HERO AT THE FALL by Alwyn Hamilton

When gunslinging Amani Al’Hiza escaped her dead-end town, she never imagined she’d join a revolution, let alone lead one. But after the bloodthirsty Sultan of Miraji imprisoned the Rebel Prince Ahmed in the mythical city of Eremot, she doesn’t have a choice. Armed with only her revolver, her wits, and her untameable Demdji powers, Amani must rally her skeleton crew of rebels for a rescue mission through the unforgiving desert to a place that, according to maps, doesn’t exist. As she watches those she loves most lay their lives on the line against ghouls and enemy soldiers, Amani questions whether she can be the leader they need or if she is leading them all to their deaths.


Title : Hero at the Fall
Author : Alwyn Hamilton
Series : Rebel of the Sands (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 471
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date : March 6, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 4 star review

Initially, as I sat down to write this review, I found myself a bit at a loss as to what to say about this finale except that.. I am satisfied.

I don’t know why it took until book three for me to realize this but Hamilton did not pull punches. Your favourite characters took beatings, bullets, and may even have been buried (well, burned, because they don’t bury bodies in this world due to spooky night crawlies, but you get the idea). No one was safe.

And yeah, I cried. Twice. Because no one was safe.

I loved how the author would sneak in little snippets, little stories outside of (but part of) the story, and how that helped to end it, too. I think it helped to make this a little less perfectly wrapped up, no further problems, and instead gave their future more depth, more realism, because winning the war doesn’t prevent future battles.

That might not make much sense unless you’re read it, so I’ll move on.

As for the romance, which had dogged me a little in the sense that it was the least substantial-feeling of the plot points, well. I don’t know. I think I still stand by that. It wasn’t the strongest element, by far. But there were a few really good moments, one that made me cry, that proved Hamilton could’ve convince me. Not always but there was.. something.. there. I’ll take it.

The worldbuilding, the mythologies, the stories, none of it ever stopped growing. This world, the magic, the genesis of the Djinnis, it was so interesting, felt so effortlessly woven together, but the detail to do so was complex. I have no idea what Hamilton will be doing next (GR and amazon say 2025, bookdepository says 2022, it’s a mystery), but I will be reading more from her, whatever it might be, for sure.

Suffice it to say I had a really enjoyable time with this world and I’m so glad I slapped this one onto my Five Series to Finish in 2021 list. I’m very happy to not only have completed this but have had such a good time with it, too. Unrelated to this review, but for those keeping track (spoiler : I don’t expect any one to be keeping track, elle oh elle), this leaves me with just one more series from said post to chew through. And naturally I’ve left the most intimidating for last because why wouldn’t I. But seeing as the Diviners series always felt like a fall-time read.. well. It’s also perfect timing.

As for this series, though? I would definitely recommend.

WHO’S THAT GIRL by Mhairi McFarlane

What’s the one thing you DON’T do at a wedding?

When Edie is caught in a compromising position at her colleagues’ wedding, all the blame falls on her – turns out that personal popularity in the office is not that different from your schooldays. Shamed online and ostracised by everyone she knows, her boss suggests an extended sabbatical – ghostwriting an autobiography for hot new acting talent, Elliot Owen. Easy, right?

Wrong. Banished back to her home town of Nottingham, Edie is not only dealing with a man who probably hasn’t heard the word ‘no’ in a decade, but also suffering an excruciating regression to her teenage years as she moves back in with her widowed father and judgey, layabout sister.

When the world is asking who you are, it’s hard not to question yourself. Who’s that girl? Edie is ready to find out.


Title : Who’s That Girl
Author : Mhairi McFarlane
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 544
Genre : women’s fiction / contemporary romance
Publisher : HarperCollins
Release Date : November 19, 2015

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

Even though I can probably admit to myself that this isn’t my usual five-star feeling, I can’t help but award it top marks anyway. Because McFarlane, as she so often does, does so many things right with this book, with her characters, with the situations, life lessons, and emotions she explores; and add to it that this might be the more romance-forward of her books..? It was so great. Though, having said that, it might be one of the less outright funny ones, too. Definitely clever, lots of banter and some great one-liners, but this author often makes me laugh as hard as she makes me cry and this had a softer hand with both of those things.

She didn’t want to be That Girl. The girl with the sad story attached. She wanted to define herself, not be defined by an event over which she had no control [..]. That’s what people with comfortable lives who were only playing the victim didn’t understand, how they gave themselves away – if you’d actually been one, you were desperate to shed the label. You craved the normality that had been taken from you.

As usual, McFarlane sets up a circumstance in such an everyday person way, with a character who is not perfect and has to work through what has gone wrong. In this case, having a friendship with an affianced coworker that crossed some emotional boundaries; which then leads to a complication when, on said coworker’s wedding day, he kisses her. And she’s caught reacting too slowly and is then, well, caught by the bride. The blame game then goes full force and because of being emotionally compromised by the man, and the friendship, she is caught between some real guilt and some real betrayal when he is forgiven and she isn’t and, of course, has to recalibrate while she hopes things blow over.

You built him up to be something he wasn’t. We women are prone to it, I think. No matter how grown up and independent we think we are, I swear we have a brain illness from childhood where we think a man on a white horse is going to turn up at some point and fix everything. And when he doesn’t turn up, and he can’t fix anything even when he does, we think we did something wrong.”

I think, hands down, one of my favourite things about every single McFarlane is the friend group. And this one is no exception. And through those friends, and even some strangers, Edie faces some very different conversations and perspectives not only on the messy situation but also how the treatment that lead her to it is something she allows to happen to her over and over. The real talk was real. But seriously, the friend group? A+. Made even better when pitted up against those she thought were her friends but turn out not to be.

What happens now, do we all go on dating sites and start Veet-ing our privates? If there’s one thing to be said for long-term relationships, it’s the freedom to have un-groomed genitals. Pubic fashions can come and go and you care not a jot.
Hairy’s back in anyway. Hairy’s the new bald.”
I’m not Veet-ing my balls for any woman. And I’m pretty sure demand for my bare ballsack is nil. When did people start liking this macabre stuff?

Sidenote, while it is always very satisfying and romantic when a love interest stands up for their person, it’s even more satisfying when the main character does it for themselves. And Edie’s moment? Beautiful. It would’ve been better had she not had to, of course, but still.

Look. That isn’t real life. That person they’re talking about isn’t you. There’s another version of you, multiple versions of you, walking around out there. You have to let it go, or you’ll go mad. Trust me on this. Keep these words in your head : those who know me better, know better.

What necessitated that beautiful moment was the relentless bullying and smear campaign against her. McFarlane tackles online bullying and how social media makes it easy to be vile others because people are turned into targets, symbols, or abstract archetypes, not.. well, human beings. And it was hard to read. Because we’ve all seen it happen to others or been impacted by it ourselves. This does, however, work as an interesting contrast as there is a character dealing with fame and the media on a larger scale and how, even when mostly positive, being talked about, with everyone assuming things about you or spinning a narrative, is difficult.

Find the man who appreciates you at your best, not the one who confirms your worst suspicions about yourself.”

As for the romance, it was so easy to root for it because the reader, unlike Edie, is far from oblivious to the love interest’s intentions. And we had lots of page time to really know him, too, even without his POV. There was something that worried me about how it would pan out but.. I can’t say more for spoilers. I can see why the ending is a bit polarizing but honestly I think that’s part of why this gets a five. It made me so happy because I thought for sure we’d end with something else.

The way I see it, you get people who are important to you, for as long as you get them. You never know how long it will be. You have to accept it and make use of the time you have.”

I mentioned the humour was a little toned down and so were the emotions. But this does also deal with grief, two kinds, and you will very likely get choked up a few times. I know I did. There’s even a sticky family dynamic that got to me, too.

Who’s That Girl is funny without being a comedy, is emotional without being devastating, sweet without any sugary cringe, and full of those good warm fuzzies when a character comes out stronger and knowing themselves better, especially when surrounded by a great support group.

Definitely recommend.


WHITE SMOKE by Tiffany D. Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House meets Get Out in this chilling YA psychological thriller and modern take on the classic haunted house story from New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson!

Marigold is running from ghosts. The phantoms of her old life keep haunting her, but a move with her newly blended family from their small California beach town to the embattled Midwestern city of Cedarville might be the fresh start she needs. Her mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty ten-year-old stepsister, Piper.

The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its . . . secrets. That’s only half the problem: household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone.

But “running from ghosts” is just a metaphor, right?

As the house closes in, Mari learns that the danger isn’t limited to Maple Street. Cedarville has its secrets, too. And secrets always find their way through the cracks.


Title : White Smoke
Author : Tiffany D. Jackson
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA psychological thriller
Publisher : Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date : September 14, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 review

Throughout this read, I was definitely in the ‘like’ camp more than the ‘love’ and had it been the opposite I would’ve been far more disappointed by the ending than I was. But it was still a huge, abrupt, bummer.

This story is half horror and half psychological anxiety fuelled discomfort. It also has a less than fun new blended family dynamic which was grating in a whole different way, too. I enjoyed this was it was a horror, I was equally horrified by the circumstances that had plagued this town, the violent gentrification that had occurred (and was still occurring) at the expense of others; but at the same time this particular plot sort’ve went off the rails in an unbelievable way (not the criminalizations, that, unfortunately is very believable, but the shady corporate conspiracy and the specifics of what they had set up..? yeah, no) — which, considering I was reading about ghosts and hauntings and potential possession, says a lot.

As a haunted house story, this was great. For someone with an anxiety, reading about Mari’s phobias, it was just as unsettling. Everything else, and the ending.. I don’t know. Equally in the ‘I don’t know’ pile of things is the reluctance for Mari to jump to the very obvious conclusions about what was happening around her. Why she was so slow to pick up on this, to resist it when others were more convinced, I have no clue.

This one gets a cautious recommend out of me, I think. I absolutely don’t want to dissuade you from picking it up but at the same time it isn’t going to encourage anyone to read it.. just incase it’s even less a hit for you than it was for me.

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

FRECKLES by Cecelia Ahern 🎧

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

When a stranger utters these words to Allegra Bird, nicknamed Freckles, it turns her highly ordered life upside down. In her current life as a parking warden, she has left her eccentric father and unconventional childhood behind for a bold new life in the city.

But a single encounter leads her to ask the question she’s been avoiding for so long: who are the people who made her the way she is? And who are the five people who can shape and determine her future? Just as she once joined the freckles on her skin to mirror the constellations in the night sky, she must once again look for connections.

Told in Allegra’s vivid, original voice, moving from Dublin to the fierce Atlantic coast, this is an unforgettable story of human connection, of friendship, and growing into your own skin.

Five people. Five stars. Freckle to freckle. Star to star.


Title : Freckles
Author : Cecelia Ahern
Narrator : Amy McAllister
Format : Audiobook
Length : 10 hours, 40 minutes
Genre : Women’s Fiction
Publisher : Harper Collins Audio
Release Date : September 2, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 2.5 star review

Headlines:
Quirky
Small town
Eclectic cast

I’m always up for reading a book by Cecelia Ahern, she always brings the unexpected with her women’s fiction and contemporary tales. This one however, didn’t hit the spot for me although the format of audio was pretty great and kept me going.

The protagonist, Allegra (Freckles) was an incredibly quirky character with some neurodivergent characteristics (it seemed). She was endearing in lots of ways and as a character I was drawn in. Add in Tristan, Pops, Spanner and others, there were lots of pluses. There were also a bunch of characters I couldn’t stand like Becky and Carmencita, the latter being horrendous and she was supposed to be. I felt rather mixed about the characters by the end.

I struggled with the plot most of the way through. At first, I felt engaged with this small town, her life as a traffic warden and the strict routine of the day, but it lost its shine with repetitiveness. By half way, the pace was slow and I’d lost interest. I didn’t feel much by the culmination.

The narration was excellent and it truly kept me going throughout the book. So this was the right format for me. Sadly, overall Freckles didn’t work its way into my heart and I do feel a little disappointed.

Thank you to Harper Collins for the review copies.

Thank you to netgalley and Harper Collins Audio for the early review copy.

THE GIRLS I’VE BEEN by Tess Sharpe

A slick, twisty YA page-turner about the daughter of a con artist who is taken hostage in a bank heist.

Nora O’Malley’s been a lot of girls. As the daughter of a con-artist who targets criminal men, she grew up as her mother’s protégé. But when mom fell for the mark instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con: escape.

For five years Nora’s been playing at normal. But she needs to dust off the skills she ditched because she has three problems:

#1: Her ex walked in on her with her girlfriend. Even though they’re all friends, Wes didn’t know about her and Iris.

#2: The morning after Wes finds them kissing, they all have to meet to deposit the fundraiser money they raised at the bank. It’s a nightmare that goes from awkward to deadly, because:

#3: Right after they enter bank, two guys start robbing it.

The bank robbers may be trouble, but Nora’s something else entirely. They have no idea who they’re really holding hostage…


Title : The Girls I’ve Been
Author : Tess Sharpe
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA contemporary thriller
Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date : January 26, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

This was.. wow.

I don’t know what I expected when I picked this up (#NoBlurbers) but this was an off the cuff recommendation from a friend of mine (hi Sam!) and I saw my library had it so thought, hey, why not. And wow.

[..] she kissed me like I was prickly, like I was already understood, like I was worth it.

I really don’t even know where to begin. Within these pages you’ll find con artists, queer humans, trauma, clever girls, one of the absolute best representations of found family I’ve ever read, sharp edges, devoted sisters, dangerous situations, and the absolute will to survive.

I hate the whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” saying. It’s bullshit. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you is worse. Sometimes what kills you is preferable. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you messes you up so bad it’s always a fight to make it through what you’re left with.

Some books inspire paragraphs upon paragraphs of words and sometimes you’re just just staring at a blinking cursor. This is obviously the latter.

Netflix has apparently snatched this up to be adapted, with Millie Bobby Brown to star, and that is incredibly exciting. If they capture even half the magic of Sharpe’s words, pacing, and general vibe, it’ll be amazing. More amazing? It might get more people wanting to read the source material. Which you absolutely should. And, yes, I will be chewing through the author’s backlist between now and then.

Highly recommend.

TRAITOR TO THE THRONE by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel by chance. Traitor by choice.

Gunslinger Amani al’Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne. 

When Amani finds herself thrust into the epicenter of the regime—the Sultan’s palace—she’s determined to bring the tyrant down. Desperate to uncover the Sultan’s secrets by spying on his court, she tries to forget that Jin disappeared just as she was getting closest to him, and that she’s a prisoner of the enemy. But the longer she remains, the more she questions whether the Sultan is really the villain she’s been told he is, and who’s the real traitor to her sun-bleached, magic-filled homeland.

Forget everything you thought you knew about Miraji, about the rebellion, about Djinn and Jin and the Blue-Eyed Bandit. In Traitor to the Throne, the only certainty is that everything will change.


Title : Traitor to the Throne
Author : Alwyn Hamilton
Series : Rebel of the Sands (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 523
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date : March 7, 2017

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 4 star review

Fittingly for a book with the word ‘traitor’ in the title, I think the subheading should be : trust no one. Because wow, just when you think you know a body..

This book did so many things differently than book one did but what was very apparent is that Rebel of the Sands was just the tip of the iceberg for this world, this story, and there’s really no way to tell how it’s going to end.

Confusingly, we start this book with a bit of a time jump, brushing over events that have happened off page, and then only get some explanation quite a few chapters later. It definitely puts the reader on the back foot for a bit, and I don’t know why, but I guess we had to get to a certain place by a certain time and considering this page count was already significantly higher than book one.. maybe there was little choice in the manner? But it does brace you for the plot to take a turn and the merry little band of rebels we’ve been so used to being around, well.. we lose them for most of this book. It’s just a whole lot of different.

We also, as a result, lost the focus on the romance, which, hey, I mean, they have bigger things to worry about, so it’s realistic, but it’s also because our lovebirds are separated (see aforementioned loss o’rebels); however as a result it didn’t quite solidify my feelings about it. I had actually, conversely, wanted more time spent on it to make it feel more real. I like it but I don’t feel it, y’know?

Everything else though was pretty solid. The action, though lulled for a bit due to Reasons, really kicks off in the last 30%, and in the build up to that we get different sides to characters we had only ever heard about, people from Amani’s past, and all sorts of shifted dynamics. It was very interesting. I won’t say it was always very interesting, this book is long and some bits didn’t hold my attention like others did, but I still had a good time.

Can’t wait to see how this ends.

BLACKOUT by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon

Six critically acclaimed, bestselling, and award-winning authors bring the glowing warmth and electricity of Black teen love to this interlinked novel of charming, hilarious, and heartwarming stories that shine a bright light through the dark.

A summer heatwave blankets New York City in darkness. But as the city is thrown into confusion, a different kind of electricity sparks…

A first meeting. 

Long-time friends. 

Bitter exes. 

And maybe the beginning of something new.

When the lights go out, people reveal hidden truths. Love blossoms, friendship transforms, and new possibilities take flight.

Beloved authors—Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon—celebrate the beauty of six couples and the unforgettable magic that can be found on a sweltering starry night in the city.


Title : Blackout
Author : Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 256
Genre : contemporary / diverse reads
Publisher : Quill Tree Books
Release Date : June 22, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

I’m leaving this unrated and instead rating the stories separately with mini reviews.

Tiffany D Jackson’s story, The Long Walk, is the main driving force of these interconnected stories of Black kids during a city-wide blackout, with four parts that break up the anthology. This story focuses on a couple who have since broken up and both happen to arrive an internship there’s only one spot for. Before it can be resolved, the blackout hits. With nothing else to do, they agree to walk home together and, along the way, hash out their issues. This definitely got a bit overwrought at times, I’m mostly thinking of Act Three, and maybe I’m just used to Jackson’s more mature stories but this felt very.. young, on the childish end of YA, despite the fact that the characters were eighteen. And it’s such a bummer as I’ve loved so many stories from this author. But this one just didn’t do it. Two stars.

Mask Off by Nic Stone : a coming out/coming of age short between two boys who weren’t ever quite friends but were in each other’s orbit throughout the years. Until a queer masquerade party brings them together.. in a way. But it isn’t until they are stuck on the train together when the blackout hits that the masks (not literally!) come off. Honestly, this one was just.. fine. Nothing really remarkable. Two stars.

Made to Fit by Ashley Woodfolk : this short was set in an senior’s living facility, where two girls, one the granddaughter of a resident and the other, who visits the seniors with her therapy dog, meet. When a photo goes missing, the two girls search the home and, as they spend time together, sparks fly. This was a little too insta for me but it tied in with the theme of all the epic love stories being told around them. It was also a tiny bit repetitive RE the granddaughter’s sorta ex but it was cute. Three stars.

All the Great Love Stories.. and Dust by Dhonielle Clayton : hmm, sorta mixed feelings about this one. I love the idea of these two best friends with their history of bets combing through a library to find the greatest book of all time. She’s working up the courage to tell him how she feels and we get pieces of their history together; he’s got a revolving door of girlfriends, she never bothers. Does he feel for her what she feels for him? Again, love the concept, but some of this, despite being a novella, dragged out a bit. The pacing was a little off. But, still, it was cute. Three stars.

No Sleep Till Brooklyn by Angie Thomas : this short features a girl on a tour bus, on a school trip from Mississippi, struggling with feelings for her crush.. when she already has a boyfriend. I’m not going to say much more about this and risk spoiling it, because it didn’t end the way I expected, but the tie-in is that the driver is another character’s father and he may have accidentally gone off-route to drive them towards the block party happening in Brooklyn, where all the other characters we’ve met so far are also planning to attend. Four stars. And, in hindsight, though I loved Yoon’s writing best, this was my favourite story.

Seymour & Grace by Nicola Yoon : easily the best written of the bunch! And I enjoyed the story, too, even if it felt extra short. A girl is trying to find her way to the block party all the characters have made it to where she plans to confront her ex who dumped her because she’d “changed”. She ends up in a Ryde with someone listening to a philosophy podcast and they strike up a conversation; but it’s a rocky meeting. Things go wrong on the way to their destination but, eventually, they get there. And then.. well. Spoilers. I would’ve loved an extra chapter of this, instead of the extended Jackson story, and I’m sad it was so short. It’s a softer story but felt very Yoon-like. Which is a good thing. Four stars.

But while the little throw away tie-ins in Yoon’s story to bring everyone into the story, into the party, was nice, it still boggles my mind we didn’t get a concluding chapter that made it feel, after all this build up, that we were actually at this party?.That’s still confusing. It just kind of ends. Even though the Jackson wasn’t my favourite story, it held the anthology together, working as the glue. So couldn’t we have had a proper ending?

Overall, this wasn’t bad, but I expected to love a lot more from this bind-up than I did. So that’s a bit of a bummer. But I’ve not read anything by Woodfolk or Clayton before, though I’ve definitely had the latter on my radar, and I will definitely be picking up their solo offerings in the future.

THE HOLLOW HEART by Marie Rutkoski – double review!

Intrigue, romance, and magic abound in the heart-stopping conclusion to Marie Rutkoski’s Forgotten Gods duology.

At the end of The Midnight Lie, Nirrim offered up her heart to the God of Thieves in order to restore her people’s memories of their city’s history. The Half Kith who once lived imprisoned behind the city’s wall now realize that many among them are powerful. Meanwhile, the person Nirrim once loved most, Sid, has returned to her home country of Herran, where she must navigate the politics of being a rogue princess who has finally agreed to do her duty.

In the Herrani court, rumors begin to grow of a new threat rising across the sea, of magic unleashed on the world, and of a cruel, black-haired queen who can push false memories into your mind, so that you believe your dearest friends to be your enemies.

Sid doesn’t know that this queen is Nirrim, who seeks her revenge against a world that has wronged her. Can Sid save Nirrim from herself? Does Nirrim even want to be saved? As blood is shed and war begins, Sid and Nirrim find that it might not matter what they want…for the gods have their own plans.


Title : The Hollow Heart
Author : Marie Rutkoski
Series : Forgotten Gods #2
Format : Hardback / eBook
Page Count : 384
Genre : Fantasy
Publisher : Hodderscape / Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Release Date : September 9, 2021 / September 14, 2021

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
A treat for Winner’s Trilogy fans
Emotions in shreds

Ooof, what a read and culmination to this duology set within The Winner’s Trilogy world. I have been on an emotional roller coaster, I’m a little dizzy and sad it’s over. The Sid and Nirrim from The Midnight Lie were different in this story, one more mature and the other completely different; I was utterly glued to the page.

I lived for the time in with Sid and others (trying not to give too much away here) in Herrani and I simply loved time with those characters of old, seeing them in a different light, through a different lens. Sid really grew from that cad-ish character we saw in book one to a person with self-realisation over a number of factors. There were a number of clever twists to the tale in Herrani. Seeing Sid’s mother in a state of weakness was kind of shocking, her father was warm and strong. Ohhh, the feels here.

I found reading about Nirrim discomforting, her situation was painful as were her actions. I longed for restoration of her lost self and connection with those she had loved. I found the whole separation of these two painful, emotional and compelling. The weaving in of the forgotten gods was also clever plotting.

It wrapped up quickly towards the finish and I definitely could have managed some more of what happened after but I’m not complaining. This is one of the strongest and enjoyable fantasy duologies I’ve read in a while and both installments were equally as good as one another. Marie Rutkoski remains one of those authors who I am drawn to on plot and characterisation with a unique fantasy world. Roll on her next incarnation.

Mortals say it as though they can feel the hand of the beloved inside their ribs, palm supporting the heart, fingers curled lightly around the trembling muscle. Pain could come so easily. All it would take is a good, hard squeeze.

Thank you to Hodder Books for the finished review copy.


Hollis’ 4 star review

I think I had promised myself a reread not just of THE MIDNIGHT LIE but also the main Winners Trilogy series before diving into this finale and.. whoops? None of that happened. I was so desperate to dive into this that I’d actually forgotten my plans until, like, halfway through. 

The grabby hands were just too too real.

As for what you can expect with this one, well.. everything is a spoiler. How book one ended was so huge, so unreal, that any hints to what that is will just ruin it if you haven’t yet decided to start this series. But suffice it to say that a character we had seen go through so much, but remain true, kind, and gentle, well. She’s a whole different person for this book. And so was the love interest; but in a very different way.

You’ve changed.
Good.”
You used to be kind, Nirrim. Gentle. I liked you better before.”
Of course. I was easier for you to use.”

Said love interest has connections back to characters from Rutkoski’s other series and to say they would be complicated connections would be an understatement. In some ways, her journey is a nostalgic throwback to some of the themes from said series as webs have to be traced back to their weaver and somewhere, somehow, there is a plot to uncover. 

It remains the fate of all humans who lack compassion to never understand that they lack it.

How these two reunite, how it all gets resolved, well.. it was both satisfying and, keeping this from a five star, was a little unsatisfying. We are both living the story and being told this story, in a way, and there were definitely events, conflicts, that kind of happen outside of the main and get brushed over. Though this book isn’t short I think had there been another hundred pages, and we’d had some of that beefed up, it would’ve been perfect. The ending, for all that some of it works so well, feels unbalanced. And that isn’t me just complaining because I wanted more. Though that’s true, too.

I think about the wrong people do for the sake of love, and how it is possible to love a villain.

With this series wrapped (so nice to have duologies pop up again) I have no idea what Rutkoski has planned for the future but after the long wait for this series, and because I was already such a fan, I don’t care. She’s an auto-read author for sure.

THE CHARM OFFENSIVE by Alison Cochrun

Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.

Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever Afterexpects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.

As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.

In this witty and heartwarming romantic comedy—reminiscent of Red, White & Royal Blue and One to Watch—an awkward tech wunderkind on a reality dating show goes off-script when sparks fly with his producer.


Title : The Charm Offensive
Author : Alison Cochrun
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ romance
Publisher : Atria Books
Release Date : September 7, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 review

I snagged this from NG at almost the eleventh hour after seeing some rave reviews and I’m really glad I did. Also, this is a debut? Seriously? Wow.

I wasn’t at all interested in a premise surrounding a Bachelor-like reality tv show but the aforementioned reviews promised something grand, and queer, and delightful, and so I took that risk. And it paid off. This isn’t a story where that plot fades into the background, though, this is literally the premise, so if it’s really not your thing, I don’t think you’d be able to enjoy this.

But if you enjoy conversations around mental health, discovering one’s true self, support for a late-stage (though it really isn’t ever too late) coming out, this’ll be right up your alley.

Charlie, one of our MCs, is cast in the role of Prince Charming in a bid to correct the damage done to his reputation when he’s ousted as co-owner of his tech company. Dev, who has worked for Ever After for six years, who still believes in happily ever afters despite the end of his six year relationship, is the one tapped to coach him through the show and the dates when it is quickly obvious Charlie has almost no social skills or ability to cope with what he’s signed up for. Soon enough, their awkward acquaintance becomes friendship and then becomes more.

Charlie was so so easy to love. Watching him bloom into someone more confident, more aware of his true self, as well as someone who was seen, and own both without reserve was just gorgeous. Dev’s character definitely took a turn I didn’t expect, which was kind of the point, though I did sometimes feel he was a little inconsistent; nothing to do with his mental health, just little blips I didn’t quite get.

Once again, it bears mentioning, I’m shocked this was a debut. This was so good. You definitely shouldn’t go into this expecting full on fluff — in addition to discussion of mental health and therapy there was some homophobia and an all-around unpleasant “villain” — and while there was one part that had me howling, it was a little more serious than it was lighthearted or comedy based (outside of the outrageous premise of the show, that is).

I can’t speak for any of the rep (please check out other reviews where you can) but I definitely felt a lot of the care the author put into handling her characters and everything that made them who they were. I would definitely recommend.

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

THE SHAADI SET-UP by Lillie Vale

In this witty and heartfelt rom-com debut for fans of Jasmine Guillory, Emily Henry, and Tessa Bailey, an Indian-American woman signs herself and her boyfriend up for a matchmaking site to prove they’re a perfect match, only to be paired with her ex instead.

High school sweethearts Rita Chitniss and Milan Rao were the golden couple, until the day he broke her heart. Now, six years later, Rita has turned her passion for furniture restoration into a career and has an almost-perfect boyfriend, Neil. The last thing she needs is for Milan to re-enter her life, but that’s exactly what happens when her mother, an unfailing believer in second chances, sets them up. Milan is just as charming, cocky, and confident as he was back in school. Only this time, he actually needs her business expertise, not her heart, to flip a hard-to-sell house for his realty agency. 

While Rita begrudgingly agrees to help, she’s not taking any risks. To prove she’s definitely over him, she signs herself and Neil up on MyShaadi.com, a Desi matchmaking site famous for its success stories and trustworthy enough to convince everyone that she and Neil are the new and improved couple. Instead, she’s shocked when MyShaadi’s perfect match for her isn’t Neil…it’s Milan. Ignoring the website and her mother is one thing, but ignoring Milan proves much more difficult, especially when she promises to help him renovate the beach house of her dreams. And as the two of them dive deeper into work—and their pasts—Rita begins to wonder if maybe her match wasn’t so wrong after all…. 


Title : The Shaadi Set-Up
Author : Lillie Vale
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date : September 7, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

I was so excited for The Shaadi Set-Up when I first heard about it and, though it started interesting, though not very strong, I still managed to have pretty high hopes.

Hopes that were rather quickly, and dramatically, dashed.

I don’t really know how this crashed so quickly for me but nothing really fit? We are meant to believe our MC is interested enough in her boyfriend to come up with this convoluted scheme to pair up on a Desi marriage site, in order to get their parents to — independently, not as a couple — stop hassling them to marry but we’re repeatedly shown she barely tolerates the guy she’s with. So, what gives? Why bother? Why do we spend 50% of the book cycling through this process, long after we are confronted with the long-ago love who broke her heart and she’s obviously going to end up with?

That drama aside, I just found the MC — and the idiot boyfriend — pretty insufferable, annoying, and just not likeable; which made sense for the boyfriend but less so for the MC. The best friend seemed delightfully quirky but has so little page time, and later just acts too weird when she does pop up, that it doesn’t work as a fun distraction from the rest.

Of course, when we finally get all the on-page time between the MC and her ex, we drag out any kind of closure for ages, and then when things are explained it’s just.. really? Is that it? Which, is at least sorta addressed on-page, but overall it’s just not quite satisfying.

This is also right around the time that the ARC, which has the fairly common formatting weirdness, started getting really weird. Scenes seemed to jump around, feel oddly placed, details didn’t line up, and as we started to come to the big resolution moment, nothing seemed to jive properly. Whether that’s a combination of rushing the scene and just a rough draft, I don’t know. But it was very jarring.

I found in general some dialogue to be strange, too; exchanges where instead of exposition all the explanation was done in dialogue even though the conversation didn’t call for it. In a similar vein, this started out with some very adult stuff on page, which surprised me because it was like.. chapter two, maybe? I could be wrong, and then it disappears completely except for random tingles, a bunch of fade to black, and then random references to sexual acts that were performed. This felt strange and inconsistent and like the author themselves didn’t know how spicy to make this.

This could’ve been so fun but no fun was had. For those who might want to pick it up, this’ll what you’ll find : a second-chance romance (admittedly, not my favourite), but make it Desi, some forced proximity and slowburn, and enough house renovating and flipping and designing and thrifting to make you nostalgic for saturday afternoon binges of Trading Spaces and Love It or List It (or maybe these shows still exist, I don’t know, I don’t have cable); but honestly this inevitably just felt like a bunch of tropes thrown together without actually considering how all the pieces fit or how the characters fit into those pieces to make the story, the history, the angst, and the reunion, actually work.

I believe this is the author’s debut, or adult debut at least, so I imagine a lot of my issues could just be growing pains, but I didn’t come out of this with enough enjoyment to try the author again, sadly.

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