THE INFINITE ONION by Alice Archer

The truth is harder to hide when someone sharp starts poking around.

Grant Eastbrook hit the ground crawling after his wife kicked him out. Six months later, in Seattle without a job or a place to live, he escapes to the woods of nearby Vashon Island to consider his options. When he’s found sleeping outdoors by a cheerful man who seems bent on irritating him to death, Grant’s plans to resuscitate his life take a peculiar turn.

Oliver Rossi knows how to keep his fears at bay. He’s had years of practice. As a local eccentric and artist, he works from his funky home in the deep woods, where he thinks he has everything he needs. Then he rescues an angry man from a rainy ditch and discovers a present worth fighting the past for.

Amid the buzz of high summer, unwelcome attraction blooms on a playing field of barbs, defenses, and secrets.


Title : The Infinite Onion
Author : Alice Archer
Format : eARC
Page Count : 439
Genre : LGBTQIA+ romance
Publisher : indie
Release Date : March 31, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ .5


Hollis’ 1.5 star review

I think, not unlike the title implies, this is a story you have to unravel. Much like the characters themselves undergo a shedding of layers, of revealing themselves and their secrets, there’s a journey and a process to understanding and learning.. about everything. But not unlike Grant, one of our leads, you might feel the urge to quit if you don’t like what’s happening. I was definitely tempted to — on multiple occasions. 

Initially (well, maybe, always..) I didn’t like the story or the characters. I slogged through the first 40%, putting this down every few pages, frustrated or lost, and feeling no anchor or connection to anything. I wasn’t without feeling for these characters and their struggles, both very different though they were, but they were also both such massive oblivious assholes, each in their own way, that I was uncomfortable and unable to connect for a long time. Or, rather, ever.

Having pushed through despite my reservations, or maybe because of them and wanting to see the other side, find meaning in it all, I can’t say I came to the end liking these characters. Or even the story itself. I might have hated it all a little less but the journey to get there was such a battle that I’m not sure less hate is much of an achievement. There were definite moments that felt sweet, or had the potential to tug on my heartstrings in a different context, but overwhelmingly I just feel pretty ambivalent. I did eventually “get” it, I think — the story, the reason for everything that had brought these characters to where they ended up — but I didn’t feel it. Still don’t. And maybe I didn’t really get it at all, and that’s why I don’t love it, or feel it, or even like it. 

This was a strange experience for me. The writing, the motions the characters went through, at times almost edged towards fabulism. There is an edge of dreamy nebulousness to the story and the events, this kind of Peter Pan and Neverland vibe, and it was hard to grasp and hold onto, hard to process, forever uncomfortable, and.. well, I think that’s all I have to say, really. 

I think this is a book you’ll either love and feel in your bones, your soul, or you just won’t. 

** I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. **

RUTHLESS GODS by Emily A Duncan

April 6, 2021 : Though it would be easy enough to just quietly delete this review or rating in light of everything, I won’t (nor would I ever). I’m holding myself accountable for this ignorance instead of burying it. However, I want to now preface this review to say that I apologize if anyone picked this book/series up because of my more or less favourable review and was then harmed or disappointed by the antisemitic content and my “approval”/enjoyment of it. I’m sorry to say I did not see it and no one is to blame for that but me.

I’m not going to link to everything, because there’s so much (and more with each passing day!), but the twitter or instagram threads that go into more detail — not only about the content of this series but the author themselves and the additional harm they have done — are easy to find. I don’t say all this to prevent anyone from choosing to read anything by this author but more for the chance to go in fully aware of what you might encounter.

———–

Darkness never works alone…

Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who–and what–he’s become. 

As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. They’re pieces on a board, being orchestrated by someone… or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer. 


Title : Ruthless Gods
Author : Emily A Duncan
Series : Something Dark and Holy (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 544
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : April 7, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

I feel like I’m in exactly the same place with RUTHLESS GODS as I was with WICKED SAINTS. This series, the content in these books, the twisty story of betrayal and blood and more betrayal, is both worthy of love and full of frustration for me. The worldbuilding, the pantheon of gods, of monsters, of heretics and holy people, it’s all very complex and fascinating, but equally confusing and repetitive.

I feel this one did hold together better than book one, where we know so little and even less is made clear (which is apparently how the author wanted it), whereas things took a turn here that revealed both more and, in some ways, well.. not less but definitely not everything.

Another aspect that I both loved and didn’t was the romantic element(s). One couple I was hugely there for (yes, please, more), and the other? I felt smitten by it at times and over it for others. It’s a very push, pull, and then throw the other off a cliff kind of dynamic and it makes it fascinating and fun and also agonizing (not in a good way) as you struggle to keep up and, also, parse it all. Also like in book one, I’m pretty sure I would die for Serefin, and, I mean, I would at least call 911 for the others. If they asked me to.

So, yes, hardly a glowing review, but I think book three has the potential to knock this out of the park. We’re on stronger footing at the end of this installment — it definitely didn’t feel like book two syndrome — and if this trend continues it’ll be bigger and bloodier and probably even more betrayalier (it’s a word). I’ll read on. I’m two books in, after all; can’t stop me now.

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

THE ELECTRIC HEIR by Victoria Lee

Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.


Title : The Electric Heir
Author : Victoria Lee
Series : Feverwake (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 469
Genre : YA dystopian / sci-fi / LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Skyscape
Release Date : March 17, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

After coming out of THE FEVER KING with much less love than I thought I would, I was pretty pleased by how strong I felt this follow up was. At least, initially.

My main problem was where this story went in regards to a certain relationship and the direction it took. There are so many complicated emotions, so many traumas, so much grief, wrapped up in the why or maybe the how of it. And Lee does (I think, at least) a good job of trying to explain the messiness of it all, the conflicting perceptions and means to which one might convince themselves of something, through her characters. But I still didn’t like it, and every time it came up I wanted to put the book down and walk away. One particular exchange, between the two POVs and leads, made me oh so very angry. And hurt. So, I mean, kudos for that. But that didn’t make me like the story anymore.

And the story itself, well, there’s not much I can say regarding the plot for a sequel/finale, but mostly I’m just confused. I have no idea how we got to the ending we did, and how it’s going to stick, considering.. everything. Additionally I guess I just don’t understand why the story, the series, happened in the first place? Why these kids, why couldn’t Lehrer just.. I don’t know. I feel like I understood what I read, what happened, but I’m missing the point, I guess.

For all that I clearly have no idea how to feel, despite knowing I didn’t love this, I have to say that Lee’s writing is strong. She doesn’t shy away from darker topics (there’s a warning at the front, and content/triggers listed at the back) and I feel she handles a lot of it with dignity and care. These characters, all of them, have been through so much, are still dealing with so much, and while sometimes it felt like too much, it’s all rather tied up in one catalyst. It’s heartbreaking and awful and while I didn’t hate Noam, one of our POVs, I absolutely adored Dara. Full stop.

Anyway, I don’t know. I feel like this is a series I should’ve loved and, when pitched to me, I knew I wanted to read it. Something about this just didn’t connect. And I’m sad about it. But I’m also an outlier, so, please read the glowy reviews and, if this sounds like your thing, definitely give it a try.

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

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA by TJ Klune – double review!

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours. 


Title : The House in the Cerulean Sea
Author : TJ Klune
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : LGBTQIA+ fantasy
Publisher : Tor Books
Release Date : March 17, 2020

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


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

This book was a delightfully sweet and lovely cup of heartbreak, melancholy, and wonder. Which sounds almost awful, or hella sad, and probably contradicts the vibe the cover is putting out, but I don’t know how else to describe all the things this made me feel.

There is whimsy and wonder in this world where magical people exists, there’s melancholy in the reality that children who demonstrate these abilities are sequestered in orphanages and regulated schools or programs, monitored by the government with caseworkers who ensure their safety and well-being, and there’s sweetness in the particular caseworker we follow, Linus; a round middle-aged man believed to be wholly unremarkable, friendless but for his cat, who is in fact so much of the opposite.

I’m afraid I don’t have magic.”
You do, Mr. Baker. Arthur told me that there can be magic in the ordinary.”

There were so many moments that had me a hair’s breadth away from crying. I welled up, swallowing hard, like.. six times? Probably more. At one point I was almost wrecked by a bloody button. And then, of course, there was a moment near the end where I just let go. Had my cry. I own it. The emotion Klune packs into his writing resonates so strongly and hits even harder because of the children in this story. Sal, in particular, just.. wow, yeah, I have no words.

Like Linus, it is impossible to remain impartial in the face of these children who were unwanted, unloved, or deemed too dangerous, too unique, to be anywhere else but this little island, far away from others. Through the narrative, Klune challenges prejudice, racism, and mob mentality, and does it beautifully. This is the perfect story for our time, our current climate, and it’s delightfully unique because of the circumstances and the rare collection of gems that are these atypical characters. Truly, the creativity of this story is something else.

I loved this book so much. For all the heavier topics and bittersweetness of it all, this was a lot of fun, too. It’s silly, weird, and delightfully charming, full of emotion and hope and love.

I definitely recommend.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Warm and whimsical
THE most endearing found family
Hurt and healing

Well, I didn’t know much going into this other than various friends’ love for the book and this review isn’t going to enlighten you. It’s going to be more of a feels than a plot review.

This is a totally character-driven story with a very engaging plot in the background but as a reader, all eyes were on the characters. From Linus, awkward and formal to my favourites Sal and Chauncey. Almost every character was special and sneak-stole my heart. It was a story about the unwanted being wanted and it had political and governmental tones. There were important themes that resonate.

He was but paper, brittle and thin, and he clutched the photograph to his chest, hugging it close.

This was a warm tale, full of whimsy and delightful magic. I got lost in the story and really enjoyed the experience. It made my eyeballs leak a little and I experienced that fuzzy feeling on ending.

*side note*
I read this book after the stories of the heinous maltreatment and murder of indigenous children in Canada broke and so I entered this story with trepidation. In the early reading of the story, I saw a few uncomfortable parallels but I was able to sink into the story. However, I am not suggesting you forget the premise foundation for this story which is based in some reality, go out there and educate yourself as I intend to do further. My book bestie suggests this read as a starting place 21 Things You Might Not Know About The Indian Act.

THE FEVER KING by Victoria Lee

In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.


Title : The Fever King
Author : Victoria Lee
Series : Feverwake (book one)
Format : paperback
Page Count : 376
Genre : YA dystopian / sci-fi / LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Skyscape
Release Date : March 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

This is a book that my mind is shying away from being too critical about because it’s doing a lot of great things. And yet..

Beyond the representation offered in Lee’s characters (one lead is bisexual and Jewish/Latinx, the other is black, I believe), this is a sci-fi/dystopian story that heavily deals with how society treats refugees. For all that this is set, like, a hundred years (or something?) in the future, this is a very timely narrative and I felt the author did a good job of making this less of just a conveniently relevant backdrop and, instead, you really feel the struggle, the disparity between the social classes, which is made more dramatic by the haves, and the locals, being magical while the have-nots, those who have fled their home, are not.

But I found the worldbuilding somehow overly complex, or confusing, and I’m not entirely sure why. It centers around this big event that tore apart the US and left the remaining habitual areas into their own countries, the wars and tragedies that ensue, and along the way we’re given glimpses into that history, and particularly the figureheads of that time; one of which happens to still be around, now that he’s not only all powerful but also immortal. Somehow Carolinia is the only place in the world where it’s okay to be witching, someone who survives the fever brought on by a magical surge (or something.. notice a trend?) and Britain and Canada had tried bombing them, because to hell with magical people, but now.. they don’t? But, instead of Carolinia being a refuge for people, they close their borders? And, specifically relevant to the current plot, there’s the Carolianians vs the Atlantians conflict, because in Atlantia apparently it’s really terrible and toxic and you die, but somehow they make it to Carolinia anyway, but Carolinians want nothing to do with them, and.. I don’t know, like, I get what was happening but I also feel like I have no idea what was happening. Even in writing that summary (ish) I confused and doubted myself. I have no idea what’s just happened, I think I blacked out.

This paragraph is where I had a bunch more words written that I’ve since deleted. I mention this to honour their memory. You tried. You tried to make this review work. But it just didn’t.

Suffice it to say, this book is doing a lot. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of characters we don’t know if we are supposed to like, and a hate-to-love romance I wanted to get behind.. but only sometimes did. This book should’ve been a new favourite because of all that, plus a lot of darker and adult themes which made this YA the least YA-feeling YA book I’ve read in a long time (take a shot for every time I said “YA”) but I found it easy to put down, either because I was bored or my brain was just processing white noise. This should’ve been action packed and thrilling (and I guess it sort’ve was in a muted kind of way) and I should’ve been speculating and making theories (some of which I did, shoutout to my buddy Amanda who loves this book and got some of my reactions), and while I was clearly invested and following along enough to guess some things correctly, to see things coming, I’m still not sure what to do with any of it. Particularly after that ending. I think half the problem is there’s so much still not being revealed, or left unknown, and that is why I have one foot out the door on this one.

I can only hope book two has me diving into the feels, and the love, with both feet.

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

WICKED AS YOU WISH by Rin Chupeco

Tala Warnock has little use for magic – as a descendant of Maria Makiling, the legendary Filipina heroine, she negates spells, often by accident. But her family’s old ties to the country of Avalon (frozen, bespelled, and unreachable for almost 12 years) soon finds them guarding its last prince from those who would use his kingdom’s magic for insidious ends. 

And with the rise of dangerous spelltech in the Royal States of America; the appearance of the firebird, Avalon’s deadliest weapon, at her doorstep; and the re-emergence of the Snow Queen, powerful but long thought dead, who wants nothing more than to take the firebird’s magic for her own – Tala’s life is about to get even more complicated….


Title : Wicked As You Wish
Author : Rin Chupeco
Series : A Hundred Names for Magic (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : LGBTQIA+ YA fantasy
Publisher : Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date : March 3, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I honestly try not to let other reviews and ratings affect me prior to diving into a book but unfortunately this one was definitely a victim of me doing a whole lot of side-eye as the GR rating went down, down, down in the weeks leading up to release (and, as of writing this review, there’s still three weeks to go..). I stayed away from reviews for the most part but I went into this with concerns not only due to the rating but also after seeing a few DNFs pop up in my feed.

Suffice it to say, I understand why this was a struggle for some readers. The worldbuilding, the mythology, the folklore, the history.. it’s so much. It’s so extra. This is a world where, like, fairytales are on crack. Think of every story, every myth, every legend, everything you’ve ever heard of or read, throw them into a blender, and top it all with a sprinkling of real-world concerns and politics. That’s what this universe is like. There is so much going on just in the every day common knowledge (or not, if you’re the MC, who knows almost nothing, Jon Snow), not to mention this big life-changing, world-altering event, of Avalon, a country where magic first began (or something..?) was frozen over by the Snow Queen, killing Avalon’s rulers, and sending the prince into exile and hiding. Said prince shows up into the armpit of Arizona, where most of this story takes place, and is now being taken in by Tala, our protagonist’s, family, who are all a bunch of famous ex-Avalonian.. militia, or something.

Anyway, eventually they are discovered, the Snow Queen invades a place they once believed she never could, and Tala, the prince, and a ragtag group of teens, find themselves returning to Avalon to break the curse. One of the many curses because, like, everyone has a curse or a doom or a geas and like.. I’m already tired trying to explain this. Because, again, it’s a lot. There’s a huge cast of characters. Prophecies and secrets abound and there’s a lot we, as a reader, are left in the dark about, while other characters seem to prefer to just spout weird prophetic statements without any care to shed light on things, and we bounce from one battle or confrontation to another, all while watching this group form rather predictable connections, despite themselves, and while the Prince acts like an ass.. for no discernible reason.

So, yeah, I have no idea what to do with this. This book was a big floppy trade paperback of an ARC, with tiny tiny writing, and I spent two days slogging through what was, admittedly, a clever and interesting world that I should’ve really loved reading about, but somehow never quite did, and dealing with a pile of characters who should’ve been interesting and fun and only ever sometimes managed a little of that.

The upsides? Beyond the creativity and the astounding amount of work it must’ve taken to put this together and keep it all consistent (seriously, my brain, it hurts), this is heavily steeped in the author’s own culture and there is a lot of representation. Also, I might even pick up book two. But that last point is probably less to do with the book and more to do with my stubbornness and curiousity, so. I don’t know. I can’t recommend. But nor do I think I want to not recommend. There are definitely going to be people who love this but I see just as many, like me, who won’t know what to do with it.. or can’t even get far enough to bother.

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

DOCILE by K.M. Szpara

There is no consent under capitalism 

Docile is a science fiction parable about love and sex, wealth and debt, abuse and power, a challenging tour de force that at turns seduces and startles.

To be a Docile is to be kept, body and soul, for the uses of the owner of your contract. To be a Docile is to forget, to disappear, to hide inside your body from the horrors of your service. To be a Docile is to sell yourself to pay your parents’ debts and buy your children’s future.

Elisha Wilder’s family has been ruined by debt, handed down to them from previous generations. His mother never recovered from the Dociline she took during her term as a Docile, so when Elisha decides to try and erase the family’s debt himself, he swears he will never take the drug that took his mother from him. Too bad his contract has been purchased by Alexander Bishop III, whose ultra-rich family is the brains (and money) behind Dociline and the entire Office of Debt Resolution. When Elisha refuses Dociline, Alex refuses to believe that his family’s crowning achievement could have any negative side effects—and is determined to turn Elisha into the perfect Docile without it.


Title : Docile
Author : K.M. Szpara
Format : eARC
Page Count : 496
Genre : science fiction / LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Tor.com
Release Date : March 3, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

Hello darkness, aka I don’t know what to rate what I read, my old friend..

So my biggest problem with this book had nothing to do with this book. I got stuck at 30% for almost two weeks after being beat-up by the flu and then I went into a slump. I felt no motivation to pick this back up (or anything else, really, though I felt honour bound to finish what I had started) because the beginning of this book is the most uncomfortable part.

In the beginning we are neck deep in watching Alex, our rich entitled ‘thinks he’s a do-gooder’ protagonist train our Docile protagonist, Elisha, into being the best little slave he can be — all so his family’s debt can be paid and they can be afforded a stipend so they can try not to incur any more debt. Yes, Elisha’s signed away all but his most basic rights, though some apparently still exist and yet everyone is shocked when they are called into play, but he exists inside a system where a drug was created so that you can be treated more or less like furniture. Worse than furniture, even. Anything can be done that does not do harm. That’s a.. broad range, particularly when you’re the Docile of a trillionaire and feel you are afforded the right to do anything.

But outside of the framework itself, and beyond the knee-jerk sympathy felt towards Elisha, I didn’t feel much for either of these characters. Elisha is in the unenviable position of having to sign over his life to clear his family’s debt, sure, and Alex is trying to do the best he can for his Docile who he has to actually consider a real person because he’s not on-meds, and the whole thing is just uncomfortable because until this moment, Alex never did. Consider them real people, I mean; not that anyone but the poor seem to, either, but still. The drug is his family’s legacy but, more than like, like all of the haves vs the have-nots, there’s just no consideration, no awareness, and this ends up being a thirty-year-delayed wake-up call for him — and, maybe, for society?

I’m not saying this isn’t supposed to be uncomfortable. It definitely is. And I suppose it’s no different than comparing District Twelve to District One in THE HUNGER GAMES but, like, add sex instead of violence? It was definitely good at spotlighting at decadence and depravity of this society’s culture in stark contrast to the fact that people are literally signing over years of their lives so that they, and future generations, can avoid prison or worse. But halfway through this took a sharp turn into a sorta conspiracy and then courtroom drama, all while one character is trying to recover from trauma and rediscover their agency, and it’s just a lot of things.

This was a story that I requested because I wanted to be shocked, made angry, even heartbroken, but I think I wanted to feel those emotions from the complexity of the story and less uneasy over the spoiled antics of the rich. But I think therein lies the problem. Even today, the rich are just so rich, while so many people have so much less, and it’s a tough pill to swallow to think that one day they might own people, too.

Ultimately, DOCILE seems to follow the standard (from what I know which, is, admittedly not much..) tropes of slavefic stories and I think if you go in knowing that, you’ll appreciate what Szpara does. I just wish there’d been more explored for how this had started, whether or not the rest of the world followed along (this deals primarily with only one State and while it’s mentioned vaguely that Maryland isn’t the only one, I have to wonder..) and.. I don’t know, I think I just wanted this to feel bigger than it did. But maybe I would’ve minded less if not for the slump? Which is why, well, there’s no rating.

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

ONLY MOSTLY DEVASTATED by Sophie Gonzales – double review!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless, inspired by Grease.

When Ollie meets his dream guy, Will, over summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself one prince short of a fairytale ending. To complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country—Will’s school—where Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship. But as Will starts ‘coincidentally’ popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.

Right?

Right.


Title : Only Mostly Devastated
Author : Sophie Gonzales
Format : eARC
Page Count : 288
Genre : YA LGBTQIA+ romance
Publisher : Wednesday Books/BKMK
Release Date : March 3, 2020

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


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’ll admit that this didn’t end up being the most amazing wonderful adorable hilarious queer YA rom-com I expected it to be back when it was first announced. But I think, based on how insane my expectations were, this was still a pretty good read; even if, despite the ages of the characters and some of the subject matter, it did read a little on the younger of the YA side.

If you’re picking this one up hoping to see some Grease references, you’ll be pretty happy, I think. They weren’t overdone, it didn’t stick to the script half as closely as I expected, and it ended up being very much it’s own thing — with it’s own emotional backbone to set it apart — but you don’t need to go hunting too hard to see some parallels. Though I’m still waiting to understand the Clueless connection, so, fair warning for that comparison.

That said, it was also kind of hard to read at times, too. I definitely didn’t expect the conflicts between the leads to hurt as much as they did. For all we are told of the sweetness of Will, mostly through flashbacks, and in a few quiet one-on-one moments, he did and said some pretty unforgivable things to keep up his “straight” pretense; and while I appreciated some of the lightbulb moments on Ollie’s side, some of which I agreed with and others I think just created so Will wasn’t made out to be, like, a villain, it was still pretty unbalanced between them. Actions speak louder, sure, but words are still hurtful af.

That emotional backbone, I mentioned? Well, it was emotional. And while there were times I disliked both of Ollie’s parents, I think in the context, some of it is forgivable. And in that same vein, it was nice to see a story like this were a teen is facing hardship and not resentful about it. Which, I mean, would be a completely valid thing but it was nice that this book didn’t lean too hard into that potential for angst. There was plenty as it was.

So, yes, not quite the lighthearted-adorable-this-was-everything that I wanted, but this was diverse, and queer, and I know that plus the adorable cover is going to make this a hit for so many readers.

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

I feel completely gushy about this book because I’ve devoured it in a day and it gave me fun, laughter, heartache, tears and complete escapism and enjoyment. This book exceeded all my expectations and I know for certain that I’m going to re-read this book.

This is a Grease retelling with fantastic LGBTQ+ characters front and centre. I can atest to how good the Grease framework to this story was, it was rich and familiar but with its own unique takes. The protagonist, Ollie was such a genuine nice guy, already out to his family and friends, he was pretty comfortable with himself. Family illness meant that he stayed past his summer vacation and his summer fling, Will found that to be a problem he hadn’t antipcated. He wasn’t secure in his sexual identity and he wasn’t out to anyone.

“What’s so funny?”
“We’re in a closet.” “I told you, I didn’t want -“
“You dragged me into a closet to have this conversation. Did you do that on purpose, or what? Unbelievable.”

ONLY MOSTLY DEVASTATED narrated the story from Ollie’s perspective with wit and heart. The family stories were strong and poignant, they caused my heart to ache, my eyes to leak and still I felt some warmth even in difficult parts. All that said, it was a bright and hopeful story and I was rooting for Ollie and Will as a couple. They were cute and lovely.

The friendships were definitely a building project in this book. After all, Ollie was new in the school and trust took time. I loved how this aspect developed and that what started as insecure, snarky interactions became true friendships with characters I came to like.

I don’t want to say anything more about the family story, I thought that was special and sensitively written. I thought the closeted and coming out elements were well written but please do check some own voices reviews on this book to be sure on that point.

Sophie Gonzales wrote in a way that engaged me from the first few pages and clearly I couldn’t put it down. I think this book has wide appeal and I want it to smash into the world.

Here walks Ollie Di Fiore. Master of his feelings, expert detacher, only mostly devastated.

Many thanks to TeamBKMRK for the early review copy.

THE MIDNIGHT LIE by Marie Rutkoski – double review!

Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colors. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.

Nirrim keeps her head down and a dangerous secret close to her chest.

But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who whispers rumors that the High Caste possesses magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.

Set in the world of the New York Times–bestselling Winner’s Trilogy, beloved author Marie Rutkoski returns with an epic LGBTQ romantic fantasy about learning to free ourselves from the lies others tell us—and the lies we tell ourselves. 


Title : The Midnight Lie
Author : Marie Rutkoski
Series : The Midnight Lie (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA LGBTQIA+ fantasy
Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Release Date : March 3, 2020

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

D u d e.

That was my reaction at the close of this book. I had no words, really, beyond being stunned and shocked and so desperate for book two.

THE MIDNIGHT LIE was nothing I ever expected. Knowing this was connected to The Winner’s Trilogy doesn’t give you any insight into the story or themes or plot and honestly? I kind of liked that. This, as all my reviews tend to be, will be spoiler free in an effort to retain some of the mystery, that uncertainty, but even knowing how this book begins? You won’t see where it goes.

It was the kind of impossible wish you treat as though it is precious. You make a home for it in your heart. You give it the downiest of beds for its rest. You feed it the choicest pieces, even when the meat it eats is your very soul.

As far as the connection to the original trilogy, think of this spinoff as what SIX OF CROWS was to The Grisha Trilogy. Some similar worldbuilding, but different context. Some alluded to events, but nothing detailed. Maybe cameos. I won’t confirm or deny. But that’s what you’re getting here. Maybe that’ll change with future books? I don’t know.

What I will say, is this book was hard to read at times. Our protagonist, like many in her community, is not well treated. But reading what Nirrim, in particular, is forced to do, what she convinces herself she must do, and how she is gaslighted (gaslit?) at almost every turn, is horrible, horrendous, and hard. There were times I got so frustrated I had to set the book down. But it’s even more interesting to view in hindsight because of where she ends up.

[..] there is no possible way to understand fairness and guilt when your world has already determined a set of rules that don’t make sense.

Yes, I’m terrible, I’m not sorry.

As for the romance? Swoon.

I had every intention of rereading the original trilogy before this one but never did (lolz 4ever because I’m incapable of helping myself, I guess?) but honestly I think, considering where this book went, it was better that I didn’t. But I’ll totally be rereading before book two because I’ll want to reread this one, too.

It is a midnight lie, she said. A kind of lie told for someone else’s sake, a lie that sits between goodness and wrong, just as midnight is the moment between night and morning.

I can’t wait for more and I’m so happy that this author, with her beautiful prose, and her complex, complicated characters, is back. I’m just hoping there’s a foreign edition, yet to be announced, with a better cover.

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

Micky’s 4 star review

Sobs. How fast can Marie Rutoski write and get the next book published because ARGHHHHHHH. This was a book with a clever and intricate plot, things fell into place more fully only as the ending approached, then THAT. Okay, I’m going to calm the capitals now.

I am such a fan girl of The Winners Trilogy and this book set in that world was no disappointment. It was an island of class issues, prejudice, homophobia told through the eyes of seemingly gentle Nirrim. Nirrim had been living a life of oppression but she was beginning to spread her wings on her own, those wings were aided to flight by Sid. Sid was a character I loved, despite her elusiveness and secrets. I loved the build of more between these two, that part of the storyline was particulary fabulous.

Life in the wards had all the description of sights, sounds and smells that conjured a vivid impression despite the lack of actual colour. Discovering the differences between Half Kith, Middling and High Kith was such great plot development and observing Nirrim take steps in new places was intruiging.

I could not put this book down, I read it in a day, feeling fascination, excitement, frustration and desperation for answers. I loved the connection to the winners trilogy, some of which I guessed. This book killed me with the ending. I need more and I feel like I need it now but I am going to have to put my patient pants on and distract myself for a while.

Marie Rutoski has that talent of creating a fantastical world that feels so utterly different to any fantasy you have read before. I am here for her books, always.

Thank you to Hodder Books for the early review copy.

WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING by Charlie Adhara

Agent Cooper Dayton and his partner, Oliver Park, are going undercover—at a retreat for couples who need counselling. They do say the best cover story is one that’s close to the truth…

Agent Cooper Dayton is almost relieved to get a phone call from his former boss at the Bureau of Special Investigations. It means a temporary reprieve from tensions created by house hunting with Oliver Park, his partner both in work and in life. Living together in a forever home is exactly what Cooper wants. He’s just not keen on working out the details.

With a former alpha werewolf missing, Cooper and Park are loaned to the BSI to conduct the search at a secluded mountain retreat. The agents will travel to the resort undercover…as a couple in need of counseling.

The resort is picturesque, the grounds are stunning and the staff members are all suspicious as hell.

With a long list of suspects and danger lurking around every cabin, Cooper should be focusing on the case. But he’s always been anxious about the power dynamics in his relationship with Park, and participating in the couples’ activities at the retreat brings it all to the surface. A storm is brewing, though, and Cooper and Park must rush to solve the case before the weather turns. Or before any more guests—or the agents themselves—end up dead.


Title : Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Author : Charlie Adhara
Series : Big Bad Wolf (book four)
Format : eARC
Page Count :
Genre : LGBTQIA+ paranormal romance
Publisher : Carina Press
Release Date : March 2, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Ho-ho-how great was this! For reference, I started and finished this on Christmas Eve, so. That’s why this opening line is funny to me right now.. knowing this won’t go live until March.

But back on track!

I am new to this series, having binged the first three back in the summer, but seeing this installment up for request was exciting because a) I wasn’t sure we’d get more and b) the third book was my favourite of the series so I had hoped that momentum, and track record, would continue on the up and up. And this was pretty damn great.

Frankly, Dayton, I don’t know anyone less concerned with pissing off people and wolves alike.
Careful, all this flattery is going straight to my head.”

It’s hard to know what to talk about for a series that’s a few books in but suffice it to say, if you’re a fan, you’ll still be, and if you’re keen to start a m/m werewolf shifter series and this is the first you’re hearing about it? Surprise! Go settle in for a nice binge. This one is much fun.

What the hell about him had Park seen and thought, Oh yes, anxiety-ridden loner with a temper sharper than a serpent’s tongue and a deep-seated fear of change whose longest successful relationship is with an equally judgmental cat? Swoon.

On the emotional/relationship front, this one started to worry me a bit because I thought we had come very far in book three, and some of the issues Cooper was working through felt a little bit two steps back. But. Oh but. There were some great moments to push us even further than we’d gone in book three, and with some very good rationale and reasoning, and a heck of a lot of teasing. In the best way.

It’s not you, it’s me.
Very helpful. How on earth will an evolved couple like us convincingly pretend to need counseling?

Plus? EeeeEeEeEeEe. <– this was my brain during a certain hug. That’s all I’m saying.

What do you think? Would Kyle and Andrew venture out and ask directions?
I don’t know, are Kyle and Andrew auditioning for victims one and two in a horror movie?
Kyle would. Andrew needs to keep the car running and getaway ready. For reasons.
I hate Andrew.”
That’s why we’re here.

The excuse for this particular adventure, going undercover at a couple’s counseling retreat for werewolves, was genius. Who doesn’t love the ‘pretend relationship’ trope except it’s even juicier when they are in a relationship and get forced to work through some things. Delicious. Also, I liked how Adhara introduced another element for the shifters in such a natural way. It seems to happen in each book, the total opposite of an info dump, and always relevant for the moment, not for a ‘maybe in the future you need to know this’, and it’s so perfect. The worldbuilding is so fabulous and so natural, so subtle.

Nice secret passage. Narnia’s keeping well, I assume.

So, yes, this wasn’t Christmassy at all, I’m reading it three months early, but who even cares. I had so much fun, this was sexy as hell, and also hilarious. Sometimes I wonder which I like better, the humour or the swoons (it’s both, but seriously, so funny). I can’t wait for more because with the ending of this one, this series is definitely not over.

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

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