THE LADY ROGUE by Jenn Bennett

The Last Magician meets A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in this thrilling tale filled with magic and set in the mysterious Carpathian Mountains where a girl must hunt down Vlad the Impaler’s cursed ring in order to save her father.

Some legends never die…

Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it.


Title : The Lady Rogue
Author : Jenn Bennett
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA historical fantasy
Publisher : Simon Pulse
Release Date : September 3, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

I requested this book for one reason, really, and one reason only : the name next to “author”. I’m a big fan of Bennett’s contemporaries and I’ve dabbled in her adult PNR series (which I still have to finish!) so seeing her switch from YA contemporary to YA historical/fantasy didn’t concern me. I was excited. I might not have loved SERIOUS MOONLIGHT but I love her writing, her previous books, and had every reason to expect the same of this one.

But nope.

This book was a chore to read. I pushed through it quickly because the last thing I needed was another slump, and it wasn’t too long, and I just kept waiting for the spark. Or any spark, really. I felt nothing for the characters who were, respectfully, spoiled and or sulky as well as overdoing the charm to the point of not being charming. I felt nothing for the angst over the romance which we were beat over the head with to a ridiculous degree. And honestly the Vlad the Impaler plot/mystery that sent these two gallivanting all over Eastern Europe just.. didn’t really hook me and, like, did it ultimately even matter? I’m so confused.

I also want to say the pitch comparison to THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE definitely had me thinking this was queer. And it is not.

I didn’t love the characters, the angst, the romance, the plot. Even Bennett’s writing, which I normally love, felt different and failed to entice. If this hadn’t been an ARC, I would’ve DNF’d. If this was any other author, I would probably one star. But I just can’t bear to. And I do think maybe this is a me problem? Despite everything?

Anyway, I don’t think this is a series, so I’m relieved about that, but even if it was.. I wouldn’t be reading on.

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

BRINGING DOWN THE DUKE by Evie Dunmore – double review!

A stunning debut for author Evie Dunmore and her Oxford Rebels, in which a fiercely independent vicar’s daughter takes on a powerful duke in a love story that threatens to upend the British social order.

England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women’s suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain’s politics at the Queen’s command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can’t deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.

Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn’t be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn’t claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring…or could he?

Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke..


Title : Bringing Down the Duke
Author : Evie Dunmore
Series : League of Extraordinary Women
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : historical romance
Publisher : Berkley / Little Brown UK
Release Date : September 3, 2019

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


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

And another debut author smashes it out of the park in 2019!

It is becoming clear to be me why a fair girl like you has been left on the shelf. You are not only bookish but a radical political activist. All highly impractical in a wife.”

BRINGING DOWN THE DUKE was just.. pure fun? Deliciously swoony? Just the right amount of angst?

There came a time in a duke’s life when he rarely encountered an honest opinion, where he could be on his way to hell in a handcart and everyone would politely step aside and wish him godspeed.

You might find yourself looking at this plot summary and thinking, sure sure, read that HR a thousand times. Bluestocking attracts a Duke? Nothing new. And yeah okay maybe. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t worth your time.

Have you by any chance missed that class at finishing school where they teach you to feign delightful ignorance in the presence of a man?
I’m afraid so.”

These characters all but leap off the page. The attraction, the chemistry, the sizzle is.. damn. Their backstory has elements of drama but are never overblown, or overwrought, and come out in the open naturally without being held onto until the last minute. Every up and down, back and forth, push and pull, was so.. organic? And also, strangely, refreshing. Additionally the side characters, the bluestocking suffragettes, were just fabulous. All of them. Hattie might have been my favourite.

Did you really give a man a nosebleed?
Yes.”
Why?
I suppose because the village lads I ran with as a girl didn’t teach me how to slap like a lady.

The specifics of the setting, that this takes place during the opening of the first women’s college, and focuses mostly on women’s rights, feminism, and the injustice of the sexes, I mean.. there’s never a wrong time to tackle those issues but right now it feels so so timely. And how sad is that; this book is set in 1879 and here we are.. still fighting.

She had never really known her place. Where others were appropriately intimidated, she seemed oddly intrigued by the challenge.

This debut is so strong and so clever. The cover might make it seem that this is all lighthearted joy and hijinks but don’t be fooled. This is a love story between people who have their eyes wide open. Who are sensible, and logical, and intelligent. Who know the implausibilities of a union between them and fight it because they know better. Which makes that tension even more delicious. And yes, sure, there is still fun to be had.

Would you have me change my place in history to prove how much I want you?

BRINGING DOWN THE DUKE is compulsively readable and a delight to devour; I finished this in a shockingly small handful of hours which, considering my slumpy month, is a miracle. And I’m ecstatic to see that not only are we guaranteed more from this debut author, but we’re getting more from this series and set of characters. I’m going to be clamouring for more A League of Extraordinary Women books and likely seriously regretting my decision to read this early because now the wait will feel even longer than just a year.

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


Micky’s 5 star review

Hold me, because after reading this, I feel a book hangover coming on. This was a sweep-you-off-your-feet kind of historical romance read but with extra bonuses. What are these extra bonuses I speak of? This was one of the most feminist reads I’ve had in an age and injecting this level of feminism into HR is no easy feat. Second bonus, the battle for equality was on both sides.

Annabelle was low-born, intelligent but encumbered by the will of her cousin for what happened in her destiny. After much struggling she had secured a stipend to be one of the first cohort of women at Oxford. What I hadn’t realised was that life at Oxford for these women was just a smidge of an experience compared to the men. Annabelle joined a suffragette movement and ended up petitioning the Duke of Montgomery, Sebastian.

Sebastian was a stick up his…kind of Duke, a lot cold, obsessed with his duty and roles for the queen and parliament. However, this story is a journey of Sebastian’s unravelling. His character development was vast as he opened up his mind to women’s position in life through Annabelle and also as he opened himself up to being able to feel.

These two had chemistry off the historical charts, with a slow build of kisses and touches. Being together was an undeniable eventuality and it was compulsive reading, beautiful and delicious. I appreciated Annabelle’s prior experience and how this was handled in the book.

She had tried to climb Montgomery like a cat.

The story took me on a journey of giggles, entertainment, longing and some heartbreak. I have come away from this book so delighted by the content that I immediately pressed pre-order on a physical copy because I will be rereading this.

BRINGING DOWN THE DUKE is a debut of exciting proportions, with a slightly slow start but a pace that will delight very quickly. The story, characters and research underpinning this read make it something rather special. Evie Dunmore is an author to watch and I will be waiting with bated breath for her next book. Rounded up to 5 stars.

Thank you to Little Brown for the early review copy.

DAISY JONES AND THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.


Title : Daisy Jones & The Six
Author : Taylor Jenkins Reid
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 336
Genre : historical fiction
Publisher : Doubleday Canada
Release Date : March 5, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

I’m going to come right out and say it : I think my love for this book might be a wee bit biased. Because if you try and convince me this is anything other than Fleetwood Mac fanfiction, I will laaaaaaugh in your face.

Little (hah) known fact about me? I love Fleetwood Mac. Stevie Nicks is my patronus. So, ask me if I loved DAISY JONES AND THE SIX? The answer is duh.

I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse.
I am not a muse.
I am the somebody.
End of fucking story.


I loved the complexity, the contradictory, and the chaos that is this kind of storytelling. The interview process, the different perspectives, the shift of memory, maybe even the falsehoods, it was fascinating. It felt real and authentic. I could so easily picture this as a Behind The Music segment on MTV — or whatever channel it would be these days. Hell, I’ve probably watched all of the ones to do with the Mac, so, yeah. The picture is vivid. As for hearing, I definitely want to reread this on audio at some point. I want to feel these voices in my soul. It’ll either be an even better experience or, expecting Stevie and getting something else, I’ll be disappointed. Fifty/fifty, really.

That’s how it was back then. I was just supposed to be the inspiration for some man’s great idea. Well, fuck that. That’s why I started writing my own stuff.

But anyway. If you know anything about the Mac, you’ll understand what this is about. If you don’t, it’s the start of a band, of a singer, and their collision and meteoric rise to fame in the seventies. It’s about drugs, sex, longing, hate, jealousy, music, family.. it’s everything. 

I came to hate that I’d put my heart and my pain into my music because it meant that I couldn’t ever leave it behind. [..] It made for a great show. But it was my life.

Honestly, the only thing I didn’t like? The ending. You’d think I would, wouldn’t you? But no. 

Would definitely recommend this for Mac fans and non-Mac fans alike (sidenote, if you can watch the 1997 The Dance version of Silver Springs and not lose your cool.. I mean, wow, kudos, but how). Again, I’m probably biased. But at least I’m honest about it.

Now, excuse me while I load up a youtube playlist full of all my favourite live versions, kthanxbai.

ALL THE BAD APPLES by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

The day after the funeral all our mourning clothes hung out on the line like sleeping bats. ‘This will be really embarrassing,’ I kept saying to my family, ‘when she shows up at the door in a week or two.’

When Deena’s wild and mysterious sister Mandy disappears – presumed dead – her family are heartbroken. But Mandy has always been troubled. It’s just another bad thing to happen to Deena’s family. Only Deena refuses to believe it’s true.

And then the letters start arriving. Letters from Mandy, claiming that their family’s blighted history is not just bad luck or bad decisions – but a curse, handed down through the generations. Mandy has gone in search of the curse’s roots, and now Deena must find her. What they find will heal their family’s rotten past – or rip it apart forever.


Title : All The Bad Apples
Author : Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Format : ARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : YA mystery contemporary, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Kathy Dawson Books
Release Date : August 27, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

This is what a curse does : It takes a truth and twists it. It punishes those who don’t conform.

ALL THE BAD APPLES is, to quote the author, a story that “was, in part, fueled by rage.” I don’t want to veer away from the specific history she’s shed light on but for anyone who has looked around, confused and shocked and angry, about some of the abortion bills trying to be passed in the US? You’ll want to read this book. Because Ireland had been living that life up until 2018.

That’s the problem with having a funeral for your sister without really knowing whether she’s dead. Without a body in the coffin, how can you be sure she won’t come back?

Overwhelmingly, this book is a very Fowley-Doyle story. If you’ve read her before, you’ll know exactly what I mean : she infuses her twisty whimsy, her magical storyweaving, her mysterious realism, into a narrative that has deeper, darker, roots. In ALL THE BAD APPLES it’s about women, it’s about shame, it’s about family.

I can see the headlines now. Runaway Queer Kids Become Victims of Remote Cabin Chainsaw Killer, Surprising Absolutely No One.”
I’m not queer, sorry.
Then chances are you’ll be the only one left alive.”

I won’t be speaking much to the plot because half the journey is not knowing what’s real and what’s not. Half of this is about the history that came before the events of the moment. Some of it will challenge where you think the story is going. Most of it will probably break your heart. The rest will make you angry.

I wonder — are all legends kind of warped? The scream of a banshee is supposed to foretell a death, but really it’s a warning. They’re supposed to be evil ghosts, but they only ever wanted to help. [..]
I bet if the banshees were men the myths wouldn’t have gotten it wrong.”

What you should know : it’s queer, it’s family-focused, it’s about grief, being heard, belonging, owning up to who you really are, and is rife with secrets. And apples. Lots and lots of apples. Bad apples, nice and normal apples, all kinds.

Tell your story. Speak your truth. Shatter the silence.

I would definitely recommend reading the author’s note when you finish this one. It was educational and even more heartbreaking. I was tempted to rant about the factual elements that make up the backbone of this story, that are woven in amongst the fiction and the fantasy, but. That rant doesn’t belong to me. I’m not here to regurgitate or educate on something I know so little about. But.. read it. Read this book. And then go find THE SPELLBOOK OF THE LOST AND FOUND. And continue to enjoy the wonder and weird magic that is a Fowley-Doyle experience. You won’t regret it.

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

LIMITED WISH by Mark Lawrence

One choice. Two possible timelines. And a world hanging in the balance.

It’s the summer of 1986 and reluctant prodigy Nick Hayes is a student at Cambridge University, working with world-renowned mathematician Professor Halligan. He just wants to be a regular student, but regular isn’t really an option for a boy-genius cancer survivor who’s already dabbled in time travel.

When he crosses paths with a mysterious yet curiously familiar girl, Nick discovers that creases have appeared in the fabric of time, and that he is at the centre of the disruption. Only Nick can resolve this time paradox before the damage becomes catastrophic for both him and the future of the world. Time is running out—literally.

Wrapped up with him in this potentially apocalyptic scenario are his ex-girlfriend, Mia, and fellow student Helen. Facing the world-ending chaos of a split in time, Nick must act fast and make the choice of a lifetime—or lifetimes.

Game on.


Title : Limited Wish
Author : Mark Lawrence
Series : Impossible Times (book two)
Format : paperback
Page Count : 222
Genre : YA sci-fi / historical fiction
Publisher : 47North
Release Date : May 28, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

LIMITED WISH was both a little bit deja vue, though slightly out of alignment from the first book, and also.. way more timey wimey wibbly wobbly than book one. We have converging timelines, paradoxes, choices, divergences.. honestly I didn’t understand half of it. At least half of it.

But everything that intrigued me from book one was still present, there was even more D&D, and things fell into place that allowed for some events from book one to come about. Yes, it’s confusing, I think that’s sorta the deal when you have time travel on the board.

There was a bit of a Sliding Doors-esque choice for our main protagonist to make in this installment. Each book has been named for a key piece of the plot and in this case it’s a wish. You won’t get everything you want and you might not get it for long, because the wish is limited. And that’s kind of where we are at the end of this one. I’m curious to see where we end up in the final book. Shockingly this whole trilogy is being released in one calendar year so I only have to wait until November to find out!

Meanwhile, these books have definitely solidified my interest in reading Lawrence’s other series, the Book of the Ancestor. So maybe I’ll get going on that while I wait.

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

ONE WORD KILL by Mark Lawrence – double review!

Ready Player One meets Stranger Things in this thrilling new novel by bestselling author Mark Lawrence.

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.


Title : One Word Kill
Author : Mark Lawrence
Series : Impossible Times (book one)
Format : paperback
Page Count : 204
Genre : YA sci-fi / historical fiction
Publisher : 47North

Release Date : May 1, 2019
Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ /★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

ONE WORD KILL is a story I was absolutely, 100%, reading for the characters.. and maybe not so much for the plot. But at the same time, parts of the plot compelled me, even as they confounded me because.. science.

This is pitched as READY PLAYER ONE meets Stranger Things and I can definitely see why. It’s set in the eighties, features a group of D&D playing nerds (which, by the way, were some of my favourite scenes! and I say that as a non-D&D’er), and has fantastical sci-fi elements. But despite those elements this felt pretty grounded in reality : our lead character, and sole POV, is fifteen and dying of cancer and up until now the biggest hurdle some of these teens have had to face is the local bully, work up the courage to talk to a girl, or survive with a somewhat less-than-stellar parental figure. It gave the story a lot of gravitas, and sadness, without feeling melodramatic.

That said, I was more onboard with the wibbly wobbly timey wimey travel and paradox than I was the local psychopath who stalks the group and makes their lives scary and violent. Strangely enough I found that the least believable of everything I read.

With where this installment has ended, though, I’m left wondering : what’s next? I’m surprised there’s no cliffhanger but that doesn’t mean I’m not diving right in to book two.

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


Micky’s 3.5 – 4 star review

Hold onto your hats, people. This was a fast-paced crazy ride that I found myself pretty interested in despite not always understanding the quantum mechanics (think Martian-level science and the way you get through that). ONE WORD KILL was about parallel universes, time travel and a great set of teenagers.

What made this tale palatable were the group of friends that were central to the story; Nick, Mia, Elton and the rest. The somewhat creepy Demus also grew on me. These friends were dungeon and dragons geeks and although I know nothing about the game or geekdom, it was kind of fun to read and it didn’t take up too large chunks of the narrative.

Nick’s personal story is what captivated me from the first page, his situation was sad and compelling but the exciting story that unfolded drew my attention away from his illness leaving me to get to know Nick just as he was. I really liked him and I kept reading for him. The British setting felt completely authentic for the 1980s that it was set in and I really appreciated that context.

However…there were periods of what the heck-dom in this book as the story got a little crazy and a little over science-y. All that said, the characters kept me grounded and reading. I’m really looking forward to the next two in this series and I’m hoping that the time travel aspect will come full circle. This book is definitely worth a try if you like sci-fi, science-based fiction and time travel.

HITHER, PAGE by Cat Sebastian


A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.

The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.

As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.


Title : Hither, Page
Author Cat Sebastian
Series : Page and Sommers (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 200
Genre : historical romance, LGBTQ+
Publisher : Indie
Release Date : June 18, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating
: ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

It feels like it’s been some time since I read something by Sebastian and I quite enjoyed this little reunion. But I’ll admit that of the plot, the characters, and the romance.. I think I only liked the characters.

He was so accustomed to playing a role, acting a part, completing a mission, that sometimes he found it convenient to ignore that beneath the mission there was a man.

The plot for HITHER, PAGE was an almost Clue-like whodunnit, set in a small English town after the war, and there was spycraft and secrets afoot. But I wasn’t really too bothered by the who or the why. I mostly just wanted to spend more time with the characters. This town had a whole host of interesting personalities and, to be honest, I’m not sure I disliked a single one. Some were just.. darling. Others clever and mischievous and precious af. And even more were all of the above plus suffering from mental trauma and PTSD and longing for quiet from the horror the world had just survived. Side note : all signs point to this being a series and oh I hope so. I want more of this little place and these people.

You’ve got what half the village seems to have. Half has a streptococcus infection and the other half is murdered. Quite the lovely place.

As for the romance. Because this wasn’t quite novel length, yet not quite novella (?), there was only so much time dedicated to the romance what with all the murder-yness murder going on. It definitely had moments of cute but, I think, if it is actually going to be a series.. I wouldn’t have minded waiting on them to cement things until the next instalment. Things moved a little quickly considering they knew one another for only the span of a week and I know it happens all the time in romance books but.. sometimes you just aren’t sold. Like I said, cute, but.

I wasn’t sure you’d want to see me.”
Then you’re not as clever as you look. I’m losing all faith in the intelligence services.”

I’ll definitely read on because I love the idea of a mystery series set in a small town and I’m looking forward to getting to know the other characters a little better each time. Plus I want a chance to be sold on the romance. So, yes, consider me invested.

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

LIKE A LOVE STORY by Abdi Nazemian

It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.


Title : Like a Love Story
Author Abdi Nazemian
Format : ARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : YA historical fiction, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Balzer + Bray
Release Date : June 4, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating
: ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

LIKE A LOVE STORY is a little like a love story, really. But more in the sense of love for oneself, one’s body, and one’s community. I think it did a really good job of that, particularly when propped up against the setting, but when it comes to the love story, the romance, within the book.. it kinda failed. And by kinda I mean really.

Nazemian’s story takes place on the cusp of the nineties, in 1989, and is set against the AIDS crisis. Not as a backdrop but as a very real threat and very present player for our three protagonists. Art is out and proud and angry. His best friend, Judy, has an uncle dying of AIDS. And the new kid, originally from Iran, is Reza; someone both friends fall for but who, despite initially dating Judy, is closeted. 

I knew this wouldn’t be an easy story but I knew it would be an important one. It was a frightening time and is made even more terrifying when held up against the current social and political climate. Addressing the bigotry and the homophobia was all very visceral and awful but well done. I felt like I was living it. Where the fear of touch, of being touched, infected every interaction. Where not subscribing to white, heteronormative, ideals made you worthy of hate or shunning. Where it was acceptable to wish your son dead just for being queer. Where hate fuelled both sides of the equation; one side for being ushered into an early grave just for being who they were, and the other for not understanding or not accepting people different from themselves.

What I believe failed this story was the characters.

The romance is fast tracked as is fairly typical — though the fact that these two besties go from zero to eleven within half a page over the new kid is unlikely as it is; but for it to be turned into a triangle, infusing unnecessary drama into the mix, just becomes tedious — and ultimately, it’s the leads that do a disservice to the goings on around them. Or, rather, I feel they overshadowed the rest with their nonsense. I outright disliked two of the POVs (one more strongly than the other) but overall it was their behaviours, too, that I just couldn’t stand. 

The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.

I’m heartbroken that this didn’t work but I do think, if the synopsis draws you in, you should still pick it up. LIKE A LOVE STORY is a book that features a four star topic but is, unfortunately, saddled with one star protagonists. 

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


CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by André Aciman – double review!

Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.

The psychological maneuvers that accompany attraction have seldom been more shrewdly captured than in André Aciman’s frank, unsentimental, heartrending elegy to human passion. Call Me by Your Name is clear-eyed, bare-knuckled, and ultimately unforgettable.


Title : Call Me By Your Name
Author André Aciman
Series : Call Me By Your Name (book one)
Format : OverDrive (eBook)
Page Count : 268
Genre : historical fiction, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date : January 22, 2008

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : /


Hollis’ 1 star review

His words made no sense. But I knew exactly what they meant.
–> this is, I feel, a good expression of this entire book but flipped on its head. I understand what I read but I DON’T GET IT

I really don’t. Like, this isn’t me shitting on the overwhelming love people have for this book, or being contrary for shits and giggles.. I, personally, just don’t get it. 

Maybe I hyped this book up in my head for too long, maybe it was because I had these grand expectations, not to mention having put off watching the movie (which I will still) in order to read this first, but.. wow. Maybe, too, it’s my fault for not looking closely at the summary which does go on to detail some of the nittier gritty of what kind of relationship this book features but as I’m #TeamNoBlurbs.. it was obviously a surprise.

The first 60% of this was stream of consciousness confusion, was cringey secondhand embarrassment, was obsessive uncomfortableness.. it was so many things and none of them good. There was no characterization to these characters beyond Elio being consumed, forever fantasizing, and sifting through passages of is-it-really-happening-nope-just-dreaming chaos that made up the majority of his days; it’s intense but.. not in a good way. It’s discomfiting. I either skimmed because I couldn’t anchor myself to Elio’s internal rambling monologuing or because I just couldn’t bear to look too hard at his fixation. And Oliver was, well, a hot and cold dick of a human for the most part. And then suddenly he wasn’t, but it was all.. I don’t know, things being said, and not said, but they seem to understand it regardless? It just felt lazy and set up for the sake of drawing things out and drama. 

Not to mention they were both, at times, grossly childish or selfish.

s p o i l e r s   b e l o w

Case in point : Elio goes from screwing around with Oliver only to go to a girl’s house for more screwing around. Later, the boys have a nice afternoon delight together, then Elio heads out to meet with girl again, after having no discussion with Oliver about the logistics of this, and then when Oliver is missing upon Elio’s return, the latter is all bent out of shape and tied in knots and ‘how dare he make me wait’? Moments later Oliver’s ‘the best person he ever knew’. What the shit kind of whiplash nonsense is this? I actually refuse to tag this as a romance because, I feel, there was none. It was attraction, it was lust, it was physical intimacy (as well as certain intimacies that I believe were included in order to convince us of the existence love, make us believe there was a romance), but to me this wasn’t romantic. It was infatuation.

In the last 40%, however, there was a part or two that felt stronger (but it’s all relative, really) and yet it also transitioned into these scenes with other random characters I couldn’t care less about who rambled on about Bangkok, and various anecdotes as delivered by a poet we never see again, for eight to fifteen pages at a time. I honestly don’t know what was going on and I’m going to be fully honest : I skimmed most of it because I didn’t understand the point of it all.

There was a moving conversation between Elio and his dad near-ish to the end but then we have a time jump and weird transitions and odd conversations between adult Elio and older Oliver, reminiscing and yet not, where we’re supposed to believe this infatuation, this obsession, has endured for over twenty years, and I was just so done, long before this point, truthfully, but at least I saw it through to the end. Where the sequel goes I have no idea. And I definitely need some time to forget most of this experience before diving into the movie. 

That said, I think perhaps the movie will succeed where the book is too much for me. It wouldn’t be the first (and won’t be the last) time an adaptation succeeds in softening the edges of its source material. So I’m hopeful that a lot of what I hated about this book won’t apply to the adaptation but, for right now, I just need space from it all. I’m in no hurry.


Micky’s 1 star review …it’s pretty short

I know a lot of people loved this book but nothing about it appealed to me. In fact, I hated a lot of it. I listened to the first 35% on audio (and hated it), then a week later, I read/skimmed/read my paperback to the end (and still hated it). 

Why did I hate it? I didn’t like either character but I found Oliver to be a pretty awful person, with nothing to ingratiate himself to the reader. More than this though, 85% of the book is Elio’s inner monologue, his egotistical and obsessive mental ramblings poured onto the page for… ever. I disliked this style of writing, I found it incessantly dull and nothing about it worked for me.

Count me out for book two.


THE GOOD MAYOR by Andrew Nicoll

‘A triumph of tone, very moving, completely convincing’ – ANDREW MARR

‘A Baltic Brief Encounter’ – INDEPENDENT

Every morning, Mayor Tibo Krovic stops off at the local café on his way to work. He drinks his Viennese coffee with extra figs, leaves a bag of sweets for the owner, and then continues on to his office. There he awaits the arrival of his secretary: the beautiful, married, but lonely, Agathe Stopak.

In the respectable town of Dot, there is nothing the good Mayor Tibo can do about his love for Mrs Stopak. Until one day Agathe accidentally drops her lunch into the fountain and a family tragedy is revealed. In that moment, everything changes.

The Good Mayor is a magical story of fate and chance, of loss and love.


Title : The Good Mayor
Author Andrew Nicoll
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 352
Genre : Historical Fiction
Publisher : Black & White Publishing
Release Date : 16 May 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3.5 – 4 star review

THE GOOD MAYOR is a compelling, morally grey tale depicting tangible lives in a historical European context. I couldn’t predict where the story was going, nor could I look away.

In the town of Dot, a fairly bustling town in the Baltic, resided the ‘Good Mayor’, Tibo Krovic. Everyone called him good and so he was. He admired from afar, through the office door, his secretary Agathe Stopak. This story took a winding, lovely build from a professional relationship into something more. The routine working day between these two, emerged into a desperate love, with thoughts, little said, occasional touches, many lunches and no action. The feelings were mutual and despite Agathe’s marital status, I was invested.

“Tibo couldn’t help being kind. They warmed each other with those little gifts – kindness and beauty. They are precious. They are always in short supply.”

I thought I knew where this story was going, I didn’t. There were plot twists, there was warm, fuzzy and beautiful love, tempered by pitiful heartache. There were side characters to like such as the coffee shop owners with their supernatural sight and those to hate such as the Stopaks. I couldn’t fathom Agathe or Tibo’s decision-making at times and felt frustration but continued to hang around for this unpredictable ride, rather helplessly.

As the book sprinted to the end there was a rather weird story direction that I still don’t quite comprehend and the wrap up was a little rushed but I feel an overall satisfaction in this read. It felt different to many of the books I’ve read of late and so, a unique and unusual story is always welcome. I don’t know if I would call this women’s fiction or historical fiction with a strong romantic theme, maybe both. THE GOOD MAYOR is worth giving a chance and I would definitely read this author again.

Thank you Black & White Publishing for this early copy. Details of other blog stops are below.