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December Reading Wrap-Up

In December, I was lucky enough to discover two new 5-star reads, and also picked up several holiday romances. Let’s dive in!

Stats

Total books read: 8

Audiobooks: 2

ebooks: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

2022 releases: 6

Cursed Bunny: StoriesKiss Her Once for Me by Alison CochrunHow to Be Eaten by Maria AdelmannCaste by Isabel WilkersonYour Table Is Ready by Michael Cecchi-AzzolinaWindow Shopping by Tessa BaileyYou're a Mean One, Matthew Prince by Timothy JanovskyThe American Roommate Experiment (Spanish Love Deception, #2)

Reviews

How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann (5 stars) – This ticked so many boxes for what I want in a book. It’s a modern-day retelling of fairytales through a feminist lens and using the device of a support group for women who have been through traumatic and public experiences. I love when books use old stories to shed light on relevant current issues, and I loved the dynamic between the complex female characters that comprise the support group.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (5 stars) – A nonfiction work that explores the history and current state of racism in the U.S. through the lens of caste that is powerful, informative, incredibly well-researched, and devastating. It’s a book that you immediately realize should be required reading in this country.

Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung (4 stars) – This was one of those random indie bookstore finds that I ended up picking up much sooner than I thought I would. A lot of the initial appeal was based on the cover (I love bunnies in general; also, Bunny by Mona Awad is my favorite book of all time) but anytime I see a book of strange short stories I’m also drawn towards it. I found Chung’s writing to be overall quite strong, although my enjoyment of the stories themselves varied somewhat. The titular story was one of my favorites, and I liked the unsettling center at many of her tales.

Window Shopping by Tessa Bailey (4 stars) – I’m a year late to the party on this one, but I’m so glad I picked it up! This contemporary novella is possibly my new favorite holiday romance, and it’s a representation of the best of Tessa Bailey, an author I’ve had mixed results with in the past. It’s a good mix of spicy and sweet, with interesting main characters and a fun setting, and I read it while trapped inside during a massive blizzard. Definitely recommend!

The American Roommate Experiment by Elena Armas (4 stars) – Was this as good as The Spanish Love Deception? Not quite, speaking about the actual romance, but I still thoroughly enjoyed Armas’s writing style. Like Armas’s debut, I started this one very slowly, then binge-read the last half. Could this illustrate a pacing issue? Maybe, but I really don’t have any complaints about her style or the story; I just find these books very fun.

Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochran (3.5 stars) – Another holiday romance I picked up during the month. I was hoping to enjoy Kiss Her Once for Me more than this author’s debut, The Charm Offensive, that ended up on so many favorites lists but was just OK for me personally, but I think I ended up liking the two about the same amount. Neither are favorites; this one had some fun tropes, and I liked the family characters, but the miscommunication was extremely frustrating to read about.

Your Table is Ready by Michael Cecchi-Azzolina (3.5 stars) – An interesting memoir on audiobook about a man who spent his career as a fixture in the New York restaurant scene, working as a waiter and maitre d’. It’s an interesting read for foodies and fans of Anthony Bourdain-type culinary memoirs, and a very entertaining listen.

You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince by Timothy Janovsky (3 stars) – This was my second underwhelming contemporary romance audiobook from this author; I picked it up looking for a holiday romance on audio and had a much more difficult time than expected getting through it, because I kept falling asleep every time I pressed play. (I’m not kidding! I don’t mean that in a mean way; that’s actually what happened.) I liked the premise, and the main character’s journey, but the romance didn’t work as well as I’d have liked and the ending wasn’t my favorite.

Most Anticipated Releases of 2023, Part 1

It’s that time of year again, the time where it’s socially acceptable for me to start posting about my most anticipated releases of the year to come. This won’t be my only list (I think I was up to 3 or 4 last year), but it’s definitely time I got started.

As usual, these books are organized in order of anticipated release date, and vary by genre from romance to fantasy and everything in between. Please comment below with any of your most anticipated new books of 2023!

 

Hell Bent (Alex Stern, #2)

Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo (anticipated release 1/10/23) – I’ve been excited about this sequel ever since Ninth House, one of my favorite books of 2019, came out. Dark academia is probably my favorite subgenre, and this sequel is quite a long time coming.

From Goodreads: Galaxy “Alex” Stern is determined to break Darlington out of hell—even if it costs her a future at Lethe and at Yale. But Alex is playing with forces far beyond her control, and when faculty members begin to die off, she knows these aren’t just accidents. Something deadly is at work in New Haven, and if Alex is going to survive, she’ll have to reckon with the monsters of her past and a darkness built into the university’s very walls.

 

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawlett (anticipated release 1/10/23)

From Goodreads: Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.

 

“You Just Need to Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People by Aubrey Gordon (anticipated release 1/10/23) – Aubrey co-hosts my favorite podcast, and I learned a lot from her first nonfiction book What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat. She actually narrates the audio of this one!

From Goodreads: The co-host of the Maintenance Phase podcast and creator of Your Fat Friend equips you with the facts to debunk common anti-fat myths and with tools to take action for fat justice

The pushback that shows up in conversations about fat justice takes exceedingly predicable form. Losing weight is easy—calories in, calories out. Fat people are unhealthy. We’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Fat acceptance “glorifies obesity.” The BMI is an objective measure of size and health. Yet, these myths are as readily debunked as they are pervasive.

In “You Just Need to Lose Weight,” Aubrey Gordon equips readers with the facts and figures to reframe myths about fatness in order to dismantle the anti-fat bias ingrained in how we think about and treat fat people. Bringing her dozen years of community organizing and training to bear, Gordon shares the rhetorical approaches she and other organizers employ to not only counter these pernicious myths, but to dismantle the anti-fat bias that so often underpin them.

As conversations about fat acceptance and fat justice continue to grow, “You Just Need to Lose Weight” will be essential to ensure that those conversations are informed, effective, and grounded in both research and history.

 

Behind the Scenes by Karelia Stetz-Waters (anticipated release 1/31/23) – After really enjoying Satisfaction Guaranteed, this author’s previous F/F contemporary romance, I was excited to be approved for the eARC of this follow-up.

From Goodreads: Business consultant Rose Josten might not have officially reached “pug lady” middle age, but she’s already got the pugs—along with their little Gucci coats and trash-lovin’ appetites. Still, life is good, with her work, her sisters, and a secret hobby creating incredibly tactile (if surprisingly sexy) mindfulness videos. So why does it feel like it’s not quite enough? Which is exactly when former filmmaker Ash Stewart enters camera left, and Rose’s world suddenly goes full technicolor . . .

Ash never looks at anyone. Not since her ex ripped her heart from her chest in Spielberg-esque style, crushing Ash’s reputation, dreams, and directorial career in one brutal blow. But Rose is altogether different. She’s curvy, beautiful, and just so damn put together. And her business expertise might be Ash’s best bet for getting her last film—and her last chance—financed. Now if they can just keep their attraction under wraps, Ash’s lost dream could finally come true. But are they creating movie magic . . . or setting the stage for disaster?

 

The Disenchantment by Celia Bell (anticipated release 2/2/23) – This F/F historical fiction might help me get over my aversion to historical fiction.

From Goodreads: Everyone connected to the court of Louis XIV has something to hide. The noblemen and women consort with fortune tellers in the dark confines of their salons, servants practice witchcraft and black magic, and the titled must brave accusations of poisoning family members to obtain inheritance. But for the Baroness Marie Catherine, the only thing she wishes to hide is how unhappy she is in her marriage, and the pleasures she seeks outside of it. When her husband is present, the Baroness spends her days tending to her children and telling them elaborate fairytales, but when he’s gone, Marie Catherine indulges in a more liberated existence, one of decadent salons at grand houses, forward-thinking discussions with writers and scholars, and at the centre of her freedom: Victoire Rose de Bourbon, Mademoiselle de Conti, the androgynous, self-assured countess who steals Marie Catherine’s heart and becomes her lover.

Victoire possesses everything Marie Catherine does not, confidence in her love, and a brazen fearlessness in all that she’s willing to do for it. But when Victoire’s passion results in a shocking act of murder to save Marie Catherine, the pair must escape from the tight clutches of Paris’ overzealous chief of police. As they attempt to outwit him, they are led to the darkest corners of Paris and Versailles. What they discover is a city full of lies, mysticism, and people who have secrets they too would kill to keep.

 

Radiant Sin (Dark Olympus, #4)

Radiant Sin by Katee Robert (anticipated release 2/7/23) – I continue to love Katee Robert’s loosely Greek Mythology-inspired Dark Olympus romance series, and I pre-order every installment.

From Goodreads: There’s nowhere more dangerous than Olympus…and no one more captivating than its golden god: Apollo. Keeper of secrets, master of his shining realm…and the only man I am powerless to deny.

*A scorchingly hot modern retelling of Apollo and Cassandra that’s as sinful as it is sweet.*

As a disgraced member of a fallen house, Cassandra Gataki has seen firsthand what comes from trusting the venomous Thirteen. But when the maddeningly gorgeous and kind Apollo asks her to go undercover as his plus-one at a week-long party hosted by a dangerous new power player…Cassandra reluctantly agrees to have his back.

On one condition: when it’s all over, and Apollo has the ammunition he needs to protect Olympus, she and her sister will be allowed to leave. For good.

Apollo may be the city’s official spymaster, but it’s his ability to inspire others that keeps him at the top. Despite what the rest of Olympus says, there’s no one he trusts more than Cassandra. Yet even as their fake relationship takes a wicked turn for the scaldingly hot, a very real danger surfaces… threatening not only Cassandra and Apollo, but the very heart of Olympus itself.

 

Best Served Hot

Best Served Hot by Amanda Elliot (anticipated release 2/21/23) – My goal to read all of the chef/food-inspired contemporary romances continues with this new release from the author of Sadie on a Plate, which I really enjoyed reading earlier in the year.

From Goodreads: By day, Julie Zimmerman works as an executive assistant. After hours, she’s @JulieZeeEatsNYC, a social media restaurant reviewer with over fifty thousand followers. As much as she loves her self-employed side gig, what Julie really wants is to be a critic at a major newspaper, like the New York Scroll. The only thing worse than the Scroll’s rejection of her application is the fact that smarmy, social-media-averse society boy Bennett Richard Macalester Wright snagged her dream job.

While at the Central Park Food Festival, Julie confronts the annoyingly handsome Bennett about his outdated opinions on social media and posts the resulting video footage. Julie’s follower count soars—and so does the Scroll’s. Julie and Bennett grudgingly agree to partner up for a few reviews to further their buzz. Online buzz, obviously.

Over tapas, burgers, and more, Julie and Bennett connect over their shared love of food. But when the competitive fire between them turns extra spicy, they’ll have to decide how much heat their relationship can take.

 

Something Wild & Wonderful

Something Wild & Wonderful by Anita Kelly (anticipated release 3/7/23) – Another contemporary romance follow-up from a new-to-me favorite author; I was also approved for the eARC of this one.

From Goodreads: When Alexei Lebedev finally comes out to his conservative community, it does not go well. That’s how he ended up on the rugged Pacific Crest Trail, hoping he can figure out a new life plan in the thousands of miles it’ll take to walk the famed hike. He’s prepared for rattlesnakes, blisters, and months of solitude. What he’s not prepared for is the ray of sunshine named Ben Caravalho.

Charismatic and outgoing, Ben’s personality and infectious laughter is a stark opposite to Alexei’s quiet, reserved demeanor. But no matter how determined Alexei is to hike the trail alone, it seems he and Ben can’t avoid being drawn to each other. Through snow crossings and close calls with coyotes, Alexei inches closer to letting Ben in. As Alexei learns of Ben’s loving family and supportive friends, he begins to get a taste of what found family and belonging could truly feel like. But just as Alexei starts to let down his defenses, a sudden change in plans reawakens his fears—and he must discover if he has the courage to face something even scarier than the trail less traveled: letting himself fall.

 

One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake (anticipated release 4/4/23) – Everything Olivie Blake writes will continue to make my most anticipated lists. Because she is amazing.

From Goodreads: In modern-day Manhattan where we lay our scene, two rival witch families fight to maintain control of their respective criminal ventures.

On one side of the conflict are the Antonova sisters — each one beautiful, cunning, and ruthless — and their mother, the elusive supplier of premium intoxicants, known only as Baba Yaga. On the other side, the influential Fedorov brothers serve their father, the crime boss known as Koschei the Deathless, whose community extortion ventures dominate the shadows of magical Manhattan.

After twelve years of tenuous co-existence, a change in one family’s interests causes a rift in the existing stalemate. When bad blood brings both families to the precipice of disaster, fate intervenes with a chance encounter, and in the aftershocks of a resurrected conflict, everyone must choose a side. As each of the siblings struggles to stake their claim, fraying loyalties threaten to rot each side from the inside out.

If, that is, the enmity between empires doesn’t destroy them first.

 

The Fiancée Farce

The Fiancee Farce by Alexandria Bellefleur (anticipated release 4/18/23) – LOOK AT THIS COVER. Also, LOOK AT THIS SYNOPSIS.

From Goodreads: Tansy Adams’ greatest love is her family’s bookstore, passed down from her late father. But when it comes to actual romance… Tansy can’t get past the first chapter. Tired of her stepfamily’s questions about her love life, Tansy invents Gemma, a fake girlfriend inspired by the stunning cover model on a bestselling book. They’ll never actually meet, so what’s the harm in a little fib? Yet when real-life Gemma crosses Tansy’s path, her white lie nearly implodes.

Gemma van Dalen is a wild child, the outcast of her wealthy family, and now the latest heir to Van Dalen Publishing. But the title comes with one tiny condition: she must be married in order to inherit. When Gemma discovers a beautiful stranger has been pretending to date her for months, she decides to take the charade one step further—and announces their engagement.

Gemma needs a wife to meet the terms of her grandfather’s will and Tansy needs money to save her struggling bookstore. A marriage could be mutually beneficial, if they can fool everyone into thinking it’s a love match. Unexpected sparks fly as Tansy and Gemma play the role of affectionate fiancées, and suddenly the line between convenient arrangement and real feelings begins to blur. But the scheming Van Dalen family won’t give up the company without a fight, and Gemma and Tansy’s newfound happiness might get caught in the fallout…

 

The Thick and the Lean by Chana Porter (anticipated release 4/18/23)

From Goodreads: In the quaint religious town of Seagate, abstaining from food brings one closer to God.

But Beatrice Bolano is hungry. She craves the forbidden: butter, flambé, marzipan. As Seagate takes increasingly extreme measures to regulate every calorie its citizens consume, Beatrice must make a choice: give up her secret passion for cooking or leave the only community she has known.

Elsewhere, Reiko Rimando has left her modest roots for a college tech scholarship in the big city. A flawless student, she is set up for success…until her school pulls her funding, leaving her to face either a mountain of debt or a humiliating return home. But Reiko is done being at the mercy of the system. She forges a third path—outside of the law.

With the guidance of a mysterious cookbook written by a kitchen maid centuries ago, Beatrice and Reiko each grasp for a life of freedom—something more easily imagined than achieved in a world dominated by catastrophic corporate greed.

A startling fable of the entwined perils of capitalism, body politics, and the stigmas women face for appetites of every kind, Chana Porter’s profound new novel explores the reclamation of pleasure as a revolutionary act.

 

Happy Place by Emily Henry (anticipated release 4/25/23) – Henry’s fourth adult contemporary romance is guaranteed to be a hit–but will it live up to her previous 3? I’ve always said previously that I don’t like second chance romance, but after reading a few in 2022 that worked for me, I’m less skeptical of this one.

From Goodreads: Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they met in college—they go together like salt and pepper, honey and tea, lobster and rolls. Except, now—for reasons they’re still not discussing—they don’t.

They broke up six months ago. And still haven’t told their best friends.

Which is how they find themselves sharing the largest bedroom at the Maine cottage that has been their friend group’s yearly getaway for the last decade. Their annual respite from the world, where for one vibrant, blue week they leave behind their daily lives; have copious amounts of cheese, wine, and seafood; and soak up the salty coastal air with the people who understand them most.

Only this year, Harriet and Wyn are lying through their teeth while trying not to notice how desperately they still want each other. Because the cottage is for sale and this is the last week they’ll all have together in this place. They can’t stand to break their friends’ hearts, and so they’ll play their parts. Harriet will be the driven surgical resident who never starts a fight, and Wyn will be the laid-back charmer who never lets the cracks show. It’s a flawless plan (if you look at it from a great distance and through a pair of sunscreen-smeared sunglasses). After years of being in love, how hard can it be to fake it for one week…in front of those who know you best?

 

Just As You Are by Camille Kellogg (anticipated release 4/25/23) – Sapphic Price & Prejudice retelling!!!

From Goodreads: Equal parts witty and steamy, this debut rom-com brings a healthy dose of queerness and a whole lot of heart to a Pride and Prejudice-inspired enemies to lovers romance.

The only thing worse for Liz than hating her unpleasant, standoffish new boss? Being incurably attracted to her.

Liz Baker and her three roommates work at The Nether Fields, a queer magazine in New York that’s on the verge of shutting down—until it’s bought at the last minute by two wealthy lesbians. Even though Liz is eager to leave listicles behind for more meaningful writing, she knows that she’s lucky to still have a paycheck. But it’s hard to feel grateful with minority investor Daria Fitzgerald slashing budgets, cancelling bagel Fridays, and password protecting the color printer to prevent “frivolous use.” When Liz overhears Daria scoffing at her articles, she knows that it’s only a matter of her time before her impulsive mouth tells Daria off and gets herself fired.

But as Liz and Daria get thrown together more and more, Liz starts to see a softer side to Daria—she’s funny, surprisingly helpful, and actually seems to like that Liz’s gender presentation varies between butch and femme. Even as the evidence that Liz can’t trust Daria piles up, it starts getting harder and harder to keep hating Daria—and harder and harder to resist her.

This page-turning, sexy, and delightfully funny rom-com celebrates queer culture, chosen family, coming of age, and falling in love against your better judgment.

 

A Sleight of Shadows by Kat Howard (anticipated release 4/25/23) – An Unkindness of Magicians is a really underrated and great fantasy book, and I’m very interested to see where Kat Howard goes in this sequel.

From Goodreads: After taking down the source of the corruption of the Unseen World, Sydney is left with almost no magical ability. Feeling estranged from herself, she is determined to find a way back to her status as one of the world’s most dangerous magicians. Unfortunately, she needs to do this quickly: the House of Shadows, the hell on earth that shaped her into who she was, the place she sacrificed everything to destroy, is rebuilding itself.

“The House of shadows sits on bones. All of the sacrifices, all of the magicians who died in Shadows, they’re buried beneath the foundations. Bones hold magic.”

The magic of the Unseen World is acting strangely, faltering, bleeding out from the edges. Determined to keep the House of Shadows from returning to power and to defeat the magicians who want nothing more than to have it back, Sydney turns to extremes in a desperate attempt to regain her sacrificed magic. She is forced to decide what she will give up and what she will lose and whether what must be destroyed is not only the House of Shadows, but the Unseen World itself.

World Fantasy Award finalist Kat Howard has written a sequel that asks how you have a happily ever in a world that doesn’t want it, where the cost of that happiness may be too much to bear.

 

Grim and Bear It by Juliette Cross (anticipated release 5/9/23) – Tragically, the last book in the Stay a Spell series, but I still can’t wait to read it. A pre-order for sure.

From Goodreads: Clara Savoie is so confused. She is absolutely positive that Henry Blackwater is practically in love with her. But for some strange reason, he won’t even ask her on a single date. Time to take matters into her own hands.

When Clara shows up on his doorstep with an unusual invitation, tempting cupcakes, and naughty innuendo, Henry has no choice but to say yes. Now he’s the newest member of the High Tea Romance Book Club. While Clara learns the haunting secrets of her broody grim, Henry shows her what commitment from a necromancer truly means.

But when his father is arrested for murder, Henry is dragged back into the nightmare he’s been avoiding all his life. When he steps back into his father’s world, he isn’t just endangering himself but also the bright, beautiful woman he can no longer live without. But he just might have to.

 

Love, Theoretically by Ali Hazelwood (anticipated release 6/13/23) – I loved both of Hazelwood’s full-length contemporary romances (and disliked her novellas) so hopefully this one continues the streak.

From Goodreads: The many lives of theoretical physicist Elsie Hannaway have finally caught up with her. By day, she’s an adjunct professor, toiling away at grading labs and teaching thermodynamics in the hopes of landing tenure. By other day, Elsie makes up for her non-existent paycheck by offering her services as a fake girlfriend, tapping into her expertly honed people pleasing skills to embody whichever version of herself the client needs.

Honestly, it’s a pretty sweet gig—until her carefully constructed Elsie-verse comes crashing down. Because Jack Smith, the annoyingly attractive and broody older brother of her favorite client, turns out to be the cold-hearted experimental physicist who ruined her mentor’s career and undermined the reputation of theorists everywhere. And that same Jack who now sits on the hiring committee at MIT, right between Elsie and her dream job.

Elsie is prepared for an all-out war of scholarly sabotage but…those long, penetrating looks? Not having to be anything other than her true self when she’s with him? Will falling into an experimentalist’s orbit finally tempt her to put her most guarded theories on love into practice?

Immortal Longings by Chloe Gong (anticipated release 7/25/23)

From Goodreads: #1 New York Times bestselling YA author Chloe Gong’s adult epic fantasy debut, inspired by Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, is a fiery collision of power plays, spilled blood, and romance amidst a set of deadly games.

Every year, thousands in the kingdom of Talin will flock to its capital twin cities, San-Er, where the palace hosts a set of games. For those confident enough in their ability to jump between bodies, competitors across San-Er fight to the death to win unimaginable riches.

Princess Calla Tuoleimi lurks in hiding. Five years ago, a massacre killed her parents and left the palace of Er empty…and she was the one who did it. Before King Kasa’s forces in San can catch her, she plans to finish the job and bring down the monarchy. Her reclusive uncle always greets the victor of the games, so if she wins, she gets her opportunity at last to kill him.

Enter Anton Makusa, an exiled aristocrat. His childhood love has lain in a coma since they were both ousted from the palace, and he’s deep in debt trying to keep her alive. Thankfully, he’s one of the best jumpers in the kingdom, flitting from body to body at will. His last chance at saving her is entering the games and winning.

Calla finds both an unexpected alliance with Anton and help from King Kasa’s adopted son, August, who wants to mend Talin’s ills. But the three of them have very different goals, even as Calla and Anton’s partnership spirals into something all-consuming. Before the games close, Calla must decide what she’s playing for—her lover or her kingdom.

 

Codename Charming by Lucy Parker (anticipated release 8/15/23) – This second installment in Parker’s Palace Insiders series promises her signature delightful style (and one of my favorite audio narrators).

From Goodreads: Petunia De Vere enjoys being the personal assistant to lovable, bumbling Johnny Marchmont. But the job has its share of challenges, including the royal’s giant, intimidating bodyguard, Matthias. Pet and Matthias are polar opposites—she’s spontaneous and enthusiastic, he’s rigid and stoic—but she can sense there’s something softer underneath that tough exterior…

For Matthias Vaughn, protecting others is the name of the game. But keeping his royal charge out of trouble is more difficult than he imagined because everywhere Johnny goes, calamity ensues, and his petite, bubbly assistant is often caught in the fray. Matthias hates the idea of Pet getting hurt and he’s determined to keep everyone safe, even if it means clashing with his adorable new coworker.

When a clumsy moment leads to a questionable tabloid photo, the press begins to speculate that Pet is romantically involved with Johnny. To put an end to the rumors, the royal PR team asks Pet and Matthias to stage a fake relationship and the two reluctantly agree. But as they spend more time together outside of work, they begin to wonder what real emotions this pretend connection might uncover. Especially when a passionate kiss leaves both of their heads spinning…

November Reading Wrap-Up

Look at me, posting my monthly reading wrap-up in a reasonable amount of time! I read exclusively fantasy and/or romance books in November, not intentionally, but that’s how my mood-reading seemed to steer me. I didn’t find any new favorites for the year, but I did overall enjoy everything that I picked up. Let’s get into it!

Stats

Total books read: 10

2022 releases: 10

ARCs: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Ship Wrecked by Olivia DadeParis Daillencourt Is About to Crumble by Alexis HallThe World We Make by N.K. JemisinResting Witch Face by Juliette CrossLove on the Brain by Ali HazelwoodThe Serpent in Heaven (Gunnie Rose, #4)The Holiday Trap by Roan ParrishTread of Angels by Rebecca RoanhorseCheck Your Work by Skye KilaenAngelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match by Sally Thorne

Love On the Brain by Ali Hazelwood (4.5 stars) – After three disappointing novellas, my faith in Ali Hazelwood was restored with Love on the Brain. I think her strength may just be in full-length novels, because I enjoyed this just as much as The Love Hypothesis. Her writing is very addictive, and this one kept me occupied through isolation due to testing positive for covid.

The World We Make by N. K. Jemisin (4 stars) – I think I enjoyed the second book in this contemporary fantasy duology more than the first; the pacing seemed better and the plot tighter, although I still don’t find these books as strong as other works by Jemisin.

Resting Witch Face by Juliette Cross (4 stars) – This second chance witch/vampire romance has been hinted at since the first book in the Stay a Spell series, and made me reconsider my negative feelings towards this particular trope. It’s a very fun read, but one with action and high stakes as well as a well-developed romance, and as usual it left me impatient for the next book in the series.

Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade (ARC) (4 stars) – Second-chance romance has always been my least favorite romance trope; I don’t like it when characters already have so much past and backstory that the reader isn’t included in, as it feels like we don’t get to know them as much as couples that meet for the first time on-page. However, the structure of Ship Wrecked made this much less of an issue, since we start with our main couple’s first meeting and understand their relationship dynamic by checking in on them at various points during the years they spend together in an isolated filming location. From there, we then get to see their dynamic develop all the way from one night stand to hurt feelings to strong friendship into eventual love. If this was a standalone, the second-chance romance aspect might have dissuaded me from picking it up, but since it’s the third book in a series I really love (that focuses on the actors starring in a Game of Thrones-esque show, and features fat main characters), I was more than willing to give it a chance. And I’m so glad, because I would have really missed out on an emotional, funny, and enjoyable read if I hadn’t. My favorite parts of this book were probably where we got to see glimpses of characters from past books, particularly in the Gods of the Gates cast group chat; I also loved confident, complex Maria as a main character.

I received an ARC of Ship Wrecked from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Holiday Trap by Roan Parrish (4 stars) – A cute, queer retelling of the movie The Holiday (which happens to be my favorite holiday movie, I think) in which two discontented people swap houses and find love (and themselves) in New Orleans and Maine (two favorite places I’ve visited!). In addition to the romances, there are plenty of discussions about family dynamics, setting boundaries, and self-discovery. Both Hanukkah and Christmas are featured, although I don’t feel that the book was as holiday-centric as I’d expected (in a good way). I also really liked both featured audio narrators, as they did a good job bringing a large cast of characters to life.

Check Your Work by Skye Kilaen (4 stars) – I continue to love this sweet, LGBTQIA+ contemporary romance series centered around an inclusive coffee shop in Austin, Texas. Since I’m bi, I often gravitate towards romances featuring bi main characters, but this might be the first romance novel I’ve read that features an M/F couple where both main characters are bi. (It seems like I had to have read one previously, but I can’t think of any! And now I want to read more.) This novella features a fake dating scenario between a math teacher and a programmer with a twelve-year age gap who have each had an unrequited crush on the other for years, and their dynamic is sweet and thoughtful even though at times I was internally begging them to just communicate and tell each other that their feelings for each other were very real. I plan to hopefully dive into Skye Kilaen’s backlist in the next year, but I’m also hoping that she continues this series.

Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match by Sally Thorne (4 stars) – Sally Thorne’s newest release seems to be very unpopular among her fans, and although I do understand why, I personally really enjoyed it. This book is undeniably strange and clearly a risk for Thorne, with quite a departure from her previous insular contemporary romance releases; it’s historical science fiction romance as well as a retelling of a classic novel. It’s often very tongue-in-cheek and hilarious, but its humor is definitely darker than Thorne’s past works, and I think that this as well as its macabre premise was very off-putting for many readers. Its main character is undeniably flawed–Angelika is selfish, privileged, and intelligent although oblivious to common sense as well as the emotions of those around her–and although she grows quite a bit over the course of the novel, it’s understandable that most people would find her unlikable, because she’s supposed to be. Personally, I love a flawed female main character, and only found her a bit less humorous once she began to mature. It’s an odd story, one that I think benefits from not being taken too seriously, and is highlighted by a great performance by its audio narrator.

Paris Daillencourt is About to Crumble by Alexis Hall (3.75 stars) – After loving several of his releases over the past few years, I’ve unfortunately been having bad luck with Alexis Hall’s 2022 releases. This is far from my least favorite (that dubious honor goes to Husband Material, which I still regret reading), but I went in with high expectations due to loving Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake so much and was unfortunately a bit disappointed. I have anxiety myself, and I found parts of this book difficult to read, because Paris’s anxiety comprises the bulk of the book’s plot. While it at times rang true for me, I also felt that its depiction was too repetitive and its portrayal could be frustrating. The baking show premise was still fun to read about, and there were parts I did enjoy, but I think I just wish I liked this one a lot more than I did.

Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse (3.5 stars) – In my opinion, this novella was far from Rebecca Roanhorse’s strongest work, but I still enjoyed the worldbuilding. The ending surprised me, in a good way, and it made the story end on a much more interesting note than I’d expected.

The Serpent in Heaven by Charlaine Harris (3.5 stars) -In the first three books in Charlaine Harris’s alternate history fantasy Western Gunnie Rose series, our main character is gunslinger Lizbeth, but the perspective shifts to her younger sister Felicia in this fourth installment. I was glad for the change of pace, as Lizbeth’s story seemed settled by the end of book 3, and Felicia is an interesting narrator to follow. She’s young, but jaded by an extremely difficult childhood, and is learning to adapt to a very new set of circumstances while discovering more about herself and her magic. I enjoyed the audio narration as well.

October Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats

Total books read: 8

ARCs: 1

2022 releases: 5

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats

Total books read: 11

2022 releases: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August Reading Wrap-Up

 

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

Stats

Total books read: 13

2022 releases: 9

Review copies: 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats

Total books read: 11

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 3

2022 releases: 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bout of Books TBR!

Grab button for Bout of Books

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

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

Possible physical TBR books:

Yerba BuenaHigh Times in the Low ParliamentIn the Shadow GardenBliss Montage

Possible audio TBR:

Lessons in ChemistryThe Romance RecipeMy Mechanical Romance

 

 

 

June Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats

Total books read: 11

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

ARCs: 2

2022 releases: 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2022 Reading Goals Check-In

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

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

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

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

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

Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer

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

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