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THE LAST TALE OF THE FLOWER BRIDE by Roshani Chokshi – double review!

A sumptuous, gothic-infused story about a marriage that is unraveled by dark secrets, a friendship cursed to end in tragedy, and the danger of believing in fairy tales—the breathtaking adult debut from New York Times bestselling author Roshani Chokshi.

Once upon a time, a man who believed in fairy tales married a beautiful, mysterious woman named Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada. He was a scholar of myths. She was heiress to a fortune. They exchanged gifts and stories and believed they would live happily ever after—and in exchange for her love, Indigo extracted a promise: that her bridegroom would never pry into her past.

But when Indigo learns that her estranged aunt is dying and the couple is forced to return to her childhood home, the House of Dreams, the bridegroom will soon find himself unable to resist. For within the crumbling manor’s extravagant rooms and musty halls, there lurks the shadow of another girl: Azure, Indigo’s dearest childhood friend who suddenly disappeared. As the house slowly reveals his wife’s secrets, the bridegroom will be forced to choose between reality and fantasy, even if doing so threatens to destroy their marriage . . . or their lives.

Combining the lush, haunting atmosphere of Mexican Gothic with the dreamy enchantment of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is a spellbinding and darkly romantic page-turner about love and lies, secrets and betrayal, and the stories we tell ourselves to survive.

Title : The Last Tale of the Flower Bride
Author : Roshani Chokshi
Narrator : Steve West
Format : Hardcover/Audiobook / ARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : Fantasy / gothic romance
Publisher : Hodderscape / William Morrow
Release Date : February 14, 2023

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

Micky’s 4 star review

– Dark
– Suspenseful
– Otherworldly
– Secretive
– Deliciously gothic

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride was an utterly intriguing story full of otherworldly insinuations. It started with a relationship between Indigo and a man who became her significant other. He never really quite knew Indigo and so he longed for her secrets…that became a runaway train of suspense.

The story was told in some past and present and it tracked Indigo’s friendship with Azure during their teenage years. This past and present worked really well and each time the narrative switched I got swept up in that phase of time.

Did I like Indigo? I’m not sure, I did like the man of the piece and I did like Azure and some of the side characters. Despite the foreshadowing, that ending blew me away and I closed the book with a wow feeling and a sense of completion.

The writing in this piece is evocative, sometimes through a mist. The narrative was alluring, sensual but also twisty with an underlying evil at times. I loved the experience with this book and I think fans of A Dowry of Blood will love this.

If you’re an audio fan, Steve West narrates this absolutely brilliantly and brings such atmosphere.

Thank you to Hodderscape for the review copies.

Hollis’ 4 star review

When I first started reading this, I did not expect to be here, writing a review with a high rating and, dare I say, recommending it.

Initially, I found this hard to get into. The writing felt suffocating, constraining, and I could not get a read on the stylistic choice when compared to the setting. Not quite present day but not so many years in the past, either. It didn’t suit; felt ill-fitting and forced. But then the narrative started to reveal itself to be a bit magical, or wanting magic, steeped in whimsy and stories, mystery; much like our narrator himself. Who was he? Who was Indigo? What would they eventually be to each other? Did I even care?

The story, like most gothics, seemed shrouded in secrets and the unknown. Both characters carried some of this with them but only for one did it seem.. sinister. Unnatural. Somehow Chokshi made Indigo a character you didn’t want to watch but still couldn’t look away from. Or at least that was what I got from her.

Soon enough I had forgotten those early stumbles with the writing. I loved all the various fairytales that were brought up. I was enthralled by the glimpses of the past. Truthfully, other than for the big climax of reveals, I could’ve done without the adult timeline and stayed in the past. The strangeness of it all was just so fascinating. Uncomfortable. Captivating. Moreso by all the unknowable elements at play — was it real? Was it imagined? Who can say. But it’s that big finish that reframes so much of what we think we know early on. And the half can’t exist without the whole. Some of those reveals are heartbreaking. Traumatic. Others, surprising. Definitely foreshadowed. But still really well done (except the thing with the knife, that’s a bit of a head scratcher). In fact, it’s all that unveiled knowledge which makes me think this might actually be better on reread.

Having said that, I think best to go into this one without knowing much more than the vibes. Let this one take you by surprise. But maybe give it a sample first and see if the writing is something you can handle. That might be the biggest hurdle for readers to enjoy this one. But if you’ve read this author before, it won’t be a surprise.

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

ANGELIKA FRANKENSTEIN MAKES HER MATCH by Sally Thorne – double review!

From USA Today bestselling author of The Hating Game Sally Thorne comes something a little unexpected… a historical rom-com that imagines Victor Frankenstein’s sheltered younger sister, and her attempts to create the perfect man. 

For generations, every Frankenstein has found their true love and equal, unlocking lifetimes of blissful wedded adventure. Clever, pretty (and odd) Angelika Frankenstein has run out of suitors and fears she may become the exception to this family rule. When assisting in her brother Victor’s ground-breaking experiment to bring a reassembled man back to life, she realizes that having an agreeable gentleman convalescing in the guest suite might be a chance to let a man get to know the real her. For the first time, Angelika embarks upon a project that is all her own.

When her handsome scientific miracle sits up on the lab table, her hopes for an instant romantic connection are thrown into disarray. Her resurrected beau (named Will for the moment) has total amnesia and is solely focused on uncovering his true identity. Trying to ignore their heart-pounding chemistry, Angelika reluctantly joins the investigation into his past, hoping it will bring them closer. But when a second suitor emerges to aid their quest, Angelika wonders if she was too hasty inventing a solution. Perhaps fate is not something that can be influenced in a laboratory? Or is Will (or whatever his name is!) her dream man, tailored for her in every way? And can he survive what was done to him in the name of science, and love?

Filled with carriages, candlesticks, and corpses, Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match is the spooky-season reimagining of the well-known classic that reminds us to never judge a man by his cadaver! 

Title : Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match
Author : Sally Thorne
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 384
Genre : historical romance / gothic / retelling
Publisher : Avon Books
Release Date : September 6 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated/****

Hollis’ unrated review

I don’t quite know what to do with this one.

Like, on the one hand, we open with these characters basically shopping for parts so they can reanimate a man that fits Angelika’s specifications for what she hopes will be her husband because she’s given up on, and has been given up on by, the living. And when, of course, he is brought back to life, you have to kind of side-eye the whole “was dead and now mostly alive-ish” element being sold to you as sexy and romantic when it’s really not. But.. vampires are corpses too, you know? It’s just the fundamentals of it make it extra icky. So you suspend some disbelief. You lean into the camp and outrageousness of it all and you have a good time.

But unlike vampires, where the power imbalance is age gap between a hundred+ year old dude and a highschooler (predominantly!), this time the power imbalance — wealthy spoiled woman, undead nobody with no memory, heavily reliant on said wealthy woman — is also layered with consent issues because he literally had no say with a) coming back to life and b) the parts of his body she kept or replaced. Plus his body continues to betray him in ways he doesn’t understand.

But if you suspend some disbelief and lean into the camp.. yeah, I don’t know. See aforementioned mixed feelings.

Some of this was so good. Spoiler alert, I cried twice near the end. We get some good character development out of said wealthy spoiled woman. There’s a mystery at the heart of who Will, the man Angelika has brought back to life, is. And there’s a good sibling dynamic that is complex and does evolve.

Except there are things near the end I did not love, and won’t mention due to spoilers, but are tied up in both what the Frankenstein’s believe to be part of their foundation and, as it turns out, Will’s, and how that all comes together.. I don’t know, felt a little strange. But then again the whole book is strange. I’ll also admit that Will was occasionally a struggle when it came to his behaviour towards Angelika and not always in the way he should’ve been. It’s hard to explain but him being hot and cold was fine, I just thought there were some inconsistencies mixed in, too.

However, I think you do have to let this book just be what it is and not think too hard about the weird bits that don’t quite work. But I didn’t get on that until too late in the game, even though I tried to go in with an open mind knowing it had been not very well received with many mixed reviews. But instead I’m just adding to them.

All that to say! Well, nothing really. You’ll either read this book, or you’ve already read it, or you won’t.

I’m definitely glad I gave it a chance because I do think Thorne has shown she can do more than just contemporary, and she can be weird, poke around into different spaces, and that’s all good. This either works for you or it doesn’t or, like me, you’re somewhere in the middle. But this is not remotely the nail in the coffin that I expected it to be (everything post-The Hating Game has been unpredictable) and I look forward to seeing what she does, and where she goes, next.

Micky’s 4 star review

A pleasant surprise
Historical-fantasy-retelling mash-up
Leave reality at the door

I like Sally Thorne’s writing but I wasn’t sure about this romantic take on Frankenstein themes from the blurb, but you know, you’ve got to give it a go. I’m really glad I did because this really worked for me.

This brother and sister duo in Angelika and Victor were utterly irreverant to the sensibilities of the era. The people in the surrounding areas were suspicious of them supposedly but in actuality, everyone who came across them seemed to be won over (as was I). Angelika was a funny in both ways, haha and odd but this story was safely in rom-com territory, encouraging the reader to not take things too seriously.

The plot was strange and yet hugely interesting, I read this book pretty quickly, always looking forward to getting back to it. The love interest Will was fascinating as he adjusted to his new life. At first, I had worries about consent related to Will and yes, you could definitely say he didn’t consent to revival but my other worries regarding potential consent weren’t realised. This was actually a bit of a slow-burn story with a building chemistry and romance.

One of my favourite elements was the set of side characters, all endearing in their own way. Those side characters became found family and I warmed to them all.

As I said in my headlines, if you want a plot that replicates historical life in this era, you will struggle but if you leave your preconceptions at the door and fun with this, it might end up surprising you in a good way, like it did for me.

Thank you to Piatkus for the review copy.

SMALL ANGELS by Lauren Owen

A wedding in a small English village attracts a malicious spirit, forcing deep secrets to surface–a hypnotic tale of sisterhood, first love, and hauntings.

As a teenager, Kate found a safe harbor from her parents’ constant fighting in the company of the four Gonne sisters, who lived with their strict grandparents next to Small Angels, a church on the edge of dense green woods. The first outsider to ever get close to the sisters, Kate eventually learned the family’s secret: The woods are home to a capricious, menacing ghost whom generations of Gonnes had been charged with stopping from venturing into the village itself. But as the sisters grew older, braver, and more independent, bucking against the family’s burden, the bulwark began to crack, culminating in a horrifying act of violence that drove a terrible wedge between the sisters and Kate.

Chloe has been planning her dream wedding for months. She has the dress, the flowers, and the perfect venue: Small Angels, a charming old church in the village where her fiancé, Sam, and his sister, Kate, grew up. But days before the ceremony, Chloe starts to hear unsettling stories about Small Angels–and worse, she begins to see, smell, and hear things that couldn’t possibly be real.

Now Kate is returning home for the first time in years, for Sam and Chloe’s wedding. But the woods are coming alive again, and Kate must reconnect with Lucia, the most troubled of the sisters and her first love, to protect Chloe, the village, and herself. An unforgettable novel about the memories that hold us back and those that show us the way forward–this is storytelling at its most magical. Enter Small Angels, if you dare.

Title : Small Angels
Author : Lauren Owen
Format : Physical
Page Count : 480
Genre : Contemporary/Gothic Horror
Publisher : Tinder Press/Headline Books
Release Date : August 2, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★

Micky’s 4 star review

Creepy gothic horror wrapped in the now
A small village
Legend meets reality

I got an invite to Chloe and Sam’s wedding thanks to the team at Headline, I will be sending my apologies because the wedding that brought the old tales to life in this story scared the life out of me at times. I have been dipping my toe into more creep and mild horror this year and Small Angels really did test my mettle in terms of what I could cope with.

The story is told from a range of POVS, but they’re slowly and gradually introduced; they’re not overwhelming and easy to follow. The idea of the Gonnes, the tales of the past, the church and eventually the things that Chloe experienced had my hairs on the back of my neck on end.

Kate was something of a pivotal character, building from small beginnings into the centre of how things evolved. She had a tight connection to the Gonne sister. Her role in the plot was crucial and atmospheric. How Kate’s character linked with Laura, then Harry kept me reading and the reveals eventually came.

The blurb for this book says come if you dare and I would second that statement, only if you dare!

Thank you to Headline books for the exceptionally beautiful arc.

3.75 stars, rounded up.