Category Archives: Reading Recaps

December Reading Wrap-Up!

It’s my last monthly reading wrap-up of 2021!

At the beginning of December, I went on vacation with my family for Hanukkah and got a bunch of reading done at the beach. When I got back, though, I was really struggling to finish books, particularly towards the end of the year. I did, however, manage to sneak in one more 5-star read in December, and read 3 holiday romances, despite never having read one previously.

Stats:

Books finished: 9

ARCs: 1

Audio: 3

ebooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Payback's a Witch by Lana HarperWrapped Up in YouThe Atlas Six by Olivie BlakeComfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. ValenteMurder Most Actual by Alexis HallThe Matzah Ball by Jean MeltzerWhat We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey GordonThe Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava ReidThe Mistletoe Motive by Chloe Liese

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake (5 stars) – OK, I get it now. I get the BookTok hype, and I get why this indie book was picked up by Tor. I loved it so much. Like a lot of my 5-star reads, I also totally get why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea–it’s very character-focused, and not at all plot-heavy. If that doesn’t bother you, and if you like dark academia, read this book. The Atlas Six has so many things I love in a book: dark academia, a group of misfits forced to band together by circumstance, alliances and strategic machinations. It’s about six people with different magical abilities and backgrounds who are tapped to enter the Alexandrian society, a secret magical organization that holds the knowledge of the supposedly lost Library of Alexandria–except only five of them will actually be able to join, after a year-long trial period. I absolutely can’t wait for the sequel, which comes out in October 2022.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon (4 stars) – An excellent nonfiction book that combines the author’s personal experiences with statistics and broader information that I think is a very beneficial read for people of all sizes. I heard of Aubrey Gordon through her podcast Maintenance Phase, which debunks myths about health and wellness, and her book is a great extension of that.

Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente (4 stars) – I was really excited for this novella from one of my favorite authors, and although it was good, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. This novella seemed less creative and less intricately written than Valente’s works that I’ve read previously, although it did have very interesting themes.

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid (4 stars) – I’ve seen mixed reviews of this historical fantasy, but personally I really enjoyed it. The Wolf and the Woodsman is set in a world heavily influenced by Hungarian and Jewish history and mythology; it’s a world that contains several different and competing forms of magic, and one that is battling civil unrest primarily stoked by prejudice. Although it’s inspired by history, this world is very relevant to the issues our society still faces today, including xenophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism.

Our protagonist Evike is an outsider in a small pagan village, and she’s forcibly removed by the feared Woodsmen who believe her to be a seer. She’s not–to her continual shame and frustration, she’s the only wolf-girl in her village born without magical gifts, and although the Woodsman who takes her eventually discovers her secret, she discovers his as well–he’s not merely a Woodsman, but the country’s crown prince, himself an outsider as his mother is from the country they’re currently at war with. They’re natural enemies and both hold prejudices against the other’s people, but they’re forced into a reluctant alliance and eventually begin to develop romantic feelings for one another while striving to somehow save their torn-apart land.

I really enjoyed Evike, who’s an “unlikable” heroine with her prickly attitude, impulsiveness, and bad temper; she’s scrappy and feisty, and never perfect, which I like in a protagonist. I also liked the enemies-to-allies-to-lovers relationship that developed between her and the prince, which never felt rushed, and was built on working towards a common goal and eventually to mutual understanding. The writing of this book is very strong, with visceral descriptions that may be too graphic for sensitive readers; it’s a dark and difficult world that our characters inhabit, and the grittiness of the writing reflects that. At times I did feel that the pacing was slower than it could have been, and that certain concepts and images tended to feel repetitive, particularly when Evike is talking out decisions in her own mind and reviewing what she thinks different people she knows would do in her situation and why. However, I really enjoyed the read overall, and will look to pick up more from Ava Reid in the future.

I received a free copy of The Wolf and the Woodsman from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wrapped Up in You by Talia Hibbert (4 stars) – I’m on a mission to read through Talia Hibbert’s backlist, and even though I’m not typically a holiday romance reader, this one was very cute and I’m glad I picked it up. It’s a childhood friends-to-lovers romance featuring a Chris Evans-esque famous actor love interest and a very guarded protagonist who reunite at her grandmother’s isolated house for Christmas and finally realize that they’ve both been harboring feelings for each other.

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper (3.5 stars) – I really enjoyed this F/F contemporary paranormal romance set in a small magical town and featuring a magical competition between the scions of rival witch families. I thought that the plot and romance were both well-crafted, and it was a nice surprise to see a protagonist with the same name as me (Emmy!). I’ll look forward to picking up more from this author.

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer (3.5 stars) – As a Jewish woman who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, I was so glad to be able to read a Hanukkah romance this year featuring a Jewish, Christmas-loving romance novelist protagonist with a chronic illness. I really liked this one overall, although the enemies-to-lovers romance was a bit too enemies-focused at the beginning, considering that its roots were in a childhood romance that took place many years ago at summer camp and it seemed as though both protagonists should have matured beyond their grudges as adults.

The Mistletoe Motive by Chloe Liese (3.5 stars) – A cute holiday romance set in an indie bookstore and featuring a Hating Game-esque enemies-to-lovers romance with an autistic protagonist. I liked the premise of this one a lot and thought it was a very sweet novella overall, but it got a bit too cutesy for me towards the end. Still, I’m definitely interested to pick up more from new-to-me author Chloe Liese.

Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall (3 stars) – Although I LOVED Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material and Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, this cozy mystery with elements of parody and references to other classic whodunits was a bit too silly for me; I also didn’t find myself at all invested in the murder plot. I did really like Liza, our true crime podcaster main character, and I thought that her relationship with her wife and their efforts to revive their marriage were the most compelling parts of the book.

Most-Read Authors of 2021 (and 2022 Predictions)

Last year was the first year I started tracking how many books I read per author in a given year, and I find the resulting stats really interesting. It’s fun to try to predict my most-read authors of the year and how that could change next year, and what factors go into determining which authors top my list. I think I predicted my most-read author of 2021 back in 2020, since she’s a romance author with a substantial backlist that I started getting into towards the end of the year, but several other authors who appear on my most-read list were new-to-me in 2021 and therefore definitely not predicted.

Let’s get into my most-read authors of 2021!

Winner: Lucy Parker – 4 books!

Headliners by Lucy ParkerAct Like It by Lucy ParkerPretty Face by Lucy ParkerBattle Royal by Lucy Parker

Lucy Parker writes contemporary romance, and in 2021 I read 3 books in her London Celebrities series, which is set around London’s West End theater community, and her newest release, which is a take on a Great British Baking Show-esque competition with a royal connection.

Tie: 3 books each

Talia Hibbert

The Princess Trap by Talia HibbertAct Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia HibbertWrapped Up in You by Talia Hibbert

I actually had predicted that contemporary romance author Talia Hibbert might tie Lucy Parker for my most-read author of 2021, but she ended up in second place instead. I plan to read even more from her in 2022!

Claire Contreras

Fables & Other Lies by Claire ContrerasHalf Truths by Claire ContrerasTwisted Circles by Claire Contreras

Claire Contreras was a new-to-me author in 2021; she’s an indie author who writes in many different genres of romance. The books I picked up from her last year included Gothic romance and dark academia combined with romantic suspense.

Tie: 2 books each

Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education by Naomi NovikThe Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

You’d think that I’d have more authors like Novik on this list, where they make the most-read authors list because I discover a new series. I wouldn’t say I did a lot of series reading in 2021, but I definitely became obsessed with Novik’s Scholomance series.

Carol Anderson

White Rage by Carol AndersonOne Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson

It’s not common for me to pick up multiple nonfiction books from one author in a given year, but that’s what ended up happening with Carol Anderson, another new-to-me author.

Juliette Cross

Witches Get Stitches by Juliette CrossWalking in a Witchy Wonderland by Juliette Cross

Juliette Cross made this list last year as well, because she writes and publishes her books in the Stay a Spell series quite quickly and I immediately need to read them because I love this series so much.

Alexis Hall

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis HallMurder Most Actual by Alexis Hall

I fell in love with Hall’s writing style after reading Boyfriend Material at the end of 2020, so I knew I wanted to pick up more of his work in 2021. Rosaline Palmer was one of my favorite romances of the year, but I wasn’t really a fan of Murder Most Actual.

Ilona Andrews

Blood Heir by Ilona AndrewsSweep with Me by Ilona Andrews

Ilona Andrews is one of my favorite authors, so I was glad I had 2 new releases of theirs to read in 2021. Both are parts of series, with Blood Heir being the first book in a spinoff series of one of my favorite series of all time.

Becky Chambers

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky ChambersThe Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers has written a few books I’d consider favorites, so I picked up her 2 newest books in 2021. Unfortunately, neither will be making any of my favorites lists.

Annabeth Albert

Conventionally Yours by Annabeth AlbertOut of Character by Annabeth Albert

I was intrigued by Conventionally Yours, a nerdy contemporary romance by a new-to-me author, and enjoyed it so much that I also picked up Albert’s 2022 release, Out of Character.

Matt Haig

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt HaigThe Humans by Matt Haig

I’d had Matt Haig’s books on my TBR for years before I finally picked them up in 2021; I thought that Reasons to Stay Alive was a really important and empathetic read, but I didn’t really like The Humans.

 

Predictions for my most-read authors of 2022!

It’s hard to make predictions right at the beginning of a reading year, but last year I did a pretty good job anticipating that Lucy Parker and Talia Hibbert would make my 2021 list, so I’m going to give it a try. Also, it’ll be fun to see how right or wrong I am a year from now!

There are several authors I think I’ll probably read 2 books from in 2022:

Sarah J. Maas – I’m about halfway done with ACOSF right now, and I’d be pretty surprised if I didn’t end up picking up her 2022 release, the second book in her Crescent City series, this year.

A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City, #2)

Talia Hibbert – I really like her, and I want to read even more from her in 2022, including the first book in her new Skybriar series that will hopefully be released this year.

The Roommate Risk

And for my prediction for my most-read author of 2022…

Alexis Hall!

Something Fabulous (Something Fabulous, #1)Husband Material (Boyfriend Material, #2)

(2 other Alexis Hall 2022 releases, Paris Daillencourt is About to Crumble and A Lady for a Duke, don’t have covers yet)

I think Alexis Hall might be my most-read author of 2022 because he has so many new releases slated to come out this year. Of course, release dates are always subject to change, but if these all do come out I think there’s a really good chance I pick them all up within the year. I could always be wrong, though!

OR…

Ali Hazelwood!

Under One RoofStuck with YouBelow Zero

Since Ali Hazelwood has 3 novellas and 1 novel planned to come out in 2022, and since she wrote my favorite romance of 2021, she also has a great chance of taking home the crown.

November Reading Wrap-Up & Reviews

I’m really happy about the fact that in November I read from a wide variety of genres and also managed to finish 2 of the remaining books from my Top 10 2021 TBR list (meaning that now I only have 1 left to read in December!). Let’s get into some reviews and stats…

Stats

Total books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 1

A Deal with the Elf King by Elise KovaThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi WaxmanThe Stone Gods by Jeanette WintersonWell Matched by Jen DeLucaThe Heart Principle by Helen HoangThe Anthropocene Reviewed by John GreenThe Story of More by Hope JahrenA Certain Appeal by Vanessa KingThe Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky ChambersWhen the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson (4.25 stars) – The Stone Gods is my third read from Jeanette Winterson, who so far does something very different with each book of hers I pick up. On the surface, The Stone Gods is literary scifi set in a future where humans have devastated the planet so much that our only hope for survival is to move to a newly discovered planet that resembles ours in the time of the dinosaurs. Its themes of environmentalism, the cyclical nature of history, and our ability or inability to learn from the mistakes of the past are chilling and permeate the narrative at every turn, and the plot never takes the direction you think it will. It’s a short novel, but saturated with lasting images and concepts. Recommended to literary scifi fans, and I’m looking forward to picking up even more from Winterson in the future.

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang (4 stars) – I wasn’t expecting to find another contemporary romance favorite this late in the year, but I never should have doubted. Helen Hoang is fantastic at character development, and despite the fact that she had fans excited for a romance featuring Quan since the release of The Kiss Quotient, The Heart Principle introduces us to Anna and makes us fall in love with her almost immediately. While still managing to be a very sweet romance based on empathy and understanding, this is still very much about Anna and her character growth. It’s emotionally devastating at times, but very much worth it.

A Certain Appeal by Vanessa King (4 stars) – A super cute contemporary Pride & Prejudice retelling set in New York and revolving around a found family working at a burlesque club. It’s lower on angst and has a more quickly progressing romance than the original P&P, but still stays very true to its spirit. I really enjoyed this one!

The Story of More by Hope Jahren (4 stars) – A nonfiction book focusing on climate change and different aspects of human life that contribute to its progression, as well as changes we can make to help slow the process. I really enjoyed Jahren’s memoir Lab Girl; this audiobook was just as well-written and very informative.

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (4 stars) – A thoughtful essay collection where the conceit is that Green is commenting on society’s penchant for rating things on a 5-star scale by rating various things about the world as he simultaneously discusses more personal topics like his mental health and how the pandemic affected him. It’s well-written, with a good mixture of fun facts and introspection, and I really liked Green’s voice as an audio narrator.

A Deal With the Elf King by Elise Kova (3.5 stars) – The first in a fantasy romance series called Married to Magic that’s set in a world where the human world borders the land of immortal creatures such as elves, fairies, and vampires. It was an enjoyable read, although it didn’t have a lot of depth, and I plan to continue in the series when I’m next in a fantasy romance mood.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (3 stars) – Unfortunately, this was a disappointment for me. Becky Chambers can be a hit-or-miss author for me; I’ve given a few of her books 5 stars, but some just don’t quite hit the mark. This is a very quiet science fiction story about unlikely friendships and learning about people from different backgrounds and cultures while being stranded on an unfamiliar planet due to an atmospheric disaster, and although I often enjoy quiet, character-focused stories, this one was a bit too slow and the characters themselves not all interesting enough to hold my attention.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman (3 stars) – A cute, sweet read about a young woman working at a bookstore and dealing with anxiety who suddenly finds herself part of a dynamic extended family she’s never met before after the death of her estranged father. I enjoyed this audio listen but wouldn’t say that I loved it; I liked Nina discovering and getting to know her new siblings/nieces/nephews/cousins and her various friendships/book clubs/activities that she uses to help keep a rigid schedule to manage her anxiety, but I wasn’t as invested in the romance and felt it was not really necessary to the plot.

When the Moon Was Ours by A.M. McLemore (3 stars) – I really, really wanted to love this book–it was on my Top 10 2021/5 Star TBR Predictions list for the year. And I did think that the premise, characters, and even broadly the plot were very well-done, but the book’s writing and pacing just did not work for me at all. The writing style is very repetitive; it’s not just that it’s metaphor-heavy, which is something I often enjoy in fabulism, but it’s that the exact same metaphors are used every time certain elements or characters appear, and sentences and phrases quickly became overused. I think that this story would have worked really well as a novella or even a short story, but as a novel there just wasn’t enough content to fill that many pages.

Well Matched by Jen DeLuca (3 stars) – A friends-to-lovers contemporary romance with a fake dating plotline, this one was just OK for me. I felt similarly about Well Met, the first book in this series set around a small town that hosts a yearly Ren Faire; I skipped the second book in the series because reviewers all seemed to agree it was their least favorite. I was looking for an easy audio listen and this one fit the bill; I enjoyed the listen, but it didn’t have much of an impact on me.

October Reading Wrap-Up

I’m a bit late with my October wrap-up since November has been a busier month for me so far. I had a great reading month, picking up plenty of fall-ish reads and participating in Dewey’s 24-Hour readathon, one of my favorite bookish events of the year, and managed to find 2 new 5-star reads among my picks this month. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Stats:

Total books read: 9

ARCs: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Audiobooks: 2

The Love HypothesisCultish by Amanda MontellThe Last Graduate by Naomi NovikThe Ex Hex by Erin SterlingA Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria LeePeril by Bob WoodwardA Spindle Splintered by Alix E. HarrowOnce There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghyThis Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood (5 stars) – I really didn’t think that I’d find a book to dethrone Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake as my favorite contemporary romance of 2021, but somehow The Love Hypothesis did! I honestly just enjoyed the crap out of this book–it’s grumpy/sunshine fake dating in an academia setting, based on Star Wars fanfiction, and it’s extremely sweet and also very funny. It’s a book that I can see myself re-reading when I’m in a bad mood, and if you’re a romance fan, I definitely recommend picking it up!

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik (5 stars) – This is one of those times when I don’t have a coherent review or a logical justification for a 5 star rating, because for a lot of this book I was frustrated and questioning the plot choices and not knowing how I felt about how it was both similar and dissimilar to the first book. But at the end, there was just no way that I couldn’t give it 5 stars, because it made me FEEL THINGS, and on a bad mental health day on top of that, and what is even the point of books if not to do just that. So. Maybe at some point I will post a more normal review of The Last Graduate, but for now, I’ll just say that I love this series with its dark humor and homage to/criticism of classic fantasy tropes, and its fantastic “unlikable” heroine who is the epitome of doing the right thing and making the hard choices when no one expects it of you.

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy (4 stars) – Once There Were Wolves is about Inti, a biologist leading a rewilding effort to reintroduce wolves to Scotland. Inevitably conflict ensues between the wolves and local farmers, and Inti’s past trauma resurfaces as a mysterious death reignites local tensions. It’s very well-written, with flashbacks to Inti’s past interspersed with the present narrative, and includes the added intrigue of Inti having a condition where she feels any pain she sees inflicted before her. Definitely recommend!

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow (4 stars) – I really, really enjoyed this fairytale retelling novella; I didn’t love Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel The Ten Thousand Doors of January, but A Spindle Splintered was much more my speed. It’s a modern-day Sleeping Beauty retelling featuring a protagonist with a fatal illness caused by pollution, a dedicated scientist best friend, and a degree in folklore, who falls into the multiverse of Sleeping Beauty stories and seeks to subvert the narrative. This edition also has very cool and creepy illustrations that enhanced the reading experience; I enjoyed the book’s snarky tone and emotional heart. Definitely recommend!

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee (4 stars) – a witchy dark academia book set at an all-girls boarding school and featuring creepy local history, suspicious friendships, and questionable memories. It was a perfect book to pick up around Halloween, with compelling main characters and impeccable spooky vibes.

Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa (4 stars) – This is my third Woodward presidential biography, and it focuses on the end of the Trump administration as well as the 2020 election and the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidency. His books are always extremely detailed and well-researched, with high-placed sources close to the action, and they’re always fascinating audiobooks for me.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (4 stars) – I had a little trouble getting into This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone at first; I’m not sure if it was the complicated science fiction premise or the fact that Dewey’s readathon was winding down and my brain was getting a bit fatigued at that point. But once I understood the story a bit more, I really enjoyed it–it’s told in alternating perspectives by agents on opposite sides of a war through time being fought to determine the direction the future will take. The agents begin as enemies taunting one another through letters but their relationship soon develops into something more. It’s an extremely creative and thoughtful book, with a compelling emotional relationship that keeps even its most obscure aspects grounded. Since it’s short, it does work well for a readathon, but I think I’d primarily recommend this for scifi fans.

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling (4 stars) – I’d describe The Ex Hex as a contemporary paranormal romance set in a small town divided between mundane humans and the witches who live there in secret, even running a secret witchy college attached to the town’s college campus. Witch and history professor Vivi receives an unwelcome surprise in the form of her teenage summer fling Rhys returning to her town from Wales in order to fulfill a family ritual, and the two of them then find that their breakup was even less amicable than they’d previously believed, as Vivi inadvertently laid a curse on him. They then need to team up in order to break the curse and save the town, while finding that their old attraction hasn’t gone away. It was a really fun October read, perfect for picking up around Halloween; I enjoyed the small-town setting, Vivi’s witchy family, and the chemistry between Rhys and Vivi. Second-chance romance doesn’t always work for me, but I thought that The Ex Hex did a great job keeping their interactions fresh since they’d been apart for so long after falling for each other as teenagers. Both romance and fantasy fans alike will probably enjoy this one!

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

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell (3.5 stars) – This nonfiction book focused on how cults use language to shape their ideologies and attract followers, and delved into several historical cults through this lens. It lost me a bit when it tried to draw parallels to modern pseudo-cults such as MLMs and fitness organizations, as I didn’t think the author quite succeeded in making those connections, but it was still an interesting audio listen.

September Reading Wrap-Up

I loved my reading in September. I started focusing on what I think of as fall reading–dark academia, paranormal, dark fantasy–while still picking up a few contemporary romances.

Total books read: 10

ARCs/review copies: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Walking in a Witchy Wonderland (Stay a Spell, #3.5)Half Truths by Claire ContrerasEmpire of Wild by Cherie DimalineThicker than Water by Tyler ShultzWitch Please (Fix-It Witches, #1)A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat HowardThe Charm Offensive by Alison CochrunA Deadly Education by Naomi NovikTwisted Circles by Claire ContrerasSatisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (5 stars) – To be honest, I was blown away by how much I loved this book. I expected to like it, sure, but I didn’t expect it to read it so quickly and immediately need the sequel. It hits the sweet spot of one of my favorite super-specific subgenres: books that simultaneously critique and pay homage to classic fantasy tropes, in this case the Chosen One narrative as well as magical schools. A Deadly Education is set in a magical school, sure, but not one you’d ever actually want to visit–its denizens are constantly trying to kill you, to the degree that less than half of its students survive to graduate, friendships are much rarer and less important than strategic alliances, privilege dictates your survival even more inside the school than out of it, and the class’s hero, Orion Lake, is protagonist El’s least favorite person, since he committed the cardinal sin of saving her life multiple times. This book is full of dark humor, which I’m a sucker for, and has a beautiful and unlikely friendship at its core. El has a magical affinity for powerful dark spells but steadfastly refuses to use them, even as her grumpy attitude makes everyone assume she’s evil anyways. She’s layered, and epitomizes the fact that you don’t have to be a likable protagonist to do the right thing. I will say that this book is very exposition-heavy, and although I loved it because I liked learning all about the world and the different creatures, it may frustrate some readers that there’s more description than plot at times.

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard (4.5 stars) – A collection of short stories (and one novella) centered around contemporary feminist retellings of myths and lore, which I absolutely loved. Some of the stories were 5 stars and some were 4 stars, which is why I’ve settled on 4.5 stars. Kat Howard has a style that’s lyrical and fabulist yet very approachable, and I’d recommend her work to both fantasy and fabulism fans. 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.

Half Truths by Claire Contreras (4 stars) – An ideal fall read and my second Claire Contreras book of the year, after really enjoying Fables & Other Lies, a contemporary Gothic myth-inspired supernatural romance. Half Truths is a dark academia/suspense romance set at a fictional Ivy League school inspired by Cornell and Ithaca, NY. It’s full of secret societies, mystery, romance, and intrigue, as well as a smart, badass aspiring journalist protagonist. I ordered the sequel before I even finished this one, which should be a good indicator of how much I enjoyed it.

Walking in a Witchy Wonderland by Juliette Cross (4 stars) (eARC) – Returning to the world of the Stay a Spell series (which follows a family of witch sisters in charge of the New Orleans supernatural community) in this short story collection was an absolute joy, and this eARC arrived at exactly the right time to cheer me up. I highly recommend reading the first three novels in this series before picking this one up (or else several things will definitely be spoiled!) but otherwise, please do pick this up if you’re looking for a book to put you in a better mood.

Although I enjoyed all of the contemporary paranormal romance stories in this collection, my favorites were probably the return to Evie/Mateo/Alpha from the first book in this series, Wolf Gone Wild, and the much-foreshadowed friends-to-lovers story of JJ and Charlie, two side characters who appear in all of the books, as they’re close friends with the Savoie sisters. Juliette Cross does a great job of mixing sweet romance with spicy scenes, and this collection also made me even more excited than I already was for the next three books in this series (particularly Livvie’s enemies-to-lovers romance with a rival Grim!).

I received an eARC of Walking in a Witchy Wonderland from the author via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thicker Than Water by Tyler Shultz (4 stars) – A short audiobook focusing on Tyler Shultz’s experiences working at Theranos and then becoming a whistleblower and source once he realized the unethical practices the company and its founder were involved in. I’m obsessed with the Theranos story, and with the ongoing trial of Elizabeth Holmes, I’ve been looking for more insight into everything that happened (I’ve already read Bad Blood, watched the HBO documentary, and am currently listening to two podcasts covering the trial…told you I’m obsessed) and I thought that Tyler did a great job telling his story. The tone is conversational and accompanied by acoustic guitar, which I also enjoyed. If you want a more comprehensive look at the Theranos fraud, definitely read Bad Blood, but this is a good accompaniment.

Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters (4 stars) – A sweet, funny F/F contemporary romance between Cade, a buttoned-up New York art gallery owner, and Selena, an artist, who are thrown together when Cade’s aunt’s will prescribes that they work together to attempt to save her flagging feminist sex toy store in Portland. I really enjoyed the romance, as well as the characters’ support for each others’ growth and endeavors; I also laughed out loud several times while listening to this audiobook.

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun (3.5 stars) – This book has become a bookstagram favorite, but it didn’t work quite as well for me as it seems to for everyone else. It’s set on a Bachelor-esque show, with a romance developing between the “prince,” Charlie, a tech entrepreneur, and his handler, producer Dev, who is a steadfast believer in true love despite what he sees behind the scenes of a reality TV show. I thought that the discussions of mental health in this book were great–Charlie is dealing with OCD, anxiety, and a panic disorder, while Dev is dealing with depressive episodes, and both were handled well with plenty of support and discussion. The romance was also very sweet, but I struggled with the plot and the pacing–both dragged for me, and I wish it had been tightened up a bit.

Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline (3 stars) – A First Nations myth-inspired story of a determined woman’s search for her missing husband, who reappears with a seemingly new identity and no memory of her. A very interesting premise, but I found the execution lacking and the ending unsatisfying.

Twisted Circles by Claire Contreras (3 stars) – I really enjoyed Half Truths, the first book in the Secret Society series, for its dark academia vibes, mystery, and great romance. Unfortunately, Twisted Circles didn’t work nearly as well for me–I felt that both the romance and the mystery just weren’t as well-executed. The relationship was more instalove, without any real tension or suspense, and I didn’t like the direction that the plot took.

Witch Please by Ann Aguirre (3 stars) – Unfortunately, I did have some issues with this one.

On the plus side, I enjoyed the small-town, Sookie Stackhouse-esque vibes and tone of the book; the writing style often reminded me of Charlaine Harris’s. Witch Please is a sweet and lighthearted romance, which is sometimes very necessary, and I also enjoyed several of the side characters and the emphasis and family and friendship dynamics alongside the romance.

What didn’t work for me was the lack of plot; it felt like there was really only one main conflict in the book (one protagonist is a witch, the other is a mundane, and so they aren’t supposed to be together) without any other real hurdles, so the book often felt repetitive. I also had some serious issues with the lack of communication between the protagonists, some of which are spoilery, and the “resolution” at the end didn’t sit well with me. I also wish there had been more magic and general witchiness–for a book about witches, I thought the supernatural elements were lacking.

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

August Reading Wrap-Up

I had an extremely productive reading month in August to round out my reading-heavy summer. I managed to pick up 2 of the books on my Top 10 2021 TBR list (hopefully this way I won’t be scrambling at the end of the year to finish it), read several contemporary romances (those always feel like very summery reads to me) and kept up fairly well with ARCs and review copies sent to me. Let’s get into some stats and reviews!

Total books read: 11

#readmyowndamnbooks: 8

ARCs/review copies: 3

The Vanishing Half by Brit BennettAll the Feels by Olivia DadeWhat We Lose by Zinzi ClemmonsThe Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila HarrisThe UnhoneymoonersFortuna Sworn by K.J. SuttonHow the Blessed Live by Susannah M. SmithBattle Royal by Lucy ParkerA Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky ChambersSo We Meet Again by Suzanne ParkPeople We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (5 stars) – I absolutely understand the hype surrounding this book; it’s one of those that I kick myself for not having picked up sooner. It’s a character-driven, nuanced historical fiction book following twins whose paths in life vastly diverge after fleeing their small town when one of them disappears to pass as white; we then move ahead to follow the next generation of their family. It talks a lot about racism and gender roles, and the way its chapters skipped across time kept me hooked. Definitely recommend to all types of readers; I’m not normally a historical fiction fan, but it really doesn’t matter when a book is this good.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons (4.5 stars) – Another book that I highly, highly recommend to pretty much anyone. It’s a short character study of a novel that proceeds nonlinearly in the life of a young woman whose mother is dying of cancer. It’s incredibly well-written and authentic, also heavily dealing with themes of identity and not feeling like you belong.

How the Blessed Live by Susannah M. Smith (4 stars) – Despite the fact that I rated this one 4 stars, I can’t deny that it was a bit of a disappointment for me. It’s set in Canada, with hints of myth, focusing on twins raised in isolation by their father and who split apart to opposite ends of the country as adults. I’m generally a huge fan of short fabulist novels, which this definitely is, and I did feel that the writing was lyrical and poetic, but I didn’t really feel that any of its themes were explored fully enough for it to feel like a complete work.

Fortuna Sworn by K.J. Sutton (4 stars) – I took a chance on this one after seeing it recommended on Tiktok for ACOTAR fans, and the comparison is very apt–there’s fae, a tricky bargain, court intrigue, action, and romance. Protagonist Fortuna is a Nightmare, a being with the power to identify and manipulate fear, and her determination to save her brother against all odds drives the book. 100% going to continue with this series; already started the next book!

Battle Royal by Lucy Parker (4 stars) – I’ve been on a Lucy Parker reading spree ever since The Austen Project helped get me through a rough time last winter, and she’s actually my most-read author of 2021 so far. So I was highly anticipating her newest release, Battle Royal, because not only is it a new Lucy Parker book, but it’s inspired by the Great British Baking Show (which I love!) and is enemies to lovers (my favorite romance trope!). Luckily, this one definitely lived up to my expectations. It’s a cute, well-written romance with great chemistry, well-drawn side characters, and a hero and heroine you can’t help but root for. At times I did think that there were a few too many things going on in the plot, but I overall thoroughly enjoyed the read.

I was sent a free copy of Battle Royal from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (4 stars) – I think that Emily Henry is a great writer who excels at creating lovable characters you can’t help but root for. Although her newest contemporary romance is friends-to-lovers, which isn’t my favorite trope, I thoroughly enjoyed the read and how it was told simultaneously in flashbacks and present day, focused around the vacations that her protagonists formed a tradition of taking together each year. I liked this one slightly less (but only slightly!) compared to her previous book Beach Read, which was one of my favorite romances of 2020, and would highly recommend it to romance readers.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (4 stars) – An optimistic, hopepunk novella set in a far future where humans and robots live completely separately, robots having gained consciousness and choosing to live in nature away from humankind, and humans learning from their mistakes and coming to live in harmony with the environment. A tea monk and a robot become unexpected friends when the robot ventures to learn more about humanity, and the two quickly begin to learn from one another. While definitely not as strong as some of Chambers’s other work, I very much enjoyed the read.

All the Feels by Olivia Dade (4 stars) – The follow-up to Dade’s Spoiler Alert, All the Feels focuses on two of the prominent side characters of book 1: Alex, a charismatic actor in the Game of Thrones-esque show that the series centers around, and Lauren, a therapist who unexpectedly finds herself assigned to Alex as his minder after he’s involved in a scandal and the showrunner wants to keep him out of further trouble. Despite very different personalities–Alex is chatty, silly, and impulsive, whereas Lauren is pragmatic and measured–the two build a strong friendship and eventual romance while helping each other work through various emotional issues.

What I liked: I love the grumpy/sunshine dynamic in romance, as well as forced proximity, so the tropes in this one were definitely right up my alley. Like Spoiler Alert, both protagonists are in their 30s and established in their respective career paths, which I also appreciate as a 30-something myself, and I do continue to like the emphasis on emotional growth present in Dade’s romances. I found Alex in particular a fun and dynamic character, while Lauren was a great balance to his energy. This series also has a fantastic level of nerdiness to it that’s definitely not lacking in this installment.

What didn’t work for me: I had one significant issue with this book, and that’s how Lauren’s physical appearance was continually and negatively focused on. I’m all for romance heroes and heroines who don’t look like the stereotypical supermodel–I think that’s great, and I prefer it that way. But I really disliked how the author described her (over and over and over again) as looking like a bird. (Like, think of how Dee in It’s Always Sunny is referred to as a bird, but dial that up to 1000.) It seemed very unnecessary and a strange thing for the text to fixate on, and because it was so incessant, it was something that continually bothered me throughout the book (particularly as Lauren states it’s a descriptor that does bother her). I don’t think this is a big enough issue to avoid the book altogether, but it’s worth mentioning.

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

So We Meet Again by Suzanne Park (3.5 stars) – My first read from Suzanne Park, So We Meet Again felt more like a contemporary fiction read than a contemporary romance (which isn’t a bad thing, I just went in expecting more of a romance-focused book). We’re following Jessie, a career-focused 28-year-old who’s unexpectedly laid off from her prestigious Wall Street job and has to move back in with her parents in her hometown in Tennessee. She has a bit of a quarter-life crisis that manifests in her starting her own business and reviving her old YouTube channel, both of which are focused on Korean cooking hacks and specifically geared towards enhancing meal kits and/or making fast, tasty meals for career-focused millennials. While back in her hometown, she also runs into her childhood nemesis Daniel and has to deal with the new chemistry that seems to be developing between them while her new career takes off.

I enjoyed this book; as a fellow driven millennial, I found Jessie to be a very relatable main character and I actually enjoyed the more business-focused trajectory of the book despite the fact that I assumed it would be more of a romance. I normally like the trope of childhood enemies-to-lovers romances, but I found Jessie and Daniel’s chemistry to be a bit lacking, possibly because it wasn’t really given enough time to develop during the book. I did also find that Jessie’s business trajectory seems to progress much more quickly than felt realistic, although as I’m not an entrepreneur, I could be wrong about that! I’d recommend this to fiction readers wanting to dip their toes into romance, or to romance readers looking for a more plot-focused read.

I was sent a free copy of So We Meet Again by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (3 stars) – I’ve been really struggling to find mystery/thriller/suspense reads that work for me lately, and although I’d hoped this would be the exception, it unfortunately wasn’t. I found the premise and the publishing world setting really drew me in, but the plot meandered and the reveal at the end was not as strong for me as it could have been.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren (3 stars) – This book was just OK for me. To be fair, it did help me out with some pretty bad insomnia I’ve been having, because being unable to fall asleep at 3am with no audiobook is a terrible feeling, and once I started listening to this one I was able to focus on the story and not my inability to sleep for a bit. There are a few too many coincidences and unbelievable plot points in this one, and I didn’t love that the main character and her twin sister both defined themselves in terms of being either lucky or unlucky, but it was overall an entertaining listen.

July Reading Wrap-Up

July was a productive reading month for me, but unfortunately I didn’t end up finding any new favorites or 5-star reads. I did, though, read several ARCs, plenty of romance, a few nonfiction, and several great 2021 releases. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Reading stats

Total books read: 12

ARCs/review copies: 3

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Audiobooks: 3

ebooks: 2

Hang the Moon by Alexandria BellefleurTalk Bookish to Me by Kate BromleyWitches Get Stitches by Juliette CrossTeddy Spenser Isn't Looking for Love by Kim FieldingAct Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia HibbertOut of Character by Annabeth AlbertSweep with Me by Ilona AndrewsIt Happened One Summer by Tessa BaileyYou Play the Girl by Carina ChocanoReasons to Stay Alive by Matt HaigFor the Wolf (Wilderwood, #1)The Humans by Matt Haig

Witches Get Stitches by Juliette Cross (4 stars) – I love this series so much. In the third installment of Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, which focuses on a family of witch sisters living among the supernatural community of New Orleans, we’re following tattoo artist, new business owner, and prickly psychic witch Violet, who’s fighting feelings for werewolf musician Nico despite a past hookup since her psychic readings show that a relationship between them isn’t in the cards. Along the way, we get plenty of appearances from Violet’s sisters (and hints of relationships to be focused on in future books) as well as their sweet, supportive family dynamics; drama and adventures among New Orleans’ various species of supernaturals; and watch Violet develop a new type of spell related to her tattoo artist skills. The romance in this story is fantastic; it rivals the first book in the series, Wolf Gone Wild, for my current favorite. I loved Violet and Nico together but at the same time could very much understand Violet’s hesitance to get involved with him due to her ominous tarot card reading about their relationship. I can’t wait for the next books in this series! I received an eARC of Witches Get Stitches from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (4 stars) – I was a bit hesitant to pick up this nonfiction book about depression, which turned out to be part memoir, part information and discussion about different aspects of depression, because as someone who’s struggled with depression, I can be a bit picky about how it’s talked about in books. Haig’s take, however, is wholly genuine; his descriptions of his experiences will ring true to anyone who has struggled or is struggling with depression. His goals with this book–to remind people that they’re not alone, and that the world is better with them in it–never feel like they’re being depicted artificially or condescendingly, which I very much appreciated. I’d recommend this to anyone with a history of depression; the audiobook narrated by the author is particularly good.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert (4 stars) – I really, really enjoyed this enemies-to-lovers contemporary romance, which is also the third and final book in Hibbert’s Brown Sisters series. I’m actually not sure anymore which book is my favorite of the series (between this one and Dani’s book) but I definitely know that this is one of my favorite romances of 2021 so far. Eve, the youngest Brown sister, has a history of many jobs and career paths without ever finding the right one for her, and after her parents step in to try and take control of her path forward, she stumbles upon a job opening for a chef at a B&B while fleeing the upsetting situation. Unfortunately, however, she accidentally hits grumpy B&B owner Jacob with her car in the process, which means that Jacob is reluctantly forced to hire her to help him out while he recovers from his injuries. Their romance is very sweet, as they discover that they have more in common than was initially apparent, and Eve gradually comes to realize that she might just have found the place for her after all. I can’t wait to read even more from Talia Hibbert; I believe that her next series is going to be a spinoff from the Brown sisters set in the small town where the B&B is located, and I’ve picked up a few from her backlist too.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten (4 stars) – I really enjoyed reading For the Wolf, a fantasy constructed around the concept of a mysterious and ancient forest that demands a sacrifice in exchange for keeping its monsters locked inside–a sacrifice in the form of the Second Daughter of the queen, who is marked as being “for the Wolf, and the Wolves are for the Wilderwood.” Our Second Daughter protagonist Red is determined to fulfill her role, although not for the reasons we might think; likewise, the Wolf she meets in the Wilderwood is not the monster everyone expects. I really enjoyed the magical, enigmatic Wilderwood, the dynamic between Red and the Wolf, the growing complexity of the plot, and the earthy magic system. I’d recommend this to readers who enjoy fantasy with intrigue and a bit of romance!

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

Out of Character by Annabeth Albert (3.5 stars) – The second gamer-centric m/m contemporary romance I’ve read from this author wasn’t quite as strong as the first, Conventionally Yours; I wasn’t quite as attached to either of the main characters as I was in the first book. That being said, overall I still enjoyed this audiobook and will keep an eye out for what Albert publishes in the future.

Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews (3.5 stars) – Since Ilona Andrews is one of my favorite authors, my standards for their writing may be a bit high; unfortunately, although this was a fun return to the world of the Innkeepers and their intergalactic guests, it wasn’t my favorite of theirs.

Hang the Moon by Alexandria Bellefleur (3 stars) – The sequel to Bellefleur’s stellar f/f contemporary romance Written In the Stars, Hang the Moon features Stars protagonist Darcy’s younger brother and best friend falling for each other while their friend group attempts to convince the best friend to move to Seattle. I really loved getting to see more of Darcy and Elle as a couple, and I think that the friendship dynamics here were really sweet, but I wasn’t overly a fan of Brendan and Annie’s romance.

You Play the Girl by Carina Chocano (3 stars) – A nonfiction book about gender roles and how they are influenced by pop culture that unfortunately wasn’t overly successful for me. I’ve read a lot about this and related topics in the past, and I didn’t feel that this book brought up any new insights or arguments; I also felt like the author spent too much time in pop culture discussion and description and not enough time drawing conclusions or doing analysis.

The Humans by Matt Haig (3 stars) – After reading Haig’s nonfiction book centered around depression, I was drawn to immediately pick up another book by him. This one didn’t work quite as well for me. It’s a great concept–an alien comes to Earth for the first time disguised as a human and has to learn about humans while simultaneously erasing any knowledge of a mathematical theorem that could lead humankind to advance technologically before they are ready–that I didn’t feel was explored enough to be successful. I also really could have done without the romance that the alien forms with the wife of the man whose body he’s wearing.

It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey (3 stars) – A fish-out-of-water contemporary romance following Piper, an L.A. party girl, whose antics get her banished to a small town in Washington where crab fishing, not designer labels or social reputation, is the center of life. Not only that, but it’s where she and her younger sister Hannah, who accompanies her for her banishment, grew up with their father, who passed away when they were young and who they no longer remember. Through connecting with her roots, Piper meets crab ship captain Brendan, a gruff, set-in-his-ways-never-leaving-this-small-town kind of guy, and the two rapidly fall for each other despite their differences.

I’ve been finding it a bit difficult to write this review, because I had very mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I really enjoyed the majority of my reading experience–I think that Tessa Bailey has a fun, compelling, easy-to-follow writing style; I liked the development of Piper and Hannah’s relationship to their father’s town and its interesting side characters; I liked Piper’s growth and new belief in herself as someone other than just a party girl; and I really liked music nerd Hannah and the potential for her story in a future book. But I was really put off by the rigid gender roles Bailey portrays in this book, and the consistently gendered language she used on a repetitive basis anytime there was an interaction between Piper and Brendan. I just don’t think that in 2021 we should be enforcing the ideas that “men are like this, and women are like this” without any acknowledgement of people who fall outside the gender binary, or of men and women who don’t fit the prescribed roles that society may set for them. It’s not only that this is mentioned once or twice either–it’s a constant throughout the story that left a bad taste in my mouth despite an otherwise enjoyable read. For that reason, I’d caution readers about this element before picking this one up, even though there were a lot of things I did like about the story.

I received an eARC of It Happened One Summer from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Teddy Spenser Isn’t Looking for Love by Kim Fielding (3 stars) – A cute but imperfect contemporary romance between a designer and a programmer working at the same startup who are sent to woo a potential investor despite the fact that they’ve never really gotten along. It’s not really enemies-to-lovers as advertised (it’s too sweet for that), and although I did enjoy the read, I wasn’t blown away by it.

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley (2 stars) – I was really disappointed and frustrated by this one. It’s a contemporary romance with an author/bookstagrammer main character (although the bookstagram components felt very much shoehorned into the story), but unfortunately I really couldn’t root for the main couple to be together. At all. They were both fairly frustratingly terrible people, but the love interest in particular was condescending and treated the main character terribly. To be fair, it’s a second chance romance, which is definitely not my favorite trope, but I really can’t at all recommend this book.

June Reading Wrap-Up

In June, I focused my reading on books featuring LGBTQIA+ authors and/or main characters, and I found some fantastic reads in the process. I did a lot of audio/ebook reading this month, picked up several 2021 releases, and also found a new favorite for the year. Let’s get into the stats!

Reading stats

Books finished: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 1

Detransition, Baby by Torrey PetersThe Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia WaiteSomebody's Daughter by Ashley C. FordThe Weight of the Stars by K. AncrumConventionally Yours by Annabeth AlbertThe Navigator's Touch by Julia EmberOne Last Stop by Casey McQuistonThe Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat SebastianPlain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth (5 stars) – I LOVED THIS BOOK. Books featuring stories within stories are very difficult to do, and even more difficult to do well, but this one knocked it out of the park. In the early 1900s, two girls in love die under mysterious circumstances at a boarding school in New England, and in modern-day L.A., a renowned horror filmmaker is adapting a book about them written by former wunderkind writer Merritt into a movie featuring it girl Harper and former child star Audrey. Chapters alternate between past and present, with clever and mysterious footnotes dotting the pages as well as relevant illustrations. There’s a hint of creepiness, but mostly I just found the book fascinating, and despite its length I flew through it because I just absolutely had to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Brookhants, the boarding school at the center of the puzzle. This book also featured some of my favorite characters I’ve read about in 2021 so far; I loved every single scene with Audrey, Harper, and Merritt.

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford (4 stars) – An extremely well-written, emotionally charged memoir about Ford’s life, but with a focus on her relationship with her father, who has been imprisoned for almost her entire life. I listened to the audiobook, and found this powerful and well-told, but I wished it was longer and that certain aspects had been explored more thoroughly.

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian (4 stars) – A funny yet emotional M/M historical romance between a semi-retired highwayman/shady cafe owner and the son of a nobleman. It’s an opposites attract romance featuring some very woke crime scheming as lord’s son Percy attempts to thwart a blackmailer by learning the art of highway robbery from Kit; I listened to the audiobook and very much enjoyed it. I’m wondering if there will be a companion novel featuring two of the book’s side characters in the future; if so, I’ll definitely be picking it up.

Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert (4 stars) – A very sweet, nerdy contemporary romance that I listened to on audio, centering around a friend group that plays a popular fantasy card game and makes YouTube videos with their professor/mentor. Down-on-his-luck sweetheart Conrad and prickly/brilliant Alden find themselves on a road trip to a convention together and in the process go from frenemies to falling in love. It’s a really cute read, and I’d definitely recommend it.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (4 stars) – There’s always a little trepidation–along with all the excitement–associated with picking up a new book by a previously loved author. Since, along with many of us on bookstagram, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue is one of my all-time favorite romance reads, I was both excited and nervous about One Last Stop. I ended up really enjoying the read; it has a lot of what I loved about RWRB (fantastic characters, both protagonists and side characters, as well as a super-sweet romance) but is also very different in terms of plot and structure, which was the aspect I liked a bit less. Without giving too much away, former child detective and new New Yorker August meets a mysterious and gorgeous girl on the subway, and soon finds herself enmeshed in a mystery surrounding the intriguing Jane Su. There were times that I got a bit frustrated with stagnancy in the plot (but, to be fair, I’m definitely more of a character-focused reader than a plot-focused one), but the strength of August and Jane as characters kept me enjoying the read. (I also have to shout out Niko, my favorite side character, who’s one of Jane’s roommates and also a psychic.) If you’re looking for a cute romance with a twist, I’d definitely recommend this one.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (4 stars) – A character-driven contemporary novel centered around Reese, a trans woman; her ex, Ames, previously Amy, a trans woman who has since detransitioned; and Ames’s new girlfriend and boss, Katrina, who unexpectedly becomes pregnant and forces all three characters to confront what they are looking for in terms of family and relationships. I thought that this book was a great deep dive into the world of these characters, but I wasn’t a fan of the ending.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (4 stars) – A very sweet historical f/f romance featuring an astronomer and a widow with artistic talent. This one is full of discussions about astronomy, art vs. science, and feminism in a historical context, all of which I very much enjoyed. I’m looking forward to reading more historical romance from this new-to-me author.

The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum (4 stars) – A sweet, space-centric YA contemporary featuring a found family/band of misfits lead by Ryann, who is caring for her younger brother and his baby after their parents passed away. When surly newcomer Alexandria shows up in her history class, Ryann is fascinated despite herself–particularly when she is drawn into Alexandria’s mission to obtain messages from her mother, who left on a space voyage she’ll never return from right after Alexandria was born. I loved Ryann as a main character and thought the book’s ending was gorgeously done.

The Navigator’s Touch by Julia Ember (3 stars) – The sequel to Ember’s Norse mythology-inspired YA fantasy romance The Seafarer’s Kiss, Navigator focuses on young Viking warrior Ragna and her quest for revenge upon the people who destroyed her village and killed her family, while she also juggles her relationship with mermaid Ersel and a rebellious crew. Although I enjoyed its predecessor, I had some difficulty with this one, mainly because it fell into the common YA fantasy issue of having most of the adults be incompetent and/or evil while the teen protagonist is preternaturally skilled at almost everything.

May Reading Wrap-Up!

I had an absurdly productive reading month in May, and I’m still trying to process how it happened. I think it was a combination of reading shorter books, reading in various formats on a consistent basis, and participating in readathons and reading challenges. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

May stats:

Total books read: 13 (!)

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 2

ARCs/review copies: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Broken by Jenny LawsonThin Girls by Diana ClarkePretty Face by Lucy ParkerWriters & Lovers by Lily KingWriting into the Wound by Roxane GayDisfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making SpaceThe Ones We're Meant to Find by Joan HeThe Body Myth by Rheea MukherjeeRiot BabyHoney Girl by Morgan RogersRosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis HallNeon Gods (Dark Olympus, #1)The Ex Talk

Writers & Lovers by Lily King (5 stars) – I have a lot of thoughts about this book, but more than thoughts I also just have a lot of feelings. Sometimes I describe 5-star reads as books that make me FEEL THINGS (in all caps, of course) and this is one of those times. I identified so much with Writers & Lovers’s protagonist, who is the same age as me and struggles with anxiety and obsesses about books and writing. I think that almost all aspiring writers will find pieces of themselves and bits of truth in her character. This book made me tear up several times, either because of the emotions in the story as Casey deals with the grief of the loss of her mother, her debts, and her physical and mental health, but also because of the beauty of its writing. The almost-meta, writing-centric themes made me think of Mona Awad’s Bunny, my favorite book, even though they are very different and Bunny is much, much weirder. Sometimes I really hate books with writer main characters, but Bunny and Writers & Lovers both get it right.

Disfigured by Amanda Leduc (4.5 stars) – A nonfiction book that’s part memoir and part analysis of the portrayal of disability in folklore and fairy tales, Disfigured was a powerful and multi-faceted read. LeDuc has a lovely writing style, and I’m interested to pick up her fiction after being impressed by this work. It made me consider the stories I’ve been hearing since childhood in new ways, and it also includes a lot of discussion about contemporary disability rights struggles.

The Body Myth by Rheea Mukherjee (4.5 stars) – After finishing The Body Myth by Rheea Mukherjee, I’m really looking forward to reading more from this author. We’re following Mira, whose husband died after less than one year of marriage, and who turns to books and philosophy in her grief to help her make sense of the world. She has a strange, chance encounter with an intriguing couple that ends up drawing her into their orbit and shifting her worldview yet again. I LOVED the beginning and middle of this book, and particularly thought Mukherjee’s writing itself was excellent, but was much less enamoured with the ending. Recommend if you like thoughtful character studies and short books written in interesting, meandering ways.

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall (4.5 stars) – My favorite romance of the year so far! After loving Hall’s Boyfriend Material, my favorite romance of 2020, I was a bit worried that any follow-up would be a letdown; I’m so glad that it wasn’t. Set at a pseudo-Great British Bake-Off show, Rosaline Palmer is a sweet, hilarious, thoughtful book about finding happiness by embracing what we truly love.

Thin Girls by Diana Clarke (4 stars) – I picked this one up because of a recommendation from Roxane Gay, who mentored the author, and I’m not sorry I did. Emotionally, it’s a very difficult read, and I would urge caution if you’re at all sensitive to reading about eating disorders; the main character is severely anorexic and is undergoing treatment throughout the book. I struggled through the first half, in which we become immersed in life at the inpatient eating disorder clinic our main character has been living at for a year, and gradually learn more and more about hers and her twin sisters’ past, particularly in regard to their relationships with food. The story picked up a lot for me in the second half, though, and I found the ending to be extremely satisfying, which lead me to significantly bump up my rating. I’d be interested to see what Clarke writes next.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers (4 stars) – A lovely story about friendship, love, and self-love, Honey Girl is about a young woman suffering from burnout who finds herself abruptly married to a woman she meets one night in Vegas. After finishing her PhD in astronomy, Grace finds herself desperately needing a break before entering the job market, which is already difficult to navigate due to gatekeeping and racism, and she ends up finding herself by spending a summer in New York with her new wife and slowly falling in love with her. The central romance is very sweet, but the gorgeous friendships are given perhaps even more weight, and the story has great messages about the need for self-care and the problems with perfectionism and pushing yourself too hard.

Writing Into the Wound by Roxane Gay (4 stars) – This was a Scribd exclusive audiobook that I believe is technically an essay (it’s only about an hour long) discussing writing about trauma. Gay talks about her personal trauma as well as a course she taught at Yale on the topic; if you like her work, you definitely won’t regret picking this one up. I just wish it was longer!

Neon Gods by Katee Robert (4 stars) – As a huge Greek mythology fan, I’m always looking for great modern retellings of classic myths to pick up; as a romance reader, this was the Hades and Persephone retelling that I’ve been looking for. We have a mysterious modern setup that’s light on magic but heavy on political machinations, with the thirteen main gods and goddesses of Greek mythology recast as the Thirteen, roles that are either lobbied for or inherited and that combine to rule and oversee different aspects of the city. Persephone is trying to avoid the drama and power struggles while planning her escape from it all when she’s unexpectedly forced by her mother, Demeter, into an engagement with Zeus, who has rumored to have killed his previous few wives. Desperate, she flees across the River Styx into the territory of the one member of the Thirteen thought to be only a myth–Hades. The two develop instant, great chemistry, and I loved how they went from reluctant allies plotting against Zeus to much more. The book’s premise is perfect, and it also sets up potential sequels featuring Persephone’s sisters (in this world Psyche, Calliope, and Eurydice, who are traditionally from separate myths) and a whole cast of side characters (my personal favorite was Hermes, who I hope continues to be heavily featured in the series). I had a great time reading this book, and I’m very much looking forward to more Green mythology-inspired romance from Katee Robert.

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

Broken (in the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson (3.5 stars) – This is actually my third audiobook from Lawson, who writes essays that are a combination of funny and serious, mainly about her life in Texas and her mental and physical health. Most of the essays in this collection worked well for me, with one about depression being especially poignant, although some seemed a bit too silly to be believable.

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker (3.5 stars) – the second book in Parker’s London Celebrities series, a contemporary romance series centered on the theater world of London’s West End, but actually the 4th book that I’ve personally read in this series since I read it out of order. My main complaint about this installment is that it has a different audio narrator than the others, and that I unfortunately liked less, but I did like the forbidden romance between a TV actress looking to break into theater and her grumpy director.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He (3 stars) – A scifi YA 2021 release about two sisters, one of whom has disappeared and is trying to survive on a deserted island so that she can find her way back to her younger sister, who lives on a climate-controlled city hovering above the Earth’s surface. I was really interested in this book at first, but gradually lost interest and investment as the story progressed, mainly because I didn’t feel that most of the plot twists worked very well; there was also a romantic storyline that felt very superfluous.

The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon (2.5 stars) – A 2021 contemporary romance release that I listened to on audiobook and unfortunately didn’t love. It’s about two rival coworkers who team up to create a radio show that portrays them as exes discussing various relationship-related topics, which in theory could have worked as a premise if executed differently. As it was, I never found the characters to be very well-rounded or believable, and the plot was frustrating, with the romance taking a long time to develop and never really gaining chemistry.

April Reading Wrap-Up

I had a really productive reading month in April! I managed to find a few new favorites, and I finally made some headway on picking up some of my most anticipated new releases of 2021. In general in 2021, I’ve been picking up fewer new releases than I’d planned, and now I have a bunch that I feel like I need to start catching up on. I did have a few disappointing reads this month, but overall it was excellent; I also enjoyed participating in another round of Dewey’s 24-hour readathon.

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 8

ARCs/review copies: 1

ebooks: 1

Tender by Sofia SamatarThe Princess Trap by Talia HibbertWinter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellOne Person, No Vote by Carol AndersonSecond First Impressions by Sally ThorneTrick Mirror by Jia TolentinoFlyaway by Kathleen JenningsBlood Heir by Ilona AndrewsKingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Reviews & Ratings:

Tender by Sofia Samatar (5 stars) – Tender, an incredibly creative and thought-provoking short story collection by Sofia Samatar, should be a must-read for any SFF and/or short story fan. Divided into two sections, Tender Bodies and Tender Lanscapes, many of its stories heavily feature myths and folklore, while others are set in varied and unique futures. Many stories are told in unconventional formats (letters, journal entries, fictional historical documents) which serve to create even more impact and in many cases realism despite their fantastical and futuristic premises. My favorites from the collection include “Honey Bear,” about parents trying to give their daughter a ‘normal’ day at the beach in the midst of a haunting slow apocalypse; “Walkdog,” written like a school assignment and emphasizing guilt and local myth; and “Ogres of East Africa,” written like a compendium on the topic but with its narrator’s own story interwoven. If this book it’s already on your TBR, it should be.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell (4.5 stars) – This book was a surprise in all the best ways, and I’m really looking forward to picking up a lot more from this author. At its heart it’s a slow-burn romance between two men who find themselves forced into marriage to solidify an alliance, but it also has plenty of political maneuvering and investigations into a murder and potential conspiracy on the eve of a crucial interplanetary treaty renewal. It’s a lovely story about two people from different planets who want to understand each other and work toward a common goal, and everything that gets in the way of that. I think that both scifi and romance readers will find plenty to love in this book; it honestly just made me really happy to read.

The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert (4 stars) – A contemporary romance featuring modern royalty and a fake engagement that also deals with heavier topics like the emotional ramifications of child abuse. This has now become tied with Take a Hint, Dani Brown for my favorite Talia Hibbert novel; it reads very quickly and has a good balance of romance and emotional growth. HR representative Cherry has a chance encounter with an obscure European prince, and after they’re caught hooking up by paparazzi, the prince tells the press that she’s his fiancee in order to protect her from slander and the invasive photos being published. After I finished this book I immediately wanted to read even more from Hibbert. Although very distinct, The Princess Trap has similar themes to A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole (flirty prince of obscure European country has been depicted as playboy in the media but is dealing with private trauma; fake engagement; royal family secrets), which is my favorite novel by Cole, so I think readers of one will definitely love the other.

Blood Heir by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – This is the first book in a new spin-off series from Andrews’ beloved Kate Daniels series, and it’s difficult to discuss the premise while avoiding major spoilers. But this book has everything I love about books from my favorite UF/PNR author: lovable characters, believable action sequences, humor, and heart. I can’t wait for more in this newest series.

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne (4 stars) – I’ve loved all of Sally Thorne’s books so far, and Second First Impressions was no exception. She writes with a lot of humor and quirkiness, and is adept at capturing the little weirdnesses in all of our minds. In Second First Impressions, we meet buttoned-up retirement community administrator Ruthie, who’s dealing with a lot of anxieties from her past and finding refuge by living on-site and helping the residents with everything they need. Her world is rocked by a rapid series of events: her boss goes away on a cruise, leaving Ruthie in charge; the temp in her office wants to help her start dating; and the parent company begins a site review of the retirement community that threatens Ruthie’s job and way of life. And most disruptive is the arrival of Teddy, tattoo artist and son of the parent company’s owner, who moves in on site for a temporary job and quickly develops an interest in Ruthie. I thought that Thorne developed great chemistry between Ruthie and Teddy, and I also loved the friendships that Ruthie developed with Melanie the office temp and the retirement community residents. It’s a really sweet, feel-good story, and I’d be surprised if this one doesn’t end up among my favorite romances of the year.  I received a gifted copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson (4 stars) – An extremely informative account of the history of voter suppression in America that is both historically thorough and extremely current. I learned so much about how voter suppression has been an endemic part of American history and the different ways in which it has been used and is currently used to suppress Black voices. It’s a book that could be relevant at any time, but in light of the new slate of voter suppression bills being introduced after the 2020 election it’s a reminder that this is nothing new and that it much be challenged and fought at every turn in order to obtain free and fair elections. It’s a book that should be required reading in America.

Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings (3.5 stars) – A folklore-inspired mystery novella set in a remote area of Australia, Flyaway is centered around a family that has unraveled and a girl struggling to uncover her memories of how it really happened. There’s a really well-crafted sense of place in this novella, and it was interesting hearing about the different folk tales of the area. I found the ending a bit anticlimactic, though, and the scenery descriptions, while lovely, became very repetitive even in a very short book.

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino (3 stars) – This essay collection was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I thought that some of the essays were strong, especially those that were primarily autobiographical; others really struggled with cohesiveness and contradictions.

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco (2 stars) – Unfortunately, this YA fantasy, although starting off with a great premise (demons and witches in historical Sicily, with a murdered twin setting off a mystery plot complicated by a possible romance), really failed in its execution of both plot and characters for me.