BEACH READ by Emily Henry

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.


Title : Beach Read
Author : Emily Henry
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : May 19, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4.75 star review

Oh man. I have a bad feeling this book is going to confuse and mislead some readers because the vibe from the cover, and my understanding of the plot from the skimming I did of the summary when I requested it (#TeamMostlyBlurbFree), gives you a very different idea of what the whole of this experience is going to be. I’m not saying the book, or the marketing of said book, is a lie but that it’s so much more than what you think it’ll be. Also, like, I don’t think this book is a book you would actually take to read on the beach. But the title is still very relevant to the story.

With that said, though, I totally loved this? Sure, I picked it up thinking it would be the fluffy frothy happy delight I needed after some not-remotely-those-things reads, plus, like, I needed a break from the dystopian nightmare world we’re living in right now and instinctively reached for some brightness, but instead I got that and more.

You never told me what you write, Everett. I’m sure it’s something really groundbreaking and important. Totally new and fresh. Like a story about a disillusioned white guy, wandering the world, misunderstood and coldly horny.”
‘Coldly horny’? As opposed to the very artfully handled sexual proclivities of your genre? Tell me, which do you find more fascinating to write : love-struck pirates or love-struck werewolves?

This is definitely filled with banter, as these two writers of very different subject matter duel with words and perspectives and challenge each other to swap genres. It’s full of that delicious tension where amidst that challenge there’s even a promise they won’t fall in love with each other (a throwback reference to a popular romantic movie because this book has lots of references, but also, heyoooo). Equally (nay, more?) delicious were the makeout scenes leading up to fireworks because, uh, hi, hello. Have I been skimping on romance lately or is Henry just hella good at this because wowza.

But there was also an edge to this story, both in one of the subplots and in the characters. Each are dealing with things they’ve either carried with them throughout their lives or that have just sent them reeling and reevaluating so much of what they thought was true. There’s loss, grief, betrayal, abandonment.. there’s a lot to deal with. We also do have some bits of miscommunication between the leads but, delightfully (how many more times will I use this word, you might be wondering..), things are dealt with in a fairly timely manner. Like the summary says, these two are polar opposites. Gus is wrapped in layers, January wears everything on her skin, and while they fall into a headlong intense connection, full of that hot excited desperation to be around each other, it isn’t without work to stay together. To understand.

As different as I’d thought we were, it felt a little bit like Gus and I were two aliens who’d stumbled into each other on Earth only to discover we shared a native language.

Beyond the romance, though, we also have an amazing female friendship. Which is made more amazing by the fact that the friend gets hardly any page time beyond some text communications and yet I still felt the love. Don’t believe me? The first time I cried was during a scene where they are together on page. Friendships for the win.

Oh, yes, probably should’ve mentioned. I cried a few times. Or rather the same cry on and off near the end. You’ve been warned.

So, is this a book you might want to pack for the beach after release? And by beach I mean the towel you spread on your living room floor in front of your computer’s screensaver showing some tropical location in the effort to remain socially distant? Maybe not. But if you love banter or an opposites attract situation; if you love books about books; if you like some emotional backstory and good realistic, complicated, backbones to your fiction, you’ll love this. For me, this is like biting into a shortbread cookie and finding out the inside is stuffed with brownie. It was going to be good as it was, and instead it ended up even better, more substantial, and delightfully (!) delicious in an unexpected way.

Read this book.

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

BLACK TANGLED HEART by Samantha Young

To my siblings, Jane was a friend. A pseudo-sister, the girl we grew up with.
To me? She was everything.
Our passion consumed us.

When our world fell apart, I thought our love would be the thing that held us together.
She was the love of my life. But she abandoned me when I needed her most.
And I’ll never forgive her.

For years I’ve been planning my revenge against the people who took everything from me.
Jane won’t be an exception. I’m coming for her.
She knows it.

She says she wants to help me serve my version of justice on the people who hurt me.
I’ll let her.
She probably thinks it will save her from me.

It won’t.


Title : Black Tangled Heart
Author : Samantha Young
Series : Play On #3
Format : eARC
Page Count :
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Indie
Release Date : May 14, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★.5


Micky’s 3.5 star review

BLACK TANGLED HEART was a story of two parts and I love it when a book moves through time frames for the characters. The first part of this book gave me Kissing Booth vibes with the two MCs Jane and Jamie. The young love and connection between these two was desperate and passionate but also brushed with the sweetness of first love.

But this was much more than a love story, it was a story of families and their flaws. Jane was an unofficial family member of the McKenna siblings but she loved them and was loved by them. The side stories of Skye and Lorna were both painful to read.

When things went downhill in this story, all the characters were carried with it and life was transformed in a bad way. When time jumped it was fascinating to catch up with the new realities. I didn’t always care for some of the drama, nor was the Hollywood backdrop my favourite but I did like the suspenseful developments of the story.

It was difficult to look away from the intensity of Jamie and Jane’s connection and that carried this story through for me. This was a solid continuation of the Play On series, not my favourite, but I’d still love to read more in this series.

Thank you to the author for an early review copy.

AURORA BURNING by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

First, the bad news: an ancient evil—you know, your standard consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy deal—is about to be unleashed. The good news? Squad 312 is standing by to save the day. They’ve just got to take care of a few small distractions first.

Like the clan of gremps who’d like to rearrange their favorite faces.

And the cadre of illegit GIA agents with creepy flowers where their eyes used to be, who’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on Auri.

Then there’s Kal’s long-lost sister, who’s not exactly happy to see her baby brother, and has a Syldrathi army at her back. With half the known galaxy on their tails, Squad 312 has never felt so wanted.

When they learn the Hadfield has been found, it’s time to come out of hiding. Two centuries ago, the colony ship vanished, leaving Auri as its sole survivor. Now, its black box might be what saves them. But time is short, and if Auri can’t learn to master her powers as a Trigger, the squad and all their admirers are going to be deader than the Great Ultrasaur of Abraaxis IV.

Shocking revelations, bank heists, mysterious gifts, inappropriately tight bodysuits, and an epic firefight will determine the fate of the Aurora Legion’s most unforgettable heroes—and maybe the rest of the galaxy as well.


Title : Aurora Burning
Author : Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Series : Aurora Cycle (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 512
Genre : YA sci-fi
Publisher : Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date : May 5, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

So I think I’m in the same boat for book two in this series as I was for book one. There are good, and interesting, and twisty things happening, with some mostly fun characters, but I’m definitely not loving this series compared to the duo’s other books.

There were some big reveals in AURORA BURNING; some I saw coming, others I didn’t, and while there is a bit of overall underwhelmingness happening here for me (and that makes me a little sad), I’m not about to get off this ride because we’re only one book away from the end. However, that said, I did chew through this book in one afternoon, so it’s still got that compulsive readability that you would come to expect from these talented authors, both as solo writers and a duo. It just doesn’t have the kind of characters I’m used to loving unequivocally, and for all the Big Moments, Big Stakes, I’m still just not feeling them.

I’m again surprised (I can’t remember if I mentioned it in my review for book one or not) about the heavy romance element that we have going on, mostly because it feels so less organic than their previous couples, and as a result less romantic despite the additional page time, so, it’s just adding to the weird headspace I have over this whole series.

But.

When it comes down to it, I think if you loved AURORA RISING, you’ll be very satisfied with this follow up — but probably pretty mad about that ending.

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

NETWORK EFFECT by Martha Wells

Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.

I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are.

When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic action it is, then.


Title : Network Effect
Author : Martha Wells
Series : The Murderbot Diaries (book five)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : sci-fi
Publisher : Tor.com
Release Date : May 5, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

I enjoyed, but didn’t quite love, the first four novellas in the Murderbot Diaries. With one exception being the second installment which featured ART, aka Asshole Research Transport, because the snark and hilarity was just top notch. Not that the snark and hilarity didn’t exist in all these books, really, because Murderbot is.. Murderbot. But it was just on a higher level.

Was that a subtle threat?
No. It wasn’t subtle.”

So naturally when given a full length (!) Murderbot story which heavily featured ART? Well, it’s no surprise I loved this.

Do you have to call it a relationship?
You don’t like the word ‘friendship’. What else is there?
Mutual administrative assistance?

This series has heavily benefited from this full length story, not just because of the aforementioned snark and hilarity, but all the layers of Wells’ writing and cleverness is just so much more fleshed out. I think, too, this particular stage in Murderbot’s story was just really compelling to begin with. And I hope we get more full length installments moving forward because.. reasons.

You look angry.”
That’s just something my face does sometimes.

If you didn’t think your life was missing a not-human but not-quite-fully-a-construct who once was considered disposable security, and is now mostly autonomous, and loves to watch soap operas and be anti-social, while also multitasking to save humans it mostly likes, and who also has a complicated relationship (or, in Murderbot’s words, what, ew, no) with a research ship, I’m here to tell you.. it is. You are. As in, you are missing out. This won’t be for everyone, I know that, but if this sounds even remotely appealing, it’s worth pushing through some of the installments that you may not totally love (as in, I’m basing this off my own experience of books one, three, and four, being three star, and two being a four), because this one? So much love.

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

GOLDILOCKS by Laura Lam

The Earth is in environmental collapse. The future of humanity hangs in the balance. But a team of women are preparing to save it. Even if they’ll need to steal a spaceship to do it.

Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for human habitation.

The team is humanity’s last hope for survival, and Valerie has gathered the best women for the mission: an ace pilot who is one of the only astronauts ever to have gone to Mars; a brilliant engineer tasked with keeping the ship fully operational; and an experienced doctor to keep the crew alive. And then there’s Naomi Lovelace, Valerie’s surrogate daughter and the ship’s botanist, who has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity to step out of Valerie’s shadow and make a difference.

The problem is that they’re not the authorized crew, even if Valerie was the one to fully plan the voyage. When their mission is stolen from them, they steal the ship bound for the new planet.

But when things start going wrong on board, Naomi begins to suspect that someone is concealing a terrible secret — and realizes time for life on Earth may be running out faster than they feared . . .

Goldilocks is a bold and thought-provoking new thriller for readers of The Martian and The Handmaid’s Tale.


Title : Goldilocks
Author : Laura Lam
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : Sci-fi/Thriller
Publisher : Headline
Release Date : April 30, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Micky’s 4.5 rounding up to 5 star review

GOLDILOCKS is the rare kind of sci-fi that kept pace from beginning to end without any kind of lull or overly descriptive narrative. I have just finished the book on a wow whilst congratulating myself on already having secured an order for a signed hard copy; it was that good.

This did not feel like a story I’d read before, it was fresh and gripping. The protagonist Naomi was the daughter of a renown scientist and protege of a leading researcher into all things space science. This story was set in the backdrop of a close dystopian patriarchy with an active programme of sidelining women and their rights. Therefore, this story took a matriarchal path into the future on another world.

I could not predict the twists in GOLDILOCKS, nor could I predict many of the character developments. But I knew Naomi, I came to admire her, cheer for her, will her survival. The team she was working in was complex with allegiances unknown. The morality and ethics of the mission had me taking quick in-drawn breaths, thinking…what???

“Success will never be linear. Success is illusive, it’s a mirage. What you learn, what you do, how you react – that’s what matters.”

Success came at a price in this story, this mission and whether the crew were willing the pay that price was the nugget to follow through the story. The ‘baddie’ of the piece came from initially unexpected quarters for me, although later I questioned why I hadn’t been more suspicious.

The science in this story was utterly palatable, readable and not beyond any readers’s comprehension. I liked the botany aspects of the science, I found the futuristic nutritional ideas fascinating. This was an intelligent read and I devoured it front to back.

I am now off to work out if I can turn Alexa into a male voice in my house…you have to read to understand this subtle but creepy suggestion.

Thank you to Headline Books for the early review copy.

THE INFINITE ONION by Alice Archer

The truth is harder to hide when someone sharp starts poking around.

Grant Eastbrook hit the ground crawling after his wife kicked him out. Six months later, in Seattle without a job or a place to live, he escapes to the woods of nearby Vashon Island to consider his options. When he’s found sleeping outdoors by a cheerful man who seems bent on irritating him to death, Grant’s plans to resuscitate his life take a peculiar turn.

Oliver Rossi knows how to keep his fears at bay. He’s had years of practice. As a local eccentric and artist, he works from his funky home in the deep woods, where he thinks he has everything he needs. Then he rescues an angry man from a rainy ditch and discovers a present worth fighting the past for.

Amid the buzz of high summer, unwelcome attraction blooms on a playing field of barbs, defenses, and secrets.


Title : The Infinite Onion
Author : Alice Archer
Format : eARC
Page Count : 439
Genre : LGBTQIA+ romance
Publisher : indie
Release Date : March 31, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ .5


Hollis’ 1.5 star review

I think, not unlike the title implies, this is a story you have to unravel. Much like the characters themselves undergo a shedding of layers, of revealing themselves and their secrets, there’s a journey and a process to understanding and learning.. about everything. But not unlike Grant, one of our leads, you might feel the urge to quit if you don’t like what’s happening. I was definitely tempted to — on multiple occasions. 

Initially (well, maybe, always..) I didn’t like the story or the characters. I slogged through the first 40%, putting this down every few pages, frustrated or lost, and feeling no anchor or connection to anything. I wasn’t without feeling for these characters and their struggles, both very different though they were, but they were also both such massive oblivious assholes, each in their own way, that I was uncomfortable and unable to connect for a long time. Or, rather, ever.

Having pushed through despite my reservations, or maybe because of them and wanting to see the other side, find meaning in it all, I can’t say I came to the end liking these characters. Or even the story itself. I might have hated it all a little less but the journey to get there was such a battle that I’m not sure less hate is much of an achievement. There were definite moments that felt sweet, or had the potential to tug on my heartstrings in a different context, but overwhelmingly I just feel pretty ambivalent. I did eventually “get” it, I think — the story, the reason for everything that had brought these characters to where they ended up — but I didn’t feel it. Still don’t. And maybe I didn’t really get it at all, and that’s why I don’t love it, or feel it, or even like it. 

This was a strange experience for me. The writing, the motions the characters went through, at times almost edged towards fabulism. There is an edge of dreamy nebulousness to the story and the events, this kind of Peter Pan and Neverland vibe, and it was hard to grasp and hold onto, hard to process, forever uncomfortable, and.. well, I think that’s all I have to say, really. 

I think this is a book you’ll either love and feel in your bones, your soul, or you just won’t. 

** I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. **

RUTHLESS GODS by Emily A Duncan

Darkness never works alone…

Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who–and what–he’s become. 

As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. They’re pieces on a board, being orchestrated by someone… or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer. 


Title : Ruthless Gods
Author : Emily A Duncan
Series : Something Dark and Holy (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 544
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : April 7, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

I feel like I’m in exactly the same place with RUTHLESS GODS as I was with WICKED SAINTS. This series, the content in these books, the twisty story of betrayal and blood and more betrayal, is both worthy of love and full of frustration for me. The worldbuilding, the pantheon of gods, of monsters, of heretics and holy people, it’s all very complex and fascinating, but equally confusing and repetitive.

I feel this one did hold together better than book one, where we know so little and even less is made clear (which is apparently how the author wanted it), whereas things took a turn here that revealed both more and, in some ways, well.. not less but definitely not everything.

Another aspect that I both loved and didn’t was the romantic element(s). One couple I was hugely there for (yes, please, more), and the other? I felt smitten by it at times and over it for others. It’s a very push, pull, and then throw the other off a cliff kind of dynamic and it makes it fascinating and fun and also agonizing (not in a good way) as you struggle to keep up and, also, parse it all. Also like in book one, I’m pretty sure I would die for Serefin, and, I mean, I would at least call 911 for the others. If they asked me to.

So, yes, hardly a glowing review, but I think book three has the potential to knock this out of the park. We’re on stronger footing at the end of this installment — it definitely didn’t feel like book two syndrome — and if this trend continues it’ll be bigger and bloodier and probably even more betrayalier (it’s a word). I’ll read on. I’m two books in, after all; can’t stop me now.

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