Review of “My Calamity Jane” (The Lady Janies #3) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Hand, Cynthia, et. al. My Calamity Jane. New York: HarperTeen, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062652812 | $18.99 USD | 544 pages | YA Historical Fiction

Blurb

Hold on to your hats: The authors who brought you the New York Times bestseller My Plain Jane, which Booklist praised as “delightfully deadpan” (starred review) and Publishers Weekly called “a clever, romantic farce” (starred review), are back with another irreverent historical adventure.

Welcome to 1876 America, a place bursting with gunslingers, outlaws, and garou—better known as werewolves.

And where there are garou, there’re hunters: the one and only Calamity Jane, to be precise, along with her fellow stars of Wild Bill’s Traveling Show, Annie Oakley and Frank “the Pistol Prince” Butler.

After a garou hunt goes south and Jane finds a suspicious-like bite on her arm, she turns tail for Deadwood, where there’s talk of a garou cure. But rumors can be deceiving—meaning the gang better hightail it after her before they’re a day late and a Jane short.

In this perfect next read for fans of A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, bestselling authors Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton bring their signature spark to the side-splittin’, whopper-filled (but actually kind of factual?) tale of Calamity Jane.

Review

Unlike the first two books, I wasn’t as familiar with the historical figures or setting of My Calamity Jane, so that may have impacted my investment.

Stylistically, I had just as much fun reading it, cracking up several times, particularly with the fun asides the authors inserted into the text, breaking the fourth wall and inserting wacky anachronisms. 

Calamity Jane, Frank, and Annie are objectively great characters, and I enjoyed their hijinks to an extent, but, without a real frame of reference for them and finding Westerns a bit hit-or-miss as a genre in general, I found something missing. 

While this book is a bit of a disappointment to me, I think it’s only because of the nature of these books and how they play with history, so those who know the figures or stories involved would likely enjoy it more. I do still love what these three authors do together and I hope this isn’t the last time they collaboratively “ruin” our history. 

Author Bios

Cynthia Hand is the New York Times bestselling author of several books for teens, including the UNEARTHLY trilogy, THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE, MY LADY JANE (with fellow authors Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows), THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE,  MY PLAIN JANE (also with Ashton and Meadows) and THE HOW AND THE WHY. Before turning to writing for young adults, she studied literary fiction and earned both an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in fiction writing (but don’t call her Dr. Hand, because that’s a cartoon super villain.) She currently resides in Boise, Idaho, with a husband who loves typewriters as much as she does, two cats, two kids, a crazy puppy, and an entourage of imaginary friends. Find her at www.cynthiahandbooks.com or @CynthiaHand on Twitter.

Brodi Ashton is the author of the EVERNEATH trilogy. and  DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY with Balzer and Bray and MY LADY JANE and MY PLAIN JANE with HarperTeen. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics. Brodi has an active following on her blog, which can be found at www.brodiashton.blogspot.com. She lives in Utah with her family. Follow her on Twitter at @brodiashton.

Jodi Meadows wants to be a ferret when she grows up and she has no self-control when it comes to yarn, ink, or outer space. Still, she manages to write books. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy, the ORPHAN QUEEN Duology, and the FALLEN ISLES Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen), and a coauthor of MY LADY JANE and MY PLAIN JANE (HarperTeen). Visit her at www.jodimeadows.com

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Review of “Inheritors” by Asako Serizawa

Serizawa, Asako. Inheritors. New York: Doubleday, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0385545372 | $26.95 USD | 288 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

“This splendid story collection is a sword through the heart.”–Ben Fountain

From the O. Henry Prize-winning author comes a heartbreakingly beautiful and brutal exploration of lives fragmented by the Pacific side of World War II.

Spanning more than 150 years, and set in multiple locations in colonial and postcolonial Asia and the United States, Inheritors paints a kaleidoscopic portrait of its characters as they grapple with the legacies of loss, imperialism, and war.

Written from myriad perspectives and in a wide range of styles, each of these interconnected stories is designed to speak to the others, contesting assumptions and illuminating the complicated ways we experience, interpret, and pass on our personal and shared histories. A retired doctor, for example, is forced to confront the horrific moral consequences of his wartime actions. An elderly woman subjects herself to an interview, gradually revealing a fifty-year old murder and its shattering aftermath. And in the last days of a doomed war, a prodigal son who enlisted against his parents’ wishes survives the American invasion of his island outpost, only to be asked for a sacrifice more daunting than any he imagined.

Serizawa’s characters walk the line between the devastating realities of war and the banal needs of everyday life as they struggle to reconcile their experiences with the changing world. A breathtaking meditation on suppressed histories and the relationship between history, memory, and storytelling, Inheritors stands in the company of Lisa Ko, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Min Jin Lee.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Inheritors caught my interest due to the blurb, and despite being a bit more literary than I typically go for, I found this an interesting read, highlighting the stories of a family across the generations in both Japan and the US through all the hardships they experienced. I feel like it’s not something that was taught enough in school, apart from the late 19th century immigration and World War II.

And while it’s not a linear narrative, and thus it did feel a little jarring, even with the guide at the beginning, I enjoyed how each section felt distinct due to the different styles, and how these vignettes (as that’s what it reminded me of) delved into such impactful topics, despite the fact that there wasn’t a ton of page time for every person’s story. I especially liked the interview that unveils a long-hidden murder, and how poignantly that was conveyed. 

I enjoyed this book, and liked trying something a bit outside my comfort zone. If you love family-oriented stories, then I think this is worth giving a try. 

Author Bio

ASAKO SERIZAWA was born in Japan and grew up in Singapore, Jakarta, and Tokyo. A graduate of Tufts University, Brown University, and Emerson College, she has received two O. Henry Prizes, a Pushcart Prize, and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. A recent fiction fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, she currently lives in Boston. Inheritors is her first book.

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Review of “Fair as a Star” (Victorian Romantics #1) by Mimi Matthews

Matthews, Mimi. Fair as a Star. [United States]: Perfectly Proper Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1733056984 | $3.99 USD | 194 pages | Victorian Romance

Blurb

From USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews comes a Victorian tale of love and longing in a quaint English village.

A Secret Burden…

After a mysterious sojourn in Paris, Beryl Burnham has returned home to the village of Shepton Worthy ready to resume the life she left behind. Betrothed to the wealthy Sir Henry Rivenhall, she has no reason to be unhappy–or so people keep reminding her. But Beryl’s life isn’t as perfect as everyone believes. 

A Longstanding Love… 

As village curate, Mark Rivenhall is known for his compassionate understanding. When his older brother’s intended needs a shoulder to lean on, Mark’s more than willing to provide one. There’s no danger of losing his heart. He already lost that to Beryl a long time ago. 

During an idyllic Victorian summer, friends and family gather in anticipation of Beryl and Sir Henry’s wedding. But in her darkest moment, it’s Mark who comes to Beryl’s aid. Can he help her without revealing his feelings–or betraying his brother?

*Fair as a Star is a novella, approximately 50,000-words in length.

Praise for the Novels of Mimi Matthews

“Readers will be hard put to set this one down before the end.” –Library Journal, starred review

“[A] gripping, emotional Victorian romance… Historical romance fans should snap this one up.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

“As always, Matthews attention to historical accuracy is impeccable.” –Kirkus Reviews

“It seems that I say each book that Mimi Matthews pens is her best writing, but it appears to be true.” –The Romance Reviews

“Mimi Matthews is an exceptional story-teller.” –Passages to the Past

“[Matthews’] books are classics and remind me of Georgette Heyer and Mary Balogh…simply wonderful.” -Jane Porter, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“Mimi Matthews writes so beautifully I’ll happily follow her imagination anywhere.” -Kate Pearce, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

Content Warning: Fair as a Star contains discussions of mental illness and domestic violence.

Review

5 stars

I received an ARC from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Mimi Matthews has been recommended by a few people as an author of sweet/no-sex romance, so she has been on my radar for a while. And Fair as a Star sounded interesting, so I thought it would be a good entry point into her books. 

And it’s a wonderful book that delves into mental health in such a beautiful way with Beryl. Set in a time when both quack cures and abusive mental institutions were common, I love that instead it focuses on Beryl as a real person with depression without the dramatic/Gothic elements so often associated with Victorian literature, and it felt so refreshing to see. 

And her relationship with Mark is incredibly sweet as well, and I love his approach to Beryl’s illness, and how it’s influenced by his vocation as a clergyman. 

This is a  sweet story and it definitely has me excited to try more from her. If you love sweet historical romance, I recommend this one highly. 

Author Bio

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews from Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, 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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Review of “The Do-Over” by Jennifer Honeybourn

Honeybourn, Jennifer. The Do-Over. New York: Swoon Reads, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1250194688 | $18.99 USD | 240 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

In The Do-Over, a teenage girl gets the chance to redo her past in this smart and charming YA novel by the author of When Life Gives You Demons, Jennifer Honeybourn.

Emelia has always wanted to fit in with the A crowd. So, when Ben, the hottest guy in school, asks her out, she chooses him over Alistair, her best friend—even after he confesses his feelings to her.

Six months later, Emilia wonders how her life would have been different if she’d chosen Alistair instead. Haunted by her mistake, she finds a magical solution that promises to rectify the past. As a result, everything in her life is different.

Different, but not better.

What happens if her second chance is her only chance to make things right?

Review

4 stars

The Do-Over feels reminiscent of a lot of the fun teen rom-coms, notably 13 Going On 30. I also felt it had some slight vibes of the more recent Isn’t It Romantic, but for the teen set. It’s fairly predictable, in the sense that the moral is to “be careful what you wish for,” but the story also provides some comfort in that predictability, particularly when things fall into place at the end. 

Emilia isn’t always likable…she makes bad, self-serving  choices, and that’s the whole reason for wanting to do things over to begin with. But on some level I could still identify with her, as I remember what things were like for me at her age and not really belonging. 

I love her relationship with her friend-turned-love-interest, Alistair, and how they complement each other. I wish the plot had allowed for more exploration of their relationship, instead of her figuring out how to make things right with him when things kept going wrong, but I understand why.

This is fairly cute, but I do think this is a book that is solely for teen readers going through this stuff right now, and I don’t think it should be critiqued too harshly for accurately suiting the audience it’s meant for. 

Author Bio

Jennifer Honeybourn works in corporate communications in Vancouver, British Columbia. She’s a fan of British accents, Broadway musicals, and epic, happily-ever-after love stories. If she could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, she’d have high tea with Walt Disney, JK Rowling, and her nana. She lives with her husband, daughter and cat in a house filled with books. WESLEY JAMES RUINED MY LIFE is her first novel.

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Review of “A Virtuous Ruby” by Piper Huguley

Huguley, Piper. A Virtuous Ruby. 2015.  [United States]: Lilaceae Press, 2020.

ASIN: B087XX47Z3 | $2.99 USD | 226 pages | Historical Romance

Blurb

An unexpected love in a small, Southern town. Migrations of the Heart, Book 1 After fifteen months of hiding from the shame of bearing an illegitimate child, two words drive Ruby Bledsoe to face the good citizens of Winslow, Georgia. Never again. She vows to speak out against injustice. For her sisters. For her parents. For her infant son, Solomon. When she comes to help an injured mill worker, she bristles when a tall, handsome man claiming to be a doctor brushes her aside. Despite his arrogance, Ruby senses he’s someone like her, whose light skin doesn’t quite hide who he is. Up north, Dr. Adam Morson easily kept his mixed race a secret. Now that he’s in Georgia, summoned by his white father, he can feel restrictions closing in around him. Something powerful draws him to the beauty whose activist spirit is as fiery as her name. And soon, Adam wants nothing more than to take Ruby and her child far from Georgia’s toxic prejudice. But Ruby must choose between seeking her own happiness and staying to fight for the soul of her hometown.

Review

5 stars

A recent essay piqued my interest in A Virtuous Ruby by Piper Huguley, an author I had read been introduced to in an anthology and long desired to read more from. And if this book is an indicator of her body of work, I am eager to read more. 

In an opening note to the book, Huguley notes that she was inspired by Tess of D’Urbervilles, inspiring a more optimistic end for its tragic heroine. And she certainly does so with Ruby, a survivor of sexual assault with an illegitimate child. I admired how firm she was in her convictions about her identity, when some black and mixed-race people who could do so elected to pass for white and escape persecution. 

Meanwhile, Adam is one such person who has chosen to do this, although Ruby isn’t fooled. I love how she encourages him to acknowledge his history, and how it poignantly depicts his struggle between deciding between the privilege he would receive from passing and fully embracing his identity as a black man and the hardships he and his ancestors faced. 

This is an utterly beautiful story, both historically rich and incredibly relevant, and one I recommend to every romance reader. 

Author Bio

Piper Huguley seeks to make new inroads in the publication of historical romance by featuring African American Christian characters.  The Lawyer’s Luck and The Preacher’s Promise, the first books in her “Home to Milford College” series, are Amazon best sellers.  The Mayor’s Mission, published in Winter 2014.  The next entry in the series, The Representative’s Revolt will publish in Spring 2015. She is a 2013 Golden Heart finalist for her novel, A Champion’s Heart—the fourth book in “Migrations of the Heart”. The first book in the series, A Virtuous Ruby, was the first-place winner in The Golden Rose Contest in 2013 and was a Golden Heart finalist in 2014. The first three books in the “Migrations of the Heart” series, which follows the loves and lives of African American sisters during America’s greatest internal migration in the first part of the twentieth century, will be published by Samhain Publishing in 2015.  She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.

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Review of “The Heart of a Hellion” (The Duke’s Bastards #2) by Jess Michaels

Michaels, Jess. The Heart of a Hellion. Dallas: The Passionate Pen, LLC, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1947770348 | $4.99 USD | 270 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Selina Oliver has always enjoyed all the pleasures life offers. As one of the infamous Roseford Bastards, why shouldn’t she? But Selina has a secret, one that could tear her world apart. She is also the Faceless Fox, a brazen thief who for years has been stealing the finest jewels of the nastiest women of the ton. Now her brother has invited her to a country party where one of the prizes she craves most will also be at her fingertips. How could a wily fox resist this henhouse?

Derrick Huntington has spent a life maintaining control and discipline. From his years in the army to his current place as an investigator for the ton’s elite, he never wavers from his duty. Now he and his partner are sent to an exclusive country party with one task: catch the Faceless Fox before they strike again and finally unmask the villain who has been intriguing him for years.

Investigator meet criminal in a wild chase that will involve seduction as distraction, unexpected respect and a love that could change both their lives forever. If only they can survive it.

In the series

#1 The Love of a Libertine 

#3 The Matter of a Marquess (coming Fall 2020)

Review

5 stars 

The Heart of a Hellion is another winner for Jess Michaels. Once again, she provides a story rich in character depth and intrigue, centering on one of my recent favorite tropes of criminal heroine/investigator hero. 

Michaels excels at crafting sexual tension that radiates off the page, and that is certainly the case for Selina and Derrick. I rooted for them as they fell for each other, while also wondering how it would all work out, as even though Selina did what she did for noble reasons, demonstrating she’s not actually that different from law-abiding Derrick, she still broke the law, and she became resigned to accepting the consequences.

And while definitely not a romantic suspense, there was a question of “whodunnit” at one point, that kept me on the edge of my seat wondering who it could be, especially since Selina, who is blamed for the offense, did not do it. And when it was revealed who it truly was and their connection to Selina, I also felt the sting of betrayal. 

I loved this book as much as the first, if not more, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for this ragtag bunch of ducal bastards. And if you love steamy Regency romance (equip your fire-resistant pants!), then you’ll love this one. 

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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Review of “The Lost Girls of Devon” by Barbara O’Neal

O’Neal, Barbara. The Lost Girls of Devon. Seattle: Lake Union Publishing, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-154202725 | $14.95 USD | 352 pages | Women’s Fiction 

Blurb

One of Travel + Leisure’s most anticipated books of summer 2020.

From the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids comes a story of four generations of women grappling with family betrayals and long-buried secrets.

It’s been years since Zoe Fairchild has been to the small Devon village of her birth, but the wounds she suffered there still ache. When she learns that her old friend and grandmother’s caretaker has gone missing, Zoe and her fifteen-year-old daughter return to England to help.

Zoe dreads seeing her estranged mother, who left when Zoe was seven to travel the world. As the four generations of women reunite, the emotional pain of the past is awakened. And to complicate matters further, Zoe must also confront the ex-boyfriend she betrayed many years before.

Anxieties spike when tragedy befalls another woman in the village. As the mystery turns more sinister, new grief melds with old betrayal. Now the four Fairchild women will be tested in ways they couldn’t imagine as they contend with dangers within and without, desperate to heal themselves and their relationships with each other.

Review

4 stars

The premise of The Lost Girls of Devon drew my attention, especially the multi-generational domestic drama. I did find the connections between the women a bit hard to follow at first, this is a book with a lot of intricacies and once I got into it, I did enjoy it for what it is.

While all four of the central women in the family play central roles in each others’ lives, Zoe and her strained relationship with her mother, Poppy is the focal point. I love how Zoe’s abandonment issues are reckoned with, but it’s also balanced by showing Poppy’s perspective on the matter, and that Poppy wanted to chase her dreams because her mother didn’t, establishing a cycle of how mothers’ behavior impact their daughters.

I enjoyed the chapters from Isabel the most, however, because of how it deals with such raw trauma of dealing with sexual assault at the hands of high school “friends,” and how she can’t bring herself to discuss it with her mother, creating yet another gulf between mother and daughter. 

I did find myself a bit disappointed that the “missing friend” aspect wasn’t more pronounced, however given how the book had been pitched, I should have expected it would be a mere subplot, although it was the most intriguing part of the blurb for me. 

I enjoyed this book, and was moved by the story of mothers and daughters and the traumas and betrayals that caused division between them. If you love stories about the messy relationships between mothers and daughters, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Barbara O’Neal is the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Amazon Charts bestselling author of more than a dozen novels, including When We Believed in Mermaids, The Art of Inheriting Secrets, and How to Bake a Perfect Life. She lives in the beautiful city of Colorado Springs with her beloved—a British endurance athlete who vows he’ll never lose his accent. To learn more about O’Neal and her works, visit her online at http://www.barbaraoneal.com.

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Review of “Unveiling Love: The Complete Regency Suspense Tale” by Vanessa Riley

Riley, Vanessa. Unveiling Love: The Complete Regency Suspense Tale. Mableton, GA: Gallium Optronics, 2016. 

ASIN: B01H0K1C61 | $5.99 USD | 573 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Winning in the courts, vanquishing England’s foes on the battlefield, Barrington Norton has used these winner-take-all rules to script his life, but is London’s most distinguished mulatto barrister prepared to win the ultimate fight, restoring his wife’s love?

Amora Norton is running out of time. The shadows in her Egyptian mind, which threaten her sanity and alienate Barrington’s love, have returned. How many others will die if she can’t piece together her shattered memories? Can she trust that Barrington’s new found care is about saving their marriage rather than winning the trial of the century?

This is the complete novel with all four episodes. Enjoy this romantic suspense and meet old friends, William and Gaia, from Unmasked Heart. The love and drama continues.

Review

5 stars

Having enjoyed Vanessa Riley’s other episodic romance, The Bargain, I decided to pick up Unveiling Love. And while I’m still not a fan of the format, I do like how Riley uses it here to tackle a multi-faceted story with both a larger over-arching arc and smaller sub-plots. 

Vanessa Riley’s books are always such a treat, because they are chock-full or research into the lives of black and mixed-race people during the Regency, and her characters, and this book is no different, with its intricacies in the character relationships. 

I rooted for Barrington and Amora to work through the issues haunting their marriage, especially since Amora was plagued by trauma and fragmented memories, which have seen her imprisoned in an asylum. 

I loved this book, and I can’t wait to read more from Vanessa Riley. If you’re looking for a more diverse take on the Regency era, then I recommend this book (well, collection) highly. 

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Review of “Stormsong” (The Kingston Cycle #2) by C.L. Polk

Polk, C.L. Stormsong. New York: Tor.com, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0765398994 | $17.99 USD | 345 pages | Fantasy

Blurb

After spinning an enthralling world in Witchmark, praised as a “can’t-miss debut” by Booklist, and as “thoroughly charming and deftly paced” by the New York Times, C. L. Polk continues the story in Stormsong. Magical cabals, otherworldly avengers, and impossible love affairs conspire to create a book that refuses to be put down.

Dame Grace Hensley helped her brother Miles undo the atrocity that stained her nation, but now she has to deal with the consequences. With the power out in the dead of winter and an uncontrollable sequence of winter storms on the horizon, Aeland faces disaster. Grace has the vision to guide her parents to safety, but a hostile queen and a ring of rogue mages stand in the way of her plans. There’s revolution in the air, and any spark could light the powder. What’s worse, upstart photojournalist Avia Jessup draws ever closer to secrets that could topple the nation, and closer to Grace’s heart.

Can Aeland be saved without bloodshed? Or will Kingston die in flames, and Grace along with it?

In the series 

#1 Witchmark 

Review

4 stars

After the hype of Witchmark and the divide among readers about the change in protagonist for this book, Stormsong (before it was even finished!), I anticipated this book, as while I didn’t know what to think about Grace yet, I had trust in C.L. Polk’s ability to make her an endearing heroine. 

And indeed she does. One of the big issues with her as a character in the first book is her lack of awareness of her own privilege, and while she takes time to grow into greater awareness here, and in the meantime, take on such an active role in the political machinations going on around her. I grew to understand how she was indoctrinated into being what she was, and appreciated how she addressed it. 

With the stronger focus on politics, the romance aspect, the bit I was most looking forward to due to it being f/f, is more of a subplot, and while those aspects are sweet, I definitely wanted more. And while I was fine with Miles and Tristan being secondary characters in this one, I did feel like they were sidelined a bit too much. 

I did still enjoy this one due to Grace’s journey, even if it’s not as good as the first book. However, I’m still ridiculously excited for the next book next year, and any other future C.L. Polk projects. If you enjoyed the first one, then I think you’ll like how this one turns out. 

Author Bio

C. L. Polk (she/her/they/them) is the author of the World Fantasy Award winning debut novel Witchmark, the first novel of the Kingston Cycle. Her newest novel, The Midnight Bargain, is upcoming in 2020 from Erehwon Books.

After leaving high school early, she has worked as a film extra, sold vegetables on the street, and identified exotic insect species for a vast collection of lepidoptera before settling down to write silver fork fantasy novels.

Ms. Polk lives near the Bow River in Calgary, Alberta, in a tiny apartment with too many books and a yarn stash that could last a decade. She rides a green bicycle with a basket on the front.

She drinks good coffee because life is too short. She spends too much time on twitter. You can subscribe to her free newsletter on Substack.

Ms. Polk is represented by Caitlin McDonald of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.

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Review of “One Year of Ugly” by Caroline Mackenzie

Mackenzie, Caroline. One Year of Ugly. New York: 37 Ink, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1982128937 | $26.00 USD | 400 pages | Contemporary 

Blurb

A fun, fresh, timely debut novel about the uproarious adventures that befall the Palacio family during their disastrous illegal residence in Trinidad that poignantly captures the complexities of dysfunctional families and passionate (but sometimes messy) romance.

After fleeing crumbling, volatile Venezuela, Yola Palacio wants nothing more than to settle into a peaceful new life in Trinidad with her family. And who cares if they’re there illegally—aren’t most of the people on the island? But life for the Palacios is far from quiet—and when Yola’s Aunt Celia dies, the family once again find their lives turned upside down. For Celia had been keeping a very big secret—she owed a LOT of money to a local criminal called Ugly. And without the funds to pay him off, Ugly has the entire family do his bidding until Celia’s debt is settled. What Ugly says, the Palacios do, otherwise the circumstances are too dreadful to imagine.

To say that the year that follows is tumultuous for the Palacios is an understatement. But in the midst of the turmoil appears Roman—Ugly’s distractingly gorgeous right-hand man. And although she knows it’s terrible and quite possibly dangerous, Yola just can’t help but give in to the attraction. Where, though, do Roman’s loyalties lie? And could this wildly inappropriate romance just be the antidote to a terrible year of Ugly?

Combining the spark of Imbolo Mbue with the irresistible wit of Maria Semple, One Year of Ugly brilliantly explores cross-cultural struggles and assimilation from a unique immigrant perspective and introduces us to an extraordinary new voice in contemporary fiction.

Review

3-ish stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

I was intrigued by the concept of One Year of Ugly, following the drama of a family of illegal Venezuelan immigrants in Trinidad, and the way they are indebted to the criminal Ugly. 

However, I feel like this book was a bit too ambitious, in trying to work with realistic issues, while also trying to present an overall light tone, with the editor (in her accompanying introductory letter) drawing comparisons to Crazy Rich Asians and Where’d You Go Bernadette. The family relationships  do feel reminiscent of CRA, and that aspect was one of my favorite parts of the book. 

However, I felt, juxtaposed against the more serious issues, it felt a bit tonally unbalanced. I didn’t expect a completely depressing read, but I did feel like the story was more absurd than I preferred. 

This book was a bit of a mismatch for me, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else. If you are looking for a comedy that also touches on tough topics, then I think you should give this book a try. 

Author Bio

Caroline Mackenzie is a Trinidadian writer whose short fiction has appeared in publications around the world. In 2017 she was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and she won first prize for fiction in the 2018 Small Axe Literary Competition. Her debut novel ONE YEAR OF UGLY is currently available in e-book format (UK edition) and the hardcover and US e-book and audio book will be available in July 2020. Available for pre-order now.

Caroline currently lives in Trinidad and is cracking away at novel #2. You can follow her on Instagram at @carolinemackenziewrites.

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