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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. **

WICKED BEAUTY by Katee Robert

She was the face that launched a thousand ships,
The fierce beauty at the heart of Olympus,
And she was never ours to claim.

*A scorchingly hot modern retelling of Helen of Troy, Achilles, and Patroclus that’s as sinful as it is sweet.*

In Olympus, you either have the power to rule…or you are ruled. Achilles Kallis may have been born with nothing, but as a child he vowed he would claw his way into the poisonous city’s inner circle. Now that a coveted role has opened to anyone with the strength to claim it, he and his partner, Patroclus Fotos, plan to compete and double their odds of winning.

Neither expect infamous beauty Helen Kasios to be part of the prize…or for the complicated fire that burns the moment she looks their way.

Zeus may have decided Helen is his to give to away, but she has her own plans. She enters into the competition as a middle finger to the meddling Thirteen rulers, effectively vying for her own hand in marriage. Unfortunately, there are those who would rather see her dead than lead the city. The only people she can trust are the ones she can’t keep her hands off—Achilles and Patroclus. But can she really believe they have her best interests at heart when every stolen kiss is a battlefield?


Title : Wicked Beauty
Author : Katee Robert
Series : Dark Olympus (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : romance / retelling
Publisher : Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date : June 7, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

This is easily my favourite of the series so far. I know that maybe isn’t the big statement it might seem considering this is only a three star but this series has been a strange ride because I continually want to enjoy what Robert has created, and occasionally do like elements of things, but I ultimately feel like it’s overruled and spoiled by other things. And that’s not all gone. I still really struggle with comprehending how this world works but for once I was completely distracted by the plot. Because for once we h a d plot.

I had such a good time with the Ares trials and really enjoyed how they were set up. It certainly wasn’t as well thought out or complex as a fantasy might have made them out to be but lest we forget (we cannot) this is a romance first. And we had a good mix of action to move the players forward, romance and sexy times and emotions, and also a subtle little side plot to add some conflict to the world itself and set up something (hopefully) interesting for book four.

Now, as for that romance. I definitely wavered in my liking and disliking of the men; initially I was put-off by Achilles — but we’re supposed to be, there’s good reason for it. And then later.. he wins you over and it’s Patroclus who was maybe a little too hesitant, a little too overthink-y. Helen ended up being the perfect solution. Watching these three bounce off each other, resist each other, give in, bend.. it was fun. Sexy, yes, but mostly fun.

I also realllyyyy loved how the main plot point resolved. I had hoped but I wasn’t sure it would go that way. I was pleased.

So, yeah, colour me really surprised with how this one shook out. I am still very shaky on this world and how it all works but clearly I’m just going to have to learn to stow that and turn my brain off and focus on the immediacy of it all.

As for who and what’s next couple-wise, I had no idea until I went to investigate because nothing is set up in this instalment and I already know the Zeus and Callisto match-up is likely to be the last one. So I’m not going to spoil anything but if you’re curious, you can definitely hunt it down!

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

THIS PLACE IS STILL BEAUTIFUL by XiXi Tian

Two sisters. A shocking racist incident. The summer that will change both of their lives forever. 

Despite having had near-identical upbringings, sisters Annalie and Margaret agree on only one thing: that they have nothing in common. Nineteen-year-old Margaret is driven, ambitious, and keenly aware of social justice issues. She couldn’t wait to leave their oppressive small-town home and take flight in New York. Meanwhile sweet, popular, seventeen-year-old Annalie couldn’t think of anything worse – she loves their town, and feels safe coasting along in its confines.

That is, until she arrives home one day to find a gut-punching racial slur painted on their garage door.

Outraged, Margaret flies home, expecting to find her family up in arms. Instead, she’s amazed to hear they want to forget about it. Their mom is worried about what it might stir up, and Annalie just wants to have a ‘normal’ summer – which Margaret is determined to ruin, apparently.

Back under each other’s skins, things between Margaret and Annalie get steadily worse – and not even the distraction of first love (for Annalie), or lost love (for Margaret) can bring them together.

Until finally, a crushing secret threatens to tear them apart forever.


Title : This Place Is Still Beautiful
Author : XiXi Tian
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Release Date : June 7, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3.5 (rounded up) star review

You know what else is beautiful? That cover. Hoo boy. Stunning.

I waffled a bit on this rating as of writing this — on whether to round up or not — because while this wasn’t perfect, and I was frustrated and uncomfortable and frustrated some more, I think that’s the whole point. And it’s important to sit with those feelings. And also acknowledge all the complex nuance that this author, and this story, definitely touches on.

They think me talking publicly about racism is more offensive than a actual hate crime. People would rather I just kept my mouth shut and looked sad. Then they could white knight in and express sympathy without feeling uncomfortable. I’m not in the business of keeping people from feeling uncomfortable.”

Not only is this a very timely story, with timely discussion, I think in general it’s just not something we’ve seen a lot of. Racist conflicts, sure. Siblings feeling pitted against each other, while also trying to navigate complicated parental dynamics, yes. Topics surrounding white-passing, more and more. But this tackled so much more while also delving into all the above.

I found Annalie’s POV and storyline the hardest to stomach not only because I was side-eyeing this guy she had been so keen to date for so long. But also because of what comes out about the hate crime and who was involved and how she, also, becomes involved. And it’s in a very different way than Margaret who is, unlike her younger sister, not white-passing and also the kind of person to shout from the rooftops, rattle chains, and make noise; all of which she does.

What are second chances anyway except the ability to screw up a second time?

And despite this, or maybe because of it, I actually preferred Margaret’s POV and I found her, despite how unlikeable she could be, to be more likeable as a result. Also, her own romance plot? Heartbreaking. The whole catalyst behind that is one of the main issues I was hinting at above but I’m not going to mention because spoilers.

I wish I could talk to her the way I want to. I wish I could make her understand my heart, or that I could understand hers, but between us, there is an entire ocean that we will never be able to cross.

This was definitely a more mature-leaning YA, between the subject matter and some of the topics and how they were handled, and I really appreciated that. This definitely had the right tones for the story. I’m sure I could find things to pick apart (some interactions, particularly in the beginning, didn’t quite fit, and there was definitely an inconsistency or two, but this is an ARC, so, I’ll let it slide, because they weren’t littered throughout) but again I think the strength of this outweighs the few weaknesses.

I worried this couldn’t possibly live up to the pitch (I saw the author speak to the nature and inspiration of this story and was totally mesmerized) but I’m glad this turned out to be a win. For so many reasons.

Would definitely recommend if this is already on your radar! This is a debut you don’t want to miss.

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

MY MECHANICAL ROMANCE by Alexene Farol Follmuth

Nerds are so hot.
Especially battle robot building nerds.

Bel would rather die than think about the future. College apps? You’re funny. Extracurriculars? Not a chance. But when she accidentally reveals a talent for engineering at school, she’s basically forced into joining the robotics club. Even worse? All the boys ignore Bel—and Neelam, the only other girl on the team, doesn’t seem to like her either.

Enter Mateo Luna, captain of the club, who recognizes Bel as a potential asset—until they start butting heads. Bel doesn’t care about Nationals, while Teo cares too much. But as the nights of after-school work grow longer and longer, Bel and Teo realize they’ve built more than just a combat-ready robot for the championship: they’ve made space for each other and themselves.

This sharply funny, academic rivals to lovers romance explores both the challenges girls of color face in STEM and the vulnerability of first love with unfailing wit and honesty.


Title : My Mechanical Romance
Author : Alexene Farol Follmuth
Format : eARC
Page Count : 272
Genre : YA contemporary romance
Publisher : Holiday House
Release Date : May 31, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

Okay, before the three star scares anyone else, please note, this was really cute. And the enjoyable parts were very enjoyable. There is a good chunk of diversity, this is STEM-focused, and, for something a little different, it’s engineering kinda sorta Big Hero 6 style with combat robotics. Very fun. Overall I think this is also likely very relatable on the subject of expectations for YA-aged kids transitioning into college, etc, too. Especially these days.

“Sometimes I think I’d rather be forty and wondering where my life went instead of seventeen and relentlessly hounded about my future. I can’t wait for my life of quiet desperation so I can finally meditate on all the ways I wasted my precious youth.”

So with all that goodness, why not a higher rating? Truthfully I don’t know. There was just something.. missing. I don’t know if I wanted the rival-flavoured dislike (not quite hate) to go on longer or not because I really liked how they warmed up to each other. I appreciated, too, that it wasn’t all easy fun joy within the robotics group itself. There were contentious relationships and dynamics and that felt very real. It wasn’t just outsiders (notably other boys) who made life difficult, and judged, the female MC for being involved, it was also the other girl in the group. And her reasons do eventually become revealed and are valid. Not 100% but like.. even the female MC comes around to it. It worked.

She’s acting like she knows me, and I feel like that’s not fair. I’ve been enjoying getting to know her, but apparently to her I’m nothing new.

But between those conflicts, the pressure the male MC had pressing down on his shoulders from those around him, and particularly his parents, it was again very real. Though of course I liked this particular style of conflict less. But I can’t say it really soured the whole enjoyment.. I don’t think?

You’re new, you know? You’re like this new colour I didn’t know existed and now I see it everywhere and I’m like, thank god I can see it now. Such a bummer if I never did.”

See, honestly, I don’t know what was missing, or what maybe hit a wrong note (maybe it just could’ve been longer? maybe something could’ve been better fleshed out, more time with the secondary support so they felt a tiny bit more like their own persons? maybe, as I ponder this more, everything was just a little too.. surface) but regardless I think this is definitely worth your time if you’re interested in picking it up.

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

A RIP THROUGH TIME by Kelley Armstrong

In this series debut from New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong, a modern-day homicide detective finds herself in Victorian Scotland—in an unfamiliar body—with a killer on the loose.

May 20, 2019: Homicide detective Mallory is in Edinburgh to be with her dying grandmother. While out on a jog one evening, Mallory hears a woman in distress. She’s drawn to an alley, where she is attacked and loses consciousness.

May 20, 1869: Housemaid Catriona Mitchell had been enjoying a half-day off, only to be discovered that night in a lane, where she’d been strangled and left for dead . . . exactly one-hundred-and-fifty years before Mallory was strangled in the same spot.

When Mallory wakes up in Catriona’s body in 1869, she must put aside her shock and adjust quickly to the reality: life as a housemaid to an undertaker in Victorian Scotland. She soon discovers that her boss, Dr. Gray, also moonlights as a medical examiner and has just taken on an intriguing case, the strangulation of a young man, similar to the attack on herself. Her only hope is that catching the murderer can lead her back to her modern life . . . before it’s too late.

Outlander meets The Alienist in Kelley Armstrong’s A Rip Through Time, the first book in this utterly compelling series, mixing romance, mystery, and fantasy with thrilling results.


Title : A Rip Through Time
Author : Kelley Armstrong
Series : A Rip Through Time (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : mystery / sci-fi / historical fiction
Publisher : Minotaur Books
Release Date : May 31, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

Once upon a time I used to associate Armstrong with paranormal novels. Now not only are detective/mystery plots her speciality but she seems to be using time travel a lot, too. Not that I’m complaining..

This one veers in a different direction from her last time travel story and whereas that was a romance this has none to speak of — though.. maybe set up for something in the future? there were glimmers — due to some complicated dynamics but also the strangeness of the whole situation Mallory suddenly finds herself in. One minute, it’s 2019 and she’s a detective on leave in Edinburgh, just out for a jog. Next, she wakes up after having been attacked, but it’s 1869 and she finds herself in the body of an unrecognizable housemaid. Not only does she have to quickly adjust, adapt, and come up with a plausible reason for being confused and out of sorts (beyond being attacked), but she also has to solve her own case; and the case of a local murder or two.

If this had been a standalone, well, a) that would’ve been a very unsatisfying ending (but it also would’t have ended that way) and b) this would be a very different rating. It’s still not as high as I think it might be in the future because, now that we have the set-up out of the way, and know our cast of characters, I think the next book (books?) will be very very good. I really enjoyed both siblings that Mallory finds herself, as Catriona, working for — one is a funeral director (well, what passes for one in the times) and also has a side hustle with the police as a medical examiner, and the other is more or less a chemist. Both intelligent, if a little unusual, for the times and for even more reasons than I’ve mentioned (leaving some surprises for you). Another character is the local criminal investigator who is also a friend to both.

It was fascinating to see Armstrong, through Mallory, try and determine what criminology and forensic sciences were already at work at the time and navigate the conversations and investigations with her own knowledge while, somehow, trying to make it fit. She didn’t always succeed, and often surprised those around her, but I think that made it more believable. I always side-eye a story that has the time traveler way too prepared to blend in to new surroundings.

While the mystery and reason behind why Mallory was attacked in the first place, and why she continued to be targeted, was kind of.. well, not exciting, I also respect having this kind of storyline play out. So often we expect big nefarious reasons for these crimes but rarely are they so dramatic.

So, yes, overall I had a good time with this but I’m very glad we got this stage of the story out of the way and now things can get even better. Can’t wait to see what adventures await this ensemble in the coming books.

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

NEVER COMING HOME by Hannah Mary McKinnon

First comes love. Then comes murder.
Lucas Forester didn’t hate his wife. Michelle was brilliant, sophisticated and beautiful. Sure, she had extravagant spending habits and that petty attitude, a total disregard for anyone below her status. But she also had a lot to offer. Most notably, wealth that only the one percent could comprehend.

For years, Lucas had been honing a flawless plan to inherit Michelle’s fortune. Unfortunately, it involved taking a hit out on her.

Every track was covered, no trace left behind, and now Lucas plays the grieving husband so well he deserves an award. But when a shocking photo and cryptic note show up on his doorstep, Lucas goes from hunter to prey. 

Someone is onto him. And they’re closing in.

Told with dark wit and a sharply feminist sensibility, Never Coming Home is a terrifying tale of duplicity that will have you side-eyeing your spouse as you dash to the breathtaking end.


Title : Never Coming Home
Author : Hannah Mary McKinnon
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : mystery thriller
Publisher : MIRA
Release Date : May 24, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I’m a little disappointed I didn’t love this more but I think this’ll satisfy readers a little less grumpy and picky than moi.

The most interesting thing about this story was the fact that we know who did the deed. And, in fact, we spend the entire time in the head of the one who has committed the crime. I quite liked that. But I found Lucas.. kind of insufferable? It wasn’t even the fact that he was a con-man mastermind responsible for his wife’s death, that he’d been orchestrating a particular end result for the entirety of their relationship. It was maybe moreso the narrative voice. And perhaps the pacing.

I never fully engaged in this story, I was completely uninterested in all of Lucas’ backstory, and while I enjoyed the ending, I’ll admit I did see part of it coming. It was still a good gotcha moment but it didn’t quite redeem the journey to where we finally get there. I’m not quite sure this had the dark wit that was promised in the pitch, either.

This was my first read by McKinnon, and while she’s got a good few books out and seems to be well loved, I’ll admit I had never even heard of her. I’ll likely peek through her backlist to find another that might work better, though, because I have’t quite given up yet.

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

YOU MADE A FOOL OF DEATH WITH YOUR BEAUTY by Akwaeke Emezi – double review

New York Times bestselling author and National Book Award finalist Akwaeke Emezi (they/them) reimagines the love story in this fresh and seductive novel about a young woman seeking joy while healing from loss.

Feyi Adekola wants to learn how to be alive again. 

It’s been five years since the accident that killed the love of her life and she’s almost a new person now—an artist with her own studio, and sharing a brownstone apartment with her ride-or-die best friend, Joy, who insists it’s time for Feyi to ease back into the dating scene. Feyi isn’t ready for anything serious, but a steamy encounter at a rooftop party cascades into a whirlwind summer she could have never imagined: a luxury trip to a tropical island, decadent meals in the glamorous home of a celebrity chef, and a major curator who wants to launch her art career. 

She’s even started dating the perfect guy, but their new relationship might be sabotaged before it has a chance by the dangerous thrill Feyi feels every time she locks eyes with the one person in the house who is most definitely off-limits. This new life she asked for just got a lot more complicated, and Feyi must begin her search for real answers. Who is she ready to become? Can she release her past and honor her grief while still embracing her future? And, of course, there’s the biggest question of all—how far is she willing to go for a second chance at love?

Akwaeke Emezi’s vivid and passionate writing takes us deep into a world of possibility and healing, and the constant bravery of choosing love against all odds.


Title : You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty
Author : Akwaeke Emezi
Format : eARC/Hardcover
Page Count : 288
Genre : romance
Publisher : Atria Books
Release Date : May 24, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : unrated/****


Hollis’ unrated star review

I’ve sat here, the minutes ticking by since I closed my kindle, waffling on how I feel about this book. Not just rating wise but overall feeling wise. This is going to be a polarizing book, I think.

After having fallen in love with The Death of Vivek Oji last year, I’ve been on a mission to slowly devour everything this author has written. The fact that they flit between genres, and themes, and styles, is so interesting and at the announcement of a romance novel — a romance novel with a Florence + The Machine lyric for a title — I mean, obviously I was sold. I wanted to see what they would do in this particular genre.

And for so much of it.. I was pretty into it. I enjoyed the voice (I make this distinction for a reason, I’ll expand more in a bit) and I enjoyed the friendship between Feyi and Joy. Their conversations were mostly limited to their romantic endeavours with the occasional hype moment from Joy on Feyi’s behalf but.. still, I felt the friendship, I felt the connection. But the romance? The various ones we follow? Welll..

I absolutely appreciate that Feyi, having survived what she did, and feeling like she’s maybe in a place to dip her toe in romance again, would be hesitant for more than something physical. And would shy away from something more. And I do feel like we saw some stepping stones out of her grief in the form of people but.. I don’t know. This is where I get mixed. Because I can see it what the author did (or, rather, I think I see what they were doing), and understand it, but I can also not love it? I guess? In some ways it’s brave and also real but..

Maybe it was the writing that hindered some of this. Because I’ll tell you right now I didn’t enjoy this writing the same way I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous writing. I can’t put my finger on what about it bothered me but something did.

Even without the romance drama, this book is messy. Grief is messy. Processing that, dealing with the concept of moving on, it’s all a mess. Emotional and fraught. And then when combined with romance? Messier. Add in some.. complicated results with how things shake out with said romance? Chaos. There’s a lot going on here. And there are times that Emezi has these beautiful notes, these little pauses of reflection, and they are just lovely. There are moments to be heard but also moments where the characters are listened to, and understood. But it’s still also dramatic and a lot. Which is fine! If that’s what you want.

I definitely see people loving this or.. maybe not hating it but being on the fence of it all. So while I’m taking the easy way out and not rating this.. it’s probably a 3. So just imagine that instead of the nothing and let me remain in a state where I don’t have to commit.

I will definitely continue to pick up titles by this author, as well as catch up on their backlist, but this wasn’t quite the breakthrough hit I thought it would be. At least not for me.

That cover is absolutely stunning though isn’t it? Gorgeous.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Messy love
Messy families
Grief

This story was completely messed up, from the main character Feyi, to her ultimate actions and the outcomes of that. I could not put this book down. It made for some fervent reading and I loved the experience, however wild it went.

Feyi had a whole room full of baggage that was understandable and endearing. Feyi was on an adventure to opening up back to intimate relationships and from the start, my eyes were wide. Her narrative was funny, intelligent and open.

The ultimate destination of this journey, I didn’t forsee until the airport arrival, then the path was clearly laid; my eyes did not leave the page while this mess played out. I liked Alim, I regretted the family fall out for the wounded parties but I still understood how the couple got to where they were.

There isn’t a neatness to this story, it’s raw, gritty and ugly in parts but it’s wonderful to read.

THE MURDER OF MR. WICKHAM by Claudia Gray

From New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray—a summer house party turns into a thrilling whodunit when Mr. Wickham, one of literature’s most notorious villains, meets a sudden and suspicious end in this brilliantly imagined mystery featuring Jane Austen’s leading literary characters.

The happily married Mr. Knightley and Emma are throwing a house party, bringing together distant relatives and new acquaintances—characters beloved by Jane Austen fans. Definitely not invited is Mr. Wickham, whose latest financial scheme has netted him an even broader array of enemies. As tempers flare and secrets are revealed, it’s clear that everyone would be happier if Mr. Wickham got his comeuppance. Yet they’re all shocked when Wickham turns up murdered—except, of course, for the killer hidden in their midst.

Nearly everyone at the house party is a suspect, so it falls to the party’s two youngest guests to solve the mystery: Juliet Tilney, the smart and resourceful daughter of Catherine and Henry, eager for adventure beyond Northanger Abbey; and Jonathan Darcy, the Darcys’ eldest son, whose adherence to propriety makes his father seem almost relaxed. In a tantalizing fusion of Austen and Christie, the unlikely pair must put aside their own poor first impressions and uncover the guilty party—before an innocent person is sentenced to hang.


Title : The Drowned Woods
Author : Claudia Gray
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : historical fiction / mystery
Publisher : Vintage Books
Release Date : May 3, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing a slow painful death for Mr. Wickham, he of Pride and Prejudice and Austen infamy. And while this didn’t quite deliver in that exacting way, he’s still dead! Three cheers for that.

What also drew me to this title, vicious longing for murder aside, was the idea of all of Austen’s famous couples gathered under one roof and subject to, essentially, a locked room mystery. Would they get along? Who would be the first suspect? Who would actually do it.. and why? I mean, we don’t need a why but would there be a why we wouldn’t see coming?

And, overall, this was good fun. I liked that Gray gave each couple very real conflicts, outside of the mystery, that did not seem fabricated and instead were likely issues that had plagued these characters or, due to circumstances, had caused certain issues to come to light. Each couple were in various stages of their HEA; some were long married, with grown children, some had only been married a few years, and others, only months. Each was a different perspective on their “what comes after” and each with their own concerns and issues. I really enjoyed it. Some, of course, more than others because we all have favourites.

Equally, we also see some secondary characters visit. Some we probably weren’t fans of to begin with but, at least, none so loathsome as Wickham.

I never guessed the culprit or the motive, by the way. I was just along for the ride. But it was completely realistic and not remotely out of left field — in case you are worried.

Gray is not a new or untried author to me, I’ve read much of her YA backlist, but this particular venture was a surprise. I have no idea if she’s shifting to adult permanently, or even historical fiction in general, but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for what comes next.

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

I KISSED SHARA WHEELER by Casey McQuiston – double review!

Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—more to Shara, too.


Title : I Kissed Shara Wheeler
Author : Casey McQuiston
Format : ARC / eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ contemporary romance
Publisher : St. Martin’s Press/MacMillan Kids
Release Date : May 3, 2022/May 12, 2022

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


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

This book is really making me reconsider my rounded up “3.5 star feels” for One Last Stop. Because I Kissed Shara Wheeler gave me the queer ensemble of my dreams whilst also having an electric and fun and unexpected plot without any of the lulls found in the author’s sophomore release. Infact, this made me incredibly nostalgic for their debut because I’m left with that same sparkly feeling — minus the hangover from some of the more intense emotional moments.

God, why is he still here? What is he doing? There’s no way his job is that hard. All he des is cut the arts budget and misinterpret the Bible. How many hours can that possibly take?

Because, yes, I Kissed Shara Wheeler? Fantastic. I knew by the end of chapter one I was going to be a goner for this book and only something absolutely terrible could ruin it. And, spoiler, nothing did.

While she does like boys, she generally finds the traits of a compelling villain — arrogance, malice, an angry backstory — tedious in a man. Like, what do hot guys with long dark hair have to be that upset about? Get a clarifying shampoo and suck it up, Kylo Ren.

As usual my brain is stalling out a little on what to say but like. This has that competitive academic rivals tension. It has a kiss-fuelled scavenger hunt. It has unlikely allies who become true friends. It’s about self-discovery. It’s about quiet rebellions that lead to louder ones. It’s about old friends become new again. It’s about found family. And so much more.

Chloe, we’re gay. We can’t do math.
Okay, well, next time I’ll come and make a spreadsheet.
This is why we need you. Once in a generation, there is born a bisexual who can do math. You’re the chosen one.”

It’s not all easy or fun or just non-stop queer shenanigans, though. With the setting of this book, both in a little town in Alabama and at a Christian school to boot, you know there’s going to be some issues to tackle. But those issues never overwhelmed the story. But neither were they too minor to not play a part. It was the perfect balance.

Your mama and I decided long before you were both that we would let you be whoever you are, no matter who that is.
And if who you are is a snarling little Pomeranian with eyes like fire, than that’s who you are, darling.”

If YA is all McQuiston plans to ever write again (this is not confirmed, I’m just saying), I would honestly only be a tiny bit upset to lose adult content from them. Because it really was that good. I know I will be rereading this and, likely, loving it even more.

Highly recommend.

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


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
YA contemporary comedy mystery
Dramatics
Bigatory

There’s lots to recommend this read, it’s beautifully queer, a fun romp but somehow, it just didn’t hit the notes for me. There’s an eclectic band of friends thrown together in this story and that was the element I became most fond of.

Shara was missing and I struggled with Shara as a character for much of the story, and maybe I was supposed to. She seemed manipulative and they way she had all these peers pitched against one another initially, really wound me up. There was space for redemption but overall I didn’t like her. Shara however, wasn’t really the main character even if the whole story was centred on her, Chloe was the MC and I did like her mostly. Chloe had some epic moms which I appreciated.

The themes were welcome in this book and they included exploring identity, sexuality and rebelling against bigatory. These important themes were well handled but it felt alongside a fair bit of dramarama. I think the drama and manipulative characteristics of Shara were what kept me from connecting with the characters sadly. I didn’t feel any chemistry in the romantic moments either.

I am disappointed I didn’t enjoy this more but I can see that so far from a ratings perspective, I am in the minority.

Thank you MacMillan Kids for the early review copy.

BOOK OF NIGHT by Holly Black – double review!

In Charlie Hall’s world, shadows can be altered, for entertainment and cosmetic preferences—but also to increase power and influence. You can alter someone’s feelings—and memories—but manipulating shadows has a cost, with the potential to take hours or days from your life. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own.

Charlie is a low-level con artist, working as a bartender while trying to distance herself from the powerful and dangerous underground world of shadow trading. She gets by doing odd jobs for her patrons and the naive new money in her town at the edge of the Berkshires. But when a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie’s present life is thrown into chaos, and her future seems at best, unclear—and at worst, non-existent. Determined to survive, Charlie throws herself into a maelstrom of secrets and murder, setting her against a cast of doppelgangers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister—all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.

With sharp angles and prose, and a sinister bent, Holly Black is a master of shadow and story stitching. Remember while you read, light isn’t playing tricks in Book of Night, the people are.


Title : Book of Night
Author : Holly Black
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : urban fantasy / paranormal
Publisher : Tor Books / DelReyUK
Release Date : May 3, 2022

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


Hollis’ 3 star review

I think even the mightiest of Black stans might lose it over that ending, hoo boy. I loved it but I also kinda hated it.

So here’s the thing. If this is a standalone, I’m a lot less happy than a three star. Okay, fine, maybe it’s just docked half a point. But if this is a series opener.. yeah, maybe I could bump it a half point. As it is, there’s a lot of good in this adult debut from this beloved author but there’s also an equal amount of stuff I could’ve lived without.

I do think most people will come out of this book loving our MC, Charlie. She is unflinchingly herself and herself is messy. She’s a twenty-eight year old ex-con artist and thief who is painfully aware of her baggage cart full of faults, failed relationships, and rather questionable childhood. She’s trying to turn a new leaf, one that is away from the sketchier aspects of her skillset and focus on being somewhat of a law abiding citizen as well as guide her sister towards school and a future (a bit I never quite understood considering her sister’s age and lack of interest and also, side note, did anyone else assume her sister was like sixteen? she did not act her age). Having a boyfriend who, for once, is not a scumbag, though maybe a little weird, helps, too.

In this world, which I’ll admit I still find somewhat hard to grasp, there are people who can work magic through shadows. That’s basically the simplest way to describe it. And while that’s a main event in this world, the story itself focuses more on both mystery and heist and the overlords who rule the underworld. Does that sound dramatic? It kind of is.

While Charlie’s world was dark and violent and gritty, the details didn’t always interest me. Much like how I was invested in about half the characters and the rest could go hang. There was a sweet spot that kept me invested but on the whole there were parts that left much to be desired. Which, again, if this is a series.. I could see myself being swayed if we got more depth or detail. If not, well. It’ll be halfway memorable.

I would absolutely read on and I so hope we continue to get more adult releases from our favourites in the YA genre, particularly when they go dark side. This didn’t quite ease the sting of the long wait for the next Alex Stern novel but I’m not mad at it for distracting me for a few hours, either. You’ll either pick this one up or you won’t and I doubt this review will sway you otherwise. Having said that, I can’t wait to see more reviews and how this works (or doesn’t) for other readers.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Morally dark-grey goodness
Darkness and shady shadows
Corruption

I loved so much about this fantasy offering from Holly Black. There was an absolutely fantastic female MC in Charlie Hall. She was shady, she didn’t give a s***, she took risks like it was a daily snack but she had a big heart for the few she loved. Her childhood was a complete mess of exploitation of her supposed magical abilities and she wasn’t protected as she should have been. Thus was the adult Charlie as a result.

The story brought a couple I really wanted to cheer for, or did it, maybe, I hope. Vince was difficult to fathom but I got a sense of true connection and love, even if it lacked verbal expression. The plot around Vince was deep and led into some places you wanted it not to but truly, it was incredibly clever and delicious to read.

The other characters of the piece outside the sister Posey, were honestly a nasty bunch. None more than Salt, he was heinous but I also loved to hate Adeline. You’ve got to pay attention to this plot, it definitely became exponentially more complex and the use of past/present was both helpful while being a little pacey at times. That ending 100% worked for me, knowing this is going to be a series; I love a messy ending on those terms.

Black has announced her entrance into adult fantasy with a slickness of characterisation and a wholly adult feel to the piece. I am a fan and ball of anticipation for the next book.

Thank you to Delrey UK for the gorgeous proof to review early.