RUBY FEVER by Ilona Andrews – double review!

#1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews is back with the newest book in the exciting Hidden Legacy series—the thrilling conclusion to her trilogy featuring fierce and beautiful Prime magic user Catalina Baylor.

An escaped spider, the unexpected arrival of an Imperial Russian Prince, the senseless assassination of a powerful figure, a shocking attack on the supposedly invincible Warden of Texas, Catalina’s boss… And it’s only Monday. 

Within hours, the fate of Houston—not to mention the House of Baylor—now rests on Catalina, who will have to harness her powers as never before. But even with her fellow Prime and fiancé Alessandro Sagredo by her side, she may not be able to expose who’s responsible before all hell really breaks loose.


Title : Ruby Fever
Author : Ilona Andrews
Series : Hidden Legacy (book six)
Format : eBook (overdrive) / eBook Edelweiss
Page Count : 320
Genre : paranormal romance / urban fantasy
Publisher : Avon/Harper 360
Release Date : August 23, 2022

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


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

As always, I never envy the task that is required by authors to wrap up a series. Especially one like this that is the continuation of the five books that came before.. and also sets up the (likely, eventually, p l e a s e n o w) books to come. That’s a lot of loose ends and a lot of new, tantalizing, threads to keep track of. And I think overall, IA did a good job. But.. it’s also a lot of stuff.

This book felt overwhelming in a lot of ways but mostly in terms of action sequences and throwbacks to the main trilogy (which, had I been smart, I would’ve reread all books not just Catalina’s, my bad) and sometimes it was just overload. I didn’t find that this had any emotional or feelsy moments, much less any swoons, and I’m really surprised by that.

In a lot of ways this is a very Catalina-centric story; she has the man she loves, they are committed, so there was less focus on them as a couple — barring a few specific interactions — instead it’s Catalina learning more about her powers (so cool!) and also some familial connections and surprises. Which, hey, I will never complain about Baylor Fam page time but I definitely expected to get socked in the feels along the way and there was only one tiny close call and even that didn’t cause a lump in the throat.

All that to say, as a romance? This was a little lacking. Alessandro ends up as a bit player, especially in light of a newcomer character who takes much of the spotlight because he is shiny and new and rather devious. This is much more plot and Big Bad confrontation plus wrap up than anything else. But with a secured love interest, I can see why; and at least they didn’t have any manufactured drama to deal with. Just something to keep in mind.

Despite some of the dynamic shifts from some of the well-earned reveals, which I really enjoyed, I don’t think this’ll go down as my favourite of the series. I think it’s book two, one, and three for me. But this is still solid, written by some of the GOATs, and featuring one of my absolutely favourite fictional families. I’m also so excited by the tease for Arabella’s book(s) and in reading this transcript (huge spoilers, mind you, you’ve been warned) I’m excited about the possibility of it being an self-published release so as to break out of the more restrictive trad-published formula.

But let’s be real I would be excited either way (also, not me losing my mind to see them reference book two of Iron and Magic because yesss, fiiiiiinally, 2018 was so many moons ago..) because even in a review sprinkled through with nitpicks, I have very little ability to remain unbiased in my love for these authors and their worlds. Having that said that, while I did initially round up on this, further thought (as in, I haven’t thought about this since finishing) has me deciding that.. well, this really was the weakest of the lot. Thus the rating should reflect that.


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Grandparent hell
Spider warnings
Slow start

This was an pleasant but perhaps weakish installment in this UF series. I think my investment in this fandom, the sisters and the current couple kept me in the enjoyment sector but this book definitely had a slow start. The second half was a stronger read for me with more action and plot.

I always think with this family that the current couple I’m reading is my favourite, I loved Nevada and Connor, then Catalina and Alessandro came along…but now I find myself looking rather intently at Arabella and the indications we got in this book. Talking of couples, I felt a bit left wanting with Catalina and Alessandro, especially towards the end. Although these two are firmly in coupledom, I think we needed a bit more.

This was a strong plot, the best element being the grandparent storyline. I enjoyed how this part of the story came together. I did want more from the spider however…okay, maybe not.

I don’t know if this is the last Catalina story and Arabella is next but if so, I’m ready.

Thank you to Harper 360 for the eARC.

THIS VICIOUS GRACE by Emily Thiede – double review!

Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches.

Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.

Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?


Title : This Vicious Grace
Author : Emily Thiede
Series : The Last Finestra (book one)
Format : ARC / audio
Page Count : 448
Genre : YA fantasy romance
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : June 28, 2022

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


Hollis’ 2 star review

I wish I could say that this was bad or awful in some way because then at least I would’ve felt something for it. But instead it was just aggressively kind of monotonous and slow and boring and vague (or hard to grasp) and, finally, predictable. The last one isn’t always a bad thing but it didn’t really help when combined with the rest.

What felt, at first, like a fresh and interesting setting quickly shifted into window (hah, you’ll understand if you read this..) dressing. I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the worldbuilding and the curse or the mythology, whatever it is, because it just didn’t get enough attention. See aforementioned window (again, snicker) dressing.

To me, this felt like the author wanted a bodyguard romance, with some magical stakes, and then built up around that. And to be fair, the main pitch I saw was Serpent & Dove (which I have not read) meets The Bodyguard. So it’s definitely a big part. And if that’s more or less all you want, I think you’ll be satisfied. But while the romance does feel stronger than the rest, it’s only relative because the weak world and (despite the pitch) complete lack of tension or high stakes around it — both in the sense that there isn’t that many times he’s needed as a guard and also in the world-ending-event stakes. It is tasty in the sense that the dude is tortured and it’s a slowburn and there’s the whole taboo “no touchy” element at play and yes it was the best part of the book but, again, it’s all relative. And I would’ve preferred equal parts of both.

While I appreciate the element added near the end when it comes to the MC trying to solve the riddle of how she might save the world, overwhelmingly the rest of the cast of characters just didn’t stand out beyond their base archetype. And, in some sense, the solve that Alessa comes up with kind of goes hand in hand with how these characters ultimately end up : interchangeable.

I won’t even go into the sibling dynamic because that infuriated me.

Also, there was a priest/religious conflict that gave me Winternight vibes but in a very try-hard watered down way (the character, not the author, I mean). I’ll be curious to see if anyone else picks up on that. But actually I think watered down is a good all-around way to describe the story. I needed more lemons, and a whole extra heaping of sugar, in this glass of lemonade.

Having said all that negative stuff, however, I will probably read on if this is a duology (please be a duology) but if it’s a trilogy.. time will tell.

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


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
The evil saviour
Deadly touch
Connection and hugs

This Vicious Grace is a story with an Italian world at the centre. Pasta and baked goods feature but this isn’t a recognisable world we know, it is one full of grey characters, a chosen fighter in the Finestra Alessa and a daunting day of reckoning ahead.

Alessa had a deadly touch and she was matched into coupledoms with chosen individuals to leech their powers. It was a pretty sick parasitic relationship but she was forced into it. It was a sad state of affairs witnessing Alessa’s life, with no family who cared, guardians who had a job to do and no friends surrounding her. Her loneliness was palpable and sad. This made the appearance of a friend something meaningful.

The read was very ebb and flow for me. Early investment was there and it got more exciting for me when Dante appeared and from halfway. But, I didn’t feel fully into the story or the characters and I can’t quite put my finger on why.

I didn’t love This Vicious Grace but I think many will.

The narration was very good, strong execution of accents for the dialogue and that delicious Italian intro for each chapter start.

3 stars rounded up. Thank you to Hodder Books for the review copy.

FOR THE THRONE by Hannah Whitten – double review!

THE FIRST DAUGHTER IS FOR THE THRONE
THE SECOND DAUGHTER IS FOR THE WOLF

Hannah Whitten’s debut For the Wolf was an instant New York Times bestseller and word-of-mouth phenomenon. Now, the eagerly awaited sequel, For the Throne, concludes her brilliant dark tale of love, magic and the secrets written in the stars.

Red and the Wolf have finally contained the threat of the Five Kings, but at a steep cost. Red’s beloved sister – Neve, the First Daughter – is lost in the Shadowlands. But Neve has an ally, even if it’s one she’d rather never speak to again – the rogue king Solmir. Together they must journey across a dangerous landscape to find the mysterious Heart Tree – and finally claim the gods’ dark, twisted powers for themselves.


Title : For The Throne
Author : Hannah Whitten
Series : For The Wolf (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 448
Genre : fantasy
Publisher : Orbit Books
Release Date : June 7, 2022

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


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

My thoughts about For The Wolf were a little mixed, which I thought was only due to the delayed and prolonged reading of the book itself, but in hindsight.. maybe was just genuine feelings. Because other than the overall vibes and some character interactions, I felt rather lost by the story.

Well the same is true for the sequel. 

Even though I didn’t do myself a favour by making time to reread book one, I jumped right in and thought the first half was really good. It was slow reading but somehow also easy reading, even if I wasn’t engaged. However in hindsight, having finished the latter part, it was also the best half. Mainly because of Neve’s POV alongside her adventures with Solmir in the Shadowlands. As the story went on and we flipped to POVs for Red, and even Raffe, I was even more detached from things. I might not have been invested in the plot but, again, I was here for the vibes. I was here for the messy and evolving dynamic between Neve and Solmir. 

But where things really went off the rails for me, beyond being checked out during certain chapters, was the climax. I’m just.. I have no words. I don’t understand and I don’t want to understand. It is what it is and I’m not a fan.

I would probably pick the author up again but I could just as easily not. 

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


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
Kings and trees
Souls and keys

I came into this sequel a bit unsure what to expect having really liked Red and Eamonn in For The Wolf and not sure if I was ready for a Neve-centric read. What I found was that Neve (and Solmir) pitched for my attention early on and won it. We got a fair bit of Red and Eamonn in this book, so fans of that couple should feel satisfied.

The Wilderwood evolved into something above and below with creepy feelings pervading. Whitten is particulary good at creating atmosphere with a sense of tension and foreboding. The quest involving keys, kings and souls was something that echoed things we’ve seen along folklore, fairytales and retellings in the past but with a sense of freshness to the plot.

However, some of the issues I had with For The Wolf around the plot complexity and not feeling the flow continued into this second book for me. While the plot was linear, it didn’t always feel linear and I stalled a few times reading this.

I like Whitten’s imagination in world and I especially like her characterisation. I’ll definitely read her again.

Thank you to Orbit Books for the eARC.

MAD ABOUT YOU by Mhairi McFarlane 🎧

Two strangers.
One big coincidence.
Driving each other crazy is just the beginning…

Harriet Hatley is running away from everything.

Getting married.
Her boyfriend’s family.
Her past.

A dream house-share seems like the perfect place to hide, but her unlikely housemate Cal is no stranger to running away himself. And he’s also hiding secrets of his own . . .

Can these two take a crazy risk, face the past and finally find a reason to stay?


Title : Mad About You
Author : Mhairi McFarlane
Narrator : Chloe Massey
Format : audiobook
Length : 10 hours, 15 minutes
Page Count : 422
Genre : Contemporary Fiction
Publisher : Harper Collins
Release Date : April 14, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Sarcastic wit
Chips are down
Coercive control

This story from McFarlane was equal parts sarcastic wit and life handing out crap one piece at a time. It started in one place and ended up in completely different location by the end. It took time for the themes of the story to emerge but they were valuable. Romance was very much on the backburner in this book.

The story centered around weddings, the endings of them, the photographing of them and a really impressive finale. Harriet was a likeable heroine, a hardy Yorkshire lass with the best Huddersfield accent on audio (I live 15 minutes away from that location and appreciated that so much). This tale took you on a mainly contemporary but sometimes retrospective journey of the past men in Harriet’s life and it wasn’t pretty.

Emotional abuse in the form of coercive control was a important part of this story and it’s a theme I welcome more about as it is so insidious in it’s form and difficult for victims to speak about and break free from. Bravo, Mhairi for this.

Overall, I wouldn’t say this was a fun read but it was absorbing and enjoyable. Excellent narration.

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for the audio review copy.

BOOK LOVERS by Emily Henry – double review!

Nora is a cut-throat literary agent at the top of her game. Her whole life is books.

Charlie is an editor with a gift for creating bestsellers. And he’s Nora’s work nemesis.

Nora has been through enough break-ups to know she’s the woman men date before they find their happy-ever-after. That’s why Nora’s sister has persuaded her to swap her desk in the city for a month’s holiday in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina. It’s a small town straight out of a romance novel, but instead of meeting sexy lumberjacks, handsome doctors or cute bartenders, Nora keeps bumping into…Charlie.

She’s no heroine. He’s no hero. So can they take a page out of an entirely different book?


Title : Book Lovers
Author : Emily Henry
Format : eARC / paperback
Page Count : 379
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Viking Books / Berkley
Release Date : May 3, 2022

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


Micky’s 5 star review

Headlines:
Diverted and captivated
Why yes, you can read almost a whole book with a smile on your face
Samesies, not opposites

We all need that special book that sings to your heart, that takes you on a journey, that has characters with depth, dialogue to get lost in and banter (because who doesn’t need banter). Book Lovers is that book, with a good dollop of chemistry to add into the mix. For me, this is Henry’s best work to date, it is refined, whip-smart and utterly belieavable. It’s going to be in my top crop of books for the year for sure.

Nora the protagonist, was a fierce, almost frosty at first sight kind of woman but the story lets you see underneath immediately to her soft heart and those who are beloved by her. Nevertheless, Nora found herself typecast as heartless because she was so damn good at her job and was a workaholic. Charlie was the yin to her yin, because they were something of a mirror of one another. Who says it has to be opposites attact? We need a new trope of samesies!

His eyes bore into me until there’s smoke lifting off my skin. I’m an ant beneath his sunlit magnifying glass, and then he looks away.

There was a strong sense of family in this book, the literal adventure Nora finds herself on with her sister Libby was mired in past sadness but also smattered with hope. These two and their sisterhood made for such a rich side story to the books and Charlie.

My highlight game was strong reading this book, so many lines, exchanges jumped off the page. I laughed, I even cried and absolutely loved how this book captured my imagination and took me to the places I wanted. It had feels, humour, great writing and dammit, I want to visit this backwater of a small town.

Thank you to Viking Books for the early review copy.


Hollis’ 5 star review

Surprising no one, I don’t often pick up five star reads (or maybe, rather, I don’t award them, because hey it’s all opinion, right?). Rarer still when I do find those elusive five stars do I know it early on. Because so often it can just be a case of a good-read drought that has you feeling pumped or rounding up. But for Book Lovers? I had that five star feeling well before the final page. And here we are.

Beach Read was one of my top ten faves of 2020 and so naturally I felt the stakes were extra high for Henry’s sophomore adult release. Which I did really like but don’t know if I loved (I need to reread to be sure, I might’ve been in a weird place for that one). So maybe my expectations were more conservative (though still high) for this one. But it’s also just that damn good. 

Book Lovers is witty and sharp and delicious and delightful and just fun (seriously, my highlights are out of control). Once again Henry is letting her characters live and play in a very book-focused sandbox by having them be book editor and book agent, respectively, and the sheer entertainment of all the trope-talk was just.. well, sheer entertainment. But beyond the fun of the topics there were also the characters and I loved them all so damn much. And the romance? Hoo boy. The chemistry was palpable and all the false starts were agonizing — in the best way.

Outside the romance (and even sort’ve within it) we have some good emotional beats, too. The sisterly dynamic was one I both loved and was a little frustrated by but only because it felt so authentic. There were complications and false notes between them, from their history, but how it all unfurled in the end was a surprise not only to our MC but also to me. And I really loved it. And yes, I cried; maybe two or three times. But the third was directly related to our book lovers.

I could hardly tear myself away from this read. I absolutely adored it. I don’t want to say it tops my love for Beach Read but.. maybe it does? Sorta? Possibly? It’s just that good. Cannot recommend enough.

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

I KISSED SHARA WHEELER by Casey McQuiston – double review!

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

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

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

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


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

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


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommend.

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


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
YA contemporary comedy mystery
Dramatics
Bigatory

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

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

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

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

Thank you MacMillan Kids for the early review copy.

ALWAYS YOU by Samantha Young – double review!

Arrochar Adair has loved her brother’s ex-bodyguard and best friend, Mac Galbraith, for years. Once upon a time, she was too young for him, but now that she’s a mature woman in her thirties, Arro can see no issue with their difference in age. Yet something deeper, a problem much more difficult to surmount, is keeping them apart.

Mac Galbraith remembers clearly the night Arro became everything to him, no longer just his best friend and boss’s younger sister. However, having made many mistakes over the years, there is one mistake Mac is determined not to make: to believe that he is worthy of Arrochar Adair. Allowing them to grow closer during his daughter, Robyn’s, return has proven his undoing. And when Arro forces the subject of their relationship, his response pushes her away. He just never meant for it to destroy them completely.

Devastated by Mac’s final rejection, Arro is determined to move on without him in her life, though he seems intent on staying put. And when the Adair family face a new threat, one that may have ties to Mac’s past, Arro can’t seem to be rid of the man. In fact, Mac will do anything to protect her.

But with so much hurt between them, will Arro let Mac close enough to guard her from their enemy… before it’s too late?


Title : Always You
Author : Samantha Young
Series : Adair Family #3
Format : eARC / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 368
Genre : Romantic Suspense
Publisher : Self Published
Release Date : April 26, 2022

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Push and pull
Murderous designs
Longings

I’ve been waiting for Mac’s story in particular from the Adair family and it was an epic push and pull of emotions with plenty of angst along the way. The Highland setting remains a great backdrop to this family and as ever with this series, we get the previous couples along the way which I enjoyed.

Arro and Mac’s long and convoluted, crush, attaction, denial, resistance and pull was something to unravel. The narrative had some past and present in the first half to truly understand the history of these two. There was much more to their story than I realised. I had moments of finding both Arro and Mac infuriating, their miscommunications, some of Arro’s actions, followed by Mac’s…but, it made for a deep story and deeper connection.

There was an interesting side story of Mac seeking therapy which I appreciated even if I didn’t really engage that much with the narrative of those sessions. The suspense element of this story harked back to previous vendettas and plots while bringing some newer complications. I do like that this series is romantic suspense.

I love the weaves of Ery’s story being set up and I can’t wait to know more about her. I’m hoping she’s next.

Thank you to the author for the early review copy.


Hollis’ 2 star review

I have no one to blame but myself for this. But hey, I read this in almost one sitting, due to pressure from my library as this hold was due to expire, and considering I’m in this horrible reading drought, that’s something.

While I struggled a lot more with the romance element in book two, in this one it’s the suspense/action/whatever element. This is a subgenre I have enjoyed in the past but I think when it’s packed in with things going on for both sides of the pairing, plus added to all the existing things that have happened to other people in the family in previous books, it’s A Lot. Much like the A Lotness of the family tree now that all of one family has hooked up with half of the Adairs. But at least there’s no more of them. The other family, that is.

Having said that, the romance in this one was pretty tepid with that typical “one is ready, the other is not, only for the one to not be ready when the other finally is” switcheroo. Much angst, because it had to have it, but I think I liked the flashbacks more than the present day shenanigans. And I definitely wasn’t feeling those sex scenes. What I did like in the present day, however, was the therapy positive dialogue and time spent doing the necessary emotional work. I do side-eye the miracle of realization within a two week period but I’ll let that one slide and still award the points.

Being this far into the series, even though my enjoyment has gone steadily downhill, I will probably continue just to wrap it up. They are overwrought dramafests but sometimes, in the right mood, that can be enjoyable. I’m hoping I’m in the right mood by the time book four comes out.

GALLANT by V.E. Schwab – double review!

Everything casts a shadow. Even the world we live in. And as with every shadow, there is a place where it must touch. A seam, where the shadow meets its source.

#1 New York Times–bestselling author Victoria Schwab weaves a dark and original tale about the place where the world meets its shadow, and the young woman beckoned by both sides. The Secret Garden meets Crimson Peak in this stand-alone novel perfect for readers of Holly Black and Neil Gaiman.

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home—to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home, it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

New York Times bestselling author Victoria Schwab crafts a vivid and lush novel that grapples with the demons that are often locked behind closed doors. An eerie, standalone saga about life, death, and the young woman beckoned by both. Readers of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Melissa Albert, and Garth Nix will quickly lose themselves in this novel with crossover appeal for all ages.


Title : Gallant
Author : V.E. Schwab
Format : eARC / Physical ARC
Page Count : 352 / 310
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Greenwillow Books / Titan Books
Release Date : March 1, 2022 / March 8, 2022

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


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’m a wee bit bummed about this one only because at the onset it just felt like it had so much potential. And while I didn’t hate where it went, it just didn’t seem to live up to itself. Not to mention I’m not entirely sure this one really had a point?

The biggest draw to this one, beyond the author (though I’ll note I’m not a super fan but have enjoyed more than I’ve disliked), was the kind of person Olivia herself represented. Don’t expect much dialogue in this novel because, surprise, Olivia is mute. I wasn’t quite sure how this would work and yet somehow I didn’t miss the lack of dialogue at all. There were some conveniences, of course, as this is fantasy and there are certain characters who manage to find their way around this but otherwise.. a few characters did sign with her or she would make do communicating in other ways.

The other element I really enjoyed were the kinds of creatures that Olivia is somewhat haunted by. I loved how Schwab described these, how we learned how Olivia grew to be aware of them, and those interactions. And the greater role they later play.

Outside of this though, the plot itself? I don’t know. I think it hyped itself up somehow and I was rather left wanting. The story itself is rather sad, or melancholy, and yet it’s also pitched against this big drama and end-of-the-world stakes and somehow they don’t quite marry all that well. Plus the ending itself is.. well, sad. And almost open ended? Maybe not totally but certainly, somehow, unsatisfying even though I normally like that kind of end. But it just didn’t work here.

I’ll be curious to see more reviews as we get closer to release (I’m writing this on January twenty-third) and determine if I’m on par with most readers or the outlier. But, having said all that, I definitely wouldn’t talk you out of picking it up. It’s an easy quick read, for all that it took me a week to start and finish (work and life distractions, not boredom), and I may have even been moved emotionally at a certain part. So. Yes, if this sounds like your cup of tea, do not think this review is trying to convince you otherwise.

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Intense creep level at times
Ghouls, grief and grand houses
Sad and lilting

There was so much to unravel in Gallant and in fact on finishing, I’ve not unravelled it all. This was such a clever book, incredibly easy to read and get into, with themes that could be less easy for some and a consistent level of creep and eerieness. I loved the eerieness, the dark atmosphere and how that ratcheted up to a level of heightened tension towards the end. Tenterhooks, people.

The protagonist, Olivia was unable or unwilling to talk, the former, I think and her world was grey with splashes of occasional colour. The opening up of her life to Gallant seemed like opportunity but it was a figurative can of worms, pandora’s box, a mess. The people inhabiting Gallant, Edgar and Hannah were warm and positive new influences on Olivia’s dull and austere life. Matthew was a different matter, but you just felt the more to his story.

The way the story eeked out, was haunting, unexpected and it had me on the edge of my seat; it was hard to put this book down. The book was brimming with sadness, it felt like a lilting melody and ultimately, that’s the feeling I’ve come away with. I am 95% satisfied with a slice of I wish.

This story was crafted with skill, ingenuity and former (and possibly future) reader’s tears. The illustrations and formatting of this book are incredibly special and bring much to the feels you get from reading.

Run, says her blood.
Stay, says her bones.”

Thank you to Titan Books for the stunning review copy.

SOMETHING FABULOUS by Alexis Hall – double review!

From the acclaimed author of Boyfriend Material comes a delightfully witty romance featuring a reserved duke who’s betrothed to one twin and hopelessly enamoured of the other.

Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, has twin problems: literally.

It was always his father’s hope that Valentine would marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. But, unfortunately, too many novels at an impressionable age have caused her to grow up…romantic. So romantic that a marriage of convenience will not do and after Valentine’s proposal she flees into the night determined never to set eyes on him again.

Arabella’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton, has also grown up…romantic. And fully expects Valentine to ride out after Arabella and prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted cad he seems to be.

Despite copious misgivings, Valentine finds himself on a pell-mell chase to Dover with Bonny by his side. Bonny is unreasonable, overdramatic, annoying, and…beautiful? And being with him makes Valentine question everything he thought he knew. About himself. About love. Even about which Tarleton he should be pursuing. 


Title : Something Fabulous
Author : Alexis Hall
Series : Something Fabulous (book one?)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 363
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ historical romance
Publisher : Montlake
Release Date : January 25, 2022

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


Hollis’ 3 star review

This read was a bit of a peaks and valleys situation for me. How I was feeling when this book started was not how I felt all throughout but definitely by the end I had come back around so many times that I ended on the same note I began. Which is to say.. it was fine.

You doubt my capacity? How infirm do you think I am?
I never said you were infirm. You’re very firm. Almost.. excessively firm, really.
I understand you’re trying to be reassuring, but stop it at once.

But there was so much greatness in and around the fine-ness.

What really ruined this for me was our male love interest’s sister, the one Valentine, our protagonist, is meant to be marrying. While we do — riiiight near the end — get some general insight as to what is driving her, beyond the obvious, to avoid this marriage, I’ll admit.. the damage had long been done. She was just too frustrating and ridiculous and dramatic and honestly I was glad we didn’t have more scenes with her than we did.

I’m relieved that one of you at least is blessed with some modicum of sense.
I mean, she could be captured by pirates or highwaymen or.. or vampires or anything.”
Forgive me, I spoke prematurely.”

Whereas Valentine, our Duke, for all that he was seemingly in the wrong.. I didn’t think he deserved half his bad rep? He broke my heart more often than not. Maybe that’s the benefit of having his perspective vs the others but honestly he didn’t deserve the half of it.

The twin, Bonny, well. He was a slowburn warm up, at least for me. I was tickled by his early interactions and then just mildly tolerant but overall I did enjoy him. He was definitely the right amount of outlandish sunshine-y silliness to Valentine’s.. well, Valentine.

I can’t believe you like me.”
If it’s any consolation, neither can I.

I will warn you that this is a bit ridiculous, a lot of camp, even some satire. Hall deploys all the usual tropes with a twist while also making this historical incredibly and enthusiastically, and unabashedly, queer. But heavy emphasis on the silly and ridiculous. Just know that going in.

I wish I had loved this a little more but Belle honestly did too much damage to my sanity to rate this higher. But. The good times? Were great. As was most of the banter. I’m not at all mad about the time I spent with this one. I don’t quite know if it’s to be a series, not GR definitely lists a “one” next to the series, so I’m keen to see who we would read about next. But if it’s Belle’s story.. well. Maybe not.

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


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
Silliness and camptastic
A romp across the country
Irritation to more

Stow your serious side as you enter into Something Fabulous. It’s silly but endearingly entertaining all the same. It had shades of the ridiculous but again, you tolerate it for the ride. These two characters, a lesson in rubbing one another up the wrong way were such polar opposites.

Valentine was the pompous Duke who seemed to have little insight into his own sexual preferences, desires and he had no idea how others perceived him. Self awareness was not his forte and was his early downfall in the marriage stakes. Bonny was all contrast, overtly aware of who he was, what he liked and he seemed to like Valentine.

Their banter seemed to multiply exponentially which sometimes proved a bit much for my tastes but overall, I had plenty of laughs along with these two. I did not have laughs with Belle, Bonny’s sister however. Reading this I would go from snickers to annoyance in a few pages and that dragged my enjoyment down. It took me a while to read this one and I’m blaming Belle in the background and foreground!

Thank you to the publisher through netgalley for an early review copy.

FLAME OF SEVENWATERS by Juliet Marillier – double review!

Maeve, daughter of Lord Sean of Sevenwaters, was badly burned as a child and carries the legacy of that fire in her crippled hands. After ten years she’s returning home, a courageous, forthright woman. But while her body’s scars have healed, her spirit remains fragile, fearing the shadows of her past.
 
Sevenwaters is in turmoil. The fey prince Mac Dara is desperate to see his only son, married to Maeve’s sister, return to the Otherworld. To force Lord Sean’s hand, Mac Dara has caused a party of innocent travelers on the Sevenwaters border to vanish—only to allow their murdered bodies to be found one by one.
 
When Maeve finds a body in a remote part of the woods, she and her brother, Finbar, embark on a journey that could bring about the end of Mac Dara’s reign—or lead to a hideous death. If she is successful, Maeve may open the door to a future she has not dared to believe possible…. 


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

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Riding the waves of all the feelings
Animals to break and heal your heart
Family

This series means so much to me now, finishing this last book on such a high has been emotional, wonderful and special. This series across generations has connected me to the Sevenwaters family and characters in the most unforgettable way.

Flame of Sevenwater brought us back to Maeve who we last saw in tragic circumstances in book three. This book represents disability so well, with realism, difficulty but also in an empowering way, showing Maeve’s autonomy and determination. Maeve was an easy character to love, a true heroine with biggest heart. Her skill, love and care towards animals was everything.

Bear, Badger, Swift, Finbar and the snatch we saw of Becan were so much of my favourite parts of this story. While I saw where the plot was ultimately going, there was one genius twist towards the end that pulled me back from ‘how could she do this to us again’ to Marillier is a genius’ territory.

That’s it. I’ll be over here in my emotions, my soggy tissues and in our buddy reading DMs until I’ve run out of gush.

Go read this series.


Hollis’ 4 star review

2022 has been off to a slightly shaky start but sinking into a Sevenwaters book was just what I needed; even though this was a bittersweet undertaking knowing it was the last in the series.

This world has such a special place in my heart, as I’ve gone on about endlessly, and it was so nice to have a reread, with some special friends, and also have the opportunity to finally reread the companion trilogy. They don’t quite hold a candle to the originals but each are special in their own way. And with Flame of Sevenwaters, Maeve’s story, we had a culmination of everything these last books had been leading up to whilst also having something of an homage to the original book that started it all. 

If I were telling a story of Sevenwaters — and it would be a grand epic told over all the nights of a long winter — I would surely end it with a triumph. A happy ending.”

And it is. A happy ending; as much as one can have in a Marillier story, at least. Maybe not in the obvious way for everyone, and certainly it isn’t an end for all, but there is an ending of a kind and happiness to be found for many — some immediately and some to come. And that’s what has always been a marvel about this world. It is so real, full of complex and complicated characters, differing motivations even within the same family, different priorities, but always a strong love, a strength of character. 

We don’t get a full reunion of all the siblings in the way many series-enders get but we did get a few people together again — even as a few bid farewell — and it was more special because of that, and less overwhelming, too. There are too many standout characters to have seen them all and there were enough updates along the way that those characters without page time still felt seen.

As for Maeve, I love that Marillier gave us a heroine with a disability. We’ve seen a main character before that had a different physical challenge, though in that case it had less to do with how others treated her and more about how she looked upon herself. In some ways it was also easier to hide. In this case it was very much out in the open and while Maeve wasn’t without some self-pity on occasion it was more in light of how others treated her vesus how she often felt about herself. Additionally, it was a disability that needed not just strength to endure but trust in those around her; both in knowing how much she could push herself, or be capable of, but also to trust they not be embarrassed or ashamed of her. Which makes coming back to Sevenwaters, after so long away, and to where she had been hurt, all the more frightening and challenging. But Maeve does it; not for herself but for a charge in need of her strength. A strength that plays a key role in the inevitable confrontation with the Big Bad.

I had done my best not to weep. I had tried not to feel sorry for myself. It came to me that it is not trials and travails that bring us down, but unexpected moments of kindness.

This one didn’t get me quite as emotional as many other in this series but there were plenty of feels during many interactions between Maeve and her brother and also with Ciarán. Once again this unlikely character from the main trilogy has had a chokehold on me for every book that has followed book three and I love that this book made a point to highlight his impact; not just on the others but the impact on him, too. 

As for the romance, well. This one may surprise you a little but if you followed the breadcrumbs.. maybe not. I’ll admit things do rush ahead a bit during the big moments, which was a bit of a pacing whiplash after all the dragging on prior to the conflict (I found myself rather impatient during these scenes, maybe because I just wanted all to finally be revealed? don’t know), but we get a few calmer quiet scenes to solidify all the big dramatic outpourings. And, again, as we have seen before, I like that things aren’t quite all wrapped up and signed, sealed, delivered by the final page. But we know they will be.

My issue with the pacing notwithstanding, this might be my favourite of the companion trilogy just for how much it gave me some original series vibes while still being very much it’s own creature. It was a nice way to book end this series and it definitely ends things on a higher note than the last two. I’m so pleased my Sevenwaters Squad feels the same way, too, as this whole journey was all new for them and I didn’t want them to come out feeling disappointed in any way after all my hype and bother.

With the series wrapped, we might not be the Sevenwaters Squad any longer but there’s plenty of Marillier still to consume. Maybe we’ll be the Marillier Maniacs instead? Who knows. 

If you still have yet to discover this series, or this author, I cannot recommend her enough. With stories full of heart, wisdom, respecting the earth and hearth, feats of strength of all kinds, love stories that truly conquer all, magic and sacrifice, the bonds of family, heartbreak and healing, and so much more, you can’t go wrong.




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