HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING by Denise Williams – double review!

One daring to-do list and a crash course in flirtation turn a Type A overachiever’s world upside down.

When her flailing department lands on the university’s chopping block, Professor Naya Turner’s friends convince her to shed her frumpy cardigan for an evening on the town. For one night her focus will stray from her demanding job and she’ll tackle a new kind of to-do list. When she meets a charming stranger in town on business, he presents the perfect opportunity to check off the items on her list. Let the guy buy her a drink. Check. Try something new. Check. A no-strings-attached hookup. Check…almost.

Jake makes her laugh and challenges Naya to rebuild her confidence, which was left toppled by her abusive ex-boyfriend. Soon she’s flirting with the chance at a more serious romantic relationship—except nothing can be that easy. The complicated strings around her dating Jake might destroy her career.

Naya has two options. She can protect her professional reputation and return to her old life or she can flirt with the unknown and stay with the person who makes her feel like she’s finally living again.


Title : How to Fail at Flirting
Author : Denise Williams
Format : Paperback / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 352
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Piatkus
Release Date : December 1, 2020

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


Micky’s 5 star review

Headlines:
Good guy
Finding your voice
Academia
Work complications

This book has left me so up in my feels, warm, fuzzy and satisfied ones. I feel like this book was written for me because it was a great romance and the protagonist was in academia. You can tell the author navigates this life because as a female PhD myself in a male dominated world, on the endless hamster wheel of teaching and publications, there are endless goal posts.

Naya was a superb heroine, flawed and strong, striving and trying to disappear at the same time; I just loved her. This book had definite triggers for some (check out other reviews for trigger warnings or DM me) but that sensitive context really had me drawn in to Naya’s past, her present and future.

Let’s talk Jake, a nerd, cute and a great guy. It took time to reveal his character and I liked that I felt in Naya’s position, trying to work him out, was he really a good guy? The cheese was perfection, the chemistry was firey and delightful and the on-page romantics were just right. I really dug how this story played out, the banter, the sweetness, the demonstration of caring.

The plot lines were wholly realistic but the romance and the relationship never got lost, in fact, it was the navigation of the relationship alongside real life that made this book. Davis…I have no words, what a disgusting creature he was, he totally gave me the chills and not good ones.

I crushed How To Fail At Flirting in less than 24 hours which is pretty good for this woman with a family. Life is full of interruptions but this book had to be pulled from my hands to go out for a walk, that was my sacrifice for the day.

Do yourself a favour and pick this book up. I simply cannot wait for Denise Williams’ next book.

Thank you to Piatkus/Little Brown UK for the review copy.


Hollis’ 2.5 stars review

Obviously, going from the above rave review to mine is jarring and because I’m mostly struggling to like anything right now, it’s also likely worth ignoring.

That said, this isn’t remotely the laugh out loud and have good times romcom I wanted, and felt I needed. There are heavy topics within (seek out trigger warnings if you need them) and some not only uncomfortable flashback/memory scenes, but also stuff on page I did not expect. I think the discussion of partner violence is very important and what Naya, our main character, had experienced and was still processing is not often talked about. I think it was also important to see that there isn’t “one type” of person who will experience it. Or “one type” of person who will inflict it on others. Both these individuals being in academia, respected, was a very real change of pace from what I, at least, have experienced before in fiction. Which, I mean, sounds like a good thing? But it’s also not. Because it made me incredibly uncomfortable how much page time it got. See aforementioned “not remotely a laugh out loud and have good times romcom”.

Moving onto those laugh out loud and have good times, however, the romance was both very lovely and also let me down a bit. Things happen pretty quickly, another thing I did not expect. But, for all that Jake was more or less perfect, he at least came with a carry-on sized bit of baggage. Not much, but something. Though part of his own plot never actually resolved, despite the page time, which is.. convenient? I guess.

While I did enjoy the change in pace from office romances to an academic-set contemporary, I’ll admit I wasn’t too enthralled. I felt we never really got enough into what Naya did, beyond being good at it, and wanting tenure and being worried about department cuts. Honestly, it could’ve been about, and set in, anything else with some creative swapping out of scenes.

So what was good, you ask? Supporting cast. Naya’s friends were the best (a female friend AND a male friend, we love it!), and I liked Jake’s friends, too, even though they had even less page time. Naya trying to break out, take control of her life again — even if it’s more or less browbeat into her by her supportive friends (which I have mixed feelings about..) — and then, through Jake, reclaim her body, take charge of her sexuality, speak her mind.. I really liked that. There were very lovely glimmers in this story that worked for me. It just, in my opinion, kind of made a bit of hash in how some things played out.

Would I read the author again? Probably. No, definitely. This was a debut so I would definitely try again. But that said, I might acquaint myself a little better with a synopsis (gasp, who is she), or a review or three, just to better gauge if the next story is more in line with what I want, or need, in the moment. I’m not usually, or ever, a mood reader but I picked this up specifically wanting fun and fluff and, as mentioned over and over, it’s not what I got. Therefore this gets a cautious recommend from me; if it sounds like something you want, definitely give it a go.

THE KISS OF DECEPTION by Mary E. Pearson

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love. 


Title : The Kiss of Deception
Author : Mary E. Pearson
Series : The Remnant Chronicles (book one)
Format : physical
Page Count : 489
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Henry Holt
Release Date : July 8, 2014

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

Starting off the year strong with not only a reread but a reread to kick off completing a series that has contributed to an unread-book-three-on-my-shelves problem. All this will also determine if said series is still worth having a spot on my shelf! YA hardbacks take up precious real estate, yo.

But anyway. Was this as good as I remembered it being? No. But it kept me turning pages. And the best part was seeing Lia’s transformation. Sure, much of that is due to the circumstances of hardship and loss but she starts the book running away from an arranged marriage to someone who could not be bothered to see her as a person. Not to mention her conflicted feelings over her role in the greater tradition of being a First Daughter and the gift that comes with that.

The fun in the telling of the story after that fact is she’s then caught in the orbit of two men; one of whom is the prince she was to marry and the other an assassin from another region who is to kill her. And as readers we don’t know which POV is which. It’s pretty clever storytelling and definitely keeps you turning pages. That said, the most enjoyable part of the story is definitely closer to the end when.. well, I’m not going to tell you, of course.

Because of the way the story is told, clever though it is, even with brief glimpses into other POVs, they don’t feel as strong. That said, I have vague recollections that book two changes that but I could be wrong and maybe it’s only wishful thinking. One POV in particular needs improvement as it was one of the main reasons I realize this is a little weaker than I think it otherwise should have been. That and, like, some of the more typically YA romance elements that I don’t really get on with anymore. But that’s because I’m old. Also 2014 feels like a long time ago, particularly considering the last twelve months have actually been twelve years, so.

I’m looking forward to the new direction, and setting! and stakes!, in book two. And I’m definitely excited to see Lia kick more ass. Because while there are little sprinklings of teasing around the worldbuilding and history, and where it seems to be heading is very interesting, the princess is definitely my favourite part of this world. So far.

WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING by Alyssa Cole

Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?


Title : When No One Is Watching
Author : Alyssa Cole
Narrators : Susan Dalian & Jay Aaseng
Format : Audiobook
Length : 8 hours, 29 minutes
Genre : Thriller
Publisher : Harper Audio
Release Date : September 1, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
Context of gentrification
Diverse characters
Highly unusual storyline
A little odd

I have mixed feelings about this story. It was unusual and that was definitely a strength but overall and as the height of the plot peaked, it felt pretty unrealistic. This isn’t fantasy or fairytale, so I need some realism in a thriller.

The context of gentrification of white people into a black community to the point of pushing others out was a superb central plot and I did like the chaotic main character of Sydney. Her situation was desperate, her stress levels were through the roof and I was feeling paranoid at every noise myself. I wasn’t as keen on Theo or their friendship to more.

The plot behind what was actually going on in the neighbourhood was the thing that brought this rating down. I felt disappointed at it, I didn’t get the trigger-happiness and there was some sweeping under the carpet.

The narration was excellent. It was dual POV and both narrators really captured their characters and Sydney’s narrator in particular, caught the atmosphere well.

Thank you to LibroFM and Harper Audio for the review copy.

FELIX EVER AFTER by Kacen Callender – double review

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve. 


Title : Felix Ever After
Author : Kacen Callender
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 318
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Balzer + Bray
Release Date : May 5, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

I went into this read with some trepidation on two fronts; one, because I had read a book by this author before and absolutely hated it and two, so much hype. Almost all my friends unanimously loved this. So, yeah, I worried.

But pretty much from page one I was completely captivated.

There are a host of difficult themes, attitudes, and dialogue within this story. This isn’t just a tough coming out or coming of age contemporary. It’s self-discovery, sure. It’s battling prejuice, yes. It’s navigating life in all its ups and downs and ugly and messy and beautiful realities.

I’ll admit there are two bits or elements that are what keeps this from being a full five star read for me. Firstly I don’t enjoy catfishing plots, so that’s definitely a personal preference, but also I did just feel there was a lot of drama. Nothing really to the point where it felt manufactured just for the sake of it but, still, a lot of conflict.

Nevertheless, if you haven’t yet been convinced to take the leap and pick this book up, please let me be the one to nudge you over the edge. It won’t be easy but I hope you’ll find it worth it. I certainly did.


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Roller coaster emotions
A road to understanding
Journeys

This book packed a punch to my heart, my emotions and it also paved a way to learning. I feel like this book should be a high school must-read, to provide a space for identificaton for teens questioning but also to inform, teach and give the opportunity to walk for a little while in Felix’s shoes. I threw myself into this story, the characters and they educated me and I loved them.

There is a world of hurt in this read, be ready. Felix was the kind of endearing and relatable character, finding his way, himself and often a bit of loner apart from his bestie. The hurt from family quarters was something deep, the hurt that arose from actions in school nearly did me in, my jaw drop and I felt.

The story was so quintessential age 17 in lots of ways but through the lens of someone experiencing life in a way many of us will not. This isn’t an overtly educational book but it really did educate me about that thing I am most interested in – people’s lived experiences. There were so many lines in this book, often inner monologue that struck me and stayed with me. Here’s a few.

I guess it just feels like I have one marginalisation too many, sometimes.

“The pride march is in a couple of weeks,”
 they say.
“But sometimes, it can be difficult to find pride for ourselves.”

Read. This. Book.

Thank you to Pride Book Tours and Faber Books for the gifted copy.

EVERGREEN by Cari Z.

Soldiers. Explorers. Lovers.

Broken apart.

Cy Konstantin and Scottie Andrews are supposed to make Project Evergreen’s one-way trip to Mars together. A near-fatal accident during training knocks Cy into a coma for half a year, and out of Project Evergreen. He works his way back to Scottie’s side, but he can’t rejoin the mission. Once Scottie leaves, they’re destined to live millions of miles apart for the rest of their lives.

A deadly accident on Mars might spell the end of their distant romance, though—or be the thing that saves it.


Title : Evergreen
Author : Cari Z.
Format : eBook
Page Count : 59
Genre : LGBTQIA+ sci-fi romance
Publisher : indie
Release Date : January 13, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

I wanted something short and possibly sweet as I’m between reads right now and figured why not give this a try! Having arduously compiled all my unreads books on a spreadsheet, including all my eBooks, all that hard work paid off as my eyes immediately gravitated to it (after having long since forgotten about it), and boy am I glad I did.

Right off the hop I was enjoying the story and the narrative but wasn’t sure about the characters. We had members of a crew brought together to man a mission to Mars as a one-way trip and within said crew was the charming and gregarious American astronaut and the rather reserved Russian one and I though okay sure, here we go. But. But.

While we don’t see every moment of their evolving friendship into a romance, as this is a novella and we do skip around a bit, I was definitely sold before the end. And this goes in different directions than you might expect!

This might not be a new favourite but I’m pretty pleased I one-clicked this and was glad to have been entertained by it for a little while on this saturday evening. Additionally? Also very happy to knock it off the tbr and into the read pile.

THE EX TALK by Rachel Lynn Solomon – double review

Public radio co-hosts navigate mixed signals in Rachel Lynn Solomon’s sparkling romantic comedy debut.

Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can’t imagine working anywhere else. But lately it’s been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who’s fresh off a journalism master’s program and convinced he knows everything about public radio.

When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it’s this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it’s not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts.

As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers. 



Title : The Ex Talk
Author : Rachel Lynn Solomon
Format : eARC/audio
Narrator : Emily Ellet
Page Count : 336/9 hours
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Berkley/Books On Tape
Release Date : January 26, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .25/ ★ ★ ★ .5



Hollis’ 4.25 star review

I’ve had an ARC of this on my kindle for so long. Why did I put off reading this? Why.

I am eating Tater Tots with my former nemesis in a dive bar at eleven o’clock on a Monday night. My life has ceased to make sense.

If you’re looking for a hate/dislike style enemies-to-lovers contemporary romance set in the workplace to fill the hole created by stories like The Hating Game, while still very much being its own thing, you should absolutely pick this one up. Because this is such a unique concept, too, outside of that specfic flavour. You’ve heard of fake dating. But have you heard of fake exes?

I’m scrolling back to the beginning of his photos when tragedy strikes. My hand slips on my laptop and I accidentally hit the like button. On a really old photo of him and his ex-girlfriend. The only rational solution is to set myself and my laptop on fire.

It may have taken a chapter or two for me to sink my teeth into this but once I started flipping pages, I couldn’t stop. I devoured this. Parts of this had me outright howling with laughter and once the romance kicked in, hoo boy. Hi. Yes. More of that.

You have CDs?
Old car. That’s all it can handle.”
Besides, then she can act all hashtag retro.
I hate that CDs are retro.”

Solomon’s banter is so solid, the dynamic between these two lead characters so fun and a little flipped when you think of standard gender stereotypes, and all the little generational/age gap jokes were just hysterical (she’s just about thirty, he’s early twenties). Plus I’m not sure I have ever read a story set around public radio so that was really fun as a setting and we got little transcript bits, twitter feeds, and more to spice it all up and I always love that, too.

It’s ridiculous that there’s no cat lady equivalent for guys. Fucking misogyny.”
Cat man?
Sounds like a very gentle superhero.

Honestly the only thing I didn’t like was the public display/grand gesture/grovel (it’s not a spoiler, this is a romance, of course this happens) but I generally hate these big moments so I’m not really surprised I didn’t quite get on with it here, either. But that’s a very personal thing. Not really my jam.

I highly recommend this if you’re looking for a snappy, delicious, hilarious, sweet, sexy, and very fun time. And considering the year we’ve just had? We could all do with this. But this also touches on grief, on finding your way even if you think you have it all figured out, the trials of adulthood, and more. Pick this one up. I’ll definitely be trawling through Solomon’s backlist (though, just for information purposes, she’s been strictly YA up until this point) and I am so very excited for her next release. Whatever it might be.

** I received an ARC from the author in a giveaway (thank you!) and was under no obligation to review. **


Micky’s 3.5 star review

3.5 stars

Headlines
Easy listening (there’s a pun in there)
Annoyance to admiration
Fun plot

The Ex Talk was all easy listening with cuteness and an engaging plot. It didn’t blow me away but it certainly entertained me for a number of days while I listened. I feel like I haven’t read/listened to a book set around radio before and so that context was fresh and fun.

These MCs were all petty annoyance with one another and it felt for good reason on Shay’s front. Dominic loved lauding his masters degree and came in sweeping through an organisation built on subtle misogyny. While that wasn’t Dominic’s fault as such, it understandably got Shay wound up.

When these two found themselves hosting a show together, it was such a rush listening to their evolving confidence issues, a show that built to success but on shaky foundations but most of all, their chemistry. I did love these two together.

I think this is a perfect holiday/weekend read that isn’t taxing and will leave you satisfied. It had a great culmination and finshed on a strong point. The narration was good throughout.

THE GIRL WHO by Andreina Cordani

The girl who… survived
The girl who… inspires
The girl who… has something to hide

People can’t bring themselves to say what happened to her. They just describe her as ‘the girl who… you know…’. But nobody really knows, no one sees the real Leah.

Leah is the perfect survivor. She was seven years old when she saw her mother and sister killed by a troubled gang member. Her case hit the headlines and her bravery made her a national sweetheart: strong, courageous and forgiving.

But Leah is hiding a secret about their deaths. And now, ten years later, all she can think of is revenge.

When Leah’s dad meets a new partner, stepsister Ellie moves in. Sensing Leah isn’t quite the sweet girl she pretends to be, Ellie discovers that Leah has a plan, one she has been putting together ever since that fateful day. Now that the killer – and the only one who knows the truth – is being released from prison, time is running out for Ellie to discover how far Leah will go to silence her anger . . .


Title : The Girl Who
Author : Andreina Cordani
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 272
Genre : YA Thriller
Publisher : Atom, Little Brown UK
Release Date : January 14, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

This was a great YA thriller, a standalone, focused on a story that felt unusual but credible. It took the reader into the world of a creepy psychotic killer who had severe mental illness (there may be some triggers for people here). The book definitely whipped up some empathy from me for the killer and if you read it, I think you’ll understand why.

I thought it was clever to move forward in time to Leah, on the verge of adulthood, in a new blended family, plotting for something. Leah, although the victim, was super creepy at times and clearly understandably damaged by her experiences. Her new step sister Ellie brought the third POV (killer, Leah, Ellie) who ended up embroiled with things.

I had two hours to kill before I risked my life to save the stepsister who hated me, and nothing else but play Bubble Quest and stare out of the window.

David won the award for one of the most annoying parents, notwithstanding his own traumatic experiences. The way he handled Leah and the new additions to the family made me irritated. Claire wasn’t much better but did have some redeeming features.

This was a twisty, sometimes dark, sometimes creepy, sometimes predictable read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It had that page-turning feel and the need to get answers as the story played out. The Girl Who was a great debut from Andreina Cordani; I’ll definitely be looking out for a future release from her.

Thank you to Atom Books for the review copy.

SECRETS OF THE STARCROSSED by Clara O’Connor

In a world where the Roman Empire never fell, two starcrossed lovers fight to ignite the spark of rebellion…

Londinium, the last stronghold of the Romans left in Britannia, remains in a delicate state of peace with the ancient kingdoms that surround it. As the only daughter of a powerful merchant, Cassandra is betrothed to Marcus, the most eligible bachelor in the city.

But then she meets Devyn, the boy with the strange midnight eyes searching for a girl with magic in her blood.

A boy who will make her believe in soulmates…

When a mysterious sickness starts to leech the life from citizens with Celtic power lying dormant in their veins, the imperial council sets their schemes in motion. And so Cassandra must make a choice: the Code or Chaos, science or sorcery, Marcus or Devyn?

Panem meets the Grishaverse in this explosive new YA trilogy perfect for readers of Marie Lu, Bella Forrest, and Cassandra Clare. 


Title : Secrets of the Starcrossed
Author : Clara O’Connor
Series : The Once and Future Queen #1
Format : Paperback/Audio
Page Count : 448
Genre : YA/NA Dystopian/Fantasy
Publisher : One More Chapter
Release Date : January 21, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 2.5 – 3 star review

I’ve rounded up my rating to 3 stars and I both read and listened to this story. The world created in Secrets of the Starcrossed was one of an elite alternate futuristic/contemporary society but also one with people less fortunate. I didn’t find the world building immediately easy to understand but over time it did get clearer.

There was a lot going on in this story. A number of characters vying for prominence and essentially, I didn’t particularly connect to Cassandra. That lack of connection with the MC played out further into a lack of feeling of chemistry between the characters. This was a pretty fast-paced read with a good tempo, however.

I do have mixed feelings about this book. It has something of an identity crisis; is it fantasy or dystopia, is the underpinning culture Roman or Celtic? It’s a mix of all of the above and I remain unsure how I feel about those elements. Added to this, the gorgeous cover definitely says Celtic fantasy to me but the reading of it doesn’t leave me with this.

With regards to the narration, I did struggle with the choice of narrator who sounded into her 50s or 60s by voice. The main characters whose POV this was told from, was a teenager. That disconnect isn’t ideal, however I did like being able to experience both formats in tandem.

So overall, I’ve ended this book a little unsure of how I felt about it and what I think about future installments. I do think the synopsis comparisons to other famous worlds are a little ambitious and often not that helpful to readers, I don’t want to make those comparisons and feel left short. This is a book that is definitely worth giving a try to see if you gel with the culture and world, especially if you like Celtic and British cultures and history colliding.

Thank you to One More Chapter for the early review copies.

BEFORE SHE DISAPPEARED by Lisa Gardner

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner, a propulsive thriller featuring an ordinary woman who will stop at nothing to find the missing people that the rest of the world has forgotten

Frankie Elkin is an average middle-aged woman, a recovering alcoholic with more regrets than belongings. But she spends her life doing what no one else will–searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for. When the police have given up, when the public no longer remembers, when the media has never paid attention, Frankie starts looking.

A new case brings her to Mattapan, a Boston neighborhood with a rough reputation. She is searching for Angelique Badeau, a Haitian teenager who vanished from her high school months earlier. Resistance from the Boston PD and the victim’s wary family tells Frankie she’s on her own–and she soon learns she’s asking questions someone doesn’t want answered. But Frankie will stop at nothing to discover the truth, even if it means the next person to go missing could be her.


Title : Before She Disappeared
Author : Lisa Gardner
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : crime/mystery
Publisher : Dutton
Release Date : January 26, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Incase you’re wondering how this fits into Gardner’s DD Universe, or various connected series, surprise! It doesn’t. BEFORE SHE DIED is a standalone from this prolific author and stands apart (at least for now?) and in a sense our protagonist, Frankie Elkin, feels like a combination of all Gardner’s other leading ladies.

What Frankie does is investigate missing persons cases, specifically people of colour, whose disappearances have remained unsolved, long gone cold. This definitely gave me a bit of a Flora vibe, minus the vigilante thing, because Frankie has no investigative experience, isn’t pretending to be a cop or a private detective. She is a full on civilian, leaning into the perks of having no red tape to contend with, while somehow managing to ask the right questions, poke the right bears, and use her single-minded focus as an limitless resource to do what the police can’t : find answers. And though she is without training, and heeds no rules, she gave me serious DD vibes with her wit, and her addiction, as a recovering addict, made me think of Rainie. See? Little bit of everyone.

Did I like her though? I don’t know. Sometimes. She definitely has a bit of mystery of her own, some backstory that haunts her, and haunts us too with teasing little moments that make us wonder what happened, what would possess a middle aged woman to be transient, traveling from city to city, state to state, working odd jobs to make a living wage for the length of time she needs to search out the missing person, only to pick up and leave. I love the idea of this. I love how Gardner leaned into the loneliness of it, the fixation, a different form of addiction — one she doesn’t resist, one she feeds, even as she fights the call of a drink — and yet I never truly.. felt her, understood her. Maybe that’s realistic, though. Maybe we’re not supposed to. No one else seems to.

The mystery of this story? So unique. I’m not sure I’ve read one like it. It twists and turns, the pieces never seem to quite fit, much less seem to actually belong to the same puzzle, and yet it did all inevitably make sense.

What I liked almost as much as the concept? The setting and, as it went hand in hand, the supporting cast. This takes place in a very multicultural area in Boston and the mix of neighbours, the various people Frankie befriends, orbits around, they all felt rich, solid, like people I would want to know. It makes me sad that even if we get another story featuring Frankie, it won’t be with these other characters. Or, rather, unlikely to be. Because that defeats the concept of her existence, of her mission.

Overall this was really solid, though I definitely found the first half more compelling, and while it probably won’t make the cut if I ever did a Top Ten Gardner Books list? I still had a good time with it.

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

WINTERKEEP by Kristin Cashore – Hollis’ review!

Four years after Bitterblue left off, a new land has been discovered to the east: Torla; and the closest nation to Monsea is Winterkeep. Winterkeep is a land of miracles, a democratic republic run by people who like each other, where people speak to telepathic sea creatures, adopt telepathic foxes as pets, and fly across the sky in ships attached to balloons.

But when Bitterblue’s envoys to Winterkeep drown under suspicious circumstances, she and Giddon and her half sister, Hava, set off to discover the truth–putting both Bitterblue’s life and Giddon’s heart to the test when Bitterbue is kidnapped. Giddon believes she has drowned, leaving him and Hava to solve the mystery of what’s wrong in Winterkeep.

Lovisa Cavenda is the teenage daughter of a powerful Scholar and Industrialist (the opposing governing parties) with a fire inside her that is always hungry, always just nearly about to make something happen. She is the key to everything, but only if she can figure out what’s going on before anyone else, and only if she’s willing to transcend the person she’s been all her life.


Title : Winterkeep
Author : Kristin Cashore
Series : Graceling Realm (book four)
Format : eARC/paperback
Page Count : 528
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Dial Books
Release Date : January 19, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5 


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

Woe, for I am bummed.

Lets start with the good : where this book really shines is the worldbuilding. While the world had expanned a time or two in the first three books of the Graceling Realm series, it goes even further in Winterkeep. That plus the in-book passage of time, and new problems, is what keeps this series feeling fresh and, particularly in the case of coming back to a series so many years after publishing what seemed to be the final book, makes it feel less like the cash grab we so often see. But that said..

Maybe had I not just reread the first three books I wouldn’t have noticed as much (though that isn’t to say I would’ve liked it any more than I did..) but none of the recurring characters felt true to form. Giddon, in particular, felt strange as if he didn’t quite fit into the shape he’d once been formed of, and Bitterblue.. I don’t know. She was a harder character to like throughout the series but she was a character you could respect, to sympathize with, and yet she also felt a little untethered in this book, too. As for the new introductions? Didn’t like a single one.

The plot itself felt disjointed but I’m used to Cashore stringing us along on a wild ride that only starts to make sense near the end, but this one? I don’t know. Basically everything from the characters to their motivations, and how it drove the plot and their machinations, nothing really felt all that solid. I both appreciated and yet hated the inclusion of yet another twisty and toxic emotional dynamic, because it’s definitely important to shed light on and have young readers educated on how it’s not acceptable, but combined with the fact that I wasn’t enjoying the story, or the character who took the brunt of it all? Yeah, it was tough.

I think there was potential here, for sure, and I definitely maybe had too high a set of expectations after revisiting and rediscovering my love for books one to three all over again, but.. this just didn’t work for me. Not as a fan of the series or as just a reader of fantasy. I couldn’t love it, could barely like it, and it seemed to take me way too long to get through. I’m sad.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who hasn’t read already the Graceling Realm books but I would also caution fans to lower their expectations. I have no idea if this is kicking out even more books to come in this world but, despite how I feel about this one, I would still read more.

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