WICKED FOX by Kat Cho

A fresh and addictive fantasy-romance set in modern-day Seoul.

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret–she’s a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.

But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead–her gumiho soul–in the process.

Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than just a beautiful girl–he saw her nine tails the night she saved his life. His grandmother used to tell him stories of the gumiho, of their power and the danger they pose to humans. He’s drawn to her anyway.

With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more. But when a young shaman tries to reunite Miyoung with her bead, the consequences are disastrous . . . forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.


Title : Wicked Fox
Author Kat Cho
Series : Gumiho (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 448
Genre : YA paranormal/fantasy
Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date : June 25, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating
: ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

This is a paranormal fantasy, with a heavy focus on Korean mythology, set in present day Seol. And boy did it hook me right away.

My mother says gumiho are always women because we gain our power from the moon.”
And what is a man?
Dinner.”

Honesty, the first 1/3rd of this book was nonstop delight. It was interesting, refreshing, funny, thrilling.. I loved both our heroine, a half-human half-nine-tailed fox — who chooses to siphon the life force from evil men to survive (unlike her mother, a full gumiho, who prefers to go straight for the liver) — and our plucky, clumsy, devil-may-care hero, who has the good (or bad, depending on your point of view) fortune to be rescued by her. 

[his grandmother] used to tell Jihoon stories about [goblins] tricking humans and nine-tailed foxes eating the livers of men. Horror stories camouflaged as fables to teach lessons. But those types of stories were supposed to stay in books, not come to life and almost choke him to death.

Both characters have endured the loss of parents and are variations of isolated or alone : Miyoung because she doesn’t fit in, and her mother has taught her to not stand out so as to never give herself away, and Jihoon who, despite having two good friends, just tends to keep things light, and on the surface, so he can’t be hurt by further loss. 

And your father is a gumiho, too?
He was human.”
Was? Is he dead?
How should I know? I’ve never met the guy.”
How dysfunctionally ordinary.”

I loved that, without feeling heavy handed about it, these characters also put the more typical fantasy gender stereotypes somewhat on their head. Miyoung is the one with the power, the strength, and she’s the one recusing the hero. But she’s also the monster.

When you’re constantly treated as a pariah, and labeled bad, you might begin living up to the expectation.”

Things get — extra — complicated when Miyoung’s bead, her soul, is separated from her body, and there are shamans, secrets, and betrayals galore. I especially enjoyed events right around this time, when Miyoung is trying to solve her problem without crossing her stern mother, when she’s trying to fend off Jihoon’s attempts at friendship, and all the funny little exchanges they have. But this book did kind of falter shortly after most of that early action and things felt pretty dragged out. This is also a pretty long book (over four hundred pages) so a long book was made to feel longer because stuff just.. isn’t happening?

If I die, it’s not for you. I’m dying for me.”

That said, I found the world effortless to lose myself in. The writing, the mythology, the worldbuilding, the chapters that showcased and told us of past Gumihos, it was all fascinating. The characters, too, I really liked and it was, at times, really funny. And while the middle did drag, I thought the ending captured some of that early magic for me, so I’ll definitely read on (not sure if this is a duology or a trilogy at this point).

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

ONE WORD KILL by Mark Lawrence – double review!

Ready Player One meets Stranger Things in this thrilling new novel by bestselling author Mark Lawrence.

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.


Title : One Word Kill
Author : Mark Lawrence
Series : Impossible Times (book one)
Format : paperback
Page Count : 204
Genre : YA sci-fi / historical fiction
Publisher : 47North

Release Date : May 1, 2019
Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ /★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

ONE WORD KILL is a story I was absolutely, 100%, reading for the characters.. and maybe not so much for the plot. But at the same time, parts of the plot compelled me, even as they confounded me because.. science.

This is pitched as READY PLAYER ONE meets Stranger Things and I can definitely see why. It’s set in the eighties, features a group of D&D playing nerds (which, by the way, were some of my favourite scenes! and I say that as a non-D&D’er), and has fantastical sci-fi elements. But despite those elements this felt pretty grounded in reality : our lead character, and sole POV, is fifteen and dying of cancer and up until now the biggest hurdle some of these teens have had to face is the local bully, work up the courage to talk to a girl, or survive with a somewhat less-than-stellar parental figure. It gave the story a lot of gravitas, and sadness, without feeling melodramatic.

That said, I was more onboard with the wibbly wobbly timey wimey travel and paradox than I was the local psychopath who stalks the group and makes their lives scary and violent. Strangely enough I found that the least believable of everything I read.

With where this installment has ended, though, I’m left wondering : what’s next? I’m surprised there’s no cliffhanger but that doesn’t mean I’m not diving right in to book two.

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


Micky’s 3.5 – 4 star review

Hold onto your hats, people. This was a fast-paced crazy ride that I found myself pretty interested in despite not always understanding the quantum mechanics (think Martian-level science and the way you get through that). ONE WORD KILL was about parallel universes, time travel and a great set of teenagers.

What made this tale palatable were the group of friends that were central to the story; Nick, Mia, Elton and the rest. The somewhat creepy Demus also grew on me. These friends were dungeon and dragons geeks and although I know nothing about the game or geekdom, it was kind of fun to read and it didn’t take up too large chunks of the narrative.

Nick’s personal story is what captivated me from the first page, his situation was sad and compelling but the exciting story that unfolded drew my attention away from his illness leaving me to get to know Nick just as he was. I really liked him and I kept reading for him. The British setting felt completely authentic for the 1980s that it was set in and I really appreciated that context.

However…there were periods of what the heck-dom in this book as the story got a little crazy and a little over science-y. All that said, the characters kept me grounded and reading. I’m really looking forward to the next two in this series and I’m hoping that the time travel aspect will come full circle. This book is definitely worth a try if you like sci-fi, science-based fiction and time travel.

FIX HER UP by Tessa Bailey – double review!

Georgette Castle’s family runs the best home renovation business in town, but she picked balloons instead of blueprints and they haven’t taken her seriously since. Frankly, she’s over it. Georgie loves planning children’s birthday parties and making people laugh, just not at her own expense. She’s determined to fix herself up into a Woman of the World… whatever that means.

Phase one: new framework for her business (a website from this decade, perhaps?)
Phase two: a gut-reno on her wardrobe (fyi, leggings are pants.)
Phase three: updates to her exterior (do people still wax?)
Phase four: put herself on the market (and stop crushing on Travis Ford!)

Living her best life means facing the truth: Georgie hasn’t been on a date since, well, ever. Nobody’s asking the town clown out for a night of hot sex, that’s for sure. Maybe if people think she’s having a steamy love affair, they’ll acknowledge she’s not just the “little sister” who paints faces for a living. And who better to help demolish that image than the resident sports star and tabloid favorite?

Travis Ford was major league baseball’s hottest rookie when an injury ended his career. Now he’s flipping houses to keep busy and trying to forget his glory days. But he can’t even cross the street without someone recapping his greatest hits. Or making a joke about his… bat. And then there’s Georgie, his best friend’s sister, who is not a kid anymore. When she proposes a wild scheme—that they pretend to date, to shock her family and help him land a new job—he agrees. What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s real. But the girl Travis used to tease is now a funny, full-of-life woman and there’s nothing fake about how much he wants her..


Title : Fix Her Up
Author : Tessa Bailey
Series : Hot and Hammered (book one)
Format : OverDrive (eBook)
Page Count : 397
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : June 11, 2019

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


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’ve not had the greatest luck with past Bailey reads but this cover was super cute and I was seeing mostly positive buzz so, when my blogging buddy expressed interest in reading it, I thought, why the hell not. I’ll give it a go, too.

Where this story succeeded? Georgie. She’s one hell of a great heroine. Passed over by her family, overlooked in both her social and love life, and a clown. Literally, professionally, a clown. She’s got your trademark quirky girl thing down but it works. It really really does because she’s sweet, she’s genuine, and she eventually starts to stand up for herself. But she doesn’t change a single iota of who she is.

You turned my perfectly innocent backyard into construction worker porn. All we need is some light jazz.”
Yikes. What kind of porn are you watching?
The respectable-lady kind.”

Also a success? The lady friends. Or, as they call themselves, The Just Us League. Cue all the lols. Sure it’s an obvious ploy to write more books, featuring these other two friends, but whatever, it worked, I’m here for it. Based on the characters, I think one will be super angsty and the other could be super hate to love? Just a guess.

Where this book failed? The hero. And, actually, almost all the male characters? Georgie’s brother eventually redeems himself in a way but I was mostly just confused by some of the instances he popped up and when I wasn’t confused I was incredibly annoyed by him. But he served a purpose. Most spectacularly, though, I just.. I don’t get Travis. Sure he’s bruised, he’s battered, he’s got baggage. But other than a few pings of sympathy, I just didn’t care about him. Which made the romance not always my favourite and compounded with how much I did not get on with the sexytimes? Made for a weird mood. But I’ll give him credit (Bailey credit?) because the moments he stood up and supported Georgie? Particularly the early moments when he saw things amiss and wanted to put a stop to it, even if he sometimes resisted the urge For Reasons, those moments were lovely. Because he saw her.

So, yeah, this is a weird one for me. It’s incredibly funny at times, very heartwarming and empowered with female solidarity, but the underlying purpose of the romance just didn’t work for me. Would I read on in the series? Absolutely. So I guess that’s a win.


Micky’s 3.5 star review

FIX HER UP is a fun and sometimes delightful romance, not exactly rom-com but definitely served with a slice of quips and clever banter. The couple in this story are reunited in adulthood where before they were arrogant brother’s friend and annoying little sister. In the now, Travis was a washed-up baseball star with a less than stellar reputation and Georgie was a clown (yes, really).

Georgie was actually rather endearing from the start and I appreciated her individual journey in this book from innocence to empowerment. However, I also really appreciated the feminist undertones and message of the threesome friendship of women who Georgie was part of.

Travis I have to say, was pretty unlikeable initially. I wanted him to be less uncertain, have more balls generally and eventually he came through. BUT and there’s a bit but…I wanted to choke him on his constant use of the phrase ‘baby girl’. That phrase just goes through me and I don’t think I am alone in this. I seriously had to reduce half a star for this aspect because it was so overused and it plucked me out of the story everytime.

These two together had quite a lovely story, kind of fakey dating but not. I loved their chemistry together even if I didn’t always appreciate how the intimacy played out.

I am really excited about the next couple. They’re married and it’s not working and I am all grabby hands.

HITHER, PAGE by Cat Sebastian


A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.

The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.

As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.


Title : Hither, Page
Author Cat Sebastian
Series : Page and Sommers (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 200
Genre : historical romance, LGBTQ+
Publisher : Indie
Release Date : June 18, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating
: ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

It feels like it’s been some time since I read something by Sebastian and I quite enjoyed this little reunion. But I’ll admit that of the plot, the characters, and the romance.. I think I only liked the characters.

He was so accustomed to playing a role, acting a part, completing a mission, that sometimes he found it convenient to ignore that beneath the mission there was a man.

The plot for HITHER, PAGE was an almost Clue-like whodunnit, set in a small English town after the war, and there was spycraft and secrets afoot. But I wasn’t really too bothered by the who or the why. I mostly just wanted to spend more time with the characters. This town had a whole host of interesting personalities and, to be honest, I’m not sure I disliked a single one. Some were just.. darling. Others clever and mischievous and precious af. And even more were all of the above plus suffering from mental trauma and PTSD and longing for quiet from the horror the world had just survived. Side note : all signs point to this being a series and oh I hope so. I want more of this little place and these people.

You’ve got what half the village seems to have. Half has a streptococcus infection and the other half is murdered. Quite the lovely place.

As for the romance. Because this wasn’t quite novel length, yet not quite novella (?), there was only so much time dedicated to the romance what with all the murder-yness murder going on. It definitely had moments of cute but, I think, if it is actually going to be a series.. I wouldn’t have minded waiting on them to cement things until the next instalment. Things moved a little quickly considering they knew one another for only the span of a week and I know it happens all the time in romance books but.. sometimes you just aren’t sold. Like I said, cute, but.

I wasn’t sure you’d want to see me.”
Then you’re not as clever as you look. I’m losing all faith in the intelligence services.”

I’ll definitely read on because I love the idea of a mystery series set in a small town and I’m looking forward to getting to know the other characters a little better each time. Plus I want a chance to be sold on the romance. So, yes, consider me invested.

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

IF I’M BEING HONEST by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

High school senior Cameron Bright’s reputation can be summed up in one word: bitch. It’s no surprise she’s queen bee at her private L.A. high school—she’s beautiful, talented, and notorious for her cutting and brutal honesty. So when she puts her foot in her mouth in front of her crush, Andrew, she fears she may have lost him for good.

In an attempt to win him over, Cameron resolves to “tame” herself, much like Katherine in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. First, she’ll have to make amends with those she’s wronged, which leads her to Brendan, the guy she labelled with an unfortunate nickname back in the sixth grade. At first, Brendan isn’t all that receptive to Cameron’s ploy. But slowly, he warms up to her when they connect over the computer game he’s developing. Now if only Andrew would notice…

But the closer Cameron gets to Brendan, the more she sees he appreciates her personality—honesty and all—and wonders if she’s compromising who she is for the guy she doesn’t even want.


Title : If I’m Being Honest
Author : Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka
Format : OverDrive (eBook)
Page Count : 370
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date : April 23, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

IF I’M BEING HONEST is something of a love letter to the archetype of the mean girl. The girl who is pretty, blonde, popular and always there with a harsh barb. What these authors do with that character, however, is somewhat different from what we’ve come to expect.

If every glare I earned, or didn’t earn but received nonetheless, bothered me, I’d drown in the judgment.

Cameron is beautiful, blonde, popular.. but she’s not rich. She doesn’t have a string of broken hearts in her past — infact, she’s been very purposefully single for two years. She has plans for her life and she executes them accordingly, each task an item on her list to be crossed off. She’s methodical because it’s something she can control. Because her home life is complicated, fraught with emotional minefields, and her honesty — her drive — is a direct result of the neglect and belittling from her father, and the disdain she has for her mother’s string of failed jobs, failed motivation, failed ability to parent. Cameron feels driven to prove to her successful, and absent, father that she can be worthy of his attention, worthy of his love, that she is unlike her mother who earns only his scorn. She puts in the work because she can see, with her own two eyes, that work gets results.

Which is why she spends a year planning out her perfect relationship. She meets the guy, likes the guy, and waits. She wants to see that he has drive, has ambition. And when she finally makes her move.. it, unfortunately, backfires. And the boy in question no longer wants her, much less likes her, as a result.

I didn’t understand it at first. Wouldn’t a person be a better friend if they told the truth? [..] I’ve always thought of honesty as helpful even if it’s hurtful.

It’s in studying THE TAMING OF THE SHREW that Cameron sees so much of herself in the main character and decides to reinvent herself, to prove herself worthy of being liked, to soften her edges; to self-tame. And so begins her road of apologies, of amends, to reinvent herself.

I would have to be pretty desperate to put my fate in the hands of Cameron Bright, the girl who wrecked my life in the first place.”
Grant, you passed desperate when you were modelling lingerie for the innocent bystanders in a bookstore.”

IF I’M BEING HONEST is a retelling/reimagining of the aforementioned Shakespeare play, as well as Ten Things I Hate About You, and honestly? By about ten percent I wanted to shout my love of this book from the rooftops. It was funny, it was unflinching, it was heartfelt, it was raw. The evolution, not only of Cameron but the relationships — platonic and romantic — was so.. organic? Genuine? Real? Sure, it occasionally journeyed a somewhat expected path as far as plot progression, and emotional speed bumps, but it was the strong writing, and the solid characters, that carried it. That, infact, made it soar.

The ending doesn’t wrap everything in a bow; not every broken or bruised relationship is mended, not everyone is perfect and pleasant. The characters don’t change, they evolve. They don’t just apologize, they forgive.

Nobody’s ever bothered to figure out what would be the exact right thing to say to me. What I need to hear.

This book made me laugh (a lot), tear up (a few times), and even had a few less-than-subtle ‘these characters are from our first book’ cameos shoehorned in at near the end. I didn’t even really mind, even if it felt a little clunky, and I have no problem taking the hint and have, in fact, already put a hold on that first book. But other than that little tease, this is a true standalone, so don’t worry about missing anything.

It’s like there’s this horrible thing eating me from the inside, and the only way to let it out is to fall apart — or to lash out. To leave someone else with hurt and doubt and insecurity just to know they know how it feels.

If you appreciate characters being unfiltered and far from perfect, as well as a story that has plenty of grand gestures, fandom, and real issues that never cross the line into overwrought drama, you should definitely pick this one up. Sure it doesn’t get full marks from me but it’s really close. All the greatness is great and even the stuff I didn’t super love.. it’s still so good. This is a perfect summer-y kind of read, because it’ll make you feel good, but don’t expect too much fluff (not used in a derogatory way). This definitely has substance, and weight, and will be well worth your time.

STORM AND FURY by Jennifer L Armentrout

Enter a world of gargoyle protectors, rising demons and one girl with an explosive secret.

Eighteen-year-old Trinity Marrow may be going blind, but she can see and communicate with ghosts and spirits. Her unique gift is part of a secret so dangerous that she’s been in hiding for years in an isolated compound fiercely guarded by Wardens—gargoyle shape-shifters who protect humankind from demons. If the demons discover the truth about Trinity, they’ll devour her, flesh and bone, to enhance their own powers.

When Wardens from another clan arrive with disturbing reports that something out there is killing both demons and Wardens, Trinity’s safe world implodes. Not the least because one of the outsiders is the most annoying and fascinating person she’s ever met. Zayne has secrets of his own that will upend her world yet again—but working together becomes imperative once demons breach the compound and Trinity’s secret comes to light. To save her family and maybe the world, she’ll have to put her trust in Zayne. But all bets are off as a supernatural war is unleashed…


Title : Storm and Fury
Author : Jennifer L Armentrout
Series : The Harbinger (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 512
Genre : YA paranormal romance
Publisher : Inkyard Press
Release Date : June 11, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ .5


Hollis’ 1.5 star review

I need to get one thing off my chest before delving into this review. Some readers don’t mind picking up a spinoff if there’s little to no character overlap (though, honestly, how can you really know beyond the fact that the leads are different?) but I am not that kind of reader. I like context. I thrive off it. I like references that harken back to previous events, I love cameos, etc, particularly when it’s a world that relies on context or worldbuilding; so sometimes I can roll with it if it’s, say, a contemporary but for a fantasy or PNR-style universe? Less ability to roll. So when I started STORM AND FURY only to realize this was a spinoff of one of the author’s previous series..? I was annoyed. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, because, for some reason, some publishers don’t like mentioning these kinds of details in blurbs when books go up for request. I find this does a real disservice to reviewers. Or, specifically, me. Because that said, I saw many reviews mentioning that you didn’t need to have read those other books to enjoy this one. But as I didn’t actually enjoy this book.. I guess I’m just all-around an outlier.

Anyway, rant over.

Or different rant begins?

This book is very.. stereotypical early 2000s YA. I don’t really know how else to describe it. But it was such a shocking regression for me, as I do read a lot of really great, superbly written, and characterized, YA that I actually almost DNF’d. Instead I set it down around the 15% mark and took a break to read other things — something I almost never do. I did bring myself back to it though (obviously) just incase it was a mood thing. It wasn’t. But I finished anyway. Grudgingly.

STORM AND FURY has a typical fantasy plot, unfolding in a fairly typical way — — special ish snowflake girl meets special ish snowflake boy and sorta hate-dislike banter ensues along with unprecedented connection, in addition to girl generally just not conforming with restrictions placed on her for her safety and always getting into trouble but.. also just being totally unphased and letting everything roll off her back with some snappy reply? ugh — with fairly typical dialogue, secrets, and surprises. Also lots of pauses for inconveniently timed attraction due to proximity and high stakes moments. It made it all feel very young (even juvenile), very over done, heavily sprinkled with cheese, and as a result I just didn’t enjoy it. Sure the specifics of the plot or the world or the whatever might not have been cookie cutter but everything else made it feel that way.

Now, I want to pause to say : all these typical elements can be enjoyed. And I have, in fact, loved books that basically read exactly like this (rather) cutting summary. But the writing, or the characters, have helped me to overlook it.. or love it. As we all know, writing truly makes a difference. And, in the case of STORM AND FURY, we just didn’t have that.

I foresee a few comparisons to Cassandra Clare’s books, particularly her most recent trilogy, as there’s a particular element to both the dynamic and the relationship that mirrors something we’ve seen in that series. It’s not unique to Clare but combined with everything else it just feels like a sticking point for future books and future angst. And considering I was already annoyed at the direction of the romance.. welp.

There was an attempt made for some representation as the lead protagonist is losing her sight, in a specific way the author herself is (read the note at the end), but I was often confused by the consistency and convenience of it being fine and then not. I suppose some of it is factual and maybe the rest is made appropriate for the fantasy and excitement of the moment. I shouldn’t be critical of this as it’s #ownvoices in that sense and I am neither expert nor do I share this experience. Something that confused me a bit, though, was that it took until almost 75% for us to be told how she felt about her condition. Up until that point it had always seemed to be couched in context of how it affected her ability to fight which, sure, that’s her priority vs mine, but it was nice to get some dialogue about it all. Even if she was fairly laisser-faire about everything. She just rolled with the eventuality of being blind. Which, again, okay. I can appreciate some of that. Out of one’s control and all. But also. You’re eighteen and you’re just going to be blasé about losing a main sense? If I had a degenerative condition, I’d be pretty angry or sad or.. something. Frustrated. Not just focused on practicing more knife throws. Or at least not ONLY focused on practicing knife throws. And certainly not throwing myself off rooftops during the dark of night to prove points.

Would I have enjoyed this more had I read the companion series? I guess we’ll never know. But if you need a new drinking game, take a shot for every time the word ‘Hell’ is used. It’ll make for a short game but by the time you’re buzzing.. I’m not sure you’ll mind.

Because this is a series and not a collection of interconnecteds, with different leads, I seriously doubt I will read on.

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

THE FRIEND ZONE by Abby Jimenez – double review!

Kristen Petersen doesn’t do drama, will fight to the death for her friends, and has no room in her life for guys who just don’t get her. She’s also keeping a big secret: facing a medically necessary procedure that will make it impossible for her to have children.

Planning her best friend’s wedding is bittersweet for Kristen–especially when she meets the best man, Josh Copeland. He’s funny, sexy, never offended by her mile-wide streak of sarcasm, and always one chicken enchilada ahead of her hangry. Even her dog, Stuntman Mike, adores him. The only catch: Josh wants a big family someday. Kristen knows he’d be better off with someone else, but as their attraction grows, it’s harder and harder to keep him at arm’s length.

The Friend Zone will have you laughing one moment and grabbing for tissues the next as it tackles the realities of infertility and loss with wit, heart, and a lot of sass.


Title : The Friend Zone
Author Abby Jimenez
Format : eARC
Page Count : 385
Genre : women’s fiction
Publisher : Forever
Release Date : June 11, 2019

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

Phew.

I had been prepared (warned?) by mutuals that this story was a funny bit of fun but that it would be as equally heartbreaking as it was joyful. And I’m here to confirm that for you.

I am not drunk. I’m just talking in cursive.”

THE FRIEND ZONE starts off fairly lighthearted. A snarky first-meeting between our protagonists sets the tone for their association; Kristen is in a long-distance relationship with a deployed boyfriend and Josh is recently single, and recently relocated, and, despite his attraction, not all that bothered by her unavailable status as a result.

Nothing offended me except cauliflower and stupidity.

At least not at first.

There’s something you should know about me, Josh. I say what I think. I don’t have a coy bone in my body. Yes, you’re sexy. Enjoy the compliment because you won’t always like what I say to you, and I won’t care one way or the other if you do or don’t.

Their friendship, as it can only be friendship, was a delight. Kristen is unapologetically herself. She’s not to be messed with when it comes to food, she’s witty, she’s honest, she’s out to impress no one. And Josh was just game for everything. He was sweet, understanding, gave as good as he got, and they were just so fun together. And, having not read the blurb, I didn’t really know where things would go beyond what it seemed at first glance.

I already know how I’m going to die.”
How?”
Spider bite. Or being sarcastic at the wrong time.”

But this story is a lot more than snarky, sassy, when-will-they-can-they-ever times. This is hard hitting, emotional, devastating. It deals with loss, tragedy, and Jimenez’s story even skirts a certain line I am not usually on board for but, thankfully, never crosses it. Additionally, the emphasis on Kristen’s issues with fertility — which is of course emphasized as it’s a major point of conflict — was something I thought unique to the romance (women’s fiction?) world. Talk of periods, discomfort, tampons, fibrosis, IUDs.. nothing was off limits. This is not only a great bit of fun and sweetness, alongside some heartbreak, but also a book I think a lot of women will see themselves in. Feel represented by. I think that’s so fabulous.

You know, you seem too fearless to be afraid of spiders.”
A black widow killed my schnauzer when I was a kid. Embracing a lifelong debilitating fear of spiders is cheaper than therapy.”

What stops this from getting full marks is that.. I felt some things got dragged out. Same conversations, same hot and cold, same back and forth. It was a bit exhausting, too repetitive, and honestly I was pulled out of the story a bit because I just felt so bad for these fictional people. Both of them, really. It was kind of miserable for them for a while. And then of course a whole other kind of misery started but that was easier to lose myself in. No spoilers.

I hope you’re not planning on sending me flowers.”
What would you like me to send you then?”
Something practical that I’ll get use out of, like a dick pic.”

The ending was a bit of a surprise for me and I so loved it. I really did. Additionally the author’s note was an extra bit of wonderfulness and I definitely hope readers take a moment to experience that, too.

Overall, though, I’m blown away that this was a debut. It’s funny as all get out, it broke my heart, and I definitely want Jimenez to do it again. Lots of times. Will absolutely read whatever this author serves up next.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

This was a generally enjoyable read that took me from a friends-to-more romance into something of an emotional rollercoaster. I did have some insight into the context before reading but I had no idea where the story was going to go until I got into it.

THE FRIEND ZONE is the kind of read that drags you into its web very easily with characters that are something memorable. Kristen was just a woman I could get behind and identify with some of her characteristics. I loved her honesty (at times), her individuality and loyalty. I was then somewhat bemused to find myself reading a love triangle element, I did not see that coming with this character.

Josh, the main squeeze of this story was also a loyal hunk of fireman who simply fell for Kristen hook, line and sinker; there was no going back but there were so many immovable mountains in the way. This man had to show endurance.

The friendships in this book are crucial and something of a side-blinding storyline. I felt shocked when the twists came and then shocked again. It didn’t make me overtly emotional but it did affect me. Ive seen this book pitched as a romantic comedy but even in the earlier parts of the book, I didn’t find it comedic. It is no less of a book for this however.

Simply put, this is an impressive debut from Abby Jimenez and I will be looking out for whatever she writes next. I slipped into her words and believed the world she created.

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for the review copy.

SORCERY OF THORNS by Margaret Rogerson

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.


Title : A Sorcery of Thorns
Author : Margaret Rogerson
Format : eARC
Page Count : 464
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date : June 4, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Just the other day I was pouting about YA fantasy just not hitting the mark for me in 2019. And in struts SORCERY OF THORNS just to prove me wrong. I didn’t really know what to expect for this one other than it had something to do with library with a hate to love (possibly) and magic and, not having read Rogerson’s first novel, didn’t know how that would all translate in the writing.

Well, it translated super well.

You used a demonic incantation to pack my stockings!”
You’re right, that doesn’t sound like something a proper evil sorcerer would do. Next time, I won’t fold them.”

This not-quite-medieval but not-quite-steampunk world is populated by living, magical, books and sorcery from demonic bargains. Librarians are the keepers of the books and look down upon the Magisters, the sorcerers, for their alliances with demons. So naturally this is a great set-up for an orphan, raised in the library and on her way to become a Warden, to get tripped up with a Magister.. who then trips up all her pre-conceived notions, too. 

I don’t mean to be forward, but is that a–“
A sword hidden under my dress? Yes, it is.”
I see. And how exactly is it–“
I thought you didn’t mean to be forward.”

The banter and dynamic between the two leads was great. Even during a weird lull, where I worried my experience with this one was also going to crash and burn, I was comforted by the four and five star worthy dialogue of bickering and nicknames. It was just fabulous. What I could never have suspected, though, was how much I would love a certain demon and that my love for him would have me shedding a tear or two. 

Can you go on?”
Of course I can. I may be useless, but my good looks might prove critical for morale.”

Honestly, the mayhem and calamity that is crashing down around their ears didn’t interest me half as much as the Help Save The World Adventure Squad Trio.. but, to be fair, I did like them a lot so even half of that.. isn’t bad. But I’ll admit I lost a wee bit of love somewhere around the middle bit. Things went in a strange direction I didn’t see coming and there was an odd interaction or two I didn’t quite understand, but overwhelmingly this book was just.. unexpected. Interesting, creative, funny, clever, and fun. There’s one specific thing I liked so much, and liked how it wasn’t really made into A Thing, but I’m not even going to remotely hint at it so that you, too, can be pleasantly surprised about it. Instead, I’ll say how much I appreciated the constant reinforcement, and reminder, of shades of grey as it applies to so many things, including people. It made for a richer story that was already pretty lush. 

These weren’t ordinary books the Great Library kept. They whispered on the shelves and shuddered beneath iron chains. Some spat ink and threw tantrums; others sang to themselves in high, clear notes on windless nights, when starlight streamed through the library’s barred windows like shafts of mercuryOthers still were so dangerous they had to be stored in the underground vault, packed in salt. Not all of them were her friends.

I feel a little nitpicky for harkening back to this after all the nice things I’ve said but for all the good, there were those moments I wasn’t too sold on, and definitely a few typical fantasy roadblocks as we see when the hero/heroes are trying to convince People In Charge that they are Here To Help. It isn’t without some clichés or slower moments so, yeah, it’s not a perfect ten. Hence the four (#math).

Tempting as the prospect is, we are not attempting world domination. It sounds fun in theory, but in reality it’s a logistical nightmare.

But the moments that were good, were great. The parts that made me laugh, really tickled. And those unexpected glimpses of brilliance and emotion.. they are definitely there. I didn’t always like how the perspective could be fluid but at the same time I also really loved how the narrative flowed and didn’t always need us to live through the events but would still catch us up. And I love love loved the end.

I dragged you into this. You wouldn’t be here it it weren’t for me.”
You’re right. I would be alone in my study, utterly miserable, spending my final hours unaware that demons were about to overrun the world. I like this version better. The one with you in it.

SORCERY OF THORNS is definitely worth picking up. I have no idea if there’s more to come and, because of the ending, I almost hope not. But I wouldn’t say no to more, either.

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

LIKE A LOVE STORY by Abdi Nazemian

It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.


Title : Like a Love Story
Author Abdi Nazemian
Format : ARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : YA historical fiction, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Balzer + Bray
Release Date : June 4, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating
: ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

LIKE A LOVE STORY is a little like a love story, really. But more in the sense of love for oneself, one’s body, and one’s community. I think it did a really good job of that, particularly when propped up against the setting, but when it comes to the love story, the romance, within the book.. it kinda failed. And by kinda I mean really.

Nazemian’s story takes place on the cusp of the nineties, in 1989, and is set against the AIDS crisis. Not as a backdrop but as a very real threat and very present player for our three protagonists. Art is out and proud and angry. His best friend, Judy, has an uncle dying of AIDS. And the new kid, originally from Iran, is Reza; someone both friends fall for but who, despite initially dating Judy, is closeted. 

I knew this wouldn’t be an easy story but I knew it would be an important one. It was a frightening time and is made even more terrifying when held up against the current social and political climate. Addressing the bigotry and the homophobia was all very visceral and awful but well done. I felt like I was living it. Where the fear of touch, of being touched, infected every interaction. Where not subscribing to white, heteronormative, ideals made you worthy of hate or shunning. Where it was acceptable to wish your son dead just for being queer. Where hate fuelled both sides of the equation; one side for being ushered into an early grave just for being who they were, and the other for not understanding or not accepting people different from themselves.

What I believe failed this story was the characters.

The romance is fast tracked as is fairly typical — though the fact that these two besties go from zero to eleven within half a page over the new kid is unlikely as it is; but for it to be turned into a triangle, infusing unnecessary drama into the mix, just becomes tedious — and ultimately, it’s the leads that do a disservice to the goings on around them. Or, rather, I feel they overshadowed the rest with their nonsense. I outright disliked two of the POVs (one more strongly than the other) but overall it was their behaviours, too, that I just couldn’t stand. 

The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.

I’m heartbroken that this didn’t work but I do think, if the synopsis draws you in, you should still pick it up. LIKE A LOVE STORY is a book that features a four star topic but is, unfortunately, saddled with one star protagonists. 

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


CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by André Aciman – double review!

Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.

The psychological maneuvers that accompany attraction have seldom been more shrewdly captured than in André Aciman’s frank, unsentimental, heartrending elegy to human passion. Call Me by Your Name is clear-eyed, bare-knuckled, and ultimately unforgettable.


Title : Call Me By Your Name
Author André Aciman
Series : Call Me By Your Name (book one)
Format : OverDrive (eBook)
Page Count : 268
Genre : historical fiction, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date : January 22, 2008

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : /


Hollis’ 1 star review

His words made no sense. But I knew exactly what they meant.
–> this is, I feel, a good expression of this entire book but flipped on its head. I understand what I read but I DON’T GET IT

I really don’t. Like, this isn’t me shitting on the overwhelming love people have for this book, or being contrary for shits and giggles.. I, personally, just don’t get it. 

Maybe I hyped this book up in my head for too long, maybe it was because I had these grand expectations, not to mention having put off watching the movie (which I will still) in order to read this first, but.. wow. Maybe, too, it’s my fault for not looking closely at the summary which does go on to detail some of the nittier gritty of what kind of relationship this book features but as I’m #TeamNoBlurbs.. it was obviously a surprise.

The first 60% of this was stream of consciousness confusion, was cringey secondhand embarrassment, was obsessive uncomfortableness.. it was so many things and none of them good. There was no characterization to these characters beyond Elio being consumed, forever fantasizing, and sifting through passages of is-it-really-happening-nope-just-dreaming chaos that made up the majority of his days; it’s intense but.. not in a good way. It’s discomfiting. I either skimmed because I couldn’t anchor myself to Elio’s internal rambling monologuing or because I just couldn’t bear to look too hard at his fixation. And Oliver was, well, a hot and cold dick of a human for the most part. And then suddenly he wasn’t, but it was all.. I don’t know, things being said, and not said, but they seem to understand it regardless? It just felt lazy and set up for the sake of drawing things out and drama. 

Not to mention they were both, at times, grossly childish or selfish.

s p o i l e r s   b e l o w

Case in point : Elio goes from screwing around with Oliver only to go to a girl’s house for more screwing around. Later, the boys have a nice afternoon delight together, then Elio heads out to meet with girl again, after having no discussion with Oliver about the logistics of this, and then when Oliver is missing upon Elio’s return, the latter is all bent out of shape and tied in knots and ‘how dare he make me wait’? Moments later Oliver’s ‘the best person he ever knew’. What the shit kind of whiplash nonsense is this? I actually refuse to tag this as a romance because, I feel, there was none. It was attraction, it was lust, it was physical intimacy (as well as certain intimacies that I believe were included in order to convince us of the existence love, make us believe there was a romance), but to me this wasn’t romantic. It was infatuation.

In the last 40%, however, there was a part or two that felt stronger (but it’s all relative, really) and yet it also transitioned into these scenes with other random characters I couldn’t care less about who rambled on about Bangkok, and various anecdotes as delivered by a poet we never see again, for eight to fifteen pages at a time. I honestly don’t know what was going on and I’m going to be fully honest : I skimmed most of it because I didn’t understand the point of it all.

There was a moving conversation between Elio and his dad near-ish to the end but then we have a time jump and weird transitions and odd conversations between adult Elio and older Oliver, reminiscing and yet not, where we’re supposed to believe this infatuation, this obsession, has endured for over twenty years, and I was just so done, long before this point, truthfully, but at least I saw it through to the end. Where the sequel goes I have no idea. And I definitely need some time to forget most of this experience before diving into the movie. 

That said, I think perhaps the movie will succeed where the book is too much for me. It wouldn’t be the first (and won’t be the last) time an adaptation succeeds in softening the edges of its source material. So I’m hopeful that a lot of what I hated about this book won’t apply to the adaptation but, for right now, I just need space from it all. I’m in no hurry.


Micky’s 1 star review …it’s pretty short

I know a lot of people loved this book but nothing about it appealed to me. In fact, I hated a lot of it. I listened to the first 35% on audio (and hated it), then a week later, I read/skimmed/read my paperback to the end (and still hated it). 

Why did I hate it? I didn’t like either character but I found Oliver to be a pretty awful person, with nothing to ingratiate himself to the reader. More than this though, 85% of the book is Elio’s inner monologue, his egotistical and obsessive mental ramblings poured onto the page for… ever. I disliked this style of writing, I found it incessantly dull and nothing about it worked for me.

Count me out for book two.