JUST LIKE MAGIC by Sarah Hogle

From the author of Twice Shy comes a sprightly Christmas novel, a rollicking romp through the absurdity of family holidays and the hope of new love.

Bettie Hughes once knew the comfort of luxury, flaunting a ridiculous collection of designer shoes and a stealthy addiction to CBD oils. That is, until her parents snipped her purse strings. Long obsessed with her public image, Bettie boasts an extravagant lifestyle on social media. But the reality is: Bettie is broke and squatting in Colorado, and her family has no idea.

Christmas, with its pressure to meet familial expectations, is looming when a drunk Bettie plays a vinyl record of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” backwards and accidentally conjures Hall, an unexpectedly charming Holiday Spirit in the form of a man. Once the shock wears off, Bettie knows she’s stumbled upon the greatest gift: a chance to make all her holiday wishes come true, plus a ready-made fiancé.

But as the wiles of magic lose their charm, Bettie finds herself set off-kilter by Hall’s sweet gestures. Suddenly, Bettie is finding her heart merry and light. But the happier she gets, the shorter Hall’s time on earth grows. Can Bettie channel the Christmas spirit and learn to live with goodwill toward all men? Or will her selfish ways come back as soon as the holidays are over? 


Title : Just Like Magic
Author : Sarah Hogle
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : romance / magical realism
Publisher : Putnam
Release Date : October 4, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4.5 (rounded up) star review

Not only am I reading an October ARC in March but this is also a Christmas-themed story. But hey, figured I’m closer to the holidays at this stage in the game than I would be if I read this before release. So, pfft.

When I tell you that I was laughing, gigging, cackling, and then crying, weeping, sniffling all within the span of a few pages.. well, I mean, no one would be surprised. But also please note the hilarity portion of the book does outweigh the sad by about 80/20. I spent a lot of time laughing. And oh man did I need this book exactly right now. Thank you, timing. For once you are in my favour.

Hogle’s sophomore release took a break from offering us a harder kid of heroine to like, or maybe just a messier one, but she’s back and with her is Bettie. Bettie has gone from having it all, and (mostly) being it all, to rock bottom. She’s penniless, her reputation more or less in tatters from various situations, and squatting in a house that is now her own but still trying to maintain her social media image and convince her parents nothing is wrong. When a freak accident conjures the Holiday Spirit, manifesting him in a delightful human form capable of granting wishes for the purpose of improving her outlook on the holidays, well.. she takes advantage and cashes in; both in material goods and revenge. But the harder Hall (as in Holiday) tries to woo her towards good cheer, the harder it is to resist her better nature. And Christmas.

Listen, this book.. is totally outrageous. It’s ridiculous. In all the best ways. This has a full cast of colourful characters in the form of Bettie’s family and the hijinks that ensue are just amazing. But there are so many sly little emotional moments that Hogle includes that keeps this from getting too out there. And then there are the moments where she doesn’t pull punches and actually breaks your heart. See aforementioned weeping.

I loved every second of this and, much like the two Hogles that came before it, I immediately wanted to start it up all over again. I had such a good time and though I’m not one for Hallmark movies or Christmas stories or anything of this nature, if they were all like this? I’d eat them up. This is everything holiday but also, somehow, does not feel like you’re being smothered in tinsel. For all that Bettie is literally hanging out with the physical manifestation of the Holiday Spirit, and there’s magic being flung here there and everywhere in every possible conceivable way, it’s also.. bizarrely normal? Like, this doesn’t feel like a fantasy but it is, of course, fantastical AF. I don’t know how she managed the balance and maybe others could argue otherwise but I just loved it. It’s silly and fun and romantic and sweet and touching and.. why haven’t I given this five stars? I probably should. Okay, we’re rounding that 4.5 up.

It’s an act of courage to march to the beat of your own drum, to behave with compassion and generosity, and wonder.

So far this author has given us books with top notes of : biting and sharp, tender and sweet, and now absolutely bonkers — with a dash of peppermint. I truly don’t know where Hogle will go, and do, next, but I am in it and I want it.

ps, if anyone comes for Hall (and it’s sorta weird saying this because I read this whole book hearing my own name in my head), I will come for you. He must be protected at all costs.
pps, I deleted all but one quote from the review because honestly they deserve to be experienced for the first time in context. But just know you have much hilarity and much sweetness and much silliness (as discussed in the review, I’m just hammering it home) to look forward to.
pps, you’re welcome.

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

WHEN GRACIE MET THE GRUMP by Mariana Zapata

Of all the things that could have landed in her yard… it had to be him.

For most people, finding a half-naked superbeing in their yard might be a dream come true.

Unfortunately for Gracie Castro, it’s the exact opposite.

Especially when he’s grouchy, rude, and shows no signs of leaving anytime soon.

But when a hero of mankind needs you, you do what you have to.

Even if it compromises everything you know.

And totally changes your life. 


Title : When Gracie Met The Grump
Author : Mariana Zapata
Format : eBook
Page Count : 638
Genre : Contemporary Romance/Sci-Fi elements
Publisher : Self Published
Release Date : September 15, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 5 star review

Headlines:
Superhero grumpster
Banter and biccering
Slow-burn (shocked, I know)

Utter glee was my main emotion reading this book. It was certainly a surprising blurb but honestly, Zapata wrote the socks out of this strange set up. The injured superhero appearing in Gracie’s already secretive and strange life prompted a complete explosion of circumstances. What went from a strange meet-grump, moved into a high stakes scenario. I was here for it all.

Because my gut said this man wasn’t a ball of sunshine. I had a feeling he wasn’t even a night-light.

The plot was greatly crafted, strangely belieavable with a sense of The Incredibles to it. The characters of both Gracie and Grump (you’ll have to read to find out more of this illusive character) were a complete double act. They were so similar in some ways and yet so polarised in others. Their chemistry developed slowly and boy, did it build. The eventual connection between these two was one of my favourites, up there with Kulti, Winnipeg, Lukov and Rhodes for me.

The family in this book was intriguing and Zapata writes brilliant families and funny characters; this book was no exception. Unusually, unless I’ve missed some easter eggs, this book had no relation to any of her previous standalones.

I’m on board with Zapata going off-piste from her usual kinds of concepts, because I loved this creation hard.

BE THE SERPENT by Seanan McGuire

October Daye is finally something she never expected to be: married. All the trials and turmoils and terrors of a hero’s life have done very little to prepare her for the expectation that she will actually share her life with someone else, the good parts and the bad ones alike, not just allow them to dabble around the edges in the things she wants to share. But with an official break from hero duties from the Queen in the Mists, and her family wholly on board with this new version of “normal,” she’s doing her best to adjust.

It isn’t always easy, but she’s a hero, right? She’s done harder.
Until an old friend and ally turns out to have been an enemy in disguise for this entire time, and October’s brief respite turns into a battle for her life, her community, and everything she has ever believed to be true. 

The debts of the Broken Ride are coming due, and whether she incurred them or not, she’s going to be the one who has to pay.


Title : Be The Serpent
Author : Seanan McGuire
Series : October Daye (book sixteen)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 384
Genre : urban fantasy
Publisher : DAW
Release Date : August 30, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

No, you aren’t hallucinating. This is the highest rating I’ve given a book in this series since book eleven — and before that, the only other three? Book one. Which in hindsight might’ve been an error in “hoping for the best/that things get better”. So, yeah, the bar for this series, which I’ve complained about ad nauseam, is low. But this one, almost start to finish, had elements that kept me interested and unwilling to put the book down.

That isn’t to say it didn’t start off poorly though because we open up with Luna and Sylvester bullshit and to say I am tired of these two characters would be an understatement. What makes me somewhat angry, though, is McGuire gave an exceptional explanation for why the former is now the way she is and.. yeah, I’m mad. Because it makes sense. Why it took so long to get this explanation, I’ll never know. But it doesn’t excuse the latter’s lack of backbone, loyalty, trust, etc etc. October better not have forgiven him that easy, too. I’m offended.

And, honestly, other than that.. other than a few little moments where people gave October shit for things I don’t think she deserved (and trust me, I would mentioned when it was deserved), there were so few blips in this one. Truly, again, I am astonished.

My one real complaint is the constant rehashing of things to various characters as the plot pushed things along because it gets so tired, going over the same things endlessly; whereas certain other characters spent too much time standing around blinking and marvelling over how things don’t make sense (cough Sylvester cough, glad October called him out on this, more please) and, mostly, being useless. But that’s it. Complaint session over.

Oh wait, Tybalt was mostly useless in this one, not going to lie. He’s sort’ve turned into arm candy now that he’s got the girl. Though I suppose when you’re as skilled and surprising as October is.. there isn’t a whole lot to complete with there. Not a complaint so much as an observation.

The big reveal of this instalment, the way it went down, and then the end? Constant shocker. I’m both surprised and not surprised that the most powerful among this crew is also a different kind of useless and, for once, am not mad about October putting them in their place with little regard to niceties. She is all of us in this particular situation. Surprising no one, the sea witch was once again great, no notes, ten out of ten.

I don’t think I’ve ever said this for this series but : I cannot wait for book seventeen. But don’t get me wrong, I’m still hoping the end is in sight because obviously this is not a sustainable read for me (despite evidence to the contrary) and I fully expect the success of this instalment to peter out but hey, low expectations never hurt anyone.

Oh, and ps, the novella at the end of this one? Horrible. In the sense that seeing exactly what the sea witch was cursed with, live in HD4K, was horrible. Brutal. Awful. Lots of Big Bads need to go before the end of this series or there is truly no justice in this world (which is likely the case because faerie).

A MERRY LITTLE MEET CUTE by Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone

Cowritten by #1 New York Times bestselling author Julie Murphy and USA Today bestselling author Sierra Simone—a steamy plus-size holiday rom-com about an adult film star who is semi-accidentally cast as a lead in a family-friendly Christmas movie, and the former bad-boy pop star she falls in love with.

Bee Hobbes (aka Bianca Von Honey) has a successful career as a plus-size adult film star. With a huge following and two supportive moms, Bee couldn’t ask for more. But when Bee’s favorite producer casts her to star in a Christmas movie he’s making for the squeaky-clean Hope Channel, Bee’s career is about to take a more family-friendly direction.

Forced to keep her work as Bianca under wraps, Bee quickly learns this is a task a lot easier said than done. Though it all becomes worthwhile when she discovers her co-star is none other than childhood crush Nolan Shaw, an ex-boy band member in desperate need of career rehab. Nolan’s promised his bulldog manager to keep it zipped up on set, and he will if it means he’ll be able to provide a more stable living situation for his sister and mom.

But things heat up quickly in Christmas Notch, Vermont, when Nolan recognizes his new co-star from her ClosedDoors account (oh yeah, he’s a member). Now Bee and Nolan are sneaking off for quickies on set, keeping their new relationship a secret from the Hope Channel’s execs. Things only get trickier when the reporter who torpedoed Nolan’s singing career comes snooping around—and takes an instant interest in mysterious newcomer Bee.

And if Bee and Nolan can’t keep their off-camera romance behind the scenes, then this merry little meet cute might end up on the cutting room floor. 


Title : A Merry Little Meet Cute
Author : Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : contemporary romance / holiday
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : September 20, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

I wanted to be able to give this one a higher rating solely because of the inclusion of a fat FMC who also happens to do sex work (like, hell yes, more of this rep) but ultimately the good bits, which were more in concept than any kind of execution, just didn’t make up for the rest. And in that sense I mean mostly that this was boring, frustrating, and unbelievable.

While I wish I could’ve enjoyed the surface level festiveness of a Christmassy/holiday-themed movie being filmed over the holidays, the promised fun and hilarity and tension of both the bad boy ex-boyband member trying to rehab his image paired up with an actual sex worker trying to branch into a different kind of film — and also stay wholesome so as not to let anyone in on the secret of her career — just never panned out. This wasn’t really fun, there was only some token forced humour (which wasn’t funny), and the tension was flimsy at best considering how painfully oblivious the non-sex industry folks were to who was both starring and working on this movie. Also, I feel like every conflict could’ve either been avoided or was brought on by the dumb actions of the main characters (the picture in the strip club? you’ve got to be kidding me).

Added to all that, the chemistry between the leads was given a leg (or four) up because they had both crushed on each other prior to meeting; Bee idolized Nolan during his boy band days, and Nolan happened to be a fan of Bee’s sexy online persona. So they didn’t need to fall for each other, or even have personalities, because the “connection” was established off-page. Instead it was just very lust-driven with sexy times or thoughts of sexy times and full disclosure I started skimming those real fast.

What made this stranger is that this felt.. YA-y. I realize it’s an typical claim to make considering one of the co-authors is coming from YA, and most female authors are lumped into this category, but still. These characters didn’t feel like they had adult problems and the problems that did feel adult had non-adult reactions to them (I think they are supposed to be mid to late twenties? don’t quote me). I don’t know how else to describe it. But Nolan and his phone.. drove me up the wall. I don’t even care that they attempted to work it into the story, blah blah, no. I was over it — though I do have to say, there was one scene where his younger sister chastises him for trying to micromanage a crisis from afar after she calls him in the middle of a scene to freak out on him and get his help to manage a crisis. So, like, yeah, he did get the short end of the stick sometimes and that certainly didn’t help anything. But while he had sympathetic backstory/motivations, I didn’t enjoy how he was made to handle them or, really, him as a character. Even Bee, the stronger of the two, just wasn’t able to shoulder the burden of this story and I don’t feel enough time was really spent with her enjoying the filming and acting process. Instead it was just about keeping this poorly-hidden secret and being into Nolan. She was just as surface level as he was, really. And as for the rest of the cast.. honestly, no one stood out. And while a few should be called out for their pointlessness, I don’t even have the energy to bother.

Overall, this was a bummer. I do think a lot of readers will enjoy it for what it is — spicy holiday zestiness — I just expect a lot more from my romance than this. Having said that, I would warn any mostly-YA readers from jumping into this one. For all that it read YA-ish, there is a lot of adult and sex content, so maybe work yourself upto this one if you’re new to the steams. Or don’t, YOLO!

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

SORRY I MISSED YOU by Lorraine Brown

Sometimes love is just around the corner…

Rebecca isn’t looking for love. She’s perfectly happy with her high-flying city job, gorgeous flat overlooking Hampstead Heath and fortnightly fling with the hot CEO. She’s certainly not interested in the hot actor neighbour who’s just moved in opposite…

Jack is still looking for his big break. It turns out being the star talent at drama school doesn’t give you a golden ticket to Hollywood, after all. The last thing he needs is any distractions right now – especially not the uptight, power-suit wearing girl next door.

They might live only a few metres away from each other but their worlds couldn’t be further apart, plus opposites don’t really attract, do they…?


Title : Sorry I Missed You
Author : Lorraine Brown
Format : Physical
Page Count : 368
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Orion Books
Release Date : September 1, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Stuck in a rut
Frienship to more
Finding purpose

Sorry I Missed You was a gentle romantic read that got you involved in the lives of two very normal people in their thirties. In that sense, it felt relatable and real. Rebecca was living a bit of a non-life, still reeling from a year-old break-up and a huge bereavement in her childhood. Jack was drifting in his desire to be an actor, trying to find direction and guidance. A missed parcel brought them in each other’s path.

Much of this story tracked Rebecca and Jack’s lives seperately, their work, their friendships and relationships. Over time a tangible friendship grew and it was pleasant and satisfying reading. I got pretty invested in their seperate work lives and the struggles they were both facing there. The road to more with these two was a slow burn and not rushed; I appreciated that.

This story was a quick read, I read it in 24 hours and enjoyed giving it my sole attention. I’d definitely read this author again.

Thank you Orion Books for the early review copy.

3.75 stars, rounded up.

I’M THE GIRL by Courtney Summers

When sixteen-year-old Georgia Avis discovers the dead body of thirteen-year-old Ashley James, she teams up with Ashley’s older sister, Nora, to find and bring the killer to justice before he strikes again. But their investigation throws Georgia into a world of unimaginable privilege and wealth, without conscience or consequence, and as Ashley’s killer closes in, Georgia will discover when money, power and beauty rule, it might not be a matter of who is guilty—but who is guiltiest.

A spiritual successor to the 2018 breakout hit, SadieI’m the Girl is a masterfully written, bold, and unflinching account of how one young woman feels in her body as she struggles to navigate a deadly and predatory power structure while asking readers one question: if this is the way the world is, do you accept it?


Title : I’m The Girl
Author : Courtney Summers
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ mystery
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : September 13, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

After a pretty lackluster reading weekend, I pulled out the big guns and delved into I’m The Girl hoping that Summers, with (as it’s coined) her spiritual-successor to Sadie, which I loved, would break me out of the funk. But instead it just gave me a different one.

This was so hard to read, which is understandable and probably the point, but where I can respect some of what the author was doing and saying and forcing the reader to consider, I don’t know if it succeeded where it was meant to. Or at least it didn’t for me.

I’m The Girl delves into the concept of grooming, of manipulation, of powerful people enforcing their rules and their wants on others, but everything around it just felt disjointed and shaky. Being in Georgia’s head was an awful place to be, with her self-worth and dreams tied up in belonging to this place where she misguidedly believes she can become something, which was tied into believing her worth was skin deep, and it just spiralled in and out of this vicious cycle. She was incredibly naive, incredibly needy, out of touch, and lost. She was constantly in situations she shouldn’t have been in, never quite seeming to learn from them, and you could blame some of that on the knowledge she didn’t have, secrets held out of reach by those around her, as well as the manipulation of others. It was painful.

And while all this is going on, there’s also a dead girl, the sister of a not-friend, more an acquaintance, and Georgia gets sorta tangled up in both because she discovers the body and because she finds herself roped into to helping determine what happened — I wouldn’t quite say she’s investigating things, the way the synopsis would have you believe, but there are a few side quests — and I liked that, unlike Sadie, Georgia is only tangentially connected to the death. She’s watching the devastation happen from the outside looking in, much the way she feels held back from the glamourous and prestigious world she wants to belong. But in that same drama, I almost feel there were too many added elements (maybe just one) that muddied the waters.

Maybe, on the whole, when combined with the romance, it was just too many things. And yet, despite this, what it also wasn’t, was a thriller. It also wasn’t anything like Sadie so if, like me, you were looking to recapture that feeling? Maybe just go for a reread.

I think this review is a little messy but so was the book. Or, at least, it just wasn’t for me. And that’s fine. I think fans of the author will likely appreciate this, the same way they appreciate her other works, because she’s consistent in shining a light on these dark areas. And that’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But it won’t always make for an enjoyable read, which makes sense, but equally it might not always made for a good read. Whereas my struggles with The Project had to do with the characters, not the plot, when it comes to I’m The Girl I would say this one is definitely the characters but also the plot. Again, in concept, I am so down with this particular narrative. I just wish it had played out differently. But. I will continue to pick up this author.. at least for now.

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

RUBY FEVER by Ilona Andrews – double review!

#1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews is back with the newest book in the exciting Hidden Legacy series—the thrilling conclusion to her trilogy featuring fierce and beautiful Prime magic user Catalina Baylor.

An escaped spider, the unexpected arrival of an Imperial Russian Prince, the senseless assassination of a powerful figure, a shocking attack on the supposedly invincible Warden of Texas, Catalina’s boss… And it’s only Monday. 

Within hours, the fate of Houston—not to mention the House of Baylor—now rests on Catalina, who will have to harness her powers as never before. But even with her fellow Prime and fiancé Alessandro Sagredo by her side, she may not be able to expose who’s responsible before all hell really breaks loose.


Title : Ruby Fever
Author : Ilona Andrews
Series : Hidden Legacy (book six)
Format : eBook (overdrive) / eBook Edelweiss
Page Count : 320
Genre : paranormal romance / urban fantasy
Publisher : Avon/Harper 360
Release Date : August 23, 2022

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


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

As always, I never envy the task that is required by authors to wrap up a series. Especially one like this that is the continuation of the five books that came before.. and also sets up the (likely, eventually, p l e a s e n o w) books to come. That’s a lot of loose ends and a lot of new, tantalizing, threads to keep track of. And I think overall, IA did a good job. But.. it’s also a lot of stuff.

This book felt overwhelming in a lot of ways but mostly in terms of action sequences and throwbacks to the main trilogy (which, had I been smart, I would’ve reread all books not just Catalina’s, my bad) and sometimes it was just overload. I didn’t find that this had any emotional or feelsy moments, much less any swoons, and I’m really surprised by that.

In a lot of ways this is a very Catalina-centric story; she has the man she loves, they are committed, so there was less focus on them as a couple — barring a few specific interactions — instead it’s Catalina learning more about her powers (so cool!) and also some familial connections and surprises. Which, hey, I will never complain about Baylor Fam page time but I definitely expected to get socked in the feels along the way and there was only one tiny close call and even that didn’t cause a lump in the throat.

All that to say, as a romance? This was a little lacking. Alessandro ends up as a bit player, especially in light of a newcomer character who takes much of the spotlight because he is shiny and new and rather devious. This is much more plot and Big Bad confrontation plus wrap up than anything else. But with a secured love interest, I can see why; and at least they didn’t have any manufactured drama to deal with. Just something to keep in mind.

Despite some of the dynamic shifts from some of the well-earned reveals, which I really enjoyed, I don’t think this’ll go down as my favourite of the series. I think it’s book two, one, and three for me. But this is still solid, written by some of the GOATs, and featuring one of my absolutely favourite fictional families. I’m also so excited by the tease for Arabella’s book(s) and in reading this transcript (huge spoilers, mind you, you’ve been warned) I’m excited about the possibility of it being an self-published release so as to break out of the more restrictive trad-published formula.

But let’s be real I would be excited either way (also, not me losing my mind to see them reference book two of Iron and Magic because yesss, fiiiiiinally, 2018 was so many moons ago..) because even in a review sprinkled through with nitpicks, I have very little ability to remain unbiased in my love for these authors and their worlds. Having that said that, while I did initially round up on this, further thought (as in, I haven’t thought about this since finishing) has me deciding that.. well, this really was the weakest of the lot. Thus the rating should reflect that.


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Grandparent hell
Spider warnings
Slow start

This was an pleasant but perhaps weakish installment in this UF series. I think my investment in this fandom, the sisters and the current couple kept me in the enjoyment sector but this book definitely had a slow start. The second half was a stronger read for me with more action and plot.

I always think with this family that the current couple I’m reading is my favourite, I loved Nevada and Connor, then Catalina and Alessandro came along…but now I find myself looking rather intently at Arabella and the indications we got in this book. Talking of couples, I felt a bit left wanting with Catalina and Alessandro, especially towards the end. Although these two are firmly in coupledom, I think we needed a bit more.

This was a strong plot, the best element being the grandparent storyline. I enjoyed how this part of the story came together. I did want more from the spider however…okay, maybe not.

I don’t know if this is the last Catalina story and Arabella is next but if so, I’m ready.

Thank you to Harper 360 for the eARC.

LIZZIE BLAKE’S BEST MISTAKE by Mazey Eddings

Lizzie has made endless mistakes. Kitchen fires, pyramid schemes, bangs (of the hair and human variety), you name it, she’s done it… and made a mess of it too. One mistake she’s never made is letting anyone get closer to her than a single hook-up. But after losing yet another bakery job due to her uncontrolled ADHD, she breaks her cardinal rule and has a two-night-stand that changes everything.

Once burned, twice shy, Rake has given up on relationships. And feelings. And any form of intimacy for that matter. Yet something about charming, chaotic Lizzie has him lowering his guard. For two nights, that is. Then it’s back home to Australia and far away from the pesky feelings Lizzie pulls from him. But when Lizzie tells him she’s got an unexpected bun in the oven, he’ll do whatever it takes to be a part of his child’s life… except be emotionally vulnerable, obviously. He’s never going to make that mistake again.

Through a series of mishaps, totally “platonic” single bed sharing, and an underground erotic baking scheme, Lizzie and Rake learn that even the biggest mistakes can have the most beautiful consequences.


Title : Lizzie Blake’s Best Mistake
Author : Mazey Eddings
Format : eARC
Page Count : 335
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date : September 6, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

So clearly I only ever read the first paragraph (if even that) of the synopsis because after finishing this book, and realizing what makes up the majority of the content, I was sure the synopsis was cheekily dodging this particular trope. But no. It’s right there, in paragraph two : unexpected baby. Yikes. So, yeah, this one’s on me, folks. But here’s your warning incase you missed that, too.

Obviously (well, maybe not) this isn’t only about these two strangers who have to deal with the unplanned (despite their best intentions) consequences of their hook-up gone unexpected. We also have a lot of dialogue, discussion, and dealing/living-with adult ADHD and the various processing struggles and tricks required to function. Not only function but thrive. And, at the same time, finding the people around you — platonic or otherwise — who cherish you regardless and don’t treat you as a burden. Which is what one of our MCs was brought up to believe. The other has his own baggage, too, but it’s a little more in line with standard romance stuff; except for one thing that is sorta used as motivation (maybe not the right word, I’m struggling with how to phrase this without being too obvious, even though I want to shout about it from the rooftops; though I won’t) for why he is so quick so early on to jump in on making their partnership work. I won’t say more but there are layers that, even though it’s explained and there doesn’t seem to be an intent to villainize the situation, it just may not work for some readers because I think it’s a fine line on how it may come across — especially right now. And honestly while I understand to some degree why the author included it, it could’ve easily just not been there.

Overall, nothing about this made me mad — not even the thing I went on about above, I just kind of did a mental dodge around it; not even the baby stuff (which, by the way, I’m not anti-baby, I just don’t prefer them to be the focus and it was mostly the only plot-related conflict). But it’s just obviously not my jam. There were some emotional beats, some of the ADHD representation was interesting to read about as I’m not aware of anyone in my life with that diagnosis and certainly not read it described in the way the author did here, and some of the ‘trying to remain platonic while lusting after each other’ hijinks were entertaining. But I just didn’t connect. I didn’t laugh. And I was only minorly impacted by some of the aforementioned emotional turmoil.

This is Eddings’ second release and neither have quite landed for me, though both in different ways. I can definitely see why people on my flist are already enjoying this, and why others will still enjoy it. To each their own! I might give her one last shot (three strikes, you’re out!) before throwing in the towel though.

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

MAD ABOUT YOU by Mhairi McFarlane

International bestseller Mhairi McFarlane delivers a sharp, emotional new novel about a woman who calls off her engagement to “the perfect man” and moves in with a charming stranger who makes her question everything about her life, her past, and the secrets she’s kept for far too long…

Harriet Hatley is the most in-demand wedding photographer in town, but she doesn’t believe in romance, loathes the idea of marriage, and thinks chocolate fountains are an abomination. Which is why, when her long-time partner proposes, she panics. Suddenly Harriet is single… and living down the hall from her ex. She needs a new apartment, like, yesterday.

Enter Cal Clarke, a hopeless romantic who just experienced his own wedding-related disaster. Harriet and Cal are like chalk and cheese, but as they go from strangers to roommates to friends, it becomes clear they’re both running from something. When Harriet’s most heavily guarded secret comes to light, her world implodes. And Cal, with his witty humor and gentle advice, is a surprising source of calm at the center of the storm. 

With her career, friendships, and reputation on the line, Harriet must finally face her past in order to take control of her future. Because if she’s willing to stop playing it safe and risk everything to share her truth, real love and happiness may be waiting on the other side…


Title : Mad About Your
Author : Mhairi McFarlane
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 432
Genre : contemporary romance / women’s fiction
Publisher : Avon Books
Release Date : August 9, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 4 star review

I finally got to read one of my most anticipated reads of the year. Did it live up to my expectations? Well, it may not have crossed the five-star threshold but I dove into this right after work and barely moved until I finished it, neglecting meals and more. So that definitely says a lot.

I’ll admit, this does in some ways read a little differently from McFarlane’s other works. It still has the MC going through a complicated life change. It still has a core group of besties (though this, too, has something a little different going on.. shh, no spoilers). It still has a creep-up-on-you kind of romance in the aftermath of the end of a longterm relationship (though this one was an interesting change of pace, too). And it has a challenging set of emotional circumstances to navigate. Infact, I think Harriet might’ve had The Most to go through of any recent McFarlane MC.. and yet she never acted like it. This could’ve been a depressing read, fraught with angst and an overdose of emotional turmoil, and yet it was so well balanced to avoid this but also Harriet, for all her self-proclaimed bad luck, isn’t mopey. Isn’t dwelling. Even if she deserves to do and be both because hoo boy, it’s a lot.

But all that to say.. this is, for this author, an almost flashy kind of story. There’s a bit of a girl gang, Avengers-style, with a Big Bad and the mission to defeat them and the subsequent takedown. In a public way. And it’s all centered around a very timely plot point about a narrative shift, and subsequent support, for an abuser. It’s a bigger scope than most of McFarlane’s stories, which tend to be loud in quiet subtle ways. But it was incredibly important and there was a lot of good dialogue, and perspective, and shifting loyalties to see play out and that was compelling, if occasionally tough, reading.

And, meanwhile, we had some good laughs, some self-discovery, and a slow-burn awakening of something delicious, all in true McFarlane style, as the MC slogs through the mire to earn herself a lovely ending (or beginning, depending on perspective).

I cannot recommend this author enough. I will never get sick of reading her books and every time I chew through a new one it makes me want to go back and reread all the ones that came before.

A TASTE OF GOLD AND IRON by Alexandra Rowland

The Goblin Emperor meets “Magnificent Century” in Alexandra Rowland’s A Taste of Gold and Iron, where a queer central romance unfolds in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire.

Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen’s new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.

To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.


Title : A Taste of Gold and Iron
Author : Alexandra Rowland
Format : eARC / ARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy
Publisher : Tordotcom
Release Date : August 30, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

This is a tough one to review. Because I had all sorts of feelings about it — one of which was, I read the first chapter and had such a visceral “nope” feeling about it that I put down the kindle and walked away for an hour — but mostly those feelings were ambivalent. And then occasionally frustrated because I was seeing things I could love but the love was just out of reach.

The good? The tropes. There’s an A03-style list of tags for what you can find in this book, I won’t list them out but they are easy to find if you go looking, and most of them are delicious. And honestly how they played out was also, mostly, delicious. And actually most of what I found to be good in this story was the romance because I did like these characters; one was easier to love than the other as he was more fleshed out, but the other had a good bit of unlayering from how he started out, too, so it didn’t feel too unbalanced. They are caught up in a complicated dynamic, and even though there was some angst due to pining and yearning and feeling unworthy being caught up in that, the dialogue that the author leaned on to express consent, reciprocity, the morality/ethics of it all, and understanding between them, was so good.

The less good? The world. For all the prose and descriptions, not to mention the wordcount, I did not have a good handle on the setting or the politics and found the conflict of the plot kind of flimsy. It didn’t help that we were thrown right into things near the beginning and, as mentioned, I really wasn’t feeling it — the first chapter really jarred me but that feeling stuck with me for like 30%. But we definitely had some sweet spots.. though the ending, too, as in the final page, was also jarring (is this a series? or is that just how it wraps?).

Split down the middle? The supporting cast. We had some really good eggs mixed in with our MCs and we also had some less good. Equally, we had some good eggs that just acted in frustrating ways and for reasons that are never truly explained but, of course, forgiven. Part of that supporting cast is a strong presence of queerness and identities interwoven in this world and zero homophobia. Huge win.

So, yes, if this romance-centric high fantasy did well by the romance, why such a low rating? I still felt the slowness of the background fantasy/action plot, and sometimes when there should’ve been urgency, there wasn’t, and I found that a bit jarring. I wish that the villain(s) of the piece had been a bit less obvious because it might’ve added more uncertainty and, again, given us some of the tension that was lacking. And, again, there was that ending — just as I was really feeling things were on the up I feel like I misstepped and was left stumbling a bit, which has me not wanting to round up.

Overall, while there are elements within the whole that could be worth a recommend, I would definitely hesitate to encourage anyone give it a try who wasn’t already going to.

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

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started