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HAPPY PLACE by Emily Henry – double review!

Two exes. One pact.
Could this holiday change everything?

Harriet and Wyn are the perfect couple – they go together like bread and butter, gin and tonic, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds.

Every year for the past decade, they have run away from their lives to drink far too much wine and soak up the sea air with their favourite people in the world.

Except this year, they are lying through their teeth. Harriet and Wyn broke up six months ago. And they still haven’t told anyone.

But this is the last time they’ll all be together here. The cottage is for sale, and since they can’t bear to break their best friends’ hearts, they’ll fake it for one more week.

But how can you pretend to be in love – and get away with it – in front of the people who know you best?

Brimming with characters you can’t help but fall for and off-the-charts chemistry, HAPPY PLACE is Emily Henry doing what she does best!

Title : Happy Place
Author : Emily Henry
Format : Physical ARC / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 400
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Viking Books / Berkley
Release Date : April 27, 2023 / April 25, 2023

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

Micky’s 4.5 star review

Angsty tension
Everything isn’t fine
People pleasing

I really like what Emily Henry did with this novel, we started with the difficult and pretty much stayed there for a lot of the book. This was one hell of an angsty read, the type where you close the book to breathe a bit and then get the courage to open it again.

The story immersed the reader in found family but that family was hitting the dysfunctional buttons pretty hard for all sorts of reasons. I feel like this bunch of friends had grown and changed but they felt the need to pretend they were still as they were a decade ago. Sabrina was a tough one to like but the others were easier to bond with.

The MCs Harriet and Wyn were truly likeable but fathoming what the heck was going on with these two was difficult. I could figuratively feel the unease in Harriet about a bunch of things, Wyn included. There was a bucket load of baggage from family, childhood and pressurised expectations. Harriet was all about the people pleasing but she lacked insight into herself.

I devoured this book over two days and there was so much substance to pick over. I love that Emily Henry doesn’t write to a personal formula. This offering felt quite different to her other romances but equally as great. Don’t expect ease and laughter, brace for tension and angst. Highly recommended.

“Love means constantly saying you’re sorry, and then doing better.”

Thank you to Viking Books for the review copy.

Hollis’ 4 star review

Second-chance romance is rarely my cup of tea. Mostly because the author does too good a job convincing me the couple was right to break up the first time. Or I’m not sold the connection is enough to weather future conflicts and go through everything all over again. But here we are. Henry has convinced me otherwise.

And she did it twice. Because she had me falling in love with these two as they fell in love the first time. And aching as I hoped they would find their way back to each other, desperate to know what really had gone wrong, and if it was fixable. Because sometimes it’s not. Sometimes all the love in the world doesn’t equal a happy ending.

I used to think of love [..] as something so delicate it couldn’t be caught without being snuffed out. Now I know better. I know the flame may gutter and flare with the wind, but it will always be there.

But it wasn’t only the romance that inspired tears. The friend group, reading about this collection of people who had found each other, grown up together, and maybe were clinging too hard in the face of growing apart, it was all so so real. Picking up old traditions, trying to carry on even when so much was changing, the friction that results in some of that, oh. It resonated. And I’m sure other thirty-sometimes will feel that, too.

[..] even when something breaks, the making of it still matters.

As were the conversations are jobs, careers, lifegoals. Sometimes ones ambitions change, sometimes there are none to be had, and success isn’t in having an important job but being happy with yourself at the end of the day. And while it won’t come as any surprise based on the title, this book dealt a lot with happiness. What it represents, what it means, and how to find it.

I think this is the most heartfelt and romantic of all Henry’s books (so far!) but don’t worry there are plenty of laughs alongside some great banter. Also, longing. I think I used the word “aching” in this review already but it’s worth mentioning again because I ached. They ached. We all ached. I spent the last whoevenknowshowmany percent dripping tears and I cannot wait to relive this one. I want to take the time and start from the beginning, work my way through all her romances, and I always say these things and never do it but oh do I want to. I hope I make the time.

Obviously, highly recommend this one. And also, thank you for making my dreams come true and making it pink. Please make the next one green. Also also, can I just say, I’m so glad whatever mojo in the universe which has lead to two of my other most anticipateds falling flat did not impact this one. We have a win. Thank goodness.

IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS by T.J. Klune – double review!

New York Times bestselling author TJ Klune invites you deep into the heart of a peculiar forest and on the extraordinary journey of a family assembled from spare parts.

In a strange little home built into the branches of a grove of trees, live three robots–fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson, a pleasantly sadistic nurse machine, and a small vacuum desperate for love and attention. Victor Lawson, a human, lives there too. They’re a family, hidden and safe. 

The day Vic salvages and repairs an unfamiliar android labelled “HAP,” he learns of a shared dark past between Hap and Gio-a past spent hunting humans. 

When Hap unwittingly alerts robots from Gio’s former life to their whereabouts, the family is no longer hidden and safe. Gio is captured and taken back to his old laboratory in the City of Electric Dreams. So together, the rest of Vic’s assembled family must journey across an unforgiving and otherworldly country to rescue Gio from decommission, or worse, reprogramming. 

Along the way to save Gio, amid conflicted feelings of betrayal and affection for Hap, Vic must decide for himself: Can he accept love with strings attached? 

Inspired by Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, and like Swiss Family Robinson meets Wall-EIn the Lives of Puppets is a masterful stand-alone fantasy adventure from the beloved author who brought you The House in the Cerulean Sea and Under the Whispering Door.

Title : In The Lives of Puppets
Author : T.J. Klune
Format : ARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy / sci-fi
Publisher : Tor Books
Release Date : April 25, 2023

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

Hollis’ 2 star review

I really didn’t think I’d be coming out of one of my most anticipated releases feeling so.. ambivalent. Unmoved. But here we are.

I definitely didn’t hate it but despite some quirky side-characters gadding about with the usual Klune-style hijinks it is, unfortunately, unmemorable. I’ve definitely struggled with some of this authors’ work in the past (notably, in fact, said struggles were with the series that I constantly saw parallels of while reading this book) but even those stand out in a variety of ways. This one? Honestly, it doesn’t. It’s already starting to fade and I literally just put it down.

However, I’ll say that if you enjoyed the Verania series? I think you’ll have a better time than I did. The more outlandish humour that exists in those books has been absent from the last few (trad) releases but I finally saw some of it filtering through these characters. It was occasionally funny, especially in the beginning, and then I got tired. The same way Verania tired me out. And in fact it felt like the same character ensemble dynamic — even if I did enjoy these character archetypes more, particularly in the case of Nurse Ratched (though would I be saying the same if we were five books deep with the same shtick? unlikely because, again, I was tired well before the end of just one book). Maybe another reason this didn’t work.

But truthfully, I think it was more than just the fifty shades of Verania. Or a combination of the two. Because for a book so focused on hearts, I didn’t feel much of it. Heart, I mean. I never connected with the emotional beats of the story, I never connected with Victor who was our only lens to live through, and when it’s all said and done I have no idea where these characters go from here. A story doesn’t really need a purpose or a finite ending but I feel like some direction might’ve helped here, especially as the plot was so.. light.

There are definitely some lovely bits mixed in with the outlandish, Klune certainly knows how to turn a phrase, and there was some interesting dialogue about humanity and flaws and acceptance, but sadly it all just kind of bounced off me. I could acknowledge the funny, the sweet, the whatever, and then, poof, moment over. But maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’m the problem.

While I’m (sadly) not able to climb aboard the hype train for this release, if you’re looking for something that’s an homage (though less than I expected..) to Pinocchio, with more The Brave Little Toaster than I’ve seen since the nineties, seasoned by a pinch of Frankenstein, a dash of Wall-E, and a splash of The Monk and The Robot.. or you’re just another Klunatic willing to devour anything by this author (no judgment here, I am one of you!), I would definitely not want to scare you away from giving this a go. This might very well satisfy — or, to stick with the robot theme, hit all your buttons. And I hope it does.

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

Micky’s 4 star review

Quirky, HAPpy and sad
Found family (of course)
A story of halves

If In the Lives of Puppets leaves me with one impression it’s the found family goodness that is Klune’s signature move and he does it so well. This family however was the weirdest yet, one that really grew on me and dragged me on board with the whiplash dialogue.

This was a story of two halves, the first half I adored, the second half was less engaging as the characters moved from a take on Pinnochio to what felt like the Wizard of Oz to me. When the story completed and came full circle, it brought satisfaction (mostly) in culmination. It wasn’t wrapped in a bow but it was enough.

The characters in this book were special. Vic at the centre but the pages were equally shared with Gio, Nurse Ratched (my personal favourite), Rambo and Hap. There were so many highlights and laugh out loud moments with Nurse Ratched; I loved her demented banter.

“I’m old enough to be your motherboard. Please do not flirt with me if you do not mean it.”

There were themes gently behind the whole tale about humanity, the direction we’re moving, what humanity strives for and overall about kindness. Klune never preaches, he just cleverly crafts the words.

Overall, this was a truly interesting standalone from Klune and one I will remember.

Thank you to Tor Books for the review copy.

ONE FOR MY ENEMY by Olivie Blake – double review!

A thrilling story of rival witch families in New York City, from New York Times bestselling author and internet phenomenon Olivie Blake.

In modern-day Manhattan where we lay our scene, two rival witch families fight to maintain control of their respective criminal ventures.

On one side of the conflict are the Antonova sisters — each one beautiful, cunning, and ruthless — and their mother, the elusive supplier of premium intoxicants, known only as Baba Yaga. On the other side, the influential Fedorov brothers serve their father, the crime boss known as Koschei the Deathless, whose community extortion ventures dominate the shadows of magical Manhattan.

After twelve years of tenuous co-existence, a change in one family’s interests causes a rift in the existing stalemate. When bad blood brings both families to the precipice of disaster, fate intervenes with a chance encounter, and in the aftershocks of a resurrected conflict, everyone must choose a side. As each of the siblings struggles to stake their claim, fraying loyalties threaten to rot each side from the inside out.

If, that is, the enmity between empires doesn’t destroy them first.

Title : One For My Enemy
Author : Olivie Blake
Format : eARC / Physical
Page Count : 384
Genre : paranormal romance / retelling
Publisher : Tor Books
Release Date : April 4, 2023

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

Hollis’ 3.5 star review

One day I hope I can love one of Blake’s book without any complicated or mixed feelings about it. But we’ve yet to have that day, it seems.

Having said that though I think this is the closest I’ve gotten so far? Maybe? It’s certainly less pretentious and academic, with an ensemble I sometimes like but often times don’t, than The Atlas Six (and it’s sequel); and certainly less pretentious and strange than Alone With You in the Ether, and.. well, that sums it up.

One for my Enemy is a little more straight-forward and other than being a classic retelling there isn’t much pretension at all. Plus not only was it Shakespearean at it’s core but it also had the delightful bonus of Russian/Slavic folktales with the inclusion of the Baba Yaga and Koschei monikers. So that was fun. Oh, also? Witches. There’s a lot of good going on here. And we open with quite a bang.

But.. I’ll admit things did get a little too drawn out, too same-y (take a shot every time someone meets up with The Bridge for a deal.. wait don’t that happens every other page), and even though there was a bit of a wind-up for a big reveal at the end, this big grand master plan, I felt we’d lost too much momentum right before it all came clear. So it kind of pfft fell flat.

Admittedly, too, I only felt invested in two characters. Masha and Dima were everything. The antagonists were successfully antagonists and that’s good, sure, fine, but everyone else we were supposed to like or root for (mostly Sasha, Lev was okay) I just.. didn’t. Maybe because it was insta-lovey? And they were very dramatic. Which I guess ties into the whole R&J angle. And now that I think about it I wonder if Masha and Dima were Blake’s way of writing a better R&J story. Because it was. It was so much better.

So the set-up and all the references or homages? Good. The unique take so it didn’t feel like a direct retelling? Even better. The twisty familial ties and bonds? Fun because neither side were the “good” guys. And those aforementioned characters? Insert heart here. But it was definitely too long, or too drawn out, and there was too much death and too much not death (IYKYK).

Also I feel like halfway through the story I had forgotten Baba Yaga’s whole motivation slash enterprise goal unless it was just general New York/world dominion. Which kind of ties into the whole what was known to the world vs not when it comes to magic and creatures. As much as it felt like there was a setting, though not really in the sense that I always knew this was happening in New York (often I would convince myself this was in Moscow because of all the names and fairytale references), I’m not sure I really grasped the world.

But of all the Blake titles referenced above? This might be the one I would recommend. It’s the one book I’ve left feeling more good than not about.. even if I rambled complaints and confusions for the last few paragraphs. For all that I wasn’t sold on all the bits, it still manages to pass the vibe check.

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

Micky’s 4 star review

Sweeping characterisation
Polarising families
Irresistible connections

I’m sure most readers dipping into reviews know that this story is founded in Romeo and Juliet and honestly, Blake executed this vision of witches in New York with two competing families so well. What I expected, was to end up on the side of one family over another but the Antonovas and the Fedorovs were equally entracing as they were unpleasant. Each family had some characters I really loved and some I hated.

For me, it felt like there were four main characters in this book (who I loved equally) and then a set of really strong secondary characters with some others in the background. The idea of Baba Yaga and Koschei the Deathless were initally rather intimitdating with a mafia boss feel to their families, legacies and business dealings. The children of these families however had more grounding, practicality and loyalty to one another, I trusted most of these individuals more.

The story was incredibly surprising, the directions it went, the shocks and twists. I was kept glued to the page, sometimes a little heartbroken, sometimes doing a double take.

Could he really taste so sweet, being her enemy.

I know people have sometimes struggled with the density of Blake’s writing, its tendency towards a convoluted narrative but One For My Enemy was truly accessible, linear in the main and easy to read. I’m definitely a fan of this book.

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

MAGIC TIDES by Ilona Andrews – double review!

Ilona Andrews invites you back to the #1 New York Times bestselling Kate Daniels series in this exciting new long novella featuring Kate, Curran and Conlan, some familiar faces, some new friends, and all the special brand of chaos they create!

Kate, Curran and their son, Conlan have left Atlanta, vowing to keep a low profile, and are settling into a new city and new house…but some things never change! Magical mayhem is about to erupt when Kate undertakes the rescue of a kidnapped youth, while Curran guards the homefront.

It should be a simple retrieval, but with monsters on land and sea, Kate’s got her work cut out for her. Still, she’s never let her blade dull or her purpose falter. And that low profile? It’s about to wash away with the raging tides!

Title : Magic Tides
Author : Ilona Andrews
Series : Kate Daniels – Wilmington Years (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 163
Genre : urban fantasy / paranormal romance
Publisher : NYLA
Release Date : January 17, 2023

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

Micky’s 4 star review

Bliss being back with Kate and Co
Family life under the radar
Kate saves the day

The library hold arrived and I DEVOURED this up like a feast. How I have missed Kate Daniels and Curran (and Conlan). This was like being with old friends, with magic, gore, beasts and slime thrown in and I couldn’t be happier about it.

This series starts on the foundation of the previous series with a note of feminism woven throughout. That is, Kate goes off to save the world and Curran says ‘okay honey’. He’s a supporter, he worries about her, sure but there’s no masochistic psueo-protective bull shit we see so much in these kinds of PNR/UF shifter series. There’s no big feminist flag flying but Kate, Curran and others are all signed up to their own equality act and I love it. I realise I’ve gone off topic here, but oh well.

The story was strong, I liked Kate’s poor attempt of lying low and her mission to save some kids. She’s epic in battle and strategy as ever and the whole thing kept me hooked. I’d like to see some Julie if poss, even though she has her own series and I look forward to seeing the ex-consort and her beast lord make a hash of the HEA.

I would just have liked it to be longer. Please can we have a full book next? Pretty please!

Hollis’ 4 star review

Elle oh elle at Kate and Curran a) thinking they could ever lay low and b) that we were anywhere near finished with them. Though maybe that second point is more to the author duo than the characters but still! It applies.

In fact, the whole way through I was more or less on Keelan’s team. He knows the real deal, he knows what was up. IYKYK.

This was a fun “little” (snort, the acknowledgements at the end) reunion with Kate, Curran, and Conlan, and it was a delight from start to finish. Gone are the days that Kate has any doubt in her abilities and when the need arises she kisses her honey and off she goes and Curran doesn’t blink an eye. But nor is he off the hook for magical mayhem funtimes, thankfully. There is equal opportunity for asskicking for one and all in this family. And yes, that includes the eight year old.

Also, that one particular cameo. Even if it was just a phone call. I’m dying for more from that series. And Julie’s series. Every series. IA can’t stop, we won’t let them stop, I just need more more more.

I don’t really think this review has to be any longer than this because if you’re a fan, you’ve probably already read it. And if you’ve yet to start (why, why haven’t you started), it’ll either mean nothing to you or be spoilers. But suffice it to say there is clearly so much more still to be explored and discovered about this world, including the complicated mythology and worldbuilding and all the politics that go along with it. I sense something a’brewing. Which is great news because of the aforementioned lack of stopping I want from these two. But with book two already announced for June.. thankfully they seem to know what’s up.

The only downside to this book is the fact that I now want to reread the entire series. Again. Damnit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micky’s 4 star review

– Dark
– Suspenseful
– Otherworldly
– Secretive
– Deliciously gothic

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to Hodderscape for the review copies.

Hollis’ 4 star review

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

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

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

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

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

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

CYBELE’S SECRET by Juliet Marillier – double review!

For Paula, accompanying her merchant father on a trading voyage to Istanbul is a dream come true. They have come to this city of trade on a special mission to purchase a most rare artifact—a gift from the ancient goddess, Cybele, to her followers. It’s the only remnant of a lost, pagan cult.

But no sooner have they arrived when it becomes clear they may be playing at a dangerous game. A colleague and friend of Paula’s father is found murdered. There are rumors of Cybele’s cult reviving within the very walls of Istanbul. And most telling of all, signs have begun to appear to Paula, urging her to unlock Cybele’s secret.

Meanwhile, Paula doesn’t know who she can trust in Istanbul, and finds herself drawn to two very different men. As time begins to run out, Paula realizes they may all be tied up in the destiny of Cybele’s Gift, and she must solve the puzzle before unknown but deadly enemies catch up to her. . . .

Title : Cybele’s Secret
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Wildwood (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 432
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date : September 9, 2008

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

Hollis’ 2.5 star review

Well, on the plus side, if you intend to binge this series, you won’t find too much same-y by reading them back to back. In fact.. there’s hardly any same-y at all! It might as well be a different series altogether.

Another plus? We are in another different and infrequently-used setting for this book. Whereas we started in Transylvania in Wildwood Dancing, in Cybele’s Secret we journey to Istanbul. But where previously we spent a lot of time in the Otherworld, amongst the fae, or a drafty castle, this time we visit the heat of the markets, the quiet of the libraries, and maybe even spend some time on boats. Paula, too, is different from Jena — the former a scholar, the latter the head of the household, the responsible one — except in the part that frustrated me about both characters : judgey judgey judgey. 

But that makes for a good segue into the characters. Did I like.. any of them? Honestly, I did like Paula at first. But eventually she became a little one-note. And then she did something that had me banging my head against the wall and we never recovered. Of her two love interests, one looks real good on paper, and did all the right things, but honestly he was a little bland. A little sad. But, shockingly, ended up saving the day in ways that had nothing to do with his bodyguard-acquired muscles. And the other, the dashing and devilish pirate? Oh yeah, he was my favourite. Not really as a love interest, because I couldn’t understand why he would be drawn to Paula, but as a character. 

There was no painfully painful villain in this book, thank goodness, but the villain of the piece is somehow both too well hidden and also too obvious and it made for a weird confrontation. Which wasn’t helped by a surplus of monologues to explain all the mustache-twirling that had happened off-page. And their fate? Pretty lame.

Plotwise, things went about fairly smoothly if often in a repetitive matter. We had some mysteries to solve, a sprinkling of clues to follow, all very vague. All doled out in tiny increments. Until basically the big finale where much is revealed and many faerie-style trials must be endured. Though, I’ll be honest, it mostly seemed like an exercise in running around nonstop. But in hindsight, book one was also a little repetitive. It was just more exciting, even during the frustrating bits, than this one.

I wasn’t mad at the ending, and actually thought the pseudo-third act conflict appropriate considering the chosen love interest’s various tasks and responsibilities, but at this point I just wanted to get things over with and move on. I was wanting to round up on this because it’s Marillier but this might be the weakest of any of her stories and I just can’t quite do it. I’m sad to not have discovered a new favourite series but it was different and it was fun to experience it with my buddy so it definitely wasn’t anywhere near a total loss. This just won’t make it onto my Must Read Marillier list or be one I recommend.

Micky’s 2.5 -3 star review

Perilous times
Triangular shaped connections

Le sigh. After really enjoying Wildwood Dancing and getting attached to those sisters and moreso, the setting, this was a stark change. The story transported the reader to busy busy historical Istanbul where women could not safely exist and tensions seemed to be high. Istanbul has some dark resonating experiences for me personally, so I don’t think that endeared me to it. I missed the woods, the sisters and the fair folk.

The story took Paula and her father in the direction of bidding for a much sought after relic, a bodyguard, a posh pirate and the mysterious Cybele. Cybele was an ancient goddess and there were insects (indraws breath, hyperventilates at the scuttling and crawling, erases images). I went with the flow for the first third of the book, liking the direction. From after half way, I found Paula left all sense behind, acted like a teenager and it was hard to add up the actions that ensued.

Now to the humble bodyguard and the posh pirate…I liked both these characters but didn’t appreciate the triangle. The journey with these three was something close to annoying but not quite there. At the culmination however, I got an unexpected punch of the feels that left me overall on a happier note.

I was left somewhat disgruntled with the lack of tie-up on Tati (yet again) and it doesn’t appear there are any more books to come in the series, so I guess that is that.

I dragged my heels on this buddy read because from that third of the book point, I found this slow and difficult to pick back up. Not my favourite Marillier by any means but I’ll favour the first book in my memories.

WILDWOOD DANCING by Juliet Marillier – double review!

High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.

But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop.

When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.

Title : Wildwood Dancing
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Wildwood (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 407
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date : January 23, 2007

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

Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Even though this couldn’t be more different from the Sevenwaters Saga, there is something intrinsically Marillier about this story. A group of siblings. A mystery to be solved. Transformation. Magic. The Other folk. But this is still very unique, for all that it’s also based on, or paying homage to/a retelling of, folklore stories like The Twelve Dancing Princesses and, well, another one I won’t mention so it doesn’t ruin the surprise. Additionally, we have a story set not just in Britain, or Ireland, as most folklore and fairytales are, but in Transylvania, making the story further unique; because how often do we get that for a setting? And, complementing that setting, some of her creatures may feel a little.. familiar, too.

Joining me on this adventure was Micky but unlike previous Marillier buddy reads, I’m not sure I ever read this one. GR says no and having now read it I don’t think that was a data entry oversight on my part. While this won’t be one I revisit the way I reread her other works, there’s a lot of good here. But also, unfortunately fitting with the times perhaps, in addition to just being the conflict and antagonist of the plot, it’s also a struggle. Now, of course, often times I can enjoy the conflict for what it is without feeling like the book itself was less fun as a result but in this case.. what at first became a game to theorize and assign blame on a character, who was shit from the start, over time because wearisome. Marillier is always great at creating fantastic villains who truly believe they are on the right side, doing the right things, but this time.. it wore on me. Maybe because instead of machinations sprinkled over the course of a trilogy, everything was crammed into one instalment. Or maybe it was the kind conflicts (misogyny, patriarchal behaviour, all flavours of that kind) just rubbed me in places that were too raw. What also frustrated me was the fact that our lead was rarely, if ever, supported by those around her to fight these conflicts. Sure, again, maybe it’s a sign of the times. The reality was they had little support in the first place which could explain why things happened the way they did. But it was exhausting.

As for the mysteries and magic, well. They were mostly fairly obvious from the get-go. We definitely saw a lot of it coming without much surprise. Which is fine. And I did absolutely love how everything kicked off (the game they played as children and the ripples it would have throughout their lives) because it felt true to the mischief and mayhem that comes with involving yourself with the Others. So, too, was all of Jena, our lead’s, assumptions and judgments. She did become rather difficult near the end after having spent so much time judging her sister and what she was going through, only to be found guilty of her own follies and not truly realize the parallels (I’m thinking of her preoccupation in her moment of loss which she saw Tati going through the whole time). Having said that, though, said sister was a little.. dramatic I think. To go from distracted and heartsick to what she did.. I don’t know. A little much.

I definitely wanted to love this more than I did. But I did enjoy the world, even if the characters sometimes frustrated me, and as usual Marillier does fae like few authors can. And, of course, it was a joy to read this with my buddy and theorize and rant about what was going on at any given time.

I do want to read on and I’m looking forward to seeing what new experiences await in book two. 

Micky’s 4 star review

A flavour of retellings
Dancing sisters
Other folk of many types

Marillier knows how to craft an interesting world to invest the reader from the start. In this duology starter, I found myself in the Transylvanian mountains of Romania, somewhere I’ve never been in fiction before; so fresh. This story had the flavour of some fairytales but set in it’s own unique way, one of the influences was the twelve dancing princesses (but there weren’t twelve).

In no surprise to any Marillier fan, the other folk and their world collided with those of the protagonist Jena and antagonist Cezar. Cezar, (deep sigh) was vile in an exponential way as the story developed. Expect to feel shades of patriarchy, misogyny and control. There were many parts of this story with Cezar that enraged me. That said, many of the men in this story were empowering towards women.

Jena and her sisters were a colourful bunch. By the end, I really wanted a Tati story, more of what happened to her in this story and the afterwards. Gogu was a great character and although Hollis and I guessed much about this character, the reading of it was still entertaining.

In the other world we met a lot of different folk, dissimilar to her sevenwaters fair folk. The night people were illusively intriguing, I loved the brief pictures and connections between the sisters and Anatoli, Sten and othe dancing partners.

The romp to the end was predictable in some ways and less so in others but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment. I’m looking forward to the next book (and hoping my buddy is on board for this soon) and wishing already that there were more than two books in this series.

A FIRE ENDLESS by Rebecca Ross – double review!

The stunning sequel to A River Enchanted finds the human and faerie realms threatened by an immortal enemy whose defeat can only come through fire, song, and heartrending sacrifice.

East and west. Humans and spirits.

The tenuous balance of the Isle of Cadence is under threat from Bane, the spirit of the north wind.

In the west, Adaira struggles to find her place. And, though magic blooms there, the spirits suffer beneath Bane’s harsh power, felt in every gust of wind.

In the east, Jack Tamerlaine is adrift without Adaira, until he acquires a mission destined to lead him back to her. But among the Tamerlaines sickness is spreading and Torin desperately strikes a bargain with the spirits – a folly at any time.

With their very land at risk, all will need to join together to confront Bane. Yet none can challenge the north wind without paying a terrible price, and the sacrifice required may be more than they can bear…

Title : A Fire Endless
Author : Rebecca Ross
Series : Elements of Cadance (book two)
Format : Hardcover / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 512
Genre : Fantasy
Publisher : Harper Voyager
Release Date : December 8, 2022

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

Micky’s 4.5 star review

Sweeping storyline
Clan battles

Having liked book one but not loved it, A Fire Endless pretty much added a 100 x boost to my interest in this world, the characters and the story. I got swept up straight away with Cadance and the clans with my love for Adaira, Sidra, Jack and Torin increasing. I said when I read book one that it gave me vibes from Marillier’s Sevenwaters tales and that remained true.

There was so much to this second installment of the tale and the storyline was strong, complex and magical. I really enjoyed how the fae-folk (spirit) realm crossed over with the human realm and how those fae-folk characters came into more focus. Kae and Hap were particular favourites. In terms of my favourite human characters all the kudos has to go to the women of this piece, namely Sidra who I adored and Adaira whose strength and leadership was epic.

The story of the blight, the Breccon clan and life in that castle was just gripping. The story was told in such a personal way, through the eyes of characters readers already care about, that the pages just flew by even though there were a lot of pages.

The sense of family in this book is so prominent; blood and found. That’s the overwhelming feeling I’m left with at the end. I feel so satisfied about the duology overall and I recommend to all my fantasy reading friends.

Thank you to Harper Voyager and InstaBook Tours for the review copy.

Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I definitely thought this finale was going to supersede my love for book one in this series but unfortunately the ending took a bit of the wind out of my sails and I can’t quite round up on this one. But almost everything up until the 70% mark was really doing it for me.

I said in my review for book one that I had hoped for more of the clans, which I thought would be an easy ask knowing we’d be on the other side of the island and the conflict, and I mean.. we did a little? But honestly, other than the woad/tattoos and the different living conditions for each side of the island, these clans didn’t feel any different. Beyond the fluffier vs harder characteristics. I wish I had felt a more real difference between them that set them apart. Something that would’ve made the likelihood of these two sides ever coming together, could the clan line and conflict with the spirits be solved, more of an uncertainty.

And my other ask was more romance and that, at least, we did get. Once our silly couples were reunited. Because yes we had not just one separation but two! But it did add to the strength of these characters as individuals which, oh, hey, I forgot to mention how surprising (and refreshing! but also can we n o r m a l i z e this more so I can stop being surprised by the refreshingness?) it was to have lairds and leaders and captains be women. We love to see it. Especially when there’s nothing noteworthy about it; Ross never made a fuss, her characters never made a fuss, but I am now making a fuss — in a good way.

So, again, yes, I had a good time. My vengeance-filled heart wishes the remaining villains of this piece got their comeuppance, but no they get to walk free and continue to be assholes (probably) because the good guys are too good, but other than the ending, that’s really my only complaint. I did see the big reveal coming a miiiiile away but I wasn’t mad about it because I did think it was a clever part of the story. And I did enjoy spending time in this world. I will definitely be picking up Ross’ other series, though I do hope that pairing spends a little more time as enemies than this one did.

If you’re looking for something that feels like a fairytale, with a Scottish/Celtic setting, a strong romance element, a magical riddle to solve, and more, I would definitely suggest you give this fantasy duology a go.

SHIP WRECKED by Olivia Dade – double review!

After All the Feels and Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade once again delivers a warm and wonderful romantic comedy about two co-stars who once had an incredible one-night stand—and after years of filming on the same remote island, are finally ready to yield to temptation again…

Maria’s one-night-stand—the thick-thighed, sexy Viking of a man she left without a word or a note—just reappeared. Apparently, Peter’s her surly Gods of the Gates co-star, and they’re about to spend the next six years filming on a desolate Irish island together. She still wants him…but he now wants nothing to do with her.

Peter knows this role could finally transform him from a forgettable character actor into a leading man. He also knows a failed relationship with Maria could poison the set, and he won’t sabotage his career for a woman who’s already walked away from him once. Given time, maybe they can be cooperative colleagues or friends—possibly even best friends—but not lovers again. No matter how much he aches for her.

For years, they don’t touch off-camera. But on their last night of filming, their mutual restraint finally shatters, and all their pent-up desire explodes into renewed passion. Too bad they still don’t have a future together, since Peter’s going back to Hollywood, while Maria’s returning to her native Sweden. She thinks she needs more than he can give her, but he’s determined to change her mind, and he’s spent the last six years waiting. Watching. Wanting.

His shipwrecked Swede doesn’t stand a chance.

Title : Ship Wrecked
Author : Olivia Dade
Series : Spoiler Alert (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 413
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★  / ★  

Hollis’ 3 star review

This series has been a wild ride for me. We started strong, took a hard left into mostly nope, but then we are ending (right? it felt like the end!) on a mostly better note.. which I’m happy about.

I’ll admit, though, this started off rough. But not literally. Chapter one? Hoo boy hot. Chapter two? My reaction to the Peter’s behaviour was the buzziest of buzzkills. Eventually we get the reasons why but his defrosting was tough. Meanwhile Maria was delightful always. My only real issue was her quick pivot on her feelings for Peter out of nowhere offpage.

Naturally I hated the third act conflict but that’s mostly because it felt a miscommunication-adjacent and I hate that trope.

I’m definitely here (again, always!) for all the positive rep. But the highlight, as always, was the snarky commentary around this not-GoT but definitely GoT show at the centre of the plot. It’s incredibly satisfying. It’s also a little fanfic-y in of itself for all the people who were real-life shipping two characters who were mostly, sorta, embodied by Peter and Maria. Basically all the homages to everything around the show and actors were (chefs kiss) the best.

Having said that, once again, I’m hear to warn you away from playing drinking games; this time the keywords had to go with goats, herring, and other over-used bits used for increasingly lackluster and tired banter the longer it all went on.

But when the romance was in the transition from pining to confessions and then actually together? Delightful. The pre and post bits? I could leave them. The group chat threads? Hysterical. So, yes, equal parts fun and not fun. All that to say, I will definitely make an effort to dive into Dade’s backlist and continue to pick up whatever she does next.

Micky’s 4 star review

On set complications
A love told over years
Scandi humour

The GOT/Gods of the Gates has never worked so well in this series as this book. The characters that Peter and Maria were inhabiting were fantastic but IRL, they were a blast to read. I went from like to serious Peter side-eye to warm to heart eyes.

I appreciated that this was a slow-burn romance told over years without it feeling too long to wait to see things reach a conclusion. The build-up was everything and the time the characters spent on set was my favourite part of the book. That meant that the second half of the book was a little less exciting to me.

I enjoyed Maria as a character immensely, she was sunny but realistic. Her body positivity was infectious and inspiring. Peter was a introverted grump at times but her sunshine made him eventually sunny(ish).

For me, this was a welcome addition to the series and I enjoyed the cameos of the previous characters.

BEFORE I LET GO by Kennedy Ryan – double review!

Their love was supposed to last forever. But when life delivered blow after devastating blow, Yasmen and Josiah Wade found that love had its limits . . it couldn’t save their marriage.

Yasmen wasn’t prepared for how her life fell apart, but she’s finally starting to find joy again. She and Josiah have found a new rhythm: co-parenting their two kids and running a thriving business together. Yet, like magnets, they’re always drawn back to each other, and now they’re beginning to wonder if they’re truly ready to let go of everything they once had.

One stolen kiss leads to another . . . and then more. It’s hot. It’s illicit. It’s good – until it starts to hurt again. As old wounds reopen, Yasmen and Josiah wonder if it is too late for them to find forever.

Or could they be even better, the second time around?

Title : Before I Let Go
Author : Kennedy Ryan
Format : eARC / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 401
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Piatkus / Forever
Release Date : November 15, 2022

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

Micky’s 5 star review

Crazy investment
Feelings on overdrive
Married couple, second chances

First I just need to start off with the how stunning this cover is. This is hands down my favourite romance cover of the year. Now to the delectable inside…

Before I Let Go gave me the kind of heart on the page feelings I got from Ryan’s Grip series. In fact there was a slight similarity in one of the themes but it felt completely fresh in this story. This author has the unusual talent of being able to write romance amongst the worst kind hurt and still bring such palpable chemistry that you’re getting all warm under the collar.

Grief is a grind. It is the work of breathing and waking and rising and moving through a world that feels emptier.

I adore second chances done well and this second chance for Yasmen and Josiah was all consuming. The place these two started in and the journey they took was utterly mesmerising with angst and frustration, then possibility. I have to mention how I adored how Kennedy Ryan wrote Yasmen’s body, a normal woman’s body, appreciatively, sexily and that confidence oozed down the page to me the reader. Pretty powerful stuff! I also found Josiah to be such a man surpassing the average contemporary romance lead that he’s unforgettable.

I lived for this book over the couple of days I read it, it dominated my thoughts and had I not been distracted by family, I could have happily read from front to back. This book is one I’ll re-read, enjoy living the hurt and the triumphs. I remain a huge fan of this author’s talent.

There is only one letter of difference between love and lose, and somewhere along the way, for me they became synonymous.

There are content warnings and these are rightly in the opening pages, as they be raw issues for some.

Thank you to Piatkus books for the eARC.

Hollis’ 2.5 stars review

Ahem, sorry, just slipping this in under the radar for another #ChalkAndCheese moment because sadly I do not share my buddy’s effusive feelings. Though I can totally see why she had them.

I’m glad I finally read this one (though it took me ages to get through) but I’m bummed to be a bit of an outlier over it. I just didn’t love this the way I expected to — and certainly not the way everyone else did.

The dialogue around grief was well done, and this is also very therapy-positive, but honestly that’s as invested as I ever got. I didn’t fall for these characters, I only felt for their circumstances and their losses, and in that respect only really for Yasmen’s. Josiah was a character I struggled with from the outset and even as he came to terms with things, opened up, it never changed my feelings for him. In some respect, I think having his own POV actually made things worse as opposed to better for the telling of this story.

I am happy for their HEA but this one isn’t going to stick with me.