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PAINTED DEVILS by Margaret Owen

Let’s get one thing straight—Vanja Schmidt wasn’t trying to start a cult.

After taking down a corrupt margrave, breaking a deadly curse, and finding romance with the vexingly scrupulous Junior Prefect Emeric Conrad, Vanja had one great mystery left: her long-lost birth family… and if they would welcome a thief. But in her search for an honest trade, she hit trouble and invented a god, the Scarlet Maiden, to scam her way out. Now, that lie is growing out of control—especially when Emeric arrives to investigate, and the Scarlet Maiden manifests to claim him as a virgin sacrifice.

For his final test to become a prefect, Emeric must determine if Vanja is guilty of serious fraud, or if the Scarlet Maiden—and her claim to him—are genuine. Meanwhile, Vanja is chasing an alternative sacrifice that may be their way out. The hunt leads her not only into the lairs of monsters and the paths of gods, but the ties of her past. And with what should be the simplest way to save Emeric hanging over their heads, he and Vanja must face a more dangerous question: Is there a future for a thief and a prefect, and at what price?

Title : Painted Devils
Author : Margaret Owen
Series : Little Thieves (book two)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 512
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Release Date : May 16, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5

Hollis’ 4.5 star review

When I tell you that Owen has some kind of magic touch? I am not kidding. I pulled out the big guns by starting this ARC when I feared I was slipping into a reading slump and ka-pow, slump say who? Not I! This was exactly what I needed. Everything I needed. Or, conversely, it proved I just wasn’t picking up good quality reads — or, maybe more fairly, I wasn’t picking up reads that were for me.

But Painted Devils? Pretty much a chefs. fucking. kiss.

Admittedly, it’s not getting rounded up to a five like the series opener did but I think that’s fair. Measuring up to that perfection would be hard, even for this much-beloved-by-me author, even with these utterly-adored-by-me characters.

You are an unparalleled devil from hell in your sleep.”
You stole all the blankets. And then you rolled up in them, like a– a crêpe, so they were stuck on your side. And then when I tried to take one off the top, you turned over, looked me straight in the eye, and said — and I quote — ‘I’ll kill you.‘”
I never.
You followed it up with ‘It’ll look like an accident.’

Honestly, it’s going to be a hard sell to convince you to pick this up if you haven’t already read book one so maybe go read that one and then come back to this. Not that I’ll be spoiling anything but honestly your investment will be low until you unlock the initial achievement. But everything Owen did with book one — the laughs, the fun, the emotes, the glee, the shock — she’s come back to sock you in the teeth with all over again. Because I laughed like a little girl (I was | | close to kicking my feet in the air). I cried like a little girl (maybe only once but I got teary/choked up a whole bunch of times). And I got mad like.. okay, I’ll stop saying little girl, but hoo boy. I got mad.

[..] it’s almost a bit unnerving how quickly everyone joined Team Blood Sacrifices Are Great, Actually.

I had totally forgot about much (most?) of the trauma that Vanja had endured throughout her life. And this book has her facing a lot of it. The conflict, in fact, is woven up with some of the origins of it all. But it was done so beautifully. It broke my heart, too, because much of this book is about learning to love yourself. And that’s a painful process. Especially when your formative years have done everything to destroy the potential and even now you’re faced with constant reminders that you are unworthy. That there’s no reason to be good, to be better, to be anything but what you’ve been ground down to believe you are — which, in Vanja’s case, is worthless. Which is why she struggles with Emeric because how can she trust the love of another when she’s always been unworthy of it? How can she trust that love when she’s never been made to see it in herself? There was so much tenderness in how Owen handled this. And that tenderness carried over in how they approached the intimacy of their romance.

The cold truth is, some part of me is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it’s for no good reason other than the truth beneath, colder still : [..] I cannot believe someone would want me, without agenda, as I am.

Also, Emeric being Vanja’s number one stan? We love to see it. It wasn’t always smooth sailing but I loved how they handled the rougher moments, the misunderstandings, and how in-tune to each other they were.

If more prefects were like you.. I think the empire would make fewer girls like me.”
Well, I think that would be a terrible loss. The.. fewer-people-like-you part. Not the reduction of gross societal injustice.”

I want to be able talk about the little (big) realizations they have about their society, their ability to influence it, and how the struggle to use the laws to help those who need it is.. well, a struggle. And whether it’s better to work outside the system then in it, with it, and all that, but honestly I don’t feel eloquent enough to tackle that. Just know that I saw it, I see it, and I love it. And I hope we get more of in in book three.

This book is also about family. The ones we find, the ones we make, and the ones we’re born to. And oh boy getting misty again. Ahem, but yes, the ties that bind play a big part and I absolutely loved how this played out. Even the parts that hurt.

And you know what else hurt? That ending. Aaaa it was bad enough knowing we had two years to wait after book one but at least that resolution felt, well. Resolved. It almost felt like a standalone. This one is anything but that and I am quietly dying inside. But GR says book three is out in January.. which feels improbable. But I am not going to look a gift horse (hahaha the horses) in the mouth.

It turns out there are few things that kill the mood faster than realizing you have a haunted doll for a voyeur.

Also, shoutout, because I don’t know if I remember there being as many references or memes in book one but we had a few in this one and a few had me howling. The Backstreet Boys bit? I legit cried. More of this please!

As you can probably guess, I highly recommend not only this series but also this author. She’s one of the few releasing YA that I’m guaranteed to pick up these days — but honestly, at this rate, I’ll pick up literally anything she releases and always be desperate for more. Like I am now.

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

YELLOWFACE by R.F. Kuang – double review!

What’s the harm in a pseudonym? New York Times bestselling sensation Juniper Song is not who she says she is, she didn’t write the book she claims she wrote, and she is most certainly not Asian American–in this chilling and hilariously cutting novel from R. F. Kuang in the vein of White Ivy and The Other Black Girl.

Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars: same year at Yale, same debut year in publishing. But Athena’s a cross-genre literary darling, and June didn’t even get a paperback release. Nobody wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.

So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers to the British and French war efforts during World War I.

So what if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song–complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That’s what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.

But June can’t get away from Athena’s shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June’s (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

With its totally immersive first-person voice, Yellowface takes on questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation not only in the publishing industry but the persistent erasure of Asian-American voices and history by Western white society. R. F. Kuang’s novel is timely, razor-sharp, and eminently readable.

Title : Yellowface
Author : R.F. Kuang
Format : ARC
Page Count : 350
Genre : contemporary / satire
Publisher : The Borough Press
Release Date : May 16, 2023

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

Hollis’ 4 star review

I definitely thought I would have hundreds and hundreds of highlights to go through for this review but I think I spent too much of the time just goggling at the text to pause and take the time to mark something for reference later.

This is a book that for someone who is Very Online will feel both absurdist and elle-oh-elle. Because that’s what being online generally feels like. In fact, here’s a perfectly timed quote!

I [..] stare at the wall and mutter “what the fuck?” several times a day.

But seriously, this story feels, in some way, like falling down the rabbit hole on a twitter thread; because while so much of it does detail the every day bits of publishing, the parts we see play out in the internet space and the parts we only hear about after the fact, the pile-ons, the speculation, the conspiracy (insert “I’ve connected the two dots” / “you haven’t connected shit” gif here) the rest of it feels like something you’d see play out on booktwitter.

Because the way this story unravels, the way June slowly gets up on that hinge and then subsequently unhinges herself, is just.. unreal. Strange. Unbelievable. But un-look-away-able. I was glued. And I don’t know why I thought we’d have a reasonable ending to this story but I did and wow sorry but spoiler alert it was something else. Fascinating might be a weird word to use but I’m using it. I was fascinated.

I wish I had more brain power to really dive into all the issues that Kuang tackled — the push for diversity but only so much, the dialogue around who can write what kinds of stories, cancel culture, the toxicity of social media, the publishing industry as a whole, cultural appropriation, professional jealousy, and so much more — but honestly just touching on them is as good as it’s going to get right now. And honestly it’ll be more fun for you to experience without a dissertation on what is almost already a dissertation, though a satirical one at that.

Highly recommend you give this one a go.

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

Micky’s 4 star review

Sociopathic prejudice
A runaway train of lies

Yellowface ran away with my time in the best way, bringing me into this wild trip with the most unlikeable protagonist. The context of the publishing industry, an author without values or respect and a storyline that exploded exponentially was truly addictive reading.

The whole reading experience had me incredulous at the thought processes of Juniper, the main character. How something spirals but moreso the internal justification and validation she gave herself made for jaw dropping reading.

The story prods at readers own observation experiences of social media scandals relating to authors or reviewers who have transgressed on cultural and other prejudicial issues. I relished seeing this kind of narrative given life in fiction, it felt credible despite also feeling sensational.

Brilliantly and satirically written.

“Racism is bad, but you can still send death threats to Karens.”

Thank you to Borough Press for the review copy.

THE LAST TALE OF THE FLOWER BRIDE by Roshani Chokshi – double review!

A sumptuous, gothic-infused story about a marriage that is unraveled by dark secrets, a friendship cursed to end in tragedy, and the danger of believing in fairy tales—the breathtaking adult debut from New York Times bestselling author Roshani Chokshi.

Once upon a time, a man who believed in fairy tales married a beautiful, mysterious woman named Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada. He was a scholar of myths. She was heiress to a fortune. They exchanged gifts and stories and believed they would live happily ever after—and in exchange for her love, Indigo extracted a promise: that her bridegroom would never pry into her past.

But when Indigo learns that her estranged aunt is dying and the couple is forced to return to her childhood home, the House of Dreams, the bridegroom will soon find himself unable to resist. For within the crumbling manor’s extravagant rooms and musty halls, there lurks the shadow of another girl: Azure, Indigo’s dearest childhood friend who suddenly disappeared. As the house slowly reveals his wife’s secrets, the bridegroom will be forced to choose between reality and fantasy, even if doing so threatens to destroy their marriage . . . or their lives.

Combining the lush, haunting atmosphere of Mexican Gothic with the dreamy enchantment of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is a spellbinding and darkly romantic page-turner about love and lies, secrets and betrayal, and the stories we tell ourselves to survive.

Title : The Last Tale of the Flower Bride
Author : Roshani Chokshi
Narrator : Steve West
Format : Hardcover/Audiobook / ARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : Fantasy / gothic romance
Publisher : Hodderscape / William Morrow
Release Date : February 14, 2023

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

Micky’s 4 star review

– Dark
– Suspenseful
– Otherworldly
– Secretive
– Deliciously gothic

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride was an utterly intriguing story full of otherworldly insinuations. It started with a relationship between Indigo and a man who became her significant other. He never really quite knew Indigo and so he longed for her secrets…that became a runaway train of suspense.

The story was told in some past and present and it tracked Indigo’s friendship with Azure during their teenage years. This past and present worked really well and each time the narrative switched I got swept up in that phase of time.

Did I like Indigo? I’m not sure, I did like the man of the piece and I did like Azure and some of the side characters. Despite the foreshadowing, that ending blew me away and I closed the book with a wow feeling and a sense of completion.

The writing in this piece is evocative, sometimes through a mist. The narrative was alluring, sensual but also twisty with an underlying evil at times. I loved the experience with this book and I think fans of A Dowry of Blood will love this.

If you’re an audio fan, Steve West narrates this absolutely brilliantly and brings such atmosphere.

Thank you to Hodderscape for the review copies.

Hollis’ 4 star review

When I first started reading this, I did not expect to be here, writing a review with a high rating and, dare I say, recommending it.

Initially, I found this hard to get into. The writing felt suffocating, constraining, and I could not get a read on the stylistic choice when compared to the setting. Not quite present day but not so many years in the past, either. It didn’t suit; felt ill-fitting and forced. But then the narrative started to reveal itself to be a bit magical, or wanting magic, steeped in whimsy and stories, mystery; much like our narrator himself. Who was he? Who was Indigo? What would they eventually be to each other? Did I even care?

The story, like most gothics, seemed shrouded in secrets and the unknown. Both characters carried some of this with them but only for one did it seem.. sinister. Unnatural. Somehow Chokshi made Indigo a character you didn’t want to watch but still couldn’t look away from. Or at least that was what I got from her.

Soon enough I had forgotten those early stumbles with the writing. I loved all the various fairytales that were brought up. I was enthralled by the glimpses of the past. Truthfully, other than for the big climax of reveals, I could’ve done without the adult timeline and stayed in the past. The strangeness of it all was just so fascinating. Uncomfortable. Captivating. Moreso by all the unknowable elements at play — was it real? Was it imagined? Who can say. But it’s that big finish that reframes so much of what we think we know early on. And the half can’t exist without the whole. Some of those reveals are heartbreaking. Traumatic. Others, surprising. Definitely foreshadowed. But still really well done (except the thing with the knife, that’s a bit of a head scratcher). In fact, it’s all that unveiled knowledge which makes me think this might actually be better on reread.

Having said that, I think best to go into this one without knowing much more than the vibes. Let this one take you by surprise. But maybe give it a sample first and see if the writing is something you can handle. That might be the biggest hurdle for readers to enjoy this one. But if you’ve read this author before, it won’t be a surprise.

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


In this sequel novella to Sorcery of Thorns, Elisabeth, Nathaniel, and Silas must unravel the magical trap keeping them inside Thorn Manor in time for their Midwinter Ball!

Elisabeth Scrivener is finally settling into her new life with sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn. Now that their demon companion Silas has returned, so has scrutiny from nosy reporters hungry for gossip about the city’s most powerful sorcerer and the librarian who stole his heart. But something strange is afoot at Thorn Manor: the estate’s wards, which are meant to keep their home safe, are acting up and forcibly trapping the Manor’s occupants inside. Surely it must be a coincidence that this happened just as Nathaniel and Elisabeth started getting closer to one another…

With no access to the outside world, Elisabeth, Nathaniel, and Silas – along with their new maid Mercy – will have to work together to discover the source of the magic behind the malfunctioning wards before they’re due to host the city’s Midwinter Ball. Not an easy task when the house is filled with unexpected secrets, and all Elisabeth can think about is kissing Nathaniel in peace. But when it becomes clear that the house, influenced by the magic of Nathaniel’s ancestors, requires a price for its obedience, Elisabeth and Nathaniel will have to lean on their connection like never before to set things right. 

Title : Mysteries of Thorn Manor
Author : Margaret Rogerson
Series : Sorcery of Thorns (book 1.5)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 192
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date : January 17, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★

Hollis’ 4 star review

So, surprising no one because my brain is a sieve, I didn’t remember much about Sorcery of Thorns except that a) I really liked it, b) it’s the only Rogerson I’ve rated a four (which I suppose is related to the first point), and c) Silas. I mean, part of what I liked was the banter and vibes, the leads were very good, but I mean I don’t think anyone left that first book without thinking very fondly of a certain demon.

Naturally when I had the chance to possibly snatch up an early copy of this surprise reveal novella, I was pretty stoked. Even moreso to receive. And I waited, oh, an entire day before diving in. And what a treat. What a delight! Why did I rush into this but also I’m glad I didn’t have this gem waiting nearby unread because it was great. Perhaps has even inspired a reread..

Regardless, there isn’t a whole lot I can spoil if you haven’t yet read Sorcery of Thorns (so go do that now) but suffice it to say : fans? You will be pleased. Satisfied. Delighted! There were juicy little bits, lovely little bits, funny little bits, and the combination resulted in a very delicious whole. Saying that out loud sounds wrong but I think you get what I mean.

Highly recommend!

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

THE BOOK HATER’S BOOK CLUB by Gretchen Anthony

All it takes is the right book to turn a Book Hater into a Book Lover…

That was Elliott’s belief and the reason why he started The Book Haters’ Book Club—a newsletter of reading recommendations for the self-proclaimed “nonreader.” As the beloved co-owner of Over the Rainbow Bookstore, Elliott’s passion and gift was recommending books to customers. Now, after his sudden death, his grief-ridden business partner, Irma, has agreed to sell Over the Rainbow to a developer who will turn the cozy bookstore into high-rise condos.

But others won’t give up the bookstore without a fight. When Irma breaks the news to her daughters, Bree and Laney, and Elliott’s romantic partner, Thom, they are aghast. Over the Rainbow has been Bree and Laney’s sanctuary since childhood, and Thom would do anything to preserve Elliott’s legacy. Together, Thom, Bree and Laney conspire to save the bookstore, even if it takes some snooping, gossip and minor sabotage.

Filled with humor, family hijinks and actual reading recommendations, The Book Haters’ Book Club is the ideal feel-good read. It’s a celebration of found family and a love letter to the everyday heroes who run bookstores.

Title : The Book Hater’s Book Club
Author : Gretchen Anthony
Format : ARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : contemporary
Publisher : Park Row
Release Date : September 13, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★

Hollis’ 2 star review

I think if, like me, you are drawn to this book because of it’s title.. you might be in for a bit of a shock. Because this isn’t actually a quirky story about book haters banding together at all. And while the argument could be made it is perhaps still quirky, instead it’s just full of messy characters and waiting for the payoff of long-drawn out secrets that refuse to be told.

While there’s nothing particularly unfortunate in the telling, I’ll admit I didn’t love the writing, nor the characters, and thus this mid-three hundred page book felt twice as long. Though it was nice to see the small-community-joins-together-to-support-the-indies-against-big-corp, that was really as good as it got for me. The various romances, one new and budding, another ending, and yet another already over, were all varieties of typical or uninspiring and for one of them — the one that had ended — I actually found a particular narrative inclusion to instead muddle and confuse the whole thing. Which I know is vague and confusing but thus that is also how I was left feeling, too.

But if you’re into some messy dynamics, which apparently is translated into found family by way of the pitch, you might like this one. Though this did pass the time — too much time, as mentioned — I won’t likely remember it in a month because nothing really stands out. And I didn’t enjoy the writing voice enough to consider picking up the author again. So, sadly, this isn’t quite a recommendation but nonetheless you still might like it if you’re into contemporary fiction and enjoy books based around books.

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

KATZENJAMMER by Francesca Zappia

From acclaimed author Francesca Zappia, American Horror Story meets the dark comedy of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis as Cat searches for a way to escape her high school. Katzenjammer is a tale of family, love, tragedy, and masks—the ones others make for us, and the ones we make for ourselves. Eerie and thought-provoking, this novel will haunt fans of Chelsie Pitcher’s This Lie Will Kill You and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. Features illustrations by the author throughout.

Cat lives in her high school. She never leaves, and for a long time her school has provided her with everything she needs. But now things are changing. The hallways contract and expand along with the school’s breathing, and the showers in the bathroom run a bloody red. Cat’s best friend is slowly turning into cardboard, and instead of a face, Cat has a cat mask made of her own hardened flesh.

Cat doesn’t remember why she is trapped in her school or why half of them—Cat included—are slowly transforming. Escaping has always been the one impossibility in her school’s upside-down world. But to save herself from the eventual self-destruction all the students face, Cat must find the way out. And to do that, she’ll have to remember what put her there in the first place.

Told in chapters alternating between the past and the present, Francesca Zappia weaves a spine-tingling, suspenseful, and haunting story about tragedy and the power of memories. Much like the acclaimed Eliza and Her Monsters, Katzenjammer features black-and-white illustrations by the author throughout the novel. Fans of Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends and Karen McManus’s One of Us Is Lying will lose themselves in the pages of this novel—or maybe in the treacherous hallways of the school.

Title : Katzenjammer
Author : Francesca Zappia
Format : ARC
Page Count : 276
Genre : YA contemporary / horror / fantasy
Publisher : Greenwillow Books
Release Date : June 28, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ .5

Hollis’ 1.5 star review

Welp, this decides it. I’ve gone from loving Eliza and Her Monsters, my first experience with this author, to being perplexed and uncertain of how I felt (Made You Up) to truly actively disliking everything else (Now Entering Addamsville and, of course, this one). I think Zappia and I have to part ways.

First off, the list of triggers for this book are rather plentiful, so please go find a full list. But in broad strokes we have violence (various types, including gun violence), body horror and gore (again, a variety), bullying (you guessed it, various kinds), and more.

I expected, from the pitch, that this was to be all kinds of strange and dark and surreal but after a certain reveal.. I feel even stranger about the whole experience. I don’t think books with heavier subject matter or darkness need a happy ending but sometimes there’s something. For this book? Don’t expect anything.

While it is doubtlessly creative and sometimes the weirdness was.. winsome, even almost endearing, on the whole I just don’t know what to do with this whole experience. Normally my one-stars are very distinctly in the “I hated this” category but this didn’t inspire hate. It just didn’t work. And it’s not for me.

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


In this sweet and funny new f/f romance from the author of Cool for the Summer, a cheerleader and the school’s newest quarterback are playing to win, but might lose their hearts in the process.

Amber McCloud’s dream is to become cheer captain at the end of the year, but it’s an extra-tall order to be joyful and spirited when the quarterback of your team has been killed in a car accident. For both the team and the squad, watching Robbie get replaced by newcomer Jack Walsh is brutal. And when it turns out Jack is actually short for Jaclyn, all hell breaks loose.

The players refuse to be led by a girl, the cheerleaders are mad about the changes to their traditions, and the fact that Robbie’s been not only replaced but outshined by a QB who wears a sports bra has more than a few Atherton Alligators in a rage. Amber tries for some semblance of unity, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s only got a future on the squad and with her friends if she helps them take Jack down.

Just one problem: Amber and Jack are falling for each other, and if Amber can’t stand up for Jack and figure out how to get everyone to fall in line, her dream may come at the cost of her heart.

Title : Home Field Advantage
Author : Dahlia Adler
Format : ARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ romance
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : June 7, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★

Hollis’ 2 star review

Welp, this wasn’t quite the “sweet and funny” romance I expected it to be. Clearly.

I’ll admit I requested this with the hope that all of what I liked about Adler’s previously queer YA, Cool For the Summer, would be magnified and even more fun in this other queer YA, particularly with the cheerleader/female quarterback angle, but.. it was not. It didn’t even measure up.

Look, it’s expected to navigate hard hitting topics these days, because they are timely, they are important, and they are realities faced by everyone but particularly marginalized peoples. However.. if you promise me sweet and funny, I want sweet and funny. And instead this was relentlessly misogynistic, homophobic, with bullying, and generally an overwhelming vibe of nothing fun or nice. However, Jack, our transplanted-from-another-school quarterback? She deserved to be rooted for. She did deserve her own cheerleader. I just wish she’d gotten a better one. Because Amber only occasionally had her good moments. But that didn’t make her unique. Pretty much right across the board, almost every single character sucked. And those who didn’t were like Amber; with only occasional good or redeeming moments.

So, yeah, maybe you aren’t like me and won’t feel offended or disappointed by all the frustrations in here — or the insta-love, which somehow continued to feel paper thin despite the passing of months — and you’ll appreciate the conflicts and the more or less happily ever after, but.. I’m not. I’m bummed. I’m also trying not to stare at this gorgeously colourful cover and feel like it hasn’t personally victimized and betrayed me.

You might like this; in theory there’s a lot to love. I just didn’t love or like it. As a result, I’m not sure I’ll risk picking up another book by this author.

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

I KISSED SHARA WHEELER by Casey McQuiston – double review!

Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—more to Shara, too.

Title : I Kissed Shara Wheeler
Author : Casey McQuiston
Format : ARC / eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ contemporary romance
Publisher : St. Martin’s Press/MacMillan Kids
Release Date : May 3, 2022/May 12, 2022

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

Hollis’ 4.5 star review

This book is really making me reconsider my rounded up “3.5 star feels” for One Last Stop. Because I Kissed Shara Wheeler gave me the queer ensemble of my dreams whilst also having an electric and fun and unexpected plot without any of the lulls found in the author’s sophomore release. Infact, this made me incredibly nostalgic for their debut because I’m left with that same sparkly feeling — minus the hangover from some of the more intense emotional moments.

God, why is he still here? What is he doing? There’s no way his job is that hard. All he des is cut the arts budget and misinterpret the Bible. How many hours can that possibly take?

Because, yes, I Kissed Shara Wheeler? Fantastic. I knew by the end of chapter one I was going to be a goner for this book and only something absolutely terrible could ruin it. And, spoiler, nothing did.

While she does like boys, she generally finds the traits of a compelling villain — arrogance, malice, an angry backstory — tedious in a man. Like, what do hot guys with long dark hair have to be that upset about? Get a clarifying shampoo and suck it up, Kylo Ren.

As usual my brain is stalling out a little on what to say but like. This has that competitive academic rivals tension. It has a kiss-fuelled scavenger hunt. It has unlikely allies who become true friends. It’s about self-discovery. It’s about quiet rebellions that lead to louder ones. It’s about old friends become new again. It’s about found family. And so much more.

Chloe, we’re gay. We can’t do math.
Okay, well, next time I’ll come and make a spreadsheet.
This is why we need you. Once in a generation, there is born a bisexual who can do math. You’re the chosen one.”

It’s not all easy or fun or just non-stop queer shenanigans, though. With the setting of this book, both in a little town in Alabama and at a Christian school to boot, you know there’s going to be some issues to tackle. But those issues never overwhelmed the story. But neither were they too minor to not play a part. It was the perfect balance.

Your mama and I decided long before you were both that we would let you be whoever you are, no matter who that is.
And if who you are is a snarling little Pomeranian with eyes like fire, than that’s who you are, darling.”

If YA is all McQuiston plans to ever write again (this is not confirmed, I’m just saying), I would honestly only be a tiny bit upset to lose adult content from them. Because it really was that good. I know I will be rereading this and, likely, loving it even more.

Highly recommend.

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

Micky’s 3 star review

YA contemporary comedy mystery

There’s lots to recommend this read, it’s beautifully queer, a fun romp but somehow, it just didn’t hit the notes for me. There’s an eclectic band of friends thrown together in this story and that was the element I became most fond of.

Shara was missing and I struggled with Shara as a character for much of the story, and maybe I was supposed to. She seemed manipulative and they way she had all these peers pitched against one another initially, really wound me up. There was space for redemption but overall I didn’t like her. Shara however, wasn’t really the main character even if the whole story was centred on her, Chloe was the MC and I did like her mostly. Chloe had some epic moms which I appreciated.

The themes were welcome in this book and they included exploring identity, sexuality and rebelling against bigatory. These important themes were well handled but it felt alongside a fair bit of dramarama. I think the drama and manipulative characteristics of Shara were what kept me from connecting with the characters sadly. I didn’t feel any chemistry in the romantic moments either.

I am disappointed I didn’t enjoy this more but I can see that so far from a ratings perspective, I am in the minority.

Thank you MacMillan Kids for the early review copy.

THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY by Emily St. John Mandel

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core. 

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him. 

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

Title : Sea of Tranquility
Author : Emily St. John Mandel
Format : ARC
Page Count : 255
Genre : historical fiction / sci-fi
Publisher : Knopf
Release Date : April 5, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5

Hollis’ 2.5 star review

So, spoiler alert, this has a lot more pandemic-content than I think I expected. For some reason I thought the discussion was more centered in the older of the timelines but instead it seemed to span most of them; and we see COVID make a cameo, too. Having said that, readers now expecting a lot of page time dedicated to this might think there’s less than I claim; I suppose it depends on one’s perspective. But regardless, if you aren’t ready for that kind of content, maybe avoid this one.

As for the story itself, I have some mixed feelings about it all. I feel like this is one of those reads that you might not appreciate until the very end — because that was definitely the case with me. I wasn’t bored or disliking anything up until that point but neither was I particularly engaged with or by the characters we were spending time with. But the ending, the why of it all.. I liked that. Doubly so because I didn’t see it coming.

This also felt a little.. I don’t want to see autobiographical but it almost felt there were parts of the author’s own experience, in a few different ways, that she may have included via the book’s author’s perspective or experience. It took me out of the story a little but for the other bits I actually enjoyed wondering if Mandel had been asked these same questions, had the same experience of doing press for a pandemic novel during a pandemic, etc.

Overall this was definitely mixed for me but it won’t stop me from picking up her titles again. And, on the topic, upon skimming through the top bit of the GR page, it turns out this connects a bit to her previous release, The Glass Hotel. I never got around to reading it so I’m keen to step back and see where the bits overlap. I always love those little easter eggs. Here’s hoping that one, at least, is a win.

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

THE MAID by Nita Prose

Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?

A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.

Title : The Maid
Author : Nita Prose
Format : ARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : contemporary mystery / thriller
Publisher : Ballantine Books
Release Date : January 4, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 

Hollis’ 3 star review

I think readers are going to be a bit split on The Maid. For die-hard crime/mystery enthusiasts this might be a bit of a letdown because when it comes down to it.. this is very simplistic. And a bit slow. But it’s both of those things because of our perspective and narrator.

Molly Gray is different. It’s never stated outright but I would maybe judge she’s somewhere on the spectrum? She’s needed her grandmother to guide her through many exchanges or situations throughout her life and now, with her grandmother recently dead, she’s a bit at loose ends. Which makes the fact that she gets caught up in murder rather poor timing, what with the fact that no one has her best interests in mind and she’s seemingly friendless.

What was most interesting, besides Molly herself, was how what we thought to be true of some of the people and dynamics around her was decidedly the opposite. As a reader, some moments were painful, others were just sad, but the way it was done through the use of only one POV was really great. I won’t say more because I enjoyed the reveal but maybe everything I’ve said up until now will give you an idea.

I don’t know if I would classify this as a cozy mystery but it might be somewhere in the same realm. Molly herself inspires both some heartbreak and some warm and fuzzies and there does come to be something of an ensemble in the end and that, too, was warm and fuzzy inducing.

Everything unique about this story was a definite highlight, and the writing was easy to churn through, but for all the unique elements I don’t think this will be particularly memorable. I would pick up the author again, though; and despite the lower rating than I expected to dole out, if this kind of vibe seems like your thing, I would encourage you to pick it up.

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