EMERALD BLAZE by Ilona Andrews – double review!

As Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers—powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart. 

The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won’t rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that’s tearing their world apart.  


Title : Emerald Blaze
Author : Ilona Andrews
Series : Hidden Legancy (book five)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 399
Genre : urban fantasy/paranormal romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : August 25, 2020

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

I’ll be honest. Give me some Baylor family banter and hijinks and I’ll pretty much be happy no matter what angst or torture this duo puts me through. Which is pretty much what happened in EMERALD BLAZE. Though it was light on both angst and torture so even better?

He broke your heart.
I broke my own heart, Leon. He was just the hammer I hit it with.

While I found the mystery of the Big Bad plot to be fine (not quite interesting, but not boring), I found the Big Bad Monster element of said same plot to be.. weird and whacky and freaky and fantastic fun. You might disagree about the fun part if you’ve read this but I just found it fascinating where this author duo’s brain goes (yes, I made a brain joke, I am not sorry!).

Your ego would survive an apocalypse.”
Thank you.”
It wasn’t a compliment.
It was to me.

For me, the star of this show, beyond the aforementioned Baylor Banter (copyright pending), was some of the insight we got into decisions made in the previous books. I’ll admit I couldn’t quite tell what was new information and what was just expanded upon which tells me I definitely should’ve done a series reread before this book (whoops, my bad), but nonetheless it felt mostly new and very shocking. I felt like every time the Evil Grandmother was mentioned I could never remember exactly what, or who, she had twisted to her own purposes and now? Wow. Cards are all out on the table.

I wasn’t mourning Alessandro abandoning me. I was mourning the old me. For the new me to emerge, the old me had to disappear, and killing her bit by bit hurt.

So that was fantastic but so was the romance. I enjoyed the heck out of this dynamic in book four but I was so much more sold this time around. Because more cards are on the table for these two as well, yes, but I also felt they had grown as individuals, particularly Catalina. I find her such a great protagonist because she’s strong but not invulnerable, either physically or emotionally, and she perseveres because she must. And as for Alessandro.. like.. be ready for some heartbreak.

I do so love happy endings.
Happy ending for you, maybe. I didn’t get to shoot anybody.

As a bonus we also get some page time with Nevada and Rogan so truly this book is a gift that keeps on giving. Less lovely? That ending. I had seen some vague shrieking about it on the internetz before reading this book so I was expecting the worst and I mean.. it’s not good but wow my brain is clearly a dark place because I expected something else. Also, for those of you unaware, this was also released by the authors but only to be read after reading book five. Don’t you dare peek ahead of time! Not only do I feel a little more comforted about said ending now but also I totally want an Arabella-centic book. I’m sure it’s coming. Maybe? Who knows. At the end of the day I just want IA to never stop writing; and I don’t care what series it’s for. Is that too much to ask?


Micky’s 4 star review

No quotes from me on this one, guess which dumb reader sent the library book back before writing their review? Yep, me. EMERALD BLAZE had a bit of a flat-ish start for me, I wasn’t immediately pulled in but by 20% that changed. This instalment of the Hidden Legacy was the usual fast-paced story you’d expect, full of drama, magic, fighting and tension. The evil thing in this one was super creepy animated thing and gave me slight vibes of one of the Kate Daniels instalment but it was still unique enough to hold its own.

I wasn’t sure about that cover, the emerald aspect but in retrospect, it all makes sense. I love the building storyline of House Baylor that stretches over the whole series and seeing Catalina come into her own even more is story-goals. I really enjoyed some honest dialogue between Nevada and Catalina, it felt like they were finally on an equal footing and to be honest, I’ve missed Nevada. The snippets of her and Rogan were like candy treats.

The best thing about this book was the tension between Catalina and Alessandro, ‘coupled’ with Alessandro finally exposing himself honestly. I lived for how their story played out. This story gave me everything I needed and wanted with regards to Catalina and Alessandro and I’m currently a pile of contemplative mush on finishing.

Family was strong as ever for the Baylors and I love the characters, how they knit together, banter and support one another. Did Andrews finish this cruelly? I guess you’ll have to read and find out.

*side note – will there ever be a book of theirs I don’t like?*

A DEADLY EDUCATION by Naomi Novik – double review!

In the start of an all-new series, the bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver introduces you to a dangerous school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death – until one girl begins to rewrite its rules.
_______________________________________

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal.

Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it… that is, unless she has no other choice.
_______________________________________

Wry, witty, endlessly inventive, and mordantly funny – yet with a true depth and fierce justice at its heart – this enchanting novel reminds us that there are far more important things than mere survival.


Title : A Deadly Education
Author : Naomi Novik
Series : Scholomance #1
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Random House UK/Cornerstone / Del Rey
Release Date : September 29, 2020

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


Micky’s 4-4.5 star review

I’m a bit dithery over that rating, take it as 4.25 if that helps! I just about devoured this book whenever I could and it made for tasty reading. The Scholomance was a school like you’ve never imagined, a school trying to kill its pupils with brimming magic, a void and tonnes of deadly creatures.

This was a witty read and that really surprised me. We’ve definitely seen shades of Novik’s sarcastic humour through Uprooted but this story had a lighter, laugh-out-loudness to it. I thought the whole concept of The Scholomance (the boarding school for wizards) was unique. Add to that the snarkiest heroine I’ve read in a while in Galadriel (El) and it was hard for this book to put a foot wrong.

When I want to straighten my room, I get instructions on how to kill it with fire.

Odd right? Spells didn’t flow in the expected way for her, but Galadriel was not a conventional wizard by Scholomance pupil standards, she was quietly and covertly exceptional. I loved reading about her systems, her talents and the languages she was studying. Most of all, I enjoyed reading her growth in friendships. El was almost made perfect with her use of British swears. I can say that Novik wrote a Brit (she was actually Welsh) particularly well.

The begrudging friendship/white knight (not needed) in Orion made for hilarity and chuckling. It was hard not to like Orion despite his saviour complex but there’s definitely more to unpack with him and I’m so glad we hopefully get to do that in the next book.

“You know, it’s almost impressive,” he said after a moment, sounding less wobbly. “You’re nearly dead and you’re still the rudest person I’ve ever met.”

The heirarchies in the school were something else and the void was just nausea-inducing to me. This truly was the school of nightmares and I wouldn’t last more than a minute in there! I simply cannot wait for the next instalment. And so I leave you with my favourite line (kudos to Jane Eyre here).

Reader, I ran the fuck away.

Thank you to Cornerstone/Random House for the early review copy.


Hollis’ 4 star review

A DEADLY EDUCATION is like a dark mashup of Harry Potter — if the only class was Defense Against the Dark Arts — complete with the magical puberty problems and monster-attraction issues ala Percy Jackson, but if instead of Buffy we had Faith saving the world all the time.. though hella reluctantly. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

This book is nothing like what I expected a book by Novik would be. This, for all the darkness and the fact that it’s set inside a castle that seems to be actively working to kill it’s residents — or at last lead it’s inhabitants into a position to die and casually look away — is funny, quippy, and strange.

Unlike Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or even Faith, we are tossed into the depths of things via Galadriel’s (El’s) point of view. She isn’t a noob blinking big innocent eyes as she wanders into this new world, no. She’s in her second to last year, having survived many years, many near deaths, with a prophecy already hanging over her head; she’s full of the bitterness and disdain from years of rejections, years of loneliness, and completely unimpressed when the school’s hero not only suddenly takes a shine to her but also saves her life.. a lot.

I liked our MC so much. I thought El’s snarky voice, her rudeness, was great. She has cultivated her niche deliberately because of circumstances completely out of her control but as delightful as she is at the onset, I loved her journey and evolution even more. Equally fun was Orion, the hero, the saviour, was equally not as one-note as he could’ve been. There are layers to both these characters and their interactions were a lot of fun as this definitely leaned into the enemies-turned-reluctant-allies-turned-friends trope. Infact, I don’t think I disliked a single character? Yes, I, too, am shook.

Though we never leave this young-person death trap of a school, Novik still manages to make her world feel big. This is helped not only because of the diversity of the students we are exposed to but, more importantly, all the Enclaves all over the world (think of them as Shadowhunter Institutes) they might be invited to after graduation if they are smart, skilled, or sought after enough. The rules are strange. I won’t explain further but.. don’t expect House points!

I had such a good time reading this, despite how different it was from my expectations, and I devoured it in less than a day. I enjoyed this so much and am very intrigued and very keen for more.

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

TOOLS OF ENGAGEMENT by Tessa Bailey – double review!

In Tessa Bailey’s latest rom-com, two enemies team up to flip a house… and the sparks between them might burn the place down or ignite a passion that neither can ignore!

Hair, makeup, clothing, decor… everything in Bethany Castle’s world is organized, planned, and styled to perfection. Which is why the homes she designs for her family’s real estate business are the most coveted in town. The only thing not perfect? Her track record with men. She’s on a dating hiatus and after helping her friends achieve their dreams, Bethany finally has time to focus on her own: flip a house, from framework to furnishings, all by herself. Except her older brother runs the company and refuses to take her seriously.

When a television producer gets wind of the Castle sibling rivalry, they’re invited on Flip Off, a competition to see who can do the best renovation. Bethany wants bragging rights, but she needs a crew and the only member of her brother’s construction team willing to jump ship is Wes Daniels, the new guy in town. His Texas drawl and handsome face got under Bethany’s skin on day one, but the last thing she needs is some cocky young cowboy in her way.

As the race to renovate heats up, Wes and Bethany are forced into close quarters, trading barbs and biting banter as they remodel the ugliest house on the block. It’s a labor of love, hate, and everything in between, and soon sparks are flying. But Bethany’s perfectly structured life is one kiss away from going up in smoke and she knows falling for a guy like Wes would be a flipping disaster.


Title : Tools of Engagement
Author : Tessa Bailey
Series : Hot & Hammered (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : September 22, 2020

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

Possibly my favourite of the series?

We love a hate-to-love in this house, or at least a somewhat antagonistic dynamic hiding attraction, particularly when the pair are opposites, but throw in an age gap and a single dad-situation, too? I mean, c’mon. Catnip.

I like being referred to as your foreman. It’s got a nice ring.”
Especially compared to what I usually call you.”
Truth. It’s a definite improvement from dickhead.”

The build-up for this match up has been bubbling away in the background of this series for a while and, for this reader, it was definitely worth the wait. Pretty much everything about this just worked for me (maybe also helped by a bit of a dry spell in the contemporary romance genre?). Besides the delightful tease and torment, the peeling back of layers, I just really appreciated all the situations navigated. Bethany’s insecurities, Wes’ impermanence, and the fact that as they tear down a structure to rebuild, and do it together, they realize how well the fit. How one has a house — though it isn’t a home — much less one filled with joy, while the other is only ever a guest, never asked to stay. Never needed or wanted.

Can you tell this book made me cry?

Don’t worry, though, it’s also sexy and hot af, as one expects from a Bailey.

I’m not interested in a fling — and even if I was, you’ve wisely removed sex from the equation–
Deepest regret of my life.”
Yeah, pretty shortsighted of you.

I’ll admit the introduction of the reality show element wasn’t my favourite, though it worked as the spark to kick things off and ramp up the intensity and the stakes. And I didn’t love the big reconciliation moment (I think I said the same about book one? I’m just not always into these big showy expressions, I think). But I appreciated that things ended happily though not with every bit tied off in a bow; and but that I mean with the characters and their journeys, too. It helps shave off a bit of cheese from the whole HEA and makes it much more palateable.

That was poetic.
Your epitagh is going to be poetic once I strangle you.”
Having your hands on me is the ideal way to go.”

If you’ve enjoyed the books in this series, I think you’ll definitely like this one, too.

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


Micky’s 3.5 star review

This was another fun instalment in the series and what I’ve loved about the series, are the characters Tessa Bailey creates. Bethany and Wes were no exception and probably the most endearing characters so far. Bethany was a perfectionist with sometimes crippling anxiety and Wes was an ex-bullrider, trying to parent his niece. Said niece was funny and adorable. I love flawed (normal) characters so I found this set up appealing.

This was a bit of an age-gap romance (7 years) however at 23 and 30, it didn’t feel that much of an issue to me, but it was to Bethany. I was glad to see Bethany in close focus in this book and she was much more than the perfect house and event stylist I’d seen from other books. The tension between her and Wes was pretty hot-banterish with a side of snarky fake-hate. The dialogue was extremely fun.

Wes was adorable, parenting his niece, making it up as he went along but he was such a good guy despite the innuendo towards Bethany. He was protective to them both without being overly alpha-ish , which I really appreciated. The story was predictable but fun.

I don’t exactly know why this book didn’t hit the 4 stars having said all the above but I did keep putting the book down and it didn’t hold my attention on holiday, with no outside stressors. By 70% I wanted to get to the end, the predictability had won over and I knew there would be a hurdle then smooth. However, it left me with all the good feels with a strong ending.

This was a good instalment in the series, but book 2 remains my favourite.

Thank you to Avon for the early review copy.

THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden – double review!

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.


Title : The Bear and the Nightingale
Author : Katherine Arden
Series : Winternight #1
Format : Ebook / physical hardback
Page Count : 328
Genre : Fantasy
Publisher : Del Rey Books
Release Date : January 12, 2017

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


Micky’s 3.5 -4 star review

This read has been a journey, from starting the wrong book in the series first – I started Girl in the Tower, I don’t know how to explain my idiocy. Then I got back on track with the right book and found a slow build of the world and story. By mid-way I didn’t know if I was going to move from my middling feeling but the second half completely won me over.

This was a historical story of a Russian family, reasonably well off, living in a forest community with harsh conditions. But really this was a story of folklore, a reimagining of Russian tales and assembled around the character of Vasilisa (Vasya). Vasya was a daughter, a sibling but more than anything, she was wild, free and spirited. Added to that spirit, she saw the forest and house spirits and made friendships with them.

Some of Vasya’s family were great and some were not. I enjoyed reading about the family dynamics, her father, her brothers and her step mother. For a while though, it seemed slow and Vasya was young for a long time. In retrospect, I see how this built to a story of detail and depth and it made the foundation for the second half rich.

I loved when we finally got to Morozko, I felt like the whole story had been sewing seeds to get to this point. The cresendo of the story was creepy to me but I got through those aspects and loved where the story ended up. So here I am, converted unexpectedly. I feel like this is one of the cleverest tales I’ve read and I’m really looking forward to starting The Girl in the Tower again.

Thank you to the posse who have been book-pushing this one for a few years but mostly to its first champion, Hollis the bear-pusher.


Hollis’ 4 star review

This was a reread for me, my third in fact (!), and for some reason I thought my last visit had been more recent, that I had read this last year. Nope, it was 2018. I cannot believe how long it’s been, considering how much I love this world, but also I was definitely due to revisit. I needed this. And I had some rereading buddies along for the ride this time which as a lot of fun.

I think you should be careful, [..], that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing.

That said, I’m going to cheat and just copy in parts of my original review from GR here to the blog. Mostly because I’m lazy but also because none of my opinions have changed.

It’s time to put aside dreaming. Fairy tales are sweet on winter nights, nothing more.

For fans of UPROOTED who have still not read this book, I have one caution for you : I did feel the beginning of this book to be a little slow. But that’s likely because most readers come into this expecting a breakneck fantasy instead of a fairytale. Additionally, Arden takes the time to set up her story, layer it, with different perspectives from different characters prior to the birth of our heroine. And those multi-perspectives continue even as Vasya does become our main gateway into this story.

So you mean to go to the woods and die? A noble sacrifice? How will that help anyone?
I have helped all I can, and earned the people’s hatred. If this is the last decision I can ever make, at least it is my decision. [..] I am not afraid.

However, that slowness doesn’t mean it’s boring. Unlike the aforementioned novel this book is compared to, THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE is one in a series, not a standalone, so we can afford this gradual unfurling of setting, people, and atmosphere. And they are all excellent.

Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than you willed it.

The first in the Winternight Trilogy blends legend with religion, myth with reality, and the upcoming battle to be waged between two forces, all set in the northern region of Rus. Vasya’s character was so charming and she’s also such a perfect role model for any YAers reading this book; strong, not traditionally pretty, adventurous, kind, wanting more for herself than is expected of her sex. Really, she’s a role model for us all. 

All my life, I have been told to ‘go’ and ‘come’. I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed to me.

Wild and fey, she roams the woods, seeing things others don’t, and eventually it’s she who sees the damage being done by the newly arrived priest who urges the townsfolk to let go of the old ways and embrace God. The use of fear as a tool is what lets in the very real, very evil, darkness, what puts Vasya and her family at risk, and while there is loss and tragedy that befall those she loves, there is still such hope and lightness in the story. 

You should not have left your hearth.
I had to. They were going to send me to a convent. I decided I would rather freeze in a snowbank. Well, that was before I began to freeze in a snowbank. It hurts.

The last time I had read this book I was preparing for book three. Now, knowing everything that is to come, and how it all ends, gave me such a new perspective, let me pick up on a few things I might’ve missed. And yet it didn’t take away any of the joy, the heartbreak, or the wonder. This story is so magical, Arden’s writing so bewitching and clever, and even in the telling it really feels like curling up with an old favourite, a familiar tale you’d grown up with but forgotten over the years. It’s nostalgic and comforting and yet I am so excited to read on and get to THE GIRL IN THE TOWER. Where it’s everything I mentioned above but so so much more, too.

BLOG TOUR – FURIA by Yamile Saied Méndez – double review!


In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life.

At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.

On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.

But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.

Filled with authentic details and the textures of day-to-day life in Argentina, heart-soaring romance, and breathless action on the pitch, Furia is the story of a girl’s journey to make her life her own.


Title : Furia
Author : Yamile Saied Méndez
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA Contemporary
Publisher : Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date : September 15, 2020

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


Micky’s 5 star review

Wow!

This was a fantastic feminist YA, with coming of age themes all set in the context of futbol in Argentina. I love a sporting context book, especially those empowering women and if you want a YA that strongly empowers young women, then look no further. There is a romance in this story but it is pitched well and doesn’t overpower the story or the amazing heroine Camila ‘Furia’ Hassan.

Set in the barrios of a city in Argentina, the background for FURIA was rich, vibrant, dangerous and varied. The environment was one where women were oppressed but fighting for equality, rights, a life and dreams. There were background story lines that painted a picture of life for all females especially children and young women, that were chilling.

Our family was stuck in a cosmic hamster wheel of toxic love, making the same mistakes, saying the same words, being hurt in the same ways generation after generation…I was la Furia, after all. I’d be the one to break the wheel.

Camilla ignited my interest like a flame with her hopes of becoming a professional futbol player and going to the USA where there were more possibilites. In fact, Camilla had familial credentials in professional football but no-one was championing a young women like Camilla, no matter how talented she was.

Camila however, had drive for her dreams and played secretly in a team. I loved the scrimmage and match play narratives, the description was excellent and I truly felt like a spectator watching ‘Furia’ come alive. Camila’s dream and life was complicated by Diego, her childhood friend returning for a visit from Juventus. Sparks ignited between these two and it was something real and beautiful.

This story took a direction that made my feminist heart sing for Camila. The decisions and sacrifices she made; the fights physical, verbal and emotional were all worth it to have hope. This was a read of excitement, with beauty in the barrios and characters to feel truly wrapped up in, but most of all it conveyed an empowering message for young women.

“There are too many people whose opinions control how you perform. Let them go. Be yourself. You’re la Furia, but remember, the game is beautiful.”

I highly rec this book, it’s going to be a favourite of the year. FURIA, FURIA, FURIA…(in football chanting song).

Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for the early review copy.



Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I was | | close to rounding up on this one because there are aspects of this story that are so strong, so wonderful, but I can’t quite boost it.

In my barrio, most of the people didn’t know my name or even that I existed. To them, I was only Pablo’s sister, or Andrés and the seamstress’ daughter — my mom, too, was nameless. But I was determined to leave my mark.

If what you’ve always wanted in life is a YA version of KULTI by Mariana Zapata but with a heavy dose of feminism and very relevant, and present, topics of life in Argentina, you absolutely have to pick this up. This story is both empowering and heartbreaking and sometimes those conflicting feelings are rooted in the same moment.

Fútbol could do that — make people forget about the price of the dollar, the upcoming elections, even their love lives. For a few hours, life was beautiful.

There were many triumphant moments both for our protagonist, Camila, and for her team. But not every triumph was due to winning. I loved how the author made a point to balance this group of women’s ambitions, including that of the coach, but constantly remind the team — and through them, us — to play for themselves, for joy, no matter the score. I feel like if you take away nothing else from this story, particularly the younger readers, that would be enough. But there are even more powerful messages within the pages, too.

I’d leave the house the first chance I got, but not by chasing after a boy, including my brother. I’d do it on my own terms, following my own dreams, not someone else’s.

I think what really took away some of the enjoyment for me were the family dynamics. I have no doubt it is more common than not but some of it just felt a little OTT or extra and while much of it shaped Camila, drove her, to be something else.. I don’t know, I just wanted those moments over with. So that’s definitely a personal thing. As for the romance, I initially thought it might have been the weaker element of the story but I was pleasantly surprised to have been wrong and, also, surprised by how that turned out. No spoiling!

Overall, I think this is definitely a book worth picking up, even moreso as it’s #ownvoices. And, I mean, did you read Micky’s review? Even I wanted to award this five stars after reading her thoughts — and even though I’m not, I would definitely read this author again.

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

Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine American who loves meteor showers, summer, astrology, and pizza. She lives in Utah with her Puerto Rican husband and their five kids, two adorable dogs, and one majestic cat. An inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant recipient, she’s a graduate of Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Méndez is also part of Las Musas, the first collective of women and nonbinary Latinx middle grade and young adult authors. Furia is her first novel for young adult readers.

Furia
By Yamile Saied Méndez
Algonquin Young Readers
Publication Date: September 15, 2020 | ISBN: 9781616209919
$17.95 | 368 pages
www.algonquinyoungreaders.com

BOYFRIEND MATERIAL by Alexis Hall

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.


Title : Boyfriend Material
Author : Alexis Hall
Narrator : Joe Jameson
Format : audiobook
Page Count : 13 hours 10 minutes
Genre : LGBTQIA+ contemporary romance
Publisher : Dreamscape Media
Release Date : July 7, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 5 star review

This audio gave me all the feels, most of the time and there just isn’t anything better than a read that does that. Two guys, a few complications, lots of chemistry and a fake romance. Everything about this book worked for me, the story depth, the characterisation and the Bridget-Jones-ness of the whole feel.

Luc(ien) and Oliver were complete opposites and both a bit relationship-stunted. They both needed a relationship of convenience and their friends conspired to connect them for this purpose. There wasn’t a lot of common ground or like initally with these two but there was banter for days. I adored Oliver’s intelligence with ten slices of awkward and Luc’s foot in mouth tendencies and emotional ineptitude.

Their move to friendship was pretty gorgeous to witness. As they moved into feeling more connection, I had all sorts of swoon gifs running through my head. Behold…

There were some serious storylines running through. Luc’s dad and that story resonated very much with a personal experience and it felt wholly realistic to me. The friendship circle made me giggle with exasperation and fun but they were also there when it came to need.

The narration was simply perfection. The accents, dialogue and tonation raised this to exceptional and for me, this is the format for this book. Joe Jameson held the stage and I listened to every word. Alexis Hall has outdone himself with this story and I am off to purchase myself a physical copy as it’s become rather precious to me.

Hollis already read the eARC of this and we have a very chalky cheese experience! Her review is here.

Thank you to LibroFM for the ALC.

https://libro.fm/audiobooks/9781662016738-boyfriend-material

THE DAMNED by Renée Ahdieh – double review!

New York Times bestselling author Renée Ahdieh returns with the second installment of her new sumptuous, sultry and romantic series, The Beautiful.

Following the events of The Beautiful, Sébastien Saint Germain is now cursed and forever changed. The treaty between the Fallen and the Brotherhood has been broken, and war between the immortals seems imminent. The price of loving Celine was costly. But Celine has also paid a high price for loving Bastien.

Still recovering from injuries sustained during a night she can’t quite remember, her dreams are troubled. And she doesn’t know she has inadvertently set into motion a chain of events that could lead to her demise and unveil a truth about herself she’s not quite ready to learn.

Forces hiding in the shadows have been patiently waiting for this moment for centuries. And just as Bastien and Celine begin to uncover the danger around them, they learn their love could tear them apart.


Title : The Damned
Author : Renée Ahdieh
Series : The Beautiful #2
Format : eARC / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 456
Genre : Fantasy
Publisher : Hodder Books
Release Date : July 7, 2020

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Damn but that was good (see what I did there). THE DAMNED utilised all that world-building from book one and just pressed launch. This read was full to the brim of vampiric content and I came to love these characters so much more in this installment. It was an exciting read from cover to cover with a reasonably fast-pace, peppered with lulls to catch your breath.

Sometimes when a book is really good, I highlight and highlight text but with THE DAMNED, I forgot about highlighting, I was that absorbed. The characters I’d come to like from THE BEAUTIFUL became characters I loved and of course, Bastien and Celine were central to this. With that ending to THE BEAUTIFUL, you just know that the world was a confusing place for both these characters at the start of this book.

The story was complex and cleverly woven, but some of the confusion I felt in book one was not a factor in this book. That previous world building paved the way for the characters and different beings to play out with ease. There were so many unexpected factors and plot twists that kept me on the edge of my seat. I enjoyed particularly the Wyld and the Vale components to the story.

This book /series has delicious side characters and Odette continued to float my boat and I enjoyed getting to know Jae, Ahrun and even Nicodemus better. Pippa had some low level involvement but I see more from her to come.

The chemistry between Bastien and Celine was like a vampire sizzling in the hot sun (snort). These two had a journey and I had no idea where it was going to end up. I will say that Bastien was the kind of hero I could get on board with.

“Do you wish you could make this decision for me?”
“I do. More than I care to admit.”
“Then why have you given me the choice, against this inclination?
“Because I should not make your story about me.”

THE DAMNED blew book one out of the water for me. It gave me all the vampire I wanted and needed and a story to grip consistently. I want more from this series and the end indicates that’s the case.

Thank you to Hodder Books for the early review copy.


Hollis’ 1.5 star review

So my biggest take-away is : you mean to tell me this isn’t a duology? Siiiiiigh.

Appropos of said realization was the fact that I could not understand how this sequel fit in that two-book wrap up. I felt we took such a dramatic turn from the lack of worldbuilding in book one to overdosing on it, but not in a good or helpful way, in book two that the whole pacing and feel of this world was just.. off. Not to mention, did we have this many POVs in book one? That threw me off, too. Particularly because I wasn’t having fun with any of them..

Most of these issues are clearly my own fault for not understanding this was a series, not a duology, but I’m still not satisfied. I genuinely feel like nothing about this fit. We either have lots of nothing or lots of everything and no middle ground. But then there is also a whole host of secondary characters with their own set of problems (and, if you’re Odette in one of the early chapters, a whole monologue of speaking aloud to.. no one) we’re supposed to apparently care about — which I feel is unrealistic given their page time — and then.. the villain? That whole element/plot/evil plan? I don’t even know where to begin.

I’ll probably read the final (please tell me this is only a trilogy and nothing more..) because hashtag completionist but wow what a disappointment. I mean, it’s not like I had been a huge fan of THE BEAUTIFUL, I only rated it a three for the potential, but I guess I expected better or at least something on par with that. Not.. this. Guess middle book syndrome strikes again.

THE BLACK FLAMINGO by Dean Atta – double review!

I masquerade in makeup and feathers and I am applauded.

A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.


Title : The Black Flamingo
Author : Dean Atta
Format : eBook / overdrive
Page Count : 368
Genre : Contemporary YA, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Hodder Books / Balzer + Bray
Release Date : August 8, 2019 / May 26, 2020

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


Micky’s 4 star review

THE BLACK FLAMINGO was a beautiful, real story told with grit. A coming of age, coming out, all while being black story. What felt unique to me about this story and different to other coming-out stories was that it started in young childhood. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t linger for ages in that age-range but it depicted Michael’s experiences from a young age and I loved that.

Michael’s blackness and the experience of having Greek/Cypriot mother and black father who deserted them was fresh and insightful reading. Michael’s own realisations about the colour of his skin alongside his sexuality were thought-provoking and poignant. Seeing Michael become his true self, cast off other people’s presumptions and eventually being drawn to drag was absorbing reading.

‘He is me, who I have been,
who I am, who I hope to become.
Someone fabulous, wild and strong,
With or without a costume on.’

The story was told in verse that was incredibly engaging. In addition, Michael was a poet and so there were poems peppered throughout the book. In particular, I loved Maybe I’m a Merman and I Wanna Be Fierce. The book was illustrated and formatted in a way that enhanced the reading process (or should have done, see my next paragraph).

I bought the ebook for this read and unfortunately there was a problem with the text formatting, nearly every single page of the 300+ pages had a problem with text doubling over itself. I went to report it on amazon but I could see that it is not currently for sale and under review; this surely means they know about the problem and it’s being fixed. Before you click the link below to the book, please check it has been resolved.

THE BLACK FLAMINGO was a quick but impactful read that was inspirational. Dean Atta has a fresh narrative voice and he is a gifted poet. I’d definitely recommend this read.


Hollis’ 4 star review

I’m not quite sure I’ve done much reading in verse, particularly not an entire story in it, and for the first half of The Black Flamingo I wasn’t sure it was really my thing. I liked it, I was enjoying the story, but I wasn’t really connecting.

That completely changed once we’d transitioned into Michael’s young adulthood as he eased out of highschool and into college. This had already been a pretty fast read (the page count initially shocked me until I remembered it was verse, I r slow) but I blazed through it after the halfway mark. I couldn’t devour this fast enough. I was completely invested in both the events and the evolution, the inner and the outer.

Beyond just loving the story so much more, though, I absolutely adored the poetry sprinkled throughout. I went back to read them more than once.

This read won’t take up much of your time but it should absolutely take priority on your TBR. Highly recommend.

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.

CHASING LUCKY by Jenn Bennett – double review!

Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.

What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.

Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is…


Title : Chasing Lucky
Author : Jenn Bennett
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Children
Release Date : June 11, 2020 / November 10, 2020

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


Micky’s 4 star review

What Jenn Bennett does to my reading soul is simply the best, I can rely on her that her books will hit the spot, make me happy and smile. CHASING LUCKY was no exception and this story of old friends getting to know one another as teens was gorgeous. There was an eclectic story that had Bennett’s characteristic uniqueness and whit; I got wholly wrapped up in all of it.

Lucky was Josie’s best friend until she left town with her mom, age 12. Returning at age 17 was a different experience with Lucky 2.0, family issues, a mom who frankly was hard to fathom and the grandmother matriarch from hell. Lucky 2.0 though, was the kind of puzzle worth fathoming.

“Whoa,” Evie says, leaning over the counter to peer out the window with me. “Got to admit. Phantom cleans up real nice. He’s the male Medusa. Don’t look into his eyes. Might get your pregnant.”

If you’re familiar with Jenn Bennett’s male characters, you’ll be pleased to know that Lucky was one of her most excellent beta male creations. I loved him in every way; he was genuine, with personality in bucket loads. Josie’s journey to friendship and more with Lucky was worth every page turn.

Josie’s family relationships made for avid reading. The family was truly dysfunctional but not beyond help in most cases. Josie’s relationship with her mother was probably the most frustrating but I felt pretty annoyed with Evie too at moments. The family was able to make me laugh though.

“Be careful” is all Mom warns me very seriously. I’ve got this. It’s only grandmother. Not an actual weapon of war.

I read this book with a smile on my face some of the time. That’s all the recommendation that you need. Go forth and enjoy.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for the early review copy.



Hollis’ 3 star review

I went into CHASING LUCKY with a little bit of trepidation as my last few forays with Bennett post-STARRY EYES haven’t been great. Some I liked ish, others I didn’t at all, so when the first 30% of this book was both not wow’ing me and also veering into not great, uncomfortable, directions? I was anticipating the worst.

But this did, eventually, level out for me.

This story does give off a bit of a STARRY EYES vibe in the sense that Josie and Lucky were friends as young’ins and then something happened to split them apart and now they are trying to reconnect and understand, and navigate, the whys of what happened. And also maybe what could happen if they got close again. I’m still not quite sure I feel we got any real closure, or explanation, as to why they couldn’t continue their friendship from afar but, honestly, that’s the least of my complaints (don’t worry, I really did like it, but yikes). Overall I do think there maybe was a bit of a pacing issue? Or maybe it’s just that we were thrown into a town, and a world, where there’s so much history and so many pre-existing characters from the backstory, that you’re kind of left playing catch up, and not always getting as much time spent on some things, giving them their due, and others have too much time spent on them or spent on nothing much at all? It did sorta give me the Stars Hollow vibe of Gilmore Girls, mixed in with a non-magical Practical Magic-esque family, so that gave it some feeling of familiarity but also the book was also nothing like those things, so. Samey but not?

One of the main components of this story deals with side-bar relationship between Josie’s cousin and an on-again-off-again boyfriend, who causes a lot of drama outside of his stalking and drunken nonsense, and that whole thing? It’s good to see it on page for the younger readers, to understand it’s not acceptable, but yikes how I hated it. So that’s a personal thing for me. I can handle uncomfortable subject matter, have read heaps of things worse than this, but it just rubbed me wrong. And it’s supposed to. Again, I don’t know. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right headspace to deal with it, because we also have lots of lies and miscommunications amongst all sorts of characters, and that ontop of the toxic BS? It was just a lot.

But there was also a bunch of good, too, a bunch of sweet, a bunch of gentle fun, mixed in there in the middle. We had a few big revelations that turned the tide for both the main character and her family and it was around that time where this story just really worked for me. I love that moment where you get the payoff and things come together. I don’t know that I quite liked Josie but I could feel for some of her baggage. And I really liked Lucky. And, as a pair, I really liked when they were sweet on each other and to each other; even when they bickered. Maybe especially then? This story is a bit strange in that so much happens and also not much, it’s both loud and kind of quiet. I did get to that like stage for CHASING LUCKY but this won’t be a favourite. But if not for that goodness, that sweetness, this wouldn’t be a three. So it was something of a close call.

If you’re a Bennett fan, and can withstand some of the messy bits within this read, I think you’ll be very happy. If you’ve yet to read this author and are looking for more good YA contemporary, you definitely need this Bennett on your radar. This might not the smoothest ride but you don’t have to go too far back into her backlist to find pure greatness.

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