YOU AND ME ON VACATION by Emily Henry – double review!

Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart–she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown–but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.

Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since.

Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together–lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees.

Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?


Title : You and Me On Vacation (UK) / People We Meet On Vacation
Author : Emily Henry
Narrator : Julia Whelan
Format : Paperback/Audio/eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : romance
Publisher : Penguin UK / Berkley
Release Date : May 11, 2021

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Roller coaster friendship/love
Holiday vibes
Chem-is-try

There was nothing that I didn’t enjoy about Emily Henry’s upcoming release. The fact that she delivers on summery read to remember (again) and that I was lucky to read and listen in tandem to this book. Both formats were as good as one another.

You and Me on Vacation was told over a number of summers, charting the most lovely friendship; in the main this was platonic…until it wasn’t. Then, oh boy, the chemistry set fire to the pages, slowly.

We’re magnets, trying to draw together even as we cradle the careful distance between us.

In all the ways, both Poppy and Alex were opposite in personality and goals. They worked so well as friends and their summer trips were fun expeditions and something they both lived for. I loved seeing these trips unfurl as the years were recounted. I loved the people they met, the places they went but nothing was more interesting than THIS SUMMER. I loved getting back to that narrative.

The pages of this book, the minutes of the audio just turned themselves and I was sad to get to the end. Emily Henry knows how to inject just a little drama and tension with a great contemporary story. I’m here for next summer’s installment!

Narration-wise, this was single POV and single narration and it was excellent. I got all the sense of characterisation and the emotional feels from the listen. It’s such a perfect format to absorb the story while on literal vacation!

Thank you to Penguin for the gorgeous book and audio early copies.


Hollis’ 4 star review

I absolutely loved Beach Read so to say People We Meet On Vacation was highly anticipated would be an understatement. Expectations were high (sorry self! sorry book!). Then I found out it was a best-friends-to-lovers romance and I braced myself; it’s not one of my favourite tropes (though I like it a lot more than second chance romances) and the track record for enjoyment has been pretty hit or miss. I don’t mind people who initially start as friends and transition but long-time friends to more? I don’t know, I’m generally not sold.

But this might be a new favourite?

He is tall, quiet, and eager to see the library. I’m short, loud, and hoping someone comes by and invites us to a real party. By the time we part ways, I’m fairly confident we’ll never speak again.

The way this story was told flirts with that “one day a year in the life” concept but in a much better way. Also, on the topic, the flashback element? Solid. Sometimes it just does not work well but it was so good. Particularly how it built. Also also this was one of the better-done third act breakups (it’s not a spoiler, we all know to expect it!) because I hate manufactured drama and this just felt perfectly timed for r e a s o n s.

When a hot babe approaches you at a bar, the number one thing you should not bring up is your codependent relationship with your asshole cat.”
First of all, Flannery O’Connor is not an asshole. She’s shy.”
She’s evil.
She just doesn’t like you. You have strong dog energy.”

This doesn’t quite get full marks from me but I think that’s my fault. Mostly. The ARC has some minor but annoying formatting issues, yes, but more than anything I think I just read this too fast. I did not savour this experience and I wonder if maybe I should’ve soaked up the feels and the nuance and the awkward and the everything else that this book did such a good job of doing. I will definitely be adding this to the re-read pile and I hope to eventually come back and bump this up a little higher. But it’s still such a great time. Because of the sorta-grumpy-sunshine mix. The millenial ennui. The way so much just didn’t go according to plan. The heart. The so much more I’m not even touching on.

I think you’ll like this! And if nothing else you can live vicariously through the vacation and jetsetting. That alone is worth picking this up. The laughs and swoons are just a bonus.

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

A VOW SO BOLD AND DEADLY by Brigid Kemmerer – double review!

Face your fears, fight the battle.

Emberfall is crumbling fast, torn between those who believe Rhen is the rightful prince and those who are eager to begin a new era under Grey, the true heir. Grey has agreed to wait two months before attacking Emberfall, and in that time, Rhen has turned away from everyone—even Harper, as she desperately tries to help him find a path to peace. 

Fight the battle, save the kingdom.

Meanwhile, Lia Mara struggles to rule Syhl Shallow with a gentler hand than her mother. But after enjoying decades of peace once magic was driven out of their lands, some of her subjects are angry Lia Mara has an enchanted prince and a magical scraver by her side. As Grey’s deadline draws nearer, Lia Mara questions if she can be the queen her country needs.

As the two kingdoms come closer to conflict, loyalties are tested, love is threatened, and a dangerous enemy returns, in this stunning conclusion to bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series.


Title : A Vow So Bold and Deadly
Author : Brigid Kemmerer
Series : Cursebreakers (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)/audio review
Page Count : 408
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Bloomsbury YA/Audio
Release Date : January 26, 2021

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


Hollis’ 3 star review

I think I’m only actually bothering to review this one because I have reviews for the first two on the blog and so my completionist gene poked me to.. well, complete the trilogy of reviews. But overall I really don’t have much to say?

I think ultimately what failed this series, though, was the villain. Where it worked was that often the stakes did feel high because the violence and death toll was real. The author did not shy away from some of the more brutal consequences. But at the same time.. like, it felt not high at all? I still struggle with the motivations of it all, really. It felt a bit like a misstep because the whole conflict felt off balance. And then ultimately.. I mean, really? All that for.. what.

But likewise I feel like the other characters, too, had their moments with this. Maybe that’s why this series never achieved great heights for me. I think I like the concepts and the unfolding of the story but kept getting knocked out of it because the characters themselves didn’t quite match the rest.

Having said that, though, the big confrontation conflict moment? Confusing. Chaos. Hard to follow. And then.. over. That is my biggest gripe with this particular installment. I had lost the love over the main pairing back at the end of book one, or early two, so I was only into the secondary pairing, and they definitely delivered. The first? Less so. But I think that also plays into me just not being into the main plot? And is why I liked book two more? Did I rate this book too high? Is this actually a 2.5? Hm.

Anyway. Overall, this series had some things to like about it but also had enough that either didn’t pan out or just didn’t work for me. But it also made for quick reads (this one being no exception) and I’m not mad about the time I spent in this world; but nor will they linger in my memory; which is totally fine. I need every ounce of salvagable free space in my brain I can get.


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Family fighting
New roles for old friends
The threat of war

I’m feeling an overall sense of satisfaction with where the series has left readers and the latter part of the reading journey was incredibly fulfilling. Some of the middle journey didn’t always keep me fully engaged.

The two factions of this story were really pitched against one another at the end of the previous book with the queen of evil in the middle. I appreciated the stories on both sides of this but what has been hugely interesting to me has been my own feelings across the series as I’ve gravitated from one set of characters to another in terms of loyalty. I wanted to stay in Grey’s crew and had to remind myself to care about Rhen and Harper. I do feel like Harper’s character has faded a little across the series. Lia Mara still left me feeling a bit ambivalent.

Things I enjoyed about this installment included the strategy, the uncertainty that characters had of one another, healing of old hurts and reconciliations. It felt good to complete the series.

This was an audio listen and I enjoyed the narrators, the atmosphere and the general vibe of the book in this format. There was an early slip up with one narrator saying ‘Lia Maria’ instead of Lia Mara a few times, but it didn’t get repeated more than twice.

Readers new to the series will get to power through the three books and I think this will be a great binge.

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for this audio review copy.

BLACK SUN by Rebecca Roanhorse

The first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.

A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.


Title : Black Sun
Author : Rebecca Roanhorse
Series : Between Earth and Sky (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 464
Genre : fantasy / sci-fi
Publisher : Gallery / Saga Press
Release Date : October 13, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

So obviously this isn’t the five star review all my friends, and likely your friends, are writing. So skip right by.

For the second time in the last month (maybe.. what even is time) or so I have attempted to dive into a fantasy to pull me out of this endless slump and for the second time.. it has not worked. Has, in fact, failed miserably. This is probably, very likely, a me thing; hence the skipping.

What works? This isn’t yet another generic-Euro-centric fantasy. The writing is easy; I chewed through this very quickly despite the chonkyness. It was very queer.

That’s all I got. I know, I suck, I’m sorry.

Give this a try, you’ll probably like it.

PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir – double review!

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission – and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crew mates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realises that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian – while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.


Title : Project Hail Mary
Author : Andy Weir
Format : eARC
Page Count : 448
Genre : Sci-Fi
Publisher : Del Rey UK
Release Date : May 4, 2021

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


Micky’s 5 star review

Headlines:
Rookie astronaut
Dystopia background
A rainbow of emotions

Just wow. I feel like Project Hail Mary has spoilt me for other books in 2021 and it’s only April. So much could be said about the plot but everything would potentially be spoilery, so this review will be more about the reading experience than context. All I can say about context is that Earth was in peril, the protagonist Ryland Grace was an unusual ‘saviour’ and that the story was complex but so wonderfully deep and follow-able. I highlighted a lot but again, no quotes shared here so as not to spoil.

I am science-geeky, I like my sci-fi reads to be well grounded in science and good research. This book had all that and more. For me, this book might just top The Martian or at least tie, in terms of that kind of goodness. What we got in this book was a deep sophistication of writing alongside the most amazing plot.

I didn’t expect the story direction but I delighted in it. I adored Rocky and that Rookie-Rocky connection so damn much. I loved the linguistics, the materials, the experiments, the in-space context as well as the earth context. The past and present narrative was excellently executed and not overused. It had a real purpose in this story and when answers from the past came, they really were worth the wait.

There were so many banter-y moments of dialogue/monologue, sarcasm, laugh out loud moments that made this signature Weir. However, there were bucket-loads of tension and surprisingly, I found myself in tears twice, once in sadness and another time in pure joy.

I cannot imagine this not being at the top ten of 2021 reads, it’s definitely a contender and totally unforgettable. Please, please can we have a film too? I imagine this is going to be epic on audio and so I’ll be planning in a re-read that way.

Thank you DelReyUK for the early review copy, you made my year!


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

So I definitely did not like this as much as my buddy (hi buddy!) but I did like it.

Despite my insane love for The Martian (the movie), I’ve actually not read the book, or any Weir, so this was my first experience with the author. And wow he really doesn’t skimp on the science! Page after page had me feeling more and more stupid but it was also.. easy to follow? Like, nothing was dummed down but it was still explained in a way that I understand. So on behalf of dummies everywhere, thank you?

While there was some humour, however, I didn’t much like the dialogue. Whether this character in particular was supposed to be a little weird or a little silly or just offbeat, or that’s just how the author writes (I can’t say!), I don’t know. But I found it was a weird balance.

There is plenty of uncertainty, suspense, some feels, and yes, a few laughs. There are definitely moments that stand out for me (Rocky!) but overall I don’t think I’ll think much about this overall. But that said, this is very actiony and tense and exciting and, honestly, will make a fabulous movie. I would definitely watch it.

JUST LAST NIGHT by Mhairi McFarlane

International bestseller Mhairi McFarlane explores lifelong friendships, long-buried secrets, and unexpected love in a heartfelt, emotional new novel, perfect for fans of Evvie Drake Starts Over, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, or In Five Years.

Eve, Justin, Susie, and Ed have been friends since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, the four are as close as ever, Thursday night bar trivia is sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed. Maybe she should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed still thinks about it, too.

But then, in an instant, their lives are changed forever.

In the aftermath, Eve’s world is upended. As stunning secrets are revealed, she begins to wonder if she really knew her friends as well as she thought. And when someone from the past comes back into her life, Eve’s future veers in a surprising new direction…

They say every love story starts with a single moment. What if it was just last night?


Title : Just Last Night
Author : Mhairi McFarlane
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : women’s fiction
Publisher : William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date : May 4, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

‘I’ll just pick this up to kill an hour or two before dinner’, she thought. ‘That’s all. Just dip my toe in and then read the rest later or tomorrow.. ‘

.. fast forward to four hours later when I have not even moved from the couch. I swear. No pee breaks, no food, nada. I love that feeling. Also I should’ve known better because not only is it me but it’s also a McFarlane book.

Is my face covered in tears? Yes. Was this exactly what I (even limited #NoBlurber that I am) thought it would be? Nope. Did I love it anyway? Obviously.

This feels like the most McFarlane book to McFarlane since I read Don’t You Forget About Me in 2019. I’ve experimented with some of the author’s backlist, read her most recent release, and now this one. But this is the closest I’ve got to that all-consuming feeling I first had a few years ago upon discovering this author. If you’ve read her before, you know exactly what I mean.

I’m honestly without any kind of words. I’m just feelings. I laughed, I cried, I did both some more, and mostly I just marveled at how good she is at creating complicated messes that don’t feel like someone who is contriving to write about complicated messes. It feels like eavesdropping on real lives, people you sort’ve know, and are therefore invested in. No perfect specimens, no uncomplicated situations. Just real.

I still have a few McFarlane’s to dip into but in looking back through my memories of what I have read I think where I waffle is sometimes I’m just not into the romance element. I’m here for the wit, the biting truthbombs, and the friendships, but sometimes I’m not sold on the romance. I do still think Don’t You Forget About Me tops the chart, even in that respect, but this was the closest I’ve had since. And just, overall, I loved every single thing about it, too.

If you’ve yet to try this author you absolutely must.

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

RULE OF WOVES by Leigh Bardugo

The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times-bestselling King of Scars Duology.

The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible. 

The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.

King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.


Title : Rule of Wolves
Author : Leigh Bardugo
Series : King of Scars (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 598
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Imprint
Release Date : March 30, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

So I think I’m in a pretty similar space and feeling about this book as I was with book one. It didn’t quite deliver the kicking of ass I expected but I was a lot less bored. And yet..

I don’t know, I feel like this book did a lot of good, or great things, but I think I enjoyed it because of the whole. This really is a ‘verse now, and we had even more reunions and cameos in this follow up installment than we did in book one, and I did enjoy myself. But this particular book and series? I don’t know.

But what this spinoff set up for us to come? Some of the loose ends, or unknowns, it tied up and revealed to us? I mean, I’m pretty satisfied.

While I was less bored, which was my main complaint about King of Scars, this did take me a huge chunk of the day to get through (and yes it a chonky book in general) because it just didn’t compell me, capture my attention, keep me from reaching for twitter. But despite that it did keep me reading all day which is in short supply lately (always).

So, make of all this what you will! I will continue to reach for books, or whatever kind of content (one week as of the writing of this before the show!) Bardugo offers us, but is this series a favourite? No. Maybe on reread? Who can say. But I had a good time anyway.

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.