October Reading Wrap-Up

I’m so late for this October wrap-up that I don’t even want to talk about it. In my defense, the end of October/beginning of November was crazy; I went on a trip to Morocco (which was great!) then got Covid (which was not great, but at least my case was mild). However, I refuse to miss a monthly wrap-up blog, no matter how behind schedule I am, so here we go:

Stats

Total books read: 8

ARCs: 1

2022 releases: 5

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

CackleA Dreadful Splendor by B.R. MyersSeason of Love by Helena GreerGo Hex Yourself by Jessica ClareLakewood by Megan GiddingsComeuppance Served Cold by Marion DeedsSilver in the Wood by Emily TeshThe Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

 

Cackle by Rachel Harrison (5 stars) – This was a perfect book for us witchy spinsters out there, but it’s hard for me to describe exactly what I loved about it. The author is apparently local to me, which made me want to love it, but I honestly didn’t expect to be giving it five stars. The ending went in a totally different direction than I’d expected, though, and I loved it, and that really cemented my rating.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik (4.5 stars) – The finale to Novik’s Scholomance series gave me what I was hoping for, but it also really made us work for it. I’d say that this is my least favorite out of the three, but since the other two were solid 5-star reads, that isn’t at all a bad thing; I think it’s hard to end a series well, especially one with this much worldbuilding and character-building, and this had most of what I could have wanted in a finale.

Comeuppance Served Cold by Marion Deeds (4 stars) – Definitely one of my favorite novellas I’ve read this year. It’s historical fantasy set during Prohibition in Seattle, with an interesting cast of characters including a thief in disguise enacting a plot, a city official and his son abusing their power to tamp down on the city’s magic practitioners, shapeshifters, and a speakeasy owner. I thought the pacing and plot were well done, leaving me with the feeling of a complete story but still leaving room for other possible stories featuring these characters.

A Dreadful Splendor by B. R. Myers (4 stars) – This book helped me break a mid-month reading slump, which I am very grateful for. It features Gothic vibes, a fake spiritualist protagonist grappling with potentially real supernatural occurrences, a murder mystery, and light romance, and was a great fall reading pick.

Season of Love by Helena Greer (4 stars) (ARC) – This was a perfect read for us Jewish folks who love a good Christmas romance. Since my family celebrates Chrismakkuh, the premise of a Jewish family who owns a Christmasland getaway felt very familiar, as did the blend of holidays that occur over the course of the book. Miriam Blum is an artist and influencer who’s been running from her abusive father for her entire adult life, and unfortunately that’s also caused her to distance herself from her best friend/cousin and her aunt’s magical Christmas tree farm/hotel that she grew up exploring. When her aunt passes away, Miriam is left a portion of the estate alongside her cousins and attractive farm manager Noelle. While Miriam has to face her past by returning home, Noelle grapples with her difficulty to trust in the pull she feels toward Miriam. This book has a fun, “we all need to band together to save Christmas (while still enjoying Hanukkah!)” plot while still managing to delve into deeper emotional issues. In that sense, I think it would work for those looking for a book that feels like a Hallmark Christmas movie but wanting more depth. Highlights for me included the side characters (will any of them be getting spin-offs?) and Miriam’s art; I did struggle somewhat with the arguments between Noelle and Miriam. While they eventually have really positive emotional discussions, I was frustrated by how often Noelle was willing to see the worst in Miriam. I received an ARC of Season of Love from the publisher in  exchange for an honest review.

Lakewood by Megan Godwin (3.5 stars) – I primarily listened to this audiobook during Dewey’s 24-Hour readathon; it seemed like a good October read because it’s horror but not the keep-you-up-at-night-jump-scare type of horror. Instead, it’s horror that takes historical and contemporary issues related to racism and brings them into the present in an insidious way. I thought that the writing was very strong, but that the plot dragged a bit.

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh (3.5 stars) – Another Dewey’s read, this novella was one that I enjoyed at the time but didn’t leave a large impression on me. It’s historical fantasy, which is a subgenre that can be hit or miss for me, and I didn’t know going in that it has a sequel so the story isn’t fully complete. I probably won’t be picking the sequel up?

Go Hex Yourself by Jessica Clare (2 stars) – I…really did not like this book. I had high hopes because I enjoy both paranormal and contemporary romance, as well as witchy things in general, but the characters, plot, and writing style all really didn’t work for me. Cringey is probably the word that best describes this book overall.

End of the Year Book Tag!

There are only about 2 1/2 months left in 2022 (what) so it’s time for another round of the End of the Year book tag, which was created by Ariel Bissett. I like this tag, but it also stresses me out a bit, because while it feels too early to think about the year ending, I always love thinking about my reading plans.

1) Are there any books you started this year that you need to finish?

Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea

My list of paused reads has unfortunately only grown in 2022, although I’m wondering if it’s because several on there are books I should probably officially DNF but haven’t yet. I do, however, want to finish this short story collection that I started a few months ago and then put down.

2) Do you have an autumnal book to transition into the end of the year?

Nona the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #3)Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match

Since it’s only halfway through October, I’m currently deep in fall reading mode. At this stage I’ve finished several fall reads from my list and have started a few more, but I really want to read two new releases from previously loved authors before the end of spooky season: Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (SFF) and Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match by Sally Thorne (historical SF romance).

3) Is there a new release you’re still waiting for?

Bloodmarked (Legendborn, #2)Tread of AngelsThe Atlas Paradox (The Atlas, #2)Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble (Winner Bakes All, #2)

There are actually a ton of new releases still to come out in the next month or so, but these 4 from past 5-star authors are at the top of my list: Bloodmarked by Tracey Deonn (YA fantasy), Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse (fantasy), The Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake (dark academia fantasy), and Paris Daillencourt is About to Crumble by Alexis Hall (contemporary romance).

4) What are three books you want to read before the end of the year?

In the Shadow GardenShip Wrecked (Spoiler Alert, #3)Never Ever Getting Back Together

I’m going to answer this question with three 2022 ARCs that I’d really like to finish before the end of the year: In the Shadow Garden by Liz Parker (fantasy), Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade (contemporary romance), and Never Ever Getting Back Together by Sophie Gonzales (contemporary romance).

5) Is there a book you think could still shock you and become your favorite book of the year?

We Ride Upon Sticks

I would love if a book shocked me and became my favorite of the year. I don’t have a clear #1 read at this point (more like a top 5 or so) and I’m very open to finding one. I think that a few new releases have favorite potential, but I’m also convinced that once I finally read We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry, I’m going to love it.

6) Have you already started making reading plans for next year?

A Sleight of Shadows (The Unseen World #2)The Fiancée FarceOne for My EnemyHell Bent (Alex Stern, #2)

Not necessarily reading plans, but I’ve definitely started compiling my anticipated releases of 2023. Four that I’m eagerly awaiting are A Sleight of Shadows by Kat Howard (fantasy); The Fiancee Farce by Alexandria Bellefleur (contemporary romance), One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake (fantasy romance), and Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo (dark academia fantasy).

 

September Reading Wrap-Up

In September, I began what I like to think of as fall-themed or spooky season reading, while also picking up new releases in a variety of genres. In other bookish news, I was able to attend a day of WorldCon on a visit to Chicago with my brother this year, and we had a lot of fun attending panels and found a few books on the convention floor. I think that means I’ll be able to nominate and vote for next year’s Hugo Awards as well, which puts added motivation on me to read lots of 2022 SFF releases. Let’s get into the stats!

Stats

Total books read: 11

2022 releases: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle ZevinL'Esprit de L'Escalier by Catherynne M. ValenteRuby Fever by Ilona AndrewsThe Romance Recipe by Ruby BarrettSiren Queen by Nghi VoHigh Times in the Low Parliament by Kelly RobsonA Proposal They Can't Refuse by Natalie CañaWoman, EatingThe Hollow Places by T. KingfisherBecause I Want You by Claire ContrerasA Highlander for Hannah by Mary Warren

Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda (5 stars) – Sometimes all I have to do is hear the vague premise of a book to know I’m going to love it. In this case, it was the phrase “literary vampire novel.” Woman, Eating is in many ways a classic coming-of-age story about Lydia, an artist living on her own for the first time, doing an internship in London that’s allegedly going to help jumpstart her career. She deals with both racism (Lydia is of Malaysian, Japanese, and English heritage) as well as sexism. And like many young women (and people of all genders), Lydia is intensely preoccupied with food; she thinks about it constantly, watches food videos on YouTube, and daydreams about what she wishes she could eat but can’t. It’s only that she’s a vampire and her only source of nourishment is blood that separated her from the rest of us, although we quickly begin to see how slim that difference is. Woman, Eating is written in fairly spare prose and is very approachable; if you’re thinking that you don’t like either literary novels or paranormal ones, this could still easily work for you. Despite her vampirism, Lydia is very easy for any milennial to relate to and identify with, and her growth of self is both literal and metaphorical over the course of the novel. I loved this one.

Ruby Fever by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – This was the conclusion to the second trilogy in Andrews’s Hidden Legacy series, and although it didn’t necessary blow me away in the same way that the first and second books did, I still love these characters and this series very much. I’m also very much hoping that the family’s third sister gets her own trilogy next, as I’m very much not ready to say goodbye to this world.

L’Esprit de L’Escalier by Catherynne M. Valente (4 stars) – I was lucky enough to see Catherynne M. Valente speak at 2 different panels at WorldCon in Chicago this year, which pushed me to pick up another one of her works ASAP. This novelette was one of her Hugo-nominated pieces this year; it’s a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth done in a way that’s macabre and highlights the story’s misogyny. Like everything I’ve read from her, its lush and detailed prose impressed me, and I’m sad she didn’t end up winning any Hugos this year.

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher (4 stars) – The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher might be the first and only book I’ve read in 2022 to legitimately freak me out. In that way, it was an excellent way to kick off spooky reading season. It combines horror and portal fantasy in a way that makes both genres appealing to a wider range of readers, and utilizes both mundane creepiness and utter strangeness to great effect. This is actually the second Kingfisher book I’ve read this year, after Nettle & Bone (a dark fairytale that I also really enjoyed) and definitely won’t be my last. A very solid 4 star read perfect for fall.

High Times in the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson (4 stars) – Since I recently spotlighted some of my favorite short books, it seems timely to also talk about the fantasy novella I just finished reading, High Times in the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson. Our main character Lana is a fun-loving, flirtatious scribe who gets conned into working for Parliament. It’s a riskier job than it sounds, since if the delegates can’t read an agreement, everyone in the city is drowned as part of a peace-keeping pact made with fairies centuries ago. It’s a fun mix of lighthearted humor and just enough depth to keep the stakes high, and I enjoyed the read.

A Proposal They Can’t Refuse by Natalie Cana (4 stars) – A cute contemporary romance featuring an enemies-to-lovers, fake-dating romance between a chef and a whiskey distiller whose families have always been close but whose relationship has grown tense in recent years. I thought that the characterization in this book was really well done, with fleshed out family members on both sides, and I’m a sucker for a fake dating premise with all of.its accompanying hijinks. I liked that both protagonists were flawed but showed a lot of growth, and I thought the audio narration was excellent.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (3.5 stars) – I’ve been seeing a lot of readers with glowing 5-star reviews for this book, and I honestly wish that I was among them. A lot of aspects of this were really interesting to me, particularly the descriptions of the different games that the main characters were developing, but I thought that the character development overall was lacking, with too much telling and not enough textual evidence. Sadie, the main female character, particularly suffered, and although she wasn’t, at times she really felt to me like a cliched female character written by a male author.

The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett (3.5 stars) – One of the many chef-themed contemporary romances I’ve been picking up recently, and although I didn’t dislike it, not one of my favorites. It was still overall an enjoyable read, but didn’t blow me away.

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo (3.5 stars) – A very cool premise and collection of ideas that felt disjointed in plot and execution.

Because I Want You by Claire Contreras (3 stars) – I picked up this romantic suspense novel on a whim; I’ve enjoyed several books from Claire Contreras in the past and read an excerpt of this one on her Instagram that made me immediately pick it up. I ended up liking some features of it (great chemistry with forbidden romance due to the fact that our female MC is the male MC’s brother’s ex-girlfriend) and other aspects less so (the plot really dragged as the book went on).

A Highlander for Hannah by Mary Warren (3 stars) – It’s great to see more plus-size representation in romance, and this one had a fun premise, but both main characters were immature and their dynamic wasn’t always fun to read about.

August Reading Wrap-Up

 

In August, I focused my reading on review copies and 2022 releases, and managed to have a very productive and enjoyable reading month. Let’s get into it!

Stats

Total books read: 13

2022 releases: 9

Review copies: 3

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky ChambersThe Dead RomanticsHusband Material by Alexis HallDrunk on All Your Strange New Words by Eddie RobsonBloody Summer by Carmen Maria MachadoBook Lovers by Emily HenryCircling Back to You by Julie TieuSummerwater by Sarah MossWomen & Power by Mary BeardCounterfeitThe Guest List by Lucy FoleyFated Blades by Ilona AndrewsBliss Montage by Ling Ma

Book Lovers by Emily Henry (5 stars) – After much ado, here is my long-awaited (long-awaited by me only, but still) definitive ranking of Emily Henry’s adult contemporary romances!
1. Book Lovers
2. Beach Read
3. People We Meet on Vacation
Here’s the thing, though–I LOVED Book Lovers. For me, it took every aspect that had potential but didn’t always stick the landing in her first two books and executed it in a way that just hit perfectly. I both laughed and cried at multiple points in the story, and I identified more with its main character than I have with an MC in awhile (not that I have to identify with a character to enjoy a book, I just liked seeing someone with a lot of my traits that are often portrayed as flaws in a protagonist role). For me, 5 star reads are often the ones that make me all-caps FEEL THINGS, and Book Lovers absoluely did that.

Bloody Summer by Carmen Maria Machado (short story) (5 stars) – This is how you write a short story. Machado crushes it with a story told like a research paper focusing on a small town in PA and its haunting, mysterious tragedy known as Bloody Summer. I got goosebumps countless times while reading this, and loved the mythology and faux historical elements. It’s free on KU, so go read it!!

Drunk on All Your Strange New Words by Eddie Robson (4 stars) – Drunk on All Your Strange New Words is one of those hidden gem 2022 releases that no one seems to be talking about. Its fast-paced blend of science fiction and murder mystery kept me hooked; its deeper concepts connects it to contemporary issues like xenophobia and the questionable accuracy of news reported through social media. It’s set in a future where humans have made contact with an alien species called the Logi, who can only communicate mentally, and utilize specially trained human translators like our main character Lydia in order to navigate Earth’s society. The problem for the translators is that the Logi’s form of mental communication causes a chemical reaction in the brain that simulates feeling of drunkenness, so the more translation she does, the more drunk she feels, with expected complications. What’s not expected, though, is that Lydia awakens after a strenuous evening of translation to find that her client, the Logi cultural attache for Earth, has been murdered, and she soon gets sucked into the mystery of how and why. It’s a twisty, surprising book that kept me guessing until the end, and it was so interesting to learn more about the future, information-saturated world that Lydia navigates through her investigation. I think this one is a great crossover read for mystery readers looking to dip their toe into science fiction, and vice versa.

Bliss Montage by Ling Ma (4 stars) – I wasn’t sure what to expect from Ling Ma’s debut short story collection, as I had mixed feelings about her debut novel, Severance. What I found was a collection that was at turns surprising, challenging, and unique, utilizing fabulism in interesting and varied ways as it explores the trauma of past relationships and complex relationships with both friends and family. My favorite stories from the collection were “Los Angeles,” in which a woman’s one hundred ex-boyfriends occupy an entire wing of the house she shares with her husband and children, and “Oranges,” which delves into a woman’s past relationship with her abusive ex. These stories shared similar themes and resonance; although I enjoyed the other six stories from the collection, these two stayed with me the most. I think that the endings to short stories are often controversial because they often are left open-ended, although typically with a note of impact that demands further contemplation; in this collection, I did feel that some of the endings felt unsatisfying in a way that took away from their overall meaning. That being said, I’d absolutely recommend this collection to short story fans, and I’ll be picking up whatever this author comes out with next.

I received an ARC of Bliss Montage from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss (4 stars) – A quiet, ominous novel set in an isolated Scottish valley where families have gathered to vacation, but where the rain refuses to stop as tensions simmer. I’d describe this as primarily a character study (of a lot of different characters staying in the valley) with a subtle disturbing through narrative. It wasn’t as strong for me as Ghost Wall, but still had an impact.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley (4 stars) – To say that I’ve been struggling with mysteries and thrillers in 2022 would be an understatement, so I’m happy to report that my mediocre thriller streak was broken by The Guest List by Lucy Foley. I knew going in that it’s a murder mystery set during a high profile wedding on an isolated Irish island, but I quickly found out that the mystery isn’t just who the murderer is, but who the victim is as well. It’s told in alternating perspectives from all of the main figures at the wedding: the bride, groom, best man, bridesmaid, wedding planner, and plus one, and each story kept my attention and built a fully developed character and perspective. The constant perspective switching kept the pace fast and ominous, as did the creepy setting. I’m planning to pick up another Lucy Foley read during the upcoming spooky season, in hopes that I’m now on a mystery hot streak!

I received a free copy of The Guest List from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston (4 stars) – I’m definitely understanding the popularity of this ghostly adult contemporary romance debut from a previous YA author. Florence grew up feeling alienated in a small town due to her ability to see and communicate with ghosts, and despite her close-knit and loving family (who own and run a funeral home) she leaves for New York as soon as she can to launch her career as a writer. She ends up ghostwriting for a famous and widely loved romance novelist, but her world is shaken when she meets a new, intriguing editor and she finds out that her father has passed away. Things only get more complicated when she returns home for her dad’s funeral and her new editor appears–as a ghost. This romance deals heavily with grief and heartbreak, along with complex family dynamics, and despite its ghostly element, I’d say it will be totally fine for contemporary/realistic fiction readers, as it’s otherwise very grounded in reality. The romance itself is sweet, although I did wish for a bit more depth and development, and I really liked all of the side characters and small-town setting.

Women & Power by Mary Beard (4 stars) – This book is actually a transcription of 2 lectures the author gave regarding the classical roots of today’s misogyny, mainly as it’s presented in the spheres of politics and rhetoric. It’s a short little book (about 100 pages) which makes it great for a readathon; it’s also one of those books that I almost couldn’t believe I hadn’t read yet. It’s well-written, but I didn’t necessarily find it groundbreaking compared to other feminist texts I’ve read.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers (4 stars) – The second book in a hopepunk scifi duology that’s focused on friendship, philosophy, and environmentalism. I think I liked this one more than its predecessor; it’s a very nice, cozy read.

Fated Blades by Ilona Andrews (3.5 stars) -Not my favorite Ilona Andrews, but this scifi that can be read as a standalone still works with their characteristic action and wit.

Circling Back to You by Julie Tieu (4 stars) – A workplace friends-to-lovers contemporary romance set in the California real estate industry that does an equally great job of establishing interesting family dynamics and a sweet relationship between its two main characters. I continue to be confused by the fact that Julie Tieu’s books have relatively low ratings on Goodreads, because I really enjoyed both this book and The Donut Trap, but I will also say that readers who felt The Donut Trap didn’t have enough emphasis on the romance will enjoy Circling Back to You more, as it’s much more central in this story.

I received a free copy of Circling Back to You from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Husband Material by Alexis Hall (3 stars) – I wanted to wait and try to process my feelings about this book before writing a review, but that doesn’t seem to be working, so now I’m going to attempt to just process them while writing this. Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material is one of my all-time favorite contemporary romances. It has everything that I love about the genre–an emotional opposites-attract romance that begins with fake dating; laugh-out-loud humor; flawed but lovable main characters; quirky yet well-drawn side characters; and a plot with a big emotional arc for both leads. And, at the beginning, Husband Material has most of these components as well; it starts off feeling exactly like a continuation of its predecessor, which was maybe a bit repetitive but I didn’t mind much at first because, again, I’m a big fan of Boyfriend Material. Unfortunately, this started to get frustrating; it felt like we returned to every side character in Boyfriend Material in order to give them unnecessary storylines, while main characters Luc and Oliver were fighting about the same things they did in book 1, except in a worse way, because it had all happened already and (supposedly?) they’d both experienced growth. The arguing only seemed to increase as the book went on, making it difficult for me to root for one of my favorite book couples of all time (and yes, I do understand that in life, couples fight, and that growth isn’t always linear, but the way it was written just didn’t make sense for their characters), and yet the book’s central conflict doesn’t seem to actually arise until the story is literally about to end. And, no spoilers, but the ending was what threw me off more than anything. The central conflict needed a LOT more buildup and groundwork in order to make sense and to have a satisfying payoff, and it just didn’t. I’m disappointed and frustrated; I didn’t hate this book at all, and really enjoyed the first half to 2/3 of it, but the way things played out makes me like the first part less in retrospect. I’d still highly recommend Boyfriend Material (and Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, another favorite Alexis Hall romance), but some readers may want to skip this installment.

Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen (3 stars) – I found this book equal parts interesting and frustrating; I wanted the world of counterfeit luxury purses to be explored more than it was, and I wasn’t a fan of the ending.

July Reading Wrap-Up

I’m SO BEHIND on posting my July wrap-up (possibly the latest I’ve ever posted a monthly wrap-up? A fun new record for me!), but at least I have good reasons. July was an extremely busy month for me; not only was I the Best Woman in my brother’s wedding, but I also traveled to Portugal for 10 days in the middle of the month. Understandably, I’ve been playing catch-up with a lot of things since then, including book reviews. Let’s get into it!

Stats

Total books read: 11

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 3

2022 releases: 5

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena ArmasThe Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry by C.M. WaggonerLegends & Lattes by Travis BaldreeActs of Violet by Margarita MontimoreThe Summer of Broken Rules by K.L. WaltherThe Woman in the Library by Sulari GentillCover Story by Susan RigettiWicked Ugly Bad by Cassandra GannonThe Stranger by Albert CamusJade City by Fonda LeeQueerly Beloved by Susie Dumond

Jade City by Fonda Lee (4.5 stars) – I get hesitant about picking up long, new-to-me fantasy books because I hate the idea of investing so much time and energy into something I don’t end up loving or even liking; Jade City was a great example of why I need to get over this line of thinking. I loved its action-packed storyline, the fascinating dynamics of the No Peak clan, and thorough worldbuilding; I’ve already purchased the sequel and have gotten my brother into the series as well.

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas (4 stars) – Was this a perfect book? No. It is a bit too long, and it took me awhile (like 30%) to really get into the book and the romance. But did I enjoy the heck out of it anyways? Absolutely. Now I can’t wait for Armas’s next romance, The American Roommate Experiment, which comes out in September.

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree (4 stars) – This book’s subtitle, “a novel of low stakes and high fantasy,” is extremely apt; it’s cozy and character-driven, focusing on friendships and the establishment of a coffeeshop that brings together a group of misfits. It was nice to pick up a fantasy novel that felt so relaxing to read.

The Summer of Broken Rules by K. L. Walther (3.5 stars) – this was a quick contemporary romance read that’s perfect for summer; I believe it’s technically YA but works well as a crossover into adult.

Wicked Ugly Bad by Cassandra Gannon (3.5 stars) – A really enjoyable UF/PNR read set in a fairytale world populated by all of our favorite storybook characters, who are sorted at birth into being good and evil and treated (or discriminated against) accordingly. It’s the first book in a series, and focuses on a romance between one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters and the Big Bad Wolf as they scheme together to break out of a prison populated by people and creatures unfairly categorized as evil. If this sounds a bit silly, it is, but in a good way; it’s a very fun and funny read that immediately made me want to pick up the next book in the series (a Beauty and the Beast retelling!). This series was recommended awhile ago by Ilona Andrews, my favorite UF/PNR author of all time, who specifically recommended book 3, so I’ll likely be picking up more of these soon. FYI: the whole series is available on Kindle Unlimited!

Queerly Beloved by Susie Dumond (3.5 stars) – There’s a lot to like about this contemporary romance centered around a lesbian baker who’s fired by her anti-LGBTQIA+ boss and becomes a bridesmaid-for-hire in an attempt to make some quick money; the main character goes through a lot of personal and career development and I enjoyed following her story. However, this unfortunately comes at the expense of the romance, which is a bit under-developed in comparison.

The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner (3.5 stars) – This is a historical fantasy featuring a thief/con artist/fire witch protagonist who joins an eclectic group of lady fighters and con artists as bodyguards for a traveling noblewoman; it was fun at times and I enjoyed the central romance but the plot progressed more slowly than it could have, and the story dragged at many points.

Acts of Violet by Margarita Montimore (3 stars) – A cool audiobook experience since the story is told partially in podcast episodes investigating the mysterious disappearance of a famous magician, but ultimately underwhelming in terms of plot or actual content.

The Stranger by Albert Camus (3 stars) – Some classics resonate through decades and even centuries, remaining relevant to this day; in my opinion, this is not one of them.

Cover Story by Susan Rigetti (3 stars) – I’m obsessed with the Anna Delvey/Anna Sorokin story (I’ve read My Friend Anna multiple times) so I had to pick this one up even if my expectations weren’t high. If you know the story, it’s VERY similar, and although it was an entertaining audiobook listen told in unconventional formats (emails, diary entries, etc), the main character was so frustratingly naive that it took away from my enjoyment.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill (3 stars) – I was hoping that this mystery would work for me since it involves a murder in the Boston Public Library (one of my favorite places to go when I was in grad school in Boston) and an unconventional format (it alternates between a mystery author’s letters to a penpal and the chapters of her new book she is sending him as she writes them), but it really lacked in both character development and plot.

Bout of Books Updates: Days 1-3

Updates for the first few days of the Bout of Books readathon! I finished one short book and started several others; I’m actually really happy with the readathon TBR that’s been coming together along the way. I had Monday, the first day of the readathon, off of work, so I was able to kickstart things well, but I’ve been struggling a bit more now that I’m combining work and readathoning. We’ll have to see how I do with the second half of the readathon.

 

Grab button for Bout of Books

 

Here are my daily updates and reading tracking:

CounterfeitWomen & Power: A ManifestoBliss MontageHigh Times in the Low Parliament

Day 1

Books started: Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen; Women & Power by Mary Beard, Bliss Montage by Ling Ma

Books finished: Women & Power

Pages read: 115 pages of Women & Power; 23 pages of Bliss Montage; 107 pages of Counterfeit

Day 2

Books started: High Times in the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson

Books finished: None

Pages read: 63 pages of Counterfeit, 10 pages of Bliss Montage, 30 pages of High Times in the Low Parliament

Day 3

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: 29 pages of Counterfeit

 

Bout of Books TBR!

Grab button for Bout of Books

The Bout of Books readathon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It’s a weeklong readathon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 15th and runs through Sunday, August 21st in YOUR time zone. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are reading sprints, Twitter chats, and exclusive Instagram challenges, but they’re all completely optional. For all Bout of Books 35 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

Tomorrow is the start of a new round of Bout of Books, a low-key, week-long readathon that occurs several times per year and always helps give my reading a boost. I’m planning on tracking my reading this week for extra motivation, and although I’m not making myself stick to a firm TBR, I have some books I’m considering for the week. I’m also participating in month-long reading challenges involving picking up ARCs and 2022 releases in general, so my Bout of Books reading will likely reflect that.

Possible physical TBR books:

Yerba BuenaHigh Times in the Low ParliamentIn the Shadow GardenBliss Montage

Possible audio TBR:

Lessons in ChemistryThe Romance RecipeMy Mechanical Romance

 

 

 

June Reading Wrap-Up

In June, I focused on reading books featuring LGBTQIA+ authors and characters, and also tried to finish a few books I’d started in previous months. I found one new favorite, thoroughly enjoyed a re-read, and found a bunch of excellent 4-star books from new-to-me authors. Let’s get into it!

Stats

Total books read: 11

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

ARCs: 2

2022 releases: 8

Shake Things Up (Love at Knockdown #2)She Gets the Girl by Rachael LippincottIn Other Lands by Sarah Rees BrennanThe Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat SebastianNettle & Bone by T. KingfisherD'Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C. HigginsDress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney C. StevensNever Been Kissed by Timothy JanovskyThe Wedding Crasher by Mia SosaA Mirror Mended by Alix E. HarrowOranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (5 stars) – This is Jeanette Winterson’s first and semi-autobiographical novel about growing up as the queer adopted daughter of an extremely strict and fanatically religious mother. This is also my fourth time reading Winterson, and her prose always impresses me; the novel is full of stories, metaphors, and digressions as we learn about Jeanette’s childhood and adolescence that is dominated by her devout faith, encouraged by her mother and congregation, and eventual young adulthood and understanding of her sexuality, which conflicts with the rigid rules of her church. My favorite Winterson novel remains The Passion, but Oranges is just as impressive, made even more so by the fact that it was written when she was only 24.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (re-read) (5 stars) – 5 stars is not enough. I loved the crap out of this book.

In Other Lands fits right into that niche genre of books that satirize and also pay homage to traditional portal fantasy stories, like Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, or Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, or Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. If you liked any of those, you’ll also probably love this book. We follow Elliott, a young bisexual British boy, who’s given the opportunity to enter the fantasy realm of his dreams–except nothing there is as he expects it to be, and he finds himself constantly challenging society’s expectations and norms. Elliott is extremely intelligent but very difficult in social situations, and he’s constantly butting heads with everyone around him except for his crush, Serene-Heart-In-the-Chaos-of-Battle, a beautiful elf maiden who is also, like all female elves, a deadly warrior. The two of them form an at-first tension-filled friend group with Luke Sunborn, a seemingly perfect stereotypical male fantasy hero, with the three of them gradually becoming closer and learning more about accepting each other’s faults as they progress in their training to join the Border Guard, which acts as a military force policing both the fantasy realm and its border with the human ones.

I will say that if you are a stickler for structured plots, then you may have issues with this book. Personally, as long as I’m enjoying what I’m reading and I love the characters, I could care less about having drawn-out battle scenes or whatever, so it didn’t bother me at all, but I could see some readers taking issue with the fact that the story meanders without following a traditional conflict/resolution fantasy plot structure.

This book is a beautiful story about growing up and learning to challenge traditionally held beliefs, which may not be the right ones, and learning to understand and accept yourself for who you are. It’s about friendship and how people can complement each other while still being from very different backgrounds. It’s about learning your strengths and using them to make the world a better place. It made me laugh out loud continuously and also cry multiple times. It’s one that I can see myself re-reading and enjoying just as much each time. It’s honestly wonderful, and I really hope that more people read it.

Edit: Upon re-read, In Other Lands has become one of my favorite books of all time. You should all stop what you are reading and immediately read this instead, because it’s better.

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher (4 stars) – Finally finished and ended up really enjoying this short fantasy novel filled with dark fairytale vibes. Nettle & Bone takes a lot of typical fairytale elements–fairy godmothers, princesses, the goblin market, enchanted toys, seemingly impossible quests–and distorts them, presenting them in unexpected and unconventional ways. Characters that might be sidekicks or background players in most stories take center stage, and strength takes different forms as a band of misfits slowly assembles to take on an evil prince. This was my first time reading T. Kingfisher, but it won’t be the last. I’d recommend this book particularly to fans of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, as it has some similar thematic elements.

She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick (4 stars) – This YA romance set during freshman year of college was a surprise hit for me. It’s told in alternating perspectives between two girls experiencing issues in their love life who form an unexpected friendship (and more) when they agree to help each other navigate their issues. It was very cute, had great characterization, and was full of genuine emotion.

Dress Codes For Small Towns by Courtney C. Stevens (4 stars) – This big-hearted YA contemporary that is an extremely relevant book to be picking up during Pride month and also in the wake of these devastating anti-LGBTQIA+ laws being passed across the country. Billie and her friend group live in small-town Kentucky and are grappling with their sexualities and gender identities while facing pressure from many people in their community, including Billie’s preacher father, to conform to expected norms. Despite this, the friend group stays true to themselves and work through growing up, falling in and out of love, and helping their community keep its traditions while showing others that you don’t need to conform to be a good person. Honestly, it’s everything I wished Shara Wheeler had been, and I highly recommend it!

Shake Things Up by Skye Kilaen (4 stars) – I loved this second book in Kilaen’s Love at Knockdown series just as much as the previous one, Get it Right; Kilaen has a writing style that’s very comforting and kind to read. This novella depicts the romance between an established couple and a woman they meet under unexpected circumstances that develops as the three take a road trip to a music festival together.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian (4 stars) (ARC) – This historical romance follow-up to The Queer Principles of Kit Webb, a surprise favorite for me from last year, was just as enjoyable as its predecessor. We’re following two bisexual leads, which is great to see in a historical romance, on the run after one of them murdered her husband (she had reasons!). Their banter and relationship dynamic was well-crafted and fun to read about, and Cat Sebastian does a great job at integrating relevant political and societal issues into her romances. I really enjoyed this read, and look forward to more from this author.

I received an ARC of The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow (4 stars) – The sequel to A Spindle Splintered, a remixed Sleeping Beauty novella, this one focuses on the Snow White story, and more specifically the Evil Queen character trope. I enjoyed it just as much as its predecessor; it’s hard for me in general to not want to pick up any kind of fairy tale remix/retelling situation.

The Wedding Crasher by Mia Sosa (3.5 stars) – I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as Sosa’s previous contemporary romance set in the D.C. area and focused on the same family, The Worst Best Man, but I enjoyed returning to the setting and seeing a lot of the same characters. It’s got the fake dating trope, which I normally love, but the romance was not as enjoyable for me.

D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C. Higgins (3.5 stars) (ALC) – This was a very cute, reality TV-inspired contemporary romance between a fitness influencer and a school counselor who face challenges in their attraction to one another as the TV show that introduced them causes them to question what parts of their relationship are real vs. fake. D’Vaughn and Kris are both contestants on the first queer season of Instant I Do, a reality show where contestants are randomly paired together and have to convince their friends and families that they are getting married and planning a wedding in only 6 weeks, all while dodging hurdles from the producers. There’s instant attraction between the two of them, but D’Vaughn has auditioned primarily to win the monetary prize and secondarily to help come out to her family, while Kris joined the show in hopes of falling in love. The two leads had great chemistry, and I thought the premise was really fun and presented the right amount of challenges to their relationship; my issue with the story lay with the fact that both D’Vaughn and Kris were forced to lie to friends and family members that they were supposedly extremely close to, without much guilt or regret, throughout the book. I had assumed that revealing the truth to their families would be a significant source of conflict, but it was handled very anticlimactically, which for me really hurt the emotional resonance of the story. Overall, though, it was a cute, fun read with great audio narration.

I received an advance listener’s copy of D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Never Been Kissed by Timothy Janovsky (3 stars) – A contemporary romance set around a drive-in movie theater and the attempt by our two love interests to unearth the hidden gem of a pioneer female filmmaker. The premise and plot were somewhat fun, and I liked the main character, but the love interest lacked personality and I was never quite on board with their chemistry for that reason.

Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag!

It’s time for one of my favorite blog posts of the year–the Mid-Year Book Freak-Out tag, created by Earl Grey Books and Chami! I love this way of looking back on my reading over the first half of the year, because it helps me better analyze where I’m at and where I want to go with my reading over the coming months.

Oh, and I always give multiple answers for each question, because I like to be able to feature as many of the books I’ve loved as possible; I try not to repeat books for multiple prompts for the same reason. I’ve also tried to provide links to the books I’ve loved, so that you can check them out if they sound interesting. Let’s get started!

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2021

My MonticelloAll's WellLight from Uncommon StarsNever Have I Ever by Isabel Yap

Tied for best book of the year (so far) are 4 of my 5-star reads for the first half of 2022: My Monticello by (short story collection); All’s Well by Mona Awad (Shakespeare-inspired fabulism); Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (science fiction/fantasy); and Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap (mythology-inspired short story collection).

And some runner-up faves:

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette WintersonLove & Other Disasters by Anita KellyThe Past Is Red by Catherynne M. ValenteWhatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen CollinsThe Mask of Mirrors by M.A. CarrickNettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

 

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2021

Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria BellefleurElectric Idol by Katee RobertOur Favorite Songs by Anita Kelly

My favorite sequels so far this year have all been romances: Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur (contemporary), Electric Idol by Katee Robert (loose Greek mythology Eros/Psyche retelling), and Our Favorite Songs by Anita Kelly (contemporary novella).

3. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to

Fevered Star (Between Earth and Sky, #2)Book LoversWoman, EatingA River Enchanted (Elements of Cadence, #1)

So many; even though I have actually read lots of 2022 releases so far I still feel like I’m so behind on everything I want to get to. Some of my top priorities are Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse (fantasy sequel), Book Lovers by Emily Henry (contemporary romance), Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda (literary vampire novel), and A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross (fantasy).

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

Bloodmarked (The Legendborn Cycle, #2)The World We Make (Great Cities #2)Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble (Winner Bakes All, #2)The Atlas Paradox (The Atlas, #2)Ruby Fever (Hidden Legacy, #6)The Golden Enclaves (The Scholomance #3)

Again, so many! I almost can’t believe that some of my most anticipated reads of the year haven’t even come out yet. I narrowed it down as much as I could to 6 (and all of them are sequels): Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn (YA King Arthur-inspired contemporary fantasy); The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin (contemporary fantasy); Paris Daillencourt is About to Crumble (contemporary romance); The Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake (dark academia fantasy); Ruby Fever by Ilona Andrews (paranormal romance); and The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik (YA fantasy).

5. Biggest disappointment

House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas

Without question House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas, my only 2 star read of the year. This book was SO BAD. It made me really frustrated to read, put me into a reading slump, and is making me question picking up more from this author in the future, whereas previously I’d have considered her one of my favorite fantasy romance writers.

6. Biggest surprise

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen CollinsOut Front the Following Sea by Leah Angstman

I thought of 2 books that surprised me, in different ways; Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins surprised me because it was written decades ago but felt so contemporary in both its storytelling and its themes; and Out Front the Following Sea by Leah Angstman surprised me because I’m not generally a historical fiction reader but was fully entranced by this one and its themes of misogyny that are still relevant today.

7. Favorite new author (Debut or new to you)

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. CarrickNettle & Bone by T. KingfisherSing Anyway by Anita Kelly

I can’t wait to read more from fantasy authors M.A. Carrick and T. Kingfisher, and I’m so glad to have discovered delightful contemporary romance author Anita Kelly.

8. Favorite fictional couples (technically, this prompt was favorite fictional crush, but I can’t think of any, so I figured I’d instead highlight some of my favorite fictional couples of the year)

Get It Right by Skye KilaenShe Gets the Girl by Rachael LippincottLove & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

I’ve read a lot of great romance this year; the couples that stand out the most to me in terms of favorites were from Get it Right by Skye Kilaen, She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick, and Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly.

9. Newest favorite character(s)

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

I loved all 3 of the main characters in Light From Uncommon Stars; despite the genre mash-up and crazy plot elements, they were all such fully drawn and memorable presences. I can’t wait to see what this author writes next!

10. Book that made you cry

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

The titular novella in My Monticello absolutely made me sob. I’m not going to say why, but this collection is phenomenal, and everyone needs to read it.

11. Book that made you happy

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees BrennanBoyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

I’m going with my 2 re-reads for this category! I never regret re-reading a favorite book, and both In Other Lands and Boyfriend Material helped cheer me up and bring me out of reading slumps this year.

12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

The Bone OrchardFirekeeper's DaughterThe Midnight BargainWahala by Nikki May

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

In the Night Garden (The Orphan's Tales, #1)Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the SeaThe Actual StarOr What You WillWild SeedWe Ride Upon Sticks

I’m a bit behind schedule on my Top 10 TBR for 2022, but only a bit. I already started Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker (short story collection), and I need to fully read the final 5 books from my list. Unfortunately, I believe I’ve left the 2 longest books from the list for the second half of the year (In the Night Garden and The Actual Star).

Bonus question! Most-read authors of 2022 (so far): I’ve read 3 books each from these 3 romance authors; we’ll have to see which if any becomes my official most-read author of the year.

Anita Kelly

Love & Other Disasters by Anita KellySing Anyway by Anita KellyOur Favorite Songs by Anita Kelly

Katee Robert

Electric Idol by Katee RobertStone Heart by Katee RobertWicked Beauty by Katee Robert

Ali Hazelwood

Under One Roof by Ali HazelwoodStuck with You by Ali HazelwoodBelow Zero by Ali Hazelwood

 

2022 Reading Goals Check-In

Since we’re at the halfway point for the year, I like to take a look at the reading goals I set for myself back in January and see how I’m doing so far. Spoiler alert: not too bad!

  1. Read all 10 of the books on my Top 10 TBR/5 Star Predictions for 2022

So far, I’ve finished 4 books from my top 10 TBR list.

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole JohnsonLight from Uncommon Stars by Ryka AokiAll's Well by Mona AwadOranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

That means that I still have to finish 6 in the second half of the year, which isn’t ideal. I did already read the first few stories from Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea, technically my 5th book, so I have a bit of a head start there.

Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea

Although ideally I’d have reached the halfway point with this goal, reading the 6 remaining books is certainly something I can do.

2. Increase my ratio of 5 star reads from my Top 10 TBR – In 2021, 4 books from my Top 10 TBR/5 star predictions stack ended up being actual 5 star reads; so far in 2022, ALL 4 OF THE BOOKS FROM MY STACK HAVE BEEN 5 STAR READS! That’s pretty amazing, and it puts me in a good position to hit this goal–all I need is one more 5 star book out of my last 6 picks!

3. Buy more of my books from independent bookstores. I think I’ve been doing pretty well with this goal! I’ve visited my local indie bookstore a few times so far this year, and have also stopped by multiple indie bookstores while visiting family in Chicago.

4. Read a classic. I technically haven’t done this yet; the closest I have come would be Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, a classic of queer literature that was published in 1985.

5. Finish (or decide to DNF) books I started in 2021 but didn’t finish. I’m doing really badly at this goal. I’ve only finished one of the books from my previous list of “paused” books, A Marvellous Light, and I really didn’t enjoy it. (I’ve also picked another one, The Spanish Love Deception, back up, and am enjoying it this time around.) Furthermore, I’ve expanded my list of paused reads to include even more titles, and yet I also haven’t decided to DNF any of them. Here are my current paused reads:

The Memory TheaterJust Last NightA ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)Half Sick of ShadowsThese Hollow Vows (These Hollow Vows, #1)LovelessThat Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon (Mead Mishaps, #1)

By the end of 2022, hopefully I’ll either have finished or DNF’d all of these, but I’m not sure how optimistic I am about that.

6. Read at least one poetry collection. I did this! I read and enjoyed I Hope This Finds You Well, a collection of found poems by Kate Baer.

I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer

7. Read more short story collections than last year. Since I read 4 short story collections in 2021, my goal is to read at least 5 in 2022; since we’re halfway through the year and I’ve already read 4, I’m ahead of schedule for this goal.

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole JohnsonWhatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen CollinsOf This New World by Allegra HydeNever Have I Ever by Isabel Yap

 

I write about nontraditional beach reads for nontraditional readers