STEPSISTER by Jennifer Donnelly – double review!

Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.

When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.

Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.

Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.


Title : Stepsister
Author : Jennifer Donnelly
Format : Paperback arc
Page Count : 352 pages
Genre : YA Fantasy, retellings
Publisher : Hot Key Books & Scholastic Press
Release Date : May 14, 2019

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


Micky’s 3.5 – 4 star review

Steel your stomach for the start of this book because it delves in all twisted up and the story that ensues is every kind of unexpected. The protagonist of this book, Isabelle, is the kind of character that you have to grow to admire. She’s an ugly stepsister with past behaviour and characteristics that speak of inner ugliness. Interestingly, her physical appearance isn’t particularly sketched out, leaving the reader to imagine.

We meet Isabelle at a late juncture in the traditional Cinderella story, from the initial opening you will never be able to guess where this story goes. In fact, the book’s biggest strength is the ability to tell a unique story when it is a retelling. Both Isabelle and Tavi, the other stepsister are quirky, determined characters, with Isabelle in particular, showing strength and tenacity. The backdrop for this tale is that France is at war and the battle is getting closer and closer to the main characters’ dwelling.

There is a clever underlying story of Fate and Chance, two beings with the power to influence the lives of Isabelle, warring over her destiny. This made for interesting manipulation of the story and characters that Isabelle met. Tanaquill, the fairy queen, could not have been less Disney-like if she tried and I loved that aspect and the quest she sent Isabelle on.

Whilst my enjoyment of STEPSISTER is clear in this review, I didn’t fully connect to the characters outside of Isabelle. Sometimes I struggled with the pacing, but it always picked up again fairly quickly.

I am impressed by Jennifer Donnelly’s creativity and writing of STEPSISTER and I would definitely be interested in seeking more from her in a similar vein. STEPSISTER will appeal to those readers like myself who like a side of twisted with their fairytales.

I voluntarily read an early copy of this book, thank you Hot Key Books.


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

History books say that kings and dukes and generals start wars. Don’t believe it. We start them, you and I. Every time we turn away, keep quiet, stay out it, behave ourselves.

I was completely unprepared for how quickly, and how hard, I would fall in love with STEPSISTER. This book immediately opens up with a warning about how this is a darker take on the well-known tale and it is definitely that. But it’s not close your eyes and hide under the cover scary; it’s just hammering home the stark truths and unpleasant realities of societal expectations, a woman’s fate in this world (and our own), and the bleakness of war. And I mean there’s also the fact that the stepsisters lop off pieces of themselves in order to win a prince, which, hey, fun times!

Ella is the beauty. You and I are the ugly stepsister. And so the world reduces us, all three of us, to our lowest common denominator.”

This is the story of what comes after Cinderella, Ella in this story, gets her prince. What befalls the ugly stepsisters and the wicked stepmother. In this case, it’s being shunned. It’s being ridiculed. It’s shame and regret. It’s accepting their choices and living with themselves.. or trying to. It’s about a wish to be pretty, thinking it’ll solve all your problems, because discovering and facing the truth of oneself is so much harder.

How many times had she cut away parts of herself at her mother’s demand? The part that laughed too loudly. That rode too fast and jumped too high. The part that wished for a second helping.

Donnelly’s writing captivated me. It bowled me over. There were passages that made me want to cheer because of the beautiful feminist observations, parts that made me laugh because wow the second stepsister was freaking hilarious, and also parts that made me cry — embarrassingly one of them had to do with mice. But I own that.

I have that feeling.”
What feeling?”
The feeling that you want to own someone body and soul, spirit them away from everyone else, have them all to yourself forever and ever and ever. It’s called love.”
No, it’s called kidnapping.”

The elements of this story are familiar because we’ve heard, or watched, the tale. But never from this perspective, never in this way, and there was a freshness, a realness, to this retelling that just.. got me. Strength and shame and beauty and wonder and forgiveness. Intelligence and cleverness and agony — physical and of spirit — and heartbreak. It seemed to flow effortlessly and honestly the only thing keeping this from being five stars is the big fancy HEA. I don’t think it was a wrong choice but maybe it was a little too right, if that makes sense? I would’ve liked half a step back, I think.

I wanted books. I wanted math and science. I got corsets and gowns and high heeled silk slippers. It made me sad [..]. And then it made me angry. So no, I can’t make myself likeable. I’ve tried. Over and over. It doesn’t work. If I don’t like who I am, why should you?”

I didn’t have much in the way of expectations when I picked this up; I had heard of it but not been endlessly beat about the head with hype. And it definitely deserves some. Totally recommend.

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

SERIOUS MOONLIGHT by Jenn Bennett

From award-winning Jenn Bennett comes a swoon-worthy story with a compelling mystery at its heart 

Raised in isolation and home-schooled by her strict grandparents, the only experience Birdie has had of the outside world is through her favourite crime books. But everything changes when she takes a summer job working the night shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

There she meets Daniel Aoki, the hotel’s charismatic driver, and together they stumble upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—is secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell, and in doing so, realize that the most confounding mystery of all may just be her growing feelings for Daniel.


Title : Serious Moonlight 
Author Jenn Bennett
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA Contemporary
Publisher : Simon & Schuster UK
Release Date : 16 May 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

The comfort of sinking into Jenn Bennett’s words and characters is a treat. SERIOUS MOONLIGHT was a gentle tale of first love, freedom, mystery, mistakes and self-discovery and I simply enjoyed it from beginning to end.

Birdie who’s name is fortuitous, is a young woman finally flying from the cage. She’s lived with her protective grandparents for most of her adolescence but now it is her time. Birdie had had some tough grief experiences but she was embracing her first job and other firsts with some trepidation but also courage. Birdie was endearing, sweet, an over-thinker and lacking in confidence but there was character growth to enjoy.

Daniel was a beta-male, the type of guy that makes me swoon for days with his unsure genuineness. I loved him, his cheekiness and belief in his and Birdie’s connection. These two bonded over a mystery almost of their own creation, sleuthing through Seattle with conversation and touches. This story revealed more and more about each character so that I felt ‘in this’ with Birdie and Daniel, getting to know and love them. Grandpa was one of my favourite side characters along with the colourful Mona.

“No one but Daniel had made me feel so much in such a small amount of time. And I didn’t want to walk away from that.”

This is no insta-love story, don’t be mistaken, there is credible build over time of friendship, camaraderie and fumbling. There is fantastic diverse characters and characteristics naturally bubbling in this read, much to revel in. Just give this sweet book a read and sit back and bask in the fun.

Thank you Simon & Schuster UK and netgalley for this early copy.

UNBROKEN by Jay Crownover

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Marked Men series comes a captivating novella about a rugged rodeo star who will do anything to protect the people he loves.

When rodeo star Crew Lawton loses everything in a bad bet, he has no choice but to take a new job to pay off his debts – even if it means becoming the face of an expensive male skincare line. Crew is used to getting sweaty and rustling in the dirt, not posing for photo shoots. And he’s certainly not used to being bossed around by a woman who doesn’t even know the difference between bulls and broncs. But Crew owes money to dangerous criminals, and he’ll do anything Della says in order to pay them back and keep them far away from his family in Loveless, Texas…

The launch of her new men’s line for her family’s company means everything to Della Deveaux, and she’s not willing to let some rugged, arrogant cowboy ruin her campaign. Crew Lawton is the last man she would have chosen to represent her chic, sophisticated brand. Unfortunately, her father already invested millions in Crew’s stupidly handsome face. Yet the more time they spend together, Della and Crew realize that opposites doattract. But when the time comes for Crew to face his past mistakes, will he be able to protect his family…and the woman he’s come to love?


Title : Unbroken
Author : Jay Crownover
Series : #0.5 Loveless, Texas
Format : eARC
Page Count : 160
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Forever Yours
Release Date : May 14, 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Micky’s 3.5 star review

This novella was a good series starter, it set the context and the family well for the series that is up and coming. UNBROKEN brought a cowboy, Crew out of his failing broncho-riding world and into New York for a makeover related to sponsorship deals. Della was the product lead and therefore responsible for his transformation. I liked their opposites dynamic.

Is this a cowboy book? Kind of, yes but envisage cowboy in the city (not unlike sex in the city!). I am looking forward to and expecting future books to be more cowboy-orientated and we shall see if this becomes the case. Suffice it to say there was enough cowboy-ness to meet my expectations. I think I’ve used the word cowboy enough now.

As can be the case with novellas, the characters were sketched more briefly and their relationship developed quickly. They definitely had chemistry and the heat was written really well. Instalove was circumvented, I’m glad to say but I would have preferred a full novel for this couples story to really do it justice. I’m hoping to see more from this couple as the series stretches out into the full novels. I will definitely be continuing on with the series.

I voluntarily read an early copy of this book, thank you Forever Yours and Netgalley.

THE UNHONEYMOONERS by Christina Lauren


Olive is always unlucky: in her career, in love, in…well, everything. Her identical twin sister Amy, on the other hand, is probably the luckiest person in the world. Her meet-cute with her fiancé is something out of a romantic comedy (gag) and she’s managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a series of Internet contests (double gag). Worst of all, she’s forcing Olive to spend the day with her sworn enemy, Ethan, who just happens to be the best man.

Olive braces herself to get through 24 hours of wedding hell before she can return to her comfortable, unlucky life. But when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning from eating bad shellfish, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. And now there’s an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs.

Putting their mutual hatred aside for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs. But when Olive runs into her future boss, the little white lie she tells him is suddenly at risk to become a whole lot bigger. She and Ethan now have to pretend to be loving newlyweds, and her luck seems worse than ever. But the weird thing is that she doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she feels kind of… lucky.


Title : The Unhoneymooners
Author : Christina Lauren
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Gallery Books
Release Date : May 14, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

Sadly, THE UNHONEYMOONERS was not as funny as I had hoped or had heard it was going to be. To put this into perspective : I don’t have a single highlight to quote for you. Not. one.

The first half is definitely the highlight, though, with snarky hate banter between Olive, the twin sister/maid of honour, and Ethan, the groom’s brother and best man. The circumstances surrounding their pretend relationship and forced proximity are OTT and outlandish but also kind of slapstick-funny and I enjoyed their stiff-acting and all the weird improbabilities that occur while they go on their sibling’s honeymoon. But there’s a weird element that gets introduced that I didn’t like, a shitton of gaslighting and, almost, blame for something the heroine should not have been blamed for once something is revealed, and, of course, with the climax comes a whole host of drama that explodes all over the readers’ and Olive’s faces.

That said, I really liked the supportive backbone of family that is woven throughout the story but wish we’d had more of the Torres’ and extended clan because they were fabulous.

I definitely had a good time reading this, at least up until around the midway point, but THE UNHONEYMOONERS won’t be making it onto my list of CLo favourites.

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

RED, WHITE and ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?


Title : Red, White & Royal Blue
Author : Casey McQuiston
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : contemporary new adult romance, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Griffin
Release Date : May 14, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

Do either of y’all know what a viscount is? I’ve met, like, five of them, and I keep smiling politely as if I know what it means when they say it. Alex, you took comparative international government relational things. Whatever. What are they?
I think it’s that thing when a vampire creates an army of crazed sex waifs and starts his own ruling body.

I can’t even tell you how happy I am that this book was everything I wanted it to be — and a million things more.

Oh my god, this is like all those romantic comedies where the girl hires a male escort to pretend to be her wedding date and then falls in love with him for real.” “That is not at all what this is like.

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE is the happiness and sweetness we deserve; not just right now (though maybe especially right now?) but in general. This is one of those rare gems of a story where there isn’t a single character to dislike. Where there is representation in so many fabulous forms. Where there is silliness and drama and charm and swoons and just enough angst to make you hurt and the best kind of ending — the one that makes you cry and cheer and cry some more and hug your kindle to your chest. The kind of ending you’ll relive because you know, absolutely, one hundred percent, that you’ll be reading this book over and over again.

I never thought I’d be standing here faced with a choice I can’t make, because I never.. I never imagined you would love me back.

Royals, politics, biracial rep, bisexual rep, grief, addiction, anxiety.. McQuiston somehow spins it all into a delightful tale that will make you laugh and shed tears and wish you could be friends with the characters within the pages.

Wait, are you watching videos of Justin Trudeau speaking French again?” “That’s not a thing I do!

This is pure fun and totally heartwarming, with tons of real world tongue-in-cheek dialogue (that, hey, it’s nice to laugh about, all things considered), and I’m so happy that release day is (almost!) finally here so I can go about shoving this book in everyone’s face.

I don’t think this election is going to hinge on an email server.
You sure about that?
Listen, maybe if [he] had more time to sow those seeds of doubt, but I don’t think we’re there. Maybe it it were 2016.
^– probably too soon but h o n e s t l y.

Highly highly recommend.

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


PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND OTHER FLAVORS by Sonali Dev

Award-winning author Sonali Dev launches a new series about the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:

·       Never trust an outsider
·       Never do anything to jeopardize your
brother’s political aspirations
·       And never, ever, defy your family

Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with…

A family trying to build home in a new land.
A man who has never felt at home anywhere.
And a choice to be made between the two.


Title : Pride, Prejudice, and other Flavors
Author : Sonali Dev
Series : The Rajes #1
Format : e-arc
Page Count : 496 pages
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : William Morrow
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

This read was the most unusual Pride & Prejudice retelling I have encountered and where it shone was in the complexity of the plot and characters of the family, so true to the original. However, this is a authentic piece of fiction in it’s own right, you recognise the foundation of Pride and Prejudice but the Rajes family are new and fresh for your perusal.

Trisha Rajes was a savant-type neurosurgeon but she was also everything socially awkward, quirky and sensitive in her non-professional life. I lost count of the times her dialogue and inner monologue made me laugh out loud. Believe it or not, although talented, Trisha was pretty insignificant in her family and she longed for closer ties with them.

“Because it was a fact universally acknowledged that she was an approval slut when it came to her family.”

When Trisha met DJ (Darcy James), also known as ‘Bicep-Chef’ she was all clumsy tongue, arrogance, superiority and foot in mouth. This situation continued whenever they met and that was often. Trisha’s connection to DJ was complex and emotive, there was a story with such heart in the background to this retelling. DJ was definitely the one with the quick quips and speedy rebuttals but really he was no better behaved than Trisha.

“What was it about this woman that made him want to be a prick? Oh yeah, it was the fact that she was a callous snob and she made him feel like – what was the phrase? -ah, the hired help.”

The family element in this story is strong with lots of dysfunctional connections but bonds that desired more. Nisha and Yash were my favourites, with HRH my least favourite. There were short periods of description and back story that sometimes felt like I was pushing through but this story was so worth it.

If you fancy a classic retelling that is out of the ordinary, then Sonali Dev will inspire you, make you laugh and generally entertain the heck out of you.

I voluntarily read an early copy of this book, thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

HER ROYAL HIGHNESS by Rachel Hawkins

Millie Quint is devastated when she discovers that her sort-of-best friend/sort-of-girlfriend has been kissing someone else. And because Millie cannot stand the thought of confronting her ex every day, she decides to apply for scholarships to boarding schools . . . the farther from Houston the better.

Millie can’t believe her luck when she’s accepted into one of the world’s most exclusive schools, located in the rolling highlands of Scotland. Everything about Scotland is different: the country is misty and green; the school is gorgeous, and the students think Americans are cute.

The only problem: Mille’s roommate Flora is a total princess.

She’s also an actual princess. Of Scotland.

At first, the girls can barely stand each other–Flora is both high-class and high-key–but before Millie knows it, she has another sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend. Even though Princess Flora could be a new chapter in her love life, Millie knows the chances of happily ever afters are slim . . . after all, real life isn’t a fairy tale . . . or is it?


Title : Her Royal Highness
Author : Rachel Hawkins
Series : Royals (book two)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 288
Genre : YA contemporary romance, LGBTQ+
Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Listen, HER ROYAL HIGHNESS is not just a lovely sapphic royal contemporary but it’s also.. fun. I thought this of the first in the Royals series, too. Are they perfect books? No. Infact, I thought the mini breakup in this one to be.. not awesome, both a little sloppy and too out of nowhere, but that doesn’t negate all the warm fuzzies and overall entertainment, and did I mention fun, that it provided. And I needed some (a lot) of fun, so, #winning.

Millie, you know this is just a school, right? This isn’t your Hogwarts letter.
And you’re not an owl but this is absolutely the closest thing I’m ever going to get to a Hogwarts letter, so hand it over.

Also like the first in the Royals series I’m rounding up (it’s probably a 3.5/3.75 star) because of all said fun. This is a fairly short, and rather uncomplicated, sorta-hate-to-love, between two young women thrown together as roommates at a boarding school in Scotland, with a royalty element, and maybe some staying-warm-for-survival, and listen, I could go on; Hawkins doesn’t skimp on the tropes and clichés and I wanted, and loved, them all.

Wait, you’re straight?
Yeah. Wait, you didn’t think I was? Saks, we’ve known each other since we were five. How could you not know that?
It’s hard to tell with you lot, to be honest.
My lot?
You know. Pale weedy aristocrats.

We have some fabulous diversity, besides the gay princess element, and I loved the supporting cast of besties, as well as a mini reunion with some of the characters from book one in this series. Really, my only complaint was already mentioned : the break-up was dumb. But whatever it was resolved in like twenty pages, so, voila!

They’re just people. End of the day, same as anyone else.
Do you actually believe that?
Oh god, no. Bloody terrifying, the whole lot of them, me included.

If you want something a little silly, a lot fun, and different from your typical royal YA romance, pick this one up. It’s charming, it’s sweet, and you’ll probably laugh out loud. I know I did.

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

THINGS WE NEVER SAID by Samantha Young

Local metalsmith and gift shop owner, Dahlia McGuire, likes her quiet life in Hartwell, Delaware. It’s the perfect place to hide from her family and the tragic events that led to their estrangement. However, when her father, the person she loves most in the world, needs her Dahlia has no choice but to return to Boston to face her ghosts. One of those happens to be her ex-boyfriend’s best friend, Michael Sullivan. The man she was never supposed to fall in love with.

Michael Sullivan has never forgotten Dahlia McGuire. Some might say he’s never gotten over her. For years he lived with the anger of her desertion, and now, newly-divorced, he’s finally ready to move on. That proves impossible when Dahlia returns to Boston and reawakens their explosive connection. Despite everything, Michael wants her back, but Dahlia can’t seem to let go of the tangled emotions of the past. When she flees home to Hartwell, Michael follows, determined to do everything in his power to convince her they belong together.

However, when the unthinkable hits the quiet seaside town, Michael finds himself trying to unravel more than the mystery of Dahlia’s broken heart. It’s time for truths left unsaid to finally be spoken or Michael and Dahlia might find themselves torn apart forever…


Title : Things We Never Said
Author : Samantha Young
Series : Hart’s Boardwalk #3
Format : eARC
Page Count : 361 pages
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Indie
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

It felt great to be back with the Hart’s Boardwalk crew and the friendships that feel more like family were just as I recalled. THINGS WE NEVER SAID quickly transported the story to Boston but this did not detract from the Hart’s feel and fans will be glad to know that Hart’s Boardwalk remains central to everything in this book.

THINGS WE NEVER SAID is an intense second chance romance between Dahlia and Michael. This was a story that traversed a few decades but centred on the present. Dahlia and Michael had a serendipitous meeting. Life after that was peppered with possibilities and roadblocks. The connection between these two was undeniable but they just didn’t seemed destined to be together.

There is a wonderful family that pulls the whole focus of the story and Dahlia’s family is real, warts and all. The family story made me just get lost in the words as I identified with the relatability of this aspect. There was also a suspense element later in the story that added to being drawn completely into the story.

I don’t want to give anything away about the whys and whens of Dahlia and Michael’s story but suffice it to say they made great reading. The build of the relationship burnt slow and deep, the heat was preeettty firey.

Like most fans of this series, I continue to need Emery’s story badly. Please let this be coming sometime soon.

I voluntarily read an early copy of this book, thanks to the author for the review copy.

THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang – double review!

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.


Title : The Bride Test
Author : Helen Hoang
Series : The Kiss Quotient (book two)
Format : eARC / paperback
Page Count : 315
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Berkley / Atlantic
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

She got you a mail-order bride from Vietnam, Khai.
Why do you say it so it sounds so bad? She’s not a ‘mail-order bride’. I met her in person.

Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I loved THE KISS QUOTIENT. I was so excited when Hoang announced a companion to her world that would not only feature a male lead with autism, though would not be quite like what we experienced with Stella, but would be equally diverse, too. And I really did enjoy being inside Khai’s head. When he wasn’t breaking my heart, that is. Esme, too, was a wonderful heroine. Strong and determined but taking chances, and risks, not for personal gain — or, rather, not only for it — but for her family.

She didn’t need a rich man. She just needed someone who was hers.

The conflicts in this story, Khai’s belief that he’s unable to feel emotion (and, conversely, his inability to handle soft touches and how instead he needs to be handled firmly, held tightly), and Esme’s self-worth as an uneducated immigrant, feel genuine and real; and reading the author’s note helps to explain why these characters resonate so strongly. Khai’s brother, Quan, is a character I want to know more about, too, because he all but leapt off the page at me. Plus, yeah, I want more.

It was easier to keep people at arm’s length when it was for their own good instead of his. That way, he got to be a hero instead of a coward.

However, I’ll admit that this read didn’t consume me the way THE KISS QUOTIENT did. While I so loved when these two got together (hell, even the build-up and the way Esme’s presence wreaked havoc on Khai was fabulous), even if they weren’t yet on the same page, even if they had yet to divulge all their secrets, it was something of a slower start, and as much as I loved these characters, I think I still wanted.. more. I did love the epilogue, though, which I thought to be a much more reasonable ending after all the dramatic excitement just before the final chapter. But that’s all I’m saying.

He was strange and tactless and very possibly an assassin, but when she looked at his actions, all she saw was kindness.

Should you read this? Absolutely. Will it overtake your love for the THE KISS QUOTIENT? To each their own. It’s definitely a sweet, funny, swoony, and a totally worthy addition to the author’s little universe.

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

How do I follow up Hollis’ and many others’ reviews of this rather special book? I don’t know but I’m going to give you a snapshot of my experience. Hold on while I gush because a mail-order bride story with diverse representation, you say. Signed up.

What starts off as an interesting Vietnamese character, My, quickly transports to the US where My renames herself Esme, ready to take on the challenge of being the wife-to-be for Khai. Esme was a ball of self-proclaimed inadequacy, desperate to provide for her family. The slow transformation of a twinkling of Esme’s self-belief and beginning to live for herself was beautiful as it unfolded. I was drawn to her humility, her heart on her sleeve and genuineness.

“Sky and earth, she wanted to taste that smile. And each of those dimples.”

Khai didn’t feel or emote and despairing, his mother went on a special mission to find him a wife, a companion. Khai didn’t know what he wanted or needed, he lived by his routines and the satisfaction in intellectual tasks. However, in little ways, Khai was a stand-up guy for his brother and his mother that gave insight into the caring man he could be. This book brought such believable character development as he navigated the heart connection and sexual attraction.

There wasn’t one thing I didn’t enjoy about this story. It was engaging, it represented topics that we need to read and hear about more, such as, immigration, autism spectrum disorders, poverty and access to education. Helen Hoang wove these issues seamlessly without pontificating, through real lives. Most of all, I adored Khai and Esme, together, apart, awkward and yet natural together, fish sauce and all.

“Her curves fit to his hollows, soft to hard, smooth to rough, the perfect debit to his credit.”

Thank you Atlantic books for the review copy, I feel lucky to have read this early.

LUNA AND THE LIE by Mariana Zapata 🎧

The problem with secrets is that they’re too easy to keep collecting.

Luna Allen has done some things she would rather no one ever know about. She also knows that, if she could go back in time, she wouldn’t change a single thing.

With three sisters she loves, a job she (mostly) adores, and a family built up of friends she’s made over the years, Luna figures everything has worked out the way it was supposed to.

But when one of those secrets involves the man who signs her paycheck, she can’t find it in her to regret it. Despite the fact that he’s not the friendliest man in the world. Or the most patient.

Sometimes there are things you’re better off keeping to yourself.


Title : Luna And The Lie
Author : Mariana Zapata
Format : Audiobook
Narrators : Callie Dalton & Gomez Pugh
Length : 17 hours
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Indie (Audible)
Release Date : 20 April 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

I waited to read LUNA AND THE LIE until the audio book became available because Mariana Zapata’s audios are something special to behold, if you are fan of the author. This one was a little different in terms of narration but more on that later.

Luna herself was a quiet, strong, hurt woman. Mother to her sisters who were now grown and daughter to someone unmentionable with a whole can of worms that shouldn’t be opened. Years ago, when she needed it most, Mr C, one of her bosses gave her an opportunity and Luna ran with it to become head painter in a car body shop.

There was another boss, Rip (Ripley) and he was a fierce, monosyllabic, big man with a temper problem at work. Rip was shrouded in mystery, his past, his present, his family. The deep tenor of his grunts and words certainly helped paint the picture of the man he wanted people to perceive, a hard, hard man.

This story was full of family and work family and I really enjoyed the vibe this brought. Luna’s sisters were something but more than that Luna’s love for them and others, was something bright and vibrant. The story between Luna and Rip was slow, slow burning as those who’ve read Mariana Zapata might guess and whilst this was an everyday story, I just lived it alongside them.

Callie Dalton is MZ’s usual female narrator and she rocked the game, I’d say her proportion of the book is 90% and Gomez Pugh’s contribution was mainly in dialogue. I cannot tell you how well this worked. Overall this was a superb narration experience.

A solid and enjoyable listening experience with a memorable story to tell.

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