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THE DARK MIRROR by Juliet Marillier

Bridei is a young nobleman fostered at the home of Broichan, one of the most powerful druids in the land. His earliest memories are not of hearth and kin but of this dark stranger who while not unkind is mysterious in his ways. The tasks that he sets Bridei appear to have one goal-to make him a vessel for some distant purpose. What that purpose is Bridei cannot fathom but he trusts the man and is content to learn all he can about the ways of the world.

But something happens that will change Bridei’s world forever…and possibly wreck all of Broichan’s plans. For Bridei finds a child on their doorstep on a bitter MidWinter Eve, a child seemingly abandoned by the fairie folk. It is uncommonly bad luck to have truck with the Fair Folk and all counsel the babe’s death. But Bridei sees an old and precious magic at work here and heedless of the danger fights to save the child. Broichan relents but is wary.

The two grow up together and as Bridei comes to manhood he sees the shy girl Tuala blossom into a beautiful woman. Broichan sees the same process and feels only danger…for Tuala could be a key part in Bridei’s future…or could spell his doom.

Title : The Dark Mirror
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : The Bridei Chronicles (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 561
Genre : historical fiction / fantasy
Publisher : Tor
Release Date : September 1, 2004

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5 

Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again because it always bears repeating and it’s generally relevant : even though this couldn’t be more different from the Sevenwaters Saga, there is something intrinsically Marillier about this story. And this one even more than the last venture my buddy and I went on which took us to Transylvania.

This time, we are spending time with the Picts. There’s enough overlap in this world, both historically factual and of course a little imagined, to Sevenwaters in the sense that we have druids, a strong respect for the forest and nature, and the powers around them, but whereas the aforementioned series was strongly familial-focused and very magical, this one is more political and, though the Good Folk play a role, it’s more subtle. The main conflicts are very human in nature.

And in that same vein, but maybe in less of a positive way, the main characters are also less of the standouts we’ve seen before. Bridei unfortunately feels a little white bread and watered down. Tuala just doesn’t feel quite age-appropriate (but with how she was raised I guess it sorta makes sense) and, with a few exceptions, really seems to just be a plot device. And for all that they believe, and so do certain players around them, that they have this intense connection.. it, too, felt a bit weak sauced. More telling than showing.

But. I enjoyed how this book set things up for the series; we had some strong supporting characters that I’m looking forward to seeing more of; a good human villain or two; there was the characteristic strength of Marillier’s female narratives which are always different and interesting (and this one was no exception); and, well, it was run to read along with this one and not remember the bits to come; even if, upon reading them, I remembered them. Oh, did I not say? This was a reread as I was (in theory) along for the ride with Micky. I have to assume I did read the full trilogy, as GR says so, but I recall nada. So this is almost like reading them for the first time — bonus!

Not sure when I’ll be picking up book two but I hope it’s sooner rather than later.


Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t set foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind; plaid shawls can be as strong as armor, and the smallest cut of a knife can instil fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that rule the isle by fire, water, earth, and wind find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.

As Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together, they find they make better allies than rivals as their partnership turns into something more. But with each passing song, it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than they first expected, and an older, darker secret about Cadence lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all.

Title : A River Enchanted
Author : Rebecca Ross
Series : Elements of Cadence (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 496
Genre : fantasy romance
Publisher : Harper Voyager
Release Date : February 15, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Hollis’ 4 star review

Unlike some previous picks for my Twelve Books in Twelve Months challenge, this wasn’t a book I had dodged or delayed reading for any particular reason. In fact, I knew almost nothing about this series or this author. But then I heard rumblings of it being Sevenwaters-esque and a) suddenly I knew why this specific buddy recommended it and b) why it was recommended to me. Because yes hi hello I am Sevenwaters trash.

Having said that, I don’t actually think the comparison is that accurate but by the same token it sorta exists in the same general feel. This is a fantasy that feels like a fairytale, with folklore and spirits at play, even a bit of magic, and set on an island that feels like Scotland, complete with warring clans. So, a little yes, and a little no. Additionally, making it feel less Marillier-like is the fact that we have multiple POVs which is definitely different. And yet was one of my favourite things about this story.

In fact, let’s just get down to it : there wasn’t much I disliked at all!

I am but a verse inspired by your chorus, and I will follow you until the end, when the isle takes my bones and my name is nothing more than a remembrance on a headstone, next to yours.”

It is a little slow but not in a bad way. More in the sense that events are unfolding, secrets creeping out of the dark, characters learning about themselves as well as those around them, and a mystery to solve. All of which takes times. I was certainly never bored; the opposite. There were a few moments that moved me to well up and almost shed tears. Because yes I am a sap. But also those moments were so beautifully earned. Nothing felt manufactured or rushed, each emotional beat was perfectly in tune with the rest, and considering there are multiple characters, undergoing many different realizations at different times, some not even related to the other, that takes some talent.

Also the motivation for the missing girls? So well done. It wasn’t what I thought it would be at all. It could very well be that I’m just hella dim though.

My one hope for the sequel is that maybe we learn a little bit more of the clans, their histories, and that the romance gets beefed up just a little more. I wanted a bit more tension from that considering it was billed as an enemies to lovers.. which it is, don’t get me wrong, but I could’ve done with a little more. It was still very good though.

Overall, super pleased to have been given this recommendation and I am diving right into the sequel, even though I should really be prioritizing other things. But I’m not. I want the sequel. So Imma read the sequel.

MEET ME AT THE LAKE by Carley Fortune

Fern Brookbanks has wasted far too much of her adult life thinking about Will Baxter. She spent just twenty-four hours in her early twenties with the aggravatingly attractive, idealistic artist, a chance encounter that spiraled into a daylong adventure in Toronto. The timing was wrong, but their connection was undeniable: they shared every secret, every dream, and made a pact to meet one year later. Fern showed up. Will didn’t.

At thirty-two, Fern’s life doesn’t look at all how she once imagined it would. Instead of living in the city, Fern’s back home, running her mother’s Muskoka lakeside resort–something she vowed never to do. The place is in disarray, her ex-boyfriend’s the manager, and Fern doesn’t know where to begin.

She needs a plan–a lifeline. To her surprise, it comes in the form of Will, who arrives nine years too late, with a suitcase in tow and an offer to help on his lips. Will may be the only person who understands what Fern’s going through. But how could she possibly trust this expensive-suit wearing mirage who seems nothing like the young man she met all those years ago. Will is hiding something, and Fern’s not sure she wants to know what it is.

But ten years ago, Will Baxter rescued Fern. Can she do the same for him?

Title : Meet Me at the Lake
Author : Carley Fortune
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 336
Genre : romance
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : May 2, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5

Hollis’ 2.5 star review

If not for the fact that the premise of this book was so flimsy, and the reason for the much-reviled third act breakup almost as tissue paper thin, this might’ve been rounded up. And therefore made it more likely I’ll pick up Fortune again. As it stands.. eh?

So listen. It’s been almost three weeks since I picked up a book, much less reviewed one, so be gentle with me. And funny enough it was that same need for gentleness that had me considering this read a little more kindly upon first finishing it. But then the dreaded brain went a’whirring and I just couldn’t.

Because seriously. You spend less than twenty-four hours with someone when you’re in your early twenties, get stood up a year later when you’re supposed to meet up again, and then honestly expect me to buy into this soul deep connection that has endured a decade later? I mean..

It doesn’t really help that I didn’t fully buy into the why of the ditching (and that little detail of what actually went down that day buuuuurned) — the first OR the second time. Maybe the second one but seriously you can’t fire off a fucking text or leave a note? Smoke signals even. And then to make Fern be the one to.. grr. I won’t say more but just know I grr’d.

I want to say I would’ve much preferred Maggie and Peter’s story but let’s be real I probably would’ve been mad about that, too.

Also, anyone else really not dig the whole Annabel plot and or her character? Very weird vibe.

Honestly, Canadianisms and Canadiana (specifically Toronto) aside, this was an easy simple read but it won’t be sticking with me. Unlike the author’s debut which I immediately burned out of my brain on purpose. But as a result of said easy simpleness, it did allow me to slip back into reading without too much trouble, and I’ll be able to say I read more than one book this month, so I guess there’s that. I’m really not sure if I’ll be picking up more by this author though. We may be ill-suited. Especially as these feel very same-y in certain ways and I’m just not sure I can take a third go of this. But I guess we’ll see.

PAINTED DEVILS by Margaret Owen

Let’s get one thing straight—Vanja Schmidt wasn’t trying to start a cult.

After taking down a corrupt margrave, breaking a deadly curse, and finding romance with the vexingly scrupulous Junior Prefect Emeric Conrad, Vanja had one great mystery left: her long-lost birth family… and if they would welcome a thief. But in her search for an honest trade, she hit trouble and invented a god, the Scarlet Maiden, to scam her way out. Now, that lie is growing out of control—especially when Emeric arrives to investigate, and the Scarlet Maiden manifests to claim him as a virgin sacrifice.

For his final test to become a prefect, Emeric must determine if Vanja is guilty of serious fraud, or if the Scarlet Maiden—and her claim to him—are genuine. Meanwhile, Vanja is chasing an alternative sacrifice that may be their way out. The hunt leads her not only into the lairs of monsters and the paths of gods, but the ties of her past. And with what should be the simplest way to save Emeric hanging over their heads, he and Vanja must face a more dangerous question: Is there a future for a thief and a prefect, and at what price?

Title : Painted Devils
Author : Margaret Owen
Series : Little Thieves (book two)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 512
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Release Date : May 16, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5

Hollis’ 4.5 star review

When I tell you that Owen has some kind of magic touch? I am not kidding. I pulled out the big guns by starting this ARC when I feared I was slipping into a reading slump and ka-pow, slump say who? Not I! This was exactly what I needed. Everything I needed. Or, conversely, it proved I just wasn’t picking up good quality reads — or, maybe more fairly, I wasn’t picking up reads that were for me.

But Painted Devils? Pretty much a chefs. fucking. kiss.

Admittedly, it’s not getting rounded up to a five like the series opener did but I think that’s fair. Measuring up to that perfection would be hard, even for this much-beloved-by-me author, even with these utterly-adored-by-me characters.

You are an unparalleled devil from hell in your sleep.”
You stole all the blankets. And then you rolled up in them, like a– a crêpe, so they were stuck on your side. And then when I tried to take one off the top, you turned over, looked me straight in the eye, and said — and I quote — ‘I’ll kill you.‘”
I never.
You followed it up with ‘It’ll look like an accident.’

Honestly, it’s going to be a hard sell to convince you to pick this up if you haven’t already read book one so maybe go read that one and then come back to this. Not that I’ll be spoiling anything but honestly your investment will be low until you unlock the initial achievement. But everything Owen did with book one — the laughs, the fun, the emotes, the glee, the shock — she’s come back to sock you in the teeth with all over again. Because I laughed like a little girl (I was | | close to kicking my feet in the air). I cried like a little girl (maybe only once but I got teary/choked up a whole bunch of times). And I got mad like.. okay, I’ll stop saying little girl, but hoo boy. I got mad.

[..] it’s almost a bit unnerving how quickly everyone joined Team Blood Sacrifices Are Great, Actually.

I had totally forgot about much (most?) of the trauma that Vanja had endured throughout her life. And this book has her facing a lot of it. The conflict, in fact, is woven up with some of the origins of it all. But it was done so beautifully. It broke my heart, too, because much of this book is about learning to love yourself. And that’s a painful process. Especially when your formative years have done everything to destroy the potential and even now you’re faced with constant reminders that you are unworthy. That there’s no reason to be good, to be better, to be anything but what you’ve been ground down to believe you are — which, in Vanja’s case, is worthless. Which is why she struggles with Emeric because how can she trust the love of another when she’s always been unworthy of it? How can she trust that love when she’s never been made to see it in herself? There was so much tenderness in how Owen handled this. And that tenderness carried over in how they approached the intimacy of their romance.

The cold truth is, some part of me is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it’s for no good reason other than the truth beneath, colder still : [..] I cannot believe someone would want me, without agenda, as I am.

Also, Emeric being Vanja’s number one stan? We love to see it. It wasn’t always smooth sailing but I loved how they handled the rougher moments, the misunderstandings, and how in-tune to each other they were.

If more prefects were like you.. I think the empire would make fewer girls like me.”
Well, I think that would be a terrible loss. The.. fewer-people-like-you part. Not the reduction of gross societal injustice.”

I want to be able talk about the little (big) realizations they have about their society, their ability to influence it, and how the struggle to use the laws to help those who need it is.. well, a struggle. And whether it’s better to work outside the system then in it, with it, and all that, but honestly I don’t feel eloquent enough to tackle that. Just know that I saw it, I see it, and I love it. And I hope we get more of in in book three.

This book is also about family. The ones we find, the ones we make, and the ones we’re born to. And oh boy getting misty again. Ahem, but yes, the ties that bind play a big part and I absolutely loved how this played out. Even the parts that hurt.

And you know what else hurt? That ending. Aaaa it was bad enough knowing we had two years to wait after book one but at least that resolution felt, well. Resolved. It almost felt like a standalone. This one is anything but that and I am quietly dying inside. But GR says book three is out in January.. which feels improbable. But I am not going to look a gift horse (hahaha the horses) in the mouth.

It turns out there are few things that kill the mood faster than realizing you have a haunted doll for a voyeur.

Also, shoutout, because I don’t know if I remember there being as many references or memes in book one but we had a few in this one and a few had me howling. The Backstreet Boys bit? I legit cried. More of this please!

As you can probably guess, I highly recommend not only this series but also this author. She’s one of the few releasing YA that I’m guaranteed to pick up these days — but honestly, at this rate, I’ll pick up literally anything she releases and always be desperate for more. Like I am now.

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

YELLOWFACE by R.F. Kuang – double review!

What’s the harm in a pseudonym? New York Times bestselling sensation Juniper Song is not who she says she is, she didn’t write the book she claims she wrote, and she is most certainly not Asian American–in this chilling and hilariously cutting novel from R. F. Kuang in the vein of White Ivy and The Other Black Girl.

Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars: same year at Yale, same debut year in publishing. But Athena’s a cross-genre literary darling, and June didn’t even get a paperback release. Nobody wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.

So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers to the British and French war efforts during World War I.

So what if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song–complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That’s what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.

But June can’t get away from Athena’s shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June’s (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

With its totally immersive first-person voice, Yellowface takes on questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation not only in the publishing industry but the persistent erasure of Asian-American voices and history by Western white society. R. F. Kuang’s novel is timely, razor-sharp, and eminently readable.

Title : Yellowface
Author : R.F. Kuang
Format : ARC
Page Count : 350
Genre : contemporary / satire
Publisher : The Borough Press
Release Date : May 16, 2023

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

Hollis’ 4 star review

I definitely thought I would have hundreds and hundreds of highlights to go through for this review but I think I spent too much of the time just goggling at the text to pause and take the time to mark something for reference later.

This is a book that for someone who is Very Online will feel both absurdist and elle-oh-elle. Because that’s what being online generally feels like. In fact, here’s a perfectly timed quote!

I [..] stare at the wall and mutter “what the fuck?” several times a day.

But seriously, this story feels, in some way, like falling down the rabbit hole on a twitter thread; because while so much of it does detail the every day bits of publishing, the parts we see play out in the internet space and the parts we only hear about after the fact, the pile-ons, the speculation, the conspiracy (insert “I’ve connected the two dots” / “you haven’t connected shit” gif here) the rest of it feels like something you’d see play out on booktwitter.

Because the way this story unravels, the way June slowly gets up on that hinge and then subsequently unhinges herself, is just.. unreal. Strange. Unbelievable. But un-look-away-able. I was glued. And I don’t know why I thought we’d have a reasonable ending to this story but I did and wow sorry but spoiler alert it was something else. Fascinating might be a weird word to use but I’m using it. I was fascinated.

I wish I had more brain power to really dive into all the issues that Kuang tackled — the push for diversity but only so much, the dialogue around who can write what kinds of stories, cancel culture, the toxicity of social media, the publishing industry as a whole, cultural appropriation, professional jealousy, and so much more — but honestly just touching on them is as good as it’s going to get right now. And honestly it’ll be more fun for you to experience without a dissertation on what is almost already a dissertation, though a satirical one at that.

Highly recommend you give this one a go.

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

Micky’s 4 star review

Sociopathic prejudice
A runaway train of lies

Yellowface ran away with my time in the best way, bringing me into this wild trip with the most unlikeable protagonist. The context of the publishing industry, an author without values or respect and a storyline that exploded exponentially was truly addictive reading.

The whole reading experience had me incredulous at the thought processes of Juniper, the main character. How something spirals but moreso the internal justification and validation she gave herself made for jaw dropping reading.

The story prods at readers own observation experiences of social media scandals relating to authors or reviewers who have transgressed on cultural and other prejudicial issues. I relished seeing this kind of narrative given life in fiction, it felt credible despite also feeling sensational.

Brilliantly and satirically written.

“Racism is bad, but you can still send death threats to Karens.”

Thank you to Borough Press for the review copy.


Warrior Princess.

That’s what Nigeria’s father calls her. He’s raised her as part of the Movement, a Black separatist group based in Philadelphia. Nigeria is homeschooled and vegan and participates in traditional rituals that connect her and other kids from the group to their ancestors. But when her mother—the perfect matriarch to their Movement—disappears, Nigeria’s world is upended. She finds herself taking care of her baby brother and stepping into a role she doesn’t want.

Nigeria’s mother had secrets. She wished for a different life for her children, which includes sending her daughter to a private Quaker school outside of their strict group. Despite her father’s disapproval, Nigeria attends the school with her cousin, Kamau, and Sage, who used to be a friend. There, she slowly begins to blossom and expand her universe.

As Nigeria searches for her mother, she starts to uncover a shocking truth. One that will lead her to question everything she thought she knew about her life and her family.

From award-winning author Ibi Zoboi comes a searing, powerful coming-of-age story about discovering who you are in the world—and fighting for that person—by having the courage to remix the founding tenets of your life to be your own revolution.

Title : Nigeria Jones
Author : Ibi Zoboi
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Balzer + Bray
Release Date : May 9, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated

Hollis’ unrated review

Here I am, once again, coming out of a read by Zoboi that I was so excited for.. and just not feeling any of that excitement by the end of it all. I think maybe, as much as I’m enthralled by the author, excited by what they are putting out in the world, it’s just maybe not meant to be for me.

I was lucky enough to attend an event and see Zoboi speak, and speak particularly about this book, and I was just star struck. I was so hooked by how they described this story, this journey, and how it related to them personally, and I was desperate to read it. So ending up here, with this result, is a bummer.

A lot of what Zoboi has done with this story is put the usual tropes of similar journeys on their head and flipped them. This isn’t the slow understanding of injustice and systemic racism and oppression. This is from the point of view of someone who has lived and breathed this knowledge since infancy. Equally, instead of being someone who has broken down barriers and been integrated into a predominantly white school system, Nigeria’s father is actively trying to keep her out of said school because it is, well, a system. And instead he wants to her remain homeschooled with the eventual goal of realizing the Movement, allowing for a curriculum, and a safe space, untouched by white society and structure.

My father doesn’t want to change the world; he wants to create his own world.

But not free of the patriarchy, as Nigeria soon comes to realize.

Despite how interesting all of this was, I found myself hard pressed to push through this book. Despite the sympathy and concern and, well, rage, I felt for Nigeria, I was at equal turns frustrated and put off by her, too. I don’t know if it was the rougher cut of the ARC or how she was meant to be read but she flipflopped a lot from one mentality to the next and maybe that’s understandable with how she was raised vs what she was experiencing but it was very inconsistent. Equally, with all this heaviness, I struggled to connect or at least enjoy the characters, any character, and I’m not sure I found a single one. Maybe KD? Or maybe she was the one I liked because she was easy to like. I don’t know.

I also wasn’t all that surprised by the ‘twist’, if we can call it that, and I just kept waiting for that shoe to drop.

I don’t know, I’m all mixed about this one. So I’m taking the easy way out and leaving this unrated. I am sad about this result but I’m hopeful this was just a case of wrong time for me to read this or maybe, again, I’m just not able to connect with the author’s words despite loving their concepts. So I definitely would not discourage you from picking this up, in fact it’s the opposite. I highly recommend you give this a go. Because frustration with Nigeria’s character and circumstance aside, it’s a whole new perspective on a similar story and I think it’s incredibly important.

[..] where do we draw a line between the harmful ideas our loved ones perpetuate and our own journeys to find meaning and truth in the world?

And hey maybe I wasn’t supposed to enjoy it, just learn from it. And I did. But I also like to enjoy my reads and sadly, as I didn’t, well, here we are.

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


What if marriage was the law? Dare you disobey?

Britain. The near-future. A right-wing government believes it has the answer to society’s ills — the Sanctity of Marriage Act, which actively encourages marriage as the norm, punishing those who choose to remain single.

But four couples are about to discover just how impossible relationships can be when the government is monitoring every aspect of our personal lives — monitoring every word, every minor disagreement — and will use every tool in its arsenal to ensure everyone will love, honor and obey.

Title : The Marriage Act
Author : John Marrs
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : dystopian / sci-fi / thriller
Publisher : Hanover Square Press
Release Date : May 2, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★

Hollis’ 2 star review

This might very well be a “it’s not you, it’s me” thing because I was so hooked by this premise but so little of it satisfied. Infact, I found the whole thing to be bleak and un-fun. And yes, I mean, if you read the plot you might think of course it’s bleak, of course it won’t be fun, but I think there could’ve been a way to have all these themes, these events, and not come away feeling as I do.

Naturally, we aren’t about to root for the system that’s been set-up in this near-future world. But you’d think we would have some characters, or some situations, to root for. Except the only one who was really deserving.. well. He has the most heartbreaking plotline. Everyone else, even those who weren’t sociopaths or narcissists, they were all somehow complicit or hypocritical and while there’s something to be said for shades of grey, complicated personas, well.. yeah. I guess there’s something to be said. But not here.

Because much of what is found in his society, the Smart devices, the Smart homes, etc, already exists in ours, it’s not hard to make the leap that the rest could one day be true, too. Already we see the push to control others, to dictate what’s acceptable, so why wouldn’t this be the next step? It does make you think. But I guess I expected to feel something, too. And I didn’t.

I think if you like an Orwellian dystopian world, especially one that feels just a half-step away, with various POVs that slowly overlap in subtle ways, you might enjoy this. And while I can’t count myself among them, I try this author again.

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

HOW HIGH WE GO IN THE DARK by Sequoia Nagamatsu

For fans of Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven, a spellbinding and profoundly prescient debut that follows a cast of intricately linked characters over hundreds of years as humanity struggles to rebuild itself in the aftermath of a climate plague—a daring and deeply heartfelt work of mind-bending imagination from a singular new voice.

Beginning in 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus.

Once unleashed, the Arctic Plague will reshape life on earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy. In a theme park designed for terminally ill children, a cynical employee falls in love with a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son. A heartbroken scientist searching for a cure finds a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects—a pig—develops the capacity for human speech. A widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter embark on a cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.

From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, Sequoia Nagamatsu takes readers on a wildly original and compassionate journey, spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies to tell a story about the resiliency of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe.

Title : How High We Go In The Dark
Author : Sequoia Nagamatsu
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 304
Genre : sci-fi / dystopian
Publisher : William Morrow
Release Date : January 18, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★

Hollis’ 4 star review

The moment you check-in your hold before remembering you were supposed to go back and write down all your favourites parts of the collection..

Because even though these are more like companion pieces, vignettes, of a whole story, they still do feel like their own separate entities. They connect in more than just the overall plot, as a character referenced in one might have their own story next, and again, and again. Each tackled something a little different for this world, and these people, going through a pandemic. Unlike ours, theirs seemed almost supernatural, science-fiction, and eventually they do progress to leaving Earth and traveling amongst the stars. 

So, yeah, big red flag here : this is a pandemic novel so if you aren’t ready for that, stay far away.

But as initially mentioned, some of these stories were so so great. In fact, the first handful of them were absolute standouts. A few along the way were fine, interesting, but it was the early ones that really hit me emotionally. And near the end things got really unexpected and I enjoyed that, too.

I will absolutely be reading this author again and I’m so glad this somehow ended up on my radar.

IMOGEN, OBVIOUSLY by Becky Albertalli

With humor and insight, #1 New York Times bestseller Becky Albertalli explores the nuances of sexuality, identity, and friendship. 

Imogen Scott may be hopelessly heterosexual, but she’s got the World’s Greatest Ally title locked down.

She’s never missed a Pride Alliance meeting. She knows more about queer media discourse than her very queer little sister. She even has two queer best friends. There’s Gretchen, a fellow high school senior, who helps keep Imogen’s biases in check. And then there’s Lili—newly out and newly thriving with a cool new squad of queer college friends.

Imogen’s thrilled for Lili. Any ally would be. And now that she’s finally visiting Lili on campus, she’s bringing her ally A game. Any support Lili needs, Imogen’s all in.

Even if that means bending the truth, just a little.

Like when Lili drops a tiny queer bombshell: she’s told all her college friends that Imogen and Lili used to date. And none of them know that Imogen is a raging hetero—not even Lili’s best friend, Tessa.

Of course, the more time Imogen spends with chaotic, freckle-faced Tessa, the more she starts to wonder if her truth was ever all that straight to begin with. . .

Title : Imogen, Obviously
Author : Becky Albertalli
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ contemporary romance
Publisher : Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Release Date : May 2, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 

Hollis’ 3 star review

This is somewhat of a painful book. Painful because of what Imogen goes through with the self-doubt (exacerbated by a friend who does not behave in understanding ways for the majority of their interactions) but also painful because it’s so heavily inspired by what the author herself went through. And so many others, in fact, who were forced to come out to be seen as an acceptable voice or presence in queer spaces.

This book is basically what it’s like to exist online these days. All the discourse, the critiques, the questioning (in mostly negative ways), it’s all in here. But thankfully there’s also the other side, too. The found family, the acceptance, the reassurance, and the joy. I hope readers, of all ages, find some comfort in those bits. Because they were lovely.

Gretchen, though, wow. She was exhausting. I literally had to put the book down as the diner scene was ramping up because I knew it would be awful. I knew it would be bad. My blood pressure was spiked. But it’s a true portrayal. Gretchens exist. And they aren’t always coming from a bad place; her backstory was a perfect example of that. And while I highlighted a few bits I think this is the one that stands out the most and is what I hope most people come away realizing :

Maybe shared experiences shouldn’t be the foundation at all. Maybe it should be a promise to hold space for variation.

I wish this book had a been a little less pointed. But I think it comes from a place where it was hard not to be. But it was equally hard at times to get through this; maybe because of the authenticity. There were a lot of feelings. Not all of them good. Which is fine, it’s real. It just made me glad there were silly heart-eyes moments of sweetness with the texts. But being in Imogen’s head, being suffocated by certain forces around her, yeah, it’s a lot. She’s so busy being the perfect ally, the straight friend, that she’s never given the opportunity, or the space, to explore anything more. Until college changes everything. But even then, it’s not smooth sailing.

Which, hey, this is another recent YA read that is actually in the imminently-leaving-for-college and early-days-college stage and can I say? I like this trend of moving outside of the highschool box.

It’s so important for this story to exist, much in the way of Red, White & Royal Blue with Alex’s journey with his sexuality, and so many others I am completely blanking on at the moment, because knowing that it’s safe to come out, to be fluid, to evolve, at any time, at any age, is.. well, important. There is no one singular experience. And I hope this is helpful for anyone who might need to hear that right now.

I would definitely recommend this but would caution you that it is, as I’ve said, hard to read sometimes (maybe about fifty/fifty in the good and not so good bits). Though not likely any worse than scrolling through twitter these days. Just bear that in mind before you get distracted and swoony over that bi-you-tiful cover.

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

THE LAKE HOUSE by Sarah Beth Durst

Claire’s grown up triple-checking locks. Counting her steps. Second-guessing every decision. It’s just how she’s wired – her worst-case scenarios never actually come true.

Until she arrives at an off-the-grid summer camp to find a blackened, burned husk instead of a lodge – and no survivors, except her and two other late arrivals: Reyva and Mariana.

When the three girls find a dead body in the woods, they realize none of this is an accident. Someone, something, is hunting them. Something that hides in the shadows. Something that refuses to let them leave.

Title : The Lake House
Author : Sarah Beth Durst
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA thriller / horror
Publisher : HarperTeen
Release Date : April 25, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★

Hollis’ 2.75 (rounded up) star review

This definitely didn’t go any place I expected based on the pitch I heard (which was more vague than the synopsis) or the vibe of the cover. So in that way I think this’ll definitely surprise you along the way.

Part survivalist, part mystery, part horror, The Lake House focuses on three young girls, all with their own battles, who have to stick together and survive not only in some extreme conditions and circumstances in the wild but also outsmart, and outwit, an added element of danger as well.

I don’t really have a lot to say about this one. I enjoyed it as I read it, though I maybe would’ve liked it more if it was more straight-forward in the sense of the real conflict behind everything that was going on, but I appreciated the characters and their strengths, their determination, and their connection. Having said that, I’m not sure I’ll remember much of this in a few months, even despite the element that otherwise would make this memorable, but that’s okay.

If you enjoy a good mystery mashed up with uncertainty and survival, this might be the read for you!

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