“The Mercies” by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Review)

Hargrave, Kiran Millwood. The Mercies. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-031652925 | $27.00 USD | 345 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Magnusdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the skies break into a sudden and reckless storm. All forty of the village’s men were at sea, including Maren’s father and brother, and all forty are drowned in the otherworldly disaster.

For the women left behind, survival means defying the strict rules of the island. They fish, hunt, and butcher reindeer—which they never did while the men were alive. But the foundation of this new feminine frontier begins to crack with the arrival of Absalom Cornet, a man sent from Scotland to root out alleged witchcraft. Cornet brings with him the threat of danger—and a pretty, young Norwegian wife named Ursa.

As Maren and Ursa are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them, with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence.

Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1621 witch trials, The Mercies is a powerful story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization.

Review

4.5 stars 

I found out about The Mercies while searching for books to read for a Sapphic Book Bingo I’m participating in, and recognizing the author, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, as one who I’d seen recommended, albeit for one of her middle grade books. And while I didn’t know what to expect, the premise intrigued me. 

I was not surprised to learn about Hargrave’s poetry background when I looked her up, as that really comes through in her prose. There’s a lyrical, immersive quality to it, and it’s immensely transportive. 

The story is inspired by true events, and while I was not aware of the specific ones at the heart of the story, the struggles Maren, Ursa, and Kirsten face are not unique, given how many Western societies are so patriarchal and will sooner accuse women of witchcraft than allow them any agency. I felt for them as men like Ursa’s husband worked against them, and hoped beyond hope that they would persevere. Their story is a bleak one, but one that allowed me to reflect on how things have changed for women in the following centuries (and how they have not). 

This book is beautiful, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in women-centric literary historical fiction.

Author Bio

Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a British poet and playwright, as well as an acclaimed children’s author. Her debut book, The Girl of Ink & Stars, won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and Children’s Book of the Year. Her second book, The Island at the End of Everything, received starred reviews last from Kirkus, Booklist, and VOYA. She holds degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge, and lives by the river in Oxford. The Mercies is her debut novel for adults. 

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“Count Your Lucky Stars” (Written in the Stars #3) by Alexandria Bellefleur

Bellefleur, Alexandria. Count Your Lucky Stars. New York: Avon Books, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0063000889 | $15.99 USD | 384 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

Following Written in the Stars and Hang the Moon, Lambda Literary Award winner and national bestselling author Alexandria Bellefleur pens another steamy queer rom-com about former best friends who might be each other’s second chance at love…
Margot Cooper doesn’t do relationships. She tried and it blew up in her face, so she’ll stick with casual hookups, thank you very much. But now her entire crew has found “the one” and she’s beginning to feel like a fifth wheel. And then fate (the heartless bitch) intervenes. While touring a wedding venue with her engaged friends, Margot comes face-to-face with Olivia Grant—her childhood friend, her first love, her first… well, everything. It’s been ten years, but the moment they lock eyes, Margot’s cold, dead heart thumps in her chest.
Olivia must be hallucinating. In the decade since she last saw Margot, her life hasn’t gone exactly as planned. At almost thirty, she’s been married… and divorced. However, a wedding planner job in Seattle means a fresh start and a chance to follow her dreams. Never in a million years did she expect her important new client’s Best Woman would be the one that got away.
When a series of unfortunate events leaves Olivia without a place to stay, Margot offers up her spare room because she’s a Very Good Person. Obviously. It has nothing to do with the fact that Olivia is as beautiful as ever and the sparks between them still make Margot tingle. As they spend time in close quarters, Margot starts to question her no-strings stance. Olivia is everything she’s ever wanted, but Margot let her in once and it ended in disaster. Will history repeat itself or should she count her lucky stars that she gets a second chance with her first love?

In the series

Written in the Stars

Hang the Moon

Review 

4 stars 

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

Count Your Lucky Stars is the third book in Alexandria Bellefleur’s debut series, following Written in the Stars and Hang the Moon. It can be read as a stand-alone, but I do recommend the prior two for an enhanced experience of the relationship dynamics in the friend group/business partnerships going into this one. 

While I personally found the previous book failed to live up to the hype of the first, this one was very much a return to form. Of course, that’s all down to preference. But as soon as I saw the tropes at play, I was pretty much sold. Former best friends who developed messy feelings for each other? Heart eyes everywhere. 

Both of the heroines individually resonated with me for different reasons. Margot has resolved against love and relationships after what happened with Olivia, but she can’t help but feel left out as her friends are  moving on and coupling up (super real). Olivia is dealing with the shambles of her life following a messy divorce, but has hopes of some new prospects on the horizon.

Their interactions together are beautiful. So much yearning, not to mention questions of what they want from each other this time around. While there are those times when you just want to shake sense into them and beg them to talk, you can also understand where they’re coming from, given their history. 

The friend group remains one of my favorite parts of the series. Their interactions are the source of much of the banter, and I love how easily Olivia fits in with Darcy, Elle, Brendan, and Annie. It’s so great to see all the characters happily in love, with an optimistic look to their future on all fronts. 

This book is a delight, both as a series conclusion and a book in its own right. If you enjoyed the previous two (or just one or the other), you’ll adore this one. And if you like romcoms with heat and heart, and don’t mind a bit of astrology, I recommend giving this one a try. 

Author Bio

Alexandria Bellefleur is a nationally bestselling author of swoony contemporary romance often featuring loveable grumps and the sunshine characters who bring them to their knees. A Pacific Northwesterner at heart, Alexandria has a weakness for good coffee, Pike IPA, and Voodoo Doughnuts. Her special skills include finding the best pad thai in every city she visits, remembering faces but not names, falling asleep in movie theaters, and keeping cool while reading smutty books in public. She was a 2018 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist. You can find her at https://www.alexandriabellefleur.com or on Twitter @ambellefleur. 

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“The Christie Affair” by Nina de Gramont (ARC Review)

De Gramont, Nina. The Christie Affair. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1250274618 | $27.99 USD | 320 pages | Historical Mystery

Blurb 

Nina de Gramont’s The Christie Affair is a beguiling tale of star-crossed lovers, heartbreak, revenge, and murder—and a brilliant re-imagination of one of the most talked-about unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century. 

Every story has its secrets. 

Every mystery has its motives. 

“A long time ago, in another country, I nearly killed a woman. It’s a particular feeling, the urge to murder. It takes over your body so completely, it’s like a divine force, grabbing hold of your will, your limbs, your psyche. There’s a joy to it. In retrospect, it’s frightening, but I daresay in the moment it feels sweet. The way justice feels sweet.” 

London, 1925: In a world of townhomes and tennis matches, socialites and shooting parties, Miss Nan O’Dea became Archie Christie’s mistress, luring him away from his devoted and well-known wife, Agatha Christie. 

The question is, why? Why destroy another woman’s marriage, why hatch a plot years in the making, and why murder? How was Nan O’Dea so intricately tied to those eleven mysterious days that Agatha Christie went missing?

Review 

3 stars 

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

I was drawn to The Christie Affair due to it being another book about the mysterious disappearance of Agatha Christie, a topic I had read about last year in another historical fiction book. And the fact that this one further leaned into the messiness of the situation by telling it from the perspective of Archie Christie’s mistress, Nan, also appealed to me. 

But the execution was a bit mixed for me. I think part of it is that, whatever else she was as a person, Agatha Christie was clearly the injured party, so it takes a lot to sympathize with the other woman who brazenly inserts herself in a married man’s life, even if it does “take two to tango.” Nan clearly has no sympathy toward Agatha upon taking up with her husband, and spins a wild narrative about who Agatha is and what happened to her. At first I wasn’t sure what was happening, because it felt like the reader was in Agatha’s head, but as it became clear these were Nan’s imaginings, I felt dismayed at the lengths she went to to justify her position, especially as while Agatha has a lot going for her, it still didn’t mean Nan was any more sympathetic. 

The timeline is also super confusing, and while I was able to follow it after a while, between that and the weird narrative voice choices, I found myself frequently feeling lost. 

I think this book is well-intentioned, but didn’t do enough to overcome the lionized reputation of Agatha Christie the author, which is likely to be  the biggest draw for most people reading. However, it is an intriguing book and I appreciate what it is trying to do, especially given that a couple authors have explored the topic before. 

Author Bio

Nina de Gramont (also known as Marina Gessner) lives in coastal North Carolina with her husband, the writer David Gessner. She teaches at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and is almost always in the company of her two dogs, Missy and Isabelle. She’s the author of the acclaimed Meet Me at the River, Every Little Thing in the World, Gossip of the Starlings, The Last September, as well as The Distance from Me to You, which has been recently optioned for a movie.

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Reading the Swoonies: ”The Ex Talk” by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Solomon, Rachel Lynn. The Ex Talk. New York: Jove, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0593200124 | $16.00 USD | 338 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

Public radio cohosts navigate mixed signals in this sparkling contemporary romance debut. 

Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can’t imagine working anywhere else. But lately it’s been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who‘s fresh off a journalism master’s program and convinced he knows everything about public radio.

When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it’s this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it’s not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts. 

As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers. 

Review

4 stars 

The Ex Talk is one of those books I’m somewhat late or the party on. It wasn’t massively hyped upon release, at least in the circles I run in, so it wasn’t until I heard so really great things about Rachel Lynn Solomon’s more recent release, Weather Girl, followed by Ex Talk being nominated for the Swoonies, that I gave it a second look. 

And this book is one of those books that had me laughing out loud, especially in the first half. I was particularly won over by the occasional interstitial bits with transcripts of the podcast, as well as reactions to it on Twitter. It had a similar vibe to the usage of different forms of media in Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert and All the Feels, which is absolutely a plus in my book. 

As for the characters and the romance, they’re great. It’s another book that describes what is actually a semi-friendly/professional rivalry as enemies-to-lovers, and while that is annoyingly common, I didn’t mind, as the banter between Shay and Dominic is brilliant. The two play well off each other, and their romance is easy to root for. Dominic is generally a pretty sweet guy, and Shay is pretty likable too. I did want a bit more of them outside of the podcast and work, like their vacation together, which was cute, however. 

Given that the whole thing is based on a lie, I do have some complicated feelings about how it’s executed. I generally don’t mind deception as long as one partner isn’t pulling the wool over the other’s eyes, and obviously, that’s not the case here. But as I reached the end, I did wonder what it would be like to be in the shoes of one of the listeners and to realize I had been duped. I don’t know that I could fully trust these people again. I don’t mind how things ended, but I feel like they both could have done more to make amends and re-instill trust with their audience. 

This a sweet, funny, and heartfelt read, and one I’d absolutely recommend checking out if you love contemporary romances with rivals/enemies-to-lovers and fake relationships. 

Author Bio

Rachel Lynn Solomon worked in public radio before her love of storytelling carried her to fiction. She’s the author for several books for teens and adults and will tell anyone who’ll listen that it really doesn’t rain that much in Seattle, where she lives with her husband and tiny dog. 

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“A Letter to Three Witches” by Elizabeth Bass (ARC Review)

Bass, Elizabeth. A Letter to Three Witches. New York: Kensington, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1496734327 | $15.95 USD | 288 pages | Paranormal Romance

Blurb 

Bewitched meets Practical Magic in this bubbly, quirky romantic comedy with an enchanted twist from acclaimed author Elizabeth Bass. When romance problems cause their powers to go berserk, a trio of witches whose family was banned from practicing magic risk getting in serious trouble with the Grand Council of Witches. Can they get their magic—and their love lives—in order before it’s too late? 

Nearly a century ago, Gwen Engel’s great-great-grandfather cast a spell with catastrophic side-effects. As a result, the Grand Council of Witches forbade his descendants from practicing witchcraft. The Council even planted anonymous snitches called Watchers in the community to report any errant spellcasting . . .

Yet magic may still be alive and not so well in Zenobia. Gwen and her cousins, Trudy and Milo, receive a letter from Gwen’s adopted sister, Tannith, informing them that she’s bewitched one of their partners and will run away with him at the end of the week. While Gwen frets about whether to trust her scientist boyfriend, currently out of town on a beetle-studying trip, she’s worried that local grad student Jeremy is secretly a Watcher doing his own research.

Cousin Trudy is so stressed that she accidentally enchants her cupcakes, creating havoc among her bakery customers—and in her marriage. Perhaps it’s time the family took back control and figured out how to harness their powers. How else can Gwen decide whether her growing feelings for Jeremy are real—or the result of too many of Trudy’s cupcakes? . . .

Review

2 stars 

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

A Letter to Three Witches is another one of those paranormal romcoms where it has great ideas, I just wanted…more. More character depth, more world building, more grounding in the plot. In some ways, I totally get that it’s not meant to be taken seriously, but it still fell flat. 

The world building is perhaps the most interesting part, and I wish it had been expanded on. I love the idea of magic involving bureaucracy with something like a Grand Council as a governing body. 

The characters just lacked any interesting qualities. I can’t remember much about them actually, except that they all had these weird dramas that I felt like I was supposed to care about, but didn’t, interspersed with wildly immature hijinks. 

I did like that the cat, Grim, had occasional chapters from his POV, however. It threw me at first, but it ended up being one of the few charming aspects of the book. 

I didn’t like this one, but I can see the appeal, especially if you’ve enjoyed the recent crop of paranormal romcoms. They’ve been a mixed bag so far (not surprising, given my own complex relationship with paranormal romance), but I’d encourage you to give it a try if it appeals to you.

Author Bio

Elizabeth Bass grew up the youngest of four siblings in rural Texas, where she spent summers watching old movies and dreaming of living in a town big enough to have an Icee machine. She now resides in Victoria, BC with her husband. 

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Reading the Swoonies: ”The Spanish Love Deception” by Elena Armas (Review)

Armas, Elena. The Spanish Love Deception. New York: Atria Books, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1668002537 (ebook) | $9.99 USD (ebook) | 448 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

A TikTok sensation, this rom-com about a young woman who agrees to fake date a colleague and bring him to her sister’s wedding has “everything you could want in a romance” (Helen Hoang, New York Times bestselling author). 

Catalina Martín desperately needs a date to her sister’s wedding. Especially since her little white lie about her American boyfriend has spiralled out of control. Now everyone she knows—including her ex and his fiancée—will be there and eager to meet him.

She only has four weeks to find someone willing to cross the Atlantic and aid in her deception. New York to Spain is no short flight and her raucous family won’t be easy to fool.

Enter Aaron Blackford—her tall, handsome, condescending colleague—who surprisingly offers to step in. She’d rather refuse; never has there been a more aggravating, blood-boiling, and insufferable man.

But Catalina is desperate, and as the wedding draws nearer, Aaron looks like her best option. And she begins to realize he might not be as terrible in the real world as he is at the office.

Review 

2 stars 

My second attempt at looking into hyped/Swoonie-nominated books with The Spanish Love Deception is a bust. But then again, I did sort of suspect it would be. I did hope I’d find something to like, given the amount of buzz around this one. 

I won’t deny that Elena Armas has a very readable writing style. Even though I didn’t find myself enjoying much else, she managed to engage me for the most part, even if everything else fell rather flat. 

Interestingly, while I’ve avoided reviews for this beyond some of the hype on Twitter (and vague, secondhand knowledge of Tiktok), I’ve now looked at them upon finishing, and some of the comps hit the nail on the head as to why I’m not a fan. It has the poor execution of enemies to lovers that turned me off The Hating Game (although I couldn’t even make it through that one, so this one is at least a minor step up) and the long-windedness of Mariana Zapata without any real substance. No shade to anyone who likes either/both of those authors/books and/or this one, but it definitely clicked why this book misfired with me so much. 

I did like some elements of the characters, particularly Lina dealing with sexual harrassment. And I did have sympathy for Lina’s situation that leads to her deception. But I didn’t feel like she was all that interesting otherwise. And Aaron wasn’t that memorable either? He’s kinda your standard broody guy who is fascinated with the heroine for some reason. I just didn’t feel any chemistry between them, so them exchanging I love you’s (especially after pages and pages  of nothing) just felt hollow. 

Clearly, this is me not gelling with the book, and I feel a bit foolish for letting the hype influence me on this one without investigating further. But it’s not a bad book by any means, and I can understand why others enjoy it, objectively, even if it’s not my thing. If you love sloooow burn, enemies to lovers,  or fake relationships, this might work better for you. 

Author Bio

Elena is a Spanish writer, a self-confessed hopeless romantic,  and much  Mr. B’s dismay, a proud book hoarder. After years of devouring stories and posting—okay, find, yelling about them on her Instagram @thebibliotheque, she has finally taken the leap and started creating some of her own. 

While she’d never describe herself as adventurous, having a degree in chemical engineering and being the Monica of her group of friends, this definitely qualifies as the most exciting yet terrifying project she has ever taken on. She’s probably biting her nails as you read this. Heck, she’s probably full on freaking out. But don’t mind her, that’s just a little of—hopefully healthy—stage fright. 

Regardless, she cannot wait to finally share her dream with you. To perhaps gush over HEAs together, and who knows, maybe fall a little more in love with love. Because isn’t that the point of all this?

https://www.authorelenaarmas.com/mybooks

Twitter: @elenaarmasbooks

Instagram: @thebibliotheque

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“Never Tell” by Stacey Abrams Writing as Selena Montgomery (ARC/Reissue Review)

Montgomery, Selena. Never Tell. 2004. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2022. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250805829 | $16.99 USD | 320 pages | Romantic Suspense 

Blurb 

From popular political leader and lawyer Stacey Abrams comes a reissue of her romantic suspense novel, Never Tell, written under the name Selena Montgomery. 

Criminal psychologist Dr. Erin Abbott wants nothing more than to live a quiet life. That means no danger, no intrigue—and absolutely no romance. But when Erin suspects a serial killer is roaming New Orleans, her investigation throws her straight into the arms of the only man who can help her.

Journalist Gabriel Moss is hot to find his next huge story—and he knows Erin is on to something big. From the moment they meet, Gabriel senses that Erin is hiding something. One thing is certain: Erin’s boxy suits and sensible shoes hide a delicate beauty waiting to emerge…and Gabriel is just the man to reveal the woman inside.

As they join forces to find the killer, Gabriel slowly seduces Erin with his soft kisses. But Erin knows their love can never be. For she is hiding a terrible secret—and if Gabriel reveals the truth, Erin’s life will be shattered forever…

Review

3 stars

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

Never Tell is one of several romantic suspense novels Stacey Abrams wrote in the early 2000s as Selena Montgomery, prior to reaching the prominence in the political sphere she has today. As far as I can tell, apart from a note reflecting on the book, it also has not been updated (much) since its original 2004 publication. However, while there’s a lot that has not aged well, I found myself enjoying this, albeit with major caveats. 

Abrams/Montgomery is able to craft an intriguing tale, and while this work isn’t her best (she arguably refined her craft in the more recent thriller While Justice Sleeps), she maintained my interest with all the twists and turns. The momentum isn’t completely there (it’s another case of the balance being a bit off between the mystery and the romance), but I remained pretty anxious to see the resolution to who the serial killer was. The book does get pretty graphic in places, so I’d definitely proceed with caution. 

As a romance, the dated elements come through a bit more. The heroine, Erin, is intriguing, and her dark secret is perhaps the most intriguing part in terms of this element. But the hero, Gabriel, is definitely an alpha-male type, and it comes off in an uncomfortable way, given the trauma Erin has as a survivor of abuse. They have some interactions where there isn’t explicit consent, and it just didn’t help endear me to him as a character, or them as a couple. 

This is an example, albeit a flawed one, of Stacey Abrams’ early talent as a writer, and I’m glad her new political stardom is generating a new second life for her romance books. Even taking into account that these are somewhat dated, I’m not opposed to reading more from her from this period, as her stories are engaging at their core. And provided you go in prepared for what to expect, that it was published almost 20 years ago and contains content that wouldn’t fly today, I think it’s enjoyable to anyone looking for a page-turning romantic suspense. 

Author Bio

Selena Montgomery is the nom de plume of Stacey Abrams, an American politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, and author who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017. She founded Fair Fight Action, an organization to address voter suppression, in 2018. 

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“A Champion’s Heart” (Migrations of the Heart #4) by Piper Huguley (Review)

Huguley, Piper. A Champion’s Heart: Born to Win Men. [Place of publication not identified]: Liliaceae Publishers, 2014.

ASIN: B01LYB0LPD | $2.99 USD | 341 pages | Historical Romance/Christian Fiction

Blurb 

1935. Champion Bates left poky old Winslow, Georgia when he was seventeen years old. He had promised to elope with his childhood sweetheart, but pressured by other influences, he took an earlier train leaving his Delie behind. The pain at leaving her behind has tormented him for the seven years he fought as a ham and egg boxer, trying to make himself worthy of her. He had no chance for the big time until now. He has a fight with a contender boxer–a white man. However, he has been told more fighting will possibly blind him. 

Back in Winslow, Cordelia “Delie” Bledsoe is out of luck. A teacher in the local school, she has the care of several children who have been abandoned by their parents. She’s offered $200 to take the children out of Georgia. She wants to take them to her family in Pittsburgh to live on a family farm, but Champion Bates shows up, insistent on helping her. She does not want to trust her old love, but has little choice. 

Champion wants to redeem himself with his former sweetheart and doesn’t expect much, but the hair and eyes of one of Delie’s young children tugs at his heart. In this story of sacrifice, Champ and Delie struggle to learn about love and both must grow A Champion’s Heart. 

In the series

#1 A Virtuous Ruby

#2 A Most Precious Pearl 

#3 A Treasure of Gold 

Review 

4 stars

I’ve hoped to read A Champion’s Heart for a while, since I first read the linked book A Virtuous Ruby, and am glad to finally be able to. Piper Huguley writes such richly detailed and researched Black American historical romance, with this one being no exception. 

Secret baby is a trope I don’t love, but the way Huguley writes it as a facet of Champ and Delie’s relationship, is well done. I loved seeing Delie thriving, receiving higher education and taking in orphaned children with her sisters. And Champ is a great hero, and I loved that he had dreams of making it as a boxer, but also wanted to make things right with Delie too. Their relationship is a beautiful one, and I rooted for them to work through the challenges they faced to find happiness together. 

This is an inspirational romance, and whether you enjoy it will be dependent on your feelings on the genre. I personally liked that it felt believable for the characters, and given the general whiteness in the more mainstream areas of the genre, I appreciate titles like this that have an intersection of faith with the experiences of racism (or other marginalizations). 

This is a delightful gem of a book, and one I’d absolutely love to see get more attention. If you’re looking for more American-set historical romance, especially with Black leads, I recommend picking this one up. 

Author Bio

Piper G Huguley, named 2015 Debut Author of the Year by Romance Slam Jam and Breakout Author of the Year by AAMBC, is a two-time Golden Heart finalist and is the author of “Migrations of the Heart,” a three-book series of historical romances set in the early 20th century featuring African American characters, published by Samhain Publishing. Book #1 of the series, A Virtuous Ruby, won Best Historical of 2015 in the Swirl Awards. Book #3 of the series, A Treasure of Gold, was named by Romance Novels in Color as a Best Book of 2015 and received 41/2 stars from RT Magazine. 

Huguley is also the author of the “Home to Milford College” series. The series follows the building of a college from its founding  in 1866. On release, the prequel novella to the “Home to Milford College” series, The Lawyer’s Luck, reached #1 Amazon Bestseller status on the African American Christian Fiction charts. Book #1 of the series, The Preacher’s Promise, was named a top ten Historical Romance in Publishers Weekly by the esteemed historical romance author, Beverly Jenkins and received Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Contest of Self-Published e-books in 2015. A Champion’s Heart was named by Sarah MacLean of the Washington Post as a best romance novel selection for December 2016.

Her contemporary romance debut, Sweet Tea, was published by Hallmark Publishing in July 2021. Her historical fiction  debut, By Her Own Design: A Novel of Ann Lowe, Fashion Designer to the Social Register, will be published by William Morrow in June 2022.

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“Must Love Books” by Shauna Robinson (ARC Review)

Robinson, Shauna. Must Love Books. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1728240732 | $16.99 USD | 336 pages | Women’s Fiction 

Blurb 

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill meets Younger in a heartfelt debut following a young woman who discovers she’ll have to ditch the “dream job” and write her own story to find her happy ending. 

Meet Nora Hughes—the overworked, underpaid, last bookish assistant standing. At least for now. 

When Nora landed an editorial assistant position at Parsons Press, it was her first step towards The Dream Job. Because, honestly, is there anything dreamier than making books for a living? But after five years of lunch orders, finicky authors, and per my last emails, Nora has come to one grand conclusion: Dream Jobs do not exist.

With her life spiraling and the Parsons staff sinking, Nora gets hit with even worse news. Parson’s is cutting her already unlivable salary. Unable to afford her rent and without even the novels she once loved as a comfort, Nora decides to moonlight for a rival publisher to make ends meet…and maybe poach some Parson’s authors along the way.

But when Andrew Santos, a bestselling Parsons author no one can afford to lose is thrown into the mix, Nora has to decide where her loyalties lie. Her new Dream Job, ever-optimistic Andrew, or…herself and her future.

Your next book club read touching on mental health, happiness, and the peaks and perils of being a young woman just trying to figure it all out. Nora Hughes is the perfect heroine for anyone looking to get past their own chapter twenty-something and build their storybook life. 

Review

4 stars

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

Must Love Books is a heartfelt look at the concept of a “Dream Job,” and how it doesn’t really exist. And while it’s definitely a hard pill to swallow for me, as an unemployed, broke, desperate millennial who at one point seriously thought about trying to look for publishing work, only to be daunted by the barriers that most of the ones I was interested in had in place for most of their positions until recently, I think it’s a relevant one, and that getting one’s Ideal Job doesn’t necessarily mean you have everything figured out. 

I really appreciated the insights about publishing. I had already gotten little glimpses, thanks to following lots of authors, agents, editors, etc. on Twitter, but getting a realistic depiction of the ins and outs really hits hard, especially considering what Nora is going through. 

Nora’s struggles resonated with me. She’s struggling with what life’s throwing at her, and her once-Dream Job doesn’t seem like the dream it once was. The depiction of her struggle with her mental health issues is beautifully done, as is her ultimate quest to take chances and risks to find herself. 

While definitely not Genre Romance, there is a lovely romantic subplot with author Andrew. He provides a lot of support and perspective for Nora, as well as some much-needed lightness to the overall narrative. 

I enjoyed this book, even if it was a bit heavier than it promised with the marketing (cover, blurb, etc.) If you’re looking for an emotional contemporary read with a sympathetic lead, I recommend checking this out. 

Author Bio

Shauna Robinson’s love of books led her to try a career in publishing before deciding she’d rather write books instead. Originally from San Diego, she now lives in Virginia with her husband and their sleepy greyhound. Shauna is an introvert at heart—she spends most of her time reading, baking, and figuring out the politest way to avoid social interaction. Must Love Books is her debut novel. 

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Reading the Swoonies: ”A Marvellous Light” (The Last Binding #1) by Freya Marske

Marske, Freya. A Marvellous Light. New York: Tordotcom, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1250788870 | $27.99 USD | 375 pages | Historical Fantasy Romance 

Blurb 

Robin Blythe has had more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employee, and the barrier baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known. 

Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else. 

Robin’s predecessor had disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles—and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.

Review 

4 stars 

A Marvellous Light is one of those 2021 debuts I must have vaguely heard about, but only found out the specifics of more recently. I took the chance on it at the recent B&N hardcover sale, and now that it’s one of the semi-final nominees for the Swoon Awards in two categories, I was even more curious to see if it was worth the hype.

Style wise, it definitely gave me somewhat similar vibes to books like Witchmark by CL Polk (also m/m historical fantasy set around the same time period) or Zen Cho’s Sorcerer Royal books. I loved the clear sense of place in alt-Edwardian England, but with an intriguing infusion of magic. While there’s a lot of familiar elements, Freya Marske gives it her own unique spin.

Edwin and Robert are both intriguing characters, and while it did take time to get to know and warm up to them, I soon found myself really liking them. They have a delightful grumpy/sunshine dynamic, and play off each other really well. And while it is a slow burn, once it amps up, it goes all in on the steam. The way the magic was incorporated into one steamy scene is particularly fun. 

While I wasn’t super invested in the mystery element compared to the rest of it, it was pretty engaging, and provided some good twists and turns. 

This is a charming read and fun debut, and I’m definitely hoping to fares well in the Swoonies. If you like historical fantasy romance, I recommend checking this out. 

Author Bio

Freya Marske is one of the cohosts of Be the Serpent, a Hugo Award-nominated podcast about SFF, fandom, and literary tropes. Her work has appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact and been shortlisted for Best Short Story at the Aurealis Awards. She lives in Australia. 

http://freyamarske.com/ 

Twitter: @freyamarske

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“Under the Udala Trees” by Chinelo Okparanta (Review)

Okparanta, Chinelo. Under the Udala Trees. Boston: Mariner Books, 2015. 

ISBN-13: 978-0544811799 | $16.99 USD | 336 pages | Historical/Literary Fiction

Blurb

Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly.

Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls. 

When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie. 

As Edwidge Danticat has made personal the legacy of Haiti’s political coming of age, Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees uses one woman’s lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle toward selfhood. Even as their nation contends with and recovers from the effects of war and division, Nigerian lives are also wrecked and lost from taboo and prejudice. This story offers a glimmer of hope — a future where a woman might just be able to shape her life around truth and love.

Review 

5 stars 

I can’t remember how I first heard of Under the Udala Trees, but I have been interested in it for a long time, and have only now taken the plunge to read it, as it is a bit outside my comfort zone. But I enjoyed it, and it made me really think and reflect about the experience queer people still face in a country like Nigeria where same-sex relationships are criminalized. 

I really appreciated the subtle ways Chinelo Okparanta provided context for what was going on in Nigeria throughout the book, from civil war to the way certain acts of legislation impacted the characters. 

I love how the story starts out with Ijeoma feeling trapped and having to try to “make the best of it,” even if she wasn’t happy, yet over time, there’s this shift where she starts questioning if things can be different. I hurt for her when she had to hide parts of herself because it was illegal or because it didn’t fit what others wanted/believed was right. It’s a fabulous coming-of-age narrative within what initially seems like such bleak circumstances. 

This book is fabulous, and I’m so glad I read it. I would absolutely recommend anyone who’s interested in it to pick this up. 

Author Bio

Chinelo Okparanta was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and relocated to the United States at the age of ten. She received her BS from The Pennsylvania State University, her MA from Rutgers University, and her MFA from the University of Iowa. She was one of Granta’s six New Voices for 2012 and her stories have appeared in Granta, The New Yorker, Tin House, Subtropics, and elsewhere.

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“Getting His Game Back” by Gia de Cadenet (ARC Review)

De Cadenet, Gia. Getting His Game Back. New York: Dell, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0593356623 | $17.00 USD | 336 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

“A thoroughly satisfying love story with a big, beating heart.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This book is emotional, steamy, and sweet—a triple threat! De Cadenet tackles mental health, gender stereotypes, and interracial romance with care and creativity. I loved it!”—Chantel Guertin, author of Instamom 

Khalil Sarda went through a rough patch last year, but now he’s nearly back to his old self. All he has to do is keep his “stuff” in his past. Real men don’t have depression and go to therapy–or, at least they don’t admit it. He’s ready to focus on his growing chain of barbershops, take care of his beloved Detroit community, and get back to being the ladies’ man his family and friends tease him for being. It’ll be easy . . . until Vanessa throws him completely off his game.

Vanessa Noble is too busy building a multimillion-dollar tech career as a Black woman before age thirty to be distracted by a relationship.

Not to mention, she’s been burned before, still dealing with the lingering hurt of a past breakup. Besides, as her friends often remind her, she’ll never find a man who checks all the boxes on her famous List. Yet when she desperately needs a shape-up and happens upon one of Khalil’s barbershops, the Fade, he makes her reconsider everything. Khalil is charming, intelligent, sexy, and definitely seems like he’d treat a woman right . . . but he’s not Black.

Vanessa may be willing to take a chance on Khalil, but a part of him is frustratingly closed off, just out of her reach. Will old patterns emerge to keep them apart? Or have they both finally found a connection worth throwing away the playbook for?

2.5 stars 

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

Getting His Game Back was a massive disappointment. I’m not entirely sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this. 

I will start by saying I do think the mental health rep was written well. That and the other serious topics may have dominated the book a bit more than I expected, a frustrating pattern with these trade paperback “rom-coms,” but I did like that there was an emphasis on getting help with your mental health in particular, with Khalil working with a therapist at various points throughout the book. 

And in theory, I did feel like the characters worked. Khalil, as I already noted, is well-rendered in his struggles with depression. And while I can’t speak to the specifics about Vanessa’s identity as a Black woman, I did like the way she was written. She’s successful in her field, and I loved seeing her wanting to keep her focus on that, only to have her priorities shift entirely. 

However, I wasn’t super engaged in the romance. I do appreciate that the interracial relationship as a concept was discussed, with Vanessa’s initial resistance to them, but other than that, I wasn’t super won over. They do have some chemistry, but as things slowly progressed, I just wasn’t sure I bought into it, especially as they exchanged “I love you’s.” 

The pacing of this book was super off…and noticeably so. The book takes place over the course of months, with the passage of time documented with a subheading indicating the new month at the beginning of the relevant chapter. I don’t mind books that take place over a long period of time…it’s somewhat refreshing, given how some couples seem to fall in love within a matter of days or weeks. But each time a new month would come up, and I still hadn’t progressed much into the book, I wondered how much longer it would take. And while I didn’t miss the superficial drama that takes place in many romances, it didn’t feel like there was much challenging the romance, as much as it challenged the characters individually and kept each of them from pushing the romance forward out of their own reluctance. As a result, the book felt much longer than it should have been. 

I didn’t enjoy this as much as I hoped I would, but I can see its merits, provided it finds the right readers. If you go in prepared for the heavy topics and are in the mood for a slower-paced read, it’s possible you’ll enjoy it more than I did. 

Author Bio

In addition to being a Maggie Award finalist and lifelong romance reader, Gia de Cadenet has been by turns a legislative aide, a business school professor, and a former translator and editor for UNESCO. She’s a coffee connoisseur, celebrates Fridays with champagne, and loves to go to San Sebastián, Spain, for leisurely weekends. A native Floridian, and currently lives in Paris, France, with her husband and children. 

https://giadecadenet.com

Twitter: @Gia_deCadenet

Instagram: @gia_decad

Tik Tok: @giadecadenet

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“Her Hidden Genius” by Marie Benedict (ARC Review)

Benedict, Marie. Her Hidden Genius. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1728229393 | $26.99 USD | 304 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb 

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Mystery of Mrs Christie and The Only Woman in the Room 

Rosalind Franklin has always been an outsider–brilliant, but different. Whether working at the laboratory she adored in Paris or toiling at a university in London, she feels closest to the science, those unchanging laws of physics and chemistry that guide her experiments. When she is assigned to work on DNA, she believes she can unearth its secrets.

Rosalind knows if she just takes one more X-ray picture–one more after thousands–she can unlock the building blocks of life. Never again will she have to listen to her colleagues complain about her, especially Maurice Wilkins who’d rather conspire about genetics with James Watson and Francis Crick than work alongside her.

Then it finally happens–the double helix structure of DNA reveals itself to her with perfect clarity. But what unfolds next, Rosalind could have never predicted.

Marie Benedict’s powerful new novel shines a light on a woman who sacrificed her life to discover the nature of our very DNA, a woman whose world-changing contributions were hidden by the men around her but whose relentless drive advanced our understanding of humankind. 

Review 

4.5 stars

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

I first learned about Rosalind Franklin and her contribution to what the study of DNA in one of my science classes, and it’s one of the few things that stuck with me from that subject, because of the sexism she faced while she was alive and the way her male colleagues took credit for her work and diminished her importance posthumously. Her Hidden Genius continues in the tradition of books written by those who knew her and tried to rehabilitate and celebrate her over the past few decades, and it’s a lovely tribute. 

While it does involve a lot of scientific language, and that’s very much not my thing, I felt Marie Benedict conveyed it well through Rosalind Franklin’s  voice. Benedict also draws a clear picture of Rosalind, not just professionally, but personally. She was incredibly devoted to her work, and her passion for it radiates through the story. Even a serious health scare that would lead to her death wouldn’t keep her down for long. I also felt for her as her colleagues didn’t take her seriously and belittled her, especially since I knew what was to come. Her family is traditionally-minded (not surprising, given the time period), and wants her to settle down, marry and start a family, and Rosalind wants none of it. 

I also appreciated the subtle nuances within the time period, exploring how scientific communities in different countries differed. Rosalind’s bad experiences all occurred working with fellow British scientists, yet she had much more positive and supportive experiences working with French scientists, due to their starkly different ideas and attitudes.

I enjoyed this book, and I’m glad to see more written about Rosalind Franklin to shine a light on both  her as a person and her contributions to science. I would absolutely recommend this if you’re looking for more historical fiction centered on women and the issues they’ve faced throughout history. 

Author Bio

Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms and Fortune 500 companies. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a focus on history and cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law. She is also the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Mystery of Mrs. Christie and The Only Woman in the Room, as well as Carnegie’s Maid, The Other Einstein, and Lady Clementine. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family. 

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“The Missing Page” (Page & Sommers #2) by Cat Sebastian (ARC Review)

Sebastian, Cat. The Missing Page. [Place of publication not identified]: Cat Sebastian, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-201586973 | $4.99 USD | 236 pages | Historical Romance/Mystery 

Blurb

England, 1948: Semi-retired spy Leo Page and country doctor James Sommers team up to solve a decades-old mystery.

When James learns that an uncle he hasn’t heard from in ages has left him something in his will, he figures that the least he can do is head down to Cornwall for a weekend to honor the old man’s parting wishes. He finds the family home filled with half-remembered guests and unwanted memories, but more troubling is that his uncle has tasked his heirs with uncovering the truth behind a woman’s disappearance twenty years earlier.

Leo doesn’t like any of it. He’s just returned from one of his less pleasant missions and maybe he’s slightly paranoid about James’s safety, but he’s of the opinion that rich people aren’t to be trusted where wills are concerned. So he does what any sensible spy would do and infiltrates the house party.

Together they unravel a mystery that exposes long-standing family secrets and threatens to involve James more than either of them would like.

In the series

Hither, Page

Review 

4 stars 

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

The Missing Page is a sweet, fun follow-up in the Page & Sommers series. It’s fun following James and Leo on another adventure, this time as an established couple. 

James and Leo are so cute together. This story delves further into James’ past, and I liked how the mystery really tapped into that and his issues there. Meanwhile, I really liked seeing Leo’s cynicism about the situation come out, and the fact that he feels protective of James in this treacherous situation is super sweet. 

The mystery is great, and while James and Leo are in a new location, there is still an element of that balance of coziness and uncertainty that ran through the first. The mystery intrigued me, because in addition to being very personal for James, it exposed a lot of family drama, which is one of my favorite mystery plot types. 

I enjoyed this a lot, and I hope this isn’t the last readers see of these two. 

Author Bio

Cat Sebastian writes queer historical romance. She lives in a swampy part of the South but also on twitter. 

https://catsebastian.com

Twitter & Instagram: CatSWrites

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“The Red Palace” is June Hur’s Best Book Yet!

Hur, June. The Red Palace. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1250800558 | $18.99 USD | 352 pages | YA Historical Mystery 

Blurb 

Critically acclaimed author of The Silence of Bones and The Forest of Stolen Girls June Hur returns with a third evocative, atmospheric historical mystery perfect for fans of Courtney Summers and Kerri Maniscalco.

To enter the palace means to walk a path stained in blood…

1758, Joseph. There are few options available to illegitimate daughters in the capital city, but through hard work and study, seventeen-year-old Hyeon has earned a position as a palace nurse. All she wants is to keep her head down, do a good job, and perhaps finally win her estranged father’s approval. 

But Hyeon is suddenly thrust into the dark and dangerous world of court politics when someone murders four women in a single night and the prime suspect is Hyeon’s closest friend and mentor. Determined to prove her beloved teacher’s innocence, Hyeon launches her own secret investigation. 

In her hunt for the truth, she encounters Eojin, a young police inspector also searching for the killer. When evidence begins to point to the Crown Prince himself as the murderer, Hyeon and Eojin must work together to search the darkest corners of the palace to uncover the deadly secrets behind the bloodshed. 

Review

5 stars

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

The Red Palace is my favorite of June Hur’s books so far. It perhaps has the most “historical K-Drama vibes,” and Hur has even been enthusing on Twitter about the subtle overlap between the recently-concluded K-Drama,  The Red Sleeve. 

I’ve come to love how Hur finds little bits from Korean history and builds a story around it, and I was particularly stunned by what served as the inspiration for this one. I appreciated Hur’s sensitivity in conveying the issue textually, as well as the way she conveyed further information about what happened in her historical note. 

Hyeon is Hur’s most intriguing protagonist to date. I felt for her, trying to navigate her life as an illegitimate child of a powerful man, craving but never receiving her father’s affection. And then navigating court life is complex, even when there isn’t a brutal murderer on the loose. 

And there’s a romance in this one! It’s not a big part of the plot or anything, but there are some lovely moments between Hyeon and Eojin. He’s a police inspector who is also trying to find the killer. There’s class differences addressed in a very lovely way, and I love that he doesn’t look down on her for her background. And the development from a purely professional collaboration to something more? It’s so well done! 

This book is perfect, and has everything I could want in a book. If you like K-Dramas or historical mysteries with subtle romance, I recommend picking this up. 

Author Bio

June Hur was born in South Korea and raised in Canada, except for the time when she moved back to Korea and attended high school there. She studied history and literature at the University of Toronto. She began writing her debut novel and obsessing over books about Joseon Korea. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop. June is the author of The Silence of Bones and The Forest of Stolen Girls and currently lives in Toronto with her husband and their daughter. 

Website: https://junehur.com 

Twitter: @WriterJuneHur

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“Something Fabulous” by Alexis Hall is Absolutely Fabulous! (ARC Review)

Hall, Alexis. Something Fabulous. Seattle: Montlake, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1542036290 | $12.95 USD | 363 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb 

From the acclaimed author of Boyfriend Material comes a delightfully witty romance featuring a reserved duke who’s betrothed to one twin and hopelessly enamoured with the other. 

It was always his father’s hope that Valentine would marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. But, unfortunately, too many novels at an impressionable age have caused her to grow up…romantic. So romantic that a marriage of convenience will not do and after Valentine’s proposal she flees into the night determined never to set eyes on him again.

Arabella’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton, has also grown up…romantic. And fully expects Valentine to ride out after Arabella and prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted cad he seems to be.

Despite copious misgivings, Valentine finds himself on a pell-mell chase to Dover with Bonny by his side. Bonny is unreasonable, overdramatic, annoying, and…beautiful? And being with him makes Valentine question everything he thought he knew. About himself. About love. Even about which Tarleton he should be pursuing.

Review 

5 stars 

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

Every time I think I can’t love Alexis Hall as an author more, he releases another absolute gem of a book and conquers yet another genre or style. In the first of two ventures into historical romance this year, Something Fabulous is everything I love (and even some stuff I’m a bit critical of) in HR, with a gay twist and Hall’s signature British humor. 

The two leads are an absolute delight. Hall describes them in his GR pitch as “a overly dramatic beautiful rainbow sunshine unicorn” and “a overly dramatic demisexual grumpy duke.” While grumpy dukes aren’t typically my cup of tea, Hall’s rendition of the archetype in Valentine is brilliant. He’s very much aware of his position and responsibilities, but he’s not snobbish about it (much). I rooted for him to overcome his dedication to duty and conformity over all else, and this is perhaps one of the best renditions of that trope I’ve read. I appreciate the way it subtly touches on the issues gay men faced at the time, while retaining the generally positive, lighthearted tone and providing a believable path for Valentine to find his HEA with Bonny. 

And Bonny is sentimental and lovely, and he’s one of those characters you can’t help but immediately love. I loved his kinship with his sister Arabella, and how he was interested in what she wanted. 

The romance is so freaking fun. These two have the best banter initially, and I loved seeing them interact as they’re on this madcap chase after Arabella, with things slowly evolving from animosity due to their present situation and seemingly opposing worldviews to falling for each other. 

The supporting cast is great too. I was particularly surprised by Valentine’s mother, the former duchess. She’s so different from many stereotypical  mother characters in historicals, and was the catalyst for one of my absolute favorite moments. 

This book is so charming, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for more queer historical romance. 

Author Bio 

Alexis Hall is determined to marry into money, as his grandfather drank half the family fortune and gambled the rest. He lives in a tumbledown manor in a fictional county, and his valet doesn’t even have a humorous name. 

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“Anatomy: A Love Story” by Dana Schwartz (ARC Review)

Schwartz, Dana. Anatomy: A Love Story. New York: Wednesday Books, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1250774156 | $18.99 USD | 352 pages | YA Historical Fiction 

Blurb 

Dana Schwartz’s Anatomy: A Love Story is a gothic tale full of mystery and romance. 

Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, Beecham will allow her to continue her medical career. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books—she’ll need corpses to study.

Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.

But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets, and the dreaded Roman Fever, which wiped out thousands a few years ago, is back with a vengeance. Nobody important cares—until Hazel.

Now, Hazel and Jack must work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.

Review 

4 stars 

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

Anatomy: A Love Story is odd…but in a good way. Upon reading the blurb, and hearing an author I follow describe the initial setup, I thought it felt a bit reminiscent of the Kerri Maniscalco Jack the Ripper series, as the leads of that one are also in the medical field and they also wind up solving mysteries with odd twists. But given the way this one progresses, that comparison does feel a bit less apt in retrospect. 

Dana Schwartz conveys the setting of 19th century Scotland and the Gothic/mystery vibes beautifully. I was swept up in the atmosphere, and then sucked into the sometimes wacky sequence of events. 

Characters may be the weakest point of the book. I did like Hazel…I admire her determination to succeed in a profession that has barred women, as well as her compassion when she sees things that disturb her, which ultimately becomes an asset, even if it doesn’t seem to be the case at first. But Jack doesn’t have much to define him beyond his admittedly cool occupation and his interest in Hazel, and the latter was the only reason I felt any fear at tense moments when he was in jeopardy. 

I liked the story overall, and I like how it starts off establishing what Hazel and Jack want, and then seeing them dive into the chaos with all the death going on. While there’s a supernatural twist that I didn’t see coming as part of the Big Reveal, it’s done in a way that feels plausible. I did have a lot of questions about the ending, given how vague it is, and Schwartz has been a bit mysterious in regards to whether that means there will be a sequel or not. 

 This is a delightfully odd and appropriately creepy book. If you’re looking for historical fiction with a dash of romance, a bit of mystery,  and a gradual sprinkling of the supernatural, I recommend picking up this one.

Author Bio

Dana is a writer of books, TV shows, Marvel comic books, and podcasts.

Dana is the creator and host of the number one charting podcasting Noble Blood from iHeartRadio, which tells stories of royals from history. She is also the host of the iHeart original podcast, Haileywood, and a frequent co-host on the Crooked Media podcast, Hysteria

Dana is the author of three books, including the memoir Choose Your Own Disaster and the humor book, The White Man’s Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon, based on her viral parody Twitter account @GuyInYourMFA. Her fourth book, Anatomy: A Love Story, is forthcoming from Wednesday Books.

As a journalist, Dana has written for Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, GQ, Vanity Fair, Bustle, and more. 

Dana lives in Los Angeles with her fiancé and her cats, Eddie and Beetlejuice. 

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It’s Not Like It’s a Secret

Sugiura, Misa. It’s Not Like It’s a Secret. New York: HarperTeen, 2017. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062473424 | $10.99 USD | 394 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb 

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

Review 

4 stars 

I liked the previous book from Misa Sugiura I read, so I was eager to try another. It’s Not Like It’s a Secret is a somewhat different book than the other one I tried, in that it does feel more issue-focused and serious, and sometimes, it does touch on something that I felt could have been more fleshed out, especially to explode some of the elements of Misa’s family dynamics, like their culture and the fact her dad is having an affair/mostly walked out on them. 

But I really liked the exploration of Misa’s identity as someone coming to terms with her sexuality, as well as dealing with the stereotypes people have of her due to her Japanese background. The fact that her love interest, Jamie, is Latinx, and is also dealing with similar things is nice. I have heard mixed things about the Latinx rep, and the racism at times is quite intense. However, at least initially, the two of them have a nice relationship in spite of their overlapping challenges. Their shared love of poetry is especially sweet. 

There’s a controversial point where Misa has doubts about her relationship, and kisses someone else. Others have criticized it, but I don’t feel like it’s a problem, as it was written that it was something Misa regretted, and the other person involved even called her out for it. I don’t see how that’s romanticizing cheating. As I believe I mentioned in my review of a more recent book with a similar issue: teens are messy. I have a pretty strong limit of what I do not tolerate in adult romance where the issues are often much more serious, but in YA contemporaries, why are we dinging the protagonists (who are often queer/people of color) for not being paragons of morality? 

I enjoyed this, although I can understand it not being for everyone. If you’re looking for a YA contemporary that doesn’t shy away from a lot of the issues queer teens of color face, and you don’t mind it getting messy, I’d recommend giving it a try. 

Author Bio

Misa Sugiura’s ancestors include a poet, a priestess, a samurai, and a stowaway. Her first novel, It’s Not Like It’s a Secret, won the Asian Pacific Islander American Librarians’ Association’s Award for Young Adult Literature; her highly acclaimed second novel, This Time Will Be Different, made the Best of 2019 lists of YALSA, Kirkus Reviews, the New York Public Library, and the Chicago Public Library. Her short story, “Where I’m From,” appears in Come On In, a young adult anthology of stories about immigration. Her latest book, Love & Other Natural Disasters has been praised by the American Library Association as “hilariously awkward” and “honestly poignant.” You can find her online at http://www.misasugiura.com/ and @misallaneous1 on Twitter and Instagram.

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“The Wicked Widow” (The Wicked City #3) by Beatriz Williams (Review)

Williams, Beatriz. The Wicked Widow. New York: William Morrow, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0063144736 | $27.99 USD | 434 pages | Historical Fiction/Contemporary 

Blurb 

Gin Kelly, The Wicked Redhead, is back—in the next installment of The Wicked City series by New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams.

June 1924. The audacious Geneva “Gin” Kelly prepares to trade her high-flying ways for respectable marriage to Oliver Anson Marshall, a Prohibition agent who happens to hail from one of New York’s most distinguished families. But just as wedding bells chime, the head of a notorious rum-running racket—and Anson’s mortal enemy—turns up murdered and their honeymoon bliss goes up in a spectacular blaze that sends Anson back undercover…and into the jaws of a trap from which not even Gin can rescue him. 

June 1998. When Ella Dommerich’s ninetysomething aunt Julie ropes her into digging up first on presidential candidate Franklin Hardcastle in order to settle old family scores, Ella couldn’t be less enthusiastic. The Hardcastle secrets lead to a web of shady dealings, and the bodies start to tumble out of the venerable woodwork. Thanks to her mysterious connection to a certain redheaded flapper, Ella had dug up more than mere dirt…only to discover herself standing alone beside a legendarily ruthless family and the prize it’s sought for generation. 

What ugly secrets lurk on the opulent enclaves—and trust accounts—of America’s richest families? And can two determined women from two different generations toward the legacy of a fortune earned in rum and blood? 

In the series

#1 The Wicked City

The Wicked Redhead

Review 

5 stars 

The Wicked Widow finally delivers on what was building for the Wicked City series for the last two books, what with things finally coming together, not to mention some major reveals. I devoured it, while paying rapt attention to every detail of the interpersonal dramas. This is not only the third installment in an official series, but also another addition to Beatriz Williams’ interconnected world, so I loved all the little subtle connections she draws to other branches of the family tree, sometimes more overtly and sometimes more subtly in a way that longtime readers will get, but others might not, because the POV character isn’t privy to that information. 

I said in my review of the prior book that Ella’s story was becoming more and more interesting to me, and that remained the case in this one. I loved seeing her continue to navigate her messy personal situation, with the cheater ex Patrick who wants to remain in her good graces (plus, the fact she’s expecting his child) and Hector, the new guy in her life who things are getting serious with. There were definitely some twists and turns in that regard, including a famous ex of Hector’s he’s working with on a film, and a planned wedding between one of Ella’s cousins to Patrick’s friend. Not to mention the element that connects to the past storyline with Gin Kelly, with the Hardcastles (former in-laws to Ella’s aunt Tiny) and bootlegging. 

And Gin’s story is really compelling too. There’s a real sense of high stakes, what with her and Anson being sent into hiding following a murder in the Hardcastle family which gets blamed on Anson’s work as a Prohibition officer. I really liked the parallel to Ella’s life of Gin also going through pregnancy in rather complicated, albeit different, circumstances. And the reveal of Gin’s own Schuyler connection, after having had that passing association with them (particularly Julie) in previous books? I don’t know how I didn’t see it coming sooner, but I love it.

I’m glad this series is finally hitting its stride, and I am excited for more (as the open-ended ending suggests there will be). If you’re a Beatriz Williams fan, I think you’ll love this one. 

Author Bio

Beatriz Williams is the New York Times bestselling author of fourteen novels, including Our Woman in Moscow and The Golden Hour, as well as All the Ways We Said Goodbye, cowritten with Lauren Willig and Karen White. A native of Seattle, Beatriz graduated from Stanford University and earned an MBA in finance from Columbia University. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore. 

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“Love and Other Disasters” by Anita Kelly: Soft, Sweet Perfection (ARC Review)

Kelly, Anita. Love & Other Disasters. New York: Forever, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1538754849 | $15.99 USD | 384 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

The first openly nonbinary contestant on America’s favorite cooking show falls for their clumsy competitor in this delicious romantic comedy debut “that is both fantastically fun and crack your heart wide open vulnerable.” (Rosie Danan, author of The Roommate

Recently divorced and on the verge of bankruptcy, Dahlia Woodson is ready to reinvent herself on the popular reality competition show Chef’s Special. Too bad the first memorable move she makes is falling flat on her face, sending fish tacos flying—not quite the fresh start she was hoping for. Still, she’s focused on winning, until she meets someone she might want a future with more than she needs the prize money. 

After announcing their pronouns on national television, London Parker has enough on their mind without worrying about the klutzy competitor stationed in front of them. They’re there to prove the trolls—including a fellow contestant and their dad—wrong, and falling in love was never part of the plan. 

As London and Dahlia get closer, reality starts to fall away. Goodbye, guilt about divorce, anxiety about uncertain futures, and stress from transphobia. Hello, hilarious shenanigans on set, wedding crashing, and spontaneous dips into the Pacific. But as the finale draws near, Dahlia and London’s steamy relationship starts to feel the heat  both in and outside the kitchen—and they must figure out if they have the right ingredients for a happily ever after. 

Review 

5 stars 

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

I’ve been so excited for Love & Other Disasters since receiving my review copy a few months back, and I’m so happy to see it getting so much attention, including being picked up by Book of the Month. And now having finished it, I find the hype is definitely well deserved. It’s such a sweet, heartwarming hug of a book, and that made me feel every emotion. 

The characters’ respective passion for food is what caught my attention from the first pages. The descriptions of the food and the cooking are so enticing and mouthwatering. It’s definitely one of the biggest highlights of the book, especially the first half. And even if some of the more serious moments took center stage in the second half, it always came back to food, including one of the most perfect, subtle romantic gestures that caps off the book. 

And the characters are brilliant. Dahlia is a bundle of chaos, and her life is in shambles, but she’s determined to try to reinvent herself. And I loved  London’s bravery in being authentically themself in such a public, and sometimes judgmental,  environment like a reality cooking show. And upon the revelation that London is still dealing with issues of acceptance in her own family unit, that’s even more wonderful. 

And while the road to their happy ending is not without speed-bumps, especially Dahlia’s doubts, I love how much they love each other with mutual respect and without judgments about what each other has been through or their respective personal quirks. London embraces Dahlia’s chaos, and Dahlia is willing to support and stand up for London when people try to invalidate them and their gender identity.

This book is pure perfection, and I’d recommend it to everyone, especially if you love queer romcoms and/or foodie romances. 

Author Bio

Originally from a small town in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, Anita Kelly now lives in the Pacific Northwest with their family. A teen librarian by day,  they write romance that celebrates queer love in all its infinite possibilities. Whenever not reading or writing, they’re drinking too much tea, taking pictures, and dreaming of their next walk in the woods. They hope you get to pet a dog today. 

To learn more, visit: 

https://anitakellywrites.com

Twitter: @daffodilly 

Instagram: @anitakellywrites

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“Shadows of Swanford Abbey” by Julie Klassen (Review)

Klassen, Julie. Shadows of Swanford Abbey. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0764234248 | $16.99 USD | 410 pages | Regency Romance/Mystery/Christian Fiction 

Blurb 

Agatha Christie meets Jane Austen in this atmospheric Regency tale brimming with mystery, intrigue, and romance.

When Miss Rebecca Lane returns to her home village after a few years away, her brother begs for a favor: go to nearby Swanford Abbey and deliver his manuscript to an author staying there who could help him get published. Feeling responsible for her brother’s desperate state, she reluctantly agrees. 

The medieval monastery turned grand hotel is rumored to be haunted. Rebecca begins noticing strange things, including a figure in a hooded black gown gliding silently through the abbey’s cloisters. For all its renovations and veneer of luxury, the ancient foundations seem to echo with whispers of the past—including her own. For there she encounters Sir Frederick—magistrate, widower, and former neighbor—who long ago broke her heart. 

When the famous author is found murdered in the abbey, Sir Frederick  begins questioning staff and quickly discovers several people held grudges against the man, including Miss Lane and her brother. Haunted by a painful betrayal in his past, Sir Frederick searches for answers but is torn between his growing feelings for Rebecca and his pursuit for truth. For Miss Lane is clearly hiding something…

Review 

4 stars 

Julie Klassen crafts another compelling historical romance/mystery with Shadows of Swanford Abbey. I was instantly drawn in with the Gothic vibes and imagery, with the story being set in and around a purportedly haunted abbey. Klassen has a great sense of place that comes through in her writing, and that was absolutely one of the highlights of this one. 

I really liked Rebecca, especially her relationship with her brother, who deals with mental health issues. I could understand her motivations, even if it did look suspicious to others. As someone who struggles with and has family who struggle with mental health issues to varying degrees, I appreciated this depiction of a mentally ill person and their family, without the sensationalism, in spite of it being common in the Gothic novels that Klassen is paying homage to.

While he didn’t wow me like some previous Klassen heroes (Henry Weston FTW), I did warm up to Sir Frederick, and I had a consistent appreciation for him trying to do his best in unprecedented circumstances. He’s leading the investigation into the murder, but he also has a past romance with Rebecca, so it’s kinda…complicated…as he tries to unravel what’s going on. But I really liked seeing them getting reacquainted, and my feelings toward him grew along with Rebecca’s. 

The mystery was engaging, and it kept me guessing. With the victim not being the most pleasant person, it wasn’t shocking to find that he wasn’t well-liked, so there were plenty of possibilities, enough to keep me guessing and be left pleasantly surprised by the outcome. 

Pacing wise, it did feel a bit slower, with it taking its time to establish the environs and characters  before things really kicked off. But Klassen makes this worth your while, and I was consistently engaged for the most part in this well-crafted story. 

Julie Klassen has written another engaging, immersive story, evoking Jane Austen and Agatha Christie vibes to perfection. If you like historical romance/mystery, I recommend trying this one. 

Author Bio

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. Her books have sold over a million copies, and she is a three-time recipient of the Christy Award for Historical Romance. The Secret of Pembrooke Park was honored with the Minnesota Book Award and Christian Retailing’s BEST Award, and has been a finalist in the RITA and Carol Awards. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full-time. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. For more information, you can follow her on Facebook or visit https://julieklassen.com.

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“Electric Idol” (Dark Olympus #2) by Katee Robert (ARC Review)

Robert, Katee. Electric Idol. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1728231761 | $14.99 USD | 384 pages | Erotic/Contemporary/Fantasy Romance 

Blurb 

He was the most beautiful man in Olympus. 

And if  I wasn’t careful, he was going to be my death. 

*A scorchingly hot modern retelling of Psyche and Eros that’s as sinful as it is sweet.*

In the ultra-modern city of Olympus, there’s always a price to pay. Psyche Dimitriou knew she’d have to face Aphrodite’s jealous rage eventually, but she never expected her literal heart to be at stake…or for Aphrodite’s gorgeous son to be the one ordered to strike the killing blow. 

Eros has no problem shedding blood. Raised to be his mother’s knife in the dark, he’s been conditioned to accept that he’s more monster than man. But when it comes time to take out his latest target…he can’t do it. Confused by his reaction to Psyche’s unexpected kindness, he does the only thing he can think of to keep her safe: he binds her to him, body and soul. 

Psyche did not expect to find herself married to the glittering city’s most dangerous killer,  but something about Eros wakens a fire inside her she’s never felt before. As lines blur and loyalties shift, Psyche realizes Eros might take her heart after all…and she’s not sure and can survive the loss. 

In the series

#1 Neon Gods

Review 

4.5 stars 

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

Electric Idol is the second book in Katee Robert’s Dark Olympus series, following up on the amazing Neon Gods. While this does work as a stand-alone, I feel like it did help having familiarity with the structure of this contemporary, yet still fantastical version of Olympus. Having familiarity going in about the structures of things, and how these aren’t actual gods, but different titles are given in different ways, is definitely helpful. 

While I am comparatively less familiar with the story that inspired this one in comparison to the previous book, given Robert’s openness about subverting these tales to provide more optimistic endings, that’s definitely not a drawback. 

And while I was a bit leery about the premise, with Eros essentially being a monster with no real emotions being manipulated by his mother, just as she did with Hades and Persephone, Robert handles a complex, messy plot with sensitive themes with care. Eros did take longer to grow on me than Hades did, but appreciated the nuance with which Eros’ psychological damage is depicted. Psyche is a great counterpart for him, being just the right amounts of assertive and empathetic, so while I still feel the urge to unpack the dynamics at play here, I like that there’s a sense of self-awareness to both of them. There’s a moment where she says, “you’re a monster, but you’re my monster,” and I just loved that.

And I really liked the exploration of Psyche’s character in her own right as well. There’s great fat rep where she’s concerned, and while it also touches on what it means for her to be compared to her beautiful sister, she never lacks self-confidence due to the way she looks. 

And while there’s a lot of fraught family dynamics here, particularly with both leads’ respective mothers, I loved that there are still some lovely moments too, particularly between Persephone and Psyche. One of their other sisters, Callisto, speaks vocally in opposition to Psyche’s marriage plans with Eros. HoweverX Persephone’s response is to return the favor of support Psyche offered when Persephone got together with Hades, but not without the warning that she could act differently and more protectively. 

While I can’t say it surpasses its predecessor in my heart, it’s still fabulous, and absolutely lives up to the hype generated on the heels of the first book’s success. Whether you like Greek mythology or not, this is a fabulous book I’d recommend for anyone who loves erotic romance. 

Author Bio

Katee Robert is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and romantic suspense. Entertainment Weekly calls her writing “unspeakably hot.” Her books have sold over a million copies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, children, a cat who thinks he’s a dog, and two Great Danes who think they’re lap dogs. You can visit her at https://www.kateerobert.com or on Twitter @katee_robert. 

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“Cytonic (Skyward #3) by Brandon Sanderson (Review)

Sanderson, Brandon. Cytonic. New York: Delacorte Press, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0399555855 | $19.99 USD | 415 pages | YA Science Fiction 

Blurb 

Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the bear star fighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years away from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home. 

Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa has seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator. 

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy.

The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return. 

To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying. 

In the series

#1 Skyward

#2 Starsight

Review 

3 stars 

Cytonic is the third Skyward adventure, and while I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous two, I still found things to enjoy. 

I really like Spensa as a character, and while there wasn’t much in the way of growth, there are still some lovely moments. There’s a bit where she finds a “trashy romance novel and I was a bit concerned, while not wanting to make a big deal about it out of context. Ultimately, she enjoys it, but does imagine some alternate possibilities for it. While I’m not a huge fan of the sentiment, I do like the way this was one of the ways that it showed her character, while also allowing for her to evolve in her opinions about something. 

M-Bot is a delight as ever, continuing to be a great companion to Spensa and fulfilling his purpose as the space-AI answer to fantasy animal companions. He was in a bit of peril at the end of the prior book, but it’s not something with major consequences this time around. 

I did enjoy getting to see her interact with new people and places. The setting and exploring being cytonic as an identity are interesting, and she encounters a whole bunch of colorful characters, including a band of pirates. 

However, like the prior book, that does mean the cast from the first book is again not much of a presence, if at all. I am excited that there are some companion novellas focusing on the Skyward Flight crew, and hope to read them as soon as I can.

I also felt a lot less engaged in this plot-wise. It’s one of those books that I felt enjoyment whenever I picked it up, but when I put it down, I wasn’t super motivated to pick it up again. As I said, there isn’t much in terms of character growth and development, and while I found things that happened interesting, I wasn’t hooked. 

While I didn’t love this one as much as the previous two (and book one is still the best in my opinion), I did enjoy it for what it is, and am still excited for what’s next, based on how this one ended. While I know this one will likely have mixed reactions from fans, I think it’s worth reading if you’ve enjoyed the series so far, especially if you like Spensa as a protagonist. 

Author Bio 

Brandon Sanderson is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Reckoners series (Steelheart, Firefight, Calamity, and the e-original Mitosis); the New York Times bestseller Skyward and it’s sequel, Starsight; the internationally bestselling Mistborn trilogy; and the Stormlight Archive. He was also chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. His books have been published in thirty-five languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide. Brandon lives and writes in Utah.

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“A Wanton for All Seasons” (Wantons of Waverton #3) by Christi Caldwell (Review)

Caldwell, Christi. A Wanton for All Seasons. Seattle: Montlake, 2021. 

ASIN: B0928G9PGR | $4.99 USD | 347 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb

Love is more than a charade as USA Today bestselling author Christi Caldwell reunites two wounded hearts in a stirring novel about second chances, scandal, and defiant romance.

Annalee Spencer and Wayland Smith were uninhibited young lovers until the Peterloo Massacre set them on two different paths. Raised to the title of Baron of Darlington in recognition of his courage, Wayland is now a model of propriety and heroism. As for Annalee, the trauma of that tragic day in Manchester is ever present. To dull the pain, she lives only for pleasure. And she derives immense pleasure from co-leading the Mismatch Society, a league of scandalously independent women. Perhaps too scandalous…because of Annalee. To save the society, she must adopt a veneer of respectability. For that she needs the man who’s won the admiration of the ton. Wayland may be conflicted, but he agrees to Annalee’s proposal, if only to atone for having brought his former beloved to Peterloo on that fateful day. Reunited under the pretense of a courtship, Wayland and Annalee find the feelings between them are becoming real. With their own futures at stake, it’s finally time to confront the past, to trust in each other again, and against the odds, to reclaim the love they once had.

In the series

#1 Someone Wanton His Way Comes

#2 The Importance of Being Wanton

4 stars

A Wanton for All Seasons is the third in the Wantons of Waverton series. It can be read as a stand-alone, although like with all of Christi Caldwell’s books, there’s a lot of fun connections and references to other books, not just in the series, but to the wider world she’s created. 

Caldwell is known for weaving tragedy into her characters’ backstories, and that is the case here, with Annalee dealing with trauma as a survivor of the Peterloo Massacre. The resulting PTSD is well-rendered and it really spoke to me, especially having known someone who also acted out as a young adult for a similar reason. I chafed at the way she was treated by her family, but was glad she had the support of her fellow Mismatch Society members (the female friendship is one of the best parts of this series for me). 

I really liked Wayland too. He’s also been impacted by Peterloo, with his heroism rewarding him with a title and a chance to provide better opportunities for himself and his sister. I love that, even while society looked down on Annalee, he didn’t, due to their previously established connection. 

This is another enjoyable read from Christi Caldwell, and I love its emphasis on healing in the aftermath of trauma and ultimately finding happiness. If you love emotionally moving historical romances, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Author Bio 

USA Today bestselling, RITA- nominated author Christi Caldwell blames authors Julie Garwood and Judith McNaught for luring her into the world of historical romance. When Christ was at the University of Connecticut, she began writing her own tales of love. She believes that most perfect heroes and heroines have imperfections and she rather enjoys torturing her couples before crafting them a well-deserved happily ever after.

Christi lives in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, where she spends her time writing and baking with her twin girls and courageous son. Fans who want to keep up with the latest news and information can sign up for her newsletter at http://christicaldwell.com

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“Love Somebody” by Rachel Roasek (ARC Review)

Roasek, Rachel. Love Somebody. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2022.

ISBN-13: 9780374388966 | $17.99 USD | 368 pages | YA Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

A modern YA rom-com about a popular high school girl, her ex-boyfriend-turned-best-friend, and the girl they both fall for—perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli or Casey McQuiston. 

Sam Dickson is an ambitious, popular, and charismatic actress who has big plans for her future. Ros Shew is one of the smartest people in school—but she’s a loner, and she prefers to keep it that way. Then there’s Christian Powell, the darling of the high school soccer team. He’s not the best with communication, which is why he and Sam stopped dating after a few months, but he makes up for it by being genuine, effusive, and kind, which is why they’re still best friends. 

When Christian falls for Ros on sight, their first interaction is a disaster, so he enlists Sam’s help to get through to her. Sam, with motives of her own, agrees to coach Christian from the sidelines on how to soften Ros’s notorious walls. But as Ros starts to suspect Christian is acting differently and Sam starts to realize the complexity of her own feelings, their fragile relationships threaten to fall apart. 

This fresh romantic comedy from debut author Rachel Roasek is a heartfelt story about falling in love—with a partner, with your friends, or just with yourself—and about how maybe the bravest thing to do in the face of change is just love somebody. 

5 stars 

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

Love Somebody drew my attention from the moment I read the premise. I’m not super-familiar with the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, beyond having looked briefly into it upon hearing about the upcoming movie musical adaptation, but I loved this fun, queer-positive homage to that story. 

One of the things that stands out immediately is the distinct voices of the three leads. I usually loathe multiple first person POV with a passion, because the voices feel so samey, but not so with this one. Whether from chapter to chapter or even sections in the same chapter, the voices flowed so well into one another and I loved all of them. 

Sam is a girl after my own heart. The fact that she models herself after Emma Watson, wanting to do it all, from acting to academics to charity work? I love that! And she’s incredibly headstrong and takes one critique a bit too personally. Ros is equally opinionated, but she has more insecurities and doubts about her future. And then there’s Christian, who is dealing with some family issues, which are conveyed remarkably well. 

I really liked the dynamics among all three. Sam and Christian have such a solid friendship, and it’s great to see that exes can be friends (although them breaking up on good terms absolutely played a role in that). I really wasn’t sure how I felt about Ros fitting into the equation. I had a feeling of the direction it would go in, especially with the contrast in Sam and Christian’s respective interactions with Ros. And while things could easily have gotten awkward and messy (and they do), there is a fairly peaceful resolution with very little in the way of hurt feelings. 

This is such a sweet book, and I adored every moment of it. If you love tropey stories with an LGBTQ+ twist, I recommend picking this up.

Author Bio

Rachel Roasek received a BA in drama and two minors in sign language and anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2017. When she’s not coming up with fictional worlds, Rachel works as both a voice actor and a stage technician. She currently lives in Raleigh with a few dying plants and her dog, Lupe. 

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“To Kiss a King” (Regency Royals #4) by Jess Michaels (ARC Review)

Michaels, Jess. To Kiss a King. Dallas: The Passionate Pen, LLC, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1947770706 | $4.99 USD | 240 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb 

Since being crowned King of Athawick after his father’s death, Grantham has been struggling. His family defies his every order, his kingdom may be on the verge of an uprising and now his palace has been invaded by a woman. A very frustrating woman who seems hellbent on torturing him with her playful sweetness.
Lady Ophelia may be the special guest of the newest Princess of Athawick, but her attention is all on the king. The rude, grumpy, forever-frowning king. He needs to be brought down a peg and she is just the woman to do it. If only she can avoid any romantic entanglements that she knows from bitter experience can’t end happily.
Sunshine meets grumpy in this clash of wits and passion, but when a revolution comes knocking this king may have to choose between his kingdom or love.

Previous installments 

See Regency Royals tag

Review 

3 stars 

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

To Kiss a King is the fourth in Jess Michaels’ Regency Royals series. It can work as a stand-alone, although in my personal opinion, the elements I really connected to were the ways in which it overlapped with the previous books, so I can’t really say if I’d recommend starting here. 

I was intrigued by the subplot concerning the rumored uprising, especially as political unrest in Athawick has lingered in the background in the prior books, and is the motivation for the royal family seeking alliances in England. It’s interesting seeing it from a more direct perspective, what with Grantham being the King. 

I feel very mixed about the characters and the romance. Olivia was interesting enough, and I did like the way she got under Grantham’s skin. However, Grantham just didn’t do it for me as a hero. I can respect him for the position he’s in, and can acknowledge that he has layers and vulnerabilities, but ultimately as a person, I wanted more than what he gave. 

I am excited for the direction the series seems to be heading in next (the Dowager Queen’s story!!!), and even though this book and series are a bit uneven, there’s enough that has kept me invested, along with my general enjoyment of Jess Michaels’ writing. If you’re a fan of steamy historicals, I hope you enjoy this more than I did, particularly if you enjoy grumpy heroes that need to be brought down a peg by sunshine-y, spitfire heroines. 

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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“Twilight at Moorington Cross” by Abigail Wilson (ARC Review

Wilson, Abigail. Twilight at Moorington Cross. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0785253273 | $16.99 USD | 320 pages | Regency Romance/Historical Mystery/Christian Fiction 

Blurb 

Amelia Pembroke is in a unique position in Regency England: She can obtain financial freedom. But in order to do so, she must marry one of two gentlemen. The trouble is, she might be falling in love with another man entirely. 

1819, Kent, England—Everything changed the moment Amelia became heiress to Moorington Cross. A young widow and patient at Cluett’s Mesmeric Hospital, Amelia is stunned to learn that her doctor—and the only father figure she’s ever known—has altered his will naming her his primary beneficiary. Such an opportunity is beyond what any Regency-era woman could dare to dream—especially one with a sleep disorder that finds her falling asleep at the most random of times. 

There is, however, a perplexing condition attached to the will: she must wed one of two named men, wholly unknown to her. Doing so would provide her with a secure future. But how can she marry one of these men when her heart is intrigued by the charming solicitor, Mr. Hawkins? 

Everything takes on a new sense of urgency—and danger—when Mr. Cluett is found dead in his bedchamber only hours after announcing his updated will. Now Amelia only has thirty days to decide  which man she will marry. But she is just as determined to uncover the truth of her benefactor’s demise with the help of Mr. Hawkins. After all, this sudden turn of events couldn’t merely be a coincidence—could it?

From award-winning author Abigail Wilson, Twilight at Moorington Cross is a mysterious Regency romance full of intrigue, mesmeric treatments, and abandoned corridors that proves love is the greatest testament of all. 

Review 

3 stars 

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

I have generally enjoyed Abigail Wilson’s books so far, but I’m sad to say that Twilight at Moorington Cross felt a bit lacking to me. The premise is great, but I can’t help but feel like it didn’t fully deliver on it. 

The book has a similar blend of mystery and romance to Wilson’s other work, although I feel like the effort went more into creating the right atmosphere for the mystery than developing the romance. I was consistently invested in the questions around Mr. Cluett’s mysterious death. The atmosphere is well-rendered, and I enjoyed the twists and turns as I tried to figure out what happened and who did it along with Amelia. 

But the interpersonal drama felt tepid. I could understand Amelia as a character to an extent…if financial freedom is on the line for you, especially as a woman, you would consider the conditions. And given marriages weren’t primarily for love anyway at l the time, it didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. And her having someone she’s interested in as a tempting alternative also felt believable. But other than the central couple (and even them at times), I struggled to maintain my investment in the characters and what was going on with them. 

While this book didn’t work for me as well as her prior books did, I will say that I still believe Abigail Wilson is talented, and this was a case of the book not working for me. I can already tell from early reviews that, while some share similar sentiments, there are others who loved this one. If you like historical romances with a mystery plot and no sex, it might still be worth checking out to see if you like it.

Author Bio

Abigail Wilson combines her passion for Regency England with intrigue and adventure to pen historical mysteries with a heart. A Registered Nurse, chai tea addict, and mother of two crazy kids, Abigail fills her spare time hiking the National Parks, attending her daughter’s diving meets, and curling up with a great book. In 2017, Abigail won WisRWA’s Fab Five contest and in 2016, ACFW’s First Impressions contest as well as placing as a 2017 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. She is a cum laude graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and currently lives in Dripping Springs, Texas, with her husband and children. 

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“The Family You Make” Begins a Fun New Series For Jill Shalvis!

Shalvis, Jill. The Family You Make. New York: William Morrow, 2022. 

978-0063025486 | $16.99 USD | 384 pages | Contemporary Romance/Women’s Fiction 

Blurb 

“Fall in love with Jill Shalvis! She’s my go-to read for humor and heart.”—Susan Mallery, New York Times bestselling author 

Beloved New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis begins a new series—Sunrise Cove—set near beautiful Lake Tahoe, with a heartwarming story of found family and love. 

During the snowstorm of the century Levi Cutler is stranded on a ski lift with a beautiful stranger named Jane. After strong winds hurl the gondola in front of them into the ground, Levi calls his parents to prepare them for the worst…but can’t bring himself to say goodbye. Instead, wanting to fulfill his mother‘s lifelong wish, he impulsively tells her he’s happily settled and Jane is his girlfriend—right before his phone dies. 

But Levi and Jane do not. 

Now Levi’s family is desperate to meet “The One.” Though Jane agrees to be his pretend girlfriend for just one dinner, she’s nervous. After a traumatic childhood, Jane isn’t sure she knows how to be around a tight-knit family that cherishes one another. She’s terrified and a little jealous. But an unexpected series of events and a host of new friends soon show Jane that perhaps this is the life she was always meant to have. 

As Jane and Levi spend more time together, pretend feelings quickly turn into real ones. Now all Jane has to do is admit to herself she can’t live without the man she’s fallen in love with and the family she’s always dreamed of. 

Review 

4 stars 

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

The Family You Make is the first in a new romantic women’s fiction series from Jill Shalvis. I felt the romance in this one was a bit more pronounced in this one than in her previous series, although it is very much sharing page time with Jane’s personal journey. 

I really liked becoming invested in a new small town, especially during the winter. This provides good grounds for stakes and tension among the characters. I also liked the emphasis on found family being as important as , if not more so than, blood relatives, with Jane finding herself being enveloped in a new loving family, after dealing with childhood trauma. 

Jane was pretty easy to root for, even as she did push everyone away, as I could understand her reasoning for doing that. And Levi is a great partner for her, because of how he supports her, and he has a family who loves him and is prepared to embrace her as one of their own as well. 

And while balancing two romances, along with character development can be a bit hard, I did feel like Shalvis managed to make the friends/enemies-to-lovers dynamic between Charlotte and Mateo. It provides a nice balance of fun to the more emotional relationship between Jane and Levi. 

This is incredibly cozy and heartwarming, and will delight both longtime fans of Jill Shalvis’ work and new readers looking for a romantic women’s fiction/contemporary read. 

Author Bio 

Multiple New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is…mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s bestselling, heartwarming and full of humor novels wherever books are sold. Visit http://www.jillshalvis.com/ for a complete book list and fun blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures. 

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Favorite Books of 2021

2021 was a weird reading year for me. While I read a metric-ton, I feel like the books I maintained a consistent love for was much lower than 2020, and I very frequently felt myself feeling slumpy, and even books that wowed me in the moment felt very forgettable a week or two later. But there were a handful of books that stood the test of time, more or less. Here they are, arranged by author, instead of somewhat clumsily by genre lines. 

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley: A masterpiece of a debut novel. Simultaneously a love letter to Ojibwe culture and deep dive into the issues Native American communities face, I found myself engaged on multiple levels with this one. I love how Boulley takes her time to establish Daunis and her relationships with her family and tribe, then peeling back the layers once things come to a head in an act of violence.

Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor: A fabulous retelling of The Great Gatsby with a murder mystery element. Flashing back and forth between a detective’s investigation and the principle women of the narrative during the thick of the timeline of the original book, I loved observing the scandalous events of that summer from Daisy, Jordan, Catherine, and Myrtle’s perspectives, chafing at the complex role of women in the 1920s, and joining in solidarity as each of their animosity to one or more of the major male characters grows.

All the Feels by Olivia Dade: Big! Harpy! Energy! I adore Lauren and her tough exterior, hiding a softness and vulnerability, and “delightful asshole” Alex, a TV star dealing with a lot more than meets the eye. Olivia Dade always knows just how to balance humor and heart, and she hits the mark here.

The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan: Sex positive and with great, nuanced Jewish rep in both leads, I adored this book. Naomi is an awesome heroine with a lot of depth, and while Ethan does feel a bit less developed by comparison, they’re a lovely couple and I loved seeing them working together.

The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow: I loved the beauty of this one, with people finding hope in darkness through the enjoyment of the arts. Ellie is a rebel librarian in a dystopian near-future, and Morris is an alien who is part of the species meant to be her enemy, but he finds kinship with her, and develops a passion for music of his own. The ace representation is particularly notable here, with Ellie expressing what it means for a human, and Morris also finding a connection with the sentiment based on his own practices and feelings.

No Getting Ogre You by ML Eliza: It’s short, but no less sweet (and hot!) This was my first exposure to the world of monster romance, a subgenre I plan to continue dabbling in, and I’m glad it was with an author I already love, albeit writing in a bit of a different style and under a brand-spanking-new pen name. Crug is an absolute sweetheart, and I loved the way he and Jacquelyn developed a rapport in spite of the language barrier.

Gentleman Seeks Bride by Megan Frampton: This book redeemed what I thought would be a subpar series for me with just the right collection and execution of tropes. I mentioned my slowly developing love for the “kissing lessons” trope in that review, not to mention the “best friend’s sister/brother’s best friend” trope without the misogynistic baggage that often plagued many similar books in the past. And the way Thomas and Jane ultimately found a creative solution to their problems (albeit not without alternately expressing their passion for each other and angsting over the impossibility of it all)? *Chef’s kiss*

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong (duology): This epic Romeo & Juliet historical fantasy duology broke me…and I was totally fine with that. You pretty much know what you’re getting when anyone evokes the name of the infamous Shakespearean tragedy, but I love how Chloe Gong infused it with so much more recent and relevant culture, history, and life, transplanting the action to 1920s China and following rival gangs. Juliette’s a badass, yet also incredibly vulnerable, and Roma is just the sweetest, and as much as I knew what was coming, I couldn’t help but wish for better for both of them.

If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich: Gonzales and Dietrich dig deep into the issues that plague the music artists, to great effect. Ruben and Zach, the two leads and two members of boy band, deal with their realization of feelings for each other, while reckoning with the expectations from their label and the industry at large that micromanage their image, including keeping them closeted, but also driving another member to substance abuse to cope with mental health issues, and other dark things. I loved this tribute to the darker side of boy-band culture, and fame in general, and it both spoke to the fangirl in me and made me think about celebrity culture in a different way.

Never Fall for Your Fiancee by Virginia Heath: If I were somehow chosen to give a cover or front page quote for this one, I’d call it delightfully fun and chaotic. It’s tropey in the best way, and it gave me a similar blend of familiarity and surprise that I got from Megan Frampton’s book. I loved Hugh and Minerva, and especially appreciated seeing how their complex, dysfunctional relationships with their respective fathers impact them today. And on that note, there’s some surprises in that regard for Hugh that really rugged at my heartstrings and made me respect his mother a whole lot. And the supporting cast is just a delight, a sign that this series is very likely going to be consistent fun as we move onto their stories.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert: The Brown Sisters series has been a sequence of hits, and while I can’t say this one was my favorite, I have a lot of love for it all the same. Eve is the chaotic youngest Brown sister, and Jacob is a perfectionist, and it’s definitely one of the better iterations of grumpy/sunshine I’ve read. And the fact that it explores the differences in the way it explores how autism manifests in men vs. women is also fabulous.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson (series): This is one of those series that surprised me. I thought upon finishing book one that this was just your typical mystery/thriller series, but for teens. But I was shocked how gritty it got, especially by the third book. The supporting cast is largely morally gray in the first two, and while there’s a stark plot twist in the third book that is definitely divisive among readers, I personally loved it.

The Midnight Girls by Alicia Jasinska: Badass villainous witch-girls and an enemies-to-lovers dynamic?! Yes, please! Marynka and Zosia are a great sapphic blend of grumpy/sunshine (quite literally, as one reviewer pointed out) and uncompromisingly giving into one’s darker impulses without the pressure to change or reform for the sake of love. Another plus is Jasinska’s immersive writing, creating a beautiful world inspired by Polish history and infused with winter vibes.

The Last Dance of the Debutante by Julia Kelly: I went into this one with a mild sense of optimism based on the blurb, in spite of my past baggage with this author. However, this book surprised me. One factor was getting to engross myself in a time period that I haven’t read much about. But I was mostly captured by Lily as a protagonist, and her cynicism, which only grows as she finds out some long-buried family secrets. And the general way it highlights what I’d often heard but not really read a ton about in the battle between tradition and modernity among the aristocratic families amid the turmoil brought by the World Wars is fascinating, both on a personal, individual story level and in general, thinking back to all the stories I’d read set in earlier time periods where all these rules were everything.

Midnight in Everwood by M.A. Kuzniar: Another wintry fantasy, albeit of a somewhat different variety! I loved the balance of whimsy and darkness, sweeping me away into the magical world of Everwood along with Marietta. And while Marietta’s predicament is a familiar one for those who read a lot of historical fiction, it’s conveyed in a fresh way. She forms bonds that empower her over the course of the book, and it made for a fabulous holiday read.

Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee: I’ve loved seeing so many queer books wifh messy leads this year, but this one absolutely stood out from the pack. Noah is multiracial and trans, but I love that this book isn’t an “identity” story, any more than it is just about him and the other queer characters just being who they are and growing into better people by the end. Noah has good intentions, but makes some mistakes…big ones. Some people will find him unlikable. But I found him endearing, even if he does have his frustrating moments.

The Wife in the Attic by Rose Lerner: I’ve always said retellings of Jane Eyre more accurately give the “Jane” character what she deserves, and that is absolutely true with this one. The master of the house is portrayed as the toxic boss he is, and while there are some moral questions surrounding Lady Palethorp, she is still a much more engaging love interest for Lerner’s lead, Deborah. Add in some discussion of the position of Jews during the Regency period and a tie-in to Lerner’s popular Lively St. Lemeston series, and it’s perfect.

Bombshell by Sarah MacLean: In my opinion, this is Sarah MacLean’s best book. She’s always written strong heroines, but I love that they’re front and center here. Sesily and the other women are wonderful to read about, and her relationship with Caleb is swoonworthy! I’m incredibly excited for what comes next for the Hell’s Belles!

Dusk’s Darkest Shores by Carolyn Miller: I appreciated this book for a number of reasons, in part due to the depiction of the blind hero, Adam. I liked the depiction of him becoming accustomed to his condition, and while I chafed at the people around him praying for a “cure,” I am glad the story did not go in that direction. And while the love interest, Mary, does look on him with some pity at first, the relationship is not built on that, and they grow to love one another in a beautiful way.

Mirror Monster On My Wall by Tam Nicnevin: This is the sexy, empowering alt-Regency fairytale retelling of my dreams! I love how Alice was able to triumph over the abuse from her tyrannical stepmother and the pursuit of a lecherous suitor, and found a group of queer monsters who accept her for her.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan: A masterwork of queer Asian fantasy, one of the highlights for me was the exploration of gender identity. The protagonist takes on the mantle of her deceased brother, Zhu Chongba, and in doing so, takes on the path to his prophesied destiny and shedding her own previously aimless one. However, I appreciate that unlike other stories of women dressing as men to advance in sexist societies, there’s a real interrogation of her gender identity and sexuality, amidst all the brutality that she experiences as part of becoming a soldier. The romances, while not the central part of the narrative, are also compassionate and deal with the different narratives of queer people, from Zhu navigating a relationship with a woman and articulating her gender identity in relation to that, to the rival eunuch general Ouyang and his own taboo homosexual relationship.

Neon Gods by Katee Robert: This is the year I discovered there is a way to make Hades/Persephone work for me, as this is one of two books retelling the Greek myth that made my list. Persephone has experience of the world, and is a competent badass, while Hades is a secret cinnamon roll who worships her. And conveniently, both have a Zeus problem…and Zeus being the antagonist may just be the best thing about this book, given all the mess he caused that gets glossed over, because OMG, Hades is the god of death!

Fake It by Lily Seabrooke: This book is such a delightful warm hug! I loved the general cozy atmosphere, and the romance between Avery and Holly is everything! I loved this sweet take on fake dating between a restaurant manager and a celebrity chef, particularly the self-aware mutual pining, even if they knew they shouldn’t!

“Sold to the Duke” by Joanna Shupe (from the Rake I’d Like to F… anthology): While I did not rate the stories individually in the RILF anthology, that was more for the sake of practicality than anything else. However, the Shupe contribution of all of them is absolutely the standout, and would have gotten 5 stars. It took a premise that sounded skeevy at first, and flipped it on its head, emphasizing both Eliza’s dire situation and her determination to resolve it on her own. Blackwood is also a thoroughly decent man with regrets for how he played a role in the death of his friend and Eliza’s brother, and his path to redemption, while allowing him to assist in Eliza achieving her dreams without handing it all to her with his ducal influence was definitely a plus.

Big Bad Wolf by Suleikha Snyder: This is a stellar first outing for a paranormal/dystopian series, and that’s saying a lot, given there are some elements here I’m not the biggest fan of. The world building is immediately interesting, with how it reckons with our present dark world and its impact on marginalized people, and that was the biggest motivation for me to pick it up initially. As for the romance, I loved the dynamic between Joe and Neha, where she doesn’t allow him to revel in his self-pity, but instead challenges him to be better.

The Devil and the Heiress by Harper St. George: I love the way this book took the traditional setup of what you expect with a hero using the heroine, and subverting it. Christian’s self-awareness about the ickiness of his original intent is refreshing, and I love how Violet didn’t just give in because she loved him, but really made him work to show his feelings.

The Spinster’s Swindle by Catherine Stein: Inspired by Rumpelstiltskin, this is a “heroine seeking revenge” romance I loved. Lydia is an awesome heroine who evolves in a realistic way. And Max is incredibly sweet, and I love how he’s just so done with his father’s conman ways. And the bi rep! Both leads are bi, but I especially appreciated the rep with Lydia, as she is explicitly mentioned as having past relationships with women.

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone: A delightfully original thriller, I loved the pure revenge against misogynistic evangelical Christian hypocrites. And it can be hard to make a character who openly calls herself a sociopath likable, but a whole lot of self-awareness and a dash of humor in the narrative voice make Jane a delightful protagonist. And as the book goes on, I adored getting insight into the mutually loving relationships she did form, in spite of her general detached demeanor. My heart hurt every time Jane reminisced about Meg and her fate, and I found her intimate relationship with Luke surprisingly sweet.

Drag Me Up by R.M. Virtues: More Hades/Persephone love! I loved Black trans badass Persephone, and big softie Hades! Both have family issues that are also so well conveyed (#ZeusProblems once again). And then there’s the world building in an alternate version of Las Vegas…absolutely awesome.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao: High concept and absolutely an unexpected success (on the publishing end of things, anyway; we readers knew it was going to be awesome!), this book is epic. Sci-fi with giant mechas, while also being a love letter to Chinese history? Yes, please! The heroine, Zetian, is a delightful reimagining of the infamous empress of the same name, navigating a world with the odds stacked against her and ultimately thriving. And while romance isn’t the central focus, I just love the bi and polyam rep, which immediately makes it stand out from many of the typical tropey YA SFF books you’ve seen before. 

What were your favorites of 2021? Feel free to share (especially if they’re some of the same books)! 

Twitter Recs: ”Phoenix Chosen” (Heirs of Huxia #1) by Ekaterine Xia

Xia, Ekaterine. Phoenix Chosen. [Place of publication not identified]: Innamorata Press, 2019. 

ASIN: B07MWWTKR3 | $4.99 USD | 396 pages | Fantasy Romance 

Blurb 

When a spell saves her life by sending her to her mother’s homeland, Estyria finds herself in a world she’d believed to exist solely in bedtime stories – a realm where gods walk the earth, magic is real, and political intrigue strikes close and hard. <br/>As Scion to a noble House and caught in a competition for the throne, she has mere weeks to learn to navigate the murky waters of court and tangled loyalties. <br/>More than a crown and the well-being of a country is at stake. Two men are bound to her by destiny and their fates depend upon her choice. Sethalor, who holds secrets and memories lost to her, vows to defy the very gods to keep her safe. Aedrian, who agreed to protect her out of love for his prince, but comes to see in her a ruler he would give his soul to protect. <br/>Through assassinations, poison, and shifting alliances, can Estyria keep the realm, her heart and the people she loves safe?

Review 

4 stars 

I discovered Ekaterine Xia through Twitter and one of the Love All Year anthologies, and I had her on the list of authors I wanted to read more from when I had the chance. Phoenix Chosen particularly stood out to me, because of the dynastic China-esque setting, but with a magical twist. 

The writing quickly immerses the reader into the world and the story, transporting the reader along with the protagonist, Estryia, to this new world. I really liked the explicit influences in the setting, and it feels really unique compared to a lot of the fantasy romances I’ve read thus far, taking influence from the wuxia genre and having a similar feel to a Chinese court drama series. 

Estriya is a great heroine to follow, as like the reader, she’s learning about everything and taking it all in for the first time. I appreciate how she attempts to draw on what she’s learned in the past to navigate her environment, and over time, becomes more capable, especially as more complex challenges are thrown at her. 

I also enjoyed her bonds with both Seth and Aedrian, as well as the one they have with each other. Seth tends to be very calm and collected, but he can be reckless when either of the other two is in trouble. Meanwhile, Aedrian is more aggressive and hot-headed, with  somewhat…complex…feelings toward Seth, which are shaped by their shared history. 

I did feel like the pacing was a bit uneven at first, with it feeling very episodic initially until somewhere in the middle when the main action picked up. However, while that did result in my engagement flagging a bit, I can appreciate it on a craft level, especially as it helps provide the necessary setup and context. 

I enjoyed this book, and am excited to read more from this series. If you’re looking for a non-Eurocentric take on fantasy romance, I recommend trying this one. 

Author Bio 

Ekaterine writes love stories. Be it reuniting estranged lovers in alternate universe dynastic China or star-crossing lovers in a gigantic space-fading jellyfish, the end goal is the same: to explore love, its meaning, and the price of love. 

She currently lives in Taiwan, home to some of the best food you’ll find on the planet and flying cockroaches. No, the two don’t quite balance each other out, but thanks for asking.  

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“The Siren of Sussex” (Belles of London #1) by Mimi Matthews (ARC Review)

Matthews, Mimi. The Siren of Sussex. New York: Jove, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0593337134 | $16.00 USD | 336 pages | Victorian Romance 

Blurb 

Victorian high society’s most daring equestrienne finds love and an unexpected ally in her fight for independence in the strong arms of London’s most sought after and devastatingly handsome half-Indian tailor.

Evelyn Maltravers understands exactly how little she’s worth on the marriage mart. As an incurable bluestocking from a family tumbling swiftly toward ruin, she knows she’ll never make a match in a ballroom. Her only hope is to distinguish herself by making the biggest splash in the one sphere she excels: on horseback. In haute couture. But to truly capture London’s attention she’ll need a habit-maker who’s not afraid to take risks with his designs—and with his heart.

Half-Indian tailor Ahmad Malik has always had a talent for making women beautiful, inching his way toward recognition by designing riding habits for Rotten Row’s infamous Pretty Horsebreakers—but no one compares to Evelyn. Her unbridled spirit enchants him, awakening a depth of feeling he never thought possible.

But pushing boundaries comes at a cost and not everyone is pleased to welcome Evelyn and Ahmad into fashionable society. With obstacles spanning between them, the indomitable pair must decide which hurdles they can jump and what matters most: making their mark or following their hearts?

Review 

4.5 stars 

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

The Siren of Sussex is one of my favorite Mimi Matthews books so far. I’ve always appreciated that she gives a glimpse of the world outside the ballrooms and glittering town- and country-houses, and this one is no different. She draws on a lot of true-to-life people and events from the Victorian era, presenting a perspective of what it was like, while also walking that line of making relatable to us in the present day. 

I was intrigued, if a bit nervous, about Ahmad as a hero, especially given recent controversies around the way part-Indian characters and their identity are portrayed in historical romance, even by authors who share that identity. But while I can’t speak to the issue fully from an ownvoices perspective, I did feel like he was well-written, and his backstory in the context of colonialism portrayed with compassion. I appreciated that he didn’t let people, especially that awful Lady Heatherton, push him around, and while he has been through a lot, I love that he was able to find his passion for dress-making and tailoring through it. 

Evelyn is a lovely heroine too. I love her passion for horses (even if I’m not much of a fan myself), and how that’s how she wants to distinguish herself, in lieu of marriage prospects. While I love the typical bookish heroines, it’s nice to have one whose pursuits are different. And I really felt for her as I saw the sad state her family was in, due to her sister’s impulsive, lust-addled choices, and the fact that the man she chose values money over honor. And given he has an equally unscrupulous brother, who Evelyn has a history with, I couldn’t help but feel like it was like Elizabeth and Darcy in the aftermath of Lydia’s elopement, if Darcy was actually as big of an ass as Elizabeth thought. 

The romance between Ahmad and Evelyn is really sweet. There’s a sensuality to it as well, although it maintains Matthews’ typical closed-door approach. I really liked how sweet and tender it was, with most of the drama being external issues, like “how can we be together if I have no prospects and your family is on the brink of social ruin?” I really appreciated how they negotiated these problems, and the ending felt right for what I wanted for them. 

There’s a subplot concerning spiritualism, and that might be the only part that missed the mark for me. I am aware of the craze that was taking place around the time the book is set, and did find it somewhat intriguing, but also felt like it didn’t “fit” with the rest of the narrative. 

This book is beautiful, and I’m already excited for more, especially as it’s been revealed who book two is about. If you love historical romance and don’t mind low-steam/closed door, I strongly recommend keeping an eye out for this one! 

Author Bio 

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats. 

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“When You Get the Chance” by Emma Lord (ARC Review)

Lord, Emma. When You Get the Chance. New York: Wednesday Books, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1250783349 | $18.99 USD | 320 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb 

A bighearted novel about falling in love, making a mess, and learning to let go. When You Get the Chance is the next effervescent novel from Emma Lord, New York Times bestselling author of the Reese Witherspoon YA Book Club pick You Have a Match. 

**Most Anticipated Books 2022 by Bustle**

**An IndieNext Pick**

Nothing will get in the way of Mille Price’s dream of becoming a Broadway star. Not her lovable but super introverted dad, who raised Millie alone since she was a baby. Not her drama club rival, Oliver, who is the very definition of Simmering Romantic Tension. And not her “Millie Moods,” the feelings of intense emotion that threaten to overwhelm. Millie needs an ally. And when an accidentally-left-open browser brings Millie to her dad’s embarrassingly moody LiveJournal from 2003, Millie knows just what to do—find her mom. 

But how can you find a new part of your life and expect it to fit into your old one without leaving any marks? And why is it that when you go looking for the past, it somehow keeps bringing you back to what you’ve had all along? 

Review 

4 stars 

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

When You Get the Chance is my second full read by Emma Lord (really enjoyed You Have a Match, temp-DNFed Tweet Cute), and like my previous read from her, I liked it. I did enjoy the other book a bit more consistently, but I found this one overall pretty charming. 

One thing I appreciate, given how much of a hot-button issue this is in contemporary-writing circles, is that Emma Lord is generally aware of the media her target audience and teen characters would be familiar with, and uses older media in a creative way. While I admit, as a onetime LiveJournal user, it was a trip to have that serve as an clue to the dad’s past and mom’s identity (and I’m definitely not alone, given there was a panicked Twitter thread about how this premise made some people feel old a while back), I can acknowledge that I’m not the target audience, and Emma Lord and other YA authors today aren’t writing for me, while also saying I got something out of it. 

That brings me to the centrality of parental relationships in this one. Millie’s relationship with her dad is lovely, and I wish that had been more of a focus, especially since he’s the parent who raised her. I did like that Millie was interested in knowing about her mom, but at the end of the day, while I did appreciate getting clarity on the mom’s reasons for leaving, I feel like that just reinforces the fact that her dad deserved more for being the parent who stuck it out, especially given the way it played into the conflict of him not wanting her to leave home to pursue her Broadway dreams. 

I also really liked Millie as a lead in general, especially with her passion for the theatre. I love how she’s just herself without reservations. She’s loud and dramatic, but she’s also very sympathetic and self-aware. 

The romance is quite cute, although I don’t know if it’s my favorite part of the book. It’s kind of an enemies/rivals-to-lovers thing, and I did like her and Oliver together, but I wasn’t necessarily in love with them as a couple. 

This book is really cute, and if you like YA contemporaries, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Emma Lord is the NYT bestselling author of You Have a Match and Tweet Cute, a BuzzFeed market editor, and dessert gremlin living in New York City, where she spends whatever time she isn’t writing or running or belting show tunes in community theater. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a major in psychology and a minor in how to tilt your computer screen so nobody will notice you updating your fan fiction from the back row. She was raised on glitter, a whole lotta love, and copious amounts of grilled cheese. 

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“The Rebel and the Rake” (League of Scoundrels #2) by Emily Sullivan (ARC Review)

Sullivan, Emily. The Rebel and the Rake. New York: Forever, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1538737347 | $8.99 USD | 337 pages | Victorian Romance

Blurb 

Fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton series will love this enchanting story of a spy who finds himself entangled with the most intriguing bluestocking—from the series that delivers “both emotional intensity and lush sensuality, and vivacious writing enhanced by ample measures of wit.” (Booklist, Starred Review)

Rafe Davies might seem like just another charismatic rake, but in reality, he is one of the crown’s most valuable agents. As relentless as he is reckless, Rafe has never come upon a mission he couldn’t complete. But when he encounters the intriguing-yet-prickly lady’s companion Miss Sylvia Sparrow while on assignment at a Scottish house party, he finds himself thoroughly distracted by the secretive beauty.
Though most women would be thrilled to catch the eye of a tall, dark, and dangerously handsome man, Sylvia is through with that sort of adventure. She trusted the wrong man once and paid for it dearly. The fiery bluestocking is resolved to avoid Rafe, until a chance encounter between them reveals the normally irreverent man’s unexpected depths–and an attraction that’s impossible to ignore. But when Sylvia begins to suspect she isn’t the only one harboring a few secrets, she realizes that Rafe may pose a risk to far more than her heart.

In the series 

#1 A Rogue to Remember 

Review 

3 stars 

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

The Rebel and the Rake is the second in the League of Scoundrels series. It can be read as a stand-alone. I did enjoy this one a bit more than the first, so I’m definitely more optimistic going forward about Emily Sullivan as an author. 

I liked the characters overall. I particularly liked the exploration of Sylvia’s political leanings. Her role in the anarchist and suffragette movements, especially with Sullivan’s added context as to the overlap between the two, is fascinating. The fact that her activities attracted scandal and worse was also exciting to me. 

I waffled a bit on Rafe. He didn’t bug me in the same way the hero of the previous book did, but I still felt a bit rattled all the same. A random gardener is talking to Sylvia, a poor, “defenseless,” woman? Better go charging in without any further evidence! I mean, the gardener ended up being up to no good in the end, but there was very little indication he was a threat. I also found him trying to get Sylvia’s estranged brother to “give her what she was owed” more presumptuous than a romantic gesture. But I did generally like them together, even if I wasn’t super won over by then as a couple. They do make a pretty fun team, both romantically and as crime solvers. 

The pacing is a bit on the slow side, especially in terms of developing the mystery element. While the romance is obviously the central part, I did feel like there was a lot of meandering along for a good chunk before things really picked up. 

While I enjoyed this one only marginally more than the first, I definitely see the appeal, and I found it to be a fairly pleasant read overall, even if it didn’t exactly hit me in the feels. If you like historical romance with a bit of mystery, you might like this one. 

Author Bio 

Emily Sullivan is an award-winning author of historical romance set in the late Victorian period. She lives in New England with her adorable baby and slightly less adorable husband. She enjoys taking long drives, short walks, and always orders dessert.

Her other talents include baking chocolate chip cookies, correctly identifying guest stars in old Simpsons episodes, and not overwatering her houseplants.

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“The Bad Boy Experiment” (Bourbon Brothers #6) by Reese Ryan (ARC Review)

Ryan, Reese. The Bad Boy Experiment. Toronto, Ontario: Harlequin, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1335735386 | $5.25 USD | 224 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

A steamy fling with an old crush who doesn’t do commitment? What was she thinking! Find out in the conclusion to Reese Ryan’s Bourbon Brothers series.

What happens when you say yes to a bad boy?

Even if divorcée Renee Lockwood were willing to give love a second chance, she wouldn’t choose Cole Abbott. The sexy, successful real estate developer doesn’t do commitment. But he’s perfect for a no-strings fling—exactly what Ren needs now that she’s moved back home to raise her son. Mind-blowing pleasure with the man she once crushed on is harder to quit than Ren expected. Impossible, in fact. Is time running out before the bad boy bolts…or will the results of her experiment surprise her? 

In the series 

#1 Savannah’s Secrets 

#2 The Billionaire’s Legacy 

#3 Engaging the Enemy

#4 A Reunion of Rivals 

#5 Waking Up Married 

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. 

The Bad Boy Experiment is the final book in the Bourbon Brothers series. It can be read as a stand-alone, as I have missed all but one and didn’t feel too lost. There is a sense of it feeling a bit crowded with all the previous characters living their HEAs, but that’s par for the course for a series conclusion, and I’m excited to go back and read what I missed. 

Reese Ryan always writes such engaging characters and such wonderful takes on familiar tropes. I really appreciated Renee’s character, especially in how it explored her role as a single mom to an autistic child. While I can’t speak specifically to the accuracy of the representation, the inclusion is great. 

I also really liked Renee’s relationship with her grandfather, and how he really believed in her despite her challenges. And he’s implied to be a bit of a meddling matchmaker, as it’s his actions that bring her and Cole back together. 

I really liked seeing these two people who’ve always liked each other, but things never happened due to them being on different paths, finally finding their way to each other. And it’s interesting how they complement each other, with Renee having a lot of drive, and Cole kind of being a bit of a black sheep of the family, at least in terms of not really excelling academically and not working in the same business with the rest of his family. 

This is a great book, both in its own right and as a conclusion to the series overall. Whether you’ve read the series or not, it’s absolutely worth checking out, especially if you like category and/or contemporary romance. 

Author Bio 

Reese Ryan is the author of twenty published works of romantic fiction and counting. Her stories feature a cast of flawed, complex characters. She presents her characters with family and career drama, challenging love interests, and life-changing secrets while treating readers to an emotional love story with unexpected twists.

Born and raised in the Midwest, she now resides in Central North Carolina. She treads the line carefully between being a Northerner and a damned Yankee, despite her insistence on calling soda pop. She gauges her progress by the number of “bless your lil’ hearts” she receives each week. She is currently down to two.

Reese, an advocate for the romance genre and diversity in fiction, is the past president of her local Romance Writers of America chapter, a panelist at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and the 2018 Donna Hill Breakout Author.

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“Daughter of the Moon Goddess” is Already One of My Favorite Book Releases of 2022!

Tan, Sue Lynn. Daughter of the Moon Goddess. New York: Harper Voyager, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0063031302 | $27.99 USD | 512 pages | Romantic Fantasy 

Blurb

A captivating debut fantasy inspired by the legend of the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e, in which a young woman’s quest to free her mother pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm and sets her on a dangerous path—where choices come with deadly consequences, and she risks losing more than her heart.

Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the powerful Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.

Alone, untrained, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the Crown Prince, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the emperor’s son.

To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. When treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, however, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess begins an enchanting, romantic duology which weaves ancient Chinese mythology into a sweeping adventure of immortals and magic, of loss and sacrifice—where love vies with honor, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.

Review 

4.5 stars 

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

Daughter of the Moon Goddess draws inspiration from Chinese mythology, and pulls off the execution in grand style. It’s epic, evoking the feel of those classic epic poems in prose form. 

The world is so well-conveyed and immersive, and I love the little tidbits of Chinese culture and myth that make up the layers of this story. It all feels so alive and drew me in. 

The writing is gorgeous. This is Sue Lynn Tan’s debut, and she perfectly manages all the elements to keep the reader engaged, in particular plot and pacing. I did balk a little at the high page count, but I almost didn’t feel it with how much was going on. Even in the quieter, subtle moments, I didn’t feel bored. 

Xingyin is a lovely character, and it was great watching her growth over the course of the story, as she faces down challenges to save her mother. And while that relationship is the most central to Xingyin’s arc, it’s not the only one. She forms valuable bonds with others which I became invested in pretty easily. This does include romance, and a bit of a love triangle with two different people. While love triangles aren’t my favorite, I appreciated the way this was executed, making both love interests viable candidates for Xingyin’s love. 

I adored this book, and am excited for the next book and anything else Sue Lynn Tan writes in the future. If you’re looking for a beautifully written Chinese mythology-inspired romantic fantasy, I think you’ll like this one. 

Author Bio 

Sue Lynn Tan writes fantasy novels inspired by the myths and legends she fell in love with as a child. Born in Malaysia, she studied in London and France, before settling in Hong Kong with her family. 

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Twitter Recs: ”Fake It” by Lily Seabrooke

Seabrooke, Lily. Fake It. [Place of publication not identified]: Lily Seabrooke, 2021.

ASIN: B0991NNHZG | $5.99 USD | 464 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

To spark interest in Avery’s restaurant, and to revitalize Holly’s image, a fake relationship is the answer to both their problems.

And the start of a pressing new problem: falling in love.

Avery Lindt finally opened her dream restaurant—and there’s no customers. She’s staying optimistic, though: she’s confident she can fake it till she makes it, roll with the punches, and find a way to save her luxury restaurant, Paramour.

But it gets harder when she gets restaurant mogul and star chef Mike Wallace angry, and finds herself on the other end of a campaign to shut down Paramour.

Celebrity chef Holly Mason’s show is in trouble: people are bored with her routine of helping struggling restaurants. Worse, her ex-boyfriend Mike Wallace is making backdoor deals trying to steal the starring role.

Luckily, Holly’s agent Tay has a solution: ditch her show plans for the season, throw their lot in with luxury restaurant Paramour against Mike Wallace’s racketeering operation of a restaurant partnership. The cherry on top? A fake relationship between Holly and Avery to stir up drama.

It would already be a mess if Holly and Avery weren’t already struggling to hold back their attraction for one another. Despite their promise not to date, the lines between acting and reality get awfully blurry sometimes.

Fake It is an 80,000-word fake-dating celebrity romance between a disillusioned TV cooking star and a bright-eyed restaurant owner who’s sure she can manifest a solution to her hard times if she believes hard enough. Features an agent named Tay who calls their brilliant ideas “inspir-Tay-tion,” plenty of descriptions of food that made me hungry while I wrote the book, and a cute bisexual trans girl who gets to fall in love. Content warnings for open-door sex scenes that get a little bit kinky, a gross man who won’t stop calling his ex-girlfriend babe, and sapphics getting in the way of their own feelings, like they always do.

Review 

5 stars

I discovered Fake It on Twitter a while back, in a thread highlighting recent/upcoming releases at the time by trans women authors with trans women  leads. Upon reading the premise more recently, I was intrigued. And having finished it, I think I’ve fallen in love. Lily Seabrooke herself professes to write soft, cozy, and sweet stories, and this is definitely that. It’s not without conflict, but it strikes that perfect balance of having problems for the leads to resolve, while also not being over-the-top dramatic. 

I love both Avery and Holly, and their dynamic together is pure perfection. But they’re also fabulous as individuals. I love Avery’s dedication to her work, but also the self-consciousness and disbelief in Holly’s attraction, which was conveyed in a believable way without it becoming grating. Avery is also trans, and I love how that’s a huge part of who she is, but the story doesn’t fall into the trap of making her the target of hate just because she’s trans. 

And then there’s Holly, and I love how instantly gone she is for Avery the moment she meets her. There’s the pre-established connection with Holly having previously dated the arrogant celebrity restaurateur/critic/host guy Mike, who is trying to sabotage Avery’s business, so Holly is already inclined to think well of Avery initially. But to see how the immediate attraction developed, and how aware she was that, despite her best efforts, she wouldn’t be able to keep things in the professional/“fake dating” territory with Avery was so great, and such a contrast to the way other fake-dating stories I’ve read have been executed. 

I love the real sense of community among these characters, motivating me to make time to read the next book in the series. Olivia in particular was an unexpected gem, and I’m glad she gets some love in a newsletter exclusive short. 

I loved this so much, and I think everyone should read it too, especially if they’re looking for something sweet that includes awesome sapphic and trans rep. 

Author Bio 

Lily Seabrooke is a lesbian, trans woman, and a writer of tenser, heartfelt lesbian romance. She lives in central Michigan with her family (an espresso machine and a houseplant), and she writes soft stories that make you feel good—they’re cozy little books to read in cozy little nooks, and she hopes they make you feel a little warmer.

She is most notable for saying “oh my gosh” a lot. Like, really. She says it a lot. It gets kind of old. 

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“The Last Dance of the Debutante” by Julia Kelly (ARC Review)

Kelly, Julia. The Last Dance of the Debutante. New York: Gallery Books, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1982171636 | $27.00 USD | 336 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb 

The author of the “sweeping, stirring, and heartrending” (Kristin Harmel, author of The Room on Rue Amélie) The Light Over London returns with a masterful, glittering novel that whisks you to midcentury Britain as it follows three of the last debutantes to be presented to Queen Elizabeth II.

When it’s announced that 1958 will be the last year debutantes are to be presented at court, thousands of eager mothers and hopeful daughters flood the palace with letters seeking the year’s most coveted invitation: a chance for their daughters to curtsey to the young Queen Elizabeth and officially come out into society.

In an effort to appease her traditional mother, aspiring university student Lily Nichols agrees to become a debutante and do the Season, a glittering and grueling string of countless balls and cocktail parties. In doing so, she befriends two very different women: the cool and aloof Leana Hartford whose apparent perfection hides a darker side and the ambitious Katherine Norman who dreams of a career once she helps her parents find their place among the elite.

But the glorious effervescence of the Season evaporates once Lily learns a devastating secret that threatens to destroy her entire family. Faced with a dark past, she’s forced to ask herself what really matters: her family legacy or her own happiness.

With her signature “intricate, tender, and convincing” (Publishers Weekly) storytelling, Julia Kelly weaves an unforgettable tale of female friendship amid the twilight days of Britain’s grand coming out balls.

Review 

5 stars 

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

The Last Dance of the Debutante is my second attempt reading a Julia Kelly historical novel, and I found this one to be a much better reading experience overall. 

The time period, being set in the late 1950s with World War II in recent memory, is interesting, and I feel like there aren’t nearly as many books that highlight the postwar impact in the decades that followed. And that it specifically followed the last “official” social Season, preceding the decline of the debutante, when I’d read so many books set in prior eras about it was a draw too. I love that Kelly depicted how the war and women’s roles in it shaped the worldview of some of the rising crop of debs, while previous generations of women  still clung to it as the Way for their daughters, even though they too have lived through these changes and also had to navigate them. 

I enjoyed seeing all of it through Lily’s eyes. Even if it’s more what her mother and grandmother want, I love that, at least early on, she tried to make the best of it and formed connections, including a few true friends. But her reluctance also gives her a sense of cynicism about it, which only grows as things wear on, and she realizes how ignorant of/numb to reality some of the people in society are. 

There’s a big secret Lily learns about her past part-way into the book that especially colors this assessment, and my heart truly broke for her when it all came out. And the fact that everyone involved only thought of themselves, whether it be for the sake of self-preservation or financial gain? I was livid on Lily’s behalf, and am glad she got the last word in each encounter. 

This book is fabulous, and I love the balance between the glitz and glam of the final, full social Season and the complex emotional turmoil of a reluctant debutante coming into her own. If you love historical fiction, you won’t want to miss this one! 

Author Bio 

Julia Kelly is the international bestselling author of historical women’s fiction books about the extraordinary stories of the past. Her books have been translated into 13 languages. In addition to writing, she’s been an Emmy-nominated producer, journalist, marketing professional, and (for one summer) a tea waitress. Julia called Los Angeles, Iowa, and New York City home before settling in London. 

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“Hither, Page” (Page & Sommers #1) (Review)

Sebastian, Cat. Hither, Page. [Place of publication not identified]: Cat Sebastian, 2019. 

ISBN-13: 978-1099865343 | $10.00 USD | 223 pages | Historical Romance/Mystery

Blurb

A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.

The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.

As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.

Review 

4 stars 

I first read Hither, Page back in early 2020, and it didn’t make much of an impression at the time. But I blame myself, my expectations of the “murder” aspects were a bit too intense, and I hadn’t fully acclimated to the cozy style that Cat Sebastian was leaning toward. But a year and a half later, while cozies still aren’t my fave, I feel like I can appreciate what she was trying to do a lot more, and recognize this sweet romantic mystery for what it is. 

This story takes place in the aftermath of World War II, and we see how starkly the war has impacted both leads, James and Leo, who each grapple with trauma in the aftermath. And having encountered each other during the war, being brought back together through the current circumstances has brought them unexpected comfort. 

“Comfort” and “coziness” are very much the name of the game, especially in establishing the environs of the little English village James lives and works in. The snow and the descriptions of the days leading up to Christmas was a nice touch I completely forgot about, and worked out for getting me into the spirit, as well as prepping me for the (finally!) upcoming sequel next month. 

The cast of supporting characters is also freaking delightful, and all the goings-on with them is so much fun. The mystery is engaging, and it was fun to try to piece it together along with them. 

This is so charming, and I’m sad it took me so long to realize it. If you love books that are equal parts historical romance and cozy mystery, you should check this out! 

Author Bio

Cat Sebastian writes fluffy, steamy historical romances about queer people. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading. She lives in the U.S. South but also on Twitter @catswrites.

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“The Kindred” by Alechia Dow: An Excellent Sci-Fi Romance

Dow, Alechia. The Kindred. Toronto, Ontario: Inkyard Press, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1335418616 | $18.99 USD | 400 pages | YA Sci-Fi Romance 

Blurb 

“Utterly swoony…an endearing reminder that true love can change the world”
—J. Elle, New York Times bestselling author of Wings of Ebony

To save a galactic kingdom from revolution, Kindred mind-pairings were created to ensure each and every person would be seen and heard, no matter how rich or poor…

Joy Abara knows her place. A commoner from the lowly planet Hali, she lives a simple life—apart from the notoriety that being Kindred to the nobility’s most infamous playboy brings.

Duke Felix Hamdi has a plan. He will exasperate his noble family to the point that they agree to let him choose his own future and finally meet his Kindred face-to-face.

Then the royal family is assassinated, putting Felix next in line for the throne…and accused of the murders. Someone will stop at nothing until he’s dead, which means they’ll target Joy, too. Meeting in person for the first time as they steal a spacecraft and flee amid chaos might not be ideal…and neither is crash-landing on the strange backward planet called Earth. But hiding might just be the perfect way to discover the true strength of the Kindred bond and expose a scandal—and a love—that may decide the future of a galaxy.

Review 

4.5 stars 

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

The Kindred is a fabulous sophomore novel from Alechia Dow, and I enjoyed it just as much as her debut, which I read earlier this year. While not a sequel or even companion to The Sound of Stars, it is set in the same universe, and I love the subtle little references for those who’ve read both. 

This book also gives me more of the intergalactic space politics vibes which is my favorite type of sci-fi. I loved the world building with the Kindred pairings that forms the basis for the story. There also being some light political intrigue and backstabbing is fun and adds to the excitement. While I wasn’t sure how I felt about the pop-culture references at first, but as the book went on, I came to enjoy them just as much as I did in the prior book. 

But Dow’s main strength is building fabulous characters who you can connect with, in spite of any otherworldly characteristics they may have. Not to mention the fun spin on some familiar romance tropes that arise both from the Kindred-bonding system and the politics. Felix and Joy are both lovely characters, and incredibly easy to root for. Joy especially resonated with me, given the struggles she navigates. At points the fatphobia feels a bit overwhelming, especially as it doesn’t feel properly addressed (especially the more internalized self-hate). She does come around to feeling deserving of Felix’s love, but it just didn’t feel like a properly executed transition, especially given the impact of the sentiments in the moment. 

Other than that, I really enjoyed them together. Felix is delightfully chaotic, charming yet vulnerable. And Joy is generally optimistic, and I love how the two fought for each other in this time when everything seemed against them. 

This book is an absolute delight, and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves sci-fi/space fantasy romance. 

Author Bio 

Alechia Dow is a former pastry chef, food critic, culinary teacher, and Youth Services librarian. When not writing about determined black girls (like herself), you can find her chasing her wild child, baking, or taking teeny adventures around Europe

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“Hearts Unbroken” (Review)

Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Hearts Unbroken. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018. 

ISBN-13: 978-0763681142 | $17.99 USD | 286 pages | YA Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

Winner of an American Indian Youth Literature Award
New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith turns to realistic fiction with the thoughtful story of a Native teen navigating the complicated, confusing waters of high school — and first love.
When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off and dumps him over e-mail. It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time with her family and friends and working on the school newspaper. The editors pair her up with Joey Kairouz, the ambitious new photojournalist, and in no time the paper’s staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school musical director’s inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town. From the newly formed Parents Against Revisionist Theater to anonymous threats, long-held prejudices are being laid bare and hostilities are spreading against teachers, parents, and students — especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou’s little brother, who’s playing the Tin Man. As tensions mount at school, so does a romance between Lou and Joey — but as she’s learned, “dating while Native” can be difficult. In trying to protect her own heart, will Lou break Joey’s?

Review 

4 stars 

I’ve wanted to read Hearts Unbroken for a while, since it was featured in an article about romances by indigenous authors, and then was further motivated to try it due to a prompt in a book bingo, where one of the hosts suggested this as an option they were also interested in. And upon finishing it, I found it to be a pretty engaging read. It’s multifaceted, and I appreciated getting a full spectrum of what a Native teen would go through, from the “typical” teen stuff to the issues, like the effects of and fighting back against racism. 

I found Louise pretty engaging as a lead. While I was a bit confused at first at her not being directly involved in the action with the play, I ultimately felt the role of reporter worked, where she could cover the issue of racist backlash to the casting decisions, while also exploring how reactions to the coverage impacts her, as well as her brother, Hughie, who is in the play. The impact on both of them is well-conveyed, and it especially stung to see comments telling the nonwhite students to “ go home [to their own country].” Given the way it taps into the U.S. government’s legacy of genocide of Native people, highlighting L. Frank Baum’s anti-indigenous comments as an example of the sentiment, I really wished someone slapped some of these people in the face with their hypocrisy. 

The romance is cute. I did feel the other elements sometimes overshadowed it, but I don’t know that I’d have it any other way, given how much I enjoyed the rest of it. And it does kind of tie in with the rest of the plot, so it’s not something that could be removed while still keeping the story intact. Louise and Joey are quite sweet together, and they have their issues, but ultimately things work out. And despite how her ex, Cam, is described at first, he’s more layered than he initially appears, as opposed to being a complete asshole, which is nice. While I don’t think they were right for each other, it’s good to know she didn’t have the bad judgment to devote her time to someone who turned out to be completely awful. 

From a mechanics standpoint, the pacing is…odd? I don’t have an issue with short chapters (I often prefer them), but something in the way this was structured felt off at times. Some of the chapters were short, some were long, and I’d have liked at least the illusion of consistency. The transitions would take me out of the story as a result. 

I did really enjoy this, and am excited to try more of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s work soon. I would recommend this to pretty much anyone, especially if they like contemporary romances. 

Author Bio 

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times best-selling, award-winning young adult author of the Tantalize series and the Feral trilogy as well as acclaimed children’s books, poems, and short stories focused on Native American themes. She is an enrolled citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Indian Nation in Oklahoma and has been named a Writer of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a JD from the University of Michigan Law School, where she cofounded a gender-rights journal and served as president of the Native American Lae Students Association.

Cynthia Leitich Smith makes her home in Austin and teaches writing on the low-residency MFA faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She also serves on the honorary advisory board of We Need Diverse Books.

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“Problem Child” by Victoria Helen Stone (Review)

Stone, Victoria Helen. Problem Child. Seattle: Lake Union Publishing, 2020. 

ASIN: B07SDTRJP9 | $0.99 USD | 267 pages | Thriller 

Blurb 

She’s cold, calculating, and can deceive with a smile. Jane Doe is back in the Amazon Charts bestselling series – and this time she’s met her match.

After a brutal childhood, Jane Doe has been permanently wired to look after herself and only herself. Now, looking next to normal, Jane has a lover and a job. But she hasn’t lost her edge. It sharpens when she hears from her estranged family.

Jane’s deeply troubled sixteen-year-old niece, Kayla, has vanished, and no one seems to care. Neither does Jane. Until she sees a picture of Kayla and recognizes herself in the young girl’s eyes. It’s the empty stare of a sociopath.

Jane knows what vengeful and desperate things Kayla is capable of. Only Jane can help her – by being drawn into Kayla’s dark world. And no one’s more aware than Jane just how dangerous that can be.

In the series 

#1 Jane Doe 

Review 

Jane Doe absolutely rocked my world, so I was pumped to find out there was a sequel, especially when I found out what the premise was. While I did feel like Problem Child was a bit weaker at points than its predecessor, I still ultimately found a lot to love. 

Jane remains a strong character, and I really love how this one really fleshes out her personal relationships, particularly where her dysfunctional family is concerned. She describes how her mother treated her as inferior, while lavishing praise on her brother. And there’s very much a similar dynamic with Kayla in the family, where she’s had to wall herself off to avoid being hurt emotionally. 

I also love Jane’s continued arc of self-awareness at the hypocrisy of the world around her, which allows her to see a kindred spirit of sorts in Kayla. The remark about the issues with missing children being that the “perfect,” often more well-off and insulated young girls are the ones whose stories get the most positive news coverage, while the girls who come from poverty or end up sold into sexual slavery  somehow “deserved” what happened to them hit home, especially given the recent pushback around the issue in the wake of a recent high-profile missing-person-turned-murder-case. 

And generally, while the story is more of a traditional missing-person mystery, but with a sociopathic lead doing the mystery-solving, there’s still a lot to love here in the way it builds the tension and unveils the sad truths about Kayla’s life. While the pacing does say a bit in the middle, due to the domestic drama, it picks up again fairly quickly, and is more or less a pacy read. And while there are much less thrills and surprises this time around, the ending is top-tier jaw-dropping, and while I haven’t seen much in the way of news for a third Jane Doe book, I hope that happens at some point! 

I really liked this one, and would recommend to anyone who liked the first one. 

Author Bio 

Victoria Helen Stone, author of the runaway best seller Jane Doe, writes critically acclaimed novels of dark intrigue and emotional suspense. Aside from The Last One Home, Problem Child, Half Past, and the chart-topping False Step and Evelyn, After, she also published twenty-nine books as USA Today bestselling author Victoria Dahl and won the prestigious American Library Association Reading List award for best genre fiction. Her novels have been published in English, Russian, Italian, Greek, Spanish, Lithuanian, Portuguese, German, French, Japanese, Indonesian, Czech, Hebrew, Estonian, Polish, Norwegian, Dutch, and Thai.

Victoria writes in her home office high in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, far from her origins in the flattest plains of Minnesota, Texas, and Oklahoma. She enjoys gorgeous summer trail hikes in the mountains almost as much as she enjoys staying inside by the fire during winter. Victoria is passionate about dessert, true crime, and her terror of mosquitoes, which have targeted her in a diabolical conspiracy to hunt her down no matter the season.

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Does “It Will End Like This” Do Justice to the Lizzie Borden Case?

Leigh, Kyra. It Will End Like This. New York: Delacorte Press, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0593375525 | $18.99 USD | 352 pages | YA Thriller 

Blurb 

“If you think you know how this one will end, I promise, you don’t.” —Kara Thomas, author of That Weekend and The Cheerleaders

For fans of They Wish They Were Us and Sadie comes a propulsive thriller that reminds us that in real life, endings are rarely as neat as happily ever after. A contemporary take on the Lizzie Borden story that explores how grief can cut deep.

Charlotte lost her mother six months ago, and still no one will tell her exactly what happened the day she mysteriously died. They say her heart stopped, but Charlotte knows deep down that there’s more to the story. 

The only person who gets it is Charlotte’s sister, Maddi. Maddi agrees—people’s hearts don’t just stop. There are too many questions left unanswered for the girls to move on.

But their father is moving on. With their mother’s personal assistant. And both girls are sure of one thing: she’s going to steal everything that’s theirs for herself. She’ll even get rid of them eventually.

Now, in order to get their lives back, Charlotte and Maddi have to decide what kind of story they live in. Do they remain the obedient girls their father insists they be, or do they follow their rage to the end?

Review 

4 stars 

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

It Will End Like This is billed as a modern retelling of the infamous Lizzie Borden case, but I would definitely take the comparison very loosely, especially as a “retelling” of real events is much different than a fictional story, especially when you take into account the difference in the context of the time period of the event vs. the contemporary time period this one is set, which likely was the impetus for many of the changes made in the narrative. 

I really enjoyed the general setup and how it proceeded from there for the most part. Charlotte and Maddi are both grieving the loss of their mother, and can’t understand how their father was able to move on to someone else so quickly, much less someone their mother trusted. The beginning really set the right tone, and I knew right away I was in for something where both girls would struggle to deal with their mess of emotions, but especially Charlotte. I appreciate how this comes through textually as well, with there being a frequent sense of detachment. While it does make it be bit confusing at times, it works to set up the feel of the story. 

I can’t help feeling like Charlotte was the better drawn of the two, however. Clearly she’s set up to be the contemporary equivalent of Lizzie, while Maddi is akin to the more “stable”  Borden sister, Emma. But given the amount of ambiguity and doubt around both characters and their actions, I could not help but want to know more about Maddi. 

I also appreciated that, in slightly changing the family dynamics to suit the contemporary setting, Leigh further presented some mysteries around the fate of their mother and their father’s true intentions. There’s a big reveal about the supposed truth at the end, but it’s hard to tell if it’s not just gaslighting from beyond the grave to further torment the emotionally fragile Charlotte and Maddi or not. 

This is a really well-executed book, and while I wouldn’t recommend it specifically based on the Borden connection, I do think fans of thrillers with unreliable narrators will enjoy this. 

Author Bio 

Kyra Leigh grew up in Utah playing classical piano. She and her four sisters were homeschooled and spent most of their time reading. She works off and on at the annual Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR.com) workshop. She loves to travel, hike, and talk books with her friends. You can visit Kyra on Facebook, Instagram, and on the blog she shares with her Mom, ThrowingUpWords.Wordpress.com.

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“Dreams Lie Beneath” by Rebecca Ross (Review)

Ross, Rebecca. Dreams Lie Beneath. New York: Quill Tree Books, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0063015920 | $17.99 USD | 477 pages | YA Fantasy 

Blurb 

From Rebecca Ross, acclaimed author of The Queen’s Rising duology, comes a story about magic, vengeance, and the captivating power of dreams. A must-read for fans of The Hazel Wood and The Night Circus.

The realm of Azenor has spent years plagued by a curse. Every new moon, magic flows from the nearby mountain and brings nightmares to life. Only magicians—who serve as territory wardens—stand between people and their worst dreams.

Clementine Madigan is ready to take over as the warden of her small town, but when two magicians arrive to challenge her, she is unknowingly drawn into a century-old conflict. She seeks revenge, but as she gets closer to Phelan, one of the handsome young magicians, secrets—as well as romance—begins to rise.

To fight the realm’s curse, which seems to be haunting her every turn, Clementine must unite with her rival. But will their efforts be enough to save Azenor from the nightmares that lurk around every corner?

Review 

4 stars 

Rebecca Ross has slowly, but surely become an author I can count on for entertaining YA fantasy reads, and Dreams Lie Beneath is no different. It’s another beautifully written, engaging story that swept me away. 

If I had one complaint it’s that the world building isn’t super intricate. But that doesn’t really matter, as Ross still finds ways to set the scene, even if she hasn’t mapped every single little thing out. It does feel a bit like a fairytale in that sense, that it’s vaguely European inspired, and there’s a balance of whimsy and darkness. And the magic is intriguing, revolving around dreams and nightmares, with magicians protecting common people. 

I liked Clementine, and admired her for the lengths she was willing to go to in order to assert herself and claim what was hers. She is fierce and sharp, and I appreciate that she has strength without it being in a cliche “perfect heroine” kind of way. 

I also love that Ross frequently takes a pairing I wasn’t sure of at the outset and makes it work. Phelan is one of the rival magicians who challenge her claim, but once she takes on a new identity in an effort to undermine him, she begins to see a new side to him. 

I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it if you like YA fantasy. 

Author Bio 

Rebecca Ross writes fantasy novels for teens and adults. She lives in the Appalachian foothills of Northeast Georgia with her husband, a lively Australian Shepherd, and an endless pile of books. When not writing, she can be found reading or in her garden, where she grows wildflowers and story ideas. Find her on Instagram @beccajross.

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“Beautiful Little Fools” Provides New Layers to “The Great Gatsby”

Cantor, Jillian. Beautiful Little Fools. New York: Harper Perennial, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0063051263 | $16.99 USD | 336 pages | Historical Mystery 

Blurb 

“Jillian Cantor beautifully re-crafts an American classic in Beautiful Little Fools, placing the women of The Great Gatsby center stage: more than merely beautiful, not so little as the men in their lives assume, and certainly far from foolish. Both fresh and familiar, this page-turner is one to savor!” —Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code

“Jillian Cantor’s shifting kaleidoscope of female perspectives makes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale of Jazz Age longing and lust feel utterly modern. A breathtaking accomplishment.”—Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue 

USA Today bestselling author Jillian Cantor reimagines and expands on the literary classic The Great Gatsby in this atmospheric historical novel with echoes of Big Little Lies, told in three women’s alternating voices.

On a sultry August day in 1922, Jay Gatsby is shot dead in his West Egg swimming pool. To the police, it appears to be an open-and-shut case of murder/suicide when the body of George Wilson, a local mechanic, is found in the woods nearby.

Then a diamond hairpin is discovered in the bushes by the pool, and three women fall under suspicion. Each holds a key that can unlock the truth to the mysterious life and death of this enigmatic millionaire. 

Daisy Buchanan once thought she might marry Gatsby—before her family was torn apart by an unspeakable tragedy that sent her into the arms of the philandering Tom Buchanan.

Jordan Baker, Daisy’s best friend, guards a secret that derailed her promising golf career and threatens to ruin her friendship with Daisy as well.

Catherine McCoy, a suffragette, fights for women’s freedom and independence, and especially for her sister, Myrtle Wilson, who’s trapped in a terrible marriage.

Their stories unfold in the years leading up to that fateful summer of 1922, when all three of their lives are on the brink of unraveling. Each woman is pulled deeper into Jay Gatsby’s romantic obsession, with devastating consequences for all of them.

Jillian Cantor revisits the glittering Jazz Age world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, retelling this timeless American classic from the women’s perspective. Beautiful Little Fools is a quintessential tale of money and power, marriage and friendship, love and desire, and ultimately the murder of a man tormented by the past and driven by a destructive longing that can never be fulfilled. 

Review 

5 stars 

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

Beautiful Little Fools is a reimagining of The Great Gatsby, but instead centering the women of the classic novel and injecting a murder mystery into the plot. While I haven’t read the original classic, I feel this book worked well on its own, while also working to respond to the issues I had on hearing about the book in passing, one major one being the emphasis on the male characters. Jillian Cantor, by bringing the women center stage as more than just accessories or forbidden desires of the men, unpacks the issues of the women in the 1920s, grappling with the mix of tradition and progress that highlighted women’s roles at the time. 

I loved the pacing of this, interspersing between a detective investigating the suspicious murder-suicide of Gatsby and George Wilson and the events of leading up to and chronicling the summer prior that make up the original novel. Each of the women is incredibly compelling. Both Daisy and Myrtle are used by the men in their life, and feel pressured to stay in marriages or relationships that are unhappy for their own safety or comfort, and I love the irony of how the connection between them was further unpacked beyond what I heard it was in the original novel. 

I also love that you get the two single women, Catherine and Jordan, as a contrast, to show the limitations women had. Jordan has some prospects with her golf career, but even that is called into question. And Catherine, who to my understanding, is an original character created for the book, is an objective voice on her sister Myrtle’s dire situation, especially when she can no longer speak for herself. 

While I already had reason to dislike the men of The Great Gatsby (Nick excepted, by virtue of him being boring), I found myself loathing them by the end of this one. I didn’t blame any of the women for wanting to kill Gatsby, and was shocked when I found out who did it, especially when I thought things fell into place just a few pages prior, especially when all the pieces for the supposed “murder-suicide” came together at the end. 

This book is fabulous, and I’d recommend it whether you’ve read The Great Gatsby or not. 

Author Bio 

Jillian Cantor is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of eleven novels for teens and adults, which have been chosen for LibraryReads, Indie Next, Amazon Best of the Month, and have been translated into 13 languages. Jillian’s next historical novel for adults, BEAUTIFUL LITTLE FOOLS, will be published in January 2022. Born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Cantor currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

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“Firekeeper’s Daughter” Is Amazing! How Did I Miss This When It Came Out?

Boulley, Angeline. Firekeeper’s Daughter. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1250766564 | $18.99 USD | 494 pages | YA Thriller 

Blurb 

A REESE WITHERSPOON x HELLO SUNSHINE BOOK CLUB YA PICK

An Instant #1 New York Times Bestseller

Soon to be adapted at Netflix for TV with President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground.

“One of this year’s most buzzed about young adult novels.” —Good Morning America

A TIME Magazine Best YA Book of All Time Selection
Amazon’s Best YA Book of 2021 So Far (June 2021)
A 2021 Kids’ Indie Next List Selection
An Entertainment Weekly Most Anticipated Books of 2021 Selection
PopSugar Best March 2021 YA Book Selection

With four starred reviews, Angeline Boulley’s debut novel, Firekeeper’s Daughter, is a groundbreaking YA thriller about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community, perfect for readers of Angie Thomas and Tommy Orange.

Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of a fresh start at college, but when family tragedy strikes, Daunis puts her future on hold to look after her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team.

Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, drawing on her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine to track down the source. But the search for truth is more complicated than Daunis imagined, exposing secrets and old scars. At the same time, she grows concerned with an investigation that seems more focused on punishing the offenders than protecting the victims.

Now, as the deceptions—and deaths—keep growing, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go for her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

Review 

5 stars 

Somehow, all the hype around Firekeeper’s Daughter, not to mention what it was about, completely passed me by until the Goodreads awards, when it won in the YA Fiction category, a result praised amid the  disappointments in one of the winner reaction BookTube videos I watched. The premise also immediately appealed to me, as did Angeline Boulley’s pitch of the book as “indigenous Nancy Drew.” 

I loved the rendering of the Ojibwe culture and the broader Native American identity in the US today. I loved the insight into the dynamics and beliefs of the tribe, and it really strikes the balance of providing context for those who are unfamiliar, while also not being overbearing for her primary audience of Native American teens she wants to provide representation for. 

I really liked how the story let us into Daunis’ world, letting the reader get to know her a bit before things got intense. She’s dealing with a lot, from dealing with issues of identity within the community, due to being biracial and having been conceived in scandalous circumstances, her family has multiple health issues which led her to make some difficult choices about her future. And while there are some promising, intriguing events going on with her friends, that ends up serving as the catalyst for the murder she witnesses, and thus the rest of the plot. 

I appreciated the way the book handled such heavy topics, from Daunis’ identity issues to drug abuse to sexual assault, and it didn’t feel like it was all for shock value, but about making a statement about the issues indigenous people go through. 

This book is absolutely amazing, and I’m so glad I read it. If you somehow haven’t missed it until now, it’s absolutely worth your time, especially if you’re looking for great ownvoices Indigenous rep, and you love a good mystery/thriller. 

Author Bio 

Angeline Boulley, an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, is a storyteller who writes about her Ojibwe community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She is a former Director of the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Angeline lives in southwest Michigan, but her home will always be on Sugar Island. Firekeeper’s Daughter is her debut novel.

In this riveting novel, a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, Daunis Fontaine, has never quite fit in—both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. When her family is struck by tragedy, Daunis puts her dreams on hold to care for her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother’s hockey team.

After Daunis witnesses a shocking murder that thrusts her into a criminal investigation, she agrees to go undercover. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home. How far will she go to protect her community if it means tearing apart the only world she’s ever known?

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Review of “The Midnight Girls” by Alicia Jasinska

Jasinska, Alicia. The Midnight Girls. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Fire, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1728210018 | $17.99 USD | 338 pages | YA Fantasy Romance 

Blurb 

The Wicked Deep meets House of Salt and Sorrows in this new standalone YA fantasy set in a snow-cloaked kingdom where witches are burned, and two enchantresses secretly compete for the heart of a prince, only to discover that they might be falling for each other.

It’s Karnawa? season in the snow-cloaked Kingdom of Lechia, and from now until midnight when the church bells ring an end to Devil’s Tuesday time will be marked with wintry balls and glittery disguises, cavalcades of nightly torch-lit “kuligi” sleigh-parties.

Unbeknownst to the oblivious merrymakers, two monsters join the fun. Newfound friends and polar opposites, Zosia and Marynka seem destined to have a friendship that’s stronger even than magic. But that’s put to the test when they realize they both have their sights set on Lechia’s pure-hearted prince. If a monster consumes a pure heart she’ll gain immeasurable power and Marynka plans to bring the prince’s back to her grandmother in order to prove herself. While Zosia is determined to take his heart and its power for her own.

When neither will sacrifice their ambitions for the other, the festivities spiral into a magical contest with both girls vying to keep the hapless prince out of the other’s wicked grasp. But this isn’t some remote forest village, where a stray enchantment or two might go unnoticed, Warszów is the icy capital of a kingdom that enjoys watching monsters burn, and if Zosia and Marynka’s innocent disguises continue to slip, their escalating rivalry might cost them not just the love they might have for each other, but both their lives.

Review 

5 stars 

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

The Midnight Girls promised to be fun and chaotic, and it delivered. The queer villain trope is reclaimed to great effect here, with I loved the central theme of badass, cutthroat girls who come together in an incredible execution of fantasy rivals/enemies-to-lovers. 

Marynka and Zosia are such great characters. I love how they share that commonality of going to extremes to get what they want, but they also have so many differences too, which further  fuels the tension. But ultimately, it’s a believable transition from being at each others’ throats to falling for each other, and I love when two people who want to burn the world down (or commit some other dastardly deed) come to the realization that they can accomplish more together. It’s also a nice contrast to the archetype of many comp titles, where the “good” character tames the “bad” one, and while that’s a perfectly valid fantasy, I love that they’re both bad and neither feels the need to compromise for the other. 

Another highlight is the setting. While the book’s release date was delayed, likely due to supply chain issues, it’s still coming out in winter (for the Northern Hemisphere folks anyway), so the vibes are still very appropriate. It really evokes that sense of a really cold place, and I also liked the vibes of 18th century Poland that were conveyed through the world building. And Alicia Jasinska has a writing style that sucks you in, making you feel and experience the setting. 

This book is beautiful, immersive, and fun in equal measure. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, morally gray sapphic fantasy romance. 

Author Bio 

Alicia Jasinska is a fantasy writer hailing from Sydney, Australia. A library technician by day, she spends her nights writing and hanging upside down from the trapeze and aerial hoop. She is the author of THE DARK TIDE and THE MIDNIGHT GIRLS.

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Review of “The Passsion of the Purple Plumeria” (Pink Carnation #10) by Lauren Willig

Willig, Lauren. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria. New York: New American Library, 2013.

ISBN-13: 978-0451414724 | $16.00 USD | 468 pages | Regency Romance/Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

Colonel William Reid has returned home from India to retire near his children, who are safely stowed in an academy in Bath. Upon his return to the Isles, however, he finds that one of his daughters has vanished, along with one of her classmates.

Having served as second-in-command to the Pink Carnation, one of England’s most intrepid spies, it would be impossible for Gwendolyn Meadows to give up the intrigue of Paris for a quiet life in the English countryside—especially when she’s just overheard news of an alliance forming between Napoleon and an Ottoman Sultan. But, when the Pink Carnation’s little sister goes missing from her English boarding school, Gwen reluctantly returns home to investigate the girl’s disappearance.

Thrown together by circumstance, Gwen and William must cooperate to track down the young ladies before others with nefarious intent get their hands on them. But Gwen’s partnership with quick-tongued, roguish William may prove to be even more of an adventure for her than finding the lost girls…

In the series 

#1 The Secret History of the Pink Carnation 

#2 The Masque of the Black Tulip 

#3 The Deception  of the Emerald Ring 

#4 The Seduction of the Crimson Rose 

#5 The Temptation of the Night Jasmine 

#6 The Betrayal of the Blood Lily 

#7 The Mischief of the Mistletoe 

#8 The Orchid Affair 

#9 The Garden Intrigue 

Review 

5 stars 

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria is one of the more memorable installments of the Pink Carnation series for me, and like my previous favorites, it owes a lot to Lauren Willig’s skill with characterization. And that’s saying a lot, given she openly admits in her author’s note that this was one she procrastinated on due to her fear of what she had set up for Miss Gwen in prior books. 

Miss Gwen has always stolen the show in her previous appearances, with her parasol-wielding and her Gothic novel critiquing, so I love that this book allows the reader to get to know her better. I loved the insights into her past, and the love and loss she faced. It’s something you’d never expect, but it makes sense, given she seemingly has hardened herself. I also loved getting insight into her feelings for Jane, and how in their short time working together, Miss Gwen has developed a deep filial love and loyalty to her, due to devoting her entire life to the cause. But in this one, Jane really begins to pull away, and Miss Gwen really questions what she has without Jane and their dynamic. 

Colonel William Reid, father to Alex, Lizzy, and Jack, who appeared previously (Lizzy appears in this one, Jack plays a role in the plot, and Alex is mentioned), makes a great hero for Miss Gwen, and not just for “plot reasons.” Like her, he’s older and he’s been through a lot, including having lost loved ones. Their banter is perfect, and I loved seeing these two somewhat unlikely (at first) companions working together. 

The historical plot finally starts to bring things from the last several books together, from the spy ring that became the new threat following the defeat of the Black Tulip, We see Miss Gwen and Jane, fresh from their French adventures, meeting up with Colonel Reid, who is the tie to Jack and India and the spy activities there concerning the jewels. And even Lizzy and Agnes get to go on a more plot-relevant adventure (albeit mostly off-page) after participating in one with Turnip, Arabella, and Sally previously. 

I will say this book is the one that highlights the most missed opportunities in hindsight. Willig mentions her original plans for a book about Kat, Alex’s twin sister, and Tommy Fluellen (who appeared in Night Jasmine), and both Lizzy and Agnes are so precocious, especially at the end of this one. It’s a shame they never had the opportunity to find HEAs of their own on-page, and given the sentiments Willig has expressed in recent live chats, it’s very unlikely that their stories will come to fruition. 

As far as the contemporary plotline, after some real ups and downs with it, I think it’s finally hitting its stride. Aunt Arabella is the MVP of this storyline, making her relatives sit down and talk to each other (and work together), with the promise of being rewarded with information for their search for the jewels of Berar. I actually find Jeremy a bit more human when he’s not trying to undermine Colin, and there’s some pleasant and even funny moments between them and Eloise. And the way the contemporary arc simultaneously works out a specific issue in Eloise and Colin’s lives, while also having a tangible connection to the jewels with the treasure hunt makes it feel like a cohesive dual-timeline book, and perhaps one of the most solid in that regard for the series in a while. 

This book is another winner for the series. The readalong  live chat for this one is next month, and signup information is still forthcoming. But it’s not too early to invest in your own sword parasol and tuck in for one of the best books this series has to offer! 

Author Bio

Lauren Willig is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty works of historical fiction, including Band of SistersThe Summer CountryThe English Wife, the RITA Award-winning Pink Carnation series, and three novels co-written with Beatriz Williams and Karen White. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, picked for Book of the Month Club, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best, and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. An alumna of Yale University, she has a graduate degree in history from Harvard and a JD from Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City with her husband, two young children, and vast quantities of coffee.

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Review of “Reckless Girls” by Rachel Hawkins

Hawkins, Rachel. Reckless Girls. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1250274250 | $27.99 USD | 320 pages | Thriller 

Blurb 

From Rachel Hawkins, the New York Times bestselling author of The Wife Upstairs, comes Reckless Girls, a deliciously wicked gothic suspense, set on an isolated Pacific island with a dark history, for fans of Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware.

ONE ISLAND

Beautiful, wild, and strange—Meroe Island is a desolate spot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a mysterious history of shipwrecks, cannibalism, and even rumors of murder. It’s the perfect destination for the most adventurous traveler to escape everything… except the truth.

SIX VISITORS

Six stunning twentysomethings are about to embark on a blissful, free-spirited journey—one filled with sun-drenched days and intoxicating nights. But as it becomes clear that the group is even more cut off from civilization than they initially thought, it starts to feel like the island itself is closing in, sending them on a dangerous spiral of discovery.

COUNTLESS SECRETS

When one person goes missing and another turns up dead, the remaining friends wonder what dark currents lie beneath this impenetrable paradise—and who else will be swept under its secluded chaos. With its island gothic sensibility, sexy suspense, and spine-tingling reimagining of an Agatha Christie classic, Reckless Girls will wreck you.

Review 

3 stars 

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

Reckless Girls is a bit of a disappointment, following up on Rachel Hawkins’ previous thriller, The Wife Upstairs, which I adored. This one has its good points, but it ultimately falls into some of the pitfalls of a certain brand of thriller that can be very hit-or-miss for me. 

The setting is the best part. From Maui, where the group start out, to the boat journey to the remote Meroe Island and the environs of the Island itself, the imagery provides equal amounts of beauty and darkness. 

However, the story is very much about rather wealthy, superficial characters. Lux stands out in her naïveté about the world around her, but that only adds to my struggle to like her. This book leans into Gothic archetypes, and her characterization in the face of all that was going on certainly did not help. 

Even if I didn’t feel overly attached to anyone, I still found myself pretty intrigued with what was going on, and willing to flip pages at a brisk pace to reach the conclusion. If nothing else, it’s a pretty wild ride, and in spite of its flaws, I didn’t hate it. It does require a lot of suspension of disbelief, but keeping that in mind, it’s pretty solid. 

While I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I hoped, given my brief track record with Rachel Hawkins thrillers, I have high hopes for her next book in a similar vein. If you’re looking for a slightly bonkers, slightly Agatha Christie-esque thriller, you might like this one more than I did. 

Author Bio 

Rachel Hawkins is a former teacher who left teaching to take a chance and get serious about finishing that book she’d always wanted to write. Her first book, Hex Hall, was the result of that leap of faith. She’s a graduate of Auburn University in Alabama and lives with her husband and son in Alabama.

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Review of “The Price on Her Head” (Monstrous Desires #2) by Suzanne Clay

Clay, Suzanne. The Price on Her Head. [Place of publication not identified]: Suzanne Clay, 2021.

ISBN-13: 1230005286287 | $2.99 USD | 120 pages | Fantasy Romance 

Blurb 

She’s brought down hundreds of creatures, but this hunt might be her last…

Consummate hunter Myrine’s one focus in life is keeping her son Zale safe. Sometimes the danger is the wild animals that prowl outside the city of Kepithos. Sometimes the threat is the memory of a lethal plague that once decimated the townsfolk. But in the forefront of her mind is always the sacrifice of ten children every five years to the vicious minotaur that lives beneath the king’s castle—a ritualistic practice to keep the plague at bay.

So when it’s discovered that the minotaur has escaped its labyrinth, an enormous bounty to hunt it down is on the line. It’s not just to keep the forests safe. It’s to assure that the deities will not punish them for letting their weapon run loose.

When Zale comes down with an illness that mimics early symptoms of the previous plague, Myrine’s one hope for his healing is to take down this creature, receive the bounty, and pay the doctor’s high fee for both medicine and silence. The last thing she needs is a city full of panicked citizens considering his sickness an omen.

But a chance encounter in the forest shows her that everything she was taught was a lie. This minotaur is no mindless monster. Her name is Eleonora, and they have far more in common than they could ever imagine.

The Price on Her Head is a 30,000-word monster romance novella. It features a trans F/F pairing involving a human woman and a female minotaur.

This book is intended only for adult audiences. Content warnings may be found in the book’s front matter and on the author’s website.

Review 

4 stars 

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

The Price on Her Head is a thematic follow up to a prior story by Suzanne Clay that I read recently, but did not post a review for (at least not publicly). I was eager to see there would be more, and I loved the concept of a Minotaur romance, but with trans women leads. 

I love how the story unpacks the meaning of what it is to be a monster, whether it be in a more literal sense, or just in the sense that society others you for being different, which is the case for trans people. There’s an interesting duality through the Minotaur character, Eleonora, being trans, and being hunted, while Myrine, who simply wants to get by and care for her son, is among those who hunt her. The connection as the story progresses is beautiful, and strikes a great balance between physical and emotional intimacy. 

This book is beautiful, and makes for an evocative, original read that I’d recommend if you love monster and/or queer romance, or are just looking for something different from the norm. 

Author Bio 

Suzanne Clay (she/they) is an asexual enby with a great love for writing erotic romance, and enjoys spending her time confusing people with that fact. They live with her spouse and two cats, and, when not writing, Suzanne enjoys reading, playing video games poorly, and refusing to interact outdoors with other human beings.

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Review of “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo

Lo, Malinda. Last Night at the Telegraph Club. New York: Dutton Books, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0525555254 | $18.99 USD | 409 pages | YA Historical Romance 

Blurb 

Winner of the National Book Award

“Proof of Malinda Lo’s skill at creating darkly romantic tales of love in the face of danger.“—O: The Oprah Magazine

“The queer romance we’ve been waiting for.”—Ms. Magazine

“Restrained yet luscious.”—Sarah Waters, bestselling author of Tipping the Velvet

A National Bestseller

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the feeling took root—that desire to look, to move closer, to touch. Whenever it started growing, it definitely bloomed the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. Suddenly everything seemed possible. 

But America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.SEE LESS

Review 

4 stars 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club has been on my radar for a while, especially in the wake of it being the first round of the Goodreads Choice Awards. The premise sounded really fun and appealed to me on multiple levels. 

I really liked the research that went into creating a fairly authentic picture of what 1950s San Francisco would have looked like. What with McCarthyism and the interconnected persecution of Communists and queer people, as well as the lingering racism against Asian Americans, I appreciated how sensitively Lo approached it. 

Lily is a fabulous protagonist, and I loved how she came to a realization of what she wanted, both in regards to her professional and personal lives. Her sapphic awakening upon getting to know Kath and coming into the fold of the welcoming Telegraph Club was so heartwarming to read, and it almost broke me when her family tried to keep her from being with Kath and pursuing her dreams. I adored her relationship with Kath, and it’s such a sweet bond that grows in the midst of turmoil and adversity.

I only have a couple minor, if slightly annoying,  quibbles. One has to do with the inclusion of flashbacks from the parents perspective to close out each section. It breaks up the momentum of the story, and while it does provide some context to why they are who they are, it’s still hard to feel sympathy for people so determined to oppress their own daughter for the sake of “tradition” and “convention,” and not have things reflecting badly on them. I mean, yeah, historical context is a thing, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to feel sympathy for toxic relatives who want to uphold the status quo to keep their queer kid down, regardless of what time period it is. 

The other thing was the choice of the incorporation of Chinese language. I appreciate Lo’s methodology of using Chinese characters to reflect full sentences, while Chinglish would be reflected with romanization. However, I found the choice to use footnotes to denote meaning distracting. I can’t say what the best solution for the full sentences would be, but I do feel that a simple word in the middle of a sentence shouldn’t warrant a footnote. Although I admit I am at least passably familiar with many of the words, and don’t believe authors of books featuring different languages and cultures are responsible for spoon-feeding their English-speaking, American audience. 

I liked this book overall, and am excited to check out more of Malinda Lo’s work soon. If you’re looking for a well-researched, hopeful queer YA  historical romance, I recommend this one wholeheartedly. 

Author Bio 

Malinda Lo is the critically acclaimed author of several young adult novels, including most recently A Line in the Dark, which was a Kirkus Best YA Book of 2017 and one of Vulture’s 10 Best YA Books of 2017. Her novel Ash, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, the Andre Norton Award for YA Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and was a Kirkus Best Book for Children and Teens. She has been a three-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Malinda’s nonfiction has been published by the New York Times Book Review, NPR, the Huffington Post, The Toast, the Horn Book, and the anthologies Here We Are, How I Resist, and Scratch. She lives in Massachusetts with her wife.

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