting with her readers, Kristi spends time with her family and her church. A graduate of Georgia Tech with a computer science degree, she knows that life rarely takes the turns we expect. While she still spends hours a day on a computer, now she’s living out the dreams of her childhood and creating stories for others to enjoy and be inspired by. 

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“6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did” by Tess Sharpe (ARC Review)

Sharpe, Tess. 6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did). New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2023.

ISBN-13: 978-0316302791 | $18.99 USD | 384 pages | YA Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

Six moments lead us to two girls, one kiss, and three little words that were maybe always true in this gorgeous novel perfect for fans of Nina LaCour and Jenny Han.
 
After years of bickering, Penny and Tate have called a truce: they’ll play nice. They have to. Their mothers (life-long best friends) need them to be perfect, drama-free daughters when Penny’s mother becomes a living liver donor to Tate’s mom. Forced to live together as the Moms recover, the girls’ truce is essential in keeping everything—their jobs, the house, the finances, the Moms’ healing—running smoothly. They’ve got to let this thing between them go.  
 
There’s one little hitch: Penny and Tate keep almost kissing.
 
It’s just this confusing thing that keeps happening. You know, from time to time. For basically their entire teenaged existence.
 
They’ve never talked about it. They’ve always ignored it in the aftermath. But now they’re living across the hall from each other.
 
And some things—like their kisses—can’t be almosts forever. 
 
Told through two girls’ present and six moments from their past, this dynamic love story shows that sometimes the person you need the most has been there for you all along. 

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did) is a lot heavier than I anticipated, despite the choice of cover design. There are some light and uplifting moments, but it’s important readers go in aware of the more deep, emotional journey this book is about. I do appreciate that the blurb is at least honest about the familial and severe health issues at the heart of the novel, allowing readers to decide whether they want to read about two families going through the liver transplant process or not. 

The characters are incredibly real, and I loved the exploration of the trauma and issues they’re dealing with, while also navigating the “will-they, won’t-they” slow burn of “almost-kissing” several times. And I love how well the past flashbacks were incorporated, fleshing out both. 

Penny, for her part, has already dealt with losing her father, and is now at risk of losing her mom, and I love how her grief and trauma about these experiences were depicted in particular. And while Tate’s mom is doing well now, she has a history of illness, and Tate has cared for her in the past. And while Penny and Tate didn’t really care for each other before, I love how the story illustrates the parallels between them, and how them coming together allows them to be vulnerable together. 

This is such a great book, and I love how Tess Sharpe infused her signature emotionally resonant style into a contemporary romance with slight romcom and fanfiction vibes. If that sounds interesting to you, and you’re interested in sapphic romance, I recommend picking this up! 

Author Bio 

Born in a mountain cabin to a punk-rocker mother, Tess Sharpe grew up in rural northern California. She lives deep in the backwoods with a pack of dogs and a growing colony of formerly feral cats. She is the author of Barbed Wire Heart, the critically acclaimed YA novel Far From You and the upcoming Jurassic World prequel, The Evolution of Claire.

She is also the co-editor of Toil & Trouble, a feminist anthology about witches. Her short fiction has been featured in All Out, an anthology edited by Saundra Mitchell. 

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“Ocean’s Echo” by Everina Maxwell (Review)

Maxwell, Everina. Ocean’s Echo. New York: Tor, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1250758866 | $27.99 USD | 480 pages | Science Fiction 

Blurb 

Ocean’s Echo is a stand-alone space adventure about a bond that will change the fate of worlds, set in the same universe as Everina Maxwell’s hit debut, Winter’s Orbit.

“I inhaled this one like I needed it to live.” —New York Times Book Review

Rich socialite, inveterate flirt, and walking disaster Tennalhin Halkana can read minds. Tennal, like all neuromodified “readers,” is a security threat on his own. But when controlled, readers are a rare asset. Not only can they read minds, but they can navigate chaotic space, the maelstroms surrounding the gateway to the wider universe.

Conscripted into the military under dubious circumstances, Tennal is placed into the care of Lieutenant Surit Yeni, a duty-bound soldier, principled leader, and the son of a notorious traitor general. Whereas Tennal can read minds, Surit can influence them. Like all other neuromodified “architects,” he can impose his will onto others, and he’s under orders to control Tennal by merging their minds.

Surit accepted a suspicious promotion-track request out of desperation, but he refuses to go through with his illegal orders to sync and control an unconsenting Tennal. So they lie: They fake a sync bond and plan Tennal’s escape.

Their best chance arrives with a salvage-retrieval mission into chaotic space—to the very neuromodifcation lab that Surit’s traitor mother destroyed twenty years ago. And among the rubble is a treasure both terrible and unimaginably powerful, one that upends a decades-old power struggle, and begins a war.

Tennal and Surit can no longer abandon their unit or their world. The only way to avoid life under full military control is to complete the very sync they’ve been faking.

Can two unwilling weapons of war bring about peace?

In the series 

#1 Winter’s Orbit

Review 

4 stars 

Ocean’s Echo is a companion to Everina Maxwell’s debut, Winter’s Orbit. But aside from being set in the same world, there are no real connections, and this is very much a stand-alone. And with SFF being so reliant on big epic series, I find this choice rather refreshing, especially as the world is so vast and holds many possibilities beyond a few central characters. 

While I wasn’t as much of a fan of the greater technical and  military focus, there’s still enough for readers who like the other aspects. Getting insight into the impact of the mind control experimentation was intriguing, even if the semantics weren’t really it for me. And there’s still a lot of world politics to keep the story interesting. 

And while it definitely leans more on the SF side than romance, there’s still a great romantic arc. I like how there’s a spin on soul bonding with some of the tech they have that can connect people’s minds together, which is essentially what brings Tennal and Surit together. Tennal is also a compelling, if very flawed character, being very self-absorbed, and I loved seeing his growth as he came to care for Surit…and vice versa. 

Everina Maxwell has crafted another compelling romantic space opera, and I remain excited for what she does next! If you enjoy queer SFF, I recommend picking this one up!

Author Bio 

Everina Maxwell is the author of Winter’s Orbit, a queer romantic space opera about a diplomat who enters into an arranged marriage to save his planet.

She grew up in Sussex, UK, which has come a long way from the days of Cold Comfort Farm and now has things like running water and Brighton Pier. She was lucky enough to live near a library that stocked Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne McCaffrey and Terry Pratchett, so spent all her spare time devouring science fiction and doorstopper fantasy, with her family’s Georgette Heyer collection always a reliable friend when the library books ran out.

She first took part in NaNoWriMo in 2004 and continues to precariously balance writing, a day job, and watching Let’s Plays of video games she claims she doesn’t have time to play. She lives and works in Yorkshire.

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“Chick Magnet” by Emma Barry (ARC Review)

Barry, Emma. Chick Magnet. Seattle: Montlake, 2023.

ISBN-13: 978-1662505010 | $16.99 USD | 302 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

From Emma Barry comes a clever romance about a hot veterinarian and a chicken-loving influencer who can’t help but ruffle each other’s feathers.

Nicole Jones needs a fresh start. “Chick Nic” to millions of internet fans, the social media star and her flock of chickens bask in the spotlight—until she’s publicly dumped by a YouTuber for clout. She has no choice but to round up her birds and move on.

But when one of her hens has an emergency, Nic gets her first taste of her new stomping grounds—and it isn’t good. Veterinarian Will Lund is wildly attractive, yes, but he’s also surly. In fact, he comes right out and calls her a menace for parading her chickens on social media.

As neighbors, Nic and Will can’t exactly avoid each other. Then again, maybe they don’t want to. The two can’t deny their smoldering attraction, and it isn’t long before late-night confessions lead to backyard shenanigans.

Is this the start of a neighborly relationship—or could something more be hatching?

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

I loved my previous experiences reading Emma Barry, and was eager to try anything new from her. And while the premise of Chick Magnet gave me some pause (still deathly afraid of birds, and the chickens that now occasionally lurk near the branch of the public library I frequent are the bane of my existence), but I was willing to roll with it. 

And it turned out a bit differently than I expected? Yes, there’s Nic and her love of chickens. But I actually came to care for them, as she truly loves her chickens and they have so much personality (although I still prefer they stay fictional and on the page, thank you). 

But even with the somewhat odd selling point, there’s a deeper element to it too, with both Nic and Will being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic economically in different ways. Her career took off, what with more people being at home and consuming content, while his stagnated, and he’s now in financial trouble. While people will have mixed feelings about seeing COVID reflected in the book in a major way, I like that it explores the world as we are now, having lived through economic troubles and life changes as a result of it. 

And I also want to echo a sentiment that my friend Aarya shared in her review, that it’s actually kind of refreshing to see Will’s financial issues grappled with on-page. While I get the sentiment for having financially stable (or uber wealthy) heroes, it’s nice to have a bit of variation now and again to explore financial issues in a more nuanced way. 

And there’s also the way his arc contains exploration of depression, and how common that is among veterinarians. It adds a lot of nuance to the “grumpy hero” archetype, and makes him personally feel a lot more accessible to me than many of his counterparts who don’t have that kind of depth to them. 

This is a super sweet read with some quirks and a lot of heart. If you like contemporary romance, and don’t mind discussion of the impact of COVID, I recommend checking this out! 

Author Bio

Emma Barry is a teacher, novelist, recovering academic, and former political staffer. She lives with her high school sweetheart and a menagerie of pets and children in Virginia, and she occasionally finds time to read and write. You can visit her on the web at https://authoremmabarry.com/.

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“Bridge of Scarlet Leaves” by Kristina McMorris (Review)

McMorris, Kristina. Bridge of Scarlet Leaves. New York: Kensington, 2012.

ISBN-13: 978-1496725844 | $15.95 USD | 448 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb 

In this poignant and evocative novel by acclaimed author Kristina McMorris, a country is plunged into conflict and suspicion–forcing a young woman to find her place in a volatile world.

Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern’s life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother’s best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy. 

When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost. 

Skillfully capturing one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, Kristina McMorris draws readers into a novel filled with triumphs and heartbreaking loss—an authentic, moving testament to love, forgiveness, and the enduring music of the human spirit.

Review 

5 stars 

Of all the books I’ve read from Kristina McMorris thus far, this one is perhaps the one I felt most connected with. Like her, I’m half-Japanese (although not biracial), and I’m always looking to learn more about what Japanese Americans went through during World War II, because while there are some aspects which are public record, others are more obscure. This book is centered around one of them, the fact that there were actually many non-Japanese who voluntarily chose to live in internment with the Japanese people, many of them spouses in mixed-race marriages. Add that to the complex politics around mixed-race marriages at the time, and it makes for an intriguing story. 

The heart of the story is the love story between Lane and Maddie, and their other loved ones, and the sacrifices they’re willing to make in hopes they can all live happily together. My heart hurt for them, as I deeply wanted them to be happy, and while I knew not to expect a genre romance, the ending was still a gut punch (albeit one tinged with hope). 

I also love how the story charts the characters’ growth as individuals. Maddie in particular comes into her own over the course of the war, going from a bright-eyed girl to a strong woman, who’s been through a lot, but becomes stronger for it. And Lane, with his desire to prove himself, also comes of age in his own way…even as his pursuits are more perilous. 

This is a beautiful book, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for romantic historical fiction. 

Author Bio

KRISTINA MCMORRIS is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of two novellas and six historical novels, including the runaway bestseller SOLD ON A MONDAY with over a million copies sold. The recipient of more than twenty national literary awards, she previously hosted weekly TV shows for Warner Bros. and an ABC affiliate, beginning at age nine with an Emmy Award-winning program, and owned a wedding-and-event-planning company until she had far surpassed her limit of “Y.M.C.A.” and chicken dances. Kristina lives near Portland, Oregon, where she somehow manages to be fully deficient of a green thumb and not own a single umbrella. For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com

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