YOU AND ME ON VACATION by Emily Henry – double review!

Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart–she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown–but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.

Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since.

Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together–lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees.

Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?


Title : You and Me On Vacation (UK) / People We Meet On Vacation
Author : Emily Henry
Narrator : Julia Whelan
Format : Paperback/Audio/eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : romance
Publisher : Penguin UK / Berkley
Release Date : May 11, 2021

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Roller coaster friendship/love
Holiday vibes
Chem-is-try

There was nothing that I didn’t enjoy about Emily Henry’s upcoming release. The fact that she delivers on summery read to remember (again) and that I was lucky to read and listen in tandem to this book. Both formats were as good as one another.

You and Me on Vacation was told over a number of summers, charting the most lovely friendship; in the main this was platonic…until it wasn’t. Then, oh boy, the chemistry set fire to the pages, slowly.

We’re magnets, trying to draw together even as we cradle the careful distance between us.

In all the ways, both Poppy and Alex were opposite in personality and goals. They worked so well as friends and their summer trips were fun expeditions and something they both lived for. I loved seeing these trips unfurl as the years were recounted. I loved the people they met, the places they went but nothing was more interesting than THIS SUMMER. I loved getting back to that narrative.

The pages of this book, the minutes of the audio just turned themselves and I was sad to get to the end. Emily Henry knows how to inject just a little drama and tension with a great contemporary story. I’m here for next summer’s installment!

Narration-wise, this was single POV and single narration and it was excellent. I got all the sense of characterisation and the emotional feels from the listen. It’s such a perfect format to absorb the story while on literal vacation!

Thank you to Penguin for the gorgeous book and audio early copies.


Hollis’ 4 star review

I absolutely loved Beach Read so to say People We Meet On Vacation was highly anticipated would be an understatement. Expectations were high (sorry self! sorry book!). Then I found out it was a best-friends-to-lovers romance and I braced myself; it’s not one of my favourite tropes (though I like it a lot more than second chance romances) and the track record for enjoyment has been pretty hit or miss. I don’t mind people who initially start as friends and transition but long-time friends to more? I don’t know, I’m generally not sold.

But this might be a new favourite?

He is tall, quiet, and eager to see the library. I’m short, loud, and hoping someone comes by and invites us to a real party. By the time we part ways, I’m fairly confident we’ll never speak again.

The way this story was told flirts with that “one day a year in the life” concept but in a much better way. Also, on the topic, the flashback element? Solid. Sometimes it just does not work well but it was so good. Particularly how it built. Also also this was one of the better-done third act breakups (it’s not a spoiler, we all know to expect it!) because I hate manufactured drama and this just felt perfectly timed for r e a s o n s.

When a hot babe approaches you at a bar, the number one thing you should not bring up is your codependent relationship with your asshole cat.”
First of all, Flannery O’Connor is not an asshole. She’s shy.”
She’s evil.
She just doesn’t like you. You have strong dog energy.”

This doesn’t quite get full marks from me but I think that’s my fault. Mostly. The ARC has some minor but annoying formatting issues, yes, but more than anything I think I just read this too fast. I did not savour this experience and I wonder if maybe I should’ve soaked up the feels and the nuance and the awkward and the everything else that this book did such a good job of doing. I will definitely be adding this to the re-read pile and I hope to eventually come back and bump this up a little higher. But it’s still such a great time. Because of the sorta-grumpy-sunshine mix. The millenial ennui. The way so much just didn’t go according to plan. The heart. The so much more I’m not even touching on.

I think you’ll like this! And if nothing else you can live vicariously through the vacation and jetsetting. That alone is worth picking this up. The laughs and swoons are just a bonus.

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

A VOW SO BOLD AND DEADLY by Brigid Kemmerer – double review!

Face your fears, fight the battle.

Emberfall is crumbling fast, torn between those who believe Rhen is the rightful prince and those who are eager to begin a new era under Grey, the true heir. Grey has agreed to wait two months before attacking Emberfall, and in that time, Rhen has turned away from everyone—even Harper, as she desperately tries to help him find a path to peace. 

Fight the battle, save the kingdom.

Meanwhile, Lia Mara struggles to rule Syhl Shallow with a gentler hand than her mother. But after enjoying decades of peace once magic was driven out of their lands, some of her subjects are angry Lia Mara has an enchanted prince and a magical scraver by her side. As Grey’s deadline draws nearer, Lia Mara questions if she can be the queen her country needs.

As the two kingdoms come closer to conflict, loyalties are tested, love is threatened, and a dangerous enemy returns, in this stunning conclusion to bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series.


Title : A Vow So Bold and Deadly
Author : Brigid Kemmerer
Series : Cursebreakers (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)/audio review
Page Count : 408
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Bloomsbury YA/Audio
Release Date : January 26, 2021

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


Hollis’ 3 star review

I think I’m only actually bothering to review this one because I have reviews for the first two on the blog and so my completionist gene poked me to.. well, complete the trilogy of reviews. But overall I really don’t have much to say?

I think ultimately what failed this series, though, was the villain. Where it worked was that often the stakes did feel high because the violence and death toll was real. The author did not shy away from some of the more brutal consequences. But at the same time.. like, it felt not high at all? I still struggle with the motivations of it all, really. It felt a bit like a misstep because the whole conflict felt off balance. And then ultimately.. I mean, really? All that for.. what.

But likewise I feel like the other characters, too, had their moments with this. Maybe that’s why this series never achieved great heights for me. I think I like the concepts and the unfolding of the story but kept getting knocked out of it because the characters themselves didn’t quite match the rest.

Having said that, though, the big confrontation conflict moment? Confusing. Chaos. Hard to follow. And then.. over. That is my biggest gripe with this particular installment. I had lost the love over the main pairing back at the end of book one, or early two, so I was only into the secondary pairing, and they definitely delivered. The first? Less so. But I think that also plays into me just not being into the main plot? And is why I liked book two more? Did I rate this book too high? Is this actually a 2.5? Hm.

Anyway. Overall, this series had some things to like about it but also had enough that either didn’t pan out or just didn’t work for me. But it also made for quick reads (this one being no exception) and I’m not mad about the time I spent in this world; but nor will they linger in my memory; which is totally fine. I need every ounce of salvagable free space in my brain I can get.


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Family fighting
New roles for old friends
The threat of war

I’m feeling an overall sense of satisfaction with where the series has left readers and the latter part of the reading journey was incredibly fulfilling. Some of the middle journey didn’t always keep me fully engaged.

The two factions of this story were really pitched against one another at the end of the previous book with the queen of evil in the middle. I appreciated the stories on both sides of this but what has been hugely interesting to me has been my own feelings across the series as I’ve gravitated from one set of characters to another in terms of loyalty. I wanted to stay in Grey’s crew and had to remind myself to care about Rhen and Harper. I do feel like Harper’s character has faded a little across the series. Lia Mara still left me feeling a bit ambivalent.

Things I enjoyed about this installment included the strategy, the uncertainty that characters had of one another, healing of old hurts and reconciliations. It felt good to complete the series.

This was an audio listen and I enjoyed the narrators, the atmosphere and the general vibe of the book in this format. There was an early slip up with one narrator saying ‘Lia Maria’ instead of Lia Mara a few times, but it didn’t get repeated more than twice.

Readers new to the series will get to power through the three books and I think this will be a great binge.

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for this audio review copy.

JUST LAST NIGHT by Mhairi McFarlane

International bestseller Mhairi McFarlane explores lifelong friendships, long-buried secrets, and unexpected love in a heartfelt, emotional new novel, perfect for fans of Evvie Drake Starts Over, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, or In Five Years.

Eve, Justin, Susie, and Ed have been friends since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, the four are as close as ever, Thursday night bar trivia is sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed. Maybe she should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed still thinks about it, too.

But then, in an instant, their lives are changed forever.

In the aftermath, Eve’s world is upended. As stunning secrets are revealed, she begins to wonder if she really knew her friends as well as she thought. And when someone from the past comes back into her life, Eve’s future veers in a surprising new direction…

They say every love story starts with a single moment. What if it was just last night?


Title : Just Last Night
Author : Mhairi McFarlane
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : women’s fiction
Publisher : William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date : May 4, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

‘I’ll just pick this up to kill an hour or two before dinner’, she thought. ‘That’s all. Just dip my toe in and then read the rest later or tomorrow.. ‘

.. fast forward to four hours later when I have not even moved from the couch. I swear. No pee breaks, no food, nada. I love that feeling. Also I should’ve known better because not only is it me but it’s also a McFarlane book.

Is my face covered in tears? Yes. Was this exactly what I (even limited #NoBlurber that I am) thought it would be? Nope. Did I love it anyway? Obviously.

This feels like the most McFarlane book to McFarlane since I read Don’t You Forget About Me in 2019. I’ve experimented with some of the author’s backlist, read her most recent release, and now this one. But this is the closest I’ve got to that all-consuming feeling I first had a few years ago upon discovering this author. If you’ve read her before, you know exactly what I mean.

I’m honestly without any kind of words. I’m just feelings. I laughed, I cried, I did both some more, and mostly I just marveled at how good she is at creating complicated messes that don’t feel like someone who is contriving to write about complicated messes. It feels like eavesdropping on real lives, people you sort’ve know, and are therefore invested in. No perfect specimens, no uncomplicated situations. Just real.

I still have a few McFarlane’s to dip into but in looking back through my memories of what I have read I think where I waffle is sometimes I’m just not into the romance element. I’m here for the wit, the biting truthbombs, and the friendships, but sometimes I’m not sold on the romance. I do still think Don’t You Forget About Me tops the chart, even in that respect, but this was the closest I’ve had since. And just, overall, I loved every single thing about it, too.

If you’ve yet to try this author you absolutely must.

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

BROKEN FRENCH by Tasha Boyd

A widowed, billionaire, single dad romance.

Josie thought she was getting a promotion at her architectural firm, but instead her career implodes. She impulsively takes up her roommates’ offer to nanny for a little girl on a mega yacht in the South of France. Even though she can’t stand boats, this seems like fate giving her an opportunity to lick her wounds in a bucket list paradise while she figures out how to get her life back.

But this little girl she’s arrived to look after has a daddy. A widowed, hot, young, billionaire of a daddy. A man who, for all his wealth, is grumpy, conceited, and utterly closed off.

Xavier Pascale is on an emotional island of his own making. It’s just him and his daughter and he likes it that way. He works hard, his shareholders are happy, his best friends are his body guard, and the people who work for him. What’s wrong with that? But then he meets Josephine Marin. Her arrival in his life is like a deep ocean tremor along a catastrophic emotional fault line. And now… well, now, he’s very, very aware of his isolation and his very human need. But he can’t be distracted. When he gets distracted terrible things happen.

He should send the nanny home.
He really should.
But what if he just takes what he wants, just this one time …

This is a standalone, contemporary romance. It includes luscious scenes of sparkling blue ocean, and tantalizing, seductive food, as well as a smoking hot, dirty-talking Frenchman. If traveling scares you, or sexy times scare you, then this book is not for you. But if you’re looking for a decadent armchair vacation after being stuck in one place for over a year–that will make you laugh, swoon, and cry–then this one is for you!


Title : Broken French
Author : Tasha (Natasha) Boyd
Format : eARC
Page Count : 499
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Self-published
Release Date : April 26, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Yachting around the coast of France
Nanny-single dad
Chem-is-try
Plot depth

Broken French brought all the French visuals and smells to this pale, English reader. Visuals of turquoise seas, sun, yachts, bread, wine and the most delightful little family that took a second and third glance to get to know. Alongside this, there was a found-family crew that was endearing.

The protagonist, Josephine was not really a nanny but one by circumstance. Her quick entry into the lives of this family was both awkward and natural all at once. Josephine had a temper and bite but Xavier came across arrogant and cold. Xavier’s dad-skills had a lot to do with my tolerance of him until I got to know him better.

If the nanny trope is not your favourite, I want to tell you that this felt so much more than that. There was a depth to the characters and story, a unexpected turn of events, some suspense and a bucketful of chemisty. I’m still fanning my face over here.

Dauphine was a signficant part of why I enjoyed the story. She wasn’t precocious as I imagined and the bond between her and Josephine was pretty gorgeous to observe.

This longer than normal romance was worth every page and the depth to the plot and story in general was refreshing. I am delighted to have read a new Tasha Boyd book after her hiatus and I definitely look forward to more.

Thank you to the author for the early review copy.

WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

An academic enemies-to-lovers YA with all the nerdy drama, high school antics, and heartpounding romance of the Netflix original series Never Have I Ever

Since high school began, Alison Sanger and Ethan Molloy have competed on almost everything. AP classes, the school paper, community service, it never ends. If Alison could avoid Ethan until graduation, she would. Except, naturally, for two over-achieving seniors with their sights on valedictorian and Harvard, they share all the same classes and extracurriculars. So when their school’s principal assigns them the task of co-planning a previous class’s ten-year reunion, with the promise of a recommendation for Harvard if they do, Ethan and Alison are willing to endure one more activity together if it means beating the other out of the lead. 

But with all this extra time spent in each other’s company, their rivalry begins to feel closer to friendship. And as tension between them builds, Alison fights the growing realization that the only thing she wants more than winning…is Ethan.


Title : What’s Not To Love
Author : Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA contemporary romance
Publisher : Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date : April 20, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★



Hollis’ 4 star review

I am so relieved right now. I was really starting to think If I’m Being Honest was a fluke for this duo. While I had liked everything else they had written, nothing had edged over into love category and while I enjoyed the topics and themes, I was nonetheless a little disappointed.

What, Sanger? You don’t enjoy our conversations?
They’re not conversations, they’re hostage negotiations.

Until now.

For every reason I have to despise Ethan, I’m grateful for the chance to prove my worth. To prove not that I am the best, but that I can be the best.

That said, I was definitely feeling some minor trepidation with this one, too. I was loving the competitive dynamic between the two leads but, not unlike in another romance (though, that one was adult, not YA), I worried it was just a little too much to come back from. Too often toeing over that line where the bickering and banter becomes too harsh, the back and forth too toxic, the overall relationship too problematic. But not only did the characters have dialogue about those moments but how it all unfolded ended up working just right.

I’m surprised this many people want to celebrate his birth. I would rather commemorate it the way one would a natural disaster or other unfortunate occurence — somber social media posts, vows to stay strong on this dark day.

This particular match-up was also so much more than I expected it to be, in regards to motivations and self-awareness. I’ve definitely appreciated how these two authors have explored the strangeness of post-highschool life, and what that looks like, what it has to be, both on personal and romantic levels, and I liked how they worked through it via a new angle with these two characters; and even with those within their friendships and families.

Even when you think you’ve found your story, you might need to change it later if the one you’ve living doesn’t work.

Overall it was just.. fun. The tension, the combativeness, the mixed feelings when one would deviate from the expected, and how that looks going into their future. I would definitely recommend this one. Obviously.

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

ROYALLY YOURS by Emma Chase

Princess Lenora Celeste Beatrice Arabella Pembrook had an unusual childhood. She was raised to be a Queen—the first Queen of Wessco.

It’s a big deal.

When she’s crowned at just nineteen, the beautiful young monarch is prepared to rule. She’s charming, clever, confident and cunning.

What she isn’t… is married.

It’s her advising council’s first priority. It’s what Parliament is demanding, and what her people want.

Lenora has no desire to tie herself to a man—particularly one who only wants her for her crown. But compromises must be made and royals must do their duty.

Even Queens. Especially them.

**

Years ago, Edward Langdon Richard Dorian Rourke, walked away from his title and country. Now he’s an adventurer—climbing mountains, exploring jungles, going wherever he wants, when he wants—until family devotion brings him home.

And a sacred promise keeps him there.

To Edward, the haughty, guarded little Queen is intriguing, infuriating…and utterly captivating. Wanting her just might drive him mad—or become his greatest adventure.

**

Within the cold, stone walls of the royal palace—mistrust threatens, wills clash, and an undeniable, passionate love will change the future of the monarchy forever.

Every dynasty has a beginning. Every legend starts with a story.

This is theirs.


Title : Royally Yours
Author : Emma Chase
Series : Royally (book four)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 304
Genre : NA romance
Publisher : Emma Chase LLC
Release Date : Octobe 29, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Of all the books in this series, this is not the one I thought I would love. I kinda thought this would be a throwaway addition of the Royally world and wow was that a bad assumption. Hello you, I am ass.

This story is the prequel of the series, chronicling Queen Lenora, the first Queen of Wessco, and the heartbreak and victories that became the foundations of her life. Oh yeah and this book made me cry at least twice. Possibly thrice.

The emotional beats of this installment are so good, without being overblown, and I think this was actually the most solid romance of the series, too. Almost everything felt pitch perfect, though, yes, maybe a bump or two along the way but hey, no road is totally smooth. I’m willing to acknowledge but don’t quite hold those bumps against the overall story.

If anyone who loved, or even just enjoyed, this world hasn’t read this final (?) installment, I would highly recommend it. It even kind of works great just as a standalone. Though you might find yourself hooked and want to backtrack through the rest.

I’m so delighted to have put this on my Series to Finish in 2021 list because I’m not only glad to put this series to bed, finally, after all this time, but I’m so so happy it also ended on a good note. 

THE PRISON HEALER by Lynette Noni – double review!

Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, working as the prison healer.

When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.

Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.

But no one has ever survived.

With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.

From bestselling author Lynette Noni comes a dark, thrilling YA fantasy perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, and Sabaa Tahir.


Title : The Prison Healer
Author : Lynette Noni
Series : The Prison Healer (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : HMH Books for Young Readers/Hodder Books
Release Date : April 13, 2021

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


Hollis’ 2 star review

When you have to take a shower mid-read to wake up because the book is putting you to sleep : my experience with The Prison Healer.

Look, that snarky intro notwithstanding, there were things in this story that felt pretty compelling and or interesting but so much just.. didn’t make sense. At first I loved that our setting was limited to this prison, where our protagonist had been locked up for ten years, completely cut off from the world and politics around her, but then I got really.. anxious. The limited scope started to bother me. So did the weird extreme sweeps into d a r k n e s s and d e s p a i rand then, like, light hearted flirting with the new prisoner.

We also had this ACOTAR-esque challenge to undergo but the only people witnessing it were the prisoners? The royalty are banished from watching it and it seems to not actually matter to the world outside the prison? Like.. how is this a thing? Why is it even happening?

And the whole idea of this prison being unchallenged by royalty, not subject to rule by any authority by the Warden (I don’t know, I’m now questioning my understanding, so don’t quote me on that..), was initially interesting but also how the hell did that fly. Just kind of seemed like an excuse to let some awful shit happen.

And then there was this whole civil war thing.. man, like I said, some really cool elements that just felt a little untethered. Trying to sum up all the plot points is leaving me tired.

As for the characters, well. Suffice it to say we aren’t supposed to have many to root for, seeing as we are in a prison full to the brim of nasty characters, but Naari, one of the guards, was the only one I actually liked. I got a lot of whiplash from our lead, the love interest was nice but kind of predictable, there’s a younger pseudo-brother character who has an endearing stutter but I got pretty tired of reading about it, and there’s.. not much else. Bad guard one, bad guard two, evil guard one, evil guard two, unpleasant prisoners x y z, shifty Warden guy, lots of sick and or dead people.. you get the idea.

What saves this for me was the ending. Because.. okay, sure, yeah, that happened. I am both very excited by it and also now very frustrated by everything up until this point, but, sure, yes. I’m hooked and I will read book two (please say it’s only a duology..).

I realize most people would not continue on a series where the initial book only warranted a two but I am not most people.

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Captivity
Trials
Twists

This story was interesting from the start but it executed a sneak attack by building and building into something pretty fantastic. The Prison Healer was set completely inside a prison, one with few rules and a regime of brutality and fear. Kiva was the healer, a skill learnt and from her father but built on by necessity. She had few perks from her role even though she was vital to that society.

The characters inside the prison were rag-tag bunch of characters and I took the lead from Kiva who trusted virtually no-one but Tipp, her young helper in the prison infirmary. New arrivals sparked some interesting characters form the guard Naari to Jaren and Tilda. I’m laughing at my naive self now having finished the book…little did I know.

A part of the storyline were trials that one of the characters had to go through and that was a fascinating steer throughout the chapters, I really enjoyed those elements. Most of all I enjoyed the mystery of the characters and some of the twists. There was one almighty twist that had me putting on the brakes, going back half a page because I wasn’t sure I’d read that right.

I really enjoyed how platonic and ‘something more’ relationships developed through the story. Moreso, I liked to see Kiva learn to trust a bit more and open up ever so slightly. Again, I’m laughing at my face-value reading of some of the characters knowing what I know now.

The Prison Healer was a gripping fantasy read, full and detailed, interesting and fresh. I’ve not read Lynette Noni before but she’s secured my interest and I have no idea how I’m going to wait until The Gilded Cage comes out. I have all the need for it.

Thank you to Hodder books for the early review copy.

SECOND FIRST IMPRESSIONS by Sally Thorne

From the USA Today  bestselling author of The Hating Gameand 99 Percent Mine comes the clever, funny, and unforgettable story of a muscular, tattooed man hired as an assistant to two old women—under the watchful eye of a beautiful retirement home manager.

Distraction (n): an extreme agitation of the mind or emotions.

Ruthie Midona has worked the front desk at the Providence Luxury Retirement Villa for six years, dedicating her entire adult life to caring for the Villa’s residents, maintaining the property (with an assist from DIY YouTube tutorials), and guarding the endangered tortoises that live in the Villa’s gardens. Somewhere along the way, she’s forgotten that she’s young and beautiful, and that there’s a world outside of work—until she meets the son of the property developer who just acquired the retirement center.

Teddy Prescott has spent the last few years partying, sleeping in late, tattooing himself when bored, and generally not taking life too seriously—something his father, who dreams of grooming Teddy into his successor, can’t understand. When Teddy needs a place to crash, his father seizes the chance to get him to grow up. He’ll let Teddy stay in one of the on-site cottages at the retirement home, but only if he works to earn his keep. Teddy agrees—he can change a few lightbulbs and clip some hedges, no sweat. But Ruthie has plans for Teddy too.

Her two wealthiest and most eccentric residents have just placed an ad (yet another!) seeking a new personal assistant to torment. The women are ninety-year-old, four-foot-tall menaces, and not one of their assistants has lasted a full week. Offering up Teddy seems like a surefire way to get rid of the tall, handsome, unnerving man who won’t stop getting under her skin.

Ruthie doesn’t count on the fact that in Teddy Prescott, the Biddies may have finally met their match. He’ll pick up Chanel gowns from the dry cleaner and cut Big Macs into bite-sized bits. He’ll do repairs around the property, make the residents laugh, and charm the entire villa. He might even remind Ruthie what it’s like to be young and fun again. But when she finds out Teddy’s father’s only fixing up the retirement home to sell it, putting everything she cares about in jeopardy, she’s left wondering if Teddy’s magic was all just a façade.


Title : Second First Impressions
Author : Sally Thorne
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : William Morrow
Release Date : April 13, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

There was a lot of the classic Thorne magic in this but, spoiler alert, I definitely think I’ve liked this the least of all three of her books.

A walk of shame when you’re over eighty is really, really slow.

I don’t know if it was me or just the book but this did start out a little strange, I felt a little offbalance by the characters, but it did eventually settle into place before too long. But there were times I struggled a bit with the love interest; I like that he was a little (a lot) different not only from previous Thorne men but also just in general. But he was equally a bit hard to pin down and to love (though he was painfully likeable; like a puppy). I wavered between being charmed by how our protagonist couldn’t help but be charmed by him and also wishing.. I don’t know. Wishing she could resist him, wishing.. something.

This menu has no prices. That’s not a good sign.”
Your friends have advised us that they will be ordering for you. Any dietary restrictions?
Just basic poverty.”

Maybe, not unlike the title, this is a book that needs a second go. Maybe I need to revisit my first impression.

This is a stripper’s costume. It’s all held together with Velcro.”
I’ve taken it to the dry cleaner so many times. What must they think of me?

That said, I think the people who had a really hard time with 99 Percent Mine will enjoy this a lot more. It’s nothing like the author’s debut but I think maybe this release is The Hating Game‘s nicer cousin as opposed to its prickly stepsister — which is how I categorize them all now, don’t ask.

As this is an ARC, I will say that I hope the second to last chapter gets a bit more polish before release. As it stands it rushes through a few emotional moments that I felt didn’t quite land as a result, which is frustrating as those moments are surrounded by one or two other really lovely emotional moments, and I think they would all benefit by being a bit more spread out.

In that vein, the book itself is also written a bit stilted at times, particularly in the beginning, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a way of connecting a bit more with Ruthie’s approach on.. well, life? It worked sometimes but other times just took me out of the story.

Anything I can do with complete competence, a young man can do with less technique but more fanfare.

I realize there might be more complaints or criticisms in this review than there should be.. so also take note that I read this on a work night (something I haven’t been able to do very often anymore) and it completely sucked me in. So. There. That says a lot without me having to say much at all.

[soon] you’re going to be sitting in your very own tattoo studio writing Live Laugh Love down a girl’s back in Comic Sans.”
That’s the most disgusting thing you could possibly say to me.”

Overall I didn’t quite fall in love with this, only bits of it (the Parlonis! Melanie! the turtles!), but I liked it. I loved being swept up by those epic Thorne turns of phrase. I’m also glad the cover finally (finally) makes a bit of sense. Will I reread? Yes, in the hopes of maybe liking it all a bit more. But would I reach for it, or think about it, the way I think of Thorne’s other books? Probably not. I do think though that if you do your best to lower your The Hating Game-level expectations (I know, it feels impossible), you will enjoy this a lot more than you think.

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

ROYALLY ENDOWED by Emma Chase

Logan St. James is a smoldering, sexy beast. Sure, he can be a little broody at times—but Ellie Hammond’s willing to overlook that. Because, have you seen him?? 

Sexy. As. Hell. 

And Ellie’s perky enough for both of them.

For years, she’s had a crush on the intense, gorgeous royal security guard—but she doesn’t think he ever saw her, not really. 

To Logan, Ellie was just part of the job—a relative of the royal family he’d sworn to protect. Now, at 22 years old and fresh out of college, she’s determined to put aside her X-rated dreams of pat-downs and pillow talk, and find a real life happily ever after. 

The Queen of Wessco encourages Ellie to follow in her sister’s footsteps and settle down with a prince of her own. Or a duke, a marquis…a viscount would also do nicely. 

But in the pursuit of a fairy tale ending, Ellie learns that the sweetest crushes can be the hardest to let go.
***
Logan St. James grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, in a family on the wrong side of the law. But these days, he covers his tattoos and scars with a respectable suit. He’s handsome, loyal, brave, skilled with his hands and…other body parts. 

Any woman would be proud to call him hers. 

But there’s only one woman he wants. 

For years he’s watched over her, protected her, held her hair back when she was sick, taught her how to throw a punch, and spot a liar.

He dreams of her. Would lay down his life for her. 

But beautiful Ellie Hammond’s off-limits. 

Everybody knows the bodyguard rules: Never lose focus, never let them out of your sight, and never, ever fall in love


Title : Royally Endowed
Author : Emma Chase
Series : Royally (book three)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 275
Genre : NA romance
Publisher : Emma Chase LLC
Release Date : August 14, 2017

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

In the moment, after finishing this, I thought it might be my favourite of the series (so far). But after being distracted before I could actually write out my thoughts, and with a little more time to think on it, I’m not going to round up on this one.

While I question some of the bits of this plot, I do have to say, as far as laying groundwork for a long slow-buid, this one definitely did do that, unlike book two. But where I enjoyed the background noise of the plot in book two, this one did follow somewhat typically cliché bodyguard tropes. Which, I mean, nothing wrong with that. But one particular element of said trope was kind of a there-and-gone bit of conflict and in the grand scheme of things had all the lasting power of something.. well, there-and-gone. It either should’ve been a bigger problem, with more fallout, or lifted from the page completely.

But anyway.

My other complaint would be that as much as I liked Ellie, and thought she was fun, Chase kind of did her a disservice by making her painfully horribly stupid at times. Granted, it was done when the character was still young-ish but still.. wow, it hurt. I don’t think I had any real complaints about Logan except, like another mentioned bit of the plot doing little to nothing, inserting his family into the story was also a non-event. I think the author tried to dot too many i’s and cross too many t’s in this one. This is where, in hindsight, it felt a bit messy.

But, again, as it is with most of these, it was a bit of quick sexy low-angst kind of fun and in true end of the series fashion (book four is a prequel, from what I could tell from just the name in the synopsis), it worked as a big come together kind of wrap up, catching us up all the events from as far back as book one background all the way to “present day”, so we got to see all the couples together. And I’m a sucker for an ensemble, so.

I’ll be dipping into the little novella, even though it’s marked 4.5, to get a bit of a HEA timejump from book two’s couple and then I’ll wrap this series with Royally Yours tomorrow and call time on yet another unfinished series. Once again, these won’t be a favourite, but I’m not mad to have spent time with them.

THE INFINITY COURTS by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.
From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes an incisive, action-packed tale that explores big questions about technology, grief, love, and humanity.


Title : The Infinity Courts
Author : Akemi Dawn Bowman
Series : The Infinity Courts (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 480
Genre : YA sci-fi
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 
Release Date : April 6, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★.5 


Hollis’ 1.5 star review

First of all, you’re going to want to scroll right by this review because it probably won’t be the best one to read if you want an objective take on the story. Why? Because this book put me into a week long slump (which doesn’t sound like a lot but it felt like three years). So this story is on my shitlist.

This was my first read by Bowman and despite my strugglebus experience with reading it, I would try her again. I think this was definitely a story-specific problem, not necessarily a writing problem, which is a bummer as while the cover definitely hooked me (so pretty!) it was the plot that made me take a second look.

I will contradict myself here by saying that one of the main issues was writing-specific because this is.. lengthy and repetitive and basically takes two issues and not only beats you over the head with them but also to death. Which is hilarious as this story follows a bunch of dead people (not a spoiler). But basically we ruminate (ad nauseaum) over the concept of what it means to be human, what it means to award second chances, and living (being dead?) with hope. Lots of talk of war, too. But while all that might sound interesting, it grew stale really quick because it seemed to be literal copy paste arguments over and over again, with nothing new to be said.

Unfortunately what seemed like a cool concept just felt flimsy and also confusing and I quickly lost any sense of what, well.. made sense. And with that ending.. I mean, I know it isn’t a standalone (kinda wish it was, though) but still. What.

Will I read on? Right now it’s a no for me, dawg, but honestly by the time the sequel releases I’ll probably be back on my completionist kick and want to just wrap it up. Particularly as, at least right now, it seems to only be a duology.

I can’t recommend this, at all, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like it. Again, maybe the slump made this all worse than it could’ve been, or it was just the wrong time for me, so if it strikes your interest, give it a try! Sample it. Borrow it. I hope your experience is better than mine.

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