THE INITIAL INSULT by Mindy McGinnis

Welcome to Amontillado, Ohio, where your last name is worth more than money, and secrets can be kept… for a price.

Tress Montor knows that her family used to mean something—until she didn’t have a family anymore. When her parents disappeared seven years ago while driving her best friend home, Tress lost everything. She might still be a Montor, but the entire town shuns her now that she lives with her drunken, one-eyed grandfather at what locals refer to as the “White Trash Zoo,” – a wild animal attraction featuring a zebra, a chimpanzee, and a panther, among other things. 

Felicity Turnado has it all – looks, money, and a secret that she’s kept hidden. She knows that one misstep could send her tumbling from the top of the social ladder, and she’s worked hard to make everyone forget that she was with the Montors the night they disappeared. Felicity has buried what she knows so deeply that she can’t even remember what it is… only that she can’t look at Tress without having a panic attack.

But she’ll have to.

Tress has a plan. A Halloween costume party at an abandoned house provides the ideal situation for Tress to pry the truth from Felicity – brick by brick – as she slowly seals her former best friend into a coal chute. With a drunken party above them, and a loose panther on the prowl, Tress will have her answers – or settle for revenge.


Title : The Initial Insult
Author : Mindy McGinnis
Series : The Initial Insult (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA mystery/thriller
Publisher : Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date : February 23, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

I think we can all agree that what the actual fuck.

I have such a weird relationship with McGinnis’ books. I love that she writes the strangest but often most compelling, unflinching, kind of things. But I seem to either love them, hate them, or not know whether I love or hate them. This is in the last category. And it’s a stranger feeling, too, considering this isn’t a standalone and there’s to be a sequel. Maybe I’ll know which camp I fall into after reading book two? Because I will.

I couldn’t tear myself away from this, could only stare unblinking as things got weirder and continued to escalate, and then.. that ending. Which we know isn’t an ending, but. Wow.

I’ve read this two months early so I’m going to be incredibly interested to see where this goes, and how people feel, as more readers pick it up. There’s really not much more to say! Compelling, yes, but definitely a qu’est-ce-que-fuck kind of read.

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

LOVE AT FIRST by Kate Clayborn

From Kate Clayborn, the acclaimed author of Love Lettering, comes a sparkling, tender novel about bickering neighbors, surprise reunions, and the mysterious power of love . . .

Sixteen years ago, a teenaged Will Sterling saw–or rather, heard–the girl of his dreams. Standing beneath an apartment building balcony, he shared a perfect moment with a lovely, warm-voiced stranger. It’s a memory that’s never faded, though he’s put so much of his past behind him. Now an unexpected inheritance has brought Will back to that same address, where he plans to offload his new property and get back to his regular life as an overworked doctor. Instead, he encounters a woman, two balconies above, who’s uncannily familiar . . .

No matter how surprised Nora Clarke is by her reaction to handsome, curious Will, or the whispered pre-dawn conversations they share, she won’t let his plans ruin her quirky, close-knit building. Bound by her loyalty to her adored grandmother, she sets out to foil his efforts with a little light sabotage. But beneath the surface of their feud is an undeniable connection. A balcony, a star-crossed couple, a fateful meeting–maybe it’s the kind of story that can’t work out in the end. Or maybe, it’s the perfect second chance . . . 


Title : Love at First
Author : Kate Clayborn
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : romance
Publisher : Kensington Books
Release Date : February 23, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

I want to say that if you loved LOVE LETTERING you will also love this but it’s not something that I would even compare one to the other. Unless you consider all the emotions I felt for both. In which case yes. Just.. yes.

[..] he couldn’t really explain it, the relief he felt. Out of all his visitors today, she was the enemy he should be dreading the most; she was the most dangerous to him. Frankly, she was probably here to finish him off. But he didn’t think any of that, at first. He looked up and saw her there and all he could think was : finally. Finally she came.

What I love so much about Clayborn is how quiet her books are even as they yell in your face, in your heart, in your soul. I might even have to call it the Quincy effect. You might end up a mess from the experience but you love it anyway (I swear this’ll make sense to people who’ve read this book, haha, except in this case the mess is tears). But back to my point, few authors I’ve read have successfully and consistently translated tenderness into text. And I don’t mean tender moments.. but she’s fully capable of those, too, pure tenderness into a moment between characters, but also in a turn of phrase, an inner thought, the touch of a hand, the desire to suddenly use a term of endearment. There were so many moments in this book (in so many of this author’s books, in fact) where I just died quiet little deaths because of how much I was made to feel.

You don’t have to love people the way you learned to love at first.

What sets this apart from LOVE LETTERING, too, is that we get a dual POV this time. And I just.. it was perfect? But the characters are not; they have baggage, flaws, and there is some angst. But it’s not big blow ups, dark secrets, epic tragic pasts, huge breakups. It’s real slights, tiny devastations, waves of grief, it’s learning to let go when you’re holding on too tight while at the same time it’s also letting yourself hold on instead of drifting away and remaining impermanent.

On a maybe more cheerful note, there’s also a wonderfully wholesome element in the secondary cast of characters that bring so much joy and fun to the lives of our leads. I absolutely wanted to jump into these pages and take up residence in one of the units (sorry Nora!) and take part in the hijinks and gossip and community. In the less wholesome category, if you’re looking for a solid romance? Attraction, chemistry, push and pull, and steam? There’s also that. Because that first kiss? Hoo boy. Might’ve fogged up the glasses. This also have one of my all-time favourite tropes but I don’t even want to mention it and spoil it. That’s how good it is. And how much you will enjoy watching it unfold.

I absolutely want everyone to read this and as I write this review it’s October twenty-third, which means it’s four months to the day before this is even released into the world, which means I’m shouting at my fellow Clayborn lovers to request and read this now. Because I am so alone in my feels and want everyone to experience this. I want everyone to laugh where and when I laughed. Cry where and when I cried. Do the kindle-clutch-to-the-chest during every tender scene (I’m not the only one who does this, I know I’m not!). And just bask in these feelings I feel.

Also, there are kittens. Just incase you needed one more reason to convince you to read it. Kittens.

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

BEGUILED by Joanna Chambers

Two years after his last encounter with cynical nobleman Lord Murdo Balfour, David Lauriston accidentally meets him again in the heart of Edinburgh.

King George IV is about to make his first visit to Edinburgh and Murdo has been sent North by his politician father to represent his aristocratic family at the celebrations.

David and Murdo’s last parting was painful—and on Murdo’s part, bitter—but Murdo’s feelings seem to have mellowed in the intervening years. So much so, that he suggests to David that they enjoy each other’s company during Murdo’s stay in the capital. 
Despite his initial reservations, David cannot put Murdo’s proposal from his mind, and soon find himself at Murdo’s door—and in his arms. 

But other figures from David’s past are converging on the city, and as the pomp and ceremony of the King’s visit unfolds around them, David is drawn into a chain of events that will threaten everything: his career, his wellbeing, and the fragile bond that, despite David’s best intentions, is growing between him and Murdo.


Title : Beguiled
Author : Joanna Chambers
Series : Enlightenment (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 224
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ historical romance
Publisher : indie
Release Date : January 8, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

As with my review for book one, I still can’t manage to quite round up on this one, either. But this time for different reasons.

While the background noise of book one, and the motivation and moving parts of the plot didn’t interest me, that wasn’t the case in book two. This time we have a King’s visit to Scotland to contend with, the catalyst (excuse) for the reappearance of a certain romantic interest, but also there are heartbreaking domestic issues to contend with. Additionally I also loved how a certain character from book one reappeared, and how he had changed; it definitely didn’t go the way I expected. And I really liked how it seemed to have tied off a loose end (or two).

So while all that was good, what and where was the miss?

The problem for me is I found that our leads felt a little.. different. Yes, time has passed, and on the part of David he’s done some hard thinking, and pining. And while we still had some of those same clashes from before, I was frustrated by the way that he would retreat after having made so much progress. Particularly because it was the same song and dance from book one. I would’ve much rather had see new worries, new concerns, while still in the same vein, I guess. It felt out of place considering how much stronger the connection was. But nonetheless his core self, his instrospection, his inherent goodness, it’s all just really lovely.

As for Murdo, while I have no complaints with him being more tender, a little moony, he had softened dramatically in the time between books and.. I don’t know. I think the problem is this is a single POV, as in we don’t get his, and maybe I’m missing that other side of things to sell this to me. But there was an absolutely gutwrenching and yet heartwarming scene with him surrounding a rather pivotal moment for the two of them and I thought that was brilliant.

My whatever weirdness about not being to round up on this series aside, I enjoy the writing, and I’ll be diving right into book three tomorrow.

THE BEAUTY OF DARKNESS by Mary E. Pearson

Lia has survived Venda—but so has a great evil bent on the destruction of Morrighan. And only Lia can stop it.

With war on the horizon, Lia has no choice but to assume her role as First Daughter, as soldier—as leader. While she struggles to reach Morrighan and warn them, she finds herself at cross-purposes with Rafe and suspicious of Kaden, who has hunted her down.

In this conclusion to the Remnant Chronicles trilogy, traitors must be rooted out, sacrifices must be made, and impossible odds must be overcome as the future of every kingdom hangs in the balance.


Title : The Beauty of Darkness
Author : Mary E. Pearson
Series : The Remnant Chronicles (book three)
Format : physical
Page Count : 684
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Henry Holt
Release Date : August 2, 2016

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

I think this might have been, overall, the strongest of the series but it’s still not without some pitfalls or frustrations.

There isn’t much one can say about a finale but this was the big build up to a confrontation, a destiny, a prophecy, and may or may not resolve a romance or two. Most of all of that worked for me, in mostly satisfying ways, but despite how quickly I tore through this, it was still long, and somehow certain events were glossed over, or rushed, and ultimately I still didn’t get as many answers around the worldbuilding as I liked. Or maybe, instead, they were just too vague for my liking? I wanted it a little more spelled out. Which is likely my problem with some of the motivations of some of the characters. We had some big reveals, a few unmaskings, and maybe I just read it all too fast but like.. motivations are important. And I felt like I didn’t understand any of them for certain characters. They just kind of felt like roles they were playing.. but why? I don’t know, maybe it’s a silly thing to focus on, but considering the scope of the story I would’ve liked to have been a little more certain as to some of the whys of it all.

In speaking of characters, though, surprising no one my greatest joy was still Lia and she continued to be strong, stubborn, and so kickass. Her ending wasn’t really a surprise but I’m surprised, again, by some of the noise (or lack thereof) around it. But I think that just goes back to certain bits feelings rushed or not fully formed. Maybe we’ll get more in the spinoff? Which, yes, I’ll be reading. I don’t expect it to follow the same characters but maybe it’ll fill it in some gaps.

In the end, was this series a favourite? No. Is it going to stay on my shelves? No, I’m unhauling. Besides that somewhat rough middle book aside, I’m not mad at the time I spent with these characters. And hey, I mean, now I have some space on my shelves, and I knocked a book off my tbr/owned list that had been sitting around since 2015, so, it feels like a win all around. Even if it’s kind of a lose.

A DESTINY OF DRAGONS by TJ Klune

Once upon a time, the wizard’s apprentice, Sam of Wilds, got his happily ever after in the arms of his cornerstone, Knight Commander Ryan Foxheart. A year has passed, and while Sam’s been captured five or six more times since then, things are pretty great. His parents are happy, Gary and Tiggy still eat sass for breakfast, Randall is somehow alive despite being older than the gods, the King rules with a gentle hand, Kevin the dragon is as gross as ever, Morgan sighs a lot, Ryan continues to be dashing and immaculate, and Sam is close to convincing Prince Justin they will be best friends forever. Life is good. 

Until it’s not. 

Because Vadoma, the leader of the gypsy clan and Sam’s grandmother, has come to the City of Lockes with a dire prophecy written in the stars: a man of shadows is rising and will consume the world unless Sam faces his destiny and gathers the five dragons of Verania at his side. 

And she brings along her second-in-command, a man named Ruv. Ruv, who Vadoma says is Sam’s true cornerstone


Title : A Destiny of Dragons
Author : TJ Klune
Series : Tales from Verania (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 377
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy romance
Publisher : BOATK Books
Release Date : November 12, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

If I thought this series would get any less like a bizarro trippy experience? I was dumb. Because why would it do that if we’d made it this far. If anything this series just gets weirder, and more absurd, in this second installment but it’s still compulsively readable. Likely I would not be prioritizing this series if not for my buddy reading buddies (hi!).. otherwise, well. I don’t think I would drop it but, yeah, suffice it to say it would not be topping my read pile right now. But whatever.

You really don’t understand boundaries, do you?
Only that they were meant to be broken.

Everything from book one is back again, from the oversharing and crude ridiculousness, to the almost parody-like fantasy plot, and if things were thought to be dramatic before? It gets better/worse/more (pick your preference).

You don’t see the way he stares at me sometimes.
I’ll bite. How does he stare at you?
Like I’m an idiot.
Sam. You are an idiot.”
Oh. Things suddenly make much more sense right now.”

As far as the romance, things are also better/worse/more (pick your preference) as book one’s conflict is replaced with something new but also different. It definitely got one of my buddies to switch shipping teams (literally the highlight of the whole read). But I also like how it resolved; though I’m not sure we’ve seen the last of it.

Sam, we’re born from magic. We don’t have parents. We are created when the world needs us most. There’s magic everywhere, in the smallest of things. Once there’s enough concentration of it, and once the world wills it so, a dragon is born.
But.. but, that’s so stupid. What the fuck is that esoteric bullshit?”

For all that this is still whacky and weird and I’m obviously continuing on with the series (hi again buddies), I still don’t really think I actually like this. There are moments, sure, that I might laugh or be entertained by something. And it’s certainly high on the hot scale compared to my other experiences with Klune. But for all that, and I realize it’s not much so this will come as no surprise, I am definitely not recommending it. It just exists; and I’m spending time with it. Nothing more.

CONCRETE ROSE by Angie Thomas

If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.

Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.

Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man. 


Title : Concrete Rose
Author : Angie Thomas
Series : The Hate You Give (prequel/companion)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Balzer + Bray
Release Date : January 12, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

I think what surprised me most about this was how.. quiet this book felt.

It isn’t without impactful moments, and is certainly peppered with painful observations about what it means to be a young Black man (both as an individual and within society), but still somehow it was quiet. Tender. There is an ache to this story, to the losses, and the struggle to open one’s self up to a dream for more. But it’s also so full of love.

This is such an important story not because it spoke of one important thing really loudly but because it spoke of a lot of things rather quietly.

This will definitely sit with me for a while — and is likely why I’m struggling a bit on what to say — but I highly recommend. Even if you haven’t read The Hate U Give, I think you should absolutely pick this up.

PROVOKED by Joanna Chambers

Tormented by his forbidden desires for other men and the painful memories of the childhood friend he once loved, lawyer David Lauriston tries to maintain a celibate existence while he forges his reputation in Edinburgh’s privileged legal world. 
 
But then, into his repressed and orderly life, bursts Lord Murdo Balfour.
 
Cynical, hedonistic and utterly unapologetic, Murdo could not be less like David. And as appalled as David is by Murdo’s unrepentant self-interest, he cannot resist the man’s sway. Murdo tempts and provokes David in equal measure, forcing him to acknowledge his physical desires.
 
But Murdo is not the only man distracting David from his work. Euan MacLennan, the brother of a convicted radical David once represented, approaches David to beg him for help. Euan is searching for the government agent who sent his brother to Australia on a convict ship, and other radicals to the gallows. Despite knowing it may damage his career, David cannot turn Euan away. 
 
As their search progresses, it begins to look as though the trail may lead to none other than Lord Murdo Balfour, and David has to wonder whether it’s possible Murdo could be more than he seems. Is he really just a bored aristocrat, amusing himself at David’s expense, or could he be the agent provocateur responsible for the fate of Peter MacLennan and the other radicals?


Title : Provoked
Author : Joanna Chambers
Series : Enlightenment (book one)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 202
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ historical romance
Publisher : indie
Release Date : April 25, 2017

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5



Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Part of me is actually tempted to bump this up to four but something is holding me back for now. Probably because I compare most m/m historical romance to KJ Charles but.. this was still very good.

As a heads up, you should know this story also differs from KJC in the sense that this series doesn’t seem to be made up of companions following different couples and in fact I think the first two or three may follow the same couple. Make of that what you will.

Despite not being able to round up, though, I think this series might get stronger as it goes. I found the characters to be incredibly fascinating, particularly our protagonist, David, who suffers under the illusion that his fancying of men is unnatural and wrong and yet for all that he harshly judges himself, he never judges others. There were moments when he imagined another possible future for himself that just.. yeah, he is lovely.

The romantic interest, on the other hand, is fully himself and fully unashamed of himself and they spark off each other very well. Their relationship, outside of the steamies, is full of tension because while they are chemically compatible, they don’t seem to be emotionally or morally compatible. They view life so differently, and what they might expect of their lives considering their ways, and it’s so interesting to watch them hash it out.

I think mainly what dragged this down a bit for me is, despite the third party involved who played a fairly main role (and who I liked quite a bit), the whole reason for the events that throw these characters together just wasn’t that interesting, I guess? The characters definitely carried this installment, which is great, but I do hope the plot of book two is a wee bit more interesting.

I’m so keen to read on and I do smell a binge a’coming.. doesn’t hurt that this series seems to clock in with somewhat on the lower end of a page count. Additionally, I’m happy to have knocked this off my tbr (shelved on GR back in 2017!) and cleared yet another eBook off my unread pile! Lots of winning here.

THE HEART OF BETRAYAL by Mary E. Pearson

Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save Lia’s life, her erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar’s interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: There’s Rafe, who lied to Lia but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be savages. Now that she lives among them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country… and her own destiny.


Title : The Heart of Betrayal
Author : Mary E. Pearson
Series : The Remnant Chronicles (book two)
Format : physical
Page Count : 473
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Henry Holt
Release Date : July 7, 2015

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

Welp, that didn’t go as well as I had hoped. I think this feels like a bigger disappointment for two reasons. One, according to GR, when I read this the first time, it was a five star experience. And two, I can see why past-Hollis thought so highly of it. So I get it.. but it’s definitely not that anymore.

In my review for my book one I had mentioned how one of the main three POVs were pretty weak and I wanted better. Well this time I wanted better for every POV that wasn’t Lia. Because what’s consistent about this series so far is that she is the only thing propping it all up. That said, we did start get to more information from those previously mentioned hints and teases about the worldbuilding but not quite as much as I wanted. The machinations and politics definitely got a little twistier and I’m enjoying that but it does feel like Pearson is dolling out too few crumbs to really satisfy. And instead of making me hunger for more it’s making me feel less inclined to sit at the table, you know? But not in the sense that I’m giving up. It’s not quite that bad. Plus, I mean, Lia.. girl is still a badass.

Overwhelmingly this series is just really weakened by the romance and things got even more busy in that sense in this second installment. Again, I can see how this once worked for me, maybe I was excited by the drama or something, and I know similar things still do work for me today, but this one? It was something of a slog.

Having not read book three (and the reason for this whole reread!), I’m very interested to see where we go from here, particularly in light of how this one ended and a few of those tiny little reveals we did get. But it’s definitely going to have to blow me away in order to not only redeem this particular book, and the series as a whole, but also to keep its place of pride on the shelves. No pressure.

THE LIGHTNING-STRUCK HEART by TJ Klune

Once upon a time, in an alleyway in the slums of the City of Lockes, a young and somewhat lonely boy named Sam Haversford turns a group of teenage douchebags into stone completely by accident.

Of course, this catches the attention of a higher power, and Sam’s pulled from the only world he knows to become an apprentice to the King’s Wizard, Morgan of Shadows.

When Sam is fourteen, he enters the Dark Woods and returns with Gary, the hornless gay unicorn, and a half-giant named Tiggy, earning the moniker Sam of Wilds.

At fifteen, Sam learns what love truly is when a new knight arrives at the castle. Sir Ryan Foxheart, the dreamiest dream to have ever been dreamed.

Naturally, it all goes to hell through the years when Ryan dates the reprehensible Prince Justin, Sam can’t control his magic, a sexually aggressive dragon kidnaps the prince, and the King sends them on an epic quest to save Ryan’s boyfriend, all while Sam falls more in love with someone he can never have.

Or so he thinks.


Title : The Lightning-Struck Heart
Author : TJ Klune
Series : Tales from Verania (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 480
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy romance
Publisher : BOATK Books
Release Date : November 12, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated



Hollis’ unrated review

If ever a book made you feel a little like you were on drugs, it would probably be this one. What a trip.

This was such a weird experience. I knew going into this to expect some extreme or absurb fantasy, with Klune himself leaning into the absurb slapsticky kind of humour, and yet somehow I was still not prepared. This is weird and wild and I would probably not recommend this to most readers. Particularly if you haven’t at least had a taste of what Klune can do.

I’m trying to be subtle here.”
You’re a talking unicorn. Sometimes when you poop, it comes out as rainbows and smells like cookies. There is nothing subtle about you.”

This story features a hornless gay unicorn, a half giant, an aggressively horny dragon, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The good thing is that most of those specific characters, along with our protagonist, Sam the apprentice wizard with the great power and great responsibility, were some of my favourites. They were ridiculous and their antics were outright lunacy but the friendship bonds were just so wholesome (even when they weren’t) and sweet and discounting the fact that Sam sometimes had two page run-on monologues (despite the fact that a running joke is how the Dark Wizards are monologue fiends and they hate it) I really did love them.

I would ask you to dance, but I don’t know how to dance, so maybe we can just stand near each other and talk awkwardly.”

I do just wish there was more, like, distinction between some of the other characters. The main cast came through pretty clear (with the love interest maybe being the one exception because he was all other the place For Reasons) but some of the secondary/tertiary characters felt a little lumped in together/silly and same-y, and considering some of their roles I don’t think it made sense. But that’s a fairly picky thing to pick at considering, like, this whole book was just.. strange compulsively funny readable strange nonsense.

Everything is a life lesson. Like these invitations from potential suitors.”
Your segue was clunky and I am embarassed for you.”

Which is why I’m not rating it because where would I even begin.

I’ve just had the most wonderful idea.”
Uh oh. Hold on to it. I have a feeling those are a rarity.

It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s pervy AF, it’s bizarre, crude, hella queer, occasionally annoying or frustrating, but also fun. This somehow manages to be a light fantasy, and also sort’ve a parody, while still being fantastical and questy and destiny.. -y. If that sounds like your cup of acid trip, definitely pick this up. For all that there’s a significant page count, I don’t think this’ll bore you, just bewilder you, but you’ll probably still find yourself laughing along. And if you come out of this story not loving Gary? We need to talk.

THE WIFE UPSTAIRS by Rachel Hawkins – double review!

A delicious twist on a Gothic classic, The Wife Upstairs pairs Southern charm with atmospheric domestic suspense, perfect for fans of B.A. Paris and Megan Miranda.

Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates––a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie­ Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie––not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past––or his––catches up to her?

With delicious suspense, incisive wit, and a fresh, feminist sensibility, The Wife Upstairs flips the script on a timeless tale of forbidden romance, ill-advised attraction, and a wife who just won’t stay buried. In this vivid reimagining of one of literature’s most twisted love triangles, which Mrs. Rochester will get her happy ending?


Title : The Wife Upstairs
Author : Rachel Hawkins
Narrators : Emily Shaffer, Kirby Heyborne, Lauren Fortgant
Format : Audiobook / eBook (overdrive)
Length : 8 hours 39 minutes / 277 pages
Genre : Thriller
Publisher : MacMillan Audio / St. Martin’s Press
Release Date : January 5, 2021

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


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Morally grey characters in every direction
Unreliable narrators
Twists in unexpected ways
A side order of Big Little Lies feeling

I heard the words Jane Eyre re-telling and I ran pretty fast to this audiobook. The Wife Upstairs mostly had the atmosphere I was seeking and I totally enjoyed seeing a contemporary envisoning of the familiar characters of Jane Eyre, especially Eddie, Jane, Blanche and B. Adele was a treat too.

As you would imagine, the focus started on Jane and I liked that Jane was not the angel she was in the original book, this made me feel more invested because I knew this was going to be different. Jane was a plotter, a climber and she had goals, so much so that I thought I knew where this would lead; I was wrong.

Blanche and B ‘Bertha’ were like the ugly sisters or mean girls all rolled into one. Blanche being a more fleshed out character was a very welcome element to the story. Eddie was never really likeable and that crushed my Rochester-loving heart a little but then this wasn’t a romance.

The storyline was pretty clever and this audiobook kept me guessing and invested. I did sometimes get confused with Bee (or B) and Blanche and the two female narrators didn’t sound that different to me, even with their different accents, so I had to really concentrate at times.

The culmination was good, if quick wrap up. The Wife Upstairs was an addictive and enjoyable listen. I would love to see some more classic re-envisioning as thrillers. Such a great idea.

Thank you to LibroFM and MacMillan Audio for the review copy.


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything Rachel Hawkins has released (notably mostly YA stuff but hey!) so this was on my radar even before I knew it was a Jane Eyre-inspired retelling; and not only that but a thriller/mystery to boot. Lots of boxes were being checked here.

I’ll admit this was kind of a slowburn for me that never really built the blazing inferno I might’ve expected.. or at least wanted. But at the same time it dragged me away from other distractions throughout the day and I chewed through it pretty quick. So maybe it was less of a build and more just a steady solitary flame?

Either way, if you’re a fan of the original classic or just know the bare bones this’ll definitely appeal to both kind of reader. There’s enough that sticks true to the story but so much, too, that differs; and I was particularly interested in which characters Hawkins decided to flesh out, and how.

If you’re looking for a Southern Gothic vibe kind of mystery, with twists and homages, you should give this one a try.