TAKE A HINT, DANI BROWN by Talia Hibbert – double review!

Talia Hibbert returns with another charming romantic comedy about a young woman who agrees to fake date her friend after a video of him “rescuing” her from their office building goes viral…

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom. 

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse? 

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs. 

Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?


Title : Take a Hint, Dani Brown
Author : Talia Hibbert
Series : The Brown Sisters (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Avon/Little Brown UK
Release Date : June 23, 2020

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

I’m going to preface this (likely short and terribly unsatisfying) review by saying I read the first 65% basically in one sitting and then got smacked with a slump for over a week; so while this is definitely a book I loved, enjoyed, swooned at, got weepy over, I can’t know for certain if it wouldn’t have been rated even higher if not for that break. I’m sad I didn’t do right by this book, or this author, and will have to make an effort to reread this (and book one!) before the third comes out. For quality control’s sake. And, like, also, because it was great.

Danika Brown was the queen of one-time things. Zaf wouldn’t know what to do with a one-time thing if it showed up with a fifty-page instruction manual and slapped him on the dick.

Hibbert always fills her stories with representation, of all kinds, and this one is no exception; her treading of sensitive topics ever so considerate; and her steam? (fire emoji fire emoji). We have the sweetest of family dynamics, the focus this time more on Zafir’s side — though we do get some Brown sister moments, of course, but Dani leans on her bestie Sorcha more in this one — and I just.. well, listen, I loved Dani, don’t get me wrong, but big burly RBF’d yet soft and tender Zafir? He stole both my heart and the show.

Liar.”
What?
That’s your lying voice. It’s all tight and scratchy.
Who are you? The bloody.. voice police?
I hope next time you’re in the shower, you think of seventy things you could’ve said just then that would’ve been way better than ‘voice police.’

I know I already mentioned it but it bears repeating : I loved, I laughed, I cried, I hurt, I swooned. It’s a Hibbert. These things kind of go without saying. But here I am saying it twice anyway.

Sweetie, are you crying?
No, I’m leaking masculine pain from my eyeballs.”

I’m certain you’ll love this book. And I can’t wait for book three.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

I hope you are ready to swoon over this book because the hero Zafir is something a bit special. I knew immediately he was going to sell this book, this story line. That’s not to say Dani Brown isn’t a great character, but she’s a contradiction of sharp corners and loyalty; she took some getting to know, to like.

Dani Brown was an academic chasing a PhD (that certainly resonated with me) and pretty career focused. She was only in the market for friends with benefits of any gender. Considering her and Zafir had been friends for some time, stepping it up was almost natural, if it wasn’t for Dani’s rules of engagement. Dani was a curvy, strong and intelligent woman but she knew she didn’t connect emotionally as well to people, so beyond her family she seemed to stop trying. I enjoyed seeing her character grow.

Zafir, Zafir, Zafir…a big, kind, ex-Rugby star, romance-reading, beta-male with anxiety. How could that combination not float my boat? He was considerate, thoughtful and a big bag of lust combined with affection over Dani. The dialogue and inner monologue were perfection and chuckle-inducing.

“Good morning,” he purred, his eyes landing on Dani’s chest like tit-seeking missiles.

Despite Zaf’s niceness towards Dani, he was gruff and grumpy looking. There was a whole back story to Zaf that was deep and engaging. His mental health issues were well written and he was that kind of character that just pulled you in.

“This is just my face. I have a murder face.”

“Honestly, Zafir, you’re so grumpy you could create your own storm clouds.”

The second book in this series had a story just as engaging as the first. These sisters are different, unique and so funny. There were cameo moments for Chloe and Red that made me a little gooey. And Eve…I just know her book is going to be hilarious.

Go get your moves on for TAKE A HINT, DANI BROWN. Talia Hibbert just writes these women with a realness and wit that you cannot resist.

Thank you to Little Brown UK for the early review copy.

CHOSEN ONES by Veronica Roth – double review!

A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesized to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift—no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended. 


Title : Chosen Ones
Author : Veronica Roth
Series : Chosen Ones (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : sci-fi/dystopian
Publisher : John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date : April 7, 2020

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


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’m going to start by saying I like the Chosen One trope. I do. And I also really like the post-Chosen-One-now-what-the-fuck-happens trope. I find the former is done a lot better than the latter (though we haven’t had that many) but this might’ve been the best post-Chosen story I’ve read so far. I think.

There is a lot of really interesting, and quality, content in Roth’s tale. The plot definitely keeps you guessing, too, as while the tone doesn’t really change, the context and angle does. And also, like, the setting? Things went to a strange place around the halfway mark (maybe earlier, can’t remember) and at first I really wasn’t a fan.. and then it clicked. What didn’t quite work for me was the motivation or, I guess, reason for a certain character and/or plot, but the concept of it, the bare bones structure, was pretty great.

I definitely think this is going to be book that either works or doesn’t work for readers. The characters aren’t easy to love (or like) and the plot shifts gears — sideways, upside down, backwards — but there are definitely shining moments in both the telling of the story as well as the processing of the grief and trauma and uncertainty of surviving something so beyond comprehension. It feels very true for a lot of us; we survive life to a certain point and then hit that wall of, “now what?”. The only difference is the average body doesn’t hit that wall after defeating a dark magical being. But there are glimpses of hope, of being known, of being understood, despite it all.

I will say that, for an adult story, I don’t feel the characters read their supposed age (thirty). Early twenties I would’ve believed, definitely. But, honestly, had you redacted the on-page stating of how old they were supposed to be and handed me this book? I would’ve guessed YA.

So, there you have it. Roth’s first adult novel is interesting, creative, and not hard to put down, but not easy, either. But despite it all, not as close to great as I hoped it might be. I have no idea what to expect from book two, particularly as I felt this wrapped really well, but I will pick it up for sure.

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


Micky’s 3.5-4 star review

This was a tale of complexity, the creation of a world(s) that really captured my imagination but no way could I have predicted this wild story direction and culmintion. Veronica Roth once again has proven she has a great imagination and ability to commit this to the page.

I do like a chosen one trope but this really was a reimagining of that idea with a washed up, traumatised and arrogant crew. Sloane was the protagonist that was just treading water after her great input in saving the world ten years ago. I really liked how the world unfurled its laws and history through her flashbacks but also her reading of past documents. The magic of that earth was pretty creepy at times, with the fight to save the world having been somewhat gory and violent. I didn’t like many of the other crew apart from Albie and maybe Innes but she was in the background. I liked the second part much better.

When the world and story twisted life got much more exciting and I got more invested in the story. I loved the elements and mysteriousness of the needle, Sloane’s connection to deep dives and Mox. This story really was a case of not knowing who were the good guys and who were the bad guys; my ideas got flipped on their heads.

There is a concentration investment needed for this story, the world building comes in layers and pieces but nevertheless it is intricate and you need your brain switched on. The culmination did not let me down and I am a little unsure where another story will spring from for this series but I am here to read more. On a side note, I can see this making a pretty good film.

Thank you to Hodder Books for the early review copy.

DEAR ENEMY by Kristen Callihan – double review!

As kids, they hated each other. Macon Saint was beautiful, but despite his name, Delilah knew he was the devil. That he dated her slightly evil sister, Samantha, was no picnic either. When they broke up, it was a dream come true: Delilah never had to see him again.

Ten years later, her old enemy sends a text.

Delilah’s sister has stolen a valuable heirloom from Macon, now a rising Hollywood star, and he intends to collect his due. One problem: Sam has skipped town.

Sparks still sizzle between Macon and Delilah, only this heat feels alarmingly like unwanted attraction. But Delilah is desperate to keep her weak-hearted mother from learning of her sister’s theft. So she proposes a deal: she’ll pay off the debt by being Macon’s personal chef and assistant.

It’s a recipe for disaster, but Macon can’t stop himself from accepting. Even though Delilah clearly hates him, there’s something about her that feels like home. Besides, they’re no longer kids, and what once was a bitter rivalry has the potential to be something sweeter. Something like forever.


Title : Dear Enemy
Author : Kristen Callihan
Format : eARC
Page Count : 386
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Montlake
Release Date : March 31, 2020

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


Hollis’ DNF review

I’m not rating this one, because generally my DNF rule of thumb is, unless the read is heinous, I will only rate if I made it more than halfway into the book. And I tapped out of this one just shy of 40%. But it’s worth noting this is a favourite author and I wanted out after 20%, and had concerns after the first few flashback/past event chapters, so. Be aware of that.

My issue with DEAR ENEMY is more than just in the continuity or inconsistencies (which, fair, could be corrected between now, March third, and the release, March thirty-first). The origin of this pairing begins when they are young, pre-teen or so, and how they meet again ten years after highschool. It’s one of those hate-to-love romances where the premise is setting things up one way at the get-go and we seem to be finding things are maybe not as they may seem later on. Someone has secrets, I imagine we’ll find there were reasons why certain people behaved in certain ways and they will be forgiven for it, and oh hey, there was always this big connection between them, despite the fact that he dated her sister for other reasons, and blah blah.

I honestly didn’t have time for this.

Delilah enters into some BatB-esque servitude to work off her shady sister’s debt with Macon and the homage to the fairytale was pretty loose in some sense and also it felt like one entire scene was lifted from the movie. I’m not against retellings, in fact JT Geissinger’s BURN FOR YOU followed along those lines and worked really well for me, amongst other retellings, but between everything else..? I just can’t get on with the characters. Things seem to be moving along fairly predictably, too, with certain interactions between the main protags and I’m just bored.

I’m used to a lot of complexity from his author, or at least a lot of fun, and this feels very surface level and, if I’m being honest, a little tired. Maybe it would’ve improved along the way, I’ve seen some positive early reviews, but at this point I don’t have the energy to invest in hoping it would turn around.

Based on the first 40%? This would’ve been a 1.5 for me.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Okay, now wash your mouth out because we’re zinging from dnf to jolly enjoyment! DEAR ENEMY had some of my most favourite tropes all wrapped up in banter and jibes – second chances, hate-to-more and slow burn. It did however, have a trope I’m not keen on, stepping into a relationship with someone who’s been with a friend/family member. That said, I could cope with it because of the circumstances but I think that might alienate some readers. After a difficult to navigate prologue, this book took off well for me.

What was so delicious about this contemporary romance? It was the vulnerability of Macon stepping into feelings unknown but taking a deep breath and getting on with it. Meanwhile, his life was fun-laden barbs, and forced proximity with the heroine, Delilah. Add into that some chef-ing and food which always seems to make for a good story in my book.

She’s all twitchy now, eyeing me like a feral barn cat as if I might try to lash out and catch her.

The banter between these two was pretty entertaining and the chemistry was swoonish. I enjoyed the semi-hate especially as it seems to turn before it got irritating. Delilah was hard to win over and the annoying sister was…very annoying. The sister element was something I didn’t settle with but the circumstances were just about palatable.

The slow burn was spot on and there’s just something about Kristen Callihan’s romances when she’s in the zone that gives me all the feels; this one did just that. DEAR ENEMY was a great entertaining read that I just wanted to get back to when I wasn’t reading. Just the thing for a weekend read.

Thank you to Montlake for the early review copy.

IF I NEVER MET YOU by Mhairi McFarlane – double review!

If faking love is this easy… how do you know when it’s real? 

When her partner of over a decade suddenly ends things, Laurie is left reeling—not only because they work at the same law firm and she has to see him every day. Her once perfect life is in shambles and the thought of dating again in the age of Tinder is nothing short of horrifying. When news of her ex’s pregnant girlfriend hits the office grapevine, taking the humiliation lying down is not an option. Then a chance encounter in a broken-down elevator with the office playboy opens up a new possibility.

Jamie Carter doesn’t believe in love, but he needs a respectable, steady girlfriend to impress their bosses. Laurie wants a hot new man to give the rumor mill something else to talk about. It’s the perfect proposition: a fauxmance played out on social media, with strategically staged photographs and a specific end date in mind. With the plan hatched, Laurie and Jamie begin to flaunt their new couple status, to the astonishment—and jealousy—of their friends and colleagues. But there’s a fine line between pretending to be in love and actually falling for your charming, handsome fake boyfriend… 


Title : If I Never Met You
Author : Mhairi McFarlane
Format : ARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : women’s fiction
Publisher : William Morrow Paperbacks/Harper Collins
Release Date : March 24, 2020/January 1, 2020

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


Hollis’ 3.75 star review

This is only my second McFarlane, whereas I’ve read a lot of contemporary writing by a lot of authors, but I think I can safely say that no one writes real life quite like her.

Laurie knew that most people were murdered by someone they knew; she’d stood up in court and argued or the killers’ bail applications while they wept not only about their fate, but about their loss. In this moment, she understood why.

IF I NEVER MET YOU is a women’s fiction title, much like the other one I read by her, DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME, but this one does have a higher romance-content than the latter. That isn’t to say you’re going to get any page time detailing swoony kisses or hot and heavies between the sheets, but instead you’re going to read a romance (fake romance, did I mention the fake dating trope?) that is heavily reliant upon friendship. And while I love me some romance, I love when the characters are friends, too.

Laurie noticed that someone “finishing” with someone else was such a savage language. They canceled you. You are over. Your use has been exhausted.

That said, I am finding it hard to nail down my feelings on this one. There is so much intelligence, strength, and emotion in McFarlane’s writing. This one deals with the emotional devastation and grief in the post-breakdown of an almost two decades long relationship, and where one goes after surviving that; particularly when one’s ex is a total cad. Throw in some maybe-not-so-healthy desire for revenge, the perfect playboy to get it with, and you have a fake dating meets office romance meets friends to real lovers story. But there’s even more than that, too.

“Oh, for fu– I’m sick of this perception of me as the greatest man slag of the northwest.”
Then be less man slag. Be the unslaggy man you want to see in the world.
Pfft. I’m selective.
Then select fewer of them.”

Complicated family dynamics, guilt and grief, enduring female friendships, and, of course, hilarity. And a cat named Colin Fur.

Are you girls ready to order? Need me to explain anything?
We’re not girls. So you can explain your mode of address.”
Hey, y’all look pretty young to me.
Oh, you dear sweet fool, she will now verbally decapitate you.”

I think part of why I find this one harder to rate than the other, which was such a no-brainer, is that for all the emotions, I didn’t quite get caught up in any of them. I very much liked both of these characters, each with their stories that made them so much more than what they were perceived to be, and also deserved so much more for themselves, and I quite liked their respective besties, but.. yeah, just not quite the same charm or outright love. But it’s still such a great story, and so well written, whilst balancing that very real ‘life is messy and sometimes imperfect’ dose of reality, and I’m still a thousand percent keen to dive into the author’s backlist that I’ve yet to explore.

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


Micky’s 3.5 – 4 star review

It’s been a long while since I’ve read Mhairi McFarlane and I’m glad to be reacquainted. IF I NEVER MET YOU was a read of phases for me, one of difficult angst for the first part and then a slow relax into a great story for the rest. I think I was expecting lightness from the start and that early heavy context took me by surprise initially. On reflection, that start made this a deeper story which I really appreciate.

Laurie was an incredibly likeable heroine from the start and it was not at all difficult to get on her side when she was wronged. I hated that sitution, the perpetrator and the demise of things. I loved the strong, successful women that Laurie was and her ability to keep her professional head throughout; I honestly thought that was completely realistic of so many women.

The ensuing story of Laurie and Jamie was pretty damn fun, full of tension and banter. So many lines were highlighted and I loved being the fly on the wall, stalking their dates and plotting. Jamie was a deeper character than I expected but I still think I’d have liked to have known him a little better.

This book was a Mancunian’s gift, set in the city and even more fun for me, visiting places around my work setting. I loved every single Manchester bit.

This was delightful Saturday read, I powered through it in a day, reluctant to put it down. It had some shades of predictability but that made it no less fun. Highly recommended for the kind of romantic read that has you laughing out loud.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST by Christina Lauren – double review!

Carey Douglas has worked for home remodeling and design gurus Melissa and Rusty Tripp for nearly a decade. A country girl at heart, Carey started in their first store at sixteen, and—more than anyone would suspect—has helped them build an empire. With a new show and a book about to launch, the Tripps are on the verge of superstardom. There’s only one problem: America’s favorite couple can’t stand each other.

James McCann, MIT graduate and engineering genius, was originally hired as a structural engineer, but the job isn’t all he thought it’d be. The last straw? Both he and Carey must go on book tour with the Tripps and keep the wheels from falling off the proverbial bus.

Unfortunately, neither of them is in any position to quit. Carey needs health insurance, and James has been promised the role of a lifetime if he can just keep the couple on track for a few more weeks. While road-tripping with the Tripps up the West Coast, Carey and James vow to work together to keep their bosses’ secrets hidden, and their own jobs secure. But if they stop playing along—and start playing for keeps—they may have the chance to build something beautiful together…


Title : The Honey-Don’t List
Author : Christina Lauren
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Gallery Books
Release Date : March 24, 2020

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


Hollis’ 2 star review

I know, I know, you might be saying to yourself, but Hollis, didn’t you say in your last CLo read that you were no longer going to be requesting their advanced copies after so many disappointments? And yes, you would be correct. And this time I swear I mean it.

The concept of THE HONEY-DON’T LIST feels like a CLo take on the Netflix movie Set It Up and honestly that’s why I grabbed at this one, all excited, despite my best intentions. Because I loved that movie and wanted this duo’s twist to make it, possibly, even better. But sadly, for me, it wasn’t.

This book centers on the results of a once great working relationship — turned pseudo-family dynamic — between a young employee and her married bosses; a relationship that has become hella toxic and abusive and manipulative and with downright thievery. The marriage between her bosses is falling apart behind the scenes whilst they are trying to run a business, promote their brand of happiness and love and success, and also launch a new home decor show — and she and the male counterpart’s assistant are (for some reason) held responsible for making things seem like there’s nothing amiss as they go on a book tour for their (oh irony) successful marriage memoir.

Said other assistant is only two months into the job, apparently brought in to help rein in the husband (which in a continuity aspect, in relation to something that comes up, doesn’t make sense..) and as the MCs are thrown into direct proximity to each other, instead of a vague awareness of each other, and a general dislike, they get to know each other, grow to rely on each other, and boom, romance. Apparently.

I’ll admit, unlike the last one, at least they don’t fall in love in the span of a handful of days — I think the tour is a few weeks? — but still. I don’t know. I really liked Carey, I felt for her, but her situation literally hurt my stomach. It was awful. Her sudden desire to grow a backbone, stand up for herself, seems to come so late in the game, and definitely flickers in and out, until finally she owns it. Part of me wonders if it would’ve ever happened without James’ presence and that makes me sad. And it’s not like James was terrible but.. shrug.

The fact that so much isn’t resolved or owned up to by the end is frustrating. In hindsight I’m not sure why we needed the police interview interludes to break up the narrative (yes, this was a thing), I kept hoping a certain something had happened (which I won’t speculate on to keep you guessing) and in the end it was just.. flat. Which is sadly how I felt about the whole story.

So that’s it, it’s really over, no more CLo ARC reads for me.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

I am pretty much everything opposite to Hollis on this book. I was in a moody book slump and by a few pages in, this book had lifted me well and truly out of that with its genuinely unusual story.

I liked that this story centred on a famous couple, but they weren’t the protagonists. The protagonists were the two assistants to this high-maintenance, house-maintenance couple and that context of making shows, travelling on book tours set a really interesting backdrop. Added into the mix was the fact that this famous couple were like a bomb set to explode, this wasn’t happy coupledom but Carey and James had the job of damage-limitation.

The chemistry between Carey and James had a gradual and believable simmer that I enjoyed reading. The growth of their friendship and relationship was gentle and subtle; I don’t always want a big bang! One of my favourite elements to the characters was a disability and how this was written, written very well. This brought out a caring nature in James but not a overly sympathatic one; it was pitched just right.

This is the kind of book I could have read in a day if work hadn’t got in the way. As it was, I read it in two days and I will definitely reach for it for a quick, satisfying re-read. This is light but packed with depth at the same time. I highly recommend.

Thank you to Gallery and Edelweiss for the early review copy.

THE MIDNIGHT LIE by Marie Rutkoski – double review!

Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colors. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.

Nirrim keeps her head down and a dangerous secret close to her chest.

But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who whispers rumors that the High Caste possesses magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.

Set in the world of the New York Times–bestselling Winner’s Trilogy, beloved author Marie Rutkoski returns with an epic LGBTQ romantic fantasy about learning to free ourselves from the lies others tell us—and the lies we tell ourselves. 


Title : The Midnight Lie
Author : Marie Rutkoski
Series : The Midnight Lie (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA LGBTQIA+ fantasy
Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Release Date : March 3, 2020

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

D u d e.

That was my reaction at the close of this book. I had no words, really, beyond being stunned and shocked and so desperate for book two.

THE MIDNIGHT LIE was nothing I ever expected. Knowing this was connected to The Winner’s Trilogy doesn’t give you any insight into the story or themes or plot and honestly? I kind of liked that. This, as all my reviews tend to be, will be spoiler free in an effort to retain some of the mystery, that uncertainty, but even knowing how this book begins? You won’t see where it goes.

It was the kind of impossible wish you treat as though it is precious. You make a home for it in your heart. You give it the downiest of beds for its rest. You feed it the choicest pieces, even when the meat it eats is your very soul.

As far as the connection to the original trilogy, think of this spinoff as what SIX OF CROWS was to The Grisha Trilogy. Some similar worldbuilding, but different context. Some alluded to events, but nothing detailed. Maybe cameos. I won’t confirm or deny. But that’s what you’re getting here. Maybe that’ll change with future books? I don’t know.

What I will say, is this book was hard to read at times. Our protagonist, like many in her community, is not well treated. But reading what Nirrim, in particular, is forced to do, what she convinces herself she must do, and how she is gaslighted (gaslit?) at almost every turn, is horrible, horrendous, and hard. There were times I got so frustrated I had to set the book down. But it’s even more interesting to view in hindsight because of where she ends up.

[..] there is no possible way to understand fairness and guilt when your world has already determined a set of rules that don’t make sense.

Yes, I’m terrible, I’m not sorry.

As for the romance? Swoon.

I had every intention of rereading the original trilogy before this one but never did (lolz 4ever because I’m incapable of helping myself, I guess?) but honestly I think, considering where this book went, it was better that I didn’t. But I’ll totally be rereading before book two because I’ll want to reread this one, too.

It is a midnight lie, she said. A kind of lie told for someone else’s sake, a lie that sits between goodness and wrong, just as midnight is the moment between night and morning.

I can’t wait for more and I’m so happy that this author, with her beautiful prose, and her complex, complicated characters, is back. I’m just hoping there’s a foreign edition, yet to be announced, with a better cover.

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

Micky’s 4 star review

Sobs. How fast can Marie Rutoski write and get the next book published because ARGHHHHHHH. This was a book with a clever and intricate plot, things fell into place more fully only as the ending approached, then THAT. Okay, I’m going to calm the capitals now.

I am such a fan girl of The Winners Trilogy and this book set in that world was no disappointment. It was an island of class issues, prejudice, homophobia told through the eyes of seemingly gentle Nirrim. Nirrim had been living a life of oppression but she was beginning to spread her wings on her own, those wings were aided to flight by Sid. Sid was a character I loved, despite her elusiveness and secrets. I loved the build of more between these two, that part of the storyline was particulary fabulous.

Life in the wards had all the description of sights, sounds and smells that conjured a vivid impression despite the lack of actual colour. Discovering the differences between Half Kith, Middling and High Kith was such great plot development and observing Nirrim take steps in new places was intruiging.

I could not put this book down, I read it in a day, feeling fascination, excitement, frustration and desperation for answers. I loved the connection to the winners trilogy, some of which I guessed. This book killed me with the ending. I need more and I feel like I need it now but I am going to have to put my patient pants on and distract myself for a while.

Marie Rutoski has that talent of creating a fantastical world that feels so utterly different to any fantasy you have read before. I am here for her books, always.

Thank you to Hodder Books for the early review copy.

WHITEOUT by Adriana Anders – double review!

Angel Smith is ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her final day, the research station is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there’s nowhere left to run.

Isolated in the middle of a long, frozen winter with a madman at their heels, they must fight to survive in the most inhospitable—and beautiful—place on earth. But the outside world depends on what Ford and Angel know and, as their pursuers close in and their new partnership burns bright and hot, they will stop at nothing to make it out of the cold alive.


Title : Whiteout
Author : Adriana Anders
Series : Survival Instincts #1
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : Contemporary Romantic Suspense
Publisher : Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date : January 28, 2020

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

I don’t know about you, but a survival story with romance has my hands grabbing. I saw this book blurb and cover and knew I had to have it. Not one thing about this book disappointed, in fact, it surpassed by expectations. Get your running shoes on because this book has a fast-pace from start to finish.

What’s so special about WHITEOUT is that it was set in the antarctic and I really don’t think I’ve read a book based here (I’ve read a few thrillers set in the arctic). The time was taken to paint Antarctica both at the beginning but also as the story progressed and the characters ventured out into the wilderness. I needed this and it painted a white but vivid picture.

Angel was the summer chef on the station, ready to travel back to the US for the winter, leaving a skelton staff of scientists. Ford ‘Coop’ was a glaciologist there for the duration and he’d spent the whole time of Angel’s season on the station avoiding her and his attraction to her. He basically made himself look like a total jackass. There was a quick unfurling of events and Angel and Ford found themselves running for survival and for a higher purpose.

The journey to survive was compelling reading alongside an equally riveting story of the reluctant connection between Ford and Angel. Angel was all soft edges, kindness but with an expected strength that she bowled me over. Ford was the epitomy of grumpy male but just a bit more than that. I still have questions about whether he was on the spectrum, had PTSD and I still don’t know the story of his voice, and I NEED that. I’m hoping to find out more about him further into the series.

“But here, across from a women who was the antithesis of everything he’d ever known, who’d fed him food that burst with flavor and worked as hard as any soldier he’d ever fought beside, he let himself wish-for just a second or two-that he could be the man who made her laugh.”

This story kept rolling from the opener to the end. I wanted to read and stayed up late to do so, just to devour the words and the story. I fell into this book and writing not knowing the kind of writer Adriana Anders was, but I do now and I like her style very much. Just brace yourself for where this ends, although there is definite tying up of ends. All I can say is thank goodness this is a series and we get more from these characters and world.

Thank you to Sourcebooks for the early review copy, I read this super early because I couldn’t resist. I hope that makes you want to pick it up.

Hollis’ 2 star review

Chalk and cheese strikes again!

Micky read this super early and it was her being all excitement over it that inspired me to request, hoping I might catch it before the release date, and be able to swoon alongside her for this new title, and new series opener, from a new-to-me author.

But I pretty much didn’t get on with anything about this story. The only thing that worked for me was the realistic weather experience, the harsh conditions, and the very practical conversations surrounding said realities (dealing with waste out on the ice, periods, blisters, everything!).

Otherwise, the plot? Both very slow moving and very action-move-style outlandish. The characters? Not interesting or, at least, not any I could connect to. The romance? Didn’t buy it. And as for the ending.. I just.. it’s a lot.

I also had an irrational irritation over the name ‘Angel Smith’, particularly as she was referred to by both names for 97% of the book. Not Angel. Angel Smith. Every time. And I just.. no, it wasn’t working for me, I’m sorry. I did say it was irrational..

This is clearly a me problem, not the book itself, as so many of my good friends — not just Micky! — have read and loved this. I just wish I could count myself among them.

While this is definitely being set up for a big ensemble, conspiracy-filled, action series, I won’t be reading on.

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

THE BROMANCE BOOK CLUB by Lyssa Kay Adams – double review!

The first rule of book club:
You don’t talk about book club.

Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott’s marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him. 

Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.

Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville’s top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it’ll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife. 


Title : The Bromance Book Club
Author : Lyssa Kay Adams
Series : Bromance Book Club (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Berkley/Headline Eternal
Release Date : November 5, 2019/January 30, 2020

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


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

What, in concept, should be such an excellent take on a second-chance/save-the-marriage romance, with manly men learning to navigate the pitfalls and stumbling blocks of their relationships from romance novels, really only 100% succeeds in concept form. 

The author throws us right into the thick of things. The story opens up with the hero on a bender because, after a month of silent treatment following a devastating reveal from his wife, he’s finally walked out. They are headed for divorce. But don’t despair! The wise yet comedic ensemble to the rescue!

Men are idiots. We complain that women are so mysterious and shit, and we never know what they want. We fuck up our relationships because we convince ourselves that it’s too hard to figure them out. But the real problem is with us. We think we’re not supposed to feel things and cry and express ourselves. We expect women to do all the emotional labour in a relationship and then act confused when they give up on us.”

Honestly, they were the best part. But mostly Mack. 

You hear the voice, too?
It’s your subconscious. At some point in this process, every one of us have had to fight a British aristocrat in our brain that identifies things we would otherwise prefer to ignore.

The problem I think, for me, is lack of context and foundation. Which I think in theory is what the author was going for. We didn’t know who these characters once were, and why we should be sad about their current state, because they’ve lost themselves (or, really, the heroine has). They have changed, faked their way through happiness, and more, until they — she — reaches her breaking point. But conversely this worked against the story — again, probably only for me — because I didn’t.. care as much? And also I found neither of them really had a leg to stand on. But, I mean, I’m not married, so what do I know?

Nothing on Earth is as strong as a woman who’s good and fed up.

The heroine’s biggest point of contention is that she feels betrayed by her husband for not seeing how much she has changed since they met. How many parts of herself she’s sanded down, or swallowed, for the sake of their family and his career. He doesn’t see all the ways she has faked living, and loving, the past few years of their relationship. But, I mean also, she throws it in his face and yet she’s also never said boo about any of it. Whereas the hero, okay yes didn’t react all that well, but every time he tried to reach her, to make up, she would push him away or shut down. I didn’t blame him for some of his frustrations. And this went back and forth for a while, with her seriously punishing him beyond where I think the limit should’ve been, and then I guess we’re meant to forgive her because it’s all been a symptom of her childhood and resulting insecurities and expectations..? Whatever.
Again, this might have worked if I had.. cared.. more. 

What the hell is a Regency?
That means it’s set in eighteenth or early nineteenth century England.”
“Oh, great. That sounds relevant.”

The romance novel/story within the story was sometimes fun but also a little much, too on the nose considering how meta this was already feeling with some of the discussions amongst the bros, but it also kinda proved that this author could write a historical romance and I would probably really enjoy it. Her writing seemed better suited to those passages than the contemporary ones. 

[it’s] at least a BB four.
Do I want to know what that means?
It’s our rating system for how much sex is in it.
But what does BB stand for?
Book Boner.”

So, overall, I didn’t quite love this. And definitely not to the extent I expected to.

This is on the shorter end of things reading wise, and it does move fairly smoothly, I felt like I made a lot of progress in a short time, but overwhelmingly the characters just kind of failed to live up to the potential. I adored the ensemble of dudes as a supporting cast because it was less of the relationship drama, though can fully admit they read more like caricatures for the comedic relief, and am tentatively looking forward to Mack in a starring role. But as a result of who I assume he’ll be paired with.. I have concerns.

The point of all of all of this is to court her, Gavin. Not seduce her.”
What’s the difference?
It’s a fucking miracle you got married at all. The difference, is to make her want you, not prove how much you want her.

I would definitely read on, and read more from this author, but I might suggest lowering expectations just a tiny bit. I definitely could’ve done with that before diving in.

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


Micky’s 3.5-4 star review

This was such a fun concept, from the blurb to the excellent book cover. I read THE BROMANCE BOOK CLUB after reading a very heavy book and it was just the light kind of fun I needed. This is a perfect weekend or beach read but it also feels like a fresh concept.

I love to read a book about married couples and these two, Gavin and Thea had a marriage on the rocks and in deep trouble. It was the kind of marriage suffering from neglect and lacking in honesty. However, I could see from the start that there was much to salvage and I enjoyed their journey.

This is a romantic comedy at times with periods of seriousness. The guy friends in Gavin’s life enlisted the help of some regency books to teach Gavin how to woo and satisfy his wife. Everything about this aspect was hilarious and I adored how there was a second mini story within this book in the form of the regency novel he was reading.

He pulled ‘His Pissed-off Countess’ or whatever it was called from the drawer. Del took it from him and held it aloft like a preacher about to drop some gospel.

Gavin learning to change his behaviour was central to this story and he was kind of dumb but also humble and willing to change. I grew to like him and to root for their marriage. I was glad to see some wake-up in Thea too.

“It absolutely is true. A woman remembers every time a man winks at her, because we love winking. It’s like catnip. Wink at us, and we roll over and start purring. You haven’t winked at me in a long time.”
“Then I’m an idiot.” Gavin slowly lowered his gaze to lips. “Because I wouldn’t mind hearing you purr.”

There was a strong sense of family in this book with twins in the middle of this marriage. There were some incredibly sweet moments between the four of them that just made me warm and cosy.

I’m really looking forward to reading more from this series and this author, she reeled me in with this fun story.

Thank you to Headline Eternal for the early review copy.

INTO THE CROOKED PLACE by Alexandra Christo – double review!

The streets of Creije are for the deadly and the dreamers, and four crooks in particular know just how much magic they need up their sleeve to survive.

Tavia, a busker ready to pack up her dark-magic wares and turn her back on Creije for good. She’ll do anything to put her crimes behind her.

Wesley, the closest thing Creije has to a gangster. After growing up on streets hungry enough to swallow the weak whole, he won’t stop until he has brought the entire realm to kneel before him.

Karam, a warrior who spends her days watching over the city’s worst criminals and her nights in the fighting rings, making a deadly name for herself.

And Saxony, a resistance fighter hiding from the very people who destroyed her family, and willing to do whatever it takes to get her revenge.

Everything in their lives is going to plan, until Tavia makes a crucial mistake: she delivers a vial of dark magic—a weapon she didn’t know she had—to someone she cares about, sparking the greatest conflict in decades. Now these four magical outsiders must come together to save their home and the world, before it’s too late. But with enemies at all sides, they can trust nobody. Least of all each other.


Title : Into the Crooked Place
Author : Alexandra Christo
Series : Into the Crooked Place (book one)
Format : eARC / ARC
Page Count : 380
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Feiwel & Friends/Hot Key Books
Release Date : October 8, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★  / DNF


Hollis’ 2 star review

Here’s a big reason why I think the current GR rating is what it is (which, as of the writing of this review, is 3.73) : it very much feels, and reads, like another book. Which, as my buddy said, doesn’t mean a certain author holds the copyright to heist ensemble gangster anti-hero/amoral stories. It’s just.. like, wow, a little effort to be different, when so much of today’s culture is comparisons, would’ve been nice?

But here’s where I get a little less snarky. After bemoaning the comparisons, and the utter boredom, for almost 50%.. this book did shift gears. A little. I won’t say I liked it after the first half but while I predicted a lot of what was coming.. some things I didn’t. I felt good about the ending — particularly the last 20% — which, I mean, I guess didn’t take much considering how not-good I was feeling about the book in general, so that’s definitely a low-ish bar. Also, the shift in plot doesn’t quite take away from how much this book is like other things. I’m talking vibe, tone, names.. yeah, it’s a lot.

But. Again, I say, but.

I might pick up book two (thank goodness it’s not a trilogy). Hell, I probably will. I’m a bit of a masochist but I did feel this ended on a good — well, no, not good, but you get what I mean — note. Also there is a lot of diversity in this story, which is one of the few uncomplicated things to celebrate.

So, yes, this is kind of a hash, for a book I wanted to DNF and yet now find myself intending to read even more of now that I’ve finished it, and yet here we are.

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


Micky sadly DNF’d at 30% – unrated

I’m sorry to say that this was a full day’s struggle of picking it up and putting it down repeatedly because I did not like this world that felt pretty familiar and I did not buy into the characters or story. I found the names of people and phrasing too similar to the Grisha world to discount and it was told without the finesse of that one.

I strongly believe there is no copyright on this kind of story (heisty-gangster fantasy) because the whole book world is built on a jenga pyramid of similar stories. That said, its hugely important to find your slice of uniqueness and according to my bud Hollis, that issue settled a bit from half way in. I didn’t get that far because I just didn’t engage with the story and I was consistently bored.

I feel disappointed in myself on the one hand because I loved Christo’s previous book but I think this review would look a whole lot worse if I had.

Thank you to Hot Key books for the review copy and I’m sorry I couldn’t see this through to the end. Gratitude for the chance to read early.

THE BEAUTIFUL by Renee Ahdieh – double review!

New York Times bestselling author Renée Ahdieh returns with a sumptuous, sultry and romantic new series set in 19th century New Orleans where vampires hide in plain sight.

In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans provides her a refuge after she’s forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent along with six other girls, Celine quickly becomes enamored with the vibrant city from the music to the food to the soirées and—especially—to the danger. She soon becomes embroiled in the city’s glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group’s leader, the enigmatic Sébastien Saint Germain. When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the lair of La Cour des Lions, Celine battles her attraction to him and suspicions about Sébastien’s guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.

When more bodies are discovered, each crime more gruesome than the last, Celine and New Orleans become gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose—one Celine is sure has set her in his sights . . . and who may even be the young man who has stolen her heart. As the murders continue to go unsolved, Celine takes matters into her own hands and soon uncovers something even more shocking: an age-old feud from the darkest creatures of the underworld reveals a truth about Celine she always suspected simmered just beneath the surface.

At once a sultry romance and a thrilling murder mystery, master storyteller Renée Ahdieh embarks on her most potent fantasy series yet: The Beautiful.


Title : The Beautiful
Author : Renee Ahdieh
Series : The Beautiful #1
Format : ARC
Page Count : 448
Genre : Fantasy
Publisher : Hodderscape / G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date : October 8, 2019

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


Micky’s 3 star review

Such a highly anticipated title for me from an author I’ve enjoyed in the past. Although my rating isn’t a wow rating, it delivered on some aspects of enjoyment and not on others. I’ll definitely be continuing with the series however as there’s much still to discover (I’ll return to this point).

I immeditely fell into like with the tenor of the book, in pace, mystery and ambience. New Orleans in this book’s era had such a temperature of the magical that was enticing but it also sparked trepidation. The heroine Celine was running from her life in Paris, straight into the burning flames of a furnace. She courted danger in a way that didn’t seem befitting of a woman of that time but that was the kind of character she was. I was intrigued by her and the character of Bastien, as I was supposed to be.

What started out as mystery in terms of who or what kinds of beings prowled New Orleans, became a bit of a frustration as world building didn’t come but in a fog towards the end. I feel like I was possibly promised vampires but didn’t really get this. I got the measure of Celine and Michael, but Bastien, his uncle and many others were clouded and this became increasingly difficult as a reader.

The violent happenings in the story were the good part of the mystery. The unknown povs added to this. The descriptions of sights and smells, heat and darkness were vivid and alluring. There was very little romance in literal terms but the suggestion of it was threaded through the story.

I enjoyed the idea of this story but I wanted a bit more from the execution of it. I enjoy Renee Ahdieh’s narrative voice very much, she’s easy to read and her work pulls you into the story. However, I wanted more from the story in terms of the final reveal and last chapter. I will be back for more.

Thank you to Hodderscape for this early copy to review.


Hollis’ 3 star review

So this one is an interesting mix for me. Because on the one hand, I was pretty damn entertained while reading this. I read it mostly in one sitting, with only brief pauses, and had a pretty romping good time while I was in it.

It was during those breaks, though, and post-epilogue where I really paused and went, huh. So, we do have some problems.

First of all, let me say, I loved Ahdieh’s first series. And she brings that same magical weaving of atmosphere and setting, of flowy but not too purpley, prose, to THE BEAUTIFUL. Between the vibrancy of a carnival in the dark of the night, the decadence of the food, the colours of a masquerade, it’s a treat to read. I love the French woven through the story, along with a few other languages!, and how sometimes it isn’t even translated. That worked for me, though I imagine it won’t work for all, but. I liked it because it felt true and authentic to the scenery. I’m not entirely sure about the choice of the time period, other than wanting some old world charm, complaints about corsets, and an impetus to send a bunch of girls, mainly our main character, across the sea to the New World to escape their pasts, though. Because there was so much of this that felt very present-day, had very modern commentary, and overall just felt a bit uneven.

If you think I used my wiles to catch your notice like a girl trying to fill her dance card at a ball, then–
Whatever I think has nothing to do with you. My behaviour is not your responsibility.”

Also in relation to the setting, beautiful (hah) as it may be, I have some world building/mythology confusion regarding The Fallen and The Brotherhood — though honestly I think we’re meant to want to know more, wanting to have it all explained, as that will drive us to pick up book two. Additionally because we obviously want a resolution to the events of said epilogue. Which is probably the biggest thing that made me go, huh.

I don’t quite remember seeing it but apparently with the announcement of this book, they came right out of the gate trying to throw shade on a certain other vampire series. Which, hey, whatever. We probably all throw some shade at it. That’s not my issue here. My issue here is that.. why are we throwing shade when some of this book is so damn similar to said other book? I’m not spoiling specifics. But I can’t be the only reader who is seeing it?

I’ve heard many people say tragedy shapes us. But I am not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, nor am I the worst thing I’ve ever done. Nothing in life is that simple.”

Anyway. A lot of this, like I said, was really good. I was hooked in. I like Celine for the most part, I liked Bastien for the most part, and I definitely loved Odette, the glue that kind of holds them together when initially they are keeping to the hate part of their hate-attraction-situation. But honestly these two were best when they were snarking at each other or when.. ahem, well, there was that one time.. because otherwise? I don’t know. They’re both too much and not enough.

I can stand there forever in irritated silence. It it no bother to me. You can perish wondering what I’m thinking, for I’ll never tell.”
Likewise.”

I do think this book suffers a bit from lack of polish. There’s so much going on, so much unknown, and it’s definitely going for a bigger scope that I imagine will get explained now that we’re on the other side of things going into book two. Or maybe not, who is to say. But I have lots of questions, lots of things that in hindsight, I say again, make me go, hm. But again. I had a good time with it. Though I’m going to hope for more vampires in the sequel. Because, minor spoiler? They were hard to spot. Like I said.. there’s a lot going on and this is more than what you might think it to be.

THE BEAUTIFUL is a slowburn plot build that develops into a murder mystery revenge story with more secrets than vampires and more modern day commentary and inclusion than a historical fiction novel actually deserves. But I’ll definitely be picking up book two.

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