IF THIS GETS OUT by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich – double review!

Eighteen-year-olds Ruben Montez and Zach Knight are two members of the boy-band Saturday, one of the biggest acts in America. Along with their bandmates, Angel Phan and Jon Braxton, the four are teen heartbreakers in front of the cameras and best friends backstage. But privately, cracks are starting to form: their once-easy rapport is straining under the pressures of fame, and Ruben confides in Zach that he’s feeling smothered by management’s pressure to stay in the closet.

On a whirlwind tour through Europe, with both an unrelenting schedule and minimal supervision, Ruben and Zach come to rely on each other more and more, and their already close friendship evolves into a romance. But when they decide they’re ready to tell their fans and live freely, Zach and Ruben start to truly realize that they will never have the support of their management. How can they hold tight to each other when the whole world seems to want to come between them?


Title : If This Gets Out
Author : Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich
Format : eARC/Paperback ARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA romance
Publisher : Wednesday Books/Team BKMRK
Release Date : December 7, 2021

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


Hollis’ 2.75 (rounded up) star review

I think this would’ve resonated a lot more with me had I been a One Direction or BTS fan. It’s been a long time since I was into this kind of musical group, though I’m obviously not too old to understand the dynamics and the archetypes and the pressure; I’m not blind or deaf to social media. But it was hard to transport myself into this mindset because, well.. I was too young to pay that kind of attention when I was into these kinds of groups. Not to mention, I think the media and paparazzi — while they were probably no less toxic back in the day — well, the coverage was just different. Because the internet. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to deal with for those who were the subject of it all, of course, but how it was later consumed? The frenzy. The focus. The demand for more, for all? I feel that’s such a different animal now.

But anyway, that’s a long intro that isn’t saying much, so lets move on.

Overall I don’t have a lot of feelings about this. Or at least not strong ones. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it, and it was a quick consumption of entertainment. But don’t take that to mean this was light or fluffy or easy to process; there are real issues, some heavy subject matter, mixed in with the boyband and romance elements. But I felt the same way about the story as I do reading about the aforementioned real-life bands; my brain was processing the information, I would sympathize, but ultimately my investment was low.

That said, I think a lot of people will like this — I don’t think being into these bands is at all a prerequisite. I just, personally, think I would’ve liked it more if I was.

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


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
Self discovery
Friendships to moreships
Band life

If This Gets Out was a read with plenty of drama that I think has particular appeal for teens who love bands, fandoms, band life and are questioning or closeted. I appreciated all those themes and how Zach and Reuben navigated life with their restrictions. I’m not a fan of some of the big bands out there and I think this might have affected my enjoyment somewhat.

The developing more-ship between Zach and Reuben was sweet and made for easy reading. The life of the band on tour was tough, exactly how I imagine in terms of control and restrictions and that was uncomfortable reading.

Self discovery, identity and the desire to come out felt well-handled in this book. One of my yuk factors in YA is crappy parents and parenting; be ready for those elements.

This was a roller coaster of a read with sweet elements and a relationship to buy into.

Thank to TeamBKMRK for the review copy.

A MARVELLOUS LIGHT by Freya Marske – double review!

Red White & Royal Blue meets Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in debut author Freya Marske’s A Marvellous Light, featuring an Edwardian England full of magic, contracts, and conspiracies.

Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.

Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.

Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles—and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.


Title : A Marvellous Light
Author : Freya Marske
Series : The Last Binding #1
Format : Physical ARC / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 384
Genre : Historical Fantasy/LGBTQIAP+
Publisher : Tor Books
Release Date : December 9, 2021

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


Micky’s 3.5 -4 star review

A Marvellous Light really was a great debut novel, bringing that genre I love of historical fantasy and spotlighting a gay relationship in that era. This was the kind of read that I liked as soon as I dipped my toe into but it still took me a little while to truly get into it. When I did, I appreciated the unfolding magical world in historical England and most of all, I adored the connection that began to evolve between Edwin and Robin.

Looking back over the story as a whole, the plot really was rather clever. If I had moments of fogginess over what was happening, clarity did come without me feeling overly confused. The rules of the magical world and what was happening with Robin had a pressing sense of urgency, I was willing things to resolve. There was intelligence and wit throughout.

I can’t believe we were almost killed by a hedge.”

These two really were chalk and cheese, both in magical power and lack of but also in personality, physicality and communication. I particularly loved Robin, his openness, generosity of feeling and willingness to go with the flow. The chemistry between these two rose off the page…

“You are the most fascinating thing in this beautiful house. I’d like to introduce my fists to whoever taught you to stop talking about the things that interest you.”

There were a few periods in the book that felt a bit pacey, but if you feel that too, it’s worth pushing through. I didn’t like Edwin’s family at all and some of that focus was longer reading for me.

I would definitely recommend this read to you. It read authentically in terms of context and culture to my knowledge (and limitations) and I’m really pleased this is a series. I’ll be turning up for the next book!

Thank you to Tor Books and Black Crow PR for the review copy.


Hollis’ 3 star review

Just need to get this out of the way : I don’t think this ever should’ve been compared to Red, White & Royal Blue. It shouldn’t have been in the pitch. Prior to reading the book it made me hesitant to pick this up and post-reading the book I’m just perplexed.

That caveat aside, I did struggle with this book which made the times when I was really enjoying it a bit of a bummer because it would inevitably take a dip into a less enjoyable section or get a bit bogged down. But considering it’s a series and it sounds like there’s a lot of moving parts and things to reveal and overcome, a battle even maybe, I understand there’s a lot to set up. Having said that, I might’ve liked less emphasis on the romance knowing we had more books to come and therefore more time to let the romance breathe. I did enjoy it but also.. I wouldn’t have been bothered by some added yearning as opposed to resolving most (I assume..) relationship issues within the opening instalment.

What I didn’t have a problem with, however, was how the plot conflict was handled near the end. I disliked a huge portion of the characters in the story, as we’re meant to, and dragged my feet through a lot of the middle because of those scenes, but there was a fist pump moment with how deftly and cleverly one of the villains of the piece got their ass handed to them. It showed a lot of foresight for what these protagonists know they are to face and it was a “lose the battle to win the war” bit of craftiness that I adored and is so rarely seen in fantasy.

Another thing I adored? A certain house/cottage. While the magic system and a lot of the worldbuilding was somewhat interesting, though also at times kind of vague (maybe that’s just me?), I am hoping this house and the magic around it is a clue that things aren’t quite how they appear at first glance. Because I am so here for that.

I am looking forward to reading on in this series but, between the hype and the interesting choice in comp, just be wary going into this one that it doesn’t oversell itself before you cash out.

SEER OF SEVENWATERS by Juliet Marillier – double review!

The young seer Sibeal is visiting an island of elite warriors, prior to making her final pledge as a druid. It’s there she finds Felix, a survivor of a Viking shipwreck, who’s lost his memory. The scholarly Felix and Sibeal form a natural bond. He could even be her soul mate, but Sibeal’s vocation is her true calling, and her heart must answer. 

As Felix fully regains his memory, Sibeal has a runic divination showing her that Felix must go on a perilous mission-and that she will join him. The rough waters and the sea creatures they will face are no match for Sibeal’s own inner turmoil. She must choose between the two things that tug at her soul-her spirituality and a chance at love… 


Title : Seer of Sevenwaters
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Sevenwaters (book five)
Format : physical
Page Count : 432
Genre : fantasy / historical fiction / retellings
Publisher : Roc
Release Date : December 7, 2010

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


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Couple connection
Sea monsters
Slow pacing

Overall Seer of Sevenwaters was a solid installment in the series but there are a bunch of reasons why I didn’t enjoy it as much as some of the others. Sibeal was a likeable and intriguing main character but I didn’t love her. She did have great character growth later on, though. The strongest thing about this book was the connection between this ‘couple’, Sibeal and Felix but oh, I needed more expression/communication of the strong feelings they had. It was all inner feeling.

“…we’re like wind and rain, like leaf and flower..”

I enjoyed the context of sea monsters even if I found that plotline somewhat predictable from the off. However, the execution of the culmination of that plot was so slow moving and detailed in execution, I wanted to press the 1.5 speed button.

Getting to see life on Inis Eala after hearing much about it on previous books was a welcome insight. I liked spending time with Gull and Johnny again. Fans of the previous book will be glad to hear we got plenty of Clodagh and Cathal too.

While this wasn’t my favourite of the series, it was likeable and at least I didn’t hate any characters as per book three. I’m hoping for a strong finish when we tackle the final book next month.


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Let’s face it. Nothing can surpass the excellence of the main Sevenwaters trilogy. I knew that I had liked, but not loved, these follow-up companions but I was also so far removed from them, having only read through them one time, plus being so in love with the world, the family, and Marillier’s magic and writing, I was biased to like them regardless. But while there’s still a lot of greatness to be found in these additions, they don’t quite measure up.

That said, there were two parts to Seer of the Sevenwaters; one, the romance. And two, the mystery of the week, as it were. This one takes something of a break from the over-arcing concern introduced in book four, though it’s mentioned in dialogue and worried over, and instead there’s a wrong to be set right, a memory to recover, and lies to be revealed. And despite there being a really unlikeable character twisted up in the plot, it might’ve been my favourite part of this book.

Is this reserve something they teach you, your Ciarán and his fellows? Always to hold back, always to keep control, never to show the world your true self, a living, breathing woman? Is this what your gods require of you?

Having said that, though, Marillier did a great job of offering us a romance that was believable from an emotional and intellectual aspect. This is one of the first she’s provided that didn’t rely on an opposites-attract or hate-to-love or even just reluctant-allies-to-more dynamic. And it’s perfectly fitting for Sibeal; nothing else would’ve worked. So I definitely appreciated it, and the journey that she goes on, as her happily ever after is true to every part of her, without too much compromise. Additionally, the ending of this one gives us a bit of a break in the formula and offers an interesting circumstance to the romance; no spoilers. But did I love them as a pair? Not really. I did, however, love the dual POV; which, due to the nature of Felix’s situation, was necessary for the story.

If my life had taken a different path, and I’d wanted a sweetheart, I wouldn’t be choosing a warrior, no matter how impressive his fighting skills.

What adds extra delight to this instalment was that it takes place away from Sevenwaters and we get to see, live, and breathe amongst all sorts of colourful characters who have been sprinkled into the last two books. And I love this whole cast and crew with my whole heart.

I’ll admit, though, there were two brief moments that Marillier did get me, she caught me in my feels. They weren’t the usual devastations and I was spared any sobbing sessions but even in a story that I didn’t love, this author still has the power to get to the heart of me.

I’m really looking forward to the final book which, though I’m a broken record at this point, I also don’t remember much of — having only read it, like both previous spinoffs, once before. As we’ve seen with the finale of her original trilogy, I’m sure there are some twists and turns to endure on the way to the resolution. And I’m really looking forward to some potential heartbreak. Also the Marillier magic. Can’t wait.

Thanks go to, as always, the Sevenwaters Squad for another great buddy read.

ALL THE FEELS by Olivia Dade – double review!

Following Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade returns with another utterly charming romantic comedy about a devil-may-care actor—who actually cares more than anyone knows—and the no-nonsense woman hired to keep him in line.

Alexander Woodroe has it all. Charm. Sex appeal. Wealth. Fame. A starring role as Cupid on TV’s biggest show, God of the Gates. But the showrunners have wrecked his character, he’s dogged by old demons, and his post-show future remains uncertain. When all that reckless emotion explodes into a bar fight, the tabloids and public agree: his star is falling.

Enter Lauren Clegg, the former ER therapist hired to keep him in line. Compared to her previous work, watching over handsome but impulsive Alex shouldn’t be especially difficult. But the more time they spend together, the harder it gets to keep her professional remove and her heart intact, especially when she discovers the reasons behind his recklessness…not to mention his Cupid fanfiction habit.

When another scandal lands Alex in major hot water and costs Lauren her job, she’ll have to choose between protecting him and offering him what he really wants—her. But he’s determined to keep his improbably short, impossibly stubborn, and extremely endearing minder in his life any way he can. And on a road trip up the California coast together, he intends to show her exactly what a falling star will do to catch the woman he loves: anything at all.


Title : All The Feels
Author : Olivia Dade
Series : Spoiler Alert #2
Format : eARC / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 416
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Piatkus
Release Date : October 26, 2021

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Body-positivity
Judgement
Friends to witty more

The start and ongoing premise to All The Feels starts with a judging a person by their appearance, judging Lauren the plus-sized heroine. This story is the journey back from that initial judgement and this man really was good guy, not one to go solely by supposed ideal appearances at all. I appreciated so much how this story navigated these issues while packing a great plot around it.

All The Feels picked up the batton where Spoiler Alert left off, with Alex an actor from the same series as the previous book and there was a fan fic element too. Alex for me, was such an adorable character, he had ADHD and he was a walking, self-depricating, guilt-ball. Lauren with her therapist background and babysitter role was able to inject some positivity to his sense of self over time.

This story was something of a slow burn. I appreciated the time passing, the friendship evolving and the chemistry building. Then everything was pretty much unleashed and much fun to read.

I didn’t always find the fan fic excerpts (which were few and far between) easy to read, they jarred me a bit with the flow. In this story, I didn’t feel like it added much but then when I remember the soulmate one, that was pretty special.

This series is shaping up so well and I’m excited to own some special editions of these two books when book two releases.

Thank you to Piatkus Books for the early review copy.


Hollis’ 2.5 (maybe rounded up?) review

Let’s just get the joke out of the way now. All the Feels only gave me some feels.

Okay, moving on.

But seriously. I don’t know if maybe Spoiler Alert just caught me at the right time or what but this one only had a few moments that actually worked for me. Mostly the discussion around Alex and his mum. I got a little misty about all that so, yes, those scenes had all the feels but the rest? Eh.

While I absolutely appreciated the role and presence of all the body positivity overall I just didn’t love this one or the characters. Both had their lovely moments but in general I didn’t like either one and so together it was hard to root for them.

Also don’t play a drinking game with the words “rubbed her forehead” or “rubbed her temples” or “Nanny Clegg”. You will regret it.

Oddly enough, where I found the fanfiction elements in book one to be fun (at least from what I remember) I found them very out of place with this storyline. I didn’t mind the jokes and delight about tropes but the actual writing of fic? It just seemed out of character.

I will definitely read on in this world but maybe I’ll scale down my expectations for book three. I’m definitely here for all the positive rep and love that Dade will likely give us more of that. Also, I just love the snarky commentary around this not-GoT but definitely GoT show at the centre of the plot. It’s incredibly satisfying.

HEIR TO SEVENWATERS by Juliet Marillier – double review!

The chieftains of Sevenwaters have long been custodians of a vast and mysterious forest. Human and Otherworld dwellers have existed there side by side, sharing a wary trust. Until the spring when Lady Aisling of Sevenwaters finds herself expecting another child—a new heir to Sevenwaters.

Then the family’s joy turns to despair when the baby is taken from his room and something…unnatural is left in his place. To reclaim her newborn brother, Clodagh must enter the shadowy Otherworld and confront the powerful prince who rules there.


Title : Heir to Sevenwaters
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Sevenwaters (book four)
Format : physical
Page Count : 398
Genre : fantasy / historical fiction / retellings
Publisher : Roc
Release Date : November 4, 2008

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Otherworldly
Roller coaster-y on steroids
Nefarious side of magic

I couldn’t be happier that the Sevenwaters ‘dip’ was fleeting and is over (Child of the Prophecy). The struggles of book three are but a memory and the band of buddy readers gobbled Heir of Sevenwaters up.

In Clodagh we found a worthy heroine, made of true Sevenwaters heritage. She thought herself lacking in some worth, masterful with running the house and little else. BUT Clodagh was much more, she had a steely determination and she was caring to a fault.

We got some true Marillier hurt in this book, I wont say anything further but just remember the saying that no one is safe. That said, in this installment, she soothed and healed the reader too. We also got some real connection between Clodagh and Cathal. I believed their tether and that proved so vital in times apart.

I have to mention Becan without elaboration, but oh, my heart. That wee one stole my affection immediately and I adored him. His personality, who Clodagh became through him and all that came after. For me, the biggest moments in this book were focused on him.

The story really took us more into the Otherworld and it really was a scary place, not visually but in terms of a total lack of sense of safety for the characters. I was tense every moment of being in that place.

As ever, Marillier’s writing was complex in part but with enchanting prose (quite literally). She has caught me in her net with this series.

I met a young woman with hair like a flame,
She laid my heart open,
She banished my shame.


Hollis’ 3.5 (rounded up) star review

This rating might change as we continue on through the remaining two Sevenwaters instalments but. If you’ve made it this far, you know you are getting a very Marillier-experience which means heartbreak, love that conquers all, and stories. Stories that come with lessons, and clues, in how to survive what is to come and what is expected of our main character.

For Clodagh, she herself is a bit of a departure from our original trilogy heroines, particularly the first two. She’s not adventurous, or a gifted healer, or seems to have any particular strength beyond the maintaining and running of a household. And it’s really as far as her ambitions have pushed her. So when she is underestimated (by others and herself) when she initially finds herself on a particular quest that only she can take.. well, no one is surprised. But for this journey, it takes that kind of selfless love, from a person always putting others before herself, to triumph.

This particular instalment introduces us to a different kind of Fair Folk than we’re used to seeing in this world. Not just meddlesome and cagey, trying to steer these to the tune they like, but this time outright devious, destructive, and dangerous. Nor have we seen the last of this particular character. That said, this may have been the most Otherworldly focused story so far and the character we met along the way, the atmosphere, the dangers.. it was all so vibrant, full of tension, and made for great storytelling.

While I don’t think I loved this one, I liked so much of it. Again, my rating might change by the time we finish book six, and I can rank these companions back to back (to back), but.. it was still a lovely time. And I enjoyed my buddy read immensely with the Sevenwaters Squad (though our final day to discuss was foiled by the All Apps Are Down annoyance). Can’t wait for book five and beyond.

THE LAST GRADUATE by Naomi Novik – double review!

A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . . 


Title : The Last Graduate
Author : Naomi Novik
Series : The Scholomance (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Del Rey Books
Release Date : September 28, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha.

That ending.. I just.. the only two options are stupefied silence or hysterical laughter and right now I’m alternating between the two.

Weirdly enough, with nine minutes left on the kindle countdown, I put the book down. I could almost sense something. But that bit of warning was not enough to prepare me for t h a t.

“[..] you’re the only person I’ve ever met who’d come up with the idea of being wildly rude and hostile to the guy who saved your life twenty times.
Thirteen times! And I’ve saved his life at least twice.”
Catch up already, girl.

Goodness, wow, so. Yeah, lots of my feelings about this book have been eclipsed by all the nonsense above but I will say this. I was delighted to return to this world for one main reason : I had forgotten how delightfully prickly El was. Being back in her space, watching her interact with people, it was often hilarious because she is constantly battling the general feeling of “not putting up with this shit” which, I mean, same. But she’s also in a much better place than she was in the beginning of book one so she’s also struggling to remember she has friends and how that’s changed her life, yes, but also changed her odds of surviving the Scholomance. And those opposing forces are just as funny as she is.

I was unenthusiastic about the prospect of being found attractive because I seem like a terrifying creation of dark sorcery instead of despite it.

Also there was maybe a very short, tiny, little scene that ambushed some tears out of me. Unexpected.

My one.. not complaint, really, but observation, is that there is a lot going on in this world, in the day to day, and Novik strings together some long-ass sentences sometimes — and as a result I completely lose the original thought or point and have to reread or, occasionally, just give up and keep going. It doesn’t always feel like dense fantasy when there’s action or bickering or brainstorming but there are huge swaths of this that is actually quite wordy or complicated. Sometimes I gobbled it up, other times, well, like I said, I just cruised on by. That said, maybe I sabotaged myself a bit because I didn’t adjust my pace to actually take time to process it all, so, maybe it’s my own fault. But unlike most magical schools or learning sequences, this author doesn’t gloss over anything. We are with them as they learn, as they do homework, as they team up and help each other, because not doing the work is sometimes just as dangerous as the monsters crawling through the vents.

I had such a good time with this one. The banter, the action, the romance, the snark, the cut-throat ruthlessness, and, yeah, even that e n d i n g.. I can’t wait for book three (and this isn’t even out yet, arg!).

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Whaaaattttt? Who else had that reaction on finishing?

Well, I thought I knew a bit about the Scholomance from A Deadly Education but The Last Graduate took my expectations and threw them out into the void. This installment took many an unexpected turn but continued to deliver on a great story, snarkastic wit and characters to cheer for.

El showed a new level of maturity in this book, a little more measured and I think that had a lot to do with the fact that she had friends, that she wasn’t alone. These platonic friendships, the potential alliances were rich in trust issues and fun to read. El and Orion were an interesting grumpy and grumpy/sometimes sunshine.

Plotting and planning was a big part of this year’s graduating class and I did not see that final plan coming. The magic complexity went up a notch and I was able to follow but also I was agog at the skills need to set things in motion.

Naomi Novik made these characters elevate from sophomore to senior and I’m still rather enamoured by this world. Bring me book three on a plate, please!

Thank you to Del Rey UK for the gorgeous review copy.

CHILD OF THE PROPHECY by Juliet Marillier – double review!

Magic is fading… and the ways of Man are driving the Old Ones to the West, beyond the ken of humankind. The ancient groves are being destroyed, and if nothing is done, Ireland will lose its essential mystic core. 

The prophecies of long ago have foretold a way to prevent this horror, and it is the Sevenwaters clan that the Spirits of Eire look to for salvation. They are a family bound into the lifeblood of the land, and their promise to preserve the magic has been the cause of great joy to them… as well as great sorrow.

It is up to Fainne, daughter of Niamh, the lost sister of Sevenwaters, to solve the riddles of power. She is the shy child of a reclusive sorcerer, and her way is hard, for her father is the son of the wicked sorceress Oonagh, who has emerged from the shadows and seeks to destroy all that Sevenwaters has striven for. Oonagh will use her granddaughter Fainne most cruelly to accomplish her ends, and stops at nothing to see her will done.

Will Fainne be strong enough to battle this evil and save those she has come to love?


Title : Child of the Prophecy
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Sevenwaters (book three)
Format : physical
Page Count : 596
Genre : fantasy / historical fiction / retellings
Publisher : TorBooks
Release Date : March 20, 2002

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


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

Well, we did it. The original trilogy complete. What a ride.

I cannot be part of this. The forest, the family, the — the brotherhood. You must realize that.”

What makes Child of the Prophecy so interesting, but also easily unlikeable, is the shift. After two books featuring brilliant, self-sacrificing, and purely good, heroines, we are faced with something different in Fainne. She’s not the hero. She’s not purely good. She is, simply, an antagonist. A reluctant one but nonetheless it’s true. She is brilliant, she is powerful, she shares her mother’s temperament (making her difficult), and she’s making choices that don’t have good results. Because she’s fighting for those she loves.. even at the cost of others. This disconnect, this unfortunate situation, is made worse because of her otherness. We, as a reader, have a connection to the Sevenwaters clan, the history, the losses and triumphs they have endured. But Fainne is outside of that while at the same time able to trace her own losses back to the choices (well meaning though they were) of those characters we love. We know their struggle, their guilt, and their enduring love. But Fainne doesn’t. And even worse, her otherness, her disconnect, is compounded by her own gifts and her parentage (doubly so); neither of which are acceptable.

Perhaps my own spirit was damaged, my heart cracked into pieces, so that I could never be fine and good.

It makes her journey difficult in so many ways.

You have the power to make us or break us, I think, and it will not be until the last that you will choose which way to go.”

And honestly I totally understand why my buddy readers had a hard time connecting with this story and the lead. I’m sure, a hundred years ago when I first read this, I had the same issue. It’s always been my least favourite of the trilogy, though still undoubtedly a Marillier and thus excellent (previously rated a four to the otherwise outstanding fives), but now, in hindsight, I can respect and appreciate this a little more — the experience of reading it was also, likely, helped by the benefit of hindsight and knowing where the story would end up. Every character’s journey in this saga has had pitfalls and struggles; Fainne’s are just different and, unfortunately, come with collateral damage. 

The days where the children of Sevenwaters could roam the forest freely, without fear, are gone.

Then again, I’m so biased it’s beyond comprehension, so there’s that.

What likely also chips away some of the lustre with this final (ish) instalment is the lower romance content. Or, rather, the fact that we don’t get enough time seeing it to really believe in it, maybe. But I think this ties into the fact that, considering the ending, their story isn’t really for us. They are part of the whole but set apart from it. For reasons. Either way, though, I can admit it’s the weakest part of the story but there were still moments I found lovely and moving.

There will come a time, soon enough, when even that ancient wood will fall to the axe, to grant man his grazing land, his settlements, his towers and his walls. He thinks, in his ignorance, to tame the very earth, to force the very ocean to his will. And so he will lay waste the body of the mother who gave him birth; and will not know what he does. The old ways will be forgotten.”

Equally this might be the least emotionally devastating of the stories. I definitely cried for a few reasons during the big conflict during the end but there were only one or two brief moments during the telling that actually got me choked up. Fainne’s disconnect makes this less of an emotional journey and considering the books that came before that, too, is a change.

But.

This is my favourite series for so many reasons; for the emotions, the folklore, the magic, the heartbreak, the challenges, the strength, the wisdom, the losses, and the whole of it. These three books make up a generational story that, in my mind, is truly untouchable. But, again, biased.

The companions that follow the main Sevenwaters trilogy are the ones I don’t know well at all, having only read them each once upon publication. Though I remember which characters they follow, and have vague memories of the plot, I don’t have any real emotional attachment to them beyond the fact that they exist in this beloved world. I hope, with age and my enduring delight and respect for this saga, and the main trilogy fresh in my mind (though it never truly fades), I come out with some newfound love for them. I can’t wait to read on.

Thank you to the Sevenwaters Squad — Micky, Steph, Amanda, and Cat — for coming on this journey with me. I know it wasn’t always what you expected (in good and bad ways) but I had a great time nonetheless.


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Pesky protagonist
Oh the sevenwaters family
Magic – dark versus light

Child of the Prophecy did not live up to my expectations but lets just frame that with how high the bar has been set by books one and two. The biggest difficulty with this story was Fainne, a protagonist that was hard to like. On the one hand, I admire Juliet Marillier for taking the difficult road on this but we’ve been spoilt with the family of Sevenwaters in the previous books and so it was tough to be away from them at first.

The Sevenwaters family do become a big part of this story but Marillier put readers through the mill somewhat. I am saying nothing of the plot but it had me in knots of loyalty, allegiance and despair.

There was a smattering of romance but nothing as deeply affecting or connecting in this installment, I definitely missed that heart yearning love. There were a bunch of fav characters in this read, hello Liadan (I’m looking at you), Bran, Johnny (give the man his own book) and Ciaran.

How Marillier brought a fitting end about, I don’t know but thank goodness, she did. This was a very up and down read but I feel it was left in a suitable place and I hope for even more from book 4. I remain 100% invested in the series.

Thank you sevenwaters squad for the heated debate along the way.

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 HEART PRINCIPLE by Helen Hoang – double review!

A woman struggling with burnout learns to embrace the unexpected—and the man she enlists to help her—in this heartfelt new romance by USA Today bestselling author Helen Hoang.

When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She’s going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.

That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she has just started to understand herself. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves. 


Title : The Heart Principle
Author : Helen Hoang
Series : The Kiss Quotient (book three/companion)
Format : e-ARC / eBook
Page Count : 304
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Corvus/Atlantic Books
Release Date : September 2, 2021 / August 31, 2021

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Love is messy
Grief is messy
Life is messy

My expectations coming into The Heart Principle were altered by things I’d seen on the author’s social media. I came into this expecting it to be different from the previous two in the series…and it was…and I’m okay with that. This story was definitely Anna’s book, Anna’s journey with some Quan on the side. I think some readers will miss that he wasn’t the full focus but I really liked Anna, her realisations, her evolving self awareness and her vulnerability. I could definitely have managed more Quan focus because as a character and great human, he was superb.

Anna’s character and her new diagnosis felt utterly raw. Anna’s reaction to the diagnostic news really resonated with me (not the same diagnosis), how she reacted, how it floored her, I could really relate to that. Later, how Anna grieved felt tangible and while some of that inertia of grief isn’t the most engaging thing to read about, it was and felt real.

I couldn’t stand Priscilla, I hated that dismissal she aimed towards Anna and having experienced that from my own mother, I seethed on her behalf. So much of this story that was personal to the character and author, felt personal to me too. This really isn’t your average romance, it’s messy and complicated but it’s rich.

There’s a lot of processing to do reading this and coming out of it; it still has me thinking. I will say that I wanted a little more depth in the closing quarter of the book but overall, this was a memorable journey and the most gritty of the three books. Helen Hoang really brought a portion of herself to this book and I am the richer for reading it.

Thank you to Corvus Books for the review copy.


Hollis’ unrated review

This is such a complicated reading experience and I’m really going to struggle putting some thoughts down, I think, and urge you to try this for yourself no matter what I come up with. Just know this might not be what you expect of it.

I knew pretty early on in the unfolding of this story that this was going to be very personal. Just from following the author, her struggles — all posted on public platforms — I could see the writing on the wall with this one. And she goes on to confirm it in the author’s note, too, just incase you think I’m reading too much into it. So the thought of “rating” or expressing dislike on something that is all but half a memoir is kind of uncomfortable. But if you go into this book expecting a romance ala what the cover is selling? You might end up with some buyer’s remorse.

Lately we’re seeing more and more romances toe the line of women’s fiction (or whatever you want to call it) where the romance is central, yes, but there are other topics that play just as (if not more) prominent a role. In this case I think there is equal page time given to both.. however, because of the structure of the story, you take turns reading about one thing and then another. The first part? Romance. Delightful. Sweet. Sexy. An irritating character or two. Some cameos. Everyone is having a good time and if we just quietly side-eye how quickly one of these two is moving and feeling? That’s okay. We can roll with it. The second part? Devastating. Uncomfortable. Frustrating. Hard to read. Over the course of a few different issues, really. Romance is on the back burner. And part three? A really rushed resolution that gives us a happily ever after but doesn’t resolve every single issue — which is often the case in women’s fiction but somehow, in this romance, feels.. unsatisfying? Not because I needed a bow tied on everything but I felt wound up so tight from part two and I wasn’t given enough time to decompress and process and see the character do the same. I don’t know how to explain it. But suffice it to say, yes, rushed.

That said, I am not calling this women’s fiction, nor am I hating on that genre — this year alone I’ve rated at least two of them five stars — it’s just that this feels a little bit of both, but not quite either.

Thus.. it’s an odd reading experience. But it’s obviously also a very personal one. Is Anna’s creative burnout, the fear of failing those who are watching her so closely, the author’s own manifested fear post-success of The Kiss Quotient? So much of Anna comes from the author (which she also explains was her reason to switch from third person to first) and the more I think about the elements of this story, the realer and realer is seems. And I haven’t even touched on the more obvious real-life elements she put onto the page.

I’m sure aspects of this will mean a lot for all sorts of readers or make them feel seen. I don’t want to dismiss that representation or impact. I just don’t know how it works as a whole when each section didn’t feel tuned to the same frequency.

What I’ve also yet to mention is that if you are expecting this to be Quan’s book? It isn’t, really. If you’re expecting the character represented by the woman on the cover to exude the energy she’s giving us with that pose? You won’t get it (this happens more and more due to illustrated covers, I think we’re all getting used to it, but it bears mention). This is a lot of things but between expectations and marketing I’m not sure it all lines up. And hey, it is what it is, I imagine the author did not anticipate her own circumstances to go the way they did during the course of writing this book, either.

So, again, how does one rate this? If you’re me, you don’t.

I absolutely don’t want to discourage anyone from reading this. I love this author, I love her works, and there is so much courage in putting these experiences out into the world in the form of fiction for people, like myself, to critique. I will absolutely read whatever else she puts out. But was this satisfying? Worth the wait? Everything I wanted? A great experience? I would say no. But the why of that no is due to all the aforementioned reasons above.

THERE WITH YOU by Samantha Young – double review!

For Regan Penhaligon, there’s no better place to run to than the exclusive Ardnoch Estate in the remote Scottish Highlands. Her impulsive behavior has finally caught up with her and Regan’s visit with her sister, Robyn, is an opportunity to hide from someone who has grown dangerously obsessed with her.

Determined to make amends for her mistakes, Regan plans to repair her relationship with Robyn by staying close. And when an offer of help comes from Thane Adair, Regan gratefully accepts.

Widower, Thane, needs a new nanny housekeeper for his two young children and when they bond with Regan Penhaligon, he offers her the job. But as the weeks pass and the complex American reveals who she really is, Thane struggles with his growing attraction to her.

Regan never expected to feel so intensely for Thane, but she can’t deny her passion for him or her love for his children. When someone from Thane’s past threatens his family, Regan wants to be his pillar of support. However, his continued inability to trust her might just destroy their chance at future happiness… and the person who drove Regan to Ardnoch might snuff out her chance for any future at all.


Title : There With You
Author : Samantha Young
Series : Adair Family #2
Format : e-ARC
Page Count : 374
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Self Published
Release Date : August 24, 2021

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Too Scot to handle
Gentle suspense
Sense of family

I’m already getting sad that this is marked as a three book series on Goodreads and retailers as I know I will want more than three books from this family and setting. I really enjoyed book one and I loved book two. This series is clearly building into a favourite contemporary romance/romantic suspense.

While the suspense in There With You felt gentler than book one, it was no less gripping. There was something very tangible about Thane and Regan’s story. With a nanny(ish) trope and the most engaging family, this story had me struggling to put my kindle down for the 24 hours that I read it. Thane could be an a**e but he had valid reasons and Regan was so misunderstood; I really enjoyed people realising her character just by being around her for a while.

“These Adair men…emotionally constipated, I tell you.”
“So what are we? The laxative?”

The chemistry between these two was so believable and had all the feels, as did the reluctant emotional connection. On top of that, I have been reflecting on the thoroughness of plot points, large and small in many of Samantha Young’s books and There With You was a great example of this. I was never once left feeling something was loose ended, nor were things neatly tied; she hits a great balance.

Sign me up for more Adair, I want more, I need more and I will definitely re-read this series. Oh, and I read this book in Gairloch on the NW coast of the highlands…pretty perfect all round.

Thank you to the author for the early review copy, this has not affected this unbiased review.


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

(insert song clip gif of Chris Pine singing Agony from Into the Woods here)

Phew, well, I had expected this one to go a little awry considering Regan didn’t make a favourable non-impression in book one, and it’s true her introduction here was rocky and I was not very inclined towards her, but while she did grow on me a bit she won’t be a favourite. Instead what ruined this was Thane, the love interest.

This went hot and cold and then back and forth more chaotically than a spring day in Canada. It was actually painful. But somehow, what was worse, was this preoccupation with people making assumptions about Regan. She’s leaving, she won’t stay; she’s young (twenty five, but from the amount of times it was mentioned you’d think she was eighteen) and will regret settling; she doesn’t know her own mind or her own feelings. Did anyone fucking ask her what she’s doing or what she wants before she was forced to set things straight multiple times because everyone was, once again, steering her around as if they knew her? No. No they did not. I may not have really liked her but ugh she deserved better.

And tied into the age thing, I’m sorry, this isn’t a historical novel, why was there such a preoccupation with her being a little bit younger and taking up with the single dad? Just because she’d started out as the nanny? Who cares what the town had to say? Again, she was not underage. The whole reason for this relationship being played out on the downlow was just dumb.

Don’t even get me started on Robyn and Regan’s mother. Do not.

Anywayyyy yeah this wasn’t a favourite. I’m kind of glad there’s only one more member of Robyn and Regan’s family that’s left to hook up with an Adair because it’s getting to be A Lot (and I can only imagine how weird the family tree will look). So after Mac seals the deal with Arro in book three, which I’m sure will be angsty as hell but I’m keen on it regardless because Mac has been a gem this whole series, I think I know who might wind up with one of the remaining brothers; and as this is a five book series, which makes sense as there’s five siblings, I guess the last one will be a surprise. Though I’m not too enthused about what I assume will be book four (Brodan) because he was a gross jerk in this one.

But yes, I’m reading on.

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