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. **

FALSE WITNESS by Karin Slaughter

AN ORDINARY LIFE

Leigh Coulton has worked hard to build what looks like a normal life. She has a good job as a defence attorney, a daughter doing well in school, and even her divorce is relatively civilised – her life is just as unremarkable as she’d always hoped it would be.

HIDES A DEVASTATING PAST

But Leigh’s ordinary life masks a childhood which was far from average… a childhood tarnished by secrets, broken by betrayal, and finally torn apart by a devastating act of violence.

BUT NOW THE PAST IS CATCHING UP

Then a case lands on her desk – defending a wealthy man accused of rape. It’s the highest profile case she’s ever been given – a case which could transform her career, if she wins. But when she meets the accused, she realises that it’s no coincidence that he’s chosen her as his attorney. She knows him. And he knows her. More to the point, he knows what happened twenty years ago, and why Leigh has spent two decades running.

AND TIME IS RUNNING OUT

If she can’t get him acquitted, she’ll lose much more than the case. The only person who can help her is her younger, estranged sister Callie, the last person Leigh would ever want to ask for help. But suddenly she has no choice…


Title : False Witness
Author : Karin Slaughter
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 512
Genre : contemporary / crime-thriller
Publisher : William Morrow
Release Date : July 20, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

Even though she writes some of the most disturbingly dark and twisty stories, there’s really nothing like sinking into a Slaughter. And this was no different.

Due to the subject matter, I couldn’t possibly recommend this (check for triggers or, you know, just don’t read from this author..), but the way this story unfolded was so well done. And that started right from the beginning.

I don’t read many summaries in general but I never do for this author and so I had no idea where we were starting or where we were going. Unlike her usual procedurals, there’s no real investigation to be done in False Witness because the crimes have already been committed and there’s no question who has done it. We watch as Leigh Collier, a defence attorney, is faced with an unexpected criminal trial where the accused happens to feature a face from her past. But this isn’t a nostalgic reunion but instead someone who, it seems, knows Leigh’s darkest secret. Worse, this connection to her past is now trying to use that secret against her in order to get away with horrible acts.

This was uncomfortable, I’ll be honest, and not just because of what happened in the past, or what the present-day villain was doing, but because Slaughter is so good at writing horrible horrifying terrifying characters. The subtle menace in how she describes their behaviour, their expressions, it’s palpable.

That said, for all this wasn’t a mystery to solve, there were quite a few surprises along the way. One of them being how the beginning narrative makes you think one thing, only to realize another. But in other ways, too.

Also? For all the darkness, this was heartbreaking, lovely, and so sad. The connection between these sisters, the struggle Leigh’s sister, Callie, faced every day. Everything that had been stacked against her. And yet she was so.. kind. Sweet. Caring. And their relationship, and what these two sisters were willing to do for each other.. I definitely got choked up.

Unexpectedly, COVID has a very real presence in this story. I wasn’t sure I liked that at first but actually it worked. It was taken seriously, with everything still happening in real time, not just as a flippant or off the cuff reference, or used as a plot device. That said, if you don’t want to deal with that in your fiction, this is your warning.

If Slaughter wants to churn out some more standalones like this between now and the next Will Trent? I wouldn’t be mad at all.

BATTLE ROYAL by Lucy Parker – double review!

Beloved author Lucy Parker pens a delicious new romantic comedy that is a battle of whisks and wits.

Ready…

Four years ago, Sylvie Fairchild charmed the world as a contestant on the hit baking show, Operation Cake. Her ingenious, colorful creations captivated viewers and intrigued all but one of the judges, Dominic De Vere, the hottest pastry chef in London. When her glittery unicorn cake went spectacularly sideways, Dominic was quick to vote her off the show. Since then, Sylvie has managed to use her fame to help fulfill her dream of opening a bakery, Sugar Fair. The toast of Instagram, Sugar Fair has captured the attention of the Operation Cake producers…and a princess.

Set…

Dominic is His Majesty the King’s favorite baker, the go-to for sweet-toothed A-List celebrities, and a veritable British institution. He’s brilliant, talented, hard-working. And an icy, starchy grouch. Learning that the irksome Sylvie will be joining him on the Operation Cake judging panel is enough to make the famously dour baker even more grim. Her fantastical baking is only slightly more troublesome than the fact that he can’t stop thinking about her pink-streaked hair and irrepressible dimple.

Match…

When Dominic and Sylvie learn they will be fighting for the once in a lifetime opportunity to bake a cake for the upcoming wedding of Princess Rose, the flour begins to fly as they’re both determined to come out on top.

The bride adores Sylvie’s quirky style. The palace wants Dominic’s classic perfection.

In this royal battle, can there be room for two?


Title : Battle Royal
Author : Lucy Parker
Series : Palace Insiders (book one)
Format : eARC / eBook
Page Count : 411
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : August 17, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

While Battle Royal shares some similarities to one of my all-time favourite Parker reads, and obviously by the above rating I really loved it, I’ll admit this might end up being on the bottom rung of my top five favourites from this author. Which just goes to show you how much I love her books because so many of them are so great. But it’s easily the one that made me cry the most.

Some of us have compassion for others. It’s called empathy.
Some of us would hug a rabid squirrel if it shed a few tears and burbled an improbably sob story. It’s called gullibility.”

This story is doing a lot plot-wise, which may actually be what works against it a little bit, only because sometimes certain elements don’t quite get the full attention they deserve, or are tied-off pretty quickly and conveniently, but despite all that, I enjoyed everything that was done. And was also, like, moved by much of it; see aforementioned tears.

[..] it’s way too.. not beige to come from your kitchens.”
A neutral palette is universally appropriate.”
That’s not how you pronounce ‘dull’.

The obvious plot points to note are easily deduced by both cover and summary; there’s a pair of rival grumpy/sunshine bakers who feature not only on a GBBO-like baking competition but also are competing to win the royal wedding cake contract. But what’s less obvious? Is the lovely infusion of found family dynamics. As well as complicated biological-family relations. Less lovely but just as emotional? The talk and processing of loss and grief.

Jealousy is a destructive, pointless emotion and a complete waste of time.
Fairly annoying, then, that it’s seeping from your pores right now?
Very.”

Like many romances these days, we’re getting more bang for our buck and within the pages of this cutesy adorable outside is a lot of substance. Which isn’t to say the cutesy adorable ones aren’t just as satisfying. But I definitely picked this up for something joyful and fun and I got that.. and tears. That’s all I mean. And I don’t remotely regret getting more than I wanted. There were plenty of laughs (full out cackles a time or two) and I really enjoyed watching these two opposites fall for each other amongst all the other excitement happening around them. Bonus points because they are a bit older than the typical romance protagonists and, as always, Parker makes the steamy moments steamy and a little silly and all around endearingly real.

You have the table side manner of the shark from Jaws.

Though I maybe didn’t come off as strong about my love for this one, I think that’s a combination of having too many top top favourites from the author and also just because this one, despite the emotes, was a bit of a softer touch. A slower, gentler, burn of a story.

I’m equal parts terrified and aroused.”
What an excellent relationship motto for us.”

All that to say : this is a definite recommend. And I can’t wait for the next in the series.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
When your judge becomes your peer
When you hate each other, or do you…
A combination of family & found family

Well Lucy Parker started a brand new series in style and confirmed my trust in her brand of romance is unwavering. This story had a combination of a re-imagining of the Great British Bake Off with royalty, judges of the competition, business rivalry and so much chemistry.

Sylvie was the wildly creative character in this, full of glitter, focus and drive while Dominic was an ex-mentor as such, clean lines, minimalist and her opposite in every way. We all know that opposites make for the best couples though and this book provided an excellent plot to work alongside what built between these two. There was the most compelling family and found family context to this story, Pet had me glued to the page.

“You have the tableside manner of the shark from Jaws.”

Lucy Parker writes with wit (as ever) and dialogue that makes you feel the emotional temperature. The chemistry was palpable and there was nothing I didn’t enjoy about this read. I’m truly excited for more from this series.

Thank you to the author for the arc that I won in a giveaway, this hasn’t affected by unbiased opinion.

LIVING BEYOND BORDERS edited by Margarita Longoria – double review!

Twenty stand-alone short stories, essays, poems, and more from celebrated and award-winning authors make up this YA anthology that explores the Mexican American experience. With works by Francisco X. Stork, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, David Bowles, Rubén Degollado, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Diana López, Xavier Garza, Trinidad Gonzales, Alex Temblador, Aida Salazar, Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Sylvia Sanchez Garza, Dominic Carrillo, Angela Cervantes, Carolyn Dee Flores, René Saldaña Jr., Laura Perez, Justine Narro, Daniel García Ordáz, and Anna Meriano.

In this mixed-media collection of short stories, personal essays, poetry, and comics, this celebrated group of authors share the borders they have crossed, the struggles they have pushed through, and the two cultures they continue to navigate as Mexican American. Living Beyond Borders is at once an eye-opening, heart-wrenching, and hopeful love letter from the Mexican American community to today’s young readers. 


Title : Living Beyond Borders : Stories About Growing Up Mexican in America
Author : edited by Margarita Longoria
Format : eARC
Page Count : 224
Genre : YA contemporary/mixed media anthology/short stories
Publisher : Philomel Books
Release Date : August 17, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

Who made the rules on what being Mexican was or wasn’t? I’d always been told to check a box — to fit in one category or the other. But it wasn’t ever that easy. And why did it matter?

I wasn’t sure I was going to rate this, as I don’t tend to award stars to non-fiction (not that I read much of it, to be fair, despite my best intentions!), but as I think most of what is comprised of this anthology is fiction (though I could of course be wrong..), I felt it deserved to be rated. Particularly in the hopes that people see the stars and feel inspired to look a little closer at this and maybe, even, hopefully, pick it up.

Mom and Dad used to love taking me to all the Mexican and Chicanx pride events, and I used to like it too until I got older and couldn’t wrap my head around how it’s possible to dance with such fierce colourful joy while shouldering a legacy of so much pain.

Though there are twenty different offerings within this collection this is not a long read and, in the case of some of the specific ones I’ll shoutout below, I wish it had been longer. I can’t possibly know the impact of what this collection will do for readers who see themselves, or their parents, or their loved ones, in these stories but I have a feeling this’ll mean a lot for a lot of people.

I understand that for many Americans — including my own parents — being seen as American is a struggle that can be tiring and long.

As for those standouts? These were mine.

Coco Chamoy y Chango by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo was the first one to make me wish there had been more to it. I wanted to keep reading, I wanted to learn more about these characters, and where they were going. It was such a casual little snapshot in time but it made an impression.

Next was My Name is Dolores by Guadalupe Ruiz-Flores and, to quickly sum up, it broke my heart. The image of that little girl.. well, I won’t spoil. But it was one of those little big moments that leaves quiet devastation in its wake.

An Ode to My Papi by Guadalupe García McCall might have been the shortest of the bunch but.. I don’t want to call it lovely, because it was also so sad, but it was a bittersweet, heartwarming, heartaching little tribute. Though there’s nothing little about the message.

Finally, there was La Princesa Mileidy Dominguez by Rubén Degollado which snuck up on me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t invested in the story as it unfolded but it wasn’t until the final paragraph or two when I realized how much I had softened as the story went on until I found myself brushing away tears. Partially it was the importance of the celebration described, the moment of transition from child to young adult, but it was more how this group of strangers, this community, came together without hesitation. It was incredibly moving.

There was one more quote I really wanted to share so I’ll use it to sign off this review but suffice it to say yes, I had some favourites, but most of the quotes I’ve pulled didn’t even come from those stories I’ve mentioned. There was something different, something important, something moving, in everything offered in this collection. And also something for everyone.

I’m so tired of these trying political times, and I’m tired of trying to care about the newest protests and the hashtags and the kids who die or almost die and get fifteen minutes of fame from the adults who have all the money and the clout and the thoughts and prayers but don’t actually do anything.

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


Micky’s 5 star review

Here’s a collection of short stories to push you right into your emotions and some of them are going to be discomforting ones. From the first story of this anthology of stories/poems/letters from people who have straddled the Mexican/American borders, I was absorbed. These stories made me angry and hopeful, sad and in awe.

While I appreciated them all, here’s a flavour of some of the ones that either hit me in the gut, educated me or transported me to someone else’s experience (sometimes all of these things).

Ghetto Is Not An Adjective by Dominic Carrillo took a chance encounter and made an impact through poetry, ignorance felt like it was the theme for this story.

“There Are Mexicans In Texas?” by Trinidad Gonzales really conveyed the importance of family history to how he’s navigated peoples’ ignorance and racism at various junctures. These familial stories seemed to ground the author’s sense of self. I could have read his experiences and anecdotes for much longer. This quote really hit home and has relevance to other countries too:

The struggle to belong is found not only in the politics of the street, but in official institutions that are supposed to be inclusive of all Americans.

Ode to My Papi by Guadalupe García McCall squeezed my heart in a mere moment on the paper. So much was conveyed in a short space.

There were so many others to mention, but I wanted to give a dynamic snapshot of what’s on offer here.

I live overseas but I read and watch these issues, wanting to know more, especially when tensions were heightened under the 45th POTUS’ control. This book afforded me a deeper dive into individual experiences both fictionalised and non-fiction. I recommend this to all and it is definitely suitable from teenage upwards.

The editor/author provided me with a early copy through netgalley but this has not influenced by review.

ROLE MODEL by Rachel Reid

Troy Barrett has been freshly traded to Ottawa after calling out Dallas Kent during a team practice. He wants to be a better person, and the weird, scrappy energy of the struggling Ottawa team seems like the place to…well. It seems like the only place that will have Troy right now.

Fortunately the Ottawa team includes Ilya Rozanov and Wyatt Hayes, and also includes an adorable social media manager, Harris Drover. Harris is the opposite of Troy in every way: friendly, cheerful, chatty, and goofy with a booming voice, a startlingly loud laugh, and Pride pins all over his denim jacket. Definitely not the sort of person Troy would normally associate with, and yet…


Title : Role Model
Author : Rachel Reid
Series : Game Changes (book five)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 284
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ sports romance
Publisher : Carina Press
Release Date : August 10, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I always have a good time when I reunite with the Game Changers series and this instalment was no exception.

Hi. I’m Troy. What’s your name?
Fuck you.”
Nice name. Pretty.”

This particular match-up is between a closeted player working through a redemption arc and the gregarious and very out social media manager for the team he’s recently been traded to. Naturally there are lots of cameos from characters from previous books (I l y a) but instead of feeling intrusive, as it sometimes does in other series, in this particular world it’s just excellent (because I l y a).

Yeah, I talk a good game but honestly, while I do enjoy this author and her books, the thing that has me go grabby hands are the cameos. And the fact that each one brings us closer to the sequel for that particular pairing.

I’m going to fucking kill you, Rozanov.”
You have been saying that for years. But I am still here.”
I think he likes you.”
Of course he does. I’m great.

But back to Role Model. I liked it probably on par with book three, it doesn’t quite edge out the last one (which was the closest I had come to love since book two), but I like that Reid offers different tropes and different circumstances to navigate even if most follow the basic formula we come to expect.

I might forget the specific details of this plot by the time I pick up the next one (which sadly happens every time) but I’m sure when I get to see these characters, along with their contemporaries, on page, either as a reference or actively in a scene, it’ll all come back. This series is like that; it’s a comfort and it’s fun and it’s a good time.

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

IT HAPPENED ONE SUMMER by Tessa Bailey

Tessa Bailey is back with a Schitt’s Creek-inspired rom-com about a Hollywood “It Girl” who is cut off from her wealthy family and exiled to a small Pacific Northwest beach town… where she butts heads with a surly, sexy local who thinks she doesn’t belong. 

Piper Bellinger is fashionable, influential, and her reputation as a wild child means the paparazzi are constantly on her heels. When too much champagne and an out-of-control rooftop party lands Piper in the slammer, her stepfather decides enough is enough. So he cuts her off, and sends Piper and her sister to learn some responsibility running their late father’s dive bar… in Washington.

Piper hasn’t even been in Westport for five minutes when she meets big, bearded sea captain Brendan, who thinks she won’t last a week outside of Beverly Hills. So what if Piper can’t do math, and the idea of sleeping in a shabby apartment with bunk beds gives her hives. How bad could it really be? She’s determined to show her stepfather—and the hot, grumpy local—that she’s more than a pretty face.

Except it’s a small town and everywhere she turns, she bumps into Brendan. The fun-loving socialite and the gruff fisherman are polar opposites, but there’s an undeniable attraction simmering between them. Piper doesn’t want any distractions, especially feelings for a man who sails off into the sunset for weeks at a time. Yet as she reconnects with her past and begins to feel at home in Westport, Piper starts to wonder if the cold, glamorous life she knew is what she truly wants. LA is calling her name, but Brendan—and this town full of memories—may have already caught her heart


Title : It Happened One Summer
Author : Tessa Bailey
Series : It Happened One Summer (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 416
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : July 13, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed so much of this, but whether it’s hype or just me, it didn’t quite live upto what I expected it to do for me. But it was still a good time with at least one spinoff/companion being set up, so, yay, fun.

If the socialite transplant to a small town wasn’t enough to win you over, maybe grumpy/sunshine will? Both were definitely working for me. The real win for me though was because Piper sold this for me. I’m noticing a trend that I love Bailey’s female MCs a lot more than the male ones, even when the male ones are good. The ladies win it. And this is no exception.

Piper lives her life curating her social media presence, trying to stay relevant in a shallow blink-and-you’re-not-trendy world, and has lots of contacts but no actual friends; something that becomes painfully obvious after a night in jail leads to her being relocated to a small habour town in the PNW and none of her so-called friends reach out to check in. With her sister by her side and Siri helping her learn to cook, she nonetheless faces her new circumstances head on.

And in doing so she meets Brendan (a name I kept forgetting because it just didn’t seem to fit him, don’t ask me why), a local sea captain who takes one look at her and doesn’t see someone who fits, much less someone who would be a permanent fixture, in his town.

My favourite part of this romance were those early chapters where they didn’t quite know how to act around each other, even after they had dropped some of the antagonism, and were sorta just.. friends. I loved it. Brendan is having to deal with, and move on, from something and I found that whole journey really moving. That might’ve been the best part with him.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s kind, giving, and fully loves all of Piper, embraces all her behaviours and high maintenance elements, but I think some of the shine wore off once we got to the sex scenes. Thankfully there was zero baby or honey girls in this one but for some reason the sex scenes just didn’t land for me. Which isn’t to say all the sexy moments were bad, we had a few really steamy teasing ones, but sometimes the actual act was just.. not it. But to each their own.

Outside of the romance, there is a good selection of colourful characters in the background, not all of them great, a few I kind of side eyed (no villains or evil exes or what have you, just regular people being a little shitty because reasons) but much like the inspiration for Piper, the town did a lot of what I felt Schitts Creek did — added to the dynamics at the core of the show without necessarily overshadowing them. And this book did the same. It was a good balance.

There’s definitely a lot of good here and I had a good time, it just wasn’t the pure perfection I thought it could be. But I’ll be reading on for sure.

ALL’S WELL by Mona Awad

Miranda is a theatre professor whose life is less than satisfactory. After falling during a performance early in her acting career, she finds herself in constant, seemingly incurable pain and struggles to even sit still. When she hopes to revisit the glory of her acting days by having her class stage Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, she is met with a mutiny from her students, led by her least favourite undergrad–the devious Briana. Forced instead to put on Hamlet, Miranda is devastated at the duplicity of her students, underhandedness of her boss, and is consumed by frustration at the lack of control she has over her own body and life.

When she’s drowning her sorrows at the local pub one night, her path takes a sharp turn. Three mysterious men in suits who seem to know everything about her–her pain, her glory, and her deepest desires–offer to help her. After drinking a glowing, golden liquid, she wakes up the next morning with no memory of the night before, and her chronic pain has lifted. Miranda’s life starts falling into place: she is not only walking but running with ease; Briana has become gravely ill; and a twist of fate allows Miranda to stage her beloved All’s Well That Ends Well. But as a lover of the Bard, Miranda should know that sudden streaks of luck always come at a price… 

All’s Well is a searing exploration of chronic pain and depression through the classic tensions between saints and sinners, healers and witches, revenge and jealousy, love and lust to craft a completely modern and truly unique rendition of a Shakespearean play


Title : All’s Well
Author : Mona Awad
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : contemporary / magical realism?
Publisher : Hamish Hamilton
Release Date : August 3, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ 


Hollis’ 1 star review

All’s well.. now that I have finished this book. Because this was not for me.

I don’t quite know what I expected from this; well, okay, this was one of those rare cases where I did read most of the blurb before requesting. So I expected the summary. Which does sound good. And yes, I had heard some strange and varied things about Bunny, the author’s previous release, and thought, of the two, this might be more my speed to test the waters on a new-to-me author.

But no.

While the commentary surrounding chronic pain and how it is treated in the medical community, particularly with women patients, was definitely frustrating, and heartbreaking, the writing was.. manic? Stream of conscious strangeness? And that was before the was-it-magic-or-delusion-who-even-knows.

This was just so strange, and often uncomfortable — in the sense that it was visceral and I did, often, find myself in Miranda’s shoes as if I, too, was haunted by her pain; at least in the beginning, before I started to check out. So I did feel things but I didn’t like anything I felt and, again, the rest just felt like it went a bit off the rails. It was also a bit repetitive with the actual preparation of the play, which made it feel dragged out, and.. yeah, obviously, I didn’t like this so why I’m still trying to justify the reasons, I don’t know.

I can’t make myself round up on this and definitely can’t recommend it, either.

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

DARK WATERS by Katherine Arden

New York Times bestselling author Katherine Arden returns with another creepy, spine-tingling adventure in this follow-up to the critically acclaimed Small Spaces and Dead Voices.

Having met and outsmarted the smiling man in Dead Voices but fearful of when he’ll come again, Ollie, Brian, and Coco are anxiously searching for a way to defeat him once and for all. By staying together and avoiding remote places, they’ve steered clear of him so far but their constant worry and stress is taking a toll on their lives and friendship. So when Ollie’s dad and Coco’s mom plan a “fun” boat trip on Lake Champlain, the three are apprehensive to say the least. They haven’t had the best of luck on their recent trips and even worse their frenemy Phil is on the boat as well. But when a lake monster destroys their boat, they end up shipwrecked on a deserted island. This isn’t just any island though. It’s hidden from the outside world in a fog and unless everyone works together to find a way to escape, they won’t survive long. 


Title : Dark Waters
Author : Katherine Arden
Series : Small Spaces (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 256
Genre : MG paranormal fantasy
Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young 
Release Date : August 3, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

First of all, that cover? Amazing. It’s definitely my favourite of the series. But this didn’t nudge out book two for sheer spooky creepy excellence, unfortunately.

Now spring (following fall and then winter themes for books one and two), this trio of besties are still researching ways to defeat their nemesis the Smiling Man. Their adventures have taken a toll, as has their preoccupation, and so they jump on the opportunity to spend some time outdoors, away from small spaces and mirrors and any situation that might provoke another encounter, and go sailing. But they still can’t escape a brush, and more, with the otherworldly forces.

This particular scary story didn’t grip me quite the same way as the last book; Arden still did a great job with the vibe, and sending a few twists along the way (the ghost in this story was so good, and heartbreaking), but the story didn’t feel as tight or focused. I wish it had been longer, had spent more time building some suspense, digging into the feeling of isolation or more. But maybe that’s just the adult in me talking. That said, this did feel more like a build up to the cliffhanger and thus the big finale to come in book four. I still did enjoy it, though, and especially loved seeing the parents get mixed into things, as well as a new friend. Mostly, I’m just excited to reread/binge this series when book four comes out.

If you, or the younger human in your life, is into the spookier side of things ala Goosebumps, I definitely recommend.

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

53 LETTERS FOR MY LOVER by Leylah Attar

This is not your typical love story. 
It’s not so black and white. Lines are crossed. 
Walls are smashed. Good becomes bad. 
Bad becomes very, very good.

Shayda Hijazi—the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect daughter. For thirty-three years, she has played by the rules, swallowing secrets, burying dreams and doing whatever it takes to anchor her family. Shayda Hijazi is about to come face to face with the one thing that can rip it all apart, the one thing her heart has always been denied: Love.

Troy Heathgate—untamed, exhilarating, dangerous—a man who does exactly as he pleases. Life bends to his will. Until he comes across the one thing he would give it all up for, but can never have.

Born on the same day in opposite corners of the world, their lives collide. And nothing is ever the same again. 

Spanning three decades, 53 Letters for My Lover is a fiercely sensual, emotional ride to the heart of an epic, forbidden love that defies it all—an intimate exploration of love, loyalty, passion, betrayal, and the human journey for hope, happiness and redemption.


Title : 53 Letters For My Lover
Author : Leylah Attar
Series : 53 Letters For My Lover (book one)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 398
Genre : romance
Publisher : Pitch73 Publishing
Release Date : June 17, 2014

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Micky has been waiting for me to read this since 2015.. this probably isn’t how she expected to be repaid by me finally reading it.

As usual I did not have any real clue what this was about before going into it so suffice it to say I was immediately off balance by this story because it seemed to be setting up a cheating plotline. Additionally when we first meet the love interest, he isn’t put in a very flattering light. And I wonder if this was done on purpose. I’m sure the author knew she would have to make this convincing for her readers and we had to be right alongside the MC with fighting off our desire for this connection, this affair. I can appreciate that in hindsight. But it made my early enjoyment pretty low.

Strangely, I was won over. Not always. I found some elements of this story to be a little all over the place, including some of the character behaviours, almost as if scenes from something else had been spliced in to an existing manuscript. But then.. I was totally pulled under by the sheer loveliness of some of this; the irresistible connection. The love. Also? It was smoking hot. I feel like we don’t get sex scenes like this anymore? 2014, you were something else. Come back, I miss you.

So, yes, a little bit of a mixed bag. I’m so glad I finally read this; mostly because I’m cashing in a very overdue promise but also because the good? Was very good. Obviously this won’t be for everyone but honestly if not for the recommendation, and had I actually known the plot, I probably wouldn’t have ever picked it up.

Also, as a bonus for my fellow Canucks, this is set in Toronto. And while it doesn’t go overboard with sight seeing or references, it was still fun to see little name drops and occasionally be able to picture where a scene was unfolding.

Also also? Make sure you read the novella that follows this. I won’t be reviewing it for the blog but it’s required reading for sure.

THE SOULMATE EQUATION by Christina Lauren – double review!

Single mom Jess Davis is a data and statistics wizard, but no amount of number crunching can convince her to step back into the dating world. Raised by her grandparents–who now help raise her seven-year-old daughter, Juno–Jess has been left behind too often to feel comfortable letting anyone in. After all, her father’s never been around, her hard-partying mother disappeared when she was six, and her ex decided he wasn’t “father material” before Juno was even born. Jess holds her loved ones close, but working constantly to stay afloat is hard…and lonely.

But then Jess hears about GeneticAlly, a buzzy new DNA-based matchmaking company that’s predicted to change dating forever. Finding a soulmate through DNA? The reliability of numbers: This Jess understands. At least she thought she did, until her test shows an unheard-of 98% compatibility with another subject in the database: GeneticAlly’s founder, Dr. River Pena. This is one number she can’t wrap her head around, because she already knows Dr. Pena. The stuck-up, stubborn man is without a doubt not her soulmate. But GeneticAlly has a proposition: Get to know him and we’ll pay you. Jess–who is barely making ends meet–is in no position to turn it down, despite her skepticism about the project and her dislike for River. As the pair are dragged from one event to the next as the “Diamond” pairing that could make GeneticAlly a mint in stock prices, Jess begins to realize that there might be more to the scientist–and the science behind a soulmate–than she thought.


Title : The Soulmate Equation
Author : Christina Lauren
Format : eBook (overdrive)/Paperback
Page Count : 365
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Gallery Books/Piatkus Books
Release Date : May 18, 2021/August 5, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

I have been so disappointed by the last handful of CLo novels so I guess it was about time my luck changed.

I saw a lot of early buzz and excitement for this release but I expected nothing less. What intrigued me was seeing the same excitement from other often-disappointed CLo fans. That made me sit up and take notice.

It’s so hard for me to be inspired to pick up a book during the working week and yet I sat down the same night my library hold came in and I d e v o u r e d the whole thing. It made me laugh. It made me soft. It maybe even made me tear up once.

Is the premise of this book a little outlandish? Yes (if it’s based in real science pls insert my apologies here but I suspect not). Did some elements of the romance veer a little too quickly into the all-systems-go lane once the hook had taken over, particularly after the way their previous interactions had gone? Yes. Did I hate the financial conflicts with the MC’s mother? A thousand times yes (this kind of plot is a huge issue for me in general though so I didn’t expect anything different). So, is it perfect? No. But I had such a great time.

There’s a core group of supporting characters that are funny and charming and lovely, the reluctant connection between humans who don’t seem to click, or are so different, as a base for the romance is always (often) a hit, and I was definitely feeling the chemistry even in this lower range of heat we’ve come to expect from the new CLo books. Though I do think maybe there was more going on this time than there has been. Coincidence? I think not.

Suffice it to say I had a really good time and while I will not hold out hope that this trend will remain true with what’s to come from this duo, there’s a reason I keep picking these authors up. When they are good, they are good.


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Lets have more geeky scientist/mathematician combos
Fakey breaky goodness
Sold down the river for River

The Soulmate Equation seemed to find that sweet spot of the right push and pull alongside sweetness and angst; everything was in good measure to formulate the ideal equation for a story. Sorry, I’ll stop using title puns now. But seriously, the characters and plot brought a cross of Darcy with The One and equaled a lose-yourself read.

River Pena was all of Darcy’s best angles: arrogance, dismissal but alluringly handsome. I felt on a string from his first ‘Americano’ sighting. Jess, a single mom with her own brand of geek was a great protagonist with the best family to read about.

…the only thing she could focus on was the way he spoke like he was reading aloud from a textbook. God, Siri carried on a more familiar conversation.

This couple’s journey carried elements of awkwardness but staying for the journey to reach the delicious chemistry was worth the wait. This story really grew for me, especially from a third into the book. The way River stepped up in certain situations was complete swoon territory. There wasn’t a lot of on-page steam but you felt every inch of chemistry between these two.

I thoroughly enjoyed this standalone from Christina Lauren and I can’t see a day when I will not be reading their offerings.

Thank you to Piatkus Books for the review copy.