WITCHES STEEPED IN GOLD by Ciannon Smart

Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance. 

Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power. 

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths they will go to win this game.

This Jamaican-inspired fantasy debut about two enemy witches who must enter into a deadly alliance to take down a common enemy has the twisted cat-and-mouse of Killing Eve with the richly imagined fantasy world of Furyborn and Ember in the Ashes


Title : Witches Steeped in Gold
Author : Ciannon Smart
Series : Witches Steeped in Gold (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 560
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : HarperTeen
Release Date : April 20, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

Look, I’m not saying I’m an idiot for picking up a dense complicated fantasy while trying to pull myself out of a slump but.. if the shoe fits, right?

While a good portion of my struggle with this book is, as above, my own damn fault, I also think the first half of this book is just too thick. There is so much to wade through as far as history and worldbuilding and terminology, which is kind of understandable with a series-starter, but it just didn’t sink in. And while the second half of the story was full of action and betrayals and reveals, oh my, I’m still left wondering if I understand anything about this world.

I’m also kind of confused as to where we ended up with one of the main characters. But that’s a whole other thing.

Easily my favourite thing about this was the writing; even when I was struggling with a character, or two, or the plot, I enjoyed how it was all written. But overall, beyond the representation, I’m not entirely sure this is memorable and I know I will absolutely to remember anything about this by the time the sequel is out. Which is a bummer.

I definitely suggest you still give this is a try if you’re interested, though; I’m writing this just two weeks shy of its release and the early buzz is poppin’. This is connecting with, and entertaining, so many readers. So don’t let this slumpy party pooper put you off.

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

WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

An academic enemies-to-lovers YA with all the nerdy drama, high school antics, and heartpounding romance of the Netflix original series Never Have I Ever

Since high school began, Alison Sanger and Ethan Molloy have competed on almost everything. AP classes, the school paper, community service, it never ends. If Alison could avoid Ethan until graduation, she would. Except, naturally, for two over-achieving seniors with their sights on valedictorian and Harvard, they share all the same classes and extracurriculars. So when their school’s principal assigns them the task of co-planning a previous class’s ten-year reunion, with the promise of a recommendation for Harvard if they do, Ethan and Alison are willing to endure one more activity together if it means beating the other out of the lead. 

But with all this extra time spent in each other’s company, their rivalry begins to feel closer to friendship. And as tension between them builds, Alison fights the growing realization that the only thing she wants more than winning…is Ethan.


Title : What’s Not To Love
Author : Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA contemporary romance
Publisher : Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date : April 20, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★



Hollis’ 4 star review

I am so relieved right now. I was really starting to think If I’m Being Honest was a fluke for this duo. While I had liked everything else they had written, nothing had edged over into love category and while I enjoyed the topics and themes, I was nonetheless a little disappointed.

What, Sanger? You don’t enjoy our conversations?
They’re not conversations, they’re hostage negotiations.

Until now.

For every reason I have to despise Ethan, I’m grateful for the chance to prove my worth. To prove not that I am the best, but that I can be the best.

That said, I was definitely feeling some minor trepidation with this one, too. I was loving the competitive dynamic between the two leads but, not unlike in another romance (though, that one was adult, not YA), I worried it was just a little too much to come back from. Too often toeing over that line where the bickering and banter becomes too harsh, the back and forth too toxic, the overall relationship too problematic. But not only did the characters have dialogue about those moments but how it all unfolded ended up working just right.

I’m surprised this many people want to celebrate his birth. I would rather commemorate it the way one would a natural disaster or other unfortunate occurence — somber social media posts, vows to stay strong on this dark day.

This particular match-up was also so much more than I expected it to be, in regards to motivations and self-awareness. I’ve definitely appreciated how these two authors have explored the strangeness of post-highschool life, and what that looks like, what it has to be, both on personal and romantic levels, and I liked how they worked through it via a new angle with these two characters; and even with those within their friendships and families.

Even when you think you’ve found your story, you might need to change it later if the one you’ve living doesn’t work.

Overall it was just.. fun. The tension, the combativeness, the mixed feelings when one would deviate from the expected, and how that looks going into their future. I would definitely recommend this one. Obviously.

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

THE PRISON HEALER by Lynette Noni – double review!

Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, working as the prison healer.

When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.

Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.

But no one has ever survived.

With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.

From bestselling author Lynette Noni comes a dark, thrilling YA fantasy perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, and Sabaa Tahir.


Title : The Prison Healer
Author : Lynette Noni
Series : The Prison Healer (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : HMH Books for Young Readers/Hodder Books
Release Date : April 13, 2021

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


Hollis’ 2 star review

When you have to take a shower mid-read to wake up because the book is putting you to sleep : my experience with The Prison Healer.

Look, that snarky intro notwithstanding, there were things in this story that felt pretty compelling and or interesting but so much just.. didn’t make sense. At first I loved that our setting was limited to this prison, where our protagonist had been locked up for ten years, completely cut off from the world and politics around her, but then I got really.. anxious. The limited scope started to bother me. So did the weird extreme sweeps into d a r k n e s s and d e s p a i rand then, like, light hearted flirting with the new prisoner.

We also had this ACOTAR-esque challenge to undergo but the only people witnessing it were the prisoners? The royalty are banished from watching it and it seems to not actually matter to the world outside the prison? Like.. how is this a thing? Why is it even happening?

And the whole idea of this prison being unchallenged by royalty, not subject to rule by any authority by the Warden (I don’t know, I’m now questioning my understanding, so don’t quote me on that..), was initially interesting but also how the hell did that fly. Just kind of seemed like an excuse to let some awful shit happen.

And then there was this whole civil war thing.. man, like I said, some really cool elements that just felt a little untethered. Trying to sum up all the plot points is leaving me tired.

As for the characters, well. Suffice it to say we aren’t supposed to have many to root for, seeing as we are in a prison full to the brim of nasty characters, but Naari, one of the guards, was the only one I actually liked. I got a lot of whiplash from our lead, the love interest was nice but kind of predictable, there’s a younger pseudo-brother character who has an endearing stutter but I got pretty tired of reading about it, and there’s.. not much else. Bad guard one, bad guard two, evil guard one, evil guard two, unpleasant prisoners x y z, shifty Warden guy, lots of sick and or dead people.. you get the idea.

What saves this for me was the ending. Because.. okay, sure, yeah, that happened. I am both very excited by it and also now very frustrated by everything up until this point, but, sure, yes. I’m hooked and I will read book two (please say it’s only a duology..).

I realize most people would not continue on a series where the initial book only warranted a two but I am not most people.

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Captivity
Trials
Twists

This story was interesting from the start but it executed a sneak attack by building and building into something pretty fantastic. The Prison Healer was set completely inside a prison, one with few rules and a regime of brutality and fear. Kiva was the healer, a skill learnt and from her father but built on by necessity. She had few perks from her role even though she was vital to that society.

The characters inside the prison were rag-tag bunch of characters and I took the lead from Kiva who trusted virtually no-one but Tipp, her young helper in the prison infirmary. New arrivals sparked some interesting characters form the guard Naari to Jaren and Tilda. I’m laughing at my naive self now having finished the book…little did I know.

A part of the storyline were trials that one of the characters had to go through and that was a fascinating steer throughout the chapters, I really enjoyed those elements. Most of all I enjoyed the mystery of the characters and some of the twists. There was one almighty twist that had me putting on the brakes, going back half a page because I wasn’t sure I’d read that right.

I really enjoyed how platonic and ‘something more’ relationships developed through the story. Moreso, I liked to see Kiva learn to trust a bit more and open up ever so slightly. Again, I’m laughing at my face-value reading of some of the characters knowing what I know now.

The Prison Healer was a gripping fantasy read, full and detailed, interesting and fresh. I’ve not read Lynette Noni before but she’s secured my interest and I have no idea how I’m going to wait until The Gilded Cage comes out. I have all the need for it.

Thank you to Hodder books for the early review copy.

SECOND FIRST IMPRESSIONS by Sally Thorne

From the USA Today  bestselling author of The Hating Gameand 99 Percent Mine comes the clever, funny, and unforgettable story of a muscular, tattooed man hired as an assistant to two old women—under the watchful eye of a beautiful retirement home manager.

Distraction (n): an extreme agitation of the mind or emotions.

Ruthie Midona has worked the front desk at the Providence Luxury Retirement Villa for six years, dedicating her entire adult life to caring for the Villa’s residents, maintaining the property (with an assist from DIY YouTube tutorials), and guarding the endangered tortoises that live in the Villa’s gardens. Somewhere along the way, she’s forgotten that she’s young and beautiful, and that there’s a world outside of work—until she meets the son of the property developer who just acquired the retirement center.

Teddy Prescott has spent the last few years partying, sleeping in late, tattooing himself when bored, and generally not taking life too seriously—something his father, who dreams of grooming Teddy into his successor, can’t understand. When Teddy needs a place to crash, his father seizes the chance to get him to grow up. He’ll let Teddy stay in one of the on-site cottages at the retirement home, but only if he works to earn his keep. Teddy agrees—he can change a few lightbulbs and clip some hedges, no sweat. But Ruthie has plans for Teddy too.

Her two wealthiest and most eccentric residents have just placed an ad (yet another!) seeking a new personal assistant to torment. The women are ninety-year-old, four-foot-tall menaces, and not one of their assistants has lasted a full week. Offering up Teddy seems like a surefire way to get rid of the tall, handsome, unnerving man who won’t stop getting under her skin.

Ruthie doesn’t count on the fact that in Teddy Prescott, the Biddies may have finally met their match. He’ll pick up Chanel gowns from the dry cleaner and cut Big Macs into bite-sized bits. He’ll do repairs around the property, make the residents laugh, and charm the entire villa. He might even remind Ruthie what it’s like to be young and fun again. But when she finds out Teddy’s father’s only fixing up the retirement home to sell it, putting everything she cares about in jeopardy, she’s left wondering if Teddy’s magic was all just a façade.


Title : Second First Impressions
Author : Sally Thorne
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : William Morrow
Release Date : April 13, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

There was a lot of the classic Thorne magic in this but, spoiler alert, I definitely think I’ve liked this the least of all three of her books.

A walk of shame when you’re over eighty is really, really slow.

I don’t know if it was me or just the book but this did start out a little strange, I felt a little offbalance by the characters, but it did eventually settle into place before too long. But there were times I struggled a bit with the love interest; I like that he was a little (a lot) different not only from previous Thorne men but also just in general. But he was equally a bit hard to pin down and to love (though he was painfully likeable; like a puppy). I wavered between being charmed by how our protagonist couldn’t help but be charmed by him and also wishing.. I don’t know. Wishing she could resist him, wishing.. something.

This menu has no prices. That’s not a good sign.”
Your friends have advised us that they will be ordering for you. Any dietary restrictions?
Just basic poverty.”

Maybe, not unlike the title, this is a book that needs a second go. Maybe I need to revisit my first impression.

This is a stripper’s costume. It’s all held together with Velcro.”
I’ve taken it to the dry cleaner so many times. What must they think of me?

That said, I think the people who had a really hard time with 99 Percent Mine will enjoy this a lot more. It’s nothing like the author’s debut but I think maybe this release is The Hating Game‘s nicer cousin as opposed to its prickly stepsister — which is how I categorize them all now, don’t ask.

As this is an ARC, I will say that I hope the second to last chapter gets a bit more polish before release. As it stands it rushes through a few emotional moments that I felt didn’t quite land as a result, which is frustrating as those moments are surrounded by one or two other really lovely emotional moments, and I think they would all benefit by being a bit more spread out.

In that vein, the book itself is also written a bit stilted at times, particularly in the beginning, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a way of connecting a bit more with Ruthie’s approach on.. well, life? It worked sometimes but other times just took me out of the story.

Anything I can do with complete competence, a young man can do with less technique but more fanfare.

I realize there might be more complaints or criticisms in this review than there should be.. so also take note that I read this on a work night (something I haven’t been able to do very often anymore) and it completely sucked me in. So. There. That says a lot without me having to say much at all.

[soon] you’re going to be sitting in your very own tattoo studio writing Live Laugh Love down a girl’s back in Comic Sans.”
That’s the most disgusting thing you could possibly say to me.”

Overall I didn’t quite fall in love with this, only bits of it (the Parlonis! Melanie! the turtles!), but I liked it. I loved being swept up by those epic Thorne turns of phrase. I’m also glad the cover finally (finally) makes a bit of sense. Will I reread? Yes, in the hopes of maybe liking it all a bit more. But would I reach for it, or think about it, the way I think of Thorne’s other books? Probably not. I do think though that if you do your best to lower your The Hating Game-level expectations (I know, it feels impossible), you will enjoy this a lot more than you think.

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

THE INFINITY COURTS by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.
From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes an incisive, action-packed tale that explores big questions about technology, grief, love, and humanity.


Title : The Infinity Courts
Author : Akemi Dawn Bowman
Series : The Infinity Courts (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 480
Genre : YA sci-fi
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 
Release Date : April 6, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★.5 


Hollis’ 1.5 star review

First of all, you’re going to want to scroll right by this review because it probably won’t be the best one to read if you want an objective take on the story. Why? Because this book put me into a week long slump (which doesn’t sound like a lot but it felt like three years). So this story is on my shitlist.

This was my first read by Bowman and despite my strugglebus experience with reading it, I would try her again. I think this was definitely a story-specific problem, not necessarily a writing problem, which is a bummer as while the cover definitely hooked me (so pretty!) it was the plot that made me take a second look.

I will contradict myself here by saying that one of the main issues was writing-specific because this is.. lengthy and repetitive and basically takes two issues and not only beats you over the head with them but also to death. Which is hilarious as this story follows a bunch of dead people (not a spoiler). But basically we ruminate (ad nauseaum) over the concept of what it means to be human, what it means to award second chances, and living (being dead?) with hope. Lots of talk of war, too. But while all that might sound interesting, it grew stale really quick because it seemed to be literal copy paste arguments over and over again, with nothing new to be said.

Unfortunately what seemed like a cool concept just felt flimsy and also confusing and I quickly lost any sense of what, well.. made sense. And with that ending.. I mean, I know it isn’t a standalone (kinda wish it was, though) but still. What.

Will I read on? Right now it’s a no for me, dawg, but honestly by the time the sequel releases I’ll probably be back on my completionist kick and want to just wrap it up. Particularly as, at least right now, it seems to only be a duology.

I can’t recommend this, at all, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like it. Again, maybe the slump made this all worse than it could’ve been, or it was just the wrong time for me, so if it strikes your interest, give it a try! Sample it. Borrow it. I hope your experience is better than mine.

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

WHAT THE DEVIL KNOWS by C.S. Harris

Sebastian St. Cyr thought a notorious serial killer had been brought to justice until a shocking series of gruesome new murders stuns the city in this thrilling historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Who Speaks for the Damned.

It’s October 1814. The war with France is finally over and Europe’s diplomats are convening in Vienna for a conference that will put their world back together. With peace finally at hand, London suddenly finds itself in the grip of a series of heinous murders eerily similar to the Ratcliffe Highway murders of three years before.

In 1811, two entire families were viciously murdered in their homes. A suspect–a young seaman named John Williams–was arrested. But before he could be brought to trial, Williams hanged himself in his cell. The murders ceased, and London slowly began to breathe easier. But when the lead investigator, Sir Edwin Pym, is killed in the same brutal way three years later and others possibly connected to the original case meet violent ends, the city is paralyzed with terror once more.

Was the wrong man arrested for the murders? Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for assistance. Pym’s colleagues are convinced his manner of death is a coincidence, but Sebastian has his doubts. The more he looks into the three-year-old murders, the more certain he becomes that the hapless John Williams was not the real killer. Which begs the question–who was and why are they dead set on killing again?


Title : What The Devil Knows
Author : C.S. Harris
Series : Sebastian St. Cyr (book sixteen)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : historical fiction / crime mystery
Publisher : Berkley Books
Release Date : April 6, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I’m rather tempted to round up on this one, at which point this intro will be deleted, but for now (or for good), I am a little hesitant. I don’t know if I’m thinking more fondly of this experience because it’s been a year since the last installment, around the same time I binged like.. fourteen of these back to back (which was just too much), or because it was just a little better than the last few.

We had a few moments of what I refer to as “copy paste” scenes which Harris seems to include in all her books but overall, much like the last book, there were quite a few less than usual. I was delighted.

The murder mystery itself was.. kind of all over the place. In the sense that there were so many pieces and moving parts and you really don’t see the big picture until the end. I both love and hate these kind of mysteries because I find the complexity very artful but it also means that if you aren’t being compelled by the new clues, you’re just sorta being dragged along. Which wasn’t quite the case here but it was close.

What saved said mystery from feeling too out of place from too many pieces of the puzzle were some familiar, and new, faces that tie into Sebastian’s personal life. I was curious why we were reunited with a few of them but oh you understand why come the end. I can’t say I totally saw that coming but neither was it a complete surprise. There was another event that finally came to pass that I think means we might finally be building up to something else (why am I even expanding on these vagueries..) that has been brewing for, I swear, like four or five books now. When is that confrontation going to happen! Will it ever! Why do I ask the same rhetorical questions in every review for this series! I’m not mad I’m just making a point about my own ridiculousness.

Much like some other series I’m keeping up with, I wonder how many more are still to come in the Sebastian St Cyr series. However unlike those other series, I’m not currently mad about this one.. well, continuing on. Despite some of the rehashing and a new murder mystery of the week duds, somehow, I’m still looking forward to more. Maybe because I just want to payoff of everything that we’ve come to expect will (one day) be revealed. Any hints on when that might be, Harris..? No? Cool. Cool cool cool cool cool. See you next year.

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

LIFE’S TOO SHORT by Abby Jimenez – double review

Vanessa lives life on her own terms — one day at a time, every day to its fullest. She isn’t willing to waste a moment or miss out on an experience when she has no idea whether she shares the same fatal genetic condition as her mother. Besides, she has way too much to do, traveling the globe and showing her millions of YouTube followers the joy in seizing every moment.

But after her half-sister suddenly leaves Vanessa in custody of her infant daughter, she is housebound, on mommy duty for the foreseeable future, and feeling totally out of her element.

The last person she expects to show up offering help is the unbelievably hot lawyer who lives next door, Adrian Copeland. After all, she barely knows him. But as they get closer, Vanessa realizes that her carefree ways and his need for a structured plan could never be compatible for the long term. Then again, she should know better than anyone that life’s too short to fear taking the biggest risk of all. . . 


Title : Life’s Too Short
Author : Abby Jimenez
Series : The Friend Zone (book three)
Format : eARC/Paperback
Page Count : 384
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Forever/Piatkus
Release Date : April 6, 2021/April 22, 2021 UK

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

So we’re three books into this series (though this one I think is more like a companion where books one and two were definitely more connected) and I think we all know the drill by now : pack the damn tissues. Though, out of all three books, this was probably the one I cried the least over. And yes we’re all ignoring the fact that a strong wind can make me cry, so, why even bother mentioning the cry factor. Like it means anything. Moving on.

Don’t get a cat. It’ll walk around pushing your drinks off the coffee table. You’re not emotionally strong enough for that.

I think Life’s Too Short did right all the things (all? there were only a few, really) that I didn’t love from The Friend Zone. Not that there’s any crossover here (though there might be cameos!). The topics are very different, with very different realities for both characters, but both deal with issues surrounding health — the latter reproductive and this one focusing on the possibility of a terminal illness. Having neither of these conditions I, of course, can’t speak on any of it, not in my review for book one and not this one now, but it surely seemed like the author did her research.

I’ve never seen [The Office].”
You’ve never — are you serious? Where have you been? How do you understand memes?

That said, I don’t think I was fully living this book, only visiting. I enjoyed what was going on, I was moved, entertained, but even though I think this was the better paced of all three stories, I don’t think it will have the same kind of lasting impression books one and two have had. But I still really really enjoyed it, even going as far as rounding up to bring all three books on par star-rating-wise.

I can’t do what you do. I can’t pretend none of this is happening. I can’t pretend to be happy.
I don’t pretend to be happy. I just refuse to be sad.”

This has all the beats, all the emotes, again the pacing (!), but it just didn’t crawl inside me. As much as I liked these characters, I never loved them. I just got swept up in their adventures. But that’s a ridiculous and silly complaint, really, and probably means nothing to anyone but me. And I still think you’re going to enjoy this.

Um, where’s the dog? You do remember you have one, right?
With all the shitting it does? How could I forget.
You just left him at home? He can’t be in the apartment all day by himself, he’ll be lonely.
He’s got the demon he’s possessed with to keep him company.

Neighbours, friends-become-more, a baby, a very elderly dog, and a sorta-grumpy meets sunshine trope? This’ll hit so many notes for so many readers (worth noting is that I think this toed the line more towards women’s fiction than pure romace only because the heat level was way lower than I remember the other books being). But it’s also chockful of many other topics I haven’t even mentioned and don’t want to for fear of spoilers (if you think you need content warnings please do seek them out). And I so hope it hits all the right notes for those who are impacted by the subject matter. If you can, if there are any out there, please try and hunt down some feedback on the ALS content. I’m too early to see anything yet but I’ll be keeping my eyes out for it.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Light and dark
Joyful family goodness
Dark clouds

This third installment in The Friend Zone had a lighter feel to it, or so I thought. I think I should know by now that Abby Jiminez’s signature is to lure you in then pounch on your feelings, stamp on them a little and then gently pick you up again. That was basically my experience with this book and you can see, I really enjoyed it.

Vanessa was such a bright spark of a character, infectiously joyous, a kind and lovely heart but deeply enclosed inside were these dark shadows. She didn’t let them out much and she didn’t commit to anyone but her family. Adrian, her neighbour, lawyer, owner of impressive abs was a quietly lovely character.

This story was built around a quick but deeply evolving friendship that made for invested reading. The baby of the piece, Grace was pretty delightful even though her personal story was tragic. I loved everything around this little unit, their bonds and banter.

However…I hit a point in the book where I thought oh my goodness please do not take this story, these characters there. I was preparing to throw the book at the wall but the book was saved. The tension is still in my body while I write this review. Kudos to Jiminez for that ability to have me so invested.

I have loved this series, I don’t know if there is more to come but I am a fan of this author’s writing, characters and wit.

Thank you to Piatkus/Little Brown UK for the review copy.

THE DEVIL IN HER BED by Kerrigan Byrne

He lives in secret service to the Crown—a man of duty, deception, and an undeniable attraction to a woman who threatens to tear his whole world apart.

They call him the Devil of Dorset. He stands alone, a man of undeniable power. Moving in and out of shadows, back alleys and ballrooms, he is unstoppable and one of the Crown’s most dangerous weapons. However, when he sets his sights on the undeniably beautiful Countess of Mont Claire, Francesca Cavendish, he doesn’t realize that he has met a match like no other.

TRUE LOVE WEARS NO DISGUISE

Francesca is a countess by day and stalks her prey—those responsible for the death of her family—by night. What she does not expect is to be thrown into the path of the devil himself, the Earl of Devlin. She has secrets of her own and he seems determined to lay them bare. Can her heart survive finding the love of her life and losing him when all is revealed?


Title : The Devil in Her Bed
Author : Kerrigan Byrne
Series : Devil You Know (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 419
Genre : historical romance
Publisher : St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date : March 9, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

I have to say, on the one hand, it’s refreshing for the male of the pairing to be the drama queen. But on the other hand.. wow, drama queen.

I think I’ve said in all my reviews that the highlight of this series is the strong female characters, and the friendships, and while I think this one didn’t showcase as much of said friendship as the previous installments, we didn’t really need it to. It had been well established. And it was actually sweeter to see the heroes from books one and two step into the limelight to support not only their partners but book three’s heroine, too. We love a supportive friend group.

As for this book’s hero, well. My complaint in book two was that character lacked the dimension of book one but I feel like this time Byrne went too far in giving this hero layers and angst. See aforementioned drama. But my struggle was also the dynamic of this relationship was complicated from the word go, with hidden identities and secrets, and nothing really made sense.. romantically. The sudden shift didn’t make sense and it felt like some revisionist history was shoved down our throats to conveniently make it all work and I’ll admit I didn’t swallow, I choked.

What also didn’t quite work for me was the big reveal of this secret society that was such a driving force behind all of the books leading upto this big confrontation. I appreciate that it’s sort’ve addressed on-page to be pointless and frustratingly simple and or stupid but still.. I struggled with this.

The first half of this book is why this rating isn’t lower. I felt it to be pretty strong, even if I rolled my eyes at some of the hero’s behaviour and dramatic internal monologuing. Seeing the lengths the heroine was going, had already gone, for revenge, for those she loved; what she had turned herself into, become, and without knowing the how or why (at the time), it was also rather lovely to see how the hero appreciated it. Even if he was suspicious. Additionally I was definitely swept away by some of the chemistry and pull between these two before some of the masks came off. All of that really saved this. And with a weaker heroine it wouldn’t have worked at all.. but she was truly the saving grace for this story and pairing; which is definitely the theme for most of this series. Sisters really are doing it for themselves. We love to see it.

While this wasn’t an all-around win, rarely does Byrne disappoint to the point where I find no enjoyment at all in her stories. And I’m forever here for how she always gives us fierce heroines to champion. And that’s just one reason I will continue to read this author.

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

ACT YOUR AGE, EVE BROWN by Talia Hibbert – double review!

In Act Your Age, Eve Brown the flightiest Brown sister crashes into the life of an uptight B&B owner and has him falling hard—literally.

Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong—so she’s given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It’s time for Eve to grow up and prove herself—even though she’s not entirely sure how…

Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner’s on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry—and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell. Then she hits him with her car—supposedly by accident. Yeah, right.

Now his arm is broken, his B&B is understaffed, and the dangerously unpredictable Eve is fluttering around, trying to help. Before long, she’s infiltrated his work, his kitchen—and his spare bedroom. Jacob hates everything about it. Or rather, he should. Sunny, chaotic Eve is his natural-born nemesis, but the longer these two enemies spend in close quarters, the more their animosity turns into something else. Like Eve, the heat between them is impossible to ignore—and it’s melting Jacob’s frosty exterior. 


Title : Act Your Age, Eve Brown
Author : Talia Hibbert
Series : The Brown Sisters (book three)
Format : eARC/audio
Page Count : 400/10 hours 51 minutes
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Avon / Little Brown UK
Release Date : March 9, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

I mean, is anyone surprised that this was a delight? Nope. Because I don’t think Hibbert can do any wrong. And The Brown Sisters series has been truly wonderful and I’m pretty sad it’s over. But.. might there be hope of a spinoff? With the Montroses? Pretty please?

[..] you’re not even supposed to give them bread.
You aren’t? Oh dear. Why on earth not?
It’s bad for the disgestion! Christ, woman, read a waterfowl blog.”
Which you do because..
Because. Know thine enemy.

This final installment was a grumpy/sunshine delight of a matchup. These are two such very different characters and their first interaction, quickly followed by disaster, certainly set the tone for their wee bicker banter battles. The evolution from that, to friends, to scorching, to more, well.. it was delicious and fun and sweet and also a little heartbreaking. What added to the loveliness of this pairing wasn’t just their differences, though, but also how they fit together almost like two sides of the same coin. Not the same but alike.

Jacob’s attitude was rather like a barbed-wire fence; designed to rip you to shreds if you got too close, but only to protect something special.

While I still think I maintain that book one, Get a Life, Chloe Brown, was my favourite, as much as seeing the sisters and their partners was nice, it didn’t get me as excited as I would’ve thought, as Eve was truly was the star of her own story. And I just wanted more time with her. Jacob, too, was just.. I can’t think of any word but special. But he was.

[..] the world would be a much better place if they stopped congratulating themselves on being normal and started to accept that there were countless different normals, and Jacob’s kind was just as fine as everyone else’s.

My only tiny complaints were the third act drama, though now that I’m outside of the moment I think I’m less bothered by it in hindsight, it’s far from the worst I’ve read!, and the ending. Despite the sweetness of the moment, and how it’s not leading upto what you might think, it did end a tad abruptly and I was left bereft; and not just because it’s over.

This is such a lovely town. I don’t know how you manage to stay so grumpy when you live here.”
Through great force of will.”

If somehow you’ve managed to resist picking up this series, or even a single Hibbert, I’m here to yell at you until you change your mind. This is a much beloved author for a reason and you will be better for reading her books. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here and, surprising no one, will pick up whatever she releases next.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Neurodivergent rep
Steam
Bad driving
Sisterhood
Did I mention steam?

There’s something just so easy about sinking into a series where you know something about the characters and The Brown Sisters is a series that has really floated my boat from the start. As with the other Brown sisters, Eve was wholly individual but also quirky, confident and yet not.

The story started with a blow-up, an escape and a bang as Eve found herself in the Lake District which was pretty fun but <enter side left> came Jake. Abrupt, grumpy, perfectionist and with a hard shell, Jake’s character had to be unravelled and Eve was certainly up to the task.

This story had elements of the ridiculous (just as life is sometimes) and the combination of Eve and Jake interacting and at odds with each other brought much humour, me sniggering and dialogue that you just couldn’t make up. I can’t deny that when the family came together in the story I had moments of cosily settling in, seeing these sisters and their partners together.

The representation in this book felt genuine, not forced. The story repped neurodivergent characteristic and body positive behaviour with sloganed T-shirts. All these things for the win. I would be interested in finding some neurodivergent #ownvoices reviews to check how this felt on reading.

Overall, Act Your Age, Eve Brown was a pleasurable read with intense heat and the wit I’ve come to know Talia Hibbert for. These books go on the re-read pile.

I did a combination of physical and audiobook and the narration (dual POV) was excellent and fitted the mood and characters really well.

Thank you Piatkus, Little Brown and LibroFM for the early review copies.

PERFECT ON PAPER by Sophie Gonzales – double review!

In Sophie Gonzales’ Perfect on Paper, Leah on the Offbeat meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: a bisexual girl who gives anonymous love advice to her classmates is hired by the hot guy to help him get his ex back

Her advice, spot on. Her love life, way off.

Darcy Phillips:
• Can give you the solution to any of your relationship woes―for a fee.
• Uses her power for good. Most of the time.
• Really cannot stand Alexander Brougham.
• Has maybe not the best judgement when it comes to her best friend, Brooke…who is in love with someone else.
• Does not appreciate being blackmailed.

However, when Brougham catches her in the act of collecting letters from locker 89―out of which she’s been running her questionably legal, anonymous relationship advice service―that’s exactly what happens. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy begrudgingly agrees to become his personal dating coach―at a generous hourly rate, at least. The goal? To help him win his ex-girlfriend back.

Darcy has a good reason to keep her identity secret. If word gets out that she’s behind the locker, some things she’s not proud of will come to light, and there’s a good chance Brooke will never speak to her again.

Okay, so all she has to do is help an entitled, bratty, (annoyingly hot) guy win over a girl who’s already fallen for him once? What could go wrong?


Title : Perfect on Paper
Author : Sophie Gonzales
Format : eARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ contemporary romance
Publisher : Wenesday Books/Hachette Kids-TeamBKMK
Release Date : March 9, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

It’s always strange to like something but have complicated thoughts or feelings about aspects of it.. and yet still can’t help but rate it highly. That’s really where I’m at. I don’t think this is going to be a particularly informative or cohesive review, just warning you now.

Overall I just want to say how happy I am that, conflicted confusedness aside, it is easier to like to this vs how I felt about Only Mostly Devastated, which just didn’t settle with me very well. The abovementioned was so messy and while we do have some mess, some misguided elements in Perfect on Paper, it was.. a more acceptable mess, if that makes sense. Or maybe I was just more forgiving of it.

You do realize I’m agreeing with you here?
I guess I’ve never had agreement feel so much like an argument.”

I can definitely suspend some of my disbelief at how competent a sixteen year old was at dispensing sage and well researched romantic advice to her peers but the narrative is pushed that said advise is well researched, well intentioned, so I can probably eat that one. And what helps to sell it is that while she’s being paid, she’s doing it to help others, as a passion project, and that goes a long way vs just doing it just for cash or to collect secrets on her peers. The motivation changes everything.

Did a fight lead to the breakup?
More or less. I guess I gave her an ultimatum.
You didn’t.”
I wish that were true.
Why didn’t you just throw a fucking grenade between you while you were at it?

So many elements of this felt strong; the mention but lack of focus, or harping, on her sister’s transition. The discussion around queerness, specifically internalized and externalized biphobia. The ego checks our lead received throughout regarding missteps in advice, in realizing some people didn’t want her help, and more.

Where I think this was a bit weak, even though it played a big role, was her relationship with her best friend and, initially, the characterization of a love interest. Eventually the latter smoothed out but I do wonder if I missed something to explain why he behaved the way he did in the beginning. I’m not quite complaining as I found the interactions totally delightful because of how frustrating they found each other, but I still wish maybe something had been offered up as a why. But for the best friend, well.. I don’t know. Something never really sat right about that dynamic. And I don’t want to touch on too much for risk of spoilers — and a few other niggles are maybe too specific to mention for that same reason — so.. insert vague vagueries here.

I don’t know if this review is coming across as positive as a four star would warrant but I’ll refer you back to my opening paragraph. Something about this just confuses me even though I enjoyed it so so much. Was it perfect? No. But it did just enough right. And I was just so happy about the ending, particularly one little interaction that shouldn’t be so momentous, and may not even be remarked by many, but just.. wrecked me a bit. Left me so soft. And that combined with the fact that I couldn’t tear myself away from this, well.. here we are.

After my (albeit, strange) success with this sophomore release, I’m even more excited for what is to come for this author.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Page turner
LGBTQIA+ rep for days
Incredibly cute

A clever story was contained in these pages, all centred around Locker 89 and Darcy. Darcy was bi-sexual, crushing on her friend and seemed to limit her life options and expectations. She also ran an advice service through locker 89 (you’d have to read to understand). Now I’ve got that out of the way, I can talk about my own expectations – I had no idea where the romance of this story was going to go for the first part; I loved the lack of expectation.

Friendships were on the menu, a smattering of drama, lots of secrets and lies and problematic parents. I liked Brooke but only a bit, Ray definintely grew on me, Ainsley was fab and Brougham delivered on the slow building chemistry. Brougham slowly defrosted in this story and I enjoyed the reveal of his character.

There was something special about being seen the way that Brougham seemed to see me.

There was something flawed and cocky about Darcy but also plenty of self-realisation and awareness to mitigate the cockiness. The bi context delved into the some really important experiences, which only enhanced the story even more. This book had a lovely pitch of light with the odd casting of darkness across the page. I loved that circle back around to the ‘job’ towards the end.

Perfect on Paper confirmed that Only Mostly Devastated was not a one-off piece of goodness, Sophie Gonzales followed that up with another superb offering. I still need to visit her back catalogue of titles.

Thank you to Hachette Kids & TeamBKMK for the early review copy.