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JUST LIKE MOTHER by Anne Heltzel

A girl would be such a blessing…

The last time Maeve saw her cousin was the night she escaped the cult they were raised in. For the past two decades, Maeve has worked hard to build a normal life in New York City, where she keeps everything—and everyone—at a safe distance.

When Andrea suddenly reappears, Maeve regains the only true friend she’s ever had. Soon she’s spending more time at Andrea’s remote Catskills estate than in her own cramped apartment. Maeve doesn’t even mind that her cousin’s wealthy work friends clearly disapprove of her single lifestyle. After all, Andrea has made her fortune in the fertility industry—baby fever comes with the territory.

The more Maeve immerses herself in Andrea’s world, the more disconnected she feels from her life back in the city; and the cousins’ increasing attachment triggers memories Maeve has fought hard to bury. But confronting the terrors of her childhood may be the only way for Maeve to transcend the nightmare still to come…


Title : Just Like Mother
Author : Anne Heltzel
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 320
Genre : contemporary / mystery
Publisher : Nightfire
Release Date : May 17, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Creepy cover aside this isn’t what I, personally, would classify as horror. But I think maybe that’s my only complaint about this experience.

I went into this without knowing anything about the plot, despite the fact that it was all over bookstagram last year, and in fact the only reason I actually picked it up was because this was one of the recommendations for my Twelve Books in Twelve Months challenge. So while I expected horror, even though I didn’t get it.. I got a lot of other stuff. Good stuff. Weird stuff. Fucked up stuff.

I’ll have to read some reviews to determine if everything that was happening in Just Like Mother was supposed to obvious or not because despite the fact that Maeve is oblivious to everything going on around her, I, the reader, was not. This could definitely have ruined any potential tension and build-up but the story still managed to evoke a sense of dread and discomfort. Maybe moreso because I knew what the protagonist did not. It’s like when you’re yelling at the tv during a slasher flick, screaming for the heroine not to go down in the basement where the killer is waiting to, well, slash. You know what’s about to happen but it doesn’t make it any less scary.

What was so interesting about this story, though, was how flipped on it’s head it was compared to the standard issue paradigm I’ve seen in other books about cults. Or at least the few I’ve read. It was perverse and sinister in new ways and the motherhood mantra was oppressive and icky and so the whole vibe was really well done. And the cherry ontop? That ending. You sort’ve see it coming based on the seeds that had been planted earlier on but still.. it was good.

Okay, actually, I thought of one thing that just didn’t quite fit. The bit with the cops. I just.. that seemed hard to swallow but it’s a blink and you miss it moment considering so much else is happening. And I don’t even know why I’m mentioning it here in such a vague way when it won’t mean anything to anyone who hasn’t read it but. Here we are. IYKYK.

Not quite sure who I would recommend this to, if anyone, but I had a surprisingly good time with it.


WILDBLOOD by Lauren Blackwood

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

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

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


Title : Wildblood
Author : Lauren Blackwood
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : February 7, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★.5 


Hollis’ 1.5 star review

I’m sad to say it but I think had the setting, and some of the magic and wildness of the jungle — at least in the first half — not been so interesting, this rating would be even lower.

It didn’t take long before every chapter, every page, every interaction between these cardboard characters, became a chore. It became a trial not to DNF around the 30% mark, and maybe it would’ve been earlier had I not chipped away at this so slowly after initially picking it up, but I convinced myself I could at least try to skim through a little further to see where things were going and, unfortunately, eventually read through to the end. I’m not sure why I bothered.

No, sorry, I do know why. Because I enjoyed the author’s debut so much.

This did have a few good things to offer outside of the setting; it also talks about colourism, human trafficking, and more, but it quickly shifted gears to focusing on a stuttering girl getting starry eyed over her love interest. Complete with confessions of feelings and love after two days.

Sorry, miss me with this. I already had one foot out of the door but this was too much. Especially with the whole evil ex dynamic and.. yeah, no.

Victoria’s character see-sawed all over the place and there were too many men involved, plus a pseudo-brother/son who she seemed willing to do anything for and who just mostly slept the whole time. I truly have no idea what was going on with these characters and why. But I think in general there just wasn’t a solid running vibe because the latter half of the story goes off the rails; both in plot and tone. Sometimes jokey, sometimes angsty, quick to forgive, quick to abandon things it had spent a lot of time and energy setting up.. it was all over the place.

I am hugely disappointed by this but mostly disappointed in myself for not just putting it down and walking away instead of pushing on to make it work. Do not recommend.

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

EMILY WILDE’S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FAERIES by Heather Fawcett

Enter the world of the hidden folk – and discover the most whimsical, enchanting and heart-warming tale you’ll read this year, featuring the intrepid Emily Wilde. . .

Emily Wilde is good at many things: she is the foremost expert on the study of faeries; she is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encylopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby

But as Emily gets closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones – the most elusive of all faeries – she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all – her own heart.


Title : Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries
Author : Heather Fawcett
Format : Physical
Page Count : 336
Genre : Cosy Academia/Fantasy
Publisher : Orbit Books UK
Release Date : January 19, 2023

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : no rating


Micky’s important message about this book

Headline: cultural accuracy matters

This book is on semi-permanent hold. Why? Because the setting for this book is, I quote:

“an island situated off the wild seas off the Norwegian mainland”

and yet the author has used Icelandic alphabet (including letters that don’t exist in the Norwegian alphabet), Icelandic names and Icelandic naming conventions for second names. How can research go so wrong and no one notice all the way to publication?

I am a second generation Norwegian/English reader and have significant knowledge of the language. I have spent a fair amount of time in Iceland and have absorbed lots of their language rules and similarities.

I tried to keep reading but every single time (every page, pretty much) there was a name, a place and it drew me out of the book. I got as far as half way.

I emailed the publisher in a very respectful way and had an unsatisfactory reply that basically blew me off. I really hope that black, queer and other minority readers get better replies to their concerns about any book than I did, as they have enough BS to put up with in life.


WILDWOOD DANCING by Juliet Marillier – double review!

High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.

But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop.

When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.


Title : Wildwood Dancing
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Wildwood (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 407
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date : January 23, 2007

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★.5  / ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Even though this couldn’t be more different from the Sevenwaters Saga, there is something intrinsically Marillier about this story. A group of siblings. A mystery to be solved. Transformation. Magic. The Other folk. But this is still very unique, for all that it’s also based on, or paying homage to/a retelling of, folklore stories like The Twelve Dancing Princesses and, well, another one I won’t mention so it doesn’t ruin the surprise. Additionally, we have a story set not just in Britain, or Ireland, as most folklore and fairytales are, but in Transylvania, making the story further unique; because how often do we get that for a setting? And, complementing that setting, some of her creatures may feel a little.. familiar, too.

Joining me on this adventure was Micky but unlike previous Marillier buddy reads, I’m not sure I ever read this one. GR says no and having now read it I don’t think that was a data entry oversight on my part. While this won’t be one I revisit the way I reread her other works, there’s a lot of good here. But also, unfortunately fitting with the times perhaps, in addition to just being the conflict and antagonist of the plot, it’s also a struggle. Now, of course, often times I can enjoy the conflict for what it is without feeling like the book itself was less fun as a result but in this case.. what at first became a game to theorize and assign blame on a character, who was shit from the start, over time because wearisome. Marillier is always great at creating fantastic villains who truly believe they are on the right side, doing the right things, but this time.. it wore on me. Maybe because instead of machinations sprinkled over the course of a trilogy, everything was crammed into one instalment. Or maybe it was the kind conflicts (misogyny, patriarchal behaviour, all flavours of that kind) just rubbed me in places that were too raw. What also frustrated me was the fact that our lead was rarely, if ever, supported by those around her to fight these conflicts. Sure, again, maybe it’s a sign of the times. The reality was they had little support in the first place which could explain why things happened the way they did. But it was exhausting.

As for the mysteries and magic, well. They were mostly fairly obvious from the get-go. We definitely saw a lot of it coming without much surprise. Which is fine. And I did absolutely love how everything kicked off (the game they played as children and the ripples it would have throughout their lives) because it felt true to the mischief and mayhem that comes with involving yourself with the Others. So, too, was all of Jena, our lead’s, assumptions and judgments. She did become rather difficult near the end after having spent so much time judging her sister and what she was going through, only to be found guilty of her own follies and not truly realize the parallels (I’m thinking of her preoccupation in her moment of loss which she saw Tati going through the whole time). Having said that, though, said sister was a little.. dramatic I think. To go from distracted and heartsick to what she did.. I don’t know. A little much.

I definitely wanted to love this more than I did. But I did enjoy the world, even if the characters sometimes frustrated me, and as usual Marillier does fae like few authors can. And, of course, it was a joy to read this with my buddy and theorize and rant about what was going on at any given time.

I do want to read on and I’m looking forward to seeing what new experiences await in book two. 


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
A flavour of retellings
Dancing sisters
Other folk of many types

Marillier knows how to craft an interesting world to invest the reader from the start. In this duology starter, I found myself in the Transylvanian mountains of Romania, somewhere I’ve never been in fiction before; so fresh. This story had the flavour of some fairytales but set in it’s own unique way, one of the influences was the twelve dancing princesses (but there weren’t twelve).

In no surprise to any Marillier fan, the other folk and their world collided with those of the protagonist Jena and antagonist Cezar. Cezar, (deep sigh) was vile in an exponential way as the story developed. Expect to feel shades of patriarchy, misogyny and control. There were many parts of this story with Cezar that enraged me. That said, many of the men in this story were empowering towards women.

Jena and her sisters were a colourful bunch. By the end, I really wanted a Tati story, more of what happened to her in this story and the afterwards. Gogu was a great character and although Hollis and I guessed much about this character, the reading of it was still entertaining.

In the other world we met a lot of different folk, dissimilar to her sevenwaters fair folk. The night people were illusively intriguing, I loved the brief pictures and connections between the sisters and Anatoli, Sten and othe dancing partners.

The romp to the end was predictable in some ways and less so in others but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment. I’m looking forward to the next book (and hoping my buddy is on board for this soon) and wishing already that there were more than two books in this series.

ARE YOU HAPPY NOW by Hanna Jameson

At a New York City wedding, on a sweltering summer night, four people are trying to be happy.

Yun has everything he ever wanted, but somehow it’s never enough.
Emory is finally making her mark, but feels the shame more than the success.
Andrew is trying to be honest, but has lied to himself his whole life.
Fin can’t resist falling in love, but can’t help wrecking it all either.

And then the world begins to end. The four of them watch as one of the wedding guests sits down and refuses to get back up. Soon it’s happening across the world. Is it a choice or an illness?

Because how can anyone be happy in a world where the only choice is to feel everything – or nothing at all?

An intensely compulsive novel for anyone who has ever felt hopeful and helpless in one breath, ARE YOU HAPPY NOW is about how you keep living when the world is on fire. Perfect for fans of Emily John St. Mandel’s Station Eleven, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Patricia Lockwood’s Nobody is Talking About This and Naomi Alderman’s The Power.


Title : Are You Happy Now
Author : Hanna Jameson
Format : Physical ARC
Page Count : 360
Genre : Contemporary/Dystopian
Publisher : Penguin Books
Release Date : February 2, 2023

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
A different kind of pandemic
Relationship reactions to impending risk
Melancholy, sometimes sad and definitely not happy

Firstly, I just want to say that I do not read pandemic books, it’s too early for me but this isn’t like anything we experienced in recent years, apart from how humans behave. Most people will feel safe reading this in my opinion. I’m not going to spoil the events this book is built around, but suffice it to say, it’s a clever concept.

This book was full of quirk and weirdness while being rather engrossing. The characters were completely eclectic and apart from Andrew who I liked, the rest I just observed with popcorn. Yun who I initally liked, didn’t cope with what the world was offering and that ending was strangely surprising. Emory I liked more early on but her characterisation lost a bit of shading as it went on. Fin was an interesting addition later on.

This book’s strengths lie in the telling of human reaction to fear, risk and the sometimes resulting resilience. It’s fascinating how life rolls on and how relationships form and crash along the way. Societal reactions to what happened were very in the background and I thought that was missing a bit from the narrative.

I’m aware this review is somewhat vague but I think this is a read best served without prior knowledge.

Thank you to Viking Books for the review copy.

FINLAY DONOVAN JUMPS THE GUN by Elle Cosimano

Author and single mom Finlay Donovan has been in messes before―after all, she’s a pro at removing bloodstains for various unexpected reasons―but none quite like this. When Finlay and her nanny/partner-in-crime Vero accidentally destroyed a luxury car that they had “borrowed” in the process of saving the life of Finlay’s ex-husband, the Russian mob did her a favor and bought the car for her. And now Finlay owes them. 

Mob boss Feliks is still running the show from behind bars, and he has a task for Finlay: find and identify a contract killer before the cops do. The problem is, the killer might be an officer themself.

Luckily, hot cop Nick has just been tasked with starting up a citizen’s police academy, and combined pressure from Finlay’s looming book deadline and Feliks is enough to convince Finlay and Vero to get involved. Through firearm training and forensic classes (and some hands-on research with a tempting detective), Finlay and Vero use their time in police academy to sleuth out the real contract killer to free themselves from the mob’s clutches―all the while dodging spies, confronting Vero’s past, and juggling the daily trials of parenthood.

From USA Today bestseller and Edgar-Award nominee Elle Cosimano, comes Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun—the highly anticipated, hilarious, and heart-pounding next installment in the beloved Finlay Donovan series…


Title : Finlay Donovan Jumps The Gun
Author : Elle Cosimano
Series : Finlay Donovan (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : mystery / thriller
Publisher : Minotaur Books
Release Date : January 31, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

Pretty sure in my review for book two I said something about my suspension of disbelief button getting a workout but hoo boy. That’s nothing compared the third installment in this series. Poor pointer finger is exhausted.

That aside, I have to say, I found it extremely hard to get back into this world; or, maybe more accurately, the writing. I cared nothing for the characters, the nonsense they had once more gotten themselves twisted up in, and certainly not the romance. Can I blame all that on the writing or am I just over this concept? I’ll admit the red herrings for the mystery were well done but it sorta feels like everything was made more convoluted and dramatic, as opposed to less, because of Finlay and Vero’s involvement. And that did not make for a great experience.

I am all for a plucky heroine stumbling into bigger things and having to navigate but like.. it’s just not working anymore. Things are either too big for her to be emerging unscathed or things just aren’t being taken seriously enough and therefore the stakes aren’t high. Or both, sometimes at the same time. It’s a weird feeling. The vibes are off.

Also, that big near-final scene happening surrounded by all those cops? Yeah bloody right. The eyerolls.

Also also, the very meta writing bit about Finlay and her characters is getting tired, too.

While Vero had definitely saved some of the bits that I had previously given side-eye, she did not fare so well in this one. I worried her subplot would add to the OTT and ruin her and yeah, I think it did. Honestly, the only character I really enjoyed in this one was Wade, a firearms instructor, because his lack of fucks really spoke to me. Nick, one of the many (!) love interests, wasn’t too bad, either. I am just bewildered by all these menfolk panting after Finlay because I do not get the appeal.

But what do I know; the same could be said about my feelings for this series vs the many many readers who are having a blast. So.

While I had hoped to find a spark of love for this series, I think I’ll stick this on the back burner until the end is in sight.

ps, still wishing Steven was dead.

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

I’M GLAD MY MOM DIED by Jennette McCurdy 🎧

A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly and Sam & Cat star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.

Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.

In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.

Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.


Title : I’m Glad My Mom Died
Author/Narrator : Jennette McCurdy
Format : Audio
Page Count : 6 hours, 25 minutes
Genre : Memoir
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Audio
Release Date : August 9, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

I feel weird rating this memoir as if I’m rating the life of Jenette McCurdy. I’m not rating her life but if I was, to date, I’d give it one star. However, this was such as well written memoir, engaging, sad, frustrating and witty. McCurdy is a sharp writer, intelligent and (now) insightful.

This book was a tough read in many moments. It focused on abuse and eating disorders. The nature of parental abuse had me shocked quite frankly, it was odd and very damaging. The insight into showbiz kids was incredibly eye opening.

All kudos to McCurdy for her journey, her hard work to overcome some of the damage and courage on leaving acting behind; I have a lot of admiration for her.

I listened to this book on audio and I have to say, narrated by the author, it brings something extra to the piece. Thank you to LibroFM for the audio review copy.

Content warnings: disordered eating, physical, sexual, emotional abuse, alcohol abuse

https://libro.fm/audiobooks/9781797147949

BEGIN AGAIN by Emma Lord

As usual, Andie Rose has a plan: Transfer from community college to the hyper competitive Blue Ridge State, major in psychology, and maintain her lifelong goal of becoming an iconic self-help figure despite the nerves that have recently thrown her for a loop. All it will take is ruthless organization, hard work, and her trademark unrelenting enthusiasm to pull it all together.

But the moment Andie arrives, the rest of her plans go off the rails. Her rocky relationship with her boyfriend Connor only gets more complicated when she discovers he transferred out of Blue Ridge to her community college. Her roommate Shay needs a major, and despite Andie’s impressive track record of being The Fixer, she’s stumped on how to help. And Milo, her coffee-guzzling grump of an R.A. with seafoam green eyes, is somehow disrupting all her ideas about love and relationships one sleep-deprived wisecrack at a time.

But sometimes, when all your plans are in rubble at your feet, you find out what you’re made of. And when Andie starts to find the power of her voice as the anonymous Squire on the school’s legendary pirate radio station–the same one her mom founded, years before she passed away–Andie learns that not all the best laid plans are necessarily the right ones.

Filled with a friend group that feels like family, an empowering journey of finding your own way, and a Just Kiss Already! romance, Begin Again is an unforgettable novel of love and starting again


Title : Begin Again
Author : Emma Lord
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : January 24, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★.5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

Even though this is the lowest I’ve rated a book by Lord, I still consider her an auto-read author. But this didn’t quite reach the usual levels of charming that I’ve come to expect. And mostly, and I’m bummed to say it, that’s because of the main character, Andie.

Strike one : her way of non-swearing by instead using cutesy dessert names. Nope. Strike two : her over-fixating on everyone’s problems but her own. Strike three : the romantic drama that any hints at would mean revealing some spoilers.

While I liked the supporting cast, barring the one we aren’t supposed to like, I wish they had been fleshed out a bit more. So much time was spent on various elements like the advice plotline, the ribbon plotline, the parental issue plotline, and then all the love interest backstory drama plotline.

Maybe I’m just in a mood and maybe I would’ve liked this more had I read it another time but the whole thing just tried too hard to feel rosy and charming and sweet without authentically being that way. And I’m used to feeling that authenticity from this author so I’m bummed. But that’s okay. There was enough for this to be still somewhat enjoyable but it did take me way too long to push through during those draggy bits.

Despite all this, I will continue to pick up and read Lord. While I’m sad this wasn’t a win the odds are definitely in her favour (and mine!) for future releases.

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

SIX TIMES WE ALMOST KISSED (AND ONE TIME WE DID) by Tess Sharpe

Six moments lead us to two girls, one kiss, and three little words that were maybe always true in this gorgeous novel perfect for fans of Nina LaCour and Jenny Han.
 
Penny and Tate have always clashed. Unfortunately, their mothers are lifelong best friends, so the girls’ bickering has carried them through playdates, tragedy, and more than one rom-com marathon with the Moms. When Penny’s mother decides to become a living donor to Tate’s mom, ending her wait for a liver transplant, things go from clashing to cataclysmic. Because in order to help their families recover physically, emotionally, and financially, the Moms combine their households the summer before senior year.
 
So Penny and Tate make a pact: They’ll play nice. Be the drama-free daughters their mothers need through this scary and hopeful time. There’s only one little hitch in their plan: Penny and Tate keep almost kissing.
 
It’s just this confusing thing that keeps happening. You know, from time to time. For basically their entire teenaged existence.
 
They’ve never talked about it. They’ve always ignored it in the aftermath. But now they’re living across the hall from each other. And some things—like their kisses—can’t be almosts forever.


Title : Six Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did)
Author : Tess Sharpe
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ YA romance
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : January 24, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

You’d think we all would’ve learned by now but it bears repeating for relevancy — and also because I have not learned by now — but : a colourfully illustrated cover does not mean there is a lack of heavy. And this book has the heavy. Hoo boy.

Yes, spoiler alert, I cried. Twice.

This book is hard, yo. There is a lot of grief and loss to wade through, especially as it manifests so differently for so many people; and these characters are no exception. And, hey. Do you also love fraught mother-daughter dynamics? Because this has that, too. I do not love that dynamic, I find it incredibly horrible to experience, but instead of ruining the book (which has definitely happened to me before) I can respect it because Sharpe did such a great job with.. well, everything.

But before you run screaming in the opposite direction, this is also a queer romance and wow. Sharpe did this so well, too. The will-they-won’t-they-why-the-fuck-haven’t-they-already was perfect. All the flashbacks were brilliant. The core of these two girls was just.. gah. Their whole thing. Not friends, not enemies, but constantly in orbit. I loved them so much. You know that scene in The Pirates of the Caribbean? The “JUST KISS” scene? That was this entire book, pretty much. Minus the parts that were not.

Oh, and before, I forget, because it bears mentioning. I also loved their friends, both grade A cinnamon rolls, so much. I love me a friend group. This one wasn’t quite an ensemble but they left their mark nonetheless.

Yeah, I really loved this. And it’s left me with the same feeling I had after finishing The Girls I’ve Been. Which is : I need to read this author again. Deep dive her backlist. Put her on my radar for upcoming reads. All of the things.

If you can handle a heartbreaking and emotional but also really lovely story, with incredibly connections and complex dynamics, you need to pick this up.

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

GEORGIE, ALL ALONG by Kate Clayborn

In this heartfelt tale of one woman’s quest to reinvent herself, the acclaimed author of Love Lettering and Love at First delivers a poignant, witty reflection on how the hopes, dreams, and stories from our past shape our future . . .

Longtime personal assistant Georgie Mulcahy has made a career out of putting others before herself. When an unexpected upheaval sends her away from her hectic job in L.A. and back to her hometown, Georgie must confront an uncomfortable truth: her own wants and needs have always been a disconcertingly blank page. 

But then Georgie comes across a forgotten artifact—a “friendfic” diary she wrote as a teenager, filled with possibilities she once imagined. To an overwhelmed Georgie, the diary’s simple, small-scale ideas are a lifeline—a guidebook for getting started on a new path. 

Georgie’s plans hit a snag when she comes face to face with an unexpected roommate—Levi Fanning, onetime town troublemaker and current town hermit. But this quiet, grouchy man is more than just his reputation, and he offers to help Georgie with her quest. As the two make their way through her wishlist, Georgie begins to realize that what she truly wants might not be in the pages of her diary after all, but right by her side—if only they can both find a way to let go of the pasts that hold them back. 

Honest and deeply emotional, Georgie, All Along is a smart, tender must-read for everyone who’s ever wondered about the life that got away . . .


Title : Georgie, All Along
Author : Kate Clayborn
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Kensington
Release Date : January 24, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

There are a few authors I should know better than to pick up late at night, thinking I’ll only read a few chapters before going to bed. Clayborn is one of them. I finished this after midnight on a work night but the next day sleepies were w o r t h i t.

Additionally, on a related note, there are only a few authors who make me want to flip over, upon finishing the book, and start again. Surprise surprise, Clayborn is also one of those. I have yet to do that but the urge is there. Also, immediately reread all my favourites (of which there are many). But I digress but what does any of this have to do with Georgie, All Along? Nothing really. Except that hopefully it conveys the all around good feeling it gave me.

I will be very curious to see if people find this vibed a little different from past Clayborn’s. Maybe it’s just me and my headspace. But that’s not a bad thing. It just feels very far away from Love Lettering and more in line with her debut series. Again, not a bad thing. It’s good to mess up your expectations a little.

What never ceases to amaze me are how much I fall in love with this author’s characters. And this crop is no different. From Georgie, to her love interest Levi, to her bestie Annabel, to Hank the dog, arg. Everyone stole my heart. But when it came to Georgie, can I just say, that few people do messy eccentric-adjacent characters like Clayborn? In many other hands, Georgie would’ve been OTT and cringey but somehow she was made to be loud and chaotic and it feel genuine instead of put on. I loved, too, the theme of the story, of trying to go back, and how that was woven through for so many of these characters and yet they each had different emotional beats to tackle and resolve, things to face, and how those all shook out.

Also, can I just say, Levi’s style of texting? Outstanding. Ten out of ten.

Start to finish there was just so much great here and I honestly don’t know what else to say about it except : read it.

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