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WILDBLOOD by Lauren Blackwood

Eighteen-year-old Victoria is a Wildblood. Kidnapped at the age of six and manipulated by the Exotic Lands Touring Company, she’s worked as a tour guide ever since with a team of fellow Wildbloods who take turns using their magic to protect travelers in a Jamaican jungle teeming with ghostly monsters.

When the boss denies Victoria an earned promotion to team leader in favor of Dean, her backstabbing ex, she’s determined to prove herself. Her magic may be the most powerful on the team, but she’s not the image the boss wants to send their new client, Thorn, a renowned goldminer determined to reach an untouched gold supply deep in the jungle.

Thorn is everything Victoria isn’t – confident, impossibly kind, and so handsome he leaves her speechless. And when he entrusts the mission to her, kindness turns to mutual respect, turns to affection, turns to love. But the jungle is treacherous, and between hypnotic river spirits, soul-devouring women that shed their skin like snakes, and her ex out for revenge, Victoria has to decide – is promotion at a corrupt company really what she wants?


Title : Wildblood
Author : Lauren Blackwood
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : February 7, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★.5 


Hollis’ 1.5 star review

I’m sad to say it but I think had the setting, and some of the magic and wildness of the jungle — at least in the first half — not been so interesting, this rating would be even lower.

It didn’t take long before every chapter, every page, every interaction between these cardboard characters, became a chore. It became a trial not to DNF around the 30% mark, and maybe it would’ve been earlier had I not chipped away at this so slowly after initially picking it up, but I convinced myself I could at least try to skim through a little further to see where things were going and, unfortunately, eventually read through to the end. I’m not sure why I bothered.

No, sorry, I do know why. Because I enjoyed the author’s debut so much.

This did have a few good things to offer outside of the setting; it also talks about colourism, human trafficking, and more, but it quickly shifted gears to focusing on a stuttering girl getting starry eyed over her love interest. Complete with confessions of feelings and love after two days.

Sorry, miss me with this. I already had one foot out of the door but this was too much. Especially with the whole evil ex dynamic and.. yeah, no.

Victoria’s character see-sawed all over the place and there were too many men involved, plus a pseudo-brother/son who she seemed willing to do anything for and who just mostly slept the whole time. I truly have no idea what was going on with these characters and why. But I think in general there just wasn’t a solid running vibe because the latter half of the story goes off the rails; both in plot and tone. Sometimes jokey, sometimes angsty, quick to forgive, quick to abandon things it had spent a lot of time and energy setting up.. it was all over the place.

I am hugely disappointed by this but mostly disappointed in myself for not just putting it down and walking away instead of pushing on to make it work. Do not recommend.

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

BEGIN AGAIN by Emma Lord

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

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

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

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


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

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★.5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

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

Yes, spoiler alert, I cried. Twice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

GEORGIE, ALL ALONG by Kate Clayborn

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

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

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

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

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


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

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GLITTERLAND by Alexis Hall

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

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

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

And now, there is only this.
 

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

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


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

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MYSTERIES OF THORN MANOR by Margaret Rogerson

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

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

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


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

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

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

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

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

Highly recommend!

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

HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS AND UNFAIRLY CUTE by Talia Hibbert

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Brown Sisters trilogy, comes a laugh-out-loud story about a quirky content creator and a clean-cut athlete testing their abilities to survive the great outdoors–and each other.

Bradley Graeme is pretty much perfect. He’s a star football player, manages his OCD well (enough), and comes out on top in all his classes . . . except the ones he shares with his ex-best friend, Celine.

Celine Bangura is conspiracy-theory-obsessed. Social media followers eat up her takes on everything from UFOs to holiday overconsumption–yet, she’s still not cool enough for the popular kids’ table. Which is why Brad abandoned her for the in-crowd years ago. (At least, that’s how Celine sees it.)

These days, there’s nothing between them other than petty insults and academic rivalry. So when Celine signs up for a survival course in the woods, she’s surprised to find Brad right beside her.

Forced to work as a team for the chance to win a grand prize, these two teens must trudge through not just mud and dirt but their messy past. And as this adventure brings them closer together, they begin to remember the good bits of their history. But has too much time passed . . . or just enough to spark a whole new kind of relationship?


Title : Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute
Author : Talia Hibbert
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA contemporary romance
Publisher : Joy Revolution
Release Date : January 3, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 4 star review

If there’s one (or two.. or three) thing(s) you can count on when picking up a Hibbert? It’s banter. Also, chemistry. Also also a variety of diverse representation. And while she’s shifted gears to a younger target audience in this, her debut YA, all of those things are still very much present here.

I don’t think this is going to be a very long or articular review because I’m swimming in that glowy squishy “I have no notes” feeling. Though honestly? My one complaint might be the ending. In the sense that.. it ended. Rude. But also it is one of those quicky endings that does maybe feel, just a bit, abrupt.

Everything else? So great. The aborted friendship, which became a nemesis slash enemies situation, only to revert back to friendship, and then more? Each stage was so well done, feeling gradual, natural, and genuine. These characters felt so real, so alive, but that’s typical Hibbert, too. I will say, though, that I think Bradley was my favourite of the two leads. He is just such a sweet cinnamon roll of a human and I appreciate everything about him.

Also, while there was some element of a complicated family dynamic present, it was a different spin of things I’ve seen done in YA before and I loved it. I loved all the dynamics, actually, familial and sibling. Big win there.

How many other things can I say I enjoyed or loved? Probably lots more. But instead, I’ll just say this : read this book!

Side note, I’m not saying I am a conspiracy theorist like Celine but both my blog buddy and my name were present in this book. And so was the book title our blog took homage from. This is (hah) highly suspicious. Stay tuned for a breakdown of our theory on TikTok (just kidding! we love you, Talia! stalk us all you want).

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

TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHT by Chloe Liese

Opposites become allies to fool their matchmaking friends in this swoony reimagining of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.

Jamie Westenberg and Bea Wilmot have nothing in common except a meet-disaster and the mutual understanding that they couldn’t be more wrong for each other. But when the people closest to them play Cupid and trick them into going on a date, Jamie and Bea realize they have something else in common after all—an undeniable need for revenge.

Soon their plan is in place: Fake date obnoxiously and convince the meddlers they’re madly in love. Then, break up spectacularly and dash their hopes, putting an end to the matchmaking madness once and for all.

To convince everyone that they’ve fallen for each other, Jamie and Bea will have to nail the performance of their lives. But as their final act nears and playing lovers becomes easier than not, they begin to wonder, what if Cupid’s arrow wasn’t so off the mark? And what if two wrongs do make a right? 


Title : Two Wrongs Make a Right
Author : Chloe Liese
Series : The Wilmot Sisters (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 326
Genre : contemporary romance / retelling
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : November 22, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

I wish I could say that most of the fault with this one lies with me for literally having read a banger of a contemporary romance right before this one. But also.. this just wasn’t all that great. Now, again, that could be me as I’ve had a rocky road with Liese’s other series, lots of twos with only a few three stars as stand outs, but this one felt really rough — particularly in the case of the writing, especially in the beginning, but said roughness wasn’t limited to just the writing, nope. It also really stretched the concept of a Much Ado About Nothing retelling. I guess that’s why it’s called a reimagining?

But, as a warning, if you expect a modernization of the play? Or even something that looks like Ten Things I Hate About You? Don’t. This homage is a sprinkle instead of a full shower. And truthfully I’m not even sure why the author bothered (except to lean into a whole Shakespeare-retelling themed series, I guess) because it really just reads like a forced hate-to-fake-dating-for-reasons-which-leads-to-love between a quirky colourful female lead and the starchy stiff-upper-lipped giant of a man who is actually Perfection Personified, including his giant donkey kong dong, neither of whom had much personality outside of their tropes and some various representation (autism and anxiety, respectively) and the bit of emotional baggage from past relationships they either have to work through, confess to, or use as window dressing.

Please note I’m not downplaying the existence of the toxic and abusive relationships that are depicted. I actually thought the one playing out in the background was one of the few things that felt authentic; except I wish the villain of the piece, the supposed Claudio, was less.. one-dimensional? I feel like the author tried to be subtle in the beginning, despite Beatrice not feeling all that warm and fuzzy about him and the relationship, and then we veered right into evil villain monologuing after only one awkward slash concerning scene. Which, hey, speaking of which, I wish Jamie, aka Benedick, had actually done something with the information he had, the behaviour he had witnessed, because I kept waiting for that shoe to drop and it never did. And I’m honestly still shocked by it.

Additionally, I was pretty annoyed by Beatrice’s hypocrisy. Sure, she was right about one half of the couple being shady but judging the quickness of someone else’s relationship only to later on accept, without blinking, the bee thing (IYKYK)? After a month? How is that any better?

I realize I’m being a little harsh but honestly I’m left feeling extra (extra) annoyed by how the conflict was resolved at the end and that could be colouring some of the tone of this review. Because so much of it was just stupid and or bonkers or both. Ahem.

I will say, there was something included in the sex scenes that I don’t see enough of on page and that was cool. No, I’m not spoiling.

But anyway, I couldn’t recommend this. If you want tension with the fake dating, you won’t get much. If you want the dynamics that existed in the “source material”, you won’t find them. Witty clever banter? Missing! Have some lame chess puns instead. But if you want a fake dating romance between opposites with some mental health/neurodivergent rep, I mean.. this is an option. And maybe it was cute in the middle. I don’t know, I will admit nothing. Will I read on? Probably. Because that’s just how I am.

ASTRID PARKER DOESN’T FAIL by Ashley Herring Blake

An interior designer learns to rebuild her love life from the ground up with zero blueprints in this new romantic comedy by Ashley Herring Blake, author of Delilah Green Doesn’t Care.

For Astrid Parker, failure is unacceptable. Ever since she broke up with her fiancé a year ago, she’s been focused on her career—her friends might say she’s obsessed, but she’s just driven. When Pru Everwood asks her to be the designer for the Everwood Inn’s renovation that will be broadcasted on a popular home improvement show, Innside America, Astrid knows this is the answer to everything that is wrong with her life. It’ll be the perfect distraction from her failed love life, and her perpetually displeased mother might finally give her nod of approval.

However, Astrid never planned on Jordan Everwood, Pru’s granddaughter and lead carpenter for the inn’s renovation, who despises every modern design decision Astrid makes. Jordan is determined to preserve the history of her family’s inn, particularly as the rest of her life is in shambles. When that determination turns into a little light sabotage, ruffling Astrid’s perfect little feathers, the showrunners ask them to play up the tension. But somewhere along the way, their dislike for each other turns into something quite different, and Astrid must decide what success truly means. Is she going to pursue the life that she’s expected to lead, or the one she wants? 


Title : Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail
Author : Ashley Herring Blake
Series : Bright Falls (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 368
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ contemporary romance
Publisher : Piatkus
Release Date : November 22, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

So basically what I learned from skimming reviews of this book is that this one worked where Delilah Green Doesn’t Care didn’t. But the opposite is also true. Those who loved the first in this series, didn’t have a great time with this one. But I’m happy to call this a win (book one was fine for me! lots of potential. just had some issues). And the main reason why? Astrid fucking Parker.

Once again, Blake comes in clutch with her stars. Astrid Parker stole my heart just like her stepsister did. And broke it, too. Much feels were had, some tears were shed. I could agonize over exactly how to describe how much Astrid got to me but honestly she was just great. Her whole self-discovery, her reflection, her relationship with her mother.. everything just worked. And speaking of things that worked, this time I was also on board with the love interest, too. Especially because when something is stirred up as potential conflict.. Jordan, while understandable harbouring some doubts, doesn’t stew and isolate and suspect. She goes to Astrid and they have a conversation sans any drama and conflict (and, actually, there’s a second scene that in any other book would’ve ended with a big blow up and didn’t.. huh). Like adults, gasp. And that’s yet another point in this book’s favour; the immature childish behaviour that plagued Delilah Green Doesn’t Care? None of it existed in this one. Huge plus.

Worth noting, too? The third act breakup actually works. And no, this isn’t me having a character growth moment; I am perfectly fine with the plot point if it makes sense without feeling manufactured or stupid or due to miscommunication. And Blake did it well with this story. So, hah.

Weirdly, for a story that centered around this whole renovation show event, those scenes and the associated characters really don’t stand out in hindsight. They were fine, sometimes fun, especially when there were instances of Astrid and Jordan squaring off for the views, and being encouraged by the showrunner, but it just shows how strong the main characters were to just totally outshine the majority of the plot scenery. Their dynamic, their chemistry, was just that strong. Ten out of ten.

Truly, I have little to no notes about this one. I am just soaking in this good feeling. Definitely recommend. And very glad there are more books to come in this series.

KUSHIEL’S AVATAR by Jacqueline Carey

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. It’s inhabited by the race that rose from the seed of angels, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman who recognized that she was pricked by Kushiel’s dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. Phèdre’s path has been strange and dangerous. She has lain with princes and pirate kings, battled a wicked temptress, and saved two nations. Through it all, the devoted swordsman Joscelin has been at her side, following the central precept of the angel Cassiel: Protect and serve. 

But Phèdre’s plans will put his pledge to the test, for she has never forgotten her childhood friend Hyacinthe. She has spent ten long years searching for the key to free him from his eternal indenture to the Master of Straights, a bargain with the gods to save Phèdre and a nation. The search will take Phèdre and Joscelin across the world and down a fabled river to a forgotten land … and to a power so intense and mysterious, none dare speak its name.


Title : Kushiel’s Avatar
Author : Jacqueline Carey
Series : Phèdre’s Trilogy (book three)
Format : physical
Page Count : 750
Genre : fantasy romance
Publisher : Tor Fantasy
Release Date : March 14 2004

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I’m going to complain a bit about repetition in this series, and most of it seemed to be in this final book (which I guess makes sense as it’s the culmination of this particular series), but here’s my own bit of repeat-y nonsense : the plot for this one came back to me as I read it. Maybe it’s like songs on the radio. You might not hear it for a decade, or think of it in that span of time, but with the sound of the melody, the lyrics are unearthed from within your brain and you can sing along. I guess it’s like that. I’ll stop assuming I have no recollection of things going forward. Here’s hoping Imriel’s Trilogy is likewise buried in my brain somewhere, too. But if not? Hey, bonus, I get to experience it a-new.

Overall, though, this was maybe not the best series to binge. Carey does a good job of weaving in past events, dynamics, and more, multiple times within her books, likely because the page count is so massive that it’s understandable you would forget things along the way. But if you’re reading these ceaselessly, one after the other, by the third one? You’re a bit tired. Not helped by the fact that even if the locales differ, it is a bit samesies in the sense that Phèdre risks all, endures all, poor Joscelin is along for the ride (because vows), they usually have a falling out (some worse, or more dramatic, than others), but eventually all is well. Queen gets mad, Queen forgives, here is your HEA. In that sense, this was the least interesting of the three because there was no real tension, we knew how things would play out almost exactly, which explains why I put this down the most of all three of them, but. But I still picked it back up.

I’ll admit I did skim some of the more story-based mythology as Phèdre traveled from one place to the next seeking knowledge, the Name of God, to rescue her childhood friend. It was a change of pace from the darkness and violence that we had endured prior but equally it did make for an odd balance of a story. But I think that is kind of represented by the whole series. Sex, and violence, and pain, yes, but also religion, and mythology, and learning, and knowledge. It’s a complex and layered universe Carey’s created and you can’t say she didn’t put in the work, and the endless research, in and around the more angsty romantic titilating bits. But even those have purpose. Even in the violence there’s reason and understanding and it’s.. well, it’s a lot.

I will definitely be pushing on with the various series but I am not sad to be taking a break, mayhap even for the rest of the year (little that remains of it). This isn’t a series, or a universe, I could really recommend but it does compel in some ways. It is interesting. And yes, layered, in every way. I don’t want to doubt my younger self but I wonder how much of this I really understand back in the day. But whatever it was, it left an impression because here I am all these years later rereading them. And I’m not mad about it.

This also completes the final series on my Five Series to Finish in 2022 list. Phew. This one was a close call.