WE WERE NEVER HERE by Andrea Bartz

On holiday in Chile with her best friend Kristen, Emily is having the time of her life.

Until one night, she finds their hotel suite covered in blood.

Kristen claims a backpacker attacked her. She shouted, but no-one heard. She struggled, but he was too strong.

She had no option but to kill him.

With no evidence of the assault, Emily must help her hide the body. . .

Back home, Emily tries to forget what happened, but a surprise visit from Kristen forces her to confront the events of that night.

As the walls close in, Emily asks herself: can her closest friend be trusted?


Title : We Were Never Here
Author : Andrea Bartz
Format : eARC
Page Count : 306
Genre : Thriller
Publisher : Penguin
Release Date : August 3, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
Sucked in
Spat out
Head spinning

That’s pretty much me on the whole reading experience of this book and on finishing. What did I read? What were those characters?

This story of two besties having holidays off the beaten track togther across the years focused in particular on one holiday to Cambodia and one to Chile. Not far into the book, I just knew there was something fishy about one of these besties but I had no idea how this was going to escalate.

This read felt like a combination of Single White Female (look it up if you’re unfamiliar) and Shallow Grave. On the one hand I was rooting for the more innocent of the pair and on the other hand, I was conflicted at her implicitness in the events that played out.

It all got a lot more sinister as it culminated.

Did I enjoy it? I guess in some ways yes, but it was angsty, uncomfortable reading. That said, I could not look away or put the book down. It was a wild trip and an all consuming read.

Thank you to Michael Joseph for the early review copy.

DARK RISE by C.S. Pacat

The ancient world of magic is no more. Its heroes are dead, its halls are ruins, and its great battles between Light and Dark are forgotten. Only the Stewards remember, and they keep their centuries-long vigil, sworn to protect humanity if the Dark King ever returns.

Sixteen-year-old dock boy Will is on the run, pursued by the men who killed his mother. When an old servant tells him of his destiny to fight beside the Stewards, Will is ushered into a world of magic, where he must train to play a vital role in the oncoming battle against the Dark.

As London is threatened by the Dark King’s return, the reborn heroes and villains of a long-forgotten war begin to draw battle lines. But as the young descendants of Light and Dark step into their destined roles, old allegiances, old enmities and old flames are awakened. Will must stand with the last heroes of the Light to prevent the fate that destroyed their world from returning to destroy his own.


Title : Dark Rise
Author : C.S. Pacat
Series : Dark Rise (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 464
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy
Publisher : Quill Tree Books
Release Date : September 28, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 review

Hmm. Hmm. Hmmmm.

Honestly, I don’t know about this one. Let’s get this out of the way first : I did not hate my time with this one. But did it grip me, surprise me, pull me in? I have to say.. no.

In some ways this book is pretty predictable. And by some I mean.. almost all of it? Add to that fact that the pitch of this set up an expectation of a big dark queer enemies romance and we get none of it in Dark Rise. The story ends in a way that implies it could still happen in book two but I obviously had prepared myself for something that I did not see pan out. So that’s kind of a bummer. So between the predictability, the lack of romantic tension, and then..

Well, I’ve kind of lost track of some of the POVs but most of them are new to this fantasy world. Only two really matter in the point I’ve trying to make though which is : the outsiders seem to have become bigger players than those who had been in this world, living this fantasy life, the whole time. And eventually there is a reason for this (a spoilery one) but at the same time I felt like there was just little to no shock value? No reluctance to believe? I feel there often should be a balance between struggling to come to terms and also settling in all nonchalant like and yet not being too much one or the other. I’m not sure I can properly explain this without you experiencing it but hopefully you know what I mean.

I’m also not sure I ever really felt any stakes after the first few chapters. Those had some good tension, a lot of uncertainty, but the deeper we went into the story, into understanding some of the world, which is when you would think the stakes get higher — and I definitely should’ve felt this because they are basically end of the world as we know it stakes — but.. I honestly felt nothing. Maybe because I wasn’t invested in the world? Or the characters? I was never quite pulled away from this story or distracted by other things but I definitely was very conscious of reading things, not living things. If that makes sense.

Ultimately, now that certain events have played out, I think this is very much a first book in a trilogy/series (whatever it’s going to be) issue. It’s very possible, now that we have our footing and our reveals, and we stand on the precipice of the romance I wanted, that book two will give me something to sink my teeth into. I sure hope, at least.

But in the meantime.. lower your expectations a smidge. And it’s possible you might enjoy this more than I did.

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

GAWAIN by J.P. Harker

Gawain is the first book of the new series by JP Harker, author of Caledon Saga. Gawain follows the early lives of Arthur’s knights and the eventual formation of Camelot. Fast-paced, historically grounded re-imagining of Arthurian myth, it is focusing on a flawed hero and a sympathetic antagonist. It takes place in a semi-fantasized Dark Age Britain. Here, Romanized nations clash with each other, with the remnants of the Celtic peoples, and with the slowly encroaching Saxons.

In this book a young Gawain is embarking on his first test as a future warrior of Camelot. After accepting his challenge at the Beltane feast, Gawain defies his father to travel north and face this new enemy, unaware that the Picts are massing for an attack on his father’s kingdom. Leading them is Mhari, a tribal chief with her own goals and dreams for the north. The courage and morality of both characters is challenged, culminating in a final conflict where Gawain inadvertently proves his worth to a disguised Merlin. Themes include religion (the mixed Christian and Pagan world), temptation versus nobility, and sexual morality.


Title : Gawain
Author : J.P. Harker
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 344
Genre : Historical Fantasy
Publisher : Adelaide Books
Release Date : May 28, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4-4.5 star review

Headlines:
Arthurian historical fantasy
Such easy writing to slip into
Feminist stance

Gawain pulled me into the story so quickly because it was interesting immediately and the writing was so easy to engage with. Gawain himself was a 17 year old brash, son of a Lord in the Lothians. He was desperate to battle and prove the skills he’d been training for. Fast forward to Beltaine, a visit from the Green Man and he found himself on an epic journey.

The cast of characrers in this book were funny and they seemed authentic. Gawain’s comrades were equally lacking in sense when it came to decisions. I enjoyed seeing the home context of King Lot’s kingdom but it really seemed to take a sharper focus when Gawain went on his quest. There was a smattering of romance in this book, which was pitched well. There were some great late twists too.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the alternate POV of Mhari, the pictish warlord. I loved reading her character, how she was viewed as a female warrior and how she commanded her small army of men and women. There was a definite feminist tone that felt authentic. The Lothian females weren’t afforded battle training but those characters were conveyed with some power balance in their interactions.

I don’t know what I expected from this book but I didn’t expect to get as swept up as I was and now I find myself completely invested in where this series is going, especially after those final lines of the book.

Thank you to JP Harker for the review copy, this hasn’t affected this unbiased review.

WHEN SPARKS FLY by Helena Hunting

Avery Spark is living her best life. Between her friends, her sisters, and Spark House, the event hotel her family owns, she doesn’t have much time for anything else, especially relationships. She’d rather hang out with her best friend and roommate, Declan McCormick, than deal with the dating scene. But everything changes when she is in a car accident and needs someone to care for her as she heals.

Declan avoids relationships, giving him a playboy reputation that he lives up to when he puts a one-night stand ahead of a promise he made to Avery. While he may not have been the one driving the car, he feels responsible for Avery’s injuries and is determined to make it up to her by stepping into the role of caretaker.

Little did they know that the more time they spend in compromising positions, the attraction they’ve been refusing to acknowledge becomes impossible to ignore. When they finally give in to the spark between them, neither is prepared for the consequences. Their love is fragile and all it will take is a blow from the past to shatter it all.


Title : When Sparks Fly
Author : Helena Hunting
Format : e-ARC
Page Count : 317
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : St Martins Griffin
Release Date : September 21, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
Friends/flatmates/frisky
Guilt
A dose of drama

When Sparks Fly lives up to its title, delivering on chemistry and spark. The story is an age-old but welcome tale of friends to more but these two shared a condo, so complication potential was high. Avery was the sole female in a gaggle of guy friends obsessed with sports and Declan was her long standing buddy.

A big event occured that meant that Avery really had to lean on Declan for a lot of support and this part of the story was really interesting and my favourite part. It was a little slice of forced proximity and the chemistry fumes were thick.

What dragged this down a little was the dose of drama that arose, over-reactions were prevalent and I hated how Declan acted in front of Avery during that period; I couldn’t get on board with his behaviour. Declan’s journey to improvement felt a little lacking in credability for me.

All that said, this was a fun, quick read. You could devour this in an afternoon and feel a sense of satisfaction without a huge investment.

Thank you to the publisher for this early review copy.

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.

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. **