Category Archives: Reading Recaps

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.

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.

May Reading Wrap-Up

I read quite a bit in May (not quite as much as April, my most prolific reading month so far this year, but still a lot) and found a new 5-star read as well as a favorite new fantasy book. I’m quite late with my wrap-up again, as I’ve not been keeping up with reviews very well, but better late than never!

Stats:

Total books read: 11

ARCs/review copies: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 8

2022 releases: 6

Of This New WorldThe Donut Trap by Julie TieuThe Mask of Mirrors by M.A. CarrickTrue Biz by Sara NovićWicked Beauty by Katee RobertNever Have I Ever by Isabel YapI Kissed Shara WheelerChef's Kiss by T.J. AlexanderThe Silvered Serpents by Roshani ChokshiDelilah Green Doesn't Care (Bright Falls, #1)Always Practice Safe Hex by Juliette Cross

Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap (5 stars) – a gorgeously written collection featuring many stories inspired by Filipino mythology. Others involve futuristic elements or are supernatural takes on contemporary issues; all resonate with meaning and are grounded by characters despite their supernatural or otherworldly elements. Highly recommend for fans of fabulist collections.

The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick (4.5 stars) – This book made me question why I haven’t been picking up chunky fantasy books as much in the past few years. It’s a complex, well-written fantasy book told in multiple perspectives and with plenty of mysterious undercurrents. Our main protagonist Ren is attempting to pass herself off as a long-lost relative of a noble family in the city of Nadezra in order to escape the poverty she and her sister have faced all of their lives, and she soon finds herself embroiled in various schemes and mysteries in a city where everyone has an agenda. It has a wide cast of morally gray characters, including a smuggler trying to go at least somewhat legitimate, a mysterious vigilante fighting the injustice the nobility wreaks on non-nobles, and a member of law enforcement out for revenge for his brother’s death. I was equally intrigued by all of the viewpoint characters, and after that ending I’m extremely curious to see what happens in the next book.

True Biz by Sara Novic (4 stars) – I learned a lot about deafness and the deaf community from True Biz, and I hope it’s a book that’s widely read for that reason. I did have some structural and plot-related quibbles: I thought it could have had one less perspective than the three it had, the ending was a bit anticlimactic, and I thought that the plot often focused in less interesting places. That being said, it was an impactful and informative read, which vastly outweighed its less positive aspects.

Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake (4 stars) -I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews of this book from readers who are bothered by its “unlikable” protagonist, Delilah, a photographer who is at times self-absorbed, petty, and purposely aggravating. However, as a self-identified unlikable protagonist, I really liked reading about her. I love well-rounded characters with flaws, and Delilah’s flaws had a clear narrative purpose: she spends a large part of the story coming to grips with her childhood grief and neglectful upbringing by her surviving step-parent. Her love interest Claire is more mature and well-adjusted, but I thought that this brought a great tension and contrast to their relationship. I also really enjoyed the small-town setting, tight-knit friend group, and tumultuous sister relationship in this book, which perfectly sets up its sequel. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of Blake’s adult contemporary romance series when it’s released, but I’d also highly recommend her YA contemporary Girl Made of Stars for those who haven’t read it yet. Both would be great June reads for anyone looking for Pride reading recs!

The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu (4 stars) (review copy) – I really enjoyed this underrated, family-focused contemporary romance featuring a millennial protagonist attempting to figure out her path in life while working at her family’s struggling donut shop. Our main character Jasmine is a bit adrift when the novel begins, but starts to find her footing when she attempts to use social media to boost the family business, and discovers love and a new career prospect along the way. I think some readers may have struggled with the fact that although a romance, it focuses just as much as not more on Jasmine’s career prospects and family relationships as it does its romantic ones, but that’s something I enjoy as long as it’s done well. The Donut Trap‘s characters are all flawed in believable ways, and I rooted them because of rather than in spite of their imperfections. I think that this book would work for contemporary readers as well as romance readers for that reason.

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

Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert (4 stars) (eARC) – I continue to love Katee Robert’s romantic Greek mythology-inspired Dark Olympus series; although my favorite book so far has been the second one, Electric Idol, I still enjoyed this third installment featuring an M/M/F relationship. Helen, daughter of the prominent Kasios family whose older brother has recently assumed the role of Zeus, is tired of being relegated to just a pretty face or a prize to be won. When a contest to name the next Ares approaches, and Helen is ordered to marry the winner, she instead enters the contest to fight for the title and prove herself worthy of a seat at the table. Her efforts are complicated by Achilles and Patroclus, a couple who are both fascinated by Helen, but who are also determined to win the title of Ares for Achilles. The three develop a relationship amidst the contest, with the power structure of Olympus hanging in the balance.

I’d say that Wicked Beauty was likely the most plot-heavy installment in the Dark Olympus series so far, as it revolves around a three-stage competition with high stakes. The action sequences surrounding the contest were really fun to read, and we also got to meet a bunch of new side characters who are set to appear in future books (I’m most excited for Atalanta; she was always a favorite of mine from mythology) as well as the threat of new villains appearing from outside the Thirteen. Although the romance at times took a backseat to the action, I still enjoyed the development of a relationship between the couple of Achilles and Patroclus with Helen; I think it’s difficult to do that without making it seem like a third person is intruding on a happy couple, but Katee Robert handles it well. I’ll keep looking forward to future books in this series to be released, and I can’t wait to read more.

I received an eARC of Wicked Beauty from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Always Practice Safe Hex by Juliette Cross (4 stars) – I’ve enjoyed every book in Cross’s Stay a Spell series, which is comprised of contemporary paranormal romances following a group of witch sisters who run the supernatural community in New Orleans. This fourth installment follows influencer witch Livvy and her enemies-to-lovers romance with Gareth, one of the mysterious grim reapers we’ve only seen bits about in previous books. I thought that Livvy and Gareth had great chemistry, and I enjoyed learning more about the grims’ community and abilities. I’m sad that there are only 2 more books left in this series!

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston (3.5 stars) – I had mixed feelings about McQuiston’s first YA book; like most of the book community, I absolutely loved Red, White, and Royal Blue and enjoyed One Last Stop a bit less; I’d say that Shara Wheeler is my least favorite McQuiston so far. That’s not to say that it’s a bad book–I think it has a lot of great inclusive messages for teens, its side characters are just as compelling (if not more so) than the main couple, and I thought that its ending was really well done. That being said, this did read a bit young for me (it is YA, but I’d say that the immaturity of its main characters would make it appeal more to a younger YA audience) and a lot of the characters’ actions were a bit too unbelievable for me to be fully on board.

Of This New World by Allegra Hyde (3 stars) – This short story collection was the last book I finished during Dewey’s 24-hour readathon (the reason it’s in my May wrap-up rather than April is that I finished it after midnight, so technically on May 1st) and unfortunately was a disappointment. I like picking up books from indie publishers, and I love short stories, so I wanted to love this collection centered around the concept of different utopias; unfortunately, none of the stories were very strong or impactful for me, nor very memorable.

Chef’s Kiss by TJ Alexander (3 stars) – I wanted to love this cooking-inspired contemporary romance, as that is becoming a favorite subgenre for me, but unfortunately I found the actions and self-centered focus of the viewpoint character Simone too distracting from the otherwise fun story. I think this romance would have benefited a lot from being told in dual perspectives, as its most compelling character, kitchen director and aspiring brewer Ray, never gets to speak for themself. I liked the book’s ending and a lot of aspects of the plot, but I needed more maturity and depth from the viewpoint character and another perspective to make the book fully work.

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi (3 stars) – A YA fantasy sequel that was sometimes fun, but at other times felt too simplistic in plot to compensate for the great characters and more interesting setup. I enjoyed the previous book The Gilded Wolves more, and I don’t think I’ll be picking up the final book in this trilogy.

April Reading Wrap-Up!

 

April was my most prolific reading month so far this year, thanks mainly to Dewey’s 24-hour readathon. There were no full 5-star reads this month, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy most of what I read. Let’s get into it!

Stats

Total books read: 13(!)

ARCs/review copies: 2

Audiobooks: 3

#readmyowndamnbooks: 9

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate MascarenhasWild and Wicked Things by Francesca MayHook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa BaileyMilk Fed by Melissa BroderBombshell by Sarah MacLeanBelow Zero by Ali HazelwoodFirekeeper's Daughter by Angeline BoulleySadie on a PlateThe Past Is Red by Catherynne M. ValenteOnly a Monster by Vanessa LenHeartstopper: Volume One (Heartstopper, #1)Boyfriend Material by Alexis HallI Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer

The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente (4.5 stars) – I continue to be a huge Valente fan; she’s yet to disappoint me. For some reason, I went into this novella with lower expectations than I have with her novels, but I shouldn’t have worried; it’s just as intricate and creative as her full-length works tend to be. It’s a dark story with a lighter tone, which provides an interesting contrast throughout, and it’s full of themes of environmentalism and wealth inequality while also turning the nature of optimism vs. pessimism on its head. It’s a good introduction to Valente and also a great readathon pick.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (re-read) (4.5 stars) – I enjoyed this sweet, wonderful, big-hearted contemporary romance just as much the second time as I did the first time. Its sequel, Husband Material, comes out this summer, and I wanted to refresh myself on the characters before I picked it up.

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder (4 stars) – I really enjoyed my first experience with Melissa Broder’s writing. As a not-religious Jewish woman with a history of a difficult relationship with food, there were a lot of elements of the main character that I identified with, and I thought that her depiction of disordered eating (while it might be very triggering for some to read) was done very well. I also liked the stylistic choices of short chapters and straightforward, declarative sentences, although I could have gone without some of the descriptions she chose to include. I hope to soon pick up The Pisces as well, which has sat on my TBR shelf for an embarrassingly long period of time.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (4 stars) – My relationship with YA books is a rocky one lately, but this one had so many glowing reviews that I had to pick it up. I’d say that it’s definitely geared towards more mature YA readers, as it deals with a lot of really difficult topics, and I found it to be well-written and grounded in the characterization of its protagonist, Daunis, who is one of the most well-rounded YA heroines I think I’ve ever read about. I learned a lot while reading it, and though I don’t think the plot is without its flaws, it was still a strong read for me.

Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May (4 stars) – Wild and Wicked Things is a darkly atmospheric historical fantasy set on a fictional island off the coast of post-WWI England, in an alternate history where magic has recently been banned after its less than savory aspects were put on display during the war. Our protagonist Annie finds herself on Crow Island for the summer after the death of her estranged father, ostensibly to settle his estate, but finds herself embroiled in the island’s undercurrents of illegal magic. She reunites with a childhood friend who mysteriously left home for Crow Island a year earlier, and also meets her intriguing next-door neighbor, Emmeline, whose reputation of hosting wild, witchcraft-infused parties precedes her.

I’ve recently gotten a lot more interested in historical fantasy, and Wild and Wicked Things was a great example of how to infuse fantastical elements in ways that emphasize the actual tones of an era, like underscoring the horrors of World War I and compounding the excesses of wild 1920s parties. Wild and Wicked Things shines in its foreboding tone and depictions of magic, personified by Emmeline and her siblings Nathan and Isobel; their characters were well-crafted yet made the reader want to see more of them every time they left the page. I found protagonist Annie’s character to be less compelling, although she does serve as a naive window into a new world for the reader. I thought that the book’s mysterious undercurrents and flashbacks were well done, but it did feel overly long and dragged at times that could have been more concise.

I received an eARC of Wild and Wicked Things from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas (4 stars) – I’m not much of a mystery reader, but I do like when mystery is ensconced inside of another genre, like science fiction in this case. This is an interesting alternate history SF murder mystery with an almost entirely female cast of characters that takes on the history of unjust treatment towards people, especially women, with mental illnesses as one of its core themes. The worldbuilding and treatment of time travel and in particular the insular culture of time travelers was very interesting, but I thought there were too many perspective shifts, which muddled the story a bit.

Bombshell by Sarah MacLean (4 stars) – Bombshell by Sarah MacLean is a great example of the fact that sometimes you need to give an author you’re not sure about a second chance!

A few years ago, I decided to give historical romance a try by picking up A Scot in the Dark, which I’d heard recommended on a podcast. And…it really didn’t work for me. (I think not vibing with the audio narrator may have been a contributing factor.) But then I started hearing about Bombshell, which centers around a friend group that’s part of a feminist organization secretly protecting and getting revenge for women in Regency London, and I was intrigued enough to try this author again. I’m so glad I did–Sesily is a mature heroine (she’s 30! usually unheard of in historicals) who owns her sexuality and harbors a deep commitment to helping others. Her love interest Caleb is (gasp!) an American she’s had a thing for for awhile, but that didn’t bother me the way it sometimes can in books. I’m really looking forward to more in this series as well, since Sesily’s three best friends are all strong and interesting characters in their own right.

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

I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer (4 stars) – The concept of this poetry collection–found poems made using hate-filled DMs, political speeches, and in a few cases fan letters–is fantastic, as is the way Baer manages to shift the messages of the original texts using their own words.

Sadie on a Plate by Amanda Elliot (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this delightful contemporary romance, and I feel like it deserves more attention than it’s been getting. If you, like me, are a Top Chef fan (my all-time favorites are Stephanie Izard, whose restaurants I’ve been lucky enough to eat at and were PHENOMENAL, and Melissa King) then you really need to check this one out. The cooking competition central to the story is very closely based on Top Chef, and at times reading it was almost like watching an episode. As a Jewish chick myself, I also really liked that our main character Sadie’s culinary perspective was modern spins on traditional Jewish dishes. At first I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the love-interest-as-judge premise, but I think the execution really worked, and I liked Sadie’s friendships with her fellow contestants just as much as the romance. Recommend to fans of both Top Chef and contemporary romance, and I thought the audio was very well done!

Only a Monster by Vanessa Len (3.5 stars) – Mixed feelings about this hyped YA fantasy new release. It was a very fast read, which worked well for Dewey’s 24-Hour readathon, but it never quite delved deeply enough into its themes or characters for me. I’d say that I liked it but didn’t love it; I’m not sure whether or not I’ll reach for the sequel when it comes out.

Heartstopper, Vol 1 by Alice Oseman (3.5 stars) – After watching the adorable Netflix adaptation of this graphic novel, I wanted to check out the source material, which was also very cute. Personally, I actually liked the show version a lot better, and would highly recommend it!

Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey (3 stars) – Although I enjoyed this book’s plot and romance more than the previous installment in this series, It Happened One Summer, I continue to take issue with Tessa Bailey’s outdated use of gendered language and stereotypes. I’d really like to see this author take into account that being tall/short/big/small does not make a person more masculine or feminine, and that people outside the gender binary exist as well. Outside of that not insignificant issue, this was a fun read for the most part, with a likable protagonist in Hannah, but it was frustrating that she was doing 99% of the work in the relationship and that this was never adequately reciprocated or addressed.

Below Zero by Ali Hazelwood (3 stars) – I continue to be less than thrilled with this novella audiobook series. I thought that the Arctic setting could add an interesting dimension to this last installment, but it was too similar to and suffered from the same issues as the previous two novellas.

March Reading Wrap-Up

Unfortunately, March wasn’t my favorite reading month, although I did still find several books I enjoyed (including a new 5-star read!). Several books I chose were a bit disappointing (or more than a bit, in the case of one in particular). Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Stats

Total books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Audiobooks: 3

ebooks: 2

Novellas: 3

Stone Heart by Katee RobertAssembly by Natasha BrownAll of Us Villains by Amanda FoodyAll's Well by Mona AwadThe Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison BechdelOur Favorite Songs by Anita KellyThe Verifiers by Jane PekHouse of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. MaasThe Cult of We by Eliot BrownStuck with You by Ali Hazelwood

All’s Well by Mona Awad (5 stars) – This Shakespeare-infused fever dream reminded me of everything I love about Mona Awad and her creative, entrancing writing. (A reminder: she wrote my FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME, Bunny!) I think that anyone who loved this book will also really enjoy Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, and vice versa, as both use Shakespeare’s works in twisted and modernized ways, but All’s Well is also completely unique. On its surface, it’s about Miranda, a theater professor experiencing chronic pain after a tragic fall off of a stage, who miraculously finds a respite after encountering three mysterious men in a bar; it’s infused with aspects of All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that Miranda insists on her students performing despite their objections, as well as Macbeth, the play that the students actually want to perform. It’s tricky and fabulist, and at times reminded me of cautionary fairy tales. It also extensively discusses the invisibility of chronic pain as well as the reluctance of people to believe women’s pain in general, while subverting all expectations about where the story is going. I’ll keep picking up anything this author writes.

Assembly by Natasha Brown (4 stars) – The writing in this novella is incredible, as is its characterization and discussions surrounding racism. It would have been a 5-star read for me had it not been for one aspect of the plot that I, as a health care provider, can’t get behind, even as a symbolic literary choice meant to emphasize the exhaustion the main character is facing from systemic racism.

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman (4 stars) – This YA fantasy was a surprise hit for me! I haven’t seen many reviews, let alone many positive ones, but I’m here to tell you that this book is dark and underrated fun. The town of Ilvernath hosts a secret, deadly competition every twenty years between its powerful magical families, with the prize being control of a rare type of magic that’s disappeared from everywhere else. This year, however, the secret’s out–an anonymous author has released a tell-all depicting the entire blood-soaked history of the town’s tournament, which involves a teenage representative of each magical family battling each other with spellwork until there’s only one champion left standing. So now journalists and paparazzi have flooded Ilvernath, lending even more pressure and weight to this year’s contest and its unique champions. It’s told in four different perspectives, with great audio narration, and it’s a suspenseful ride full of magic, alliances, betrayal, and a potential enemies-to-lovers romance.

Our Favorite Songs by Anita Kelly (4 stars) – I continued to love Anita Kelly’s sweet, big-hearted, romantic writing with this second installment of their Moonlighters novella series, which is centered around a queer karaoke bar. This one is sort of an enemies-to-lovers story; the protagonists knew each other in high school but each had misinterpreted the other’s behavior, and when they meet again as adults they reconnect in a new way. I’m continually impressed with how fully Anita Kelly develops characters in such a short format, and makes their romances feel complete yet concise.

The Verifiers by Jane Pek (3.5 stars) – I’m very hit-or-miss with mysteries, rarely finding ones I vibe with, and although it did drag at times, I overall enjoyed modern-day techno-mystery The Verifiers. It’s set around the world of online dating, but my favorite aspect was its likable heroine, an avid mystery reader who jumps into investigating the death of a client at her company, and the dynamics surrounding her family.

Stuck With You by Ali Hazelwood (3.5 stars) – I felt similarly about this second book in Hazelwood’s Steminist novella trilogy compared to the previous installment, with the caveat that I think I enjoyed it slightly more? I’m beginning to notice repetitiveness in Hazelwood’s writing style and characterizations; I absolutely loved The Love Hypothesis, but I feel like the protagonists of its two follow-up novellas are essentially the same as in that novel. It was still a fun audiobook, but I’m lowering my expectations for the trilogy’s third installment and, unfortunately, her new novel that comes out this summer.

The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell (3 stars) – After listening to the WeCrashed podcast and watching Hulu’s WeWork documentary, I still had questions and interest in the failure of this once-lauded startup company. Parts of this book were interesting, but parts dragged, and I felt like it focused overmuch on numbers rather than telling a story. However, I’m still interested in the story enough to watch the scripted WeCrashed show that’s coming out this month.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel (3 stars) – I haven’t read a graphic novel in several years, and I picked this one up because Alison Bechdel was doing a speaking event in my city. Unfortunately, I missed her event, and also unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of this memoir that used the author’s fitness journey to discuss her developing relationship with different philosophies. It didn’t work for me as well as her other graphic memoir Fun Home, feeling too didactic and self-aware for my personal taste.

Stone Heart by Katee Robert (3 stars) – I loved the first two books in Katee Robert’s Dark Olympus series, Neon Gods and Electric Idol, but unfortunately this prequel novella featuring an instalove romance between Medusa and Calypso lacked enough plot and character development for me to fully get on board. I’m still really looking forward to the next book in the series, Wicked Beauty, which I’ve preordered.

House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas (2 stars) – Coming from someone who really enjoyed House of Earth and Blood, this book is without a doubt my most disappointing read so far in 2022. Here is my succinct, fairly spoiler-free pro/con breakdown of why.

Pros:
-I like the worldbuilding and the wide variety of magical creatures
-A lot of the side characters are interesting/compelling

Cons:
-Please stop using the word alphahole
-I really really hate that our male lead is an ANGEL who wears a BACKWARDS BASEBALL CAP
-The plot in this one is really, really rough. It doesn’t make sense, it’s repetitive, and I don’t understand the point of the vast majority of it.
-I really don’t like the central romance
-It’s really not interesting when every single character is the most powerful person ever
-I liked Bryce so much less in this book
-The ending is truly terrible
-The most interesting (to me) characters are either dead or not really even in this book
-If so much of the plot hinges on Danika, she really shouldn’t have died so early in book 1, because it makes no sense that she hid everything about herself from someone she had such a deep bond with
-This book could have been better in SO MANY WAYS that reading it was incredibly frustrating.

 

 

2021: Reading Year in Review + Stats

This post is extremely late, but we’re going to ignore that fact because at least it’s done!

Essentially, even though we’re well into 2022, I still wanted to do my annual look back at my reading from the past year by the numbers. These stats offer a comparison point for past and future reading years, and I always find them interesting, even if this post maybe isn’t as fun for me to create as my favorite books of 2021 post.

Let’s do this thing.

Total books read: 120

Total pages read: 38,727

Average rating: 3.9 stars

Shortest book read: Writing into the Wound by Roxane Gay (39 pages)

Longest book read: Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth (640 pages)

Average book length: 322 pages

Most popular book I read this year (according to Goodreads): A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (1,625,561 other readers)

Least popular book I read this year (according to Goodreads): How the Blessed Live by Susannah M. Smith (633 other readers)

Highest average rating on Goodreads: White Rage by Carol Anderson, 4.56 stars

 

Author breakdown by gender

 

Adult vs. YA

 

Format

 

Release Year

 

Longest books read in 2021:

Winter’s Orbit 448 pages
Black Sun 454 pages
Legendborn 512 pages
Harrow the Ninth 512 pages
Plain Bad Heroines 617 pages

Feb Reading Wrap-Up

My Feb reading involved several novellas, a healthy dose of romance, several scifi selections, and a new favorite for the year. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Stats

Total books read: 10

Novellas: 3

ARCs/review copies: 2

Audiobooks: 3

ebooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen CollinsWahala by Nikki MayUnder One Roof by Ali HazelwoodPortrait of a Scotsman by Evie DunmoreLight from Uncommon Stars by Ryka AokiMaking Up by Lucy ParkerSing Anyway by Anita KellyGet It Right (Love at Knockdown, #1)How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia NagamatsuSkye Falling by Mia McKenzie

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (5 stars) – I don’t always find book blurbs or comparison titles to be terribly accurate, but whoever decided to market Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki as Becky Chambers meets Good Omens knew what they were doing. This book combines the feelings of Chambers’ big-hearted scifi with the irreverent humor and unconventional demonic elements of Good Omens, but it also keeps itself grounded with a strong contemporary fiction storyline. Light From Uncommon Stars has so much that I look for in a book: it’s unique, creative, written in a way that’s engaging and immersive, and it has a lot of heart, anchored in its young trans violinist prodigy protagonist, Katrina. There’s a fantastical element–Katrina’s violin teacher is seeking to collect her soul–and scifi as well–the neighborhood donut shop is run by a family of intergalactic refugees–but the story still feels so grounded with emotion. It’s an endlessly imaginative book that’s also full of feelings, which is exactly what I want in a great read, and I highly, highly recommend it.

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (4.5 stars) – One of my reading goals for 2022 is to read more short story collections than I did last year, since they’re one of my favorite types of books to read. I’m already ahead of schedule after reading My Monticello last month (which is my favorite book I’ve read this year so far!) and now just having finished Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins, which I also ended up loving. The stories in this collection were written decades ago but not published as a collection until 2016. They’re thoughtful and poignant, with themes involving racism, colorism, and complex family and relationship dynamics present throughout. It’s a very short but impactful collection, and some of the stories actually gave me goosebumps. I did find some stories much stronger than others, which is why this was a 4.5 star read for me, and I’d highly recommend it.

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (4 stars) – It’s understandably taken me awhile to feel mentally prepared to read a book with any kind of post-apocalyptic or dystopian setting, let alone one featuring a pandemic. How High We Go in the Dark was my first return to this kind of literature, and it’s a take that I haven’t quite seen before. It’s told in a series of interconnected stories, many of which feature recurring characters and themes, that span a fairly contemporary setting during the awakening of what will come to be called the Arctic Plague to far in the future. For these reasons, I’ve seen it compared to Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven; I’d also throw in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles for a better idea of its structure. As a fan of short story collections, I liked that the story was told this way, but this also of course necessitates that some stories and characters will be more successful than others. The book opens with a beautifully written section that seamlessly combines climate change, family ties, and archaeology, and if every section had been like that one, this would have been a five-star read for me; unfortunately, I didn’t find every story to work quite as well. I think some readers may still be wary of picking up pandemic-related books, and if so, I’d definitely give this one a pass–although not every story is set during the Arctic Plague, many are, and some can be difficult emotionally. If this doesn’t bother you, I think that many fans of literary science fiction and short story collections will really appreciate How High We Go in the Dark.

I received a free copy of How High We Go in the Dark from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wahala by Nikki May (4 stars) – Wahala follows a friend group of three biracial women who are half Nigerian and half British, and whose different personalities and lifestyles have never gotten in the way of their love for one another–until a new friend worms her way into their dynamic and things slowly begin to change. I really enjoyed reading this book; it switches perspectives often enough that the narrative with any one friend never felt stale. I’m always drawn to novels about complex female friendship dynamics, and Wahala works very well in this theme. I have to call out the Sex and the City comparisons this book is getting, though–the two stories have nothing in common except that both have four central female characters, and I’m not sure why this comp is being used in reviews and marketing. Overall, I found it an entertaining read with a compelling plot that I’d recommend, although some aspects of the ending felt frustrating to me.

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

Sing Anyway by Anita Kelly (4 stars) – A lovely contemporary romance novella that’s a fantastic exhibit of what a novella can and should be, with the exact right amount of character development, plot, and romance. After loving  Anita Kelly’s Love & Other Disasters, my favorite romance of 2022 so far, I immediately went to their backlist and discovered this series of novellas set in and around a queer karaoke bar. I can’t wait to read the other books in the series!

Get it Right by Skye Kilaen (4 stars) – Another great example of how wonderful contemporary romance novellas can be. Skye Kilaen is a new-to-me author, and I’ll definitely want to pick up more from her after this. The romance and characterization developed so seamlessly, and it’s another first-in-series, which bodes well for my future novella TBR.

Portrait of a Scotsman by Evie Dunmore (4 stars) – I really enjoy this historical romance series that focuses on a friend group fighting for women’s suffrage, and although this was probably my least favorite pairing and plot so far, I continue to enjoy Dunmore’s writing style.

Skye Falling by Mia McKenzie (4 stars) – An audiobook I started somewhat randomly while searching for books read by one of my favorite audio narrators, Bahni Turpin, I ended up laughing out loud many times during this one. There’s a thoughtfulness and character growth to this story in addition to the humor, and I’ll be looking out for what the author comes out with next.

Under One Roof by Ali Hazelwood (3.5 stars) – I knew that this was a novella going into it, but sometimes the stories that authors choose to develop into novellas rather than novels would be better suited to a longer format. I enjoyed the enemies-to-lovers romance in Under One Roof; the main characters had great chemistry and I liked how their relationship developed. I wasn’t a fan of the premise, however, which seemed a bit too silly for me, and I wished that we had spent more time with these characters than we did.

Making Up by Lucy Parker (3.5 stars) – This isn’t the last book in Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series, but since I read the last 2 books first then circled back to books 1-3, it’s my last reading experience in the series (unless she publishes more, which it seems like she might be planning to?). It wasn’t my favorite in the series, but was still a very cute and enjoyable audiobook following Trix, an aerialist, and Leo, her makeup artist nemesis-turned-love interest.

Favorite Books of 2021 (in every category I could think of)!

I wanted to highlight a lot of favorites in this post, and I ended up with not only a top 10 for the year but also a runner-up top 10, as well as many different genre and category favorites. I’m still working on my stats post, so that will come later, but first I wanted to talk about as many of the fantastic books I read this past year as possible.

Top Ten Favorite Books of 2021:

The Office of Historical CorrectionsPlain Bad HeroinesLegendborn (The Legendborn Cycle #1)Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1)

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans – fantastic debut short story collection focusing on themes of racism, with some fabulist elements

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth – genrebending horror with timelines in the past and present, a story within a story with a unique structure and a trio of compelling main characters

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn – the book that restored my faith in YA fantasy this year

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. – a fascinating new fantasy world from a past favorite author

Writers & LoversThe Atlas Six (The Atlas, #1)TenderA Deadly Education (The Scholomance, #1)

Writers & Lovers by Lily King – an emotional coming-of-age story about writing, grief, and love

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake – a dark academia fantasy that sets up a fascinating world and cast of characters

Tender by Sofia Samatar – a unique short story collection inspired by folklore and mythology

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik – an incredibly darkly funny YA dark academia fantasy with a memorable main character

The Vanishing HalfMediocre by Ijeoma Oluo

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – an immersive historical fiction following the diverging paths of two sisters and their daughters

Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo – a fascinating nonfiction book exploring racism and misogyny

 

Runner-Up Favorites of the year:

Winter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellRosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis HallDisfigured by Amanda LeducWhat We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell – a slow burn science fiction romance featuring an arranged marriage

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall – a big-hearted and wonderful contemporary romance set around a Great British Baking Show-esque competition

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda LeDuc – a nonfiction book combining discussion of fairy tales and folklore with memoir

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons – a short, powerful novel about grief and belonging

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat HowardThe Love Hypothesis by Ali HazelwoodThe Last Graduate by Naomi NovikThe Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard – a short story collection from an author I’ve really enjoyed in the past, featuring a fantastic Arthurian-myth inspired novella set on a college campus

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood – my favorite romance of the year, which was originally written as fanfiction and featuring women in STEM

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – the second book in Novik’s Scholomance trilogy, which hit me hard with emotion particularly at the end and made me need the final book ASAP

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson – literary science fiction dealing with climate change, overconsumption, and AI, heavily leaning on the concept that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah JohnsonTranscendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson – science fiction featuring an indomitable main character in alternate universes on the same world plagued by deep inequality, that I read near the beginning of the year but has stuck with me ever since

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi – a thoughtful, introspective book dealing with science and religion

Favorite contemporary romance:

The Love Hypothesis by Ali HazelwoodRosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis HallAct Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia HibbertThe Heart Principle by Helen HoangSecond First Impressions by Sally Thorne

I read a LOT of amazing romance in 2021, but these 5 were the best of the best. 4 were from authors I’ve previously read and loved, and 1 (The Love Hypothesis) is a debut from an author I can’t wait to read more from.

Favorite UF/PNR:

Witches Get Stitches by Juliette CrossBlood Heir by Ilona AndrewsFables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras

I didn’t read nearly as much UF/PNR compared to contemporary romance, but I enjoyed the heck out of reading these three.

Favorite historical romance:

A Rogue of One's Own by Evie DunmoreThe Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian

2021 was not a big historical romance reading year; I kind of thought it would be after devouring tons of the genre in 2020. However, I did read 2 new favorites, and am looking forward to picking up the next installments in these series in 2022.

Favorite nonfiction:

Mediocre by Ijeoma OluoDisfigured by Amanda Leduc

I read a lot of nonfiction in 2021, mainly on audiobook, but Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo and Disfigured by Amanda LeDuc really stood out.

Favorite science fiction:

Winter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Favorite fantasy:

Black Sun by Rebecca RoanhorseThe Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Favorite debut novels:

Winter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah JohnsonWhat We Lose by Zinzi ClemmonsThe Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Favorite YA:

Legendborn by Tracy DeonnA Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Like I said earlier, I was pretty shocked to discover 2 amazing new YA favorites in 2021, after some disappointing YA reads over the past few years. Not only are these favorites for 2021, but they’re also all-time YA favorites for me.

Favorite sequel or next-in-series:

The Last Graduate by Naomi NovikWitches Get Stitches by Juliette Cross

I absolutely loved The Last Graduate, a 5-star read and the sequel to A Deadly Education, and had so much fun reading the third book in Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, Witches Get Stitches.

Favorite novella:

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard

This is a great short story collection overall, but my favorite piece was the novella, Once, Future, which is a modern-day King Arthur retelling set on a college campus that also ruminates on the enduring power of myth.

Favorite short story collection:

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle EvansTender by Sofia Samatar

Most disappointing reads of 2021:

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky ChambersFates and Furies by Lauren Groff

I’ve loved several of Becky Chambers’s books, so the fact that her newest novel was underwhelming was a disappointment. And I’ve ranted a lot about the issues I have with Fates & Furies, which I think could have been a really great novel but it had too many serious flaws.

Worst books I read in 2021:

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate BromleyThe Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

I unfortunately really, really disliked both of these contemporary romances from new-to-me authors. Both had premises that really interested me, but both had extremely unlikable characters and romances that I just couldn’t root for.

Favorite covers of 2021 reads:

Fables & Other Lies by Claire ContrerasA Certain Appeal by Vanessa KingFlyaway by Kathleen Jennings

New-to-me authors I can’t wait to read more from:

The Love Hypothesis by Ali HazelwoodFortuna Sworn by K.J. SuttonA Certain Appeal by Vanessa King

There are a lot of authors who could fit this category, but I wanted to highlight Ali Hazelwood, who has a bunch of books coming out in 2022; K. J. Sutton, whose Fortuna Sworn series I’m looking forward to continuing; and Vanessa King, whose Pride & Prejudice-inspired book A Certain Appeal was a great surprise.

 

What were some of your favorite books of 2021? Let me know in the comments!

January Reading Wrap-Up!

 

I started 2022 off strong with 2 five-star reads and read several more review copies than I normally do in most months. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Stats

Total books read: 12

ARCs/Review copies: 4

ebooks: 3

Audiobooks: 3

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding, #1)Never Say You Can't Survive by Charlie Jane AndersLove & Other Disasters by Anita KellyA History of Wild Places by Shea ErnshawCount Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria BellefleurWhere the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuireMy Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole JohnsonAlways Only You by Chloe LieseForged in Fire by Juliette CrossThe Sum of Us by Heather McGheeOut Front the Following SeaElectric Idol (Dark Olympus, #2)

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (5 stars) – Consisting of 5 short stories and the titular novella, My Monticello is written in a way that’s incisive and impactful. Many of the stories center around themes of racism and use uncommon voices (second person, first person collective) to convey their messages. Although all 5 of the short stories were excellent, my favorite part of this collection was its novella, which is, hands, down, the best novella I have ever read. Set in the near future after climate disasters have disrupted the central government and infrastructure, a group of white supremacists drives members of a Virginia community out of their homes. They’re then forced to seek refuge in the only safe place they can find–Monticello. While there, they deal with both the house’s racist history and the threats that they are facing in the present; it’s devastating and so well-crafted.  I’ve been recommending this book like crazy, and I think it’s one that everyone should read.

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly (5 stars) – This is only the third book I’ve read in 2022, and the first romance, but I don’t see how it won’t be my favorite romance of the year.

Love & Other Disasters is incredibly sweet, well-written, inclusive, and big-hearted, and it made me cry several times (to clarify, these were happy tears due to how absurdly cute it is). It’s a contemporary romance following two contestants on a Top Chef-esque reality show who, after an awkward first meeting, develop a friendship and begin to fall for each other. Our protagonists are at very different places in their lives: Dahlia is recently divorced and struggling with her direction in life and self-confidence, and plans to use the prize money to help pay off her student loan debts; London, the show’s first openly non-binary contestant, is happy with their life and career in Nashville, but dreams of using the prize money to start a charity for LGBTQIA+ youth. Dahlia is outgoing and quirky, whereas London exudes quiet confidence, and their opposite personalities complement one another from the start.

I really can’t overstate how much I loved this one. Dahlia and London have a very sweet and supportive foundation, but also fantastic chemistry. Since I love Top Chef, I liked the cooking show premise, but it never overshadows the development of their relationship; I’d say that it takes up exactly the right amount of the story. I don’t know the last time I read a romance where I felt that the characters fit together so well on both an emotional and a romantic level, and where I loved both protagonists and their perspectives equally. More than anything else, this book just made me really, really happy to read, and I’ll be recommending it to everyone all year.

I received a free copy of Love & Other Disasters from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee (4 stars) – An extremely informative and well-researched look at economic inequality and its roots in racism that discusses how racist policies negatively impact not only Black Americans, but all of society. I felt like I learned so much while reading this book; I don’t have much background knowledge in economics, so there was a bit of a learning curve while reading this book, but it’s still accessible.

Electric Idol by Katee Robert (4 stars) – I think I liked the second book in Katee Robert’s Dark Olympus series even more than the first. It’s a marriage of convenience story between Eros, who for years has been doing the dirty work to keep his mother, Aphrodite, in power, and Psyche, a strategic and good-hearted daughter of Aphrodite’s mother Demeter. When Aphrodite asks Eros to kill Psyche, he finds himself drawn to her and marries her for her protection instead. I really liked the way their romance developed quickly from fake to genuine, and this book seems to also set up several possible subsequent romances. As a Greek mythology and romance fan, these books are a lot of fun; I’ve seen critiques saying that they stray too far from the original stories, but that’s very intentional–they’re inspired by the gods’ characters and power struggles rather than direct retellings.

Out Front the Following Sea by Leah Angstman (4 stars) – One of my 2022 reading goals is to pick up more historicals (fiction, fantasy, and romance alike) and I’m glad to have started off with a book that I loved.

Out Front the Following Sea’s protagonist Ruth is a smart, indomitable survivor and a feminist in a time where it wasn’t safe for women to be anything close to one. The story begins with her trapped in a small New England town that considers her a witch and blames her for the deaths of her parents, and Ruth’s dreams of escape manifest in a twisted sense when she’s forced to flee for her life. Ruth’s saga, and her quest for not only survival but to live without having her intelligence and ambitions quashed, is a twisted path full of different types of danger and occasional unexpected friendship. There’s also a very human love story at the center of the narrative between Ruth and her childhood best friend, half-French sailor Owen, although rising tensions between the English and French threaten to divide them more than societal norms already do. The incredible historical details of life in late-1600s New England keep the story rooted in a deep sense of place, even as its themes still resonate in today’s society. I’d definitely recommend this one; it’s fast-paced and full of both action and emotion, and I really enjoyed it despite not being an avid historical fiction reader.

I received an ARC of Out Front the Following Sea from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this third installment in Alexandria Bellefleur’s Written in the Stars series, which is centered around a group of friends living in Seattle. Count Your Lucky Stars is an estranged childhood best friends-to-lovers romance between recently divorced Olivia, who is struggling with anxiety and and her tendencies to prioritize others’ needs over her own, and prickly Margot, who after seeing her best friends fall in love is starting to yearn for her own deeper romantic connection.

As teenagers, Margot and Olivia found their friendship deepening into a brief romantic connection, which quickly ended due to miscommunication and lead to their separation for many years. They reunite as twentysomethings when Olivia becomes the wedding planner for Margot’s best friend’s wedding, and find that their chemistry and love for each other is still alive and well. I’m not normally the biggest fan of second chance romance, but I found Margot and Olivia’s connection really beautiful and believable, and I liked how they encouraged and brought out the best in each other by continually advocating for one another. I also liked the reappearance of Darcy and Elle, one of my favorite fictional couples, from the first book in Bellefleur’s series. It’s a very sweet story about friendship and love, and I’d recommend it to any contemporary romance reader.

I received an eARC of Count Your Lucky Stars from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire (4 stars) – I liked this installment in the Wayward Children series much better than the previous one; we learn about the second, sinister rival school to Eleanor West’s, where the previous books are based around, and a new, large-scale, real-world conflict is introduced. It isn’t my favorite book in the series, but I read it in one setting and very much enjoyed the read.

Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this nonfiction audiobook focused on how to write and be creative during difficult times. It’s read by the author, who I’ve been following since she ran the science and science fiction site io9 and who I’ve been lucky enough to see speak at BookCon, and has a lot of really solid writing advice as well as inspiration.

Forged in Fire by Juliette Cross (3.5 stars) – Forged in Fire is the first book in a UF/PNR trilogy that was re-released this month and originally published in 2015. I’m a huge fan of Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, so I was excited to be able to check out one of her earlier works.

Set in New Orleans, Forged in Fire follows Gen, a college student who’s thrown into an underworld of demons and demon hunters when she discovers that she’s a Vessel, meaning that she has access to a variety of magical powers that make her a target for powerful demons looking to use her for evil. Helping to train and protect her is Jude, a powerful demon hunter with a mysterious past, and who Gen immediately finds herself falling for.

I didn’t love this book quite as much as Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, but I really loved Gen as a main character. She’s strong yet flawed, and you can’t help but root for her. She’s determined to hang on to some form of normalcy while being thrust into a world that she doesn’t understand, and she keeps the story grounded through its introduction of more and more otherworldly elements. I also liked the concept of the Vessel and the worldbuilding of a demonic underworld hiding in plain sight.

What I didn’t love quite as much, unfortunately, was the romance between Gen and Jude, which developed a bit too quickly for my taste, and felt too unbalanced in terms of age and experience level. I’d also caution readers that there are several scenes of sexual assault in this book (perpetrated by the villains), which I did at times find difficult to read.

I received an eARC of Forged in Fire from the author in exchange for an honest review.

A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw (3.5 stars) – I’m very hit or miss with mysteries, and I was hoping that this book, with its mild infusion of fantasy, would hit the sweet spot for me. Instead, it was more of an up and down reading experience; I was really interested in the first viewpoint character, a private investigator with the power to see a person’s past by holding an object they interacted with, who was searching for a missing author of disturbing children’s books. Unfortunately, the middle of the book, where we spend time in the forest cult where we believe the author to have disappeared, really dragged, and the three new viewpoint characters didn’t have very interesting personalities. The ending of the book did add more interest, and my investment in finding out the book’s twist kept me reading rather than DNF-ing, but I’m not sure that I’d recommend this one.

Always Only Yours by Chloe Liese (3.5 stars) – I read my first Chloe Liese contemporary romance at the end of 2021, and decided that I wanted to pick up more from her. I generally steer clear of sports romances, but for some reason (probably because I’m from Buffalo), hockey tends to be a bit of an exception, so I enjoyed most of this romance between a prickly social media manager and a cinnamon roll hockey player. It did get a bit too sweet for me at times, as did my previous Chloe Liese read, but I do think I’ll try her again in the future.

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (3 stars) – My first read of January was, unfortunately, my most disappointing of the year so far. I really thought I’d love this historical fantasy romance, but despite the great premise, I found that the characters and the plot both fell very flat for me. I needed more dimension in the characterization and more intrigue in the plot; I’ve seen so many glowing reviews of this book, and I wish that mine was one of them.