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FINLAY DONOVAN JUMPS THE GUN by Elle Cosimano

Author and single mom Finlay Donovan has been in messes before―after all, she’s a pro at removing bloodstains for various unexpected reasons―but none quite like this. When Finlay and her nanny/partner-in-crime Vero accidentally destroyed a luxury car that they had “borrowed” in the process of saving the life of Finlay’s ex-husband, the Russian mob did her a favor and bought the car for her. And now Finlay owes them. 

Mob boss Feliks is still running the show from behind bars, and he has a task for Finlay: find and identify a contract killer before the cops do. The problem is, the killer might be an officer themself.

Luckily, hot cop Nick has just been tasked with starting up a citizen’s police academy, and combined pressure from Finlay’s looming book deadline and Feliks is enough to convince Finlay and Vero to get involved. Through firearm training and forensic classes (and some hands-on research with a tempting detective), Finlay and Vero use their time in police academy to sleuth out the real contract killer to free themselves from the mob’s clutches―all the while dodging spies, confronting Vero’s past, and juggling the daily trials of parenthood.

From USA Today bestseller and Edgar-Award nominee Elle Cosimano, comes Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun—the highly anticipated, hilarious, and heart-pounding next installment in the beloved Finlay Donovan series…


Title : Finlay Donovan Jumps The Gun
Author : Elle Cosimano
Series : Finlay Donovan (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : mystery / thriller
Publisher : Minotaur Books
Release Date : January 31, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

Pretty sure in my review for book two I said something about my suspension of disbelief button getting a workout but hoo boy. That’s nothing compared the third installment in this series. Poor pointer finger is exhausted.

That aside, I have to say, I found it extremely hard to get back into this world; or, maybe more accurately, the writing. I cared nothing for the characters, the nonsense they had once more gotten themselves twisted up in, and certainly not the romance. Can I blame all that on the writing or am I just over this concept? I’ll admit the red herrings for the mystery were well done but it sorta feels like everything was made more convoluted and dramatic, as opposed to less, because of Finlay and Vero’s involvement. And that did not make for a great experience.

I am all for a plucky heroine stumbling into bigger things and having to navigate but like.. it’s just not working anymore. Things are either too big for her to be emerging unscathed or things just aren’t being taken seriously enough and therefore the stakes aren’t high. Or both, sometimes at the same time. It’s a weird feeling. The vibes are off.

Also, that big near-final scene happening surrounded by all those cops? Yeah bloody right. The eyerolls.

Also also, the very meta writing bit about Finlay and her characters is getting tired, too.

While Vero had definitely saved some of the bits that I had previously given side-eye, she did not fare so well in this one. I worried her subplot would add to the OTT and ruin her and yeah, I think it did. Honestly, the only character I really enjoyed in this one was Wade, a firearms instructor, because his lack of fucks really spoke to me. Nick, one of the many (!) love interests, wasn’t too bad, either. I am just bewildered by all these menfolk panting after Finlay because I do not get the appeal.

But what do I know; the same could be said about my feelings for this series vs the many many readers who are having a blast. So.

While I had hoped to find a spark of love for this series, I think I’ll stick this on the back burner until the end is in sight.

ps, still wishing Steven was dead.

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

BEGIN AGAIN by Emma Lord

As usual, Andie Rose has a plan: Transfer from community college to the hyper competitive Blue Ridge State, major in psychology, and maintain her lifelong goal of becoming an iconic self-help figure despite the nerves that have recently thrown her for a loop. All it will take is ruthless organization, hard work, and her trademark unrelenting enthusiasm to pull it all together.

But the moment Andie arrives, the rest of her plans go off the rails. Her rocky relationship with her boyfriend Connor only gets more complicated when she discovers he transferred out of Blue Ridge to her community college. Her roommate Shay needs a major, and despite Andie’s impressive track record of being The Fixer, she’s stumped on how to help. And Milo, her coffee-guzzling grump of an R.A. with seafoam green eyes, is somehow disrupting all her ideas about love and relationships one sleep-deprived wisecrack at a time.

But sometimes, when all your plans are in rubble at your feet, you find out what you’re made of. And when Andie starts to find the power of her voice as the anonymous Squire on the school’s legendary pirate radio station–the same one her mom founded, years before she passed away–Andie learns that not all the best laid plans are necessarily the right ones.

Filled with a friend group that feels like family, an empowering journey of finding your own way, and a Just Kiss Already! romance, Begin Again is an unforgettable novel of love and starting again


Title : Begin Again
Author : Emma Lord
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : January 24, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★.5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

Even though this is the lowest I’ve rated a book by Lord, I still consider her an auto-read author. But this didn’t quite reach the usual levels of charming that I’ve come to expect. And mostly, and I’m bummed to say it, that’s because of the main character, Andie.

Strike one : her way of non-swearing by instead using cutesy dessert names. Nope. Strike two : her over-fixating on everyone’s problems but her own. Strike three : the romantic drama that any hints at would mean revealing some spoilers.

While I liked the supporting cast, barring the one we aren’t supposed to like, I wish they had been fleshed out a bit more. So much time was spent on various elements like the advice plotline, the ribbon plotline, the parental issue plotline, and then all the love interest backstory drama plotline.

Maybe I’m just in a mood and maybe I would’ve liked this more had I read it another time but the whole thing just tried too hard to feel rosy and charming and sweet without authentically being that way. And I’m used to feeling that authenticity from this author so I’m bummed. But that’s okay. There was enough for this to be still somewhat enjoyable but it did take me way too long to push through during those draggy bits.

Despite all this, I will continue to pick up and read Lord. While I’m sad this wasn’t a win the odds are definitely in her favour (and mine!) for future releases.

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

SIX TIMES WE ALMOST KISSED (AND ONE TIME WE DID) by Tess Sharpe

Six moments lead us to two girls, one kiss, and three little words that were maybe always true in this gorgeous novel perfect for fans of Nina LaCour and Jenny Han.
 
Penny and Tate have always clashed. Unfortunately, their mothers are lifelong best friends, so the girls’ bickering has carried them through playdates, tragedy, and more than one rom-com marathon with the Moms. When Penny’s mother decides to become a living donor to Tate’s mom, ending her wait for a liver transplant, things go from clashing to cataclysmic. Because in order to help their families recover physically, emotionally, and financially, the Moms combine their households the summer before senior year.
 
So Penny and Tate make a pact: They’ll play nice. Be the drama-free daughters their mothers need through this scary and hopeful time. There’s only one little hitch in their plan: Penny and Tate keep almost kissing.
 
It’s just this confusing thing that keeps happening. You know, from time to time. For basically their entire teenaged existence.
 
They’ve never talked about it. They’ve always ignored it in the aftermath. But now they’re living across the hall from each other. And some things—like their kisses—can’t be almosts forever.


Title : Six Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did)
Author : Tess Sharpe
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ YA romance
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : January 24, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

You’d think we all would’ve learned by now but it bears repeating for relevancy — and also because I have not learned by now — but : a colourfully illustrated cover does not mean there is a lack of heavy. And this book has the heavy. Hoo boy.

Yes, spoiler alert, I cried. Twice.

This book is hard, yo. There is a lot of grief and loss to wade through, especially as it manifests so differently for so many people; and these characters are no exception. And, hey. Do you also love fraught mother-daughter dynamics? Because this has that, too. I do not love that dynamic, I find it incredibly horrible to experience, but instead of ruining the book (which has definitely happened to me before) I can respect it because Sharpe did such a great job with.. well, everything.

But before you run screaming in the opposite direction, this is also a queer romance and wow. Sharpe did this so well, too. The will-they-won’t-they-why-the-fuck-haven’t-they-already was perfect. All the flashbacks were brilliant. The core of these two girls was just.. gah. Their whole thing. Not friends, not enemies, but constantly in orbit. I loved them so much. You know that scene in The Pirates of the Caribbean? The “JUST KISS” scene? That was this entire book, pretty much. Minus the parts that were not.

Oh, and before, I forget, because it bears mentioning. I also loved their friends, both grade A cinnamon rolls, so much. I love me a friend group. This one wasn’t quite an ensemble but they left their mark nonetheless.

Yeah, I really loved this. And it’s left me with the same feeling I had after finishing The Girls I’ve Been. Which is : I need to read this author again. Deep dive her backlist. Put her on my radar for upcoming reads. All of the things.

If you can handle a heartbreaking and emotional but also really lovely story, with incredibly connections and complex dynamics, you need to pick this up.

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

GEORGIE, ALL ALONG by Kate Clayborn

In this heartfelt tale of one woman’s quest to reinvent herself, the acclaimed author of Love Lettering and Love at First delivers a poignant, witty reflection on how the hopes, dreams, and stories from our past shape our future . . .

Longtime personal assistant Georgie Mulcahy has made a career out of putting others before herself. When an unexpected upheaval sends her away from her hectic job in L.A. and back to her hometown, Georgie must confront an uncomfortable truth: her own wants and needs have always been a disconcertingly blank page. 

But then Georgie comes across a forgotten artifact—a “friendfic” diary she wrote as a teenager, filled with possibilities she once imagined. To an overwhelmed Georgie, the diary’s simple, small-scale ideas are a lifeline—a guidebook for getting started on a new path. 

Georgie’s plans hit a snag when she comes face to face with an unexpected roommate—Levi Fanning, onetime town troublemaker and current town hermit. But this quiet, grouchy man is more than just his reputation, and he offers to help Georgie with her quest. As the two make their way through her wishlist, Georgie begins to realize that what she truly wants might not be in the pages of her diary after all, but right by her side—if only they can both find a way to let go of the pasts that hold them back. 

Honest and deeply emotional, Georgie, All Along is a smart, tender must-read for everyone who’s ever wondered about the life that got away . . .


Title : Georgie, All Along
Author : Kate Clayborn
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Kensington
Release Date : January 24, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

There are a few authors I should know better than to pick up late at night, thinking I’ll only read a few chapters before going to bed. Clayborn is one of them. I finished this after midnight on a work night but the next day sleepies were w o r t h i t.

Additionally, on a related note, there are only a few authors who make me want to flip over, upon finishing the book, and start again. Surprise surprise, Clayborn is also one of those. I have yet to do that but the urge is there. Also, immediately reread all my favourites (of which there are many). But I digress but what does any of this have to do with Georgie, All Along? Nothing really. Except that hopefully it conveys the all around good feeling it gave me.

I will be very curious to see if people find this vibed a little different from past Clayborn’s. Maybe it’s just me and my headspace. But that’s not a bad thing. It just feels very far away from Love Lettering and more in line with her debut series. Again, not a bad thing. It’s good to mess up your expectations a little.

What never ceases to amaze me are how much I fall in love with this author’s characters. And this crop is no different. From Georgie, to her love interest Levi, to her bestie Annabel, to Hank the dog, arg. Everyone stole my heart. But when it came to Georgie, can I just say, that few people do messy eccentric-adjacent characters like Clayborn? In many other hands, Georgie would’ve been OTT and cringey but somehow she was made to be loud and chaotic and it feel genuine instead of put on. I loved, too, the theme of the story, of trying to go back, and how that was woven through for so many of these characters and yet they each had different emotional beats to tackle and resolve, things to face, and how those all shook out.

Also, can I just say, Levi’s style of texting? Outstanding. Ten out of ten.

Start to finish there was just so much great here and I honestly don’t know what else to say about it except : read it.

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

INTO SHADOW series by Adeyemi, Grossman, Harrow, Vo, Muir, Henry, Nix

Hi readers, here’s another little review round-up for you, this time packaged together because it’s a collection of short stories and a) my thoughts will be brief as befits a review for a novella, and b) you can read these as standalones because nothing actually connects.


Fifteen years ago, Lęina’s mother, Yuliana, went searching for a mythical place called the Garden and never returned. Determined to learn the truth about what happened, Lęina travels to Brazil to search for the hidden realm, with Yuliana’s journal and a local tour guide leading the way. But Lęina soon begins to wonder if she’s looking for answers—or if what she truly wants to find is herself.

Title The Garden
Author : Tomi Champion-Adeyemi
Series : Into Shadows (book one)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 44
Genre : contemporary / fantasy?
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 1.5 star review

This is part verse, part story, about a woman’s journey to follow her mother’s footsteps to a mythical or legendary garden and I sadly didn’t like the poetry elements (which just read like bad poetry as opposed to evoking any kind of feeling or visual) or the story.

I felt nothing for the character or the journey and was glad this was one of the shortest of the set. Also very glad I didn’t actually start with this and know there is good to be found in this collection. Though I wonder if I’ve already experienced the best there is? Guess we’ll see!


Ever since her dad disappeared five years ago, Persephone has quietly walled off the feelings she’d rather not feel. There’s no room for pain or anger when you’re just trying to get through the hell that is high school. But one day, the crush of taunts and disappointments is finally too much—and a power breaks loose inside her that she never knew was there. 

Title Persephone
Author : Lev Grossman
Series : Into Shadows (book two)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 31
Genre : YA sci-fi
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 1.5 star review

I’m not sure this one had enough time to really evoke the sense of crushing disappointments that would cause the main character’s power to break loose. Instead things happen very quickly, via a rather whiny or maybe just poorly written female YA POV, and boom, it’s like the X-Men or something — but for only a hot second because then it ends. Which is definitely not the vibe I was expecting from the title or the cover. But I guess that aesthetic is for the whole and not the part? I just wish it vibed, like, at all.

If you’re wanting an actual Persephone retelling or homage set aside those wants or.. actually just pass this one right on by.

Overall I didn’t struggle with the writing of this one the way I did with the first instalment, which was just trying too hard, but conversely I wish this one had actually tried to do something. Anything.


Always mindful of the debt she owes, the girl finds her worth as a weapon in the hand of the Prince. Her victories make him a king, then an emperor. The bards sing her name and her enemies fear it. But the war never ends and the cost keeps rising—how many times will she repeat her own story?

Title The Six Deaths of the Saint
Author : Alix. E. Harrow
Series : Into Shadows (book three)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 30
Genre : fantasy / historical
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022


Hollis’ 5 star review

Now this is how you do a story in novella form, wow. I don’t know what I want more, a full length story about this or for it to be encased in amber, untouched and preserved, so it can stay exactly the way it is.

I absolutely loved everything about this. The title, the concept, the evolution of the story, everything. No notes, this is chefs kiss.

I was trying to talk myself out of giving this five stars but listen — life is short and my slump has been long, so let’s just do the damn thing.

Also, I enjoyed this so much I bought it! Just incase it ever disappears off KU or amazon as a whole.


The Fogg River Seminary, a girls’ school in a small Illinois town, is supposed to be just another stop on Maryse and Vasyl’s endless travels. They’ve made lucrative use of Maryse’s “foreign” looks in their melodramatic séance act—and an act is all it is. Then, during their performance, a blizzard sweeps in and cuts them off from town completely. In the freezing halls, there’s a voice speaking the secrets of the dead, and Maryse has no choice but to listen…because this time, the voice is real.

Title What the Dead Know
Author : Nghi Vo
Series : Into Shadows (book four)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 31
Genre : historical / paranormal / horror
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 4 star review

The vibes that were missing from book two were very very present here.

Not only was this a cohesive story, it was very well written, it had excellent atmosphere, and it felt like a perfect slice of life from the time period. I also really enjoyed the characters, both in who they were and the roles they both had to play.

This might actually only be a 3.5 as I do think it would do a bit better as a longer story, particularly with the plot elements near the end as it related to a crime and mystery. But considering the massive disappointments that were the first two instalments, which I’ve just finished as I read some of these out of order, I’m feeling generous. Additionally, the call back to the title was really great.

Also, side note, I really need to read more by this author because this was my first go at her writing and I want more of this.


A fresh-faced newcomer arrives in an isolated, gang-run town and soon finds herself taking a job nobody else wants: bodyguard to a ghoul. Not just your average mindless, half-rotted shuffler, though. Lucille is a dancer who can still put on her own lipstick and whose shows are half burlesque, half gladiator match. But the stranger is no stranger to this particular ghoul. Both women are undercover in their own way. And both have something to lose if their connection comes to light.

Title Undercover
Author : Tamsyn Muir
Series : Into Shadows (book five)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 59
Genre : paranormal / sci-fi
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 3 star review

This is the fifth of the set but it was actually the first one I read because, duh, Muir. I also thought it would be the only one I would actually read but I was inspired to give the rest of these a go because it was a low stakes venture without any real commitment required. Also, I’m in (was in?) a slump. Now, onto the review..

This almost almost works. But it’s maybe trying to do too much for the page length — though it’s longest of the bunch! — and things are (per Muir’s usual way) confusing and complex; and even when it’s all revealed you still don’t maybe quite get it (or maybe that’s just me). I’m definitely an outlier on this though because it seems most people enjoyed it whether they understood it or not and that has definitely been my experience with the author’s other works. But this one was just missing.. something to seal the deal; at least for me.

The end was good though.


When her husband dies unexpectedly, Maggie Royal is struck with sinister visions that foretell danger for her and for her five-year-old daughter. Her mother and grandmother were said to have “the sight,” but it was never like this. With no one alive to turn to, Maggie must move quickly to uncover the meaning of her visions before her candle is snuffed out.

Title The Candles Are Burning
Author : Veronica G. Henry
Series : Into Shadows (book six)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 37
Genre : historical / paranormal
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 2 star review

This one was mostly failed by the ending, I think. An extra ten pages to flesh things out, instead of rushing through the big reveal (which, to be honest, I don’t think things really work in a way that makes a whole lot of sense..), not to mention maybe beefing up the final few pages to flesh out why this was an acceptable bargain, would’ve done this a lot of good.

The setting may have been the most interesting part and the writing wasn’t bad. But some bits felt a little rougher than others and this could’ve maybe been more successful with a little more care (in the sense that it felt a bit like a draft) and explanation.


It’s business as usual on the set of another cheap sword-and-sandal production by Pharos Pictures—until the lead actress suddenly falls into a deep, mysterious sleep. Jordan Harper can talk down high-strung starlets and knock sense into stuntmen, but this…this is the kind of uncanny problem that he’d usually bring to Mrs. Hope. Unfortunately, the preternaturally capable secretary is on a business trip with the studio head. Harper must get to the bottom of the mystery on his own before another cast member succumbs—or worse, they blow the budget. 

Title Out of the Mirror, Darkness
Author : Garth Nix
Series : Into Shadows (book seven)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 38
Genre : historical / paranormal
Publisher : amazon original stories
Release Date : November 15, 2022

Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I’m so glad we ended on something of a high note because this has been a rollercoaster of a ride!

While I can’t say I found myself invested in the characters, the story itself was really good. I enjoyed both the time period and the setting, the paranormal element (it felt a little Indiana Jones to me but gender bent), and the writing kept me glued to the page.

Infact, this is one of the few stories in this collection that actually, start to finish, felt like a fully fleshed out read without that sense that something was missing or rushed. If not for the fact that none of the characters will have any staying power in my mind, this would’ve received a higher rating. But if Nix ever decided to make this into a series, I would definitely read more from them.


In conclusion, my overall thoughts as to this series — or, more accurately, this collection of stories? As a whole, it’s good they are on KU because I could definitely see some people getting bamboozled into buying up the lot because of all the star power in the line-up, when really the standouts are few; though they do standout. You don’t need to take my word for which those might be but I highly recommend you pick through what interests you and start there.


Is this a series you’re interested in or is this the first you’re hearing of it? Do collections like this, whether longform or short, interest you in general? Let us know!

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L.M. Montgomery

As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever . . . but will the Cuthberts send her back to to the orphanage? Anne knows she’s not what they expected—a skinny girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. If only she can convince them to let her stay, she’ll try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes and blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. Anne is not like anyone else, the Cuthberts agree; she is special—a girl with an enormous imagination. This orphan girl dreams of the day when she can call herself Anne of Green Gables.


Title : Anne of Green Gables
Author : L.M. Montgomery
Series : Anne of Green Gables (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 308
Genre : classic / children’s novel
Publisher : L.C. Page & Co.
Release Date : June 13, 1908

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

It’ll perhaps be a shock to some that I, a Canadian, had never before read Anne of Green Gables. Or watched any of the various adaptations. I, in fact, knew little to nothing about this beloved world. Somehow this one just passed me by and, considering all the reading I had done as a wee child, I couldn’t tell you why. It being a favourite of my blog buddy’s, however, was a source of constant gentle mockery and side-eye. So she didn’t hesitate a moment to recommend this to me when I said I was tackled the Twelve Books in Twelve Months as suggested by friends challenge. And so here we are.

I admit, I had some trepidation going into a novel that so many grew up with and cherished and few likely experienced for the first time as adults. Compounded by the fact that it’s a classic and obviously written for the time, well. I didn’t expect this would work for. But I was surprised how much I found myself enjoying the read.

My one major complaint, of course, were the pages and pages (and pages.. and pages..) of monologues by little miss Anne Shirley herself. At first, it was cute. By the mid-point? I was tired. My eyes started to glaze. Any feelings of cuteness had expired amongst the endless recitations and constant dramatics. And just when I thought I’d have to put the book down and try again later, we turned a corner. Anne grew up just enough. Became more introspective (there was a lovely passage I forgot to highlight, something about how she’d pruned herself a bit, something she reflected on when other characters questioned why she wasn’t as much as chatterbox as she’d been) and I really appreciated that — not just because it gave me a break from the monologues but because it was such a timely and lovely bit of maturity. But unfortunately some of the damage was done and, character growth or no, I was looking forward to the story wrapping up (for now).

As for the other characters, well. I’ve always heard or seen of things related to Anne and Gilbert but sans context I never knew much about it beyond that there was some kind of hate or rivalry between them. And, now that I understand some of it, I really adored their dynamic. I especially liked how she always stopped herself from saying his name outright. And I liked, most, their little truce at the end of this first book.

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert were the other standouts. I thought their differences, their dynamic with Anne, and how everything about what they expected out of this little orphan changed so quickly, was sweet. My favourite scene of the entire book might be the chapter we first meet Anne on the drive home with Matthew. That stuck with me.

While this might not have any lifechanging impact on me, the way it has for so many (though it’s still early to say for sure!), overall, I had a pretty good time in Avonlea and will definitely be reading on. Hopefully I’ll enjoy things a little more as Anne continues to get older but really it was only those endless, tiresome, eyes-glazing-over, monologues that hurt my experience. Because I was invested enough in this little place, with these people, to even get a wee bit emotional over a certain sad chapter. So, that says a lot, even if I am a notorious sap.

So thank you, Micky, for this recommendation and I hope to add this series to my various goals for the year so as to read them all before the end of 2023.

GLITTERLAND by Alexis Hall

In the past, the universe is a glitterball I hold in the palm of my hand. 

In the past, I am brilliant and I am happy and my every tomorrow is madness. 

In the past, I am soaring, and falling, and breaking, and lost. 

And now, there is only this.
 

Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on hope, happiness, and―most of all―himself. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations. 

Then a chance encounter throws him into the path of Essex-born Darian Taylor. Flashy and loud, radiant and full of life, Darian couldn’t be more different…and yet he makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of his anxiety. But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can no longer see a way out. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can someone who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own? 


Title : Glitterland
Author : Alexis Hall
Series : Spires (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 287
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ romance
Publisher : Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date : January 17, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

This ended up being my final read of 2022 and I was so glad to go out with a bang. Between the holiday stresses and busyness, a well timed ruin-all-my-down-time cold, and general slumpy behaviour before all that went down, it had been a time. Which is why I needed a (almost sure to be) guaranteed good time. And while this is a reread, I was also curious to see if Hall would make any changes for the transition of Glitterland from indie to trad.

While I can’t say I noticed anything that stood out — one or two bits felt a little updated but to be honest I haven’t read this in four years so it’s possible nothing actually was changed and I was just trying too hard to notice differences — nonetheless? It was a great time.

Glitterland was a recommendation early-ish on in my queer reading journey and not only has it stood out amongst the hundreds I’ve read since, it’s also stood the test of time.

It’s a classic match-up of a grumpy sunshine romance, using the London and Essex as cultural differences to add to the whole opposites attract, with some added hurdles to contend with in the way of depression, anxiety, and more. Hall manages a perfect balance between the serious and the not-so-serious and it makes those heavier moments feel more real because of how they are handled.

Personally, Darian is the standout for me. I’ve always had a soft spot for Ash’s glitter pirate but I know he won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (he is, after all, a shade of orange). But the true magic is made in the match-up and I know I’ve already mentioned the balance but.. it’s there. Also? It’s steamy. Other than For Real (another book I desperately want to see made trad!), this might have the most on-page sex in any of Hall’s books and (notably, in that book as well, my other top favourite) it reminded me of how well Hall uses those scenes to allow his characters to communicate. It’s not just a flurry of appendages and grunts but their personas are very much present in those moments. And, honestly, that’s rare.

Truthfully, I could go on about the fun group ensembles each character has respectively; the nuances and agonies touched on in discussion of the various stages of Ash’s mental health experience and journey and how that impacted, and imploded, relationships and what’s left in the aftermath; I could speak to how fun (as a non-UKer) it is to read along with Darian’s accent on page and in my head (honestly, if you can stand the accent, highly recommend the audio!); I could even drown this review in all the quotes and standout lines (even if you deserve to experience them first hand, in context, and so I refrained) to try and find the right one to hook you. But honestly? Just read this book.

Also, as much as I loved the original cover? This cover also has my heart.

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

MYSTERIES OF THORN MANOR by Margaret Rogerson

In this sequel novella to Sorcery of Thorns, Elisabeth, Nathaniel, and Silas must unravel the magical trap keeping them inside Thorn Manor in time for their Midwinter Ball!

Elisabeth Scrivener is finally settling into her new life with sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn. Now that their demon companion Silas has returned, so has scrutiny from nosy reporters hungry for gossip about the city’s most powerful sorcerer and the librarian who stole his heart. But something strange is afoot at Thorn Manor: the estate’s wards, which are meant to keep their home safe, are acting up and forcibly trapping the Manor’s occupants inside. Surely it must be a coincidence that this happened just as Nathaniel and Elisabeth started getting closer to one another…

With no access to the outside world, Elisabeth, Nathaniel, and Silas – along with their new maid Mercy – will have to work together to discover the source of the magic behind the malfunctioning wards before they’re due to host the city’s Midwinter Ball. Not an easy task when the house is filled with unexpected secrets, and all Elisabeth can think about is kissing Nathaniel in peace. But when it becomes clear that the house, influenced by the magic of Nathaniel’s ancestors, requires a price for its obedience, Elisabeth and Nathaniel will have to lean on their connection like never before to set things right. 


Title : Mysteries of Thorn Manor
Author : Margaret Rogerson
Series : Sorcery of Thorns (book 1.5)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 192
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date : January 17, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

So, surprising no one because my brain is a sieve, I didn’t remember much about Sorcery of Thorns except that a) I really liked it, b) it’s the only Rogerson I’ve rated a four (which I suppose is related to the first point), and c) Silas. I mean, part of what I liked was the banter and vibes, the leads were very good, but I mean I don’t think anyone left that first book without thinking very fondly of a certain demon.

Naturally when I had the chance to possibly snatch up an early copy of this surprise reveal novella, I was pretty stoked. Even moreso to receive. And I waited, oh, an entire day before diving in. And what a treat. What a delight! Why did I rush into this but also I’m glad I didn’t have this gem waiting nearby unread because it was great. Perhaps has even inspired a reread..

Regardless, there isn’t a whole lot I can spoil if you haven’t yet read Sorcery of Thorns (so go do that now) but suffice it to say : fans? You will be pleased. Satisfied. Delighted! There were juicy little bits, lovely little bits, funny little bits, and the combination resulted in a very delicious whole. Saying that out loud sounds wrong but I think you get what I mean.

Highly recommend!

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

HELL BENT by Leigh Bardugo

Wealth. Power. Murder. Magic. Alex Stern is back and the Ivy League is going straight to hell in #1 New York Timesbestselling author Leigh Bardugo’s Hell Bent.

Find a gateway to the underworld. Steal a soul out of hell. A simple plan, except people who make this particular journey rarely come back. But Galaxy “Alex” Stern is determined to break Darlington out of purgatory―even if it costs her a future at Lethe and at Yale.

Forbidden from attempting a rescue, Alex and Dawes can’t call on the Ninth House for help, so they assemble a team of dubious allies to save the gentleman of Lethe. Together, they will have to navigate a maze of arcane texts and bizarre artifacts to uncover the societies’ most closely guarded secrets, and break every rule doing it. But when faculty members begin to die off, Alex knows these aren’t just accidents. Something deadly is at work in New Haven, and if she is going to survive, she’ll have to reckon with the monsters of her past and a darkness built into the university’s very walls.

Thick with history and packed with Bardugo’s signature twists, Hell Bent brings to life an intricate world full of magic, violence, and all too real monsters. 


Title : Hell Bent
Author : Leigh Bardugo
Series : Alex Stern (book two)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 496
Genre : adult fantasy
Publisher : Flatiron Books
Release Date : January 20, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Starting the year off with a book you’ve been anticipating since July of 2019 takes some courage. What if it’s bad? What if you have to stew in that disappointment for the next three plus years (or longer.. though, ideally, less) until the next instalment is out?

Thankfully I don’t have to reckon with either because Hell Bent was not bad. It was very not bad. Which just means I have to once more desperately anticipate a sequel. Darn. But also yay?

What had he imagined? Some muttered words, a voice from the beyond? Had he thought there would be dignity in this? But this is what real magic looked like — indecent, decadent, perverse.

This sequel opens with a banger of a chapter but, of course, it wouldn’t be the Alex Stern series if we didn’t bounce around in the timeline a bit. At first I worried it would feel samey, especially having just reread Ninth House, but it didn’t. I enjoyed it. It just worked so well and, in some ways, I hope it sorta becomes the vibe of this series going forward. Or not. I’ll be happy either way. Mostly just happy for more..

Anyway, what can be said about the plot of this without giving away the whole game for book one? Not much, really! But everything you loved from the first instalment is here.. and more. We get some solid found family/Scooby Gang vibes (but make it hell-ish and oh how I love the little twist to one of their addition near the end) adventures and some new paranormal additions beyond the rituals and artifacts we’ve seen so far. We were teased on Alex’s potential (and oh my the callback to book one was [chefs kiss]) along with a psych-out that literally had me wanting to throw my book against the wall (in a good frustrated kind of way, not mad at all). Not to be forgotten we, of course, had Darlington Darlington Darlington, plus an image of the aforementioned gentleman demon that will live in my head rent free for all eternity, a heist (of sorts!), and so much more.

[Darlington]’d go to hell for me, for you, for anyone who needed saving.”
Alex, he’d go to hell just to take notes on the climate.

Bardugo really leans into the darkness of this world. Not just in the deeds or the presence of violence but in the sense that magic isn’t sparkly rainbow funtimes. The preparation, the doing, the results? It’s messy. It’s messed up. And, like so much, it benefits only a certain crowd because who has access, who has the power at their fingertips, and is willing to do whatever they can to keep it? You know the answer.

But at the same time, I love that we got to see a side of Alex that is the opposite of the one who has dwelled in a different kind of darkness, one who could see herself at Yale, at lectures, learning and living a different kind of existence. There was such a great balance to the events of this book, to the characters, to how they’ve changed, and who they might still become, and it’s all mixed up into this perfect little.. well, tempest in a teapot.

In many ways Hell Bent has done more to whet my appetite for this series than Ninth House did because we’re just that much closer to seeing some things play out and become realized. Even if I think we’ll be waiting quite a while for most (all?) of it to come to fruition. And that’s even if it ever does.

That was all there was in this world. No heroes or villains, just the people you’d brave the waves for, and the ones you’d let drown.

I truly can’t wait for what comes next. I’m just hoping it doesn’t require a trip to hell to magic it into existence! But, like so many things, this was worth the wait. And I know the rest will be, too.

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

LOST IN THE MOMENT AND FOUND by Seanan McGuire

A young girl discovers an infinite variety of worlds in this standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Wayward Children series from Seanan McGuire, Lost in the Moment and Found.

Welcome to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go.

If you ever lost a sock, you’ll find it here.
If you ever wondered about favorite toy from childhood… it’s probably sitting on a shelf in the back.
And the headphones that you swore that this time you’d keep safe? You guessed it….

Antoinette has lost her father. Metaphorically. He’s not in the shop, and she’ll never see him again. But when Antsy finds herself lost (literally, this time), she finds that however many doors open for her, leaving the Shop for good might not be as simple as it sounds.

And stepping through those doors exacts a price.

Lost in the Moment and Found tells us that childhood and innocence, once lost, can never be found.


Title : Lost in the Moment and Found
Author : Seanan McGuire
Series : Wayward Children (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 160
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Tordotcom
Release Date : January 10, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 4 star review

This story had me in a chokehold the moment I read the dedication and my heart was immediately broken into bits — which reminds me, there is an author’s note and content warning so please be mindful before picking this one up. Due to the one-connected, one-standalone pattern, this particular instalment isn’t part of the main storyline and instead focuses on Antsy, a young girl who runs away from home rather than face the horrors that await her at the hands of her stepfather, and, stepping through a door (which also happens to be a Door), finds herself in a junk shop housing lost things; of which she, herself, has become one.

Unlike most instalments, main plot or otherwise, this doesn’t have a lot going on. It’s a very quiet book which is incredibly fitting considering the subject matter of the beginning and also the themes for the rest of the story. And while I didn’t break down and cry (though I foresee one particular scene maybe being cause for many a tear, though I’m not sure why I didn’t shed any myself!), this somehow still packed a punch.

This series had been on a downward trajectory for me up until the last book and I’m delighted that I’ve loved one of these enough to again award a four star (only the second ever). I hope that means we only continue to go up — though I’d be just as happy to stay steady here! — because I do love the concept of this series, I admire the themes, and often I’ll even enjoy the characters. And yet somehow they never combine into a win. But this time? They did.

As this reads as a standalone, even if you aren’t invested in this series already, I would highly recommend it.

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