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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.

Book Recs for Pride & Prejudice Fans!

 

Pride and Prejudice

This recommendation post is for a specific kind of reader in a specific kind of mood: fans of Pride & Prejudice who are looking for a similar enough but still new-to-them story to evoke the same kinds of vibes they get from the Austen classic. Maybe you’ve already seen both versions of Pride & Prejudice (the Keira Knightley version and the Colin Firth version); maybe you’ve also already seen Bride & Prejudice, the Bollywood retelling (which I recommend if you haven’t!) and the extremely fun YouTube series the Lizzie Bennett Diaries (again, definitely recommend if you haven’t yet!). Maybe you’ve also already read and/or seen the movie version of Austenland (personally, I didn’t love the book, but I think the movie with Keri Russell is really fun). And now you want to read something Pride and Prejudice-esque, but without re-reading the classic version. In that case, here are some books I’ve read and enjoyed that I’d recommend you check out!

 

Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women, #1)

Why P&P fans will like it: Hero is an aloof, intimidating figure; smart, opinionated heroine; class/rank differences between hero and heroine; awkward first meeting; historical romance set in 1879 England

What it’s about: Annabelle, a woman of a lower social rank, is drawn into the suffragist movement after she becomes one of Oxford’s first female students. She finds herself perpetually thrown into the path of the Duke of Montgomery, a powerful political influencer, and draws him to her side politically while she finds herself falling for him.

 

The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities, #4)

Why P&P fans will like it: Tons of Austen references, since the story is set against the production of an Austen mash-up murder mystery play; heroine overhears hero disparaging her at the beginning of the book; grumpy/sunshine romance

What it’s about: London theater star Freddy takes a role in a production of The Austen Playbook, a choose-your-own ending murder mystery production involving Austen’s most popular characters. Unfortunately, the production is being staged at the ancestral home of highbrow and savage theater critic Griff who, despite his prickliness and scary reputation to the theater community, Freddy finds herself attracted to. The two work to solve a mystery while simultaneously saving the production and also Griff’s home, which is in financial danger.

 

Written in the Stars

Why P&P fans will like it: Not exactly a retelling, but very much inspired by P&P; one heroine is named Darcy and is very much a Mr. Darcy-esque character; grumpy/sunshine; very awkward first meeting and bad first impressions

What it’s about: Astrologist Elle finds herself roped into a fake dating scheme with brilliant, aloof actuary Darcy when Darcy’s younger brother and Elle’s new business partner sets them up.

 

Battle Royal (Palace Insiders #1)

Why P&P fans will like it: grumpy/sunshine; bad first impressions; set in England

What it’s about: Dueling bakery owners are also new co-judges on a Great British Baking Show-esque competition show while simultaneously dueling for a wedding cake contract for the royal family.

 

Act Your Age, Eve Brown (The Brown Sisters, #3)

Why P&P fans will like it: enemies-to-lovers, grumpy/sunshine, bad first impressions

What it’s about: Youngest sister Eve has never truly found a career right for her, and she accidentally stumbles into a disastrous job interview in which she hits her interviewer, grumpy B&B owner Jacob, with her car and finds herself with a new chef job and a new crush.

 

A Certain Appeal

Why P&P fans will like it: P&P retelling set in the world of NYC burlesque

What it’s about: This one is straightforwardly a modern-day contemporary romance Price & Prejudice retelling, and I’m actually reading it at this very moment, which is what inspired this blog post. Liz Bennet is an aspiring interior designer hustling between her day job as an assistant and her weekend job as a burlesque assistant when she meets Darcy, an aloof financier and friend of Charles, a potential investor in her burlesque club.

 

The Hating Game

Why P&P fans will like it: enemies-to-lovers romance with secret pining

What it’s about: Probably the best-known book on this list, and with a movie about to come out as well, this is a workplace contemporary grumpy/sunshine romance between dueling assistants gunning for a promotion.

 

And here are a few books on my TBR that I hope will join the others on the list in the future:

Pride and Papercuts (The Austens, #5)The Spanish Love DeceptionDangerous Alliance: An Austentacious RomanceUnmarriageable

Pride & Papercuts by Staci Hart – contemporary retelling of P&P in an office setting

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas – recommended for fans of The Hating Game, with a fake dating storyline set during a wedding in Spain

Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen – historical romance/mystery featuring a heroine using Austen’s novels as a blueprint for navigating society

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal – modern-day contemporary romance retelling of P&P set in Pakistan

End of the Year Book Tag

I’m not going to lie, I’m freaking out a bit about the fact that there’s only 2 months left in 2021. Time moves very weirdly since Covid, and I’m having a hard time understanding where the year has gone and accepting that we’ll be starting a new one soon. As usual, I’m turning to books to help me with stress by doing the End of the Year book tag, which was created by Ariel Bissett. I’m also feeling indecisive about setting a November TBR, and I thought that this tag might help me better focus my reading for the next 2 months.

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

A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)Just Last Night

I keep being surprised that I haven’t finished either of these highly anticipated 2021 releases yet–I started both of them earlier this year and haven’t picked them back up despite meaning to multiple times. ACOSF in particular was possibly my most anticipated new release of the entire year, but when I started it I was having a hard time with protagonist Nesta, who was one of my least favorite characters from previous books. I just need to get over that and pick it back up, since I really do love this world and this series in general. I think the issue with Just Last Night was that it’s a sadder book than I’d anticipated, and I wasn’t in the right headspace when I first picked it up.

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

Payback's a Witch (The Witches of Thistle Grove, #1)The Wolf and the Woodsman

Although I technically meant to read these in October, I’m thinking that Payback’s a Witch (contemporary paranormal romance) and The Wolf and the Woodsman (fantasy) will make good November reads.

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

A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding, #1)Comfort Me With ApplesMurder Most Actual

There are only 3 2021 releases that I’m still awaiting: A Marvellous Light (historical fantasy romance), Comfort Me With Apples (suspense), and Murder Most Actual (mystery). Although, to be fair, with current supply chain issues it’s still possible that the release dates may change.

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

The Stone GodsAll the Birds, SingingWhen the Moon Was OursOut Front the Following Sea

I still have 3 of my Top 10 2021 reads left to get through before year end, and one ARC that comes out at the beginning of January that I think I’d regret not reading in December so that I can finish before its release date.

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

Light from Uncommon StarsAll's Well

These two 2021 releases are both really calling to me, and I’d love to pick them up before the end of the year because I think I could really love them.

Have you already started making reading plans for 2022?

Bloodmarked (The Legendborn Cycle #2)Fevered Star (Between Earth and Sky, #2)House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City, #2)Husband Material (Boyfriend Material, #2)

I’ve been thinking about it! It all depends on what I manage to read in November (particularly if I’m doing NaNoWriMo, which I’m still undecided about) and December, but there are already a bunch of 2022 releases I’m really excited about. Working on a post featuring those as we speak!

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon Wrap-Up

That’s a wrap on another round of Dewey’s! I had a great day reading, and I think it really helped me to de-stress a bit.

Dewey’s Closing Survey:

  1. How would you assess your reading overall?

I’m really happy with the amount of reading I got done during the readathon, and I’m even happier about the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed everything that I read.

I finished 3 books (technically 2 novellas and one novel) during the readathon, all of which I really liked and rated 4 stars:

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. HarrowOnce There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghyThis Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar

I also read from but didn’t finish 2 other books (one audiobook and one physical book):

The Anthropocene ReviewedThe Heart Principle (The Kiss Quotient, #3)

Overall, I read a total of 623 pages and listened to 2.5 hours of audio.

2. Did you have a strategy, and if so, did you stick to it?

I did! I had this idea of starting and ending the readathon with novellas, and that definitely worked well for me.

3. What was your favorite snack?

I’d made tabbouleh the day before and enjoyed snacking on that during the readathon.

4. Did you add any new books to your TBR/wishlist after seeing what everyone else is reading?

I saw that another reader had We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry in their stack, a book on my October TBR that I didn’t pick up during the readathon, which reminded me that I really need to get started on that one!

5. What was your favorite book or experience from this readathon?

Although I gave all 3 of my finished reads from Dewey’s 4 stars, I’d have to say that my favorite was Once There Were Wolves. I thought that the writing was excellent, I really liked the environmentalism themes, and it kept me thoroughly intrigued the entire time reading. Also, even though I only read the first 50 pages of The Heart Principle, I am absolutely LOVING IT so far. I love Anna as a new protagonist and I just find her chapters feel so realistic and immersive in her experience.

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.

Summer TBR Smash-Up Readathon Recap

I decided to continue on with my reading tracking during the Summer TBR Smash-Up readathon this week, since I felt like I was on a roll after Bout of Books. Maybe 2 straight weeks of readathons will help me finish off strong in my August reading; maybe I’m just enjoying tracking my daily reading stats. Either way, let’s do it!

I had an unexpectedly insane week at work (not that work is ever not busy for me, but still) and I felt like tracking my reading helped keep me balanced in a way. During the weekend, I was thankfully able to catch up on some sleep, work out, see family, and read even more (although I read literally nothing on Sunday, oops). Let’s get into the stats!

Battle Royal (Palace Insiders #1)A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, #1)So We Meet AgainA Cathedral of Myth and Bone

Day 1

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: 84 pages of Battle Royal by Lucy Parker, 14 pages of A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Day 2

Books started: So We Meet Again by Suzanne Park

Books finished: Battle Royal, A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Pages read: 131 pages of Battle Royal, 75 pages of So We Meet Again, 107 pages of A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Day 3

Books started: A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard

Books finished: None

Pages read: 115 pages of So We Meet Again, 38 pages of A Cathedral of Myth and Bone

Day 4

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: 87 pages of So We Meet Again

People We Meet on VacationRestless Slumber (Fortuna Sworn, #2)

Day 5

Books started: People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry

Books finished: So We Meet Again

Pages read: 63 pages of So We Meet Again, 50 pages of People We Meet on Vacation, 60 pages of Restless Slumber

Day 6

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: 106 pages of People We Meet on Vacation, 32 pages of A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, 36 pages of Restless Slumber

Day 7

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: None

 

And here are my stats for the readathon as a whole:

Books finished: 3

Battle Royal by Lucy ParkerA Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky ChambersSo We Meet Again by Suzanne Park

Books read from, but not finished: 3

A Cathedral of Myth and BonePeople We Meet on VacationRestless Slumber (Fortuna Sworn, #2)

Total pages read: 998 (!)

 

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.

Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag!

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

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

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

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle EvansLegendborn by Tracy DeonnBlack Sun by Rebecca RoanhorseTender by Sofia SamatarWriters & Lovers by Lily KingPlain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Tied for best book of the year (so far) are all of my 5-star reads for the first half of 2021: The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (short story collection), Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (contemporary YA fantasy), Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (fantasy), Tender by Sofia Samatar (SFF short story collection), Writers & Lovers by Lily King (fiction), and Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth (horror).

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

Headliners by Lucy ParkerA Rogue of One's Own by Evie Dunmore

I know that romance series are more series in a looser sense of the word, but the truth remains that the only sequels I’ve loved so far this year have been in the romance genre. I really enjoyed Headliners by Lucy Parker, the 5th book in her contemporary romance London Celebrities series, and A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore, the 2nd book in her League of Extraordinary Women historical romance series.

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

A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)Act Your Age, Eve Brown (The Brown Sisters, #3)The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers, #4)People We Meet on Vacation

I’m kind of shocked that I haven’t finished ACOSF (fantasy) or Eve Brown (contemporary romance) yet, tbh. To be fair, I have started both, I just somehow haven’t finished them? And the newest Becky Chambers (science fiction) and Emily Henry (contemporary romance) books are high priority for the next half of 2021.

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

The Heart Principle (The Kiss Quotient, #3)Comfort Me With ApplesLight from Uncommon StarsAll's WellBattle Royal (Palace Insiders #1)A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding, #1)

SO MANY. I had a lot of trouble narrowing it down at all for this question, so I ended up with a top 6: The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang (contemporary romance), Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente (unknown genre), Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (science fiction), All’s Well by Mona Awad (fiction), Battle Royal by Lucy Parker (contemporary romance) and A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (fantasy).

5. Biggest disappointment

Fates and Furies by Lauren GroffAcross the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6)Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri ManiscalcoThe Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Probably the least fun question to answer. I felt let down by the hype surrounding Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff; less enamored by Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire than by any other book so far in the Wayward Children series; not a fan of the underdeveloped plot and characters of Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco; and frustrated by the poor decision-making of the characters of The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon.

6. Biggest surprise

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

I’ve been reading less and less YA in general, and YA fantasy in particular, over the years because I’ve been having a harder time finding favorites in the genre. That’s why even with the hype surrounding Legendborn I was blown away by how amazing it was! It honestly was so good that it’s managed to renew my faith in YA fantasy as a whole.

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

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah JohnsonWinter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellThe Body Myth by Rheea MukherjeeFables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras

3 of my answers for this one are stellar debut novels: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (science fiction), Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell (science fiction romance), and The Body Myth by Rheea Mukherjee (contemporary fiction), while one is from a new-to-me romance author, Fables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras (contemporary Gothic fantasy romance)

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

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat SebastianConventionally Yours by Annabeth AlbertOne Last Stop by Casey McQuistonNeon Gods by Katee Robert

Kit and Percy from The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian (historical romance), Conrad and Alden from Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert (contemporary romance), August and Jane from One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (contemporary romance) and Hades and Persephone from Neon Gods by Katee Robert (dark fantasy romance).

9. Newest favorite character

Blood Heir by Ilona AndrewsPlain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Ilona Andrews always gets me with character development. The Julie that we meet in Blood Heir is very different than the one that appeared as a young teen in the Kate Daniels series, but one that I’m absolutely loving as a badass protagonist in her own right. I also loved seeing past favorite characters from the series pop up in this book, which is the first book in Andrews’s newest follow-up series. And I also fell in love with the three heroines of Plain Bad Heroines, Audrey, Harper, and Merritt, who are all such fully realized characters who shine even more when they come in contact with each other on the page.

10. Book that made you cry

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi was so emotional and personal; I’d highly recommend it.

11. Book that made you happy

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis HallSecond First Impressions by Sally ThorneThe Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert

Romance reads seem to fit best for this category. 3 contemporary romances that were just a joy to read for me were Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne, and The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert.

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

LikesSudden TravelerFlyaway by Kathleen JenningsFor the Wolf (Wilderwood, #1)

These covers are all super gorgeous in different ways! (I went with books I haven’t already featured in past questions for this one.)

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

The Stone GodsAll the Birds, SingingThe Vanishing HalfHow the Blessed Live

So far, I’m exactly halfway done with my top 10 2021 TBR. So in the “need to read before the end of 2021” category, these 5 books are my priorities. (Although there are about a zillion others I really want to get to.)

Bonus question! Most-read authors of 2021 (so far): This is a stat I started tracking last year and I find it really fun. Interestingly, at the halfway point of 2021, I’ve only read multiple books from 2 authors. I’m very interested to see how much that changes in the second half of the year, particularly with several authors I’ve already read from putting out new releases.

Lucy Parker – 3

Headliners (London Celebrities, #5)Act Like It (London Celebrities, #1)Pretty Face (London Celebrities, #2)

Carol Anderson – 2

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial DivideOne Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy

 

 

If you’ve done this tag, please feel free to link to yours below! I love seeing everyone’s answers.

 

June TBR

Since it’s June, aka Pride Month, I’ve decided to focus on reading books featuring LGBTQIA+ authors and/or main characters. I’m really happy with the TBR stack that I’ve put together, but with my mood-reading tendencies and the many great books to choose from, who knows what will happen!

Books from my physical TBR shelf I’d love to get to:

The Weight of the StarsOne Last StopWhen the Moon Was OursPlain Bad HeroinesThe Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers, #4)Olympia Knife

2 of these are from my Top 10 2021 TBR (When the Moon was Ours and Plain Bad Heroines); 2 are highly anticipated 2021 releases (One Last Stop and the Becky Chambers).

Audiobooks/ebooks:

Detransition, BabySomebody's DaughterThe Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics (Feminine Pursuits, #1)

 

Are any of these on your list for June?