DOCILE by K.M. Szpara

There is no consent under capitalism 

Docile is a science fiction parable about love and sex, wealth and debt, abuse and power, a challenging tour de force that at turns seduces and startles.

To be a Docile is to be kept, body and soul, for the uses of the owner of your contract. To be a Docile is to forget, to disappear, to hide inside your body from the horrors of your service. To be a Docile is to sell yourself to pay your parents’ debts and buy your children’s future.

Elisha Wilder’s family has been ruined by debt, handed down to them from previous generations. His mother never recovered from the Dociline she took during her term as a Docile, so when Elisha decides to try and erase the family’s debt himself, he swears he will never take the drug that took his mother from him. Too bad his contract has been purchased by Alexander Bishop III, whose ultra-rich family is the brains (and money) behind Dociline and the entire Office of Debt Resolution. When Elisha refuses Dociline, Alex refuses to believe that his family’s crowning achievement could have any negative side effects—and is determined to turn Elisha into the perfect Docile without it.


Title : Docile
Author : K.M. Szpara
Format : eARC
Page Count : 496
Genre : science fiction / LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Tor.com
Release Date : March 3, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

Hello darkness, aka I don’t know what to rate what I read, my old friend..

So my biggest problem with this book had nothing to do with this book. I got stuck at 30% for almost two weeks after being beat-up by the flu and then I went into a slump. I felt no motivation to pick this back up (or anything else, really, though I felt honour bound to finish what I had started) because the beginning of this book is the most uncomfortable part.

In the beginning we are neck deep in watching Alex, our rich entitled ‘thinks he’s a do-gooder’ protagonist train our Docile protagonist, Elisha, into being the best little slave he can be — all so his family’s debt can be paid and they can be afforded a stipend so they can try not to incur any more debt. Yes, Elisha’s signed away all but his most basic rights, though some apparently still exist and yet everyone is shocked when they are called into play, but he exists inside a system where a drug was created so that you can be treated more or less like furniture. Worse than furniture, even. Anything can be done that does not do harm. That’s a.. broad range, particularly when you’re the Docile of a trillionaire and feel you are afforded the right to do anything.

But outside of the framework itself, and beyond the knee-jerk sympathy felt towards Elisha, I didn’t feel much for either of these characters. Elisha is in the unenviable position of having to sign over his life to clear his family’s debt, sure, and Alex is trying to do the best he can for his Docile who he has to actually consider a real person because he’s not on-meds, and the whole thing is just uncomfortable because until this moment, Alex never did. Consider them real people, I mean; not that anyone but the poor seem to, either, but still. The drug is his family’s legacy but, more than like, like all of the haves vs the have-nots, there’s just no consideration, no awareness, and this ends up being a thirty-year-delayed wake-up call for him — and, maybe, for society?

I’m not saying this isn’t supposed to be uncomfortable. It definitely is. And I suppose it’s no different than comparing District Twelve to District One in THE HUNGER GAMES but, like, add sex instead of violence? It was definitely good at spotlighting at decadence and depravity of this society’s culture in stark contrast to the fact that people are literally signing over years of their lives so that they, and future generations, can avoid prison or worse. But halfway through this took a sharp turn into a sorta conspiracy and then courtroom drama, all while one character is trying to recover from trauma and rediscover their agency, and it’s just a lot of things.

This was a story that I requested because I wanted to be shocked, made angry, even heartbroken, but I think I wanted to feel those emotions from the complexity of the story and less uneasy over the spoiled antics of the rich. But I think therein lies the problem. Even today, the rich are just so rich, while so many people have so much less, and it’s a tough pill to swallow to think that one day they might own people, too.

Ultimately, DOCILE seems to follow the standard (from what I know which, is, admittedly not much..) tropes of slavefic stories and I think if you go in knowing that, you’ll appreciate what Szpara does. I just wish there’d been more explored for how this had started, whether or not the rest of the world followed along (this deals primarily with only one State and while it’s mentioned vaguely that Maryland isn’t the only one, I have to wonder..) and.. I don’t know, I think I just wanted this to feel bigger than it did. But maybe I would’ve minded less if not for the slump? Which is why, well, there’s no rating.

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

ONLY MOSTLY DEVASTATED by Sophie Gonzales – double review!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless, inspired by Grease.

When Ollie meets his dream guy, Will, over summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself one prince short of a fairytale ending. To complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country—Will’s school—where Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship. But as Will starts ‘coincidentally’ popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.

Right?

Right.


Title : Only Mostly Devastated
Author : Sophie Gonzales
Format : eARC
Page Count : 288
Genre : YA LGBTQIA+ romance
Publisher : Wednesday Books/BKMK
Release Date : March 3, 2020

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


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’ll admit that this didn’t end up being the most amazing wonderful adorable hilarious queer YA rom-com I expected it to be back when it was first announced. But I think, based on how insane my expectations were, this was still a pretty good read; even if, despite the ages of the characters and some of the subject matter, it did read a little on the younger of the YA side.

If you’re picking this one up hoping to see some Grease references, you’ll be pretty happy, I think. They weren’t overdone, it didn’t stick to the script half as closely as I expected, and it ended up being very much it’s own thing — with it’s own emotional backbone to set it apart — but you don’t need to go hunting too hard to see some parallels. Though I’m still waiting to understand the Clueless connection, so, fair warning for that comparison.

That said, it was also kind of hard to read at times, too. I definitely didn’t expect the conflicts between the leads to hurt as much as they did. For all we are told of the sweetness of Will, mostly through flashbacks, and in a few quiet one-on-one moments, he did and said some pretty unforgivable things to keep up his “straight” pretense; and while I appreciated some of the lightbulb moments on Ollie’s side, some of which I agreed with and others I think just created so Will wasn’t made out to be, like, a villain, it was still pretty unbalanced between them. Actions speak louder, sure, but words are still hurtful af.

That emotional backbone, I mentioned? Well, it was emotional. And while there were times I disliked both of Ollie’s parents, I think in the context, some of it is forgivable. And in that same vein, it was nice to see a story like this were a teen is facing hardship and not resentful about it. Which, I mean, would be a completely valid thing but it was nice that this book didn’t lean too hard into that potential for angst. There was plenty as it was.

So, yes, not quite the lighthearted-adorable-this-was-everything that I wanted, but this was diverse, and queer, and I know that plus the adorable cover is going to make this a hit for so many readers.

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

I feel completely gushy about this book because I’ve devoured it in a day and it gave me fun, laughter, heartache, tears and complete escapism and enjoyment. This book exceeded all my expectations and I know for certain that I’m going to re-read this book.

This is a Grease retelling with fantastic LGBTQ+ characters front and centre. I can atest to how good the Grease framework to this story was, it was rich and familiar but with its own unique takes. The protagonist, Ollie was such a genuine nice guy, already out to his family and friends, he was pretty comfortable with himself. Family illness meant that he stayed past his summer vacation and his summer fling, Will found that to be a problem he hadn’t antipcated. He wasn’t secure in his sexual identity and he wasn’t out to anyone.

“What’s so funny?”
“We’re in a closet.” “I told you, I didn’t want -“
“You dragged me into a closet to have this conversation. Did you do that on purpose, or what? Unbelievable.”

ONLY MOSTLY DEVASTATED narrated the story from Ollie’s perspective with wit and heart. The family stories were strong and poignant, they caused my heart to ache, my eyes to leak and still I felt some warmth even in difficult parts. All that said, it was a bright and hopeful story and I was rooting for Ollie and Will as a couple. They were cute and lovely.

The friendships were definitely a building project in this book. After all, Ollie was new in the school and trust took time. I loved how this aspect developed and that what started as insecure, snarky interactions became true friendships with characters I came to like.

I don’t want to say anything more about the family story, I thought that was special and sensitively written. I thought the closeted and coming out elements were well written but please do check some own voices reviews on this book to be sure on that point.

Sophie Gonzales wrote in a way that engaged me from the first few pages and clearly I couldn’t put it down. I think this book has wide appeal and I want it to smash into the world.

Here walks Ollie Di Fiore. Master of his feelings, expert detacher, only mostly devastated.

Many thanks to TeamBKMRK for the early review copy.

THE MIDNIGHT LIE by Marie Rutkoski – double review!

Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colors. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.

Nirrim keeps her head down and a dangerous secret close to her chest.

But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who whispers rumors that the High Caste possesses magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.

Set in the world of the New York Times–bestselling Winner’s Trilogy, beloved author Marie Rutkoski returns with an epic LGBTQ romantic fantasy about learning to free ourselves from the lies others tell us—and the lies we tell ourselves. 


Title : The Midnight Lie
Author : Marie Rutkoski
Series : The Midnight Lie (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA LGBTQIA+ fantasy
Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Release Date : March 3, 2020

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

D u d e.

That was my reaction at the close of this book. I had no words, really, beyond being stunned and shocked and so desperate for book two.

THE MIDNIGHT LIE was nothing I ever expected. Knowing this was connected to The Winner’s Trilogy doesn’t give you any insight into the story or themes or plot and honestly? I kind of liked that. This, as all my reviews tend to be, will be spoiler free in an effort to retain some of the mystery, that uncertainty, but even knowing how this book begins? You won’t see where it goes.

It was the kind of impossible wish you treat as though it is precious. You make a home for it in your heart. You give it the downiest of beds for its rest. You feed it the choicest pieces, even when the meat it eats is your very soul.

As far as the connection to the original trilogy, think of this spinoff as what SIX OF CROWS was to The Grisha Trilogy. Some similar worldbuilding, but different context. Some alluded to events, but nothing detailed. Maybe cameos. I won’t confirm or deny. But that’s what you’re getting here. Maybe that’ll change with future books? I don’t know.

What I will say, is this book was hard to read at times. Our protagonist, like many in her community, is not well treated. But reading what Nirrim, in particular, is forced to do, what she convinces herself she must do, and how she is gaslighted (gaslit?) at almost every turn, is horrible, horrendous, and hard. There were times I got so frustrated I had to set the book down. But it’s even more interesting to view in hindsight because of where she ends up.

[..] there is no possible way to understand fairness and guilt when your world has already determined a set of rules that don’t make sense.

Yes, I’m terrible, I’m not sorry.

As for the romance? Swoon.

I had every intention of rereading the original trilogy before this one but never did (lolz 4ever because I’m incapable of helping myself, I guess?) but honestly I think, considering where this book went, it was better that I didn’t. But I’ll totally be rereading before book two because I’ll want to reread this one, too.

It is a midnight lie, she said. A kind of lie told for someone else’s sake, a lie that sits between goodness and wrong, just as midnight is the moment between night and morning.

I can’t wait for more and I’m so happy that this author, with her beautiful prose, and her complex, complicated characters, is back. I’m just hoping there’s a foreign edition, yet to be announced, with a better cover.

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

Micky’s 4 star review

Sobs. How fast can Marie Rutoski write and get the next book published because ARGHHHHHHH. This was a book with a clever and intricate plot, things fell into place more fully only as the ending approached, then THAT. Okay, I’m going to calm the capitals now.

I am such a fan girl of The Winners Trilogy and this book set in that world was no disappointment. It was an island of class issues, prejudice, homophobia told through the eyes of seemingly gentle Nirrim. Nirrim had been living a life of oppression but she was beginning to spread her wings on her own, those wings were aided to flight by Sid. Sid was a character I loved, despite her elusiveness and secrets. I loved the build of more between these two, that part of the storyline was particulary fabulous.

Life in the wards had all the description of sights, sounds and smells that conjured a vivid impression despite the lack of actual colour. Discovering the differences between Half Kith, Middling and High Kith was such great plot development and observing Nirrim take steps in new places was intruiging.

I could not put this book down, I read it in a day, feeling fascination, excitement, frustration and desperation for answers. I loved the connection to the winners trilogy, some of which I guessed. This book killed me with the ending. I need more and I feel like I need it now but I am going to have to put my patient pants on and distract myself for a while.

Marie Rutoski has that talent of creating a fantastical world that feels so utterly different to any fantasy you have read before. I am here for her books, always.

Thank you to Hodder Books for the early review copy.

WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING by Charlie Adhara

Agent Cooper Dayton and his partner, Oliver Park, are going undercover—at a retreat for couples who need counselling. They do say the best cover story is one that’s close to the truth…

Agent Cooper Dayton is almost relieved to get a phone call from his former boss at the Bureau of Special Investigations. It means a temporary reprieve from tensions created by house hunting with Oliver Park, his partner both in work and in life. Living together in a forever home is exactly what Cooper wants. He’s just not keen on working out the details.

With a former alpha werewolf missing, Cooper and Park are loaned to the BSI to conduct the search at a secluded mountain retreat. The agents will travel to the resort undercover…as a couple in need of counseling.

The resort is picturesque, the grounds are stunning and the staff members are all suspicious as hell.

With a long list of suspects and danger lurking around every cabin, Cooper should be focusing on the case. But he’s always been anxious about the power dynamics in his relationship with Park, and participating in the couples’ activities at the retreat brings it all to the surface. A storm is brewing, though, and Cooper and Park must rush to solve the case before the weather turns. Or before any more guests—or the agents themselves—end up dead.


Title : Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Author : Charlie Adhara
Series : Big Bad Wolf (book four)
Format : eARC
Page Count :
Genre : LGBTQIA+ paranormal romance
Publisher : Carina Press
Release Date : March 2, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Ho-ho-how great was this! For reference, I started and finished this on Christmas Eve, so. That’s why this opening line is funny to me right now.. knowing this won’t go live until March.

But back on track!

I am new to this series, having binged the first three back in the summer, but seeing this installment up for request was exciting because a) I wasn’t sure we’d get more and b) the third book was my favourite of the series so I had hoped that momentum, and track record, would continue on the up and up. And this was pretty damn great.

Frankly, Dayton, I don’t know anyone less concerned with pissing off people and wolves alike.
Careful, all this flattery is going straight to my head.”

It’s hard to know what to talk about for a series that’s a few books in but suffice it to say, if you’re a fan, you’ll still be, and if you’re keen to start a m/m werewolf shifter series and this is the first you’re hearing about it? Surprise! Go settle in for a nice binge. This one is much fun.

What the hell about him had Park seen and thought, Oh yes, anxiety-ridden loner with a temper sharper than a serpent’s tongue and a deep-seated fear of change whose longest successful relationship is with an equally judgmental cat? Swoon.

On the emotional/relationship front, this one started to worry me a bit because I thought we had come very far in book three, and some of the issues Cooper was working through felt a little bit two steps back. But. Oh but. There were some great moments to push us even further than we’d gone in book three, and with some very good rationale and reasoning, and a heck of a lot of teasing. In the best way.

It’s not you, it’s me.
Very helpful. How on earth will an evolved couple like us convincingly pretend to need counseling?

Plus? EeeeEeEeEeEe. <– this was my brain during a certain hug. That’s all I’m saying.

What do you think? Would Kyle and Andrew venture out and ask directions?
I don’t know, are Kyle and Andrew auditioning for victims one and two in a horror movie?
Kyle would. Andrew needs to keep the car running and getaway ready. For reasons.
I hate Andrew.”
That’s why we’re here.

The excuse for this particular adventure, going undercover at a couple’s counseling retreat for werewolves, was genius. Who doesn’t love the ‘pretend relationship’ trope except it’s even juicier when they are in a relationship and get forced to work through some things. Delicious. Also, I liked how Adhara introduced another element for the shifters in such a natural way. It seems to happen in each book, the total opposite of an info dump, and always relevant for the moment, not for a ‘maybe in the future you need to know this’, and it’s so perfect. The worldbuilding is so fabulous and so natural, so subtle.

Nice secret passage. Narnia’s keeping well, I assume.

So, yes, this wasn’t Christmassy at all, I’m reading it three months early, but who even cares. I had so much fun, this was sexy as hell, and also hilarious. Sometimes I wonder which I like better, the humour or the swoons (it’s both, but seriously, so funny). I can’t wait for more because with the ending of this one, this series is definitely not over.

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

THE SHADOWS BETWEEN US by Tricia Levenseller – double review!

Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen? 


Title : The Shadows Between Us
Author : Tricia Levenseller
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Feiwel & Friends
Release Date : February 25, 2020

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


Hollis’ 3 star review

I requested this one because, I mean, did you read that synopsis? Girl wants the King because she plans to kill him and rule in his stead? The song Cold As Ice was echoing through my head. It sounded delicious and different and I was keen to dive in.

And this is delicious and different but I never quite fell in love with it. Though I love that this not only features dialogue around empowering women and giving them agency over their bodies, but that it’s also centered around two not-so-easy to pin down leads. They aren’t quite antiheroes but they are far from pure snowflakes. These are definitely shades of grey characters that aren’t out to convince you that their way is better, or that it’s wrong for them to do what they do. They just exist.

Also this is a fantasy standalone, can I get a whoop whoop?

I do think this’ll appeal to many readers who want something different out of their fantasy, particularly YA, and there are a lot of topics dealt with that keep everything from feeling too one note. Additionally we aren’t bogged down with any world building, the setting has a mix of a lot of elements, though I’ll admit the shadow element of the Shadow King’s backstory was.. I don’t want to say weak, but it did stick out a bit. Which might be why we don’t spend much time on it.

But, again, I just never quite hit “I love this” levels of enjoyment. Definite moments of intrigue and interest but I’m not sure it’ll be a memorable experience in a few months time. Not that every book has to be! So here we are.

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


Micky’s 3 star review

I’ve been eager to read this book since it released over six month ago, I loved the cover and premise (from what I can remember, I don’t re-read blurbs). So colour me surprised with that start of the story and finding myself faced with a villain-protagonist of shady ethics.

The story had a great start, a duller middle and a more exciting finale. I liked it, I think but I was definitely disappointed in my own hype I’d built up. The characters in general were not my cuppa, The Shadow King was all intrigue for a while and then he was just so run-of-the-mill. Alessandra herself was a bit of a despicable character, not much to endear herself to the reader but you had to admire her cheek and courage.

The story was a little predictable, I guessed the twist but I did find this easy reading and paced fairly well. There was a feminist thread throughout the story and I liked that but found the issues a little too easily resolved. I didn’t always enjoy the peppy-quippy tone of narrative.

This was my first Tricia Levenseller and I liked her idea of writing something different, I just didn’t particuarly like these characters. I have her other books and I’m hoping to like those more.

RED HOOD by Elana K. Arnold

You are alone in the woods, seen only by the unblinking yellow moon. Your hands are empty. You are nearly naked.

And the wolf is angry.

Since her grandmother became her caretaker when she was four years old, Bisou Martel has lived a quiet life in a little house in Seattle. She’s kept mostly to herself. She’s been good. But then comes the night of homecoming, when she finds herself running for her life over roots and between trees, a fury of claws and teeth behind her. A wolf attacks. Bisou fights back. A new moon rises. And with it, questions. About the blood in Bisou’s past and on her hands as she stumbles home. About broken boys and vicious wolves. About girls lost in the woods—frightened, but not alone.

Elana K. Arnold, National Book Award finalist and author of the Printz Honor book Damsel, returns with a dark, engrossing, blood-drenched tale of the familiar threats to female power—and one girl’s journey to regain it. 


Title : Red Hood
Author : Elana K. Arnold
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Balzer + Bray
Release Date : February 25, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

I requested this book for one reason only : because of DAMSEL. It’s a book a lot of people hate, or dislike, or just feel uncomfortable about. And I don’t begrudge anyone their feelings. But somehow it just worked for me. So when I saw yet another feminist sorta-retelling by the same author? I wanted it.

While this saying a lot of things, and unpacking all the societal gender issues, it just didn’t quite work as a story. It felt very literal, the good girls killed by the wolves aren’t good girls at all, it’s whispered, and yet no one questions the motives of the wolf. And this leaned very heavily on menstruation and dealing with those changes, all of which is great, and not often touched on. We also had a very strong female friendship that develops, between girls who wouldn’t normally have found each other, or maybe given each other a chance to be friends, in addition to a very sweet, very genuine, romance, but.

But.

I don’t know, it was a push to get through this, I wasn’t feeling motivated to read it, despite all the good in the story and what it was saying.

I think people who disliked DAMSEL will enjoy this because it’s a little less wild, a little less out there, and again, the dialogue is relevant and strong. So if you were put off by the author’s other works, but want to explore this kind of story, I would suggest giving this a try.

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

SHINIGAMI by Xia Xia Lake

A coming-of-age love story between an orphan and the heir of the richest family in the Land of Yamato. The human world meets the yōkai in a power struggle for the fate of Fujiwara no Hirotsugu. 

While he battles to find his own path, Hirotsugu finds solace in a boy who will become his secret friend, then his salvation, and then as they become adults together, the love of his life.


Title : Shinigami
Author : Xia Xia Lake
Series : Takamagahara Monogatari (book two)
Format : paperback
Page Count : 352
Genre : LGBTQIA+ historical fiction/fantasy
Publisher : indie
Release Date : October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3.75 (rounded up) star review

I’m going to be honest. I have very different feelings for the first half of this book vs the latter half. The first half details the life and experiences of Hirotsugu as he grows up as the heir to one of the wealthiest, and respected, families. In contrast to those around him, particularly his family, he’s very aware, and almost ashamed, of the divide that separates him from the poor, and this is reinforced by a chance encounter with a young beggar. A chance encounter that happens not just a second time, but a third, thus sparking a friendship that would turn into a great love.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first half of this journey is very heavy on the historical elements, the traditions, the myths; if you love world-building, if you love losing yourself in cultural descriptions, you will be overjoyed with the author’s research and attention to detail. I’ll admit that while I did follow along (and had a handy glossary, along with chapter header definitions to help out), I wasn’t as engrossed by the history as I was the characters. So while I wasn’t bored, I wasn’t fully immersed or on the edge of my seat in the early chapters. It was easy to put down, even with the magical elements and the mystery surrounding this presence that ran parallel to the narrative.

Also I made the mistake of speculating a theory or two to a friend who had read this already and boy was I wrong. But hey, I’m owning up to it. I recommend you try and throw some guesses around, too! Ahem, anyway..

And then the second half of the story happened and it was sweet and lovely and all of a sudden I was punched in the gut with feels and this time I was putting down the book so I could finish crying. Which I did.. twice. I definitely felt the strength of these characters near the end, the events felt more high stakes, with the added element of some melodrama to really get those emotions flowing. As a bonus, much is revealed that is only teased throughout, and while some subsequent actions felt rushed or maybe a little unrealistic, you still feel it. It still hurts. And you’re still blown away.

Readers who pick up the book one, KOGITSUNE, might be surprised, and confused, when they follow it up with SHINIGAMI only to realize it isn’t a direct continuation. And does, in fact, happen long after the events of book two. But by the time you get to the end of this book, you’ll understand why it’s important, and necessary, to read first. So go do that now.

Overall, this is an experience unlike one I’ve read before. It’s detailed, rich in history, magic and myth and folklore, it’s about a forever love between two young men, and so much more. And it’s not over! There’s more to come. I cannot wait to see how these stories progress in book three.

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE TRILOGY WRAP UP by Laini Taylor

  1. DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE – 4.5 stars
  2. DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT – 4 stars
  3. DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS – 4.5 stars

    This is a Micky post but it is fuelled by Hollis suggesting that I read this story FOR YEARS. We nearly had a disrailment early on reading book one when I realised this was a book about angels and beasts, my blog review is here if you need a refresher on what nearly went wrong for me. However, I came out of book one realising there wasn’t really a Christian connection to this story and that this was a other-worldly yet this-worldly story. There was a lot of action in this book but once it got to the half-way mark, a love story started to build in the form of Akiva and Karou. I was disconcerted for a bit by what I thought was a love triangle but really it wasn’t. There was one of the best gal-pal storylines that began in this book and continues throughout the series. I adored Zuzana and Zuzana with Karou are friendship goals. I loved book one and gave it a 4.5 star review.

Book two, DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT was a great action-packed read but it was steeped in sadness, disconnection between the two MCs and that was hard to swallow. I wanted them together but I understood the rift. This was a story to learn more about the world of Eretz but also of the different species that inhabited it. Into this story entered a younger Kiran man called Ziri who pretty much stole my heart. Zuzana and her guy, Mik were very much crucial in this story. I rated this book 4 stars and my review is here.

Book three, DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS was about journeys, battle and strategy. It was about foes becoming friends and reconnections but oh my word, the tension, the mind-blowing tension between Akiva and Karou. I was glued to the page and wishing for them to kiss. I said numerous times ‘just kiss already’ to myself and them.

There was a superb main plot in this book and so many great sub plots apart from one that I disliked (that’s what has taken the rating down from heart eyes to love). Fake grandma was a highlight, Zuz and Mik shenanigans of course and all things Thiago, Ziri and Liraz. The bad guys were epically gross but I loved to read about them.

This is the book of final fulfilment and three books in, binged from start to finish, I needed the sweetness of completion. The culmination did not let me down. These characters became fast book friends and beloved favourites; I think I’ll remember this series for a long time. DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS got a whopping 4.5 stars.

Shout out to Hollis for nagging/pushing me to read this for a few years and for listening to my many ravings along the way. Second shoutout to bookstagram friend Steph for her devoted cooing over my reading of one of her favourite series.

The morals of this reading wrap are as follows:

  1. Do not prejudge tropes, sometimes open your mind and start to read a trope that isn’t your jam, you might have a refreshing surprise like I did.
  2. Series from 5/6 years ago or more should not get brushed under the carpet, keep those recs and positions on your tbr and work your way around to them. I’ve acquired a favourite series from this one.

KOGITSUNE by Xia Xia Lake

A coming of age story set in medieval Japan. A friendship between a young fox god and his human childhood friend is built on deception, but grows stronger and purer as it’s driven by common purpose. However, the vast differences of the worlds they live in can’t be ignored, as their relationship is frowned upon by both humans and spirits.

As Kogitsune’s feelings for his human friend turn from friendship to something deeper, he will learn that love can be all consuming and heartbreaking. 

‘Kogitsune’ is a retelling of the famous Noh theater play ‘Kokaji’, a story about a swordsmith who requests the help of the Inari god to build a sword for emperor Ichijo (980-1011).


Title : Kogitsune
Author : Xia Xia Lake
Series : Takamagahara Monogatari (book 1)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 62
Genre : LGBTQIA+ historical fiction/fantasy
Publisher : indie
Release Date : September 10, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3.5 (rounded up) star review

This is such a sweet, magical, little story of the birth, and early years, of a kitsune; a fox god. As he discovers the world around him, he also meets a human boy, and they develop a sweet friendship that, over time and after reuniting after a separation where they each grow into their own, becomes a romance.

Despite how short this story is, Lake nonetheless manages to perfectly set the scene, delving into Japanese folklore and myth, all through the eyes of a curious and adorable protagonist, who is both naive and wise and, like mortals, just as susceptible to heartbreak, remorse, and love.

This is the first in a series and I can’t wait to read on.

HOUSE OF EARTH AND BLOOD by Sarah J. Maas — excerpt review!

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

With unforgettable characters, sizzling romance, and page-turning suspense, this richly inventive new fantasy series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas delves into the heartache of loss, the price of freedom—and the power of love.


Title : House of Blood and Earth
Author : Sarah J. Maas
Series : Crescent City (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : five chapter excerpt
Genre : NA fantasy
Publisher : Bloomsbury Publishing
Release Date : March 3, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I’ll be honest, I don’t know why I clicked on this excerpt. I’m certainly not shy about not being much of a fan of this author and her work. But it seemed like a low-investment peek into what this book, the first of Maas’ new adult series, would be like. And overwhelmingly, I feel mostly ambivalence with a side of confusion. There’s a lot of world-building, which is helped a bit by a glossary of terms near the beginning so, thank you for that, and a set-up which I won’t say completely lost me but I definitely know I was just kind of reading along even if I wasn’t 100% sure of references or meaning to things.

As for the characters, there was a lot of time spent setting up an existing friend group and dynamic, even a possible romance, before things go sideways right at the end of this teaser. Having not refamiliarized myself with the synopsis before diving in, I’m not sure where things might go after this point (beyond the obvious vengeance questing), but I also find myself curious enough to.. maybe.. pick this up and read on. Which I guess means the tease was a success. My expectations are pretty low, and certain things felt very in line with the Maas-elements I don’t normally like (specifically in her characters), and I actually felt the writing of this far less pretty and compulsive than her other works, but.. I guess we’ll see.

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