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THIS PLACE IS STILL BEAUTIFUL by XiXi Tian

Two sisters. A shocking racist incident. The summer that will change both of their lives forever. 

Despite having had near-identical upbringings, sisters Annalie and Margaret agree on only one thing: that they have nothing in common. Nineteen-year-old Margaret is driven, ambitious, and keenly aware of social justice issues. She couldn’t wait to leave their oppressive small-town home and take flight in New York. Meanwhile sweet, popular, seventeen-year-old Annalie couldn’t think of anything worse – she loves their town, and feels safe coasting along in its confines.

That is, until she arrives home one day to find a gut-punching racial slur painted on their garage door.

Outraged, Margaret flies home, expecting to find her family up in arms. Instead, she’s amazed to hear they want to forget about it. Their mom is worried about what it might stir up, and Annalie just wants to have a ‘normal’ summer – which Margaret is determined to ruin, apparently.

Back under each other’s skins, things between Margaret and Annalie get steadily worse – and not even the distraction of first love (for Annalie), or lost love (for Margaret) can bring them together.

Until finally, a crushing secret threatens to tear them apart forever.


Title : This Place Is Still Beautiful
Author : XiXi Tian
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Release Date : June 7, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3.5 (rounded up) star review

You know what else is beautiful? That cover. Hoo boy. Stunning.

I waffled a bit on this rating as of writing this — on whether to round up or not — because while this wasn’t perfect, and I was frustrated and uncomfortable and frustrated some more, I think that’s the whole point. And it’s important to sit with those feelings. And also acknowledge all the complex nuance that this author, and this story, definitely touches on.

They think me talking publicly about racism is more offensive than a actual hate crime. People would rather I just kept my mouth shut and looked sad. Then they could white knight in and express sympathy without feeling uncomfortable. I’m not in the business of keeping people from feeling uncomfortable.”

Not only is this a very timely story, with timely discussion, I think in general it’s just not something we’ve seen a lot of. Racist conflicts, sure. Siblings feeling pitted against each other, while also trying to navigate complicated parental dynamics, yes. Topics surrounding white-passing, more and more. But this tackled so much more while also delving into all the above.

I found Annalie’s POV and storyline the hardest to stomach not only because I was side-eyeing this guy she had been so keen to date for so long. But also because of what comes out about the hate crime and who was involved and how she, also, becomes involved. And it’s in a very different way than Margaret who is, unlike her younger sister, not white-passing and also the kind of person to shout from the rooftops, rattle chains, and make noise; all of which she does.

What are second chances anyway except the ability to screw up a second time?

And despite this, or maybe because of it, I actually preferred Margaret’s POV and I found her, despite how unlikeable she could be, to be more likeable as a result. Also, her own romance plot? Heartbreaking. The whole catalyst behind that is one of the main issues I was hinting at above but I’m not going to mention because spoilers.

I wish I could talk to her the way I want to. I wish I could make her understand my heart, or that I could understand hers, but between us, there is an entire ocean that we will never be able to cross.

This was definitely a more mature-leaning YA, between the subject matter and some of the topics and how they were handled, and I really appreciated that. This definitely had the right tones for the story. I’m sure I could find things to pick apart (some interactions, particularly in the beginning, didn’t quite fit, and there was definitely an inconsistency or two, but this is an ARC, so, I’ll let it slide, because they weren’t littered throughout) but again I think the strength of this outweighs the few weaknesses.

I worried this couldn’t possibly live up to the pitch (I saw the author speak to the nature and inspiration of this story and was totally mesmerized) but I’m glad this turned out to be a win. For so many reasons.

Would definitely recommend if this is already on your radar! This is a debut you don’t want to miss.

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

ORDINARY MONSTERS by J.M. Miro

The Dark Grace is dead.

Feared and despised for the sinister power in her veins, Alyce has spent 100 years wreaking her revenge on the kingdom that made her an outcast. Once a realm of decadence and beauty, Briar is now wholly Alyce’s wicked domain. No one escapes the consequences of her wrath.

Not even the one person who holds her heart.

Princess Aurora saw through Alyce’s thorny facade, earning a love that promised the dawn of a new age. But that love came with a heavy price: Aurora now sleeps under a curse that even Alyce’s vast power cannot seem to break, and their dream of the world they would have built together is nothing but ash.

Alyce vows to do anything to wake the woman she loves, even if it means descending into the monster Briar believed her to be. But could Aurora ever love the villain Alyce has become?

Or is true love only for fairy tales?


Title : Ordinary Monsters
Author : J.M. Miro
Series : The Talents Trilogy #1
Format : Physical ARC
Page Count : 660
Genre : Historical Fantasy/Horror
Publisher : Bloomsbury Publishing
Release Date : June 7, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

This has just been such a creepy and absorbing read. It’s a bit of a tome, it’s absorbing and it is incredibly unusual.

It’s a historical fantasy/horror that takes place between the US, London, Scotland, Tokyo…and places in between. There are children with ‘talents’ some of which are pretty scary gifts. And then, there are monsters of different descriptions after them. Thankfully there are some decent adults trying to protect them but then which are decent and which have other agendas? It isn’t clear for much of the book. I cheered all the way for the children.

This is a series starter and it’s going to be a trilogy. It’s atmospheric, eerie, dark and sad. The tension was pretty strong, there’s some gruesome elements but nothing I couldn’t cope with. There were twists on twists.

I’m definitely invested and I will be reading on when the next book is out. I could totally see this as TV series.

Thank you Bloomsbury Books for the gifted copy. The book is out now.

TIME’S CONVERT by Deborah Harkness

On the battlefields of the American Revolution, Matthew de Clermont meets Marcus MacNeil, a young surgeon from Massachusetts, during a moment of political awakening when it seems that the world is on the brink of a brighter future. When Matthew offers him a chance at immortality and a new life free from the restraints of his puritanical upbringing, Marcus seizes the opportunity to become a vampire. But his transformation is not an easy one and the ancient traditions and responsibilities of the de Clermont family clash with Marcus’s deeply held beliefs in liberty, equality, and brotherhood.

Fast-forward to contemporary Paris, where Phoebe Taylor–the young employee at Sotheby’s whom Marcus has fallen for–is about to embark on her own journey to immortality. Though the modernized version of the process at first seems uncomplicated, the couple discovers that the challenges facing a human who wishes to be a vampire are no less formidable than they were in the eighteenth century. The shadows that Marcus believed he’d escaped centuries ago may return to haunt them both–forever.

A passionate love story and a fascinating exploration of the power of tradition and the possibilities not just for change but for revolution, Time’s Convert channels the supernatural world-building and slow-burning romance that made the All Souls Trilogy instant bestsellers to illuminate a new and vital moment in history, and a love affair that will bridge centuries.


Title : Time’s Convert
Author : Deborah Harkness
Series : All Souls (book four)
Format : physical
Page Count : 448
Genre : paranormal romance / historical
Publisher : Penguin Books
Release Date : June 25, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

I hate to say it but this was almost as bad as book two. Except in some ways it was also worse as this felt.. well. I hate to say it but pointless? Yes, I realize, many books could be argued to be pointless but rarely do they give off that sense. Time’s Convert does.

While this does pivot, a bit, as far as plot and some themes, sadly we still have a lot of focus on Diana and Matthew. Which both sort’ve saved things and also didn’t; because while I quickly lost interest in Phoebe’s plotline and Marcus’, there were the occasional distractions with other matters. Even if I wasn’t interested in those, either.

You definitely won’t be able to read this without reading the main series so if you’ve mad it that far I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t pick this up. But at the same time.. obviously not recommending it. I think we are very much due for a Gallowglass story but only if it’s future-forward. I wouldn’t survive a six hundo page story of him pining after youknowwho so maybe we’ll get one of those? And maybe it’ll also keep the main focus away from Diana, Matthew, and their brood? Hard to say. Though having said that.. I would read a story about Ysabeau’s past.. so, yeah, okay, I’m clearly keen enough to not be done with any potential additions to this world but I’m clearly on the whelmed and under side of things.

Oh well! Another series tackled and finished. And another middling result. At least this isn’t one I have to unhaul.

MONTHLY WRAP UP – MAY 2022

To close out each month, we’ll be posting a break down of everything we reviewed, beginning with the reads we loved.. and ending with the reads we didn’t. Not only does this compile all our reviews in one handy summary for you to peruse, or catch up on, it also gives us an interesting birds eye view of the month and our reads. And maybe, even, our moods.


☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ star reads

Book Lovers by Emily Henry — see Micky and Hollis’ reviews here

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ star reads

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston — see Hollis’ review here (!)
Book of Night by Holly Black — see Micky’s review here (!)
Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs — see Micky’s review here
A Lady For A Duke by Alexis Hall — see Micky’s review here
Until The Last Of Me by Sylvain Neuvel — see Micky’s review here
A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin — see Micky’s review here
The Trial of Lotta Rae by Siobhan MacGowan — see Micky’s review here

☆ ☆ ☆ star reads

Book of Night by Holly Black — see Hollis’ review here (!)
The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray — see Hollis’ review here
A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong — see Hollis’ review here
I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston — see Micky’s review here (!)
My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmermann — see Micky’s review here
Faefever by Karen Marie Moning — see Hollis’ review here
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness — see Hollis’ review here
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness — see Hollis’ review here
My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farol Follmuth — see Hollis’ review here
Something Wilder by Christina Lauren — see Micky’s review here
What Time is Love? by Holly Williams — see Micky’s review here

☆ ☆ star reads

The Thief by Megan Whelan Tuner — see Micky’s review here
Never Coming Home by Hannah Mary McKinnon — see Hollis’ review here
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness — see Hollis’ review here
With and Without You by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka — see Hollis’ review here

star reads

u n r a t e d

You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi — see Hollis’ review here
Inheritance : A Visual Poem by Elizabeth Acevedo — see Hollis’ review here

DNF

A Touch of Ruin by Scarlett St Clair — see Micky’s brief GR thoughts here


total reads by Micky : twelve (double really, just not reviewed for the blog)
favourite read of the month : Book Lovers by Emily Henry
least favourite read of the month : A Touch of Ruin by Scarlett St Clair
most read genre : contemporary

total reviews by Hollis : fourteen
favourite read of the month : Book Lovers by Emily Henry
least favourite read of the month : Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
most read genre : contemporary

DEAD SILENCE by S. A. Barnes

Titanic meets The Shining in S.A. Barnes’ Dead Silence, a SF horror novel in which a woman and her crew board a decades-lost luxury cruiser and find the wreckage of a nightmare that hasn’t yet ended.

A GHOST SHIP.
A SALVAGE CREW.
UNSPEAKABLE HORRORS.

Claire Kovalik is days away from being unemployed—made obsolete—when her beacon repair crew picks up a strange distress signal. With nothing to lose and no desire to return to Earth, Claire and her team decide to investigate.

What they find at the other end of the signal is a shock: the Aurora, a famous luxury space-liner that vanished on its maiden tour of the solar system more than twenty years ago. A salvage claim like this could set Claire and her crew up for life. But a quick trip through the Aurora reveals something isn’t right.

Whispers in the dark. Flickers of movement. Words scrawled in blood. Claire must fight to hold onto her sanity and find out what really happened on the Aurora, before she and her crew meet the same ghastly fate.


Title : Dead Silence
Author : S. A. Barnes
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 343
Genre : sci-fi horror
Publisher : Tor Nightfire
Release Date : February 8, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Hoo boy, fam, if you enjoy the thrilling sensation of feeling like you’ve seen something out of the corner of your eye, the certainty that something is hiding underneath your bed, combined by the terror and unpredictability (not to mention darkness) of space, you will love this book. Conversely, if you loved Serenity or The Illuminae Files, there are elements in here you might appreciate.

I will admit, there was a scene or two that really got me going. I had to set the book down and take a breath.

But beyond the suspense and gruesome parts, the beauty of this story is in the narrator’s uncertainty of what is real and what isn’t. Which adds to the scary. For reasons you’ll learn about, Claire is already an unreliable narrator. And it only gets worse as she tries to piece together what happened after she and her crew dock with a decades-long missing ship.

I had such a good time reading this, both because of the thrills and for following along to figure out the what of it all. The ending did surprise me, and I can see some people maybe not enjoy it for a few different reasons, but it landed fine for me.

Obviously, due to the horror — gore, violence, all that jazz — this isn’t one I can recommend to just anyone, but if the themes and synopsis seem to be in your wheelhouse, I would definitely give it a try. This is Barnes’ debut, under this penname at least, and I will definitely pick her up again.

MAD ABOUT YOU by Mhairi McFarlane 🎧

Two strangers.
One big coincidence.
Driving each other crazy is just the beginning…

Harriet Hatley is running away from everything.

Getting married.
Her boyfriend’s family.
Her past.

A dream house-share seems like the perfect place to hide, but her unlikely housemate Cal is no stranger to running away himself. And he’s also hiding secrets of his own . . .

Can these two take a crazy risk, face the past and finally find a reason to stay?


Title : Mad About You
Author : Mhairi McFarlane
Narrator : Chloe Massey
Format : audiobook
Length : 10 hours, 15 minutes
Page Count : 422
Genre : Contemporary Fiction
Publisher : Harper Collins
Release Date : April 14, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Sarcastic wit
Chips are down
Coercive control

This story from McFarlane was equal parts sarcastic wit and life handing out crap one piece at a time. It started in one place and ended up in completely different location by the end. It took time for the themes of the story to emerge but they were valuable. Romance was very much on the backburner in this book.

The story centered around weddings, the endings of them, the photographing of them and a really impressive finale. Harriet was a likeable heroine, a hardy Yorkshire lass with the best Huddersfield accent on audio (I live 15 minutes away from that location and appreciated that so much). This tale took you on a mainly contemporary but sometimes retrospective journey of the past men in Harriet’s life and it wasn’t pretty.

Emotional abuse in the form of coercive control was a important part of this story and it’s a theme I welcome more about as it is so insidious in it’s form and difficult for victims to speak about and break free from. Bravo, Mhairi for this.

Overall, I wouldn’t say this was a fun read but it was absorbing and enjoyable. Excellent narration.

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for the audio review copy.