THE GILDED WOLVES by Roshani Chokshi

No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them.

It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive. 


Title : The Gilded Wolves
Author : Roshani Chokshi
Series : The Gilded Wolves (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 386
Genre : YA historical fiction/fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : January 15, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

You know when you’re reading something that has bits of everything you love, and you’re mostly following along with plot or worldbuilding or mythology (mostly might be generous..), so you think you’re having a good time? That’s what my experience with THE GILDED WOLVES was like.

I’ve avoided this for ages because of my weird struggles with Chokshi’s writing and all the comparisons to the other big YA heist story/series but finally decided to give it a try. And.. yeah, I think I liked this? I think? Maybe?

Honestly. Who looks at a vase covered in bull testicles and says, ‘You. I must have you.’?
The bored, the rich, and the enigmatic.

The middle is easily the best part of this book. I found it slow going to settle into the setting, and all the complicated clues and problem solving with esoteric history lessons or references we were made to follow along with, and I found the ending was both rushed and hard to picture (which I find a common problem with this author, I just can’t picture what she’s describing), and that was before we jumped around with short chapters, and the passage of time, from all the POVs before a little nugget of a game changer to end the installment. But the middle? The middle was a good time. I felt I was starting to know the characters, even if for the most part we rehashed a lot of the same things we had learned in the beginning, but I love me an ensemble, so, it’s cool, it’s good. But the problem in hindsight is now I don’t really think I know any of them. Everything feels very surface level and I’m left feeling like spent a few hours watching actors perform a play instead of eavesdropping on real lives. Does that make sense?

Additionally, there was kind of a dead giveaway to a particularly element/event with how this story unfolded. I won’t say what it was (I deleted it, actually) because maybe some readers won’t pick up on it. I only noticed because I’ve been tricked this way before. I see you, authors. I see you.

Also why was the poison issue never addressed? I was 98% convinced there was a time travel element at play (sorry, is this a spoiler?) and then, nope, but then.. why?

So, yes. I think there was some greatness in here, particularly in the diverse cast and the representation, and overall the author is clearly very smart to piece all these historical tricksy bits together. I’m too dumb for it, obviously, but it felt well researched. I just wish I had been able to picture things. I wish the big climax had been a little less extreme, or easier to follow. And I wish the ending had flowed instead of feeling so chopped together to close or unpick some loops for book two.

I’m curious to read on, though, so I guess we’re coming out of this one with a win. Though I tend to read on more than I should so.. is it? I’ll stop now.

SLIPPERY CREATURES by KJ Charles

Will Darling came back from the Great War with a few scars, a lot of medals, and no idea what to do next. Inheriting his uncle’s chaotic second-hand bookshop is a blessing…until strange visitors start making threats. First a criminal gang, then the War Office, both telling Will to give them the information they want, or else. 

Will has no idea what that information is, and nobody to turn to, until Kim Secretan—charming, cultured, oddly attractive—steps in to offer help. As Kim and Will try to find answers and outrun trouble, mutual desire grows along with the danger. 

And then Will discovers the truth about Kim. His identity, his past, his real intentions. Enraged and betrayed, Will never wants to see him again. 

But Will possesses knowledge that could cost thousands of lives. Enemies are closing in on him from all sides—and Kim is the only man who can help.


Title : Slippery Creatures
Author : KJ Charles
Series : The Will Darling Adventures (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 215
Genre : LGBTQIA+ romance/historical fiction
Publisher : KJC Books
Release Date : May 13, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Oh look Hollis loves a KJC book. No one is surprised! But seriously, I’m pretty sure I can count on one hand the amount of this authors’ works that didn’t rate a four or higher. And this author isn’t short on books.

Will had gone to the War at eighteen, and come back five years later to find himself useless and unwanted. In Flanders he’d been a grizzled veteran, a fount of professional expertise who knew the ropes and had seen it all. Back in Blighty he’d become a young man again, one with little training and no expertise. [..] All he was good at now was killing people, which was discouraged.

This new series is set in the twenties and features a ex-soldier finding his place as a bookseller after inheriting his late uncle’s shop and then, unexpectedly, his rather expected life takes a turn when he’s caught between War Office agents and a gang both looking for information his uncle possessed. And then in walks a man who offers to help, seems to have no skin in the game, and.. off it goes.

He had no idea what civilians, or civilized people, would say in these circumstances. Thanks for that, old chap, much obliged, perhaps? Ought he apologize for coming in his mouth? [..] Thank God they were British. He took a deep breath.Cup of tea?

Considering the length of this book, the author somehow manages to not skimp on anything. Not the plot, not the characters, not the ability to infuse depth or weave backstory with only a glance, a word, and that just shows how talented she is. That said, I was sad to say goodbye to this world, even though it’s only temporary until book two. I loved how things resolved without solving everything and yet left on a good note.

What do you want to talk about?
I don’t know. The football results? Politics. The pictures. Why the blazes you’re called Kim when your name is Arthur.
My name, since you raise the topic, is Arthur Aloysius Kimberley de Brabazon Secretan. What would you do in my place?
Leave the country.

If you’re a KJC fan, I think you’ll be absolutely delighted by this new series (if you haven’t already read it, I’m a wee bit late to this one) and if you’ve yet to try Charles, this might be a great place to start. But honestly there’s not really a wrong choice no matter where you start in the backlist.

What a great way to end a weekend.

WHITE WOLF by Lauren Gilley

NYPD homicide detective Trina Baskin is having nightmares. Vivid ones. Full of blood, and snow, dead wolves…and a young man with pale hair who howls like an animal. She chalks them up to stress and an overactive imagination, too many Old Country stories from her Russian father who, when he’s had too much vodka, starts to rave about dark forces and things that look like men…but aren’t. 

But then a case hits her desk that can’t be explained. A young man found outside a club with a nasty bite mark on his neck – and not a drop of blood left in his body. With no leads, no theories that bear exploring, too little sleep, and a partner who seems to be willfully throwing his career down the toilet, the last thing Trina needs is a full-on out of body experience…in which her family’s past is revealed to her, and everything starts making a whole lot of terrifying sense.

In 1942, Trina’s great-grandfather, Nikita, is a captain of the Cheka, the Soviet political police – or so it seems. He and his men are sent to Siberia to retrieve a “volunteer,” the boy who’s going to win the war against the Nazis – and potentially unleash hell on earth. 

The world’s immortal population has been living quietly, secretly, hiding from the wars of men, hoping the past can stay buried. But what happens on the Eastern Front in the winter of 1942 will change everything.

In 2017, Trina is about to come face-to-face with her own past in a way she never thought possible. It turns out monsters are real – and they might be the only hope for survival. 


Title : White Wolf
Author : Lauren Gilley
Series : Sons of Rome (book one)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 558
Genre : paranormal (contemporary & historical)
Publisher : HP Press
Release Date : October 29, 2017

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

So, as usual I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started WHITE WOLF. I knew it featured a detective but I figured she would be solving mysteries that would be paranormal in nature and.. I mean, it’s not not that, but it’s so much more.

Nikita caught one last glance of Sasha’s falsely brave smile and thought this is why men cave to tyrants. To make brave smiles worthwhile.

As you might have noticed by the page count, this is not a short book. I believe this is an epic series and boy does it feel that way. That being said, I did not expect to be transported to World War II era Russia after only, like, two chapters. But more than that, I didn’t expect to spend 85% of the book in that time period once we got there. And I certainly didn’t expect to love it so much. I actually resented transitioning back to the contemporary timeline because I was so invested in the characters I had come to love (like, seriously, Nikita and Sasha? I adore. but in general I’m such a sucker for an ensemble).

He was a good man! A holy man. He–
Was probably fucking your mother.

Time will tell if I come to appreciate these modern characters as much as the others but there are spoilery things I can’t mention that have me very satisfied with the shift back to 2017 now that we’re likely to stay there. Though who knows where book two (and beyond) will take us.

For wolves — werewolves — it’s unnatural to take a true mate.”
Please. Everybody fucks. That’s the most atural thing in the world.”
For mortal humans, yes, of course. But Familiars aren’t entirely human, and the laws of nature don’t apply the same way.”
You’re telling me superpowered people who live forever don’t fuck? What’s the point of living forever if you can’t get laid?

If you like the paranormal but also like historical fiction, or very detailed mythology twisted up with real historical figures, you should definitely look into starting this series. I’m loathe to recommend it too hard as I’m only just getting started but this definitely surprised me — and in a good way. There is definitely a bit of something here for everyone; romantic elements (though this is not a romance so don’t expect too much page time or focus), comedic elements (unless I’m just warped but I did laugh out loud quite a few times), and darker elements (hello vampires and werewolves and also war time events). I know this won’t be for everyone, some readers may not want so much history, so much time spent on backstory, but this worked for me. It took a few days to get through but each time I picked it up I couldn’t tear myself away.

I’m so keen to dive into book two.

DARING AND THE DUKE by Sarah MacLean

Grace Condry has spent a lifetime running from her past. Betrayed as a child by her only love and raised on the streets, she now hides in plain sight as queen of London’s darkest corners. Grace has a sharp mind and a powerful right hook and has never met an enemy she could not best…until the man she once loved returns. 

Single-minded and ruthless, Ewan, Duke of Marwick, has spent a decade searching for the woman he never stopped loving. A long-ago gamble may have lost her forever, but Ewan will go to any lengths to win Grace back…and make her his duchess. 

Reconciliation is the last thing Grace desires. Unable to forgive the past, she vows to take her revenge. But revenge requires keeping Ewan close, and soon her enemy seems to be something else altogether—something she can’t resist, even as he threatens the world she’s built, the life she’s claimed…and the heart she swore he’d never steal again.


Title : Daring and the Duke
Author : Sarah MacLean
Series : Bareknuckle Bastards
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : historical romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : June 30, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

My trepidation for starting this book was two-fold. One, because I was slumping hard, and two, I worried about how this story, featuring this particular male protagonist, could win me over after all the chaos and damage he had done over the course of this series.

So I’m pretty pleased that a, this book pulled me out of the world for a short time, and b, that the turnaround for this character felt.. valid. Very different from the last third-book-in-a-series-asshole-redemption installment I experienced from MacLean, so. Yay.

DARING AND THE DUKE was definitely not my favourite of the series, probably at least a bit becuse I went in uncertain, and, again, I’m probably influenced by everything happening around me just a tad, but. It was swoony, it was angsty, it had agency, and it had a happy ending. And there’s a lot to be said for a lot of that.

It’s hard to say much without spoiling any details or reveals from previous books but the main plot point of this series, of a terrible man willing to uphold his legacy in any way he can, and the children who are at the mercy of his machinations, was so unique. And the dynamics of all four, and how things play out, provides much angst, a bit of darkness, and a whole lot of opportunity for the author to balance that with (particularly for the first two books) feisty, fabulous, women, and, in the final book, a good grovel.

If any of that sounds like a good time, I would definitely recommend!

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

TWO ROGUES MAKE A RIGHT by Cat Sebastian

Will Sedgwick can’t believe that after months of searching for his oldest friend, Martin Easterbrook is found hiding in an attic like a gothic nightmare. Intent on nursing Martin back to health, Will kindly kidnaps him and takes him to the countryside to recover, well away from the world.

Martin doesn’t much care where he is or even how he got there. He’s much more concerned that the man he’s loved his entire life is currently waiting on him hand and foot, feeding him soup and making him tea. Martin knows he’s a lost cause, one he doesn’t want Will to waste his life on.

As a lifetime of love transforms into a tender passion both men always desired but neither expected, can they envision a life free from the restrictions of the past, a life with each other?


Title : Two Rogues Make a Right
Author : Cat Sebastian
Series : Seducing the Sedgwicks
Format : eARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : LGBTQIA+ historical romance
Publisher : Avon Impulse
Release Date : June 23, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I’m waffling a bit about whether I’ll round up on this because while it definitely wasn’t my favourite of the series (not that anything could live up to book one, I mean, really), I think I liked it more than book two. Which I also rated 3.5. Whatever, what even is a rating.

It is exhausting to be a decent person. I could be a villain with no effort whatsoever. It would be like rolling downhill.”
Why don’t you, then?
Because there’s enough bad in the world. I’m trying to put my weight on the other side of the scale.”

What you do need to know about this book, though, is that it is pretty damn pure. Not quite fluffy but.. tender. Though a slow build or even a slow burn would be fairly apt descriptors, more than that, it’s all just.. gentleness. Not sure how else to describe it. There are no real fireworks, no huge momentous realizations, no energic romps or lengthy debauchery scenes, not even any real big blow up.. it’s just two best friends, both a little damaged, both a little bruised, becoming more, and navigating what that looks like.

This was going to be the death of him. He had survived this latest illness only to be murdered by casual affection.

As is Sebastian’s way, there are endless exchanges of hilarity amongst the sweetness, and while I liked these characters, particularly in their early moments sharing space, I don’t quite think they will be as memorable as I would want them to be. Which goes for the story, too, really; not that there was much plot to begin with. But that’s also the case for book two’s couple, who we visit with in this book, too. Somehow it’s still book one, which I read three years ago, that stands out in this regard.. and every regard, really.

That said, I still enjoyed my time reading this, it was a deligthful bit of sweetness and sass, exactly what I wanted when I picked it up, so it definitely delivered. Even if it won’t go down as a favourite.

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

THREE HOURS IN PARIS by Cara Black 🎧

In June of 1940, when Paris fell to the Nazis, Hitler spent a total of three hours in the City of Light—abruptly leaving, never to return. To this day, no one knows why.

The New York Times bestselling author of the Aimée Leduc investigations reimagines history in her masterful, pulse-pounding spy thriller, Three Hours in Paris.

Kate Rees, a young American markswoman, has been recruited by British intelligence to drop into Paris with a dangerous assignment: assassinate the Führer. Wrecked by grief after a Luftwaffe bombing killed her husband and infant daughter, she is armed with a rifle, a vendetta, and a fierce resolve. But other than rushed and rudimentary instruction, she has no formal spy training. Thrust into the red-hot center of the war, a country girl from rural Oregon finds herself holding the fate of the world in her hands. When Kate misses her mark and the plan unravels, Kate is on the run for her life—all the time wrestling with the suspicion that the whole operation was a set-up.

Cara Black, doyenne of the Parisian crime novel, is at her best as she brings Occupation-era France to vivid life in this gripping story about one young woman with the temerity—and drive—to take on Hitler himself.


Title : Three Hours in Paris
Author : Cara Black
Narrator : Elizabeth Rodgers
Format : Audiobook
Length : 10 hours, 21 minutes
Genre : Historical Thriller
Publisher : Recorded Books
Release Date : April 7, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3.5-4 star review

This was a strong character-driven historical read set in WW2 France and Britain. Told from the POV of Kate, an American living on the Orkneys where she lived with her late husband, this was a tense and fast-paced suspense. Kate was recruited because of her marksmanship with a rifle and found herself on a high profile job.

What entailed was a story all about her survival in Paris during German occupation. She ricocheted from one situation to and her, not knowing who to trust. Kate was a woman in the full depths of grief over a significant loss and yet she was navigating this high stress situation. The story gave me Charlotte Gray vibes. It was a gripping listen and totally enjoyable.

The narration by Elisabeth Rodgers encapsulated Kate, her journey and her desperate circumstances so well. She transported me to the era and the story completed.

Thank you to LibroFM and Recorded Books for this ALC.

WHERE THE LOST WANDER by Amy Harmon

In this epic and haunting love story set on the Oregon Trail, a family and their unlikely protector find their way through peril, uncertainty, and loss.

The Overland Trail, 1853: Naomi May never expected to be widowed at twenty. Eager to leave her grief behind, she sets off with her family for a life out West. On the trail, she forms an instant connection with John Lowry, a half-Pawnee man straddling two worlds and a stranger in both.

But life in a wagon train is fraught with hardship, fear, and death. Even as John and Naomi are drawn to each other, the trials of the journey and their disparate pasts work to keep them apart. John’s heritage gains them safe passage through hostile territory only to come between them as they seek to build a life together.

When a horrific tragedy strikes, decimating Naomi’s family and separating her from John, the promises they made are all they have left. Ripped apart, they can’t turn back, they can’t go on, and they can’t let go. Both will have to make terrible sacrifices to find each other, save each other, and eventually…make peace with who they are.


Title : Where The Lost Wander
Author : Amy Harmon
Format : eARC
Page Count : 348
Genre : Historical Fiction
Publisher : Lake Union Publishing
Release Date : April 28, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

It’s been a long time since I’ve read an Amy Harmon book and for some reason, I just decided it was time. I am pulled to historical fiction that I don’t know a lot about and American history hits that box for me. This book felt like a Jojo Moyes and it really gave me The Giver of Stars vibes (that’s a high compliment).

The prologue pulls you in with a bang, and then you spend much of the book learning about how the story got to the point of the prologue, and you get some great story beyond that. This was an epic narrative of emigration across an American trail…thousands of miles of journey and it was a survival story. It was brutal and I didn’t realise how tough this journey was with illness, children, death and conflict. I learnt a lot and it gripped me.

The two protagonists were Naomi, a young widow travelling with her parents and brothers and John, a half-Pawnee, half-white man who was taking mules for trade. John was an enigma at first, emotionally inept and he didn’t seem to know where he belonged. John’s growth as a character over this book was vast and that was my favourite part of the story.

He cries like it’s the first time he’s ever cried, like all the pain of all his twenty-odd years is rising up at once.

I can’t and won’t even begin to describe what happened to these characters and families, it’s too big and too spoilery but it was a lot and it was grim. There brothers in this story were favourites and I lived for their chinks of light.

The indigenous people woven throughout this story were a range of tribes and had a range of ways. They were so fundamental to this story, John and Naomi and I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and people depicted. Lost Woman and Hanabi in particular, left an impression on me and Naomi.

WHERE THE LOST WANDER is a historical fiction with romantic elements rather than a historical romance and in that, it worked really well for me. On finishing, I feel like I have also been on a journey and I’m a little ’emotioned-out’. Highly recommended for all fans of historical fiction.

Thank you to Lake Union Publishing for the early review copy.

WHO SPEAKS FOR THE DAMNED by C.S. Harris

It’s June 1814, and the royal families of Austria, Russia, and the German states have gathered in London at the Prince Regent’s invitation to celebrate the defeat of Napoléon and the restoration of monarchical control throughout Europe. But the festive atmosphere is marred one warm summer evening by the brutal murder of a disgraced British nobleman long thought dead.

Eighteen years before, Nicholas Hayes, the third son of the late Earl of Seaford, was accused of killing a beautiful young French émigré and transported to Botany Bay for life. Even before his conviction, Hayes had been disowned by his father. Few in London were surprised when they heard the ne’er-do-well had died in New South Wales in 1799. But those reports were obviously wrong. Recently Hayes returned to London with a mysterious young boy in tow–a child who vanishes shortly after Nicholas’s body is discovered.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is drawn into the investigation by his valet, Jules Calhoun. With Calhoun’s help, Sebastian begins to piece together the shattered life of the late Earl’s ill-fated youngest son. Why did Nicholas risk his life and freedom by returning to England? And why did he bring the now-missing young boy with him? Several nervous Londoners had reason to fear that Nicholas Hayes had returned to kill them. One of them might have decided to kill him first.


Title : Who Speaks for the Damned
Author : C.S. Harris
Series : Sebastian St Cyr (book fifteen)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : historical fiction/mystery
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : April 7, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

I am late to this series, having wanted to read it for years but only actually getting around to it back in December, but after fifteen books, no matter how recent a fan, you have to wonder : how long will it go on?

This installment definitely felt episodic in the sense that this was removed from what I sort’ve expected to see come to light by now. Events I can’t hint at or speak of due to s p o i l e r s. Instead this was just another vaguely run of the mill murder mystery that Sebastian involves himself in, much to the dismay of almost everyone around him, and as a result a lot of other people die in the midst of trying to cover something up from long ago, now come back to haunt them, and which is forced out into the open because they tried to cover it up.. again.

The one positive I can say (well, okay, that sounds terrible, this book wasn’t bad, but..) is that some of that copy and paste feeling I had reading these books, particularly when dealing with a certain character, wasn’t present this time. Some of the laziness was absent from this fifteenth book and that made everything feel much less rote, which I appreciated. Again, I just wonder, how long can things continue? I have nothing against a long series but only when the new books offer something worthwhile or fresh for the characters; that’s why we read these. Not for the plot or villain of the week but for progress.

There did seem to be some nostalgia and hearkening back to book one in this installment, some what-if and it-could’ve-been-me which did allow for some perspective on Sebastian’s part but I think we had already worked through most of that, so why was it important to rehash?

If you missed these characters, I think you’ll be satisfied by the new book. If you expected that long-awaited drama to bubble up and dealt with head-on, you might be disappointed. But either way I think you’ll enjoy sinking into a familiar world considering the world outside is looking mighty strange right now. This will be comforting in that respect but a new favourite? I wouldn’t expect so.

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

A MURDEROUS RELATION by Deanna Raybourn

Veronica Speedwell navigates a dark world of scandal and murder in this new adventure from New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

Veronica Speedwell and her natural historian colleague Stoker are asked by Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk to help with a potential scandal so explosive it threatens to rock the monarchy. Prince Albert Victor is a regular visitor to the most exclusive private club in London, known as the Club de l’Etoile, and the proprietess, Madame Aurore, has received an expensive gift that can be traced back to the prince. Lady Wellie would like Veronica and Stoker to retrieve the jewel from the club before scandal can break.

Worse yet, London is gripped by hysteria in the autumn of 1888, terrorized by what would become the most notorious and elusive serial killer in history, Jack the Ripper–and Lady Wellie suspects the prince may be responsible.

Veronica and Stoker reluctantly agree to go undercover at Madame Aurore’s high class brothel, where another body soon turns up. Many secrets are swirling around Veronica and the royal family–and it’s up to Veronica and Stoker to find the truth, before it’s too late for all of them.


Title : A Murderous Relation
Author : Deanna Raybourn
Series : Veronica Speedwell (book five)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : historical romance/mystery
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : March 10, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

Listen, I already know I’m going to be an outlier on this one (again!) so you should just scroll right past this review before you get too sad about this rating.

For various reasons, the last two books in this much beloved series have just not done it for me. Book four because of what I felt were out-of-character behaviours for characters I had grown to love so much, and in book five, it’s the mystery. This book had a lot of expectation riding on it because of where things ended in the previous installment and while it started out hopeful.. it kind of rambled about in another direction, putting certain things on hold, only to pick up a plot from a few books before; one I kind of thought we had moved on from. Only now do I see that this particular bit has finally (please?) run it’s course.

The particular investigation in this book runs parallel to when Jack the Ripper is rampaging around London and I definitely thought there would be some crossover with that. It seems a popular, or common, event for this time period. Strangely, we ended up bypassing it, and in some ways that was a refreshing choice. But there was a moment.. oh, wow, it perked me up. What a brilliantly written interaction.

As for the will-they-won’t-they-have-they-finally-just-got-on-with-it question, whether things progressed or not, you’ll just have to read to find out.

Considering my rather lukewarm feelings about this one on the whole, however, I wonder if this series has just run its course for me. I hate to think it so, I’ve so loved so much of this (again, books one to three? great, delightful, the best kind of frustrating), but lately? Again, I doubt this’ll be the common feeling. So definitely be excited about more Stokewell on your kindles or on your shelves. I’ll just be over here hoping to find the love again in book six. Not willing to throw in the towel quite yet.

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

SHINIGAMI by Xia Xia Lake

A coming-of-age love story between an orphan and the heir of the richest family in the Land of Yamato. The human world meets the yōkai in a power struggle for the fate of Fujiwara no Hirotsugu. 

While he battles to find his own path, Hirotsugu finds solace in a boy who will become his secret friend, then his salvation, and then as they become adults together, the love of his life.


Title : Shinigami
Author : Xia Xia Lake
Series : Takamagahara Monogatari (book two)
Format : paperback
Page Count : 352
Genre : LGBTQIA+ historical fiction/fantasy
Publisher : indie
Release Date : October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3.75 (rounded up) star review

I’m going to be honest. I have very different feelings for the first half of this book vs the latter half. The first half details the life and experiences of Hirotsugu as he grows up as the heir to one of the wealthiest, and respected, families. In contrast to those around him, particularly his family, he’s very aware, and almost ashamed, of the divide that separates him from the poor, and this is reinforced by a chance encounter with a young beggar. A chance encounter that happens not just a second time, but a third, thus sparking a friendship that would turn into a great love.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first half of this journey is very heavy on the historical elements, the traditions, the myths; if you love world-building, if you love losing yourself in cultural descriptions, you will be overjoyed with the author’s research and attention to detail. I’ll admit that while I did follow along (and had a handy glossary, along with chapter header definitions to help out), I wasn’t as engrossed by the history as I was the characters. So while I wasn’t bored, I wasn’t fully immersed or on the edge of my seat in the early chapters. It was easy to put down, even with the magical elements and the mystery surrounding this presence that ran parallel to the narrative.

Also I made the mistake of speculating a theory or two to a friend who had read this already and boy was I wrong. But hey, I’m owning up to it. I recommend you try and throw some guesses around, too! Ahem, anyway..

And then the second half of the story happened and it was sweet and lovely and all of a sudden I was punched in the gut with feels and this time I was putting down the book so I could finish crying. Which I did.. twice. I definitely felt the strength of these characters near the end, the events felt more high stakes, with the added element of some melodrama to really get those emotions flowing. As a bonus, much is revealed that is only teased throughout, and while some subsequent actions felt rushed or maybe a little unrealistic, you still feel it. It still hurts. And you’re still blown away.

Readers who pick up the book one, KOGITSUNE, might be surprised, and confused, when they follow it up with SHINIGAMI only to realize it isn’t a direct continuation. And does, in fact, happen long after the events of book two. But by the time you get to the end of this book, you’ll understand why it’s important, and necessary, to read first. So go do that now.

Overall, this is an experience unlike one I’ve read before. It’s detailed, rich in history, magic and myth and folklore, it’s about a forever love between two young men, and so much more. And it’s not over! There’s more to come. I cannot wait to see how these stories progress in book three.