THE INITIAL INSULT by Mindy McGinnis

Welcome to Amontillado, Ohio, where your last name is worth more than money, and secrets can be kept… for a price.

Tress Montor knows that her family used to mean something—until she didn’t have a family anymore. When her parents disappeared seven years ago while driving her best friend home, Tress lost everything. She might still be a Montor, but the entire town shuns her now that she lives with her drunken, one-eyed grandfather at what locals refer to as the “White Trash Zoo,” – a wild animal attraction featuring a zebra, a chimpanzee, and a panther, among other things. 

Felicity Turnado has it all – looks, money, and a secret that she’s kept hidden. She knows that one misstep could send her tumbling from the top of the social ladder, and she’s worked hard to make everyone forget that she was with the Montors the night they disappeared. Felicity has buried what she knows so deeply that she can’t even remember what it is… only that she can’t look at Tress without having a panic attack.

But she’ll have to.

Tress has a plan. A Halloween costume party at an abandoned house provides the ideal situation for Tress to pry the truth from Felicity – brick by brick – as she slowly seals her former best friend into a coal chute. With a drunken party above them, and a loose panther on the prowl, Tress will have her answers – or settle for revenge.


Title : The Initial Insult
Author : Mindy McGinnis
Series : The Initial Insult (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA mystery/thriller
Publisher : Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date : February 23, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

I think we can all agree that what the actual fuck.

I have such a weird relationship with McGinnis’ books. I love that she writes the strangest but often most compelling, unflinching, kind of things. But I seem to either love them, hate them, or not know whether I love or hate them. This is in the last category. And it’s a stranger feeling, too, considering this isn’t a standalone and there’s to be a sequel. Maybe I’ll know which camp I fall into after reading book two? Because I will.

I couldn’t tear myself away from this, could only stare unblinking as things got weirder and continued to escalate, and then.. that ending. Which we know isn’t an ending, but. Wow.

I’ve read this two months early so I’m going to be incredibly interested to see where this goes, and how people feel, as more readers pick it up. There’s really not much more to say! Compelling, yes, but definitely a qu’est-ce-que-fuck kind of read.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss+ and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

MAKE IT SWEET by Kristen Callihan

From New York Times bestselling author Kristen Callihan comes a charming, emotional romance about redefining dreams and discovering unlikely love along the way.

Life for Emma isn’t good. The world knows her as Princess Anya on Dark Castle, but then her character gets the axe—literally. The cherry on top is finding her boyfriend in bed with another woman. She needs a break, and sanctuary comes in the form of Rosemont, a gorgeous estate in California promising rest and relaxation.

Then she meets the owner’s equally gorgeous grandson, ex–hockey player and current recluse Lucian Osmond, and she sees her own pain and yearning reflected in his eyes.

He’s charming when he wants to be but also secretive and gruff, with protective walls as thick as Emma’s own. Despite a growing attraction, they avoid each other.

But then there’s an impromptu nighttime skinny-dip, and Lucian’s luscious homemade tarts and cream cakes start arriving at Emma’s door, tempting her to taste life again…

In trying to stay apart, they only grow closer—and their broken pieces just might fit together and make them whole.


Title : Make It Sweet
Author : Kristen Callihan
Format : eARC
Page Count : 367
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Montlake
Release Date : February 23, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Grumpy guy
Pastries and baking
Innuendo and double entendre for days
Funny and sweet

Make It Sweet was a satisfying contemporary romance with two protagonists steeped in fame but crashing to earth. This was a dual POV story and that really brought a richness to the narrative.

These characters were opposites in many ways and wary of one another but there sure was was chem-is-try. Once I got over the initially irritating cream innuendos…they made more sense as time went on, I was sold on this story. There were definitely shades of Game of Thrones context for the heroine Emma and I liked that visualisation in the background. Luc had struggles with his career and he was the type of man who found it hard to open up.

I think we read a lot of contemporary romance where the heroine is trying to ‘find herself’ and I enjoyed this turn of tables where it was the hero finding his direction.

Back to the chemistry I alluded to earlier, this read had quite a bit of heat and coupled with the baking context that made for some funny loaded banter and dialogue. I did settle into this and eye rolled/laughed my way through. I found it all endearing on the whole. I will add that Kristen Callihan knows how to write that kind of scene.

This standalone was a great romance, with a rich storyline, good side characters in addtion to the main characters and a lovely culmination. I just loved where it ended and it wasn’t an obvious ending.

Thank you to Montlake for the early review copy.

NEW RELEASE TUESDAY – FEBRUARY 23, 2021

Happy “where’d all my money go?” new release Tuesday, everyone!

As you know, the most exciting day of the week in this community is the day that follows the one we all dread (Mondays for the nope) and today we’re going to highlight some of the new books chipping away at our bank accounts — but each one is so worth it.


Like Home by Louisa Onomé is “a poignant and incandescent debut that explores the bonds of community and what it really means to change.”

Make It Sweet by Kristen Callihan is “satisfying contemporary romance with protagonists steeped in fame but crashing to earth,” as put by Micky. Look for our review later today!

Love At First by Kate Clayborn is “a sparkling, tender novel about bickering neighbors, surprise reunions, and the mysterious power of love.” We stole the pitch because it was easier than trying to sum up this really lovely read.. though you can also check out our review here!

Best Laid Plans by Roan Parrish is book two in the Garnet Run series, a wholesome queer contemporary romance featuring cats.

The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ Charles isn’t out until February 24, 2021, but we are boosting it anyway so you can get ready for it. We don’t know anything about this except it’s KJC which means queer, historical, and likely to be amazing.


Are there any titles out today you’re excited for? Let us know in the comments below! 

LOVE AT FIRST by Kate Clayborn

From Kate Clayborn, the acclaimed author of Love Lettering, comes a sparkling, tender novel about bickering neighbors, surprise reunions, and the mysterious power of love . . .

Sixteen years ago, a teenaged Will Sterling saw–or rather, heard–the girl of his dreams. Standing beneath an apartment building balcony, he shared a perfect moment with a lovely, warm-voiced stranger. It’s a memory that’s never faded, though he’s put so much of his past behind him. Now an unexpected inheritance has brought Will back to that same address, where he plans to offload his new property and get back to his regular life as an overworked doctor. Instead, he encounters a woman, two balconies above, who’s uncannily familiar . . .

No matter how surprised Nora Clarke is by her reaction to handsome, curious Will, or the whispered pre-dawn conversations they share, she won’t let his plans ruin her quirky, close-knit building. Bound by her loyalty to her adored grandmother, she sets out to foil his efforts with a little light sabotage. But beneath the surface of their feud is an undeniable connection. A balcony, a star-crossed couple, a fateful meeting–maybe it’s the kind of story that can’t work out in the end. Or maybe, it’s the perfect second chance . . . 


Title : Love at First
Author : Kate Clayborn
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : romance
Publisher : Kensington Books
Release Date : February 23, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

I want to say that if you loved LOVE LETTERING you will also love this but it’s not something that I would even compare one to the other. Unless you consider all the emotions I felt for both. In which case yes. Just.. yes.

[..] he couldn’t really explain it, the relief he felt. Out of all his visitors today, she was the enemy he should be dreading the most; she was the most dangerous to him. Frankly, she was probably here to finish him off. But he didn’t think any of that, at first. He looked up and saw her there and all he could think was : finally. Finally she came.

What I love so much about Clayborn is how quiet her books are even as they yell in your face, in your heart, in your soul. I might even have to call it the Quincy effect. You might end up a mess from the experience but you love it anyway (I swear this’ll make sense to people who’ve read this book, haha, except in this case the mess is tears). But back to my point, few authors I’ve read have successfully and consistently translated tenderness into text. And I don’t mean tender moments.. but she’s fully capable of those, too, pure tenderness into a moment between characters, but also in a turn of phrase, an inner thought, the touch of a hand, the desire to suddenly use a term of endearment. There were so many moments in this book (in so many of this author’s books, in fact) where I just died quiet little deaths because of how much I was made to feel.

You don’t have to love people the way you learned to love at first.

What sets this apart from LOVE LETTERING, too, is that we get a dual POV this time. And I just.. it was perfect? But the characters are not; they have baggage, flaws, and there is some angst. But it’s not big blow ups, dark secrets, epic tragic pasts, huge breakups. It’s real slights, tiny devastations, waves of grief, it’s learning to let go when you’re holding on too tight while at the same time it’s also letting yourself hold on instead of drifting away and remaining impermanent.

On a maybe more cheerful note, there’s also a wonderfully wholesome element in the secondary cast of characters that bring so much joy and fun to the lives of our leads. I absolutely wanted to jump into these pages and take up residence in one of the units (sorry Nora!) and take part in the hijinks and gossip and community. In the less wholesome category, if you’re looking for a solid romance? Attraction, chemistry, push and pull, and steam? There’s also that. Because that first kiss? Hoo boy. Might’ve fogged up the glasses. This also have one of my all-time favourite tropes but I don’t even want to mention it and spoil it. That’s how good it is. And how much you will enjoy watching it unfold.

I absolutely want everyone to read this and as I write this review it’s October twenty-third, which means it’s four months to the day before this is even released into the world, which means I’m shouting at my fellow Clayborn lovers to request and read this now. Because I am so alone in my feels and want everyone to experience this. I want everyone to laugh where and when I laughed. Cry where and when I cried. Do the kindle-clutch-to-the-chest during every tender scene (I’m not the only one who does this, I know I’m not!). And just bask in these feelings I feel.

Also, there are kittens. Just incase you needed one more reason to convince you to read it. Kittens.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

BEGUILED by Joanna Chambers

Two years after his last encounter with cynical nobleman Lord Murdo Balfour, David Lauriston accidentally meets him again in the heart of Edinburgh.

King George IV is about to make his first visit to Edinburgh and Murdo has been sent North by his politician father to represent his aristocratic family at the celebrations.

David and Murdo’s last parting was painful—and on Murdo’s part, bitter—but Murdo’s feelings seem to have mellowed in the intervening years. So much so, that he suggests to David that they enjoy each other’s company during Murdo’s stay in the capital. 
Despite his initial reservations, David cannot put Murdo’s proposal from his mind, and soon find himself at Murdo’s door—and in his arms. 

But other figures from David’s past are converging on the city, and as the pomp and ceremony of the King’s visit unfolds around them, David is drawn into a chain of events that will threaten everything: his career, his wellbeing, and the fragile bond that, despite David’s best intentions, is growing between him and Murdo.


Title : Beguiled
Author : Joanna Chambers
Series : Enlightenment (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 224
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ historical romance
Publisher : indie
Release Date : January 8, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

As with my review for book one, I still can’t manage to quite round up on this one, either. But this time for different reasons.

While the background noise of book one, and the motivation and moving parts of the plot didn’t interest me, that wasn’t the case in book two. This time we have a King’s visit to Scotland to contend with, the catalyst (excuse) for the reappearance of a certain romantic interest, but also there are heartbreaking domestic issues to contend with. Additionally I also loved how a certain character from book one reappeared, and how he had changed; it definitely didn’t go the way I expected. And I really liked how it seemed to have tied off a loose end (or two).

So while all that was good, what and where was the miss?

The problem for me is I found that our leads felt a little.. different. Yes, time has passed, and on the part of David he’s done some hard thinking, and pining. And while we still had some of those same clashes from before, I was frustrated by the way that he would retreat after having made so much progress. Particularly because it was the same song and dance from book one. I would’ve much rather had see new worries, new concerns, while still in the same vein, I guess. It felt out of place considering how much stronger the connection was. But nonetheless his core self, his instrospection, his inherent goodness, it’s all just really lovely.

As for Murdo, while I have no complaints with him being more tender, a little moony, he had softened dramatically in the time between books and.. I don’t know. I think the problem is this is a single POV, as in we don’t get his, and maybe I’m missing that other side of things to sell this to me. But there was an absolutely gutwrenching and yet heartwarming scene with him surrounding a rather pivotal moment for the two of them and I thought that was brilliant.

My whatever weirdness about not being to round up on this series aside, I enjoy the writing, and I’ll be diving right into book three tomorrow.

THE BEAUTY OF DARKNESS by Mary E. Pearson

Lia has survived Venda—but so has a great evil bent on the destruction of Morrighan. And only Lia can stop it.

With war on the horizon, Lia has no choice but to assume her role as First Daughter, as soldier—as leader. While she struggles to reach Morrighan and warn them, she finds herself at cross-purposes with Rafe and suspicious of Kaden, who has hunted her down.

In this conclusion to the Remnant Chronicles trilogy, traitors must be rooted out, sacrifices must be made, and impossible odds must be overcome as the future of every kingdom hangs in the balance.


Title : The Beauty of Darkness
Author : Mary E. Pearson
Series : The Remnant Chronicles (book three)
Format : physical
Page Count : 684
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Henry Holt
Release Date : August 2, 2016

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

I think this might have been, overall, the strongest of the series but it’s still not without some pitfalls or frustrations.

There isn’t much one can say about a finale but this was the big build up to a confrontation, a destiny, a prophecy, and may or may not resolve a romance or two. Most of all of that worked for me, in mostly satisfying ways, but despite how quickly I tore through this, it was still long, and somehow certain events were glossed over, or rushed, and ultimately I still didn’t get as many answers around the worldbuilding as I liked. Or maybe, instead, they were just too vague for my liking? I wanted it a little more spelled out. Which is likely my problem with some of the motivations of some of the characters. We had some big reveals, a few unmaskings, and maybe I just read it all too fast but like.. motivations are important. And I felt like I didn’t understand any of them for certain characters. They just kind of felt like roles they were playing.. but why? I don’t know, maybe it’s a silly thing to focus on, but considering the scope of the story I would’ve liked to have been a little more certain as to some of the whys of it all.

In speaking of characters, though, surprising no one my greatest joy was still Lia and she continued to be strong, stubborn, and so kickass. Her ending wasn’t really a surprise but I’m surprised, again, by some of the noise (or lack thereof) around it. But I think that just goes back to certain bits feelings rushed or not fully formed. Maybe we’ll get more in the spinoff? Which, yes, I’ll be reading. I don’t expect it to follow the same characters but maybe it’ll fill it in some gaps.

In the end, was this series a favourite? No. Is it going to stay on my shelves? No, I’m unhauling. Besides that somewhat rough middle book aside, I’m not mad at the time I spent with these characters. And hey, I mean, now I have some space on my shelves, and I knocked a book off my tbr/owned list that had been sitting around since 2015, so, it feels like a win all around. Even if it’s kind of a lose.

A DESTINY OF DRAGONS by TJ Klune

Once upon a time, the wizard’s apprentice, Sam of Wilds, got his happily ever after in the arms of his cornerstone, Knight Commander Ryan Foxheart. A year has passed, and while Sam’s been captured five or six more times since then, things are pretty great. His parents are happy, Gary and Tiggy still eat sass for breakfast, Randall is somehow alive despite being older than the gods, the King rules with a gentle hand, Kevin the dragon is as gross as ever, Morgan sighs a lot, Ryan continues to be dashing and immaculate, and Sam is close to convincing Prince Justin they will be best friends forever. Life is good. 

Until it’s not. 

Because Vadoma, the leader of the gypsy clan and Sam’s grandmother, has come to the City of Lockes with a dire prophecy written in the stars: a man of shadows is rising and will consume the world unless Sam faces his destiny and gathers the five dragons of Verania at his side. 

And she brings along her second-in-command, a man named Ruv. Ruv, who Vadoma says is Sam’s true cornerstone


Title : A Destiny of Dragons
Author : TJ Klune
Series : Tales from Verania (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 377
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy romance
Publisher : BOATK Books
Release Date : November 12, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

If I thought this series would get any less like a bizarro trippy experience? I was dumb. Because why would it do that if we’d made it this far. If anything this series just gets weirder, and more absurd, in this second installment but it’s still compulsively readable. Likely I would not be prioritizing this series if not for my buddy reading buddies (hi!).. otherwise, well. I don’t think I would drop it but, yeah, suffice it to say it would not be topping my read pile right now. But whatever.

You really don’t understand boundaries, do you?
Only that they were meant to be broken.

Everything from book one is back again, from the oversharing and crude ridiculousness, to the almost parody-like fantasy plot, and if things were thought to be dramatic before? It gets better/worse/more (pick your preference).

You don’t see the way he stares at me sometimes.
I’ll bite. How does he stare at you?
Like I’m an idiot.
Sam. You are an idiot.”
Oh. Things suddenly make much more sense right now.”

As far as the romance, things are also better/worse/more (pick your preference) as book one’s conflict is replaced with something new but also different. It definitely got one of my buddies to switch shipping teams (literally the highlight of the whole read). But I also like how it resolved; though I’m not sure we’ve seen the last of it.

Sam, we’re born from magic. We don’t have parents. We are created when the world needs us most. There’s magic everywhere, in the smallest of things. Once there’s enough concentration of it, and once the world wills it so, a dragon is born.
But.. but, that’s so stupid. What the fuck is that esoteric bullshit?”

For all that this is still whacky and weird and I’m obviously continuing on with the series (hi again buddies), I still don’t really think I actually like this. There are moments, sure, that I might laugh or be entertained by something. And it’s certainly high on the hot scale compared to my other experiences with Klune. But for all that, and I realize it’s not much so this will come as no surprise, I am definitely not recommending it. It just exists; and I’m spending time with it. Nothing more.

SOME OTHER NOW by Sarah Everett

This Is Us for teens, this luminous and heartbreaking contemporary novel follows a girl caught between two brothers as the three of them navigate family, loss, and love over the course of two summers. For fans of Far From the TreeEmergency Contact, and Nina LaCour.

Before she kissed one of the Cohen boys, seventeen-year-old Jessi Rumfield knew what it was like to have a family—even if, technically, that family didn’t belong to her. She’d spent her childhood in the house next door, challenging Rowan Cohen to tennis matches while his older brother, Luke, studied in the background and Mel watched over the three like the mother Jessi always wished she had.

But then everything changed. It’s been almost a year since Jessi last visited the Cohen house. Rowan is gone. Mel is in remission and Luke hates Jessi for the role she played in breaking his family apart. Now Jessi spends her days at a dead-end summer job avoiding her real mother, who suddenly wants to play a role in Jessi’s life after being absent for so long. But when Luke comes home from college, it’s hard to ignore the past. And when he asks Jessi to pretend to be his girlfriend for the final months of Mel’s life, Jessi finds herself drawn back into the world of the Cohens. Everything’s changed, but Jessi can’t help wanting to be a Cohen, even if it means playing pretend for one final summer.


Title : Some Other Now
Author : Sarah Everett
Format : Paperback ARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : HMH Books
Release Date : February 23, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4-4.5 star review

Headlines:
Family, found-family, brothers
Feelings brimming over the page
Beautiful

Some Other Now pulled you, emotion-long into the book and I just knew it was going to be tough; tough and stunning. This was a read that reminded of some of my favourite family-friend orientated books like Far From The Tree.

Jessi the protagonist had long existed in her surrogate family with Ro, Luke and their mother Mel. Their home was her home but this book tracked a couple of years where life changed beyond recognition and there were difficult themes from the off. Jessi had an unusually difficult real-family home life and the changes there over time were interesting.

These brothers were both endearing characters. Ro and Luke were so different and great guys. The friendships in this book were gorgeous and complicated, they were heart-warming and heart-breaking. I couldn’t put the book down, I existed in it, witnessing, revelling and sometimes chewing my lip with tension.

I did want a little more from the pages as it wrapped up but even so, it satisfied me. The story was fabulous and the characters suited the tale. Some Other Now was not a depressing read, it was an arresting read, gritty and real with beauty.

Hearts will break and heal over this book.

Thank you to Melia Publishing for the early review copy.

FIRST COMES LIKE by Alisha Rai

The author of The Right Swipe and Girl Gone Viral returns with a story about finding love in all the wrong inboxes…

Beauty expert and influencer Jia Ahmed has her eye on the prize: conquering the internet today, the entire makeup industry tomorrow, and finally, finally proving herself to her big opinionated family. She has little time for love, and even less time for the men in her private messages—until the day a certain international superstar slides into her DMs, and she falls hard and fast.

There’s just one wrinkle: he has no idea who she is.

The son of a powerful Bollywood family, soap opera star Dev Dixit is used to drama, but a strange woman who accuses him of wooing her online, well, that’s a new one. As much as he’d like to focus on his Hollywood fresh start, he can’t get Jia out of his head. Especially once he starts to suspect who might have used his famous name to catfish her…

When paparazzi blast their private business into the public eye, Dev is happy to engage in some friendly fake dating to calm the gossips and to dazzle her family. But as the whole world swoons over their relationship, Jia can’t help but wonder: Can an online romance-turned-offline-fauxmance ever become love in real life? 


Title : First Comes Like
Author : Alisha Rai
Series : Modern Love #3
Narrator : Priya Ayyar & Neil Shah
Format : Audiobook
Length : 6 hours, 30 minutes
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Harper Audio
Release Date : February 16, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3 star review

First Comes Like was the clashing of two people, two cultures, two faiths, all in a romantic context. It was ambitious plan that worked. Added to this was a faux-mance storyline, catfishing, fame and fortune. I thought it was a clever plot.

I don’t think I’ve read a Hindu/Muslim romance before (probably shame on me for not searching this out) but it was nice to see and interesting to read this level of heat in that context. Alisha Rai executed this with careful handling and sensitivity to the protagonist Jia’s beliefs (I think, but I can’t currently see any own voice reviews and I’m interested in their take on this). I’ve been waiting for Jia’s story for rather a long time, since she was introduced in a previous series by the author.

There was a lot less of the three friends living together in this instalment which I missed. I essentially liked both the characters but I didn’t always feel their chemistry. The plot line was predictable but still good.

The narration was enjoyable in the main, I liked both narrators but didn’t enjoy when Dev’s character did Jia’s dialogue, his female intonation really didn’t work for me. I also wanted to feel a bit more from Dev’s character but in some ways, he was a little emotionally rusty and that facet was part of his development in the story.

This series has been generally enjoyable for me and while this one didn’t blow me away, I still appreciated the journey and especially the cross of cultures and faiths.

Please check out some own voice review on this book.

Thank you to LibroFM and Harper Audio for the early audio copy.

NEW RELEASE TUESDAY – FEBRUARY 16, 2021

Happy “where’d all my money go?” new release Tuesday, everyone!

As you know, the most exciting day of the week in this community is the day that follows the one we all dread (Mondays for the nope) and today we’re going to highlight some of the new books chipping away at our bank accounts — but each one is so worth it.


A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas needs no introduction, does it?

First Comes Like by Alisha Rai is the third installment in the author’s Modern Love series.


Are there any titles out today you’re excited for? Let us know in the comments below!