BENEATH THE KEEP by Erika Johansen

The Tearling has reverted to feudalism, a far cry from the utopia it was founded to be. As the gap between rich and poor widens and famine threatens the land, sparking unrest, rumors of a prophecy begin to spread: a great hope, a True Queen who will rise up and save the kingdom.

But rumors will not help Lazarus, a man raised to kill in the brutal clandestine underworld of the Creche, nor Aislinn, a farm girl who must reckon with her own role in the growing rebellion. In the Keep, the crown princess, Elyssa, finds herself torn between duty to the throne and the lure of the Blue Horizon, a group of fierce idealists who promise radical change . . . but Elyssa must choose quickly, before a nefarious witch and her shadowy master use dark magic to decide for her. It is only a matter of time before all three will be called into the service of something bigger than they have ever imagined: a fight for a better world. 


Title : Beneath the Keep
Author : Erika Johansen
Series : The Queen of the Tearling (book zero/prequel)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 448
Genre : fantasy/dystopian
Publisher : Dutton
Release Date : February 2, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Anyone who has read The Queen of the Tearling series probably knew what to expect for this unexpected prequel release. After all, we had mostly learned of all the pre-Kelsea events along the way of the main trilogy. And yet somehow the author still managed to drop a few surprises along the way. And still make this incredibly compelling.

As usual, even though this isn’t a sequel, not a prequel, I can’t say much plot-wise. But if you are new to, or unfamiliar with, this world, you should know it has layers, depths, of darkness. It’s cruel and unjust but glimmers of hope streak through the mire. This was the turning point for these characters, for the world, but there is still much to happen, to endure, before the end.

And some of that might even be an unknown. I don’t know what more is to come, or what time it will fill (likely upto book one? we have quite a few years yet to live through..), but I am keen for it. Completing this series was one of my 2020 successes and I am still riding high on that experience; adding to that delight was, upon finishing, realizing more books were coming (serendipitity!), so I’ll take anything the author is willing to dole out.

A TOUCH OF STONE AND SNOW by Milla Vane

Danger lurks in the western realms. The Destroyer’s imminent return has sent the realms into turmoil as desperate citizens seek refuge—but there’s no safety to be found when demons and wraiths crawl out from the shadows. Even Koth, a northern island kingdom left untouched by the Destroyer a generation past, is besieged by terrors spawned from corrupt magics.

When Lizzan leads the Kothan army against these terrors, only to see her soldiers massacred and to emerge as the only survivor, she is called a coward and a deserter. Shunned from her home, Lizzan now wanders in solitude as a mercenary for hire, until she encounters a group of warriors seeking new alliances with the northern kingdoms—a group that includes Aerax, the bastard prince of Koth, and the man who sent her into exile. 

Though they were childhood friends, Aerax cannot allow himself to be close to the only woman who might thwart his treacherous plan to save their island realm. But when a goddess’s demand binds them together, Lizzan and Aerax must find a way to overcome their painful pasts. Or there will be no future for the western realms…


Title : A Touch of Stone and Snow
Author : Milla Vane
Series : A Gathering of Dragons (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 398
Genre : fantasy romance
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : July 21, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

I definitely liked this more than book one but not more than the prequel (which you should read after book one, by the way). But there are definitely still parts I had to slog through. Thankfully this installment is significantly shorter than book one (almost six hundred pages vs just shy of four) but.. it still felt very long, particularly in the beginning.

I’m not sure I really liked either of the main characters, which is sad as I really liked book one’s heroine, but unlike the hero in book one, at least no one annoyed me in this one. I think I struggled, mostly in the beginning, because there was just so much time bouncing between past events and current that it was hard to hold onto who they were now. And also likely not helped by just feeling a little lost and without any certain footing in said beginning. The middle to almost climax was definitely the highlight for me, both fast paced and interesting, but the actual big conflict seemed.. well, dumb. And over before I even realized. It resolved so quickly it actually took me a few pages to realize it was over and they hadn’t just paused for an interlude.

That said, what helped me feel better about this one was, while I acknowledged and appreciated the worldbuilding Vane put in, from day on, this was the first time I felt proper understanding of some of the mythology. I don’t know if it was poorly explained or we just weren’t meant to know the whole picture up until now (or I’m dumb) but.. I’m diggin’ it. I’m on board. And I like what has been set up for book three, too. Of course, now that I’m caught up I have to wait like everyone else but.. oh well.

Not quite sure this is going to be a series I would go out of my way to recommend but I definitely wouldn’t talk you out of it if you’re already interested in diving in.

POISONED by Jennifer Donnelly

Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.

When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.

Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.

Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.


Title : Poisoned
Author : Jennifer Donnelly
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 331
Genre : YA fantasy retelling
Publisher : Scholastic Press
Release Date : October 20, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

I was keen for this retelling because of how much I had loved Stepsister, the author’s previous fantasy reimagining, and yet almost from the get-go I knew this wouldn’t have the same kind of magic as the Cinderella-inspired story did.

While there was a lot of creative elements at work within Donnelly’s version of Snow White, I was, sadly, bored and uninspired by much of it. I missed the hard feminist edge that we’ve had in the author’s aforementioned work. It wasn’t totally missed here, there were some interesting points about the stepmother and her role, and I loved how that was spun, but.. that was really the only highlight.

If you have yet to read this author, I would definitely start with this one if you want a dark fairytale reimagining, but I think starting with Stepsister will leave you as disappointed by this one as I was. That same spark just isn’t here.

If the author has more dark reworkings in her future I will still pick them up. But my expectations will be quite a bit lower.

THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI by Akwaeke Emezi

What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew?

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom. 

Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations—a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader


Title : The Death of Vivek Oji
Author : Akwaeke Emezi
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 248
Genre : contemporary/magical realism/LGBQTIAP+
Publisher : Riverhead Books
Release Date : August 4, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

This review is difficult because on the one hand I want everyone to read this but on the other I don’t want to put this in the hands of anyone who would be made uncomfortable by it. I also don’t want to give spoilers. But nor do I tend to list content warnings because a lot of people find them spoilery (as do I). So I’ll just do what I always do : if the summary sounds like something you would want to read, but you are now concerned about the content within the space around said plot, please seek out the warnings. There are lots of reviews that list them, even if mine won’t.

If, on the other hand, you’re impervious to much or all as long as it’s in a fictional setting, and you’re SOP is going in knowing nothing.. at least you’ll go in braced for anything. So I guess you’re welcome? No refunds.

Some people can’t see softness wihout wanting to hurt it.

Jokes aside, the one spoiler I’m okay going into is, well.. the title. It’s right there. Watching the story play out both after, and before, and during, the death of Vivek Oji was.. so many things. Haunting and heartbreaking, lonely and lovely, painful and proud, unthinkable and unflinching. See? So many.

Temporarily occupying this world, this town in Nigeria, this family, the little communities within the community, these issues, I was just completely swept away. Emezi’s writing is so incredible. It honestly lulled me into a safe place even as I read about things I would otherwise (and still did, don’t get me wrong) feel disconcerted by. There was such warmth and gentleness at the core of this story even as it broke your heart. Shocking everyone (!), though, I didn’t actually cry while reading this but one part in particular got me very close.

The are quite a few POVs and storylines that split off from the main story and I was fine being taken away, even though I didn’t want to be, because I just wanted to keep reading. I didn’t care what strange path we were diverted onto. And then by the end.. you see the pieces as one whole. Not just one angle, many, not just one complicated and complex life, but many. We’re all part of a bigger picture and I felt that so strongly here.

Again, I won’t be recommending this, but oh am I glad I read it. That I’ve discovered this author. And that I have more books from them to read.

FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley

Debut author Angeline Boulley crafts a groundbreaking YA thriller about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community, for readers of Angie Thomas and Tommy Orange. 

As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother. 

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation. 

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, but secretly pursues her own investigation, tracking down the criminals with her knowledge of chemistry and traditional medicine. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home. 

Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known. 


Title : Firekeeper’s Daughter
Author : Angeline Boulley
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : YA contemporary/mystery
Publisher : Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Release Date : March 16, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

While this has not become a new favourite like I thought it might, I highly encourage all readers to consider picking up this book. I know we all feel differently about what a three star rating means but please know that I did really enjoy reading this. But what’s more I just think this book deals with so many important things.

The best way I can pitch this story is something along the lines of an Indigenous Veronica Mars. But unlike Neptune, this world balances more than just the haves and the have-nots, but also the dynamics of the Ojibwe community and those outside; of which Daunis, our biracial protagonist, knows well. The complexities of the Native community are explored beautifully (at least from this reader’s perspective!) and while I never felt like I was being lectured to, I nonetheless wanted to know more. However, much like Neptune, there are some dark depths both in this setting and this community, so bear that in mind and seek out content warnings if you require them.

I don’t want to get too into the details of the plot itself as this unraveled in ways I wasn’t expecting but I will say that what brought this down, and kept it from a higher rating, was I felt some weakness in the romance and maybe some of the layers of the whole mystery felt a little.. overblown? Too much? There is a lot going on in this debut. I think had a few off-shoot plotlines not been included it would’ve felt a little stronger, a little more contained, but I still enjoyed what this was at its core. That said, if you can suspend a little extra disbelief, which most of us do anyway when it comes to fiction, you might be okay. Additionally, there were also plenty of lovely passages and turns of phrases that absolutely have me keen to read whatever comes next for this author.

If you’ve made it to the end of this review, and if you haven’t already done so, I would highly recommend you also search out some #ownvoices reviews.

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

A WISH UPON THE STARS by TJ Klune

Nearly a year ago, blinded by grief and betrayal, Sam of Wilds made a desperate decision to follow the Great White into the Dark Woods. Now, he emerges to a world changed.

The City of Lockes is a prison. The King has been locked away in the dungeons. The Kingdom of Verania has fallen, and the Dark wizard Myrin sits on the throne. 

But soon after his return, Sam learns of a resistance fighting in his name led by a courageous knight, a defiant prince, a pissed-off unicorn, and a half-giant who wants to smash everything in sight. If he has any hope of defeating the villains who have taken their home, Sam must face the consequences of his choices—and the friends he left behind.


Title : A Wish Upon the Stars
Author : TJ Klune
Series : Tales from Verania (book four)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 450
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy romance
Publisher : BOATK Books
Release Date : November 12, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

Welp, it’s done. We made it.

Sorta. Almost. <– because the short story/fairytale collection is out in April and also the series will continue with a different MC in 2022, I think. But for n o w. It’s done.

I’m not really going to have anything new to say about this series, not even for the finale. I joked with my buddies that if the author had cut out all the repetition and rehashing we’d only have had two books to read through instead of four. I stand by that statement. Pretty much nothing happened until 60% (and these are not short books so that was a long 60%), or at least not much we hadn’t already gone over or lived through or had some variation of before, so.. yeah. Says a lot, I think.

There were moments that made me snort. Maybe one particular scene almost had me welling up. But overall? These books are just A Lot. The characters are Too Much. And everything that happens is What The Fuck. So if that sounds like your jam, read on! Dive in! Enjoy!

I definitely did not get out of this what I thought I would, back when I first started, but that’s okay. I am happy to have completed a series (for now) and for the buddy read adventure with said buddies.

THE DEVIL IN HER BED by Kerrigan Byrne

He lives in secret service to the Crown—a man of duty, deception, and an undeniable attraction to a woman who threatens to tear his whole world apart.

They call him the Devil of Dorset. He stands alone, a man of undeniable power. Moving in and out of shadows, back alleys and ballrooms, he is unstoppable and one of the Crown’s most dangerous weapons. However, when he sets his sights on the undeniably beautiful Countess of Mont Claire, Francesca Cavendish, he doesn’t realize that he has met a match like no other.

TRUE LOVE WEARS NO DISGUISE

Francesca is a countess by day and stalks her prey—those responsible for the death of her family—by night. What she does not expect is to be thrown into the path of the devil himself, the Earl of Devlin. She has secrets of her own and he seems determined to lay them bare. Can her heart survive finding the love of her life and losing him when all is revealed?


Title : The Devil in Her Bed
Author : Kerrigan Byrne
Series : Devil You Know (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 419
Genre : historical romance
Publisher : St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date : March 9, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

I have to say, on the one hand, it’s refreshing for the male of the pairing to be the drama queen. But on the other hand.. wow, drama queen.

I think I’ve said in all my reviews that the highlight of this series is the strong female characters, and the friendships, and while I think this one didn’t showcase as much of said friendship as the previous installments, we didn’t really need it to. It had been well established. And it was actually sweeter to see the heroes from books one and two step into the limelight to support not only their partners but book three’s heroine, too. We love a supportive friend group.

As for this book’s hero, well. My complaint in book two was that character lacked the dimension of book one but I feel like this time Byrne went too far in giving this hero layers and angst. See aforementioned drama. But my struggle was also the dynamic of this relationship was complicated from the word go, with hidden identities and secrets, and nothing really made sense.. romantically. The sudden shift didn’t make sense and it felt like some revisionist history was shoved down our throats to conveniently make it all work and I’ll admit I didn’t swallow, I choked.

What also didn’t quite work for me was the big reveal of this secret society that was such a driving force behind all of the books leading upto this big confrontation. I appreciate that it’s sort’ve addressed on-page to be pointless and frustratingly simple and or stupid but still.. I struggled with this.

The first half of this book is why this rating isn’t lower. I felt it to be pretty strong, even if I rolled my eyes at some of the hero’s behaviour and dramatic internal monologuing. Seeing the lengths the heroine was going, had already gone, for revenge, for those she loved; what she had turned herself into, become, and without knowing the how or why (at the time), it was also rather lovely to see how the hero appreciated it. Even if he was suspicious. Additionally I was definitely swept away by some of the chemistry and pull between these two before some of the masks came off. All of that really saved this. And with a weaker heroine it wouldn’t have worked at all.. but she was truly the saving grace for this story and pairing; which is definitely the theme for most of this series. Sisters really are doing it for themselves. We love to see it.

While this wasn’t an all-around win, rarely does Byrne disappoint to the point where I find no enjoyment at all in her stories. And I’m forever here for how she always gives us fierce heroines to champion. And that’s just one reason I will continue to read this author.

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

ACT YOUR AGE, EVE BROWN by Talia Hibbert – double review!

In Act Your Age, Eve Brown the flightiest Brown sister crashes into the life of an uptight B&B owner and has him falling hard—literally.

Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong—so she’s given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It’s time for Eve to grow up and prove herself—even though she’s not entirely sure how…

Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner’s on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry—and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell. Then she hits him with her car—supposedly by accident. Yeah, right.

Now his arm is broken, his B&B is understaffed, and the dangerously unpredictable Eve is fluttering around, trying to help. Before long, she’s infiltrated his work, his kitchen—and his spare bedroom. Jacob hates everything about it. Or rather, he should. Sunny, chaotic Eve is his natural-born nemesis, but the longer these two enemies spend in close quarters, the more their animosity turns into something else. Like Eve, the heat between them is impossible to ignore—and it’s melting Jacob’s frosty exterior. 


Title : Act Your Age, Eve Brown
Author : Talia Hibbert
Series : The Brown Sisters (book three)
Format : eARC/audio
Page Count : 400/10 hours 51 minutes
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Avon / Little Brown UK
Release Date : March 9, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

I mean, is anyone surprised that this was a delight? Nope. Because I don’t think Hibbert can do any wrong. And The Brown Sisters series has been truly wonderful and I’m pretty sad it’s over. But.. might there be hope of a spinoff? With the Montroses? Pretty please?

[..] you’re not even supposed to give them bread.
You aren’t? Oh dear. Why on earth not?
It’s bad for the disgestion! Christ, woman, read a waterfowl blog.”
Which you do because..
Because. Know thine enemy.

This final installment was a grumpy/sunshine delight of a matchup. These are two such very different characters and their first interaction, quickly followed by disaster, certainly set the tone for their wee bicker banter battles. The evolution from that, to friends, to scorching, to more, well.. it was delicious and fun and sweet and also a little heartbreaking. What added to the loveliness of this pairing wasn’t just their differences, though, but also how they fit together almost like two sides of the same coin. Not the same but alike.

Jacob’s attitude was rather like a barbed-wire fence; designed to rip you to shreds if you got too close, but only to protect something special.

While I still think I maintain that book one, Get a Life, Chloe Brown, was my favourite, as much as seeing the sisters and their partners was nice, it didn’t get me as excited as I would’ve thought, as Eve was truly was the star of her own story. And I just wanted more time with her. Jacob, too, was just.. I can’t think of any word but special. But he was.

[..] the world would be a much better place if they stopped congratulating themselves on being normal and started to accept that there were countless different normals, and Jacob’s kind was just as fine as everyone else’s.

My only tiny complaints were the third act drama, though now that I’m outside of the moment I think I’m less bothered by it in hindsight, it’s far from the worst I’ve read!, and the ending. Despite the sweetness of the moment, and how it’s not leading upto what you might think, it did end a tad abruptly and I was left bereft; and not just because it’s over.

This is such a lovely town. I don’t know how you manage to stay so grumpy when you live here.”
Through great force of will.”

If somehow you’ve managed to resist picking up this series, or even a single Hibbert, I’m here to yell at you until you change your mind. This is a much beloved author for a reason and you will be better for reading her books. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here and, surprising no one, will pick up whatever she releases next.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Neurodivergent rep
Steam
Bad driving
Sisterhood
Did I mention steam?

There’s something just so easy about sinking into a series where you know something about the characters and The Brown Sisters is a series that has really floated my boat from the start. As with the other Brown sisters, Eve was wholly individual but also quirky, confident and yet not.

The story started with a blow-up, an escape and a bang as Eve found herself in the Lake District which was pretty fun but <enter side left> came Jake. Abrupt, grumpy, perfectionist and with a hard shell, Jake’s character had to be unravelled and Eve was certainly up to the task.

This story had elements of the ridiculous (just as life is sometimes) and the combination of Eve and Jake interacting and at odds with each other brought much humour, me sniggering and dialogue that you just couldn’t make up. I can’t deny that when the family came together in the story I had moments of cosily settling in, seeing these sisters and their partners together.

The representation in this book felt genuine, not forced. The story repped neurodivergent characteristic and body positive behaviour with sloganed T-shirts. All these things for the win. I would be interested in finding some neurodivergent #ownvoices reviews to check how this felt on reading.

Overall, Act Your Age, Eve Brown was a pleasurable read with intense heat and the wit I’ve come to know Talia Hibbert for. These books go on the re-read pile.

I did a combination of physical and audiobook and the narration (dual POV) was excellent and fitted the mood and characters really well.

Thank you Piatkus, Little Brown and LibroFM for the early review copies.

PERFECT ON PAPER by Sophie Gonzales – double review!

In Sophie Gonzales’ Perfect on Paper, Leah on the Offbeat meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: a bisexual girl who gives anonymous love advice to her classmates is hired by the hot guy to help him get his ex back

Her advice, spot on. Her love life, way off.

Darcy Phillips:
• Can give you the solution to any of your relationship woes―for a fee.
• Uses her power for good. Most of the time.
• Really cannot stand Alexander Brougham.
• Has maybe not the best judgement when it comes to her best friend, Brooke…who is in love with someone else.
• Does not appreciate being blackmailed.

However, when Brougham catches her in the act of collecting letters from locker 89―out of which she’s been running her questionably legal, anonymous relationship advice service―that’s exactly what happens. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy begrudgingly agrees to become his personal dating coach―at a generous hourly rate, at least. The goal? To help him win his ex-girlfriend back.

Darcy has a good reason to keep her identity secret. If word gets out that she’s behind the locker, some things she’s not proud of will come to light, and there’s a good chance Brooke will never speak to her again.

Okay, so all she has to do is help an entitled, bratty, (annoyingly hot) guy win over a girl who’s already fallen for him once? What could go wrong?


Title : Perfect on Paper
Author : Sophie Gonzales
Format : eARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ contemporary romance
Publisher : Wenesday Books/Hachette Kids-TeamBKMK
Release Date : March 9, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

It’s always strange to like something but have complicated thoughts or feelings about aspects of it.. and yet still can’t help but rate it highly. That’s really where I’m at. I don’t think this is going to be a particularly informative or cohesive review, just warning you now.

Overall I just want to say how happy I am that, conflicted confusedness aside, it is easier to like to this vs how I felt about Only Mostly Devastated, which just didn’t settle with me very well. The abovementioned was so messy and while we do have some mess, some misguided elements in Perfect on Paper, it was.. a more acceptable mess, if that makes sense. Or maybe I was just more forgiving of it.

You do realize I’m agreeing with you here?
I guess I’ve never had agreement feel so much like an argument.”

I can definitely suspend some of my disbelief at how competent a sixteen year old was at dispensing sage and well researched romantic advice to her peers but the narrative is pushed that said advise is well researched, well intentioned, so I can probably eat that one. And what helps to sell it is that while she’s being paid, she’s doing it to help others, as a passion project, and that goes a long way vs just doing it just for cash or to collect secrets on her peers. The motivation changes everything.

Did a fight lead to the breakup?
More or less. I guess I gave her an ultimatum.
You didn’t.”
I wish that were true.
Why didn’t you just throw a fucking grenade between you while you were at it?

So many elements of this felt strong; the mention but lack of focus, or harping, on her sister’s transition. The discussion around queerness, specifically internalized and externalized biphobia. The ego checks our lead received throughout regarding missteps in advice, in realizing some people didn’t want her help, and more.

Where I think this was a bit weak, even though it played a big role, was her relationship with her best friend and, initially, the characterization of a love interest. Eventually the latter smoothed out but I do wonder if I missed something to explain why he behaved the way he did in the beginning. I’m not quite complaining as I found the interactions totally delightful because of how frustrating they found each other, but I still wish maybe something had been offered up as a why. But for the best friend, well.. I don’t know. Something never really sat right about that dynamic. And I don’t want to touch on too much for risk of spoilers — and a few other niggles are maybe too specific to mention for that same reason — so.. insert vague vagueries here.

I don’t know if this review is coming across as positive as a four star would warrant but I’ll refer you back to my opening paragraph. Something about this just confuses me even though I enjoyed it so so much. Was it perfect? No. But it did just enough right. And I was just so happy about the ending, particularly one little interaction that shouldn’t be so momentous, and may not even be remarked by many, but just.. wrecked me a bit. Left me so soft. And that combined with the fact that I couldn’t tear myself away from this, well.. here we are.

After my (albeit, strange) success with this sophomore release, I’m even more excited for what is to come for this author.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Page turner
LGBTQIA+ rep for days
Incredibly cute

A clever story was contained in these pages, all centred around Locker 89 and Darcy. Darcy was bi-sexual, crushing on her friend and seemed to limit her life options and expectations. She also ran an advice service through locker 89 (you’d have to read to understand). Now I’ve got that out of the way, I can talk about my own expectations – I had no idea where the romance of this story was going to go for the first part; I loved the lack of expectation.

Friendships were on the menu, a smattering of drama, lots of secrets and lies and problematic parents. I liked Brooke but only a bit, Ray definintely grew on me, Ainsley was fab and Brougham delivered on the slow building chemistry. Brougham slowly defrosted in this story and I enjoyed the reveal of his character.

There was something special about being seen the way that Brougham seemed to see me.

There was something flawed and cocky about Darcy but also plenty of self-realisation and awareness to mitigate the cockiness. The bi context delved into the some really important experiences, which only enhanced the story even more. This book had a lovely pitch of light with the odd casting of darkness across the page. I loved that circle back around to the ‘job’ towards the end.

Perfect on Paper confirmed that Only Mostly Devastated was not a one-off piece of goodness, Sophie Gonzales followed that up with another superb offering. I still need to visit her back catalogue of titles.

Thank you to Hachette Kids & TeamBKMK for the early review copy.

ENLIGHTENED by Joanna Chambers

David Lauriston has been recuperating at Lord Murdo Balfour’s Laverock estate for the last five months. At Laverock, he has regained his health and confidence and has found—with Murdo—more happiness and contentment than he has never known before.

David is all too aware that some day soon he will have to leave Laverock—and Murdo—and return to his legal practice in Edinburgh, just as Murdo will have to return to his life in London. But when David’s mentor, Patrick Chalmers, asks David to return to Edinburgh to visit him on his deathbed, it seems that day has come sooner than either David or Murdo would have wished.

Chalmers begs David to undertake one last piece of business for him: to secure the future of Chalmers’s daughter Elizabeth. But to carry out his old mentor’s wishes, David must travel to London, with Murdo.

No sooner have the two men arrived in the capital than they encounter Murdo’s ruthlessly manipulative father, who reveals a shocking secret that rocks David to his foundations. What’s more, when David discovers Elizabeth is facing far greater danger than even her father feared, he is determined to help her, no matter the cost to his own safety.

As the stakes rise, it is Murdo who must choose what he is prepared to sacrifice to keep David at his side, and ask whether there is any possibility of lasting happiness for men like them.


Title : Enlightened
Author : Joanna Chambers
Series : Enlightenment (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 279
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ historical romance
Publisher : indie
Release Date : January 8, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

And so concludes the main trilogy of this series following David and Murdo. I’m quite pleased by their ending, as well as the endings of a few other characters that followed them throughout these three books, and honestly I was the least irked by either of their behaviour in the telling of this particular installment.

That said, while I was very happy, and occasionally moved by the emotional revelations, it was one particular bit of plot featuring a good friend of David’s that got me the most emotional. I may have teared up.

While — for whatever reason — this series hasn’t become a new favourite, it can’t be denied that I really got on well with Chambers’ writing and really enjoyed the characters. I have two novellas still to read that feature these two leads (so I guess I’m not quite done..) and while I look forward to seeing what else they get upto (though you likely won’t see those reviews here, maybe check GR if you’re curious), I am keen to see what this author does with a different pair. That said, if you’re a fan of KJC or Cat Sebastian and you want another queer historical series to sink your teeth into, and you haven’t yet tried these, I would recommend! They aren’t too long and they are smartly written. And I still hope to discover a Chambers I’ll love in her other series — or maybe even in the books within this world. Fingers crossed!