JUST LIKE MAGIC by Sarah Hogle

From the author of Twice Shy comes a sprightly Christmas novel, a rollicking romp through the absurdity of family holidays and the hope of new love.

Bettie Hughes once knew the comfort of luxury, flaunting a ridiculous collection of designer shoes and a stealthy addiction to CBD oils. That is, until her parents snipped her purse strings. Long obsessed with her public image, Bettie boasts an extravagant lifestyle on social media. But the reality is: Bettie is broke and squatting in Colorado, and her family has no idea.

Christmas, with its pressure to meet familial expectations, is looming when a drunk Bettie plays a vinyl record of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” backwards and accidentally conjures Hall, an unexpectedly charming Holiday Spirit in the form of a man. Once the shock wears off, Bettie knows she’s stumbled upon the greatest gift: a chance to make all her holiday wishes come true, plus a ready-made fiancé.

But as the wiles of magic lose their charm, Bettie finds herself set off-kilter by Hall’s sweet gestures. Suddenly, Bettie is finding her heart merry and light. But the happier she gets, the shorter Hall’s time on earth grows. Can Bettie channel the Christmas spirit and learn to live with goodwill toward all men? Or will her selfish ways come back as soon as the holidays are over? 


Title : Just Like Magic
Author : Sarah Hogle
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : romance / magical realism
Publisher : Putnam
Release Date : October 4, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4.5 (rounded up) star review

Not only am I reading an October ARC in March but this is also a Christmas-themed story. But hey, figured I’m closer to the holidays at this stage in the game than I would be if I read this before release. So, pfft.

When I tell you that I was laughing, gigging, cackling, and then crying, weeping, sniffling all within the span of a few pages.. well, I mean, no one would be surprised. But also please note the hilarity portion of the book does outweigh the sad by about 80/20. I spent a lot of time laughing. And oh man did I need this book exactly right now. Thank you, timing. For once you are in my favour.

Hogle’s sophomore release took a break from offering us a harder kid of heroine to like, or maybe just a messier one, but she’s back and with her is Bettie. Bettie has gone from having it all, and (mostly) being it all, to rock bottom. She’s penniless, her reputation more or less in tatters from various situations, and squatting in a house that is now her own but still trying to maintain her social media image and convince her parents nothing is wrong. When a freak accident conjures the Holiday Spirit, manifesting him in a delightful human form capable of granting wishes for the purpose of improving her outlook on the holidays, well.. she takes advantage and cashes in; both in material goods and revenge. But the harder Hall (as in Holiday) tries to woo her towards good cheer, the harder it is to resist her better nature. And Christmas.

Listen, this book.. is totally outrageous. It’s ridiculous. In all the best ways. This has a full cast of colourful characters in the form of Bettie’s family and the hijinks that ensue are just amazing. But there are so many sly little emotional moments that Hogle includes that keeps this from getting too out there. And then there are the moments where she doesn’t pull punches and actually breaks your heart. See aforementioned weeping.

I loved every second of this and, much like the two Hogles that came before it, I immediately wanted to start it up all over again. I had such a good time and though I’m not one for Hallmark movies or Christmas stories or anything of this nature, if they were all like this? I’d eat them up. This is everything holiday but also, somehow, does not feel like you’re being smothered in tinsel. For all that Bettie is literally hanging out with the physical manifestation of the Holiday Spirit, and there’s magic being flung here there and everywhere in every possible conceivable way, it’s also.. bizarrely normal? Like, this doesn’t feel like a fantasy but it is, of course, fantastical AF. I don’t know how she managed the balance and maybe others could argue otherwise but I just loved it. It’s silly and fun and romantic and sweet and touching and.. why haven’t I given this five stars? I probably should. Okay, we’re rounding that 4.5 up.

It’s an act of courage to march to the beat of your own drum, to behave with compassion and generosity, and wonder.

So far this author has given us books with top notes of : biting and sharp, tender and sweet, and now absolutely bonkers — with a dash of peppermint. I truly don’t know where Hogle will go, and do, next, but I am in it and I want it.

ps, if anyone comes for Hall (and it’s sorta weird saying this because I read this whole book hearing my own name in my head), I will come for you. He must be protected at all costs.
pps, I deleted all but one quote from the review because honestly they deserve to be experienced for the first time in context. But just know you have much hilarity and much sweetness and much silliness (as discussed in the review, I’m just hammering it home) to look forward to.
pps, you’re welcome.

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

A MERRY LITTLE MEET CUTE by Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone

Cowritten by #1 New York Times bestselling author Julie Murphy and USA Today bestselling author Sierra Simone—a steamy plus-size holiday rom-com about an adult film star who is semi-accidentally cast as a lead in a family-friendly Christmas movie, and the former bad-boy pop star she falls in love with.

Bee Hobbes (aka Bianca Von Honey) has a successful career as a plus-size adult film star. With a huge following and two supportive moms, Bee couldn’t ask for more. But when Bee’s favorite producer casts her to star in a Christmas movie he’s making for the squeaky-clean Hope Channel, Bee’s career is about to take a more family-friendly direction.

Forced to keep her work as Bianca under wraps, Bee quickly learns this is a task a lot easier said than done. Though it all becomes worthwhile when she discovers her co-star is none other than childhood crush Nolan Shaw, an ex-boy band member in desperate need of career rehab. Nolan’s promised his bulldog manager to keep it zipped up on set, and he will if it means he’ll be able to provide a more stable living situation for his sister and mom.

But things heat up quickly in Christmas Notch, Vermont, when Nolan recognizes his new co-star from her ClosedDoors account (oh yeah, he’s a member). Now Bee and Nolan are sneaking off for quickies on set, keeping their new relationship a secret from the Hope Channel’s execs. Things only get trickier when the reporter who torpedoed Nolan’s singing career comes snooping around—and takes an instant interest in mysterious newcomer Bee.

And if Bee and Nolan can’t keep their off-camera romance behind the scenes, then this merry little meet cute might end up on the cutting room floor. 


Title : A Merry Little Meet Cute
Author : Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : contemporary romance / holiday
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : September 20, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

I wanted to be able to give this one a higher rating solely because of the inclusion of a fat FMC who also happens to do sex work (like, hell yes, more of this rep) but ultimately the good bits, which were more in concept than any kind of execution, just didn’t make up for the rest. And in that sense I mean mostly that this was boring, frustrating, and unbelievable.

While I wish I could’ve enjoyed the surface level festiveness of a Christmassy/holiday-themed movie being filmed over the holidays, the promised fun and hilarity and tension of both the bad boy ex-boyband member trying to rehab his image paired up with an actual sex worker trying to branch into a different kind of film — and also stay wholesome so as not to let anyone in on the secret of her career — just never panned out. This wasn’t really fun, there was only some token forced humour (which wasn’t funny), and the tension was flimsy at best considering how painfully oblivious the non-sex industry folks were to who was both starring and working on this movie. Also, I feel like every conflict could’ve either been avoided or was brought on by the dumb actions of the main characters (the picture in the strip club? you’ve got to be kidding me).

Added to all that, the chemistry between the leads was given a leg (or four) up because they had both crushed on each other prior to meeting; Bee idolized Nolan during his boy band days, and Nolan happened to be a fan of Bee’s sexy online persona. So they didn’t need to fall for each other, or even have personalities, because the “connection” was established off-page. Instead it was just very lust-driven with sexy times or thoughts of sexy times and full disclosure I started skimming those real fast.

What made this stranger is that this felt.. YA-y. I realize it’s an typical claim to make considering one of the co-authors is coming from YA, and most female authors are lumped into this category, but still. These characters didn’t feel like they had adult problems and the problems that did feel adult had non-adult reactions to them (I think they are supposed to be mid to late twenties? don’t quote me). I don’t know how else to describe it. But Nolan and his phone.. drove me up the wall. I don’t even care that they attempted to work it into the story, blah blah, no. I was over it — though I do have to say, there was one scene where his younger sister chastises him for trying to micromanage a crisis from afar after she calls him in the middle of a scene to freak out on him and get his help to manage a crisis. So, like, yeah, he did get the short end of the stick sometimes and that certainly didn’t help anything. But while he had sympathetic backstory/motivations, I didn’t enjoy how he was made to handle them or, really, him as a character. Even Bee, the stronger of the two, just wasn’t able to shoulder the burden of this story and I don’t feel enough time was really spent with her enjoying the filming and acting process. Instead it was just about keeping this poorly-hidden secret and being into Nolan. She was just as surface level as he was, really. And as for the rest of the cast.. honestly, no one stood out. And while a few should be called out for their pointlessness, I don’t even have the energy to bother.

Overall, this was a bummer. I do think a lot of readers will enjoy it for what it is — spicy holiday zestiness — I just expect a lot more from my romance than this. Having said that, I would warn any mostly-YA readers from jumping into this one. For all that it read YA-ish, there is a lot of adult and sex content, so maybe work yourself upto this one if you’re new to the steams. Or don’t, YOLO!

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

I’M THE GIRL by Courtney Summers

When sixteen-year-old Georgia Avis discovers the dead body of thirteen-year-old Ashley James, she teams up with Ashley’s older sister, Nora, to find and bring the killer to justice before he strikes again. But their investigation throws Georgia into a world of unimaginable privilege and wealth, without conscience or consequence, and as Ashley’s killer closes in, Georgia will discover when money, power and beauty rule, it might not be a matter of who is guilty—but who is guiltiest.

A spiritual successor to the 2018 breakout hit, SadieI’m the Girl is a masterfully written, bold, and unflinching account of how one young woman feels in her body as she struggles to navigate a deadly and predatory power structure while asking readers one question: if this is the way the world is, do you accept it?


Title : I’m The Girl
Author : Courtney Summers
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ mystery
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : September 13, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

After a pretty lackluster reading weekend, I pulled out the big guns and delved into I’m The Girl hoping that Summers, with (as it’s coined) her spiritual-successor to Sadie, which I loved, would break me out of the funk. But instead it just gave me a different one.

This was so hard to read, which is understandable and probably the point, but where I can respect some of what the author was doing and saying and forcing the reader to consider, I don’t know if it succeeded where it was meant to. Or at least it didn’t for me.

I’m The Girl delves into the concept of grooming, of manipulation, of powerful people enforcing their rules and their wants on others, but everything around it just felt disjointed and shaky. Being in Georgia’s head was an awful place to be, with her self-worth and dreams tied up in belonging to this place where she misguidedly believes she can become something, which was tied into believing her worth was skin deep, and it just spiralled in and out of this vicious cycle. She was incredibly naive, incredibly needy, out of touch, and lost. She was constantly in situations she shouldn’t have been in, never quite seeming to learn from them, and you could blame some of that on the knowledge she didn’t have, secrets held out of reach by those around her, as well as the manipulation of others. It was painful.

And while all this is going on, there’s also a dead girl, the sister of a not-friend, more an acquaintance, and Georgia gets sorta tangled up in both because she discovers the body and because she finds herself roped into to helping determine what happened — I wouldn’t quite say she’s investigating things, the way the synopsis would have you believe, but there are a few side quests — and I liked that, unlike Sadie, Georgia is only tangentially connected to the death. She’s watching the devastation happen from the outside looking in, much the way she feels held back from the glamourous and prestigious world she wants to belong. But in that same drama, I almost feel there were too many added elements (maybe just one) that muddied the waters.

Maybe, on the whole, when combined with the romance, it was just too many things. And yet, despite this, what it also wasn’t, was a thriller. It also wasn’t anything like Sadie so if, like me, you were looking to recapture that feeling? Maybe just go for a reread.

I think this review is a little messy but so was the book. Or, at least, it just wasn’t for me. And that’s fine. I think fans of the author will likely appreciate this, the same way they appreciate her other works, because she’s consistent in shining a light on these dark areas. And that’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But it won’t always make for an enjoyable read, which makes sense, but equally it might not always made for a good read. Whereas my struggles with The Project had to do with the characters, not the plot, when it comes to I’m The Girl I would say this one is definitely the characters but also the plot. Again, in concept, I am so down with this particular narrative. I just wish it had played out differently. But. I will continue to pick up this author.. at least for now.

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

RUBY FEVER by Ilona Andrews – double review!

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

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

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


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

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


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

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

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

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

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

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

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


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Grandparent hell
Spider warnings
Slow start

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

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

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

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

Thank you to Harper 360 for the eARC.

LIZZIE BLAKE’S BEST MISTAKE by Mazey Eddings

Lizzie has made endless mistakes. Kitchen fires, pyramid schemes, bangs (of the hair and human variety), you name it, she’s done it… and made a mess of it too. One mistake she’s never made is letting anyone get closer to her than a single hook-up. But after losing yet another bakery job due to her uncontrolled ADHD, she breaks her cardinal rule and has a two-night-stand that changes everything.

Once burned, twice shy, Rake has given up on relationships. And feelings. And any form of intimacy for that matter. Yet something about charming, chaotic Lizzie has him lowering his guard. For two nights, that is. Then it’s back home to Australia and far away from the pesky feelings Lizzie pulls from him. But when Lizzie tells him she’s got an unexpected bun in the oven, he’ll do whatever it takes to be a part of his child’s life… except be emotionally vulnerable, obviously. He’s never going to make that mistake again.

Through a series of mishaps, totally “platonic” single bed sharing, and an underground erotic baking scheme, Lizzie and Rake learn that even the biggest mistakes can have the most beautiful consequences.


Title : Lizzie Blake’s Best Mistake
Author : Mazey Eddings
Format : eARC
Page Count : 335
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date : September 6, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

So clearly I only ever read the first paragraph (if even that) of the synopsis because after finishing this book, and realizing what makes up the majority of the content, I was sure the synopsis was cheekily dodging this particular trope. But no. It’s right there, in paragraph two : unexpected baby. Yikes. So, yeah, this one’s on me, folks. But here’s your warning incase you missed that, too.

Obviously (well, maybe not) this isn’t only about these two strangers who have to deal with the unplanned (despite their best intentions) consequences of their hook-up gone unexpected. We also have a lot of dialogue, discussion, and dealing/living-with adult ADHD and the various processing struggles and tricks required to function. Not only function but thrive. And, at the same time, finding the people around you — platonic or otherwise — who cherish you regardless and don’t treat you as a burden. Which is what one of our MCs was brought up to believe. The other has his own baggage, too, but it’s a little more in line with standard romance stuff; except for one thing that is sorta used as motivation (maybe not the right word, I’m struggling with how to phrase this without being too obvious, even though I want to shout about it from the rooftops; though I won’t) for why he is so quick so early on to jump in on making their partnership work. I won’t say more but there are layers that, even though it’s explained and there doesn’t seem to be an intent to villainize the situation, it just may not work for some readers because I think it’s a fine line on how it may come across — especially right now. And honestly while I understand to some degree why the author included it, it could’ve easily just not been there.

Overall, nothing about this made me mad — not even the thing I went on about above, I just kind of did a mental dodge around it; not even the baby stuff (which, by the way, I’m not anti-baby, I just don’t prefer them to be the focus and it was mostly the only plot-related conflict). But it’s just obviously not my jam. There were some emotional beats, some of the ADHD representation was interesting to read about as I’m not aware of anyone in my life with that diagnosis and certainly not read it described in the way the author did here, and some of the ‘trying to remain platonic while lusting after each other’ hijinks were entertaining. But I just didn’t connect. I didn’t laugh. And I was only minorly impacted by some of the aforementioned emotional turmoil.

This is Eddings’ second release and neither have quite landed for me, though both in different ways. I can definitely see why people on my flist are already enjoying this, and why others will still enjoy it. To each their own! I might give her one last shot (three strikes, you’re out!) before throwing in the towel though.

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

A TASTE OF GOLD AND IRON by Alexandra Rowland

The Goblin Emperor meets “Magnificent Century” in Alexandra Rowland’s A Taste of Gold and Iron, where a queer central romance unfolds in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire.

Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen’s new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.

To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.


Title : A Taste of Gold and Iron
Author : Alexandra Rowland
Format : eARC / ARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy
Publisher : Tordotcom
Release Date : August 30, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

This is a tough one to review. Because I had all sorts of feelings about it — one of which was, I read the first chapter and had such a visceral “nope” feeling about it that I put down the kindle and walked away for an hour — but mostly those feelings were ambivalent. And then occasionally frustrated because I was seeing things I could love but the love was just out of reach.

The good? The tropes. There’s an A03-style list of tags for what you can find in this book, I won’t list them out but they are easy to find if you go looking, and most of them are delicious. And honestly how they played out was also, mostly, delicious. And actually most of what I found to be good in this story was the romance because I did like these characters; one was easier to love than the other as he was more fleshed out, but the other had a good bit of unlayering from how he started out, too, so it didn’t feel too unbalanced. They are caught up in a complicated dynamic, and even though there was some angst due to pining and yearning and feeling unworthy being caught up in that, the dialogue that the author leaned on to express consent, reciprocity, the morality/ethics of it all, and understanding between them, was so good.

The less good? The world. For all the prose and descriptions, not to mention the wordcount, I did not have a good handle on the setting or the politics and found the conflict of the plot kind of flimsy. It didn’t help that we were thrown right into things near the beginning and, as mentioned, I really wasn’t feeling it — the first chapter really jarred me but that feeling stuck with me for like 30%. But we definitely had some sweet spots.. though the ending, too, as in the final page, was also jarring (is this a series? or is that just how it wraps?).

Split down the middle? The supporting cast. We had some really good eggs mixed in with our MCs and we also had some less good. Equally, we had some good eggs that just acted in frustrating ways and for reasons that are never truly explained but, of course, forgiven. Part of that supporting cast is a strong presence of queerness and identities interwoven in this world and zero homophobia. Huge win.

So, yes, if this romance-centric high fantasy did well by the romance, why such a low rating? I still felt the slowness of the background fantasy/action plot, and sometimes when there should’ve been urgency, there wasn’t, and I found that a bit jarring. I wish that the villain(s) of the piece had been a bit less obvious because it might’ve added more uncertainty and, again, given us some of the tension that was lacking. And, again, there was that ending — just as I was really feeling things were on the up I feel like I misstepped and was left stumbling a bit, which has me not wanting to round up.

Overall, while there are elements within the whole that could be worth a recommend, I would definitely hesitate to encourage anyone give it a try who wasn’t already going to.

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

OTHER BIRDS by Sarah Addison Allen

Between the real and the imaginary, there are stories that take flight in the most extraordinary ways.

Right off the coast of South Carolina, on Mallow Island, The Dellawisp sits—a stunning old cobblestone building shaped like a horseshoe, and named after the tiny turquoise birds who, alongside its human tenants, inhabit an air of magical secrecy.

When Zoey comes to claim her deceased mother’s apartment on an island outside of Charleston she meets her quirky and secretive neighbors, including a girl on the run, two estranged middle-aged sisters, a lonely chef, a legendary writer, and three ghosts. Each with their own story. Each with their own longings. Each whose ending isn’t yet written.


Title : Other Birds
Author : Sarah Addison Allen
Format : eARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : contemporary romance / magical realism
Publisher : St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date : August 30, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

It’s been such a long time since I’ve picked up a novel by SAA and I was so hoping that Other Birds would feel like so many of this author’s previous works — magical, delicious, and full of wonder. And while there is some deliciousness, and a little bit of magical, it wasn’t quite wonderful. And, combined, it didn’t quite pack the punch I expected.

Initially, this story doesn’t do much to draw the reader in. I found the voice of (what I presumed to be, and was later wrong) the MC to be a little off and not very engaging. And the same could be said for the other POVs, which was something of a disappointment. As is typical for me, though, the one perspective I liked the most was the one we had the least.

I think what works against this offering is that the found family element doesn’t feel realistic. This group of motley misfits, living in this condo complex, on a small island, are drawn together by proximity and a few strange events and things quickly escalate in a way that doesn’t feel quite believable; which is kind of funny because I was absolutely onboard with the magical part of the story.

I think, had this been given a little more time to breathe, the page count been a little longer, it might have fleshed things out more. But maybe it’s supposed to be a snapshot. It’s something of a beginning for these characters, or a reset, or a new chapter, and there’s something hopeful in that, in letting go and moving on. But as a reader (or at least, for this one) it’s also a little unsatisfying.

Having said that, I’m very glad to see SAA pop up after such a long time (her last release was 2015!) and I do hope there’s more to come. I would absolutely recommend you check out her backlist if magical realism is at all in your wheelhouse.

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

PACK OF LIES by Charlie Adhara

Werewolf meets human. Werewolf snubs human. Werewolf loves human? 

Julien Doran arrived in sleepy Maudit Falls, North Carolina, with a heart full of hurt and a head full of questions. The key to his brother’s mysterious last days might be found in this tiny town, and now Julien’s amateur investigation is starting to unearth things the locals would rather keep buried.

Perhaps most especially the strange, magnetic manager of a deserted retreat that’s nearly as odd as its staff.

Eli Smith is a lot of things: thief, werewolf, glamour-puss, liar. And now the manager of a haven for rebel pack runaways. He’s spent years cultivating a persona to disguise his origins, but for the first time ever he’s been entrusted with a real responsibility—and he plans to take that seriously.

Even if the handsome tourist who claims to be in town for some R & R is clearly on a hunt for all things paranormal. And hasn’t taken his brooding gaze off Eli since he’s arrived.

When an old skeleton and a fresh corpse turn a grief errand into a murder investigation, the unlikely Eli is the only person Julien can turn to. Trust is hard to come by in a town known for its monsters, but so is time…


Title : Pack of Lies
Author : Charlie Adhara
Series : Monster Hunt (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : paranormal LGBTQIAP+ romance
Publisher : Carina Adores
Release Date : August 30, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Sometimes, I swear you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. In this particular sense, I’m talking about rereads. I made a point to reread the Big Bad Wolf series prior to this spin-off series opener because I wanted everything fresh in my mind for any carry-over plots and characters. And I’m glad I did. I’m also glad I put two weeks between finishing those and starting this, just so there wouldn’t be too much of a good thing in my brain. But.. I think it also made me love this a little less.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to love here. Eli being the number one thing. Eli was perfect. His dialogue, his wit, his whole being. There was no wrong done. And while I liked Julien, and did think there was some chemistry in their intimacy, outside of it..? It just wasn’t as electric. I wasn’t desperate for them to interact, to bounce off each other, or even to bone — though hey, again, those were good times. There was really only one moment, where Julien asked to be friends (if you know you know!), that socked me in some feels.

Having said that, when I did my reread, I knocked some ratings up a star. So maybe this is another one I’ll love more in hindsight when it’s all said and done? Historically that seems to be the case with Adhara. We might eventually find out.

Oh, what’s this all about you ask? Well, it’s a queer paranormal shifter mystery! This new series (which, by the way, I would not recommend starting here; go back to the beginning and meet Cooper and Oliver!) features a secondary character from the main series, one who has not had an easy life (some backstory reveals in the main series, hint hint), and who is now part of a new start-up pack and is heading the running of a “retreat” (as far as humans know) which is a front for a shelter, or a safe place, for wolves. He’s barely there long enough to get the place running before hijinks ensue that have him threatened by a nearby pack, put a human who is clearly hiding things in his path, and more. Said human, Julien, eventually convinces Eli to team up and try to uncover.. well, more than a few things. How’s that for vague and unhelpful?

But yes, while I’m not shouting praise from the rooftops like I expected, this could just be me a little overwhelmed by my own expectations, and also too much Ollie and Coop too recently in my reading (and forever in my heart). It does not mean I am in any way not excited for more. I want Julien to grow on me. I want more hijinks. I want more Eli fullstop. And, in general, I just love this world and Adhara’s writing. Also, I’m clearly an outlier; just look at all those five stars! I’m not disappointed by this rating. And you shouldn’t be put off, either.

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

BABEL, OR THE NECESSITY OF VIOLENCE : AN ARCANE HISTORY OF THE OXFORD TRANSLATORS’ REVOLUTION by R.F. Kuang

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal. 

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel. 

Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.

Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down? 

Babel — a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal response to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of translation as a tool of empire.


Title : Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution
Author : R.F. Kuang
Format : eARC
Page Count : 560
Genre : historical fiction / fantasy
Publisher : HarperVoyager
Release Date : August 23, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

You know, more and more it’s books like this that make me dislike the rating system more than I already did. It’s all relative anyway, right?

Let me start off with the easiest thing I want to say about this book. The thing that’s been at pretty much the forefront of my mind the entire time I read it : I respect the hell out of this book. Yes, it’s clearly a chonky guy, so you can make the leap that this was a lot of work; not just for research and plotting but because of the academic setting and focus, too. Add to it the intense study of colonialism, racism, and the overbearing feeling that resistance to the system is futile? This book is doing a lot.

It’s also uncomfortable. And I think it’s supposed to be? The main characters we follow are each coming to Oxford, to Babel, with the desire for belonging, for refuge, to become more (better) than those around them believe them capable of. As a group, this random selection of four, who become necessary to each other not just to the survival of their early days in this new place, but become necessary for each others’ happiness, their successes, their joy.. they rub each other raw, fight, hurt each other, and it’s what makes the whole of their dynamic so real. Because even though they face adversity on all sides — for their race, their gender — they are still human and imperfect and their various marginalizations don’t always mean they easily understand one another.

And one of those characters, I think, is meant to be a reflection for readers — that even someone with their own battles, their own hardships, can never understand what it’s like to be other in white society. That even with her best intentions, unthinkingly, she does harm. She’s a reflection of our own blind spots, the times we are complicit, and ignorant — or at least she was for me. And yeah, that’s uncomfortable as hell to read. But I appreciated it.

Incase you can’t tell, there’s a lot of pain in this story. Beyond the dynamics, as mentioned, the topic of colonialism is vivid and stark. The casual cruelties, made to be factual by those who believe themselves the betters of others, the violence enacted on non-white bodies both physically and emotionally, it’s all just a lot. Much like the catalyst that sends these characters towards the bitter end, there is a slowbuild of hurts that shifts into rage. Because there’s only so much that a person, a people, can take.

Having said all that, if you expect this to be a fast-moving action fantasy, you will quickly be disappointed. I’ve only liked one of the two prior dark academia’s I’ve read but in some ways I would argue that those plots move a little differently than this one. Even at the end, during what I guess you would call the climax, it’s slow. But it’s fitting. These are scholars and much like the rest of the book things move at a certain pace. As for the magic, it’s almost not like magic at all. It’s a tool, a resource; and as a result the silver feels like something real. Something to hoard, to master, to go to war over. Interchangeable with almost anything, really.

So, beyond my respect, beyond my discomfort, what else is left and where does that leave us? I will say that I was fascinated by some of the spiralling language discussions, the etymology, the shifting and morphing of language. The whole discussion about translation, really, was just spectacular; and also a little heartbreaking. And how that tied into the end.. well. Shockingly I didn’t cry while reading this, though one or two moments did make it a little hard to swallow, and I’m as baffled as you as to why this didn’t rip me to shreds. But maybe it’s also why I can’t come to grips with a rating?

Overall, while I don’t know if this is going to be a story anyone likes, I do think it’ll be one people revere. And maybe that’s where I’ve ended up. Time will tell if I’m right or wrong but, either way, I would definitely recommend this, if you’re interested, but you can’t say you weren’t warned about what to expect.

And in the meantime, I might try and read (finally) the author’s other series, which I have put off for far too long. Similarly, I’ve heard enough to know what to expect about that. I should be prepared. I hope.

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

THE DROWNED WOODS by Emily Lloyd-Jones

A magical, ethereal fantasy from IndieBound bestselling author Emily Lloyd-Jones.

Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.

The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing…but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.

The Drowned Woods—set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a whole new, unforgettable cast of characters—is part heist novel, part dark fairy tale. 


Title : The Drowned Woods
Author : Emily Lloyd-Jones
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Minotaur Books
Release Date : August 16, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

While I don’t want to say that the pitch of this story is wrong — part heist novel, part dark fairytale, delightful Welsh world — I do want to stress the importance of the words “part”. Because the heist part.. well, it’s there but might not be the kind of heist you’re used to. And the same with the dark fairytale; in fact that might be the least present, I think. But they are all definitely players in this story. Just.. bit players. Mostly the whole story is just tiny pieces of things, really. They don’t feel disjointed by any means but we never get full solid bites of anything.

Overall this didn’t move me or enthral me the same way as The Bone Houses. I did like some of the characters — notably the corgi — but never felt the love for any. And I only got the slightest of tickle at the back of my throat near the emotional bit. But the writing was so good and I do love the Welsh setting.

I’ll admit I did spend most of the book trying to figure out how this connected to the aforementioned other novel and I thought it was just my memory failing me (I read too many books to remember lots of details.. it’s my curse) but then the penny finally dropped. And it was very well done.

I would definitely not want to deter you from picking this up, particularly if you’re a fan of the other book this connects to, but for me this had a strong start and a good ending. But the middle is where I got a bit lost and the characters couldn’t quite keep me in it. Having said that, I’ll absolutely continue to read this author.

Also, shoutout to that cover. Stunning!

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

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