Tag Archives: book review

October Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats:

Total books read: 9

ARCs: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Audiobooks: 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September Reading Wrap-Up

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

Total books read: 10

ARCs/review copies: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

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

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

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard (4.5 stars) – A collection of short stories (and one novella) centered around contemporary feminist retellings of myths and lore, which I absolutely loved. Some of the stories were 5 stars and some were 4 stars, which is why I’ve settled on 4.5 stars. Kat Howard has a style that’s lyrical and fabulist yet very approachable, and I’d recommend her work to both fantasy and fabulism fans. My favorite piece was the novella, Once, Future, which is a modern-day King Arthur retelling set on a college campus that also ruminates on the enduring power of myth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June Reading Wrap-Up

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

Reading stats

Books finished: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May Reading Wrap-Up!

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

May stats:

Total books read: 13 (!)

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 2

ARCs/review copies: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April Reading Wrap-Up

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

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 8

ARCs/review copies: 1

ebooks: 1

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

Reviews & Ratings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

March Reading Wrap-Up

I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’m kind of on a roll with reading so far in 2021!

March was a fantastic reading month for me. I managed to finish 2 fairly long fantasy books (450+ pages), read 2 books from the Women’s Prize longlist, found a great new author who writes romance in several different genres, read a book that’s been on my shelves for at least 5+ years, and finished a book that will definitely be making my favorites of the year list. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Stats:

Total books read: 9

Audiobooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

And Again by Jessica ChiarellaTranscendent Kingdom by Yaa GyasiFables & Other Lies by Claire ContrerasBlack Sun by Rebecca RoanhorseExciting Times by Naoise DolanDead Blondes and Bad Mothers by Sady DoyleAcross the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuireHarrow the Ninth by Tamsyn MuirThe Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (5 stars) – I haven’t been gravitating as much towards epic fantasy in the past few years the way that I used to, but Black Sun reminded me of everything I loved about the genre. The worldbuilding is intricate and extremely well-crafted; the setting is inspired by the civilizations of the pre-Columbian Americas but is completely unique. We’re following four main characters in shifting perspectives who seem to be set on a collision course centered around the upcoming eclipse and Winter Solstice in Tova, the city that’s the religious center of loosely allied lands in what seems to be a tenuous peace. I was equally interested in the storylines of Xiala, a ship captain with magical singing powers who is ferrying a mysterious young man who thinks he’ll find his destiny in Tova, and the Sun Priest of Tova, who is fighting conspiracies and popular opinion shifting against her that seems to be centered around the mysterious Carrion Crow people. Compelling is a word that gets thrown around a lot to describe books, but it’s very apt in this case. The pacing is extremely well done, with no slow moments, with the multiple perspectives contributing to this. I loved this one and already can’t wait for the sequel.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (4.25 stars) – This book is a thoughtful, introspective work that delves into conflicts between science and religion, but is also the very personal story of a young neuroscientist mourning the loss of her brother to a heroin overdose and trying to help her mother manage her severe depression. The timeline constantly shifts between adult Gifty as a PhD candidate researching the causes of addiction and attempting to find a cure for the same and her childhood growing up in a very religious household, where we learn why Gifty is drawn to the research she is doing and how her family has shaped her present. It’s beautifully written and a very worthwhile read; the audiobook is narrated by Bahni Turpin, my favorite narrator, and is extremely well done. It’s clear why this was nominated for the Women’s Prize, and it seems like a strong contender to win.

Fables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras (4 stars) – I’m not going to lie, I was drawn to Fables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras because of its gorgeous cover, and once I heard that it was a Gothic romance I was completely on board. Penelope is reluctantly returning home to Pan Island for her father’s funeral and quickly finds herself enmeshed in the island’s mythology and legends that she’d thought she’d escaped. She also finds herself catching the eye of River, the mysterious heir to the family that’s the legendary rival of hers–a family rumored to be cursed. I loved the mystery and supernatural elements that are essential to this book; there was the perfect amount of twists and suspense enmeshed with the romance. It ends up feeling like a modern, fantastical Gothic romance that’s very grounded in its sense of place. More than anything, this was just a joy to read; I enjoyed myself throughout, and never doubted that the author would take the story where it needed to go. The writing style is more spare and may not work well for every reader, but I loved it enough to immediately purchase another Claire Contreras book after I finished this one. Fantasy romance and/or PNR readers should definitely check this one out.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (4 stars) – This was the fourth longlisted nominee for the Women’s Prize that I’ve picked up. I found it funny and incisive, although its title belies a very introspective and uneventful tale. Ava is a young Irish woman who moves to Hong Kong to teach English and in search of something new, and she’s drawn to two different people while there: Julian, a British banker, and Edith, a lawyer with roots in Hong Kong. I particularly enjoyed the book’s exploration of women’s rights in Ireland and its discussions about bisexuality. I did feel that it reads like a debut novel, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–it’s very much coming-of-age and self-exploration-focused. Its quiet nature means it may not be for everyone, but I quite enjoyed the read and will be looking for what Dolan does next.

And Again by Jessica Chiarella (4 stars) – a novel with a science fiction-inspired premise but an entirely character-driven narrative. It’s set in the approximate present or very-near future, with the caveat that the U.N. has made an exception to the ban on human cloning, for medical purposes only. We meet the four people involved in the first phase of the clinical trial that clones a terminally ill patient, rapidly ages the clone to the patient’s age, and then transfers a part of the patient’s brain into the cloned body, so that the patient awakens in a new, healthy body, but ostensibly can retain their memories and personality. We see the emotional fallout, both positive and negative, from the perspectives of Connie, a former soap star determined to return to the acting world; David, a Republican congressman whose constituents would be furious if they knew he was part of a treatment involving human cloning; Hannah, an artist who felt like she was losing her sense of self even before the transfer; and Linda, a fan of Connie’s soap who struggles to feel like a part of her family. At the beginning, I was favoring certain characters’ chapters over others, but before long I was equally invested in all four stories. I really enjoyed delving into their interactions in group therapy and their transfers’ ramifications on their lives; the only part of the book I wasn’t a huge fan of was the ending.

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (4 stars) – I think I set myself up with impossible expectations for Harrow the Ninth, since Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth has become one of my all-time favorite SFF novels and is a book I find myself thinking about frequently. It’s not that I didn’t like Harrow, it’s just that, for me, I didn’t love it nearly as much as Gideon. I really struggled with its pacing and repetitiveness; I thought that the book could have accomplished the same things more concisely and with more impact. That being said, I’m very excited with where things left off heading into the third book, Alecto the Ninth, which is set to come out in 2022.

Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy, and the Fear of Female Power by Sady Doyle (4 stars) – Doyle uses historical  and true crime examples as well as digressions into horror and fiction to talk about the portrayal of women as monsters, and how this at times can either challenge or reinforce the structure of patriarchy. If you enjoyed her previous book Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why, Dead Blondes acts as a solid follow-up to her combination of sociological discussion intermingled with pop culture and feminist history. Of the two, I probably preferred Trainwreck, but I thought that this book provided a lot of interesting discussion and analysis.

The Simple Wild by K. A. Tucker (3 stars) – This book was frustrating to me because I thought it was well-written and I loved the atmospheric Alaska setting, but I absolutely HATED the love interest and the romance storyline as a whole (which isn’t great, since it’s technically a contemporary romance). It’s never good when you finish a romance book and think, hm, that would have been a really great book if the romance part didn’t exist. I just don’t get the appeal of a love interest who treats the protagonist in a demeaning and frankly misogynistic manner for the entire book, lies to her, steals from her, etc. It was honestly pretty disgusting, but the quality of the writing really saved this one from a much lower rating from me. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it, though.

Across the Green-Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire (3 stars) – Unfortunately, this was by far my least favorite book in the Wayward Children series so far. It felt uneventful and incomplete, with the characters lacking the depth explored in previous books’ protagonists. I’ve overall loved this portal fantasy YA series featuring doors that lead children to other worlds somehow perfect and challenging for them, and sometimes rejecting them to unite at a school for those who have been to other worlds, and I plan to continue with it, but this entry was very much a miss for me.

Feb Reading Wrap-Up!

I had a great reading month in Feb! I managed to read a ton of fantastic books, several of which I suspect will be appearing on various end-of-the-year favorites lists, and finished 2 books from my Top 10 2021 TBR, which also both happened to be books that have been on my TBR shelf for several years. I read a LOT of nonfiction, but also some SFF and short stories.

Stats:

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 3

Mediocre by Ijeoma OluoAct Like It by Lucy ParkerWhite Rage by Carol AndersonLegendborn by Tracy DeonnFates and Furies by Lauren GroffThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah JohnsonHow to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. KendiWhat Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen OyeyemiWeird but Normal by Mia Mercado

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (5 stars) – I’m sometimes leery of the hype surrounding new releases, but in Legendborn’s case, it’s completely deserved. We’re following Bree, who’s starting an early college program at UNC-Chapel Hill with her best friend Alice after losing her mother a few months ago. Bree has been feeling fractured and like she has to hide her true feelings after her mother’s death, and then her world is rocked again when she discovers a secret society of warriors and mages who are the living descendants and heirs of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. Bree soon suspects that magic and the society may have been involved in her mother’s death, and finds herself entering into a tournament to obtain a place in the society in order to better investigate, while she simultaneously learns she may have a different power of her own.

Legendborn is the best YA book I’ve read in years. Bree is a determined main character who’s dealing with so much, and the plot never drags for so much as a chapter. The worldbuilding is unique and complex, and but in addition to the magic and action, the book focuses on addressing issues of racism, grief, and intergenerational trauma. I’d highly recommend this if you’re looking for a book to get lost in.

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo (5 stars) – An excellent nonfiction book that I listened to on audiobook. Oluo uses examples from throughout American history (some recent, some not) to discuss how the ideology that contemporary Trump supporters rally around has been present throughout, just in slightly different clothing. It’s very informative but completely accessible; I felt like I learned so much that gets glossed over in most historical narratives. It’s a hard book to summarize because it discusses so much, but it’s definitely one I’d recommend to everyone. It somehow manages to be both concise and thorough in its account of how racism and misogyny has shaped American history and its policies.

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (4.25 stars) – I haven’t gravitated towards science fiction in awhile, but I picked up The Space Between Worlds on a whim due to insomnia one night, since the audiobook was available from my library and read by one of my favorite audio narrators, Nicole Lewis, who also narrates Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I was instantly drawn into the concept–in a world where the multiverse theory has been proven and is now being exploited for data and resource collection, Cara is a Traverser, able to travel to different versions of Earth on behalf of a company with questionable motives. There’s a catch, though–you can only travel to worlds where the version of you on that world is dead, and the reason Cara is such a valuable Traverser is that she’s died on almost all of the other Earths. Scientists and wealthy employees of the company aren’t able to travel within the multiverse because they’ve lived safe, privileged lives, whereas people like Cara grew up expendable, and on many worlds never grew up at all. Because of this, Cara is a scrappy, compelling main character determined to keep this version of herself alive.

This book has a lot of different elements that I loved, including a Mad Max:Fury Road-esque city; a suspicious tech company; interesting family dynamics; and compelling romantic storylines. Being able to see different versions of characters in different worlds was something I loved and didn’t know I needed; I also loved the writing style and the themes explored in this book.

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson (4.5 stars) – A fairly short nonfiction book about the history of racism in the U.S., but one that is incredibly informative and packed with crucial information that hasn’t been highlighted nearly as much as it should be. It’s a book I think everyone needs to read and learn from; I mainly listened to the audiobook which is narrated by the author.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (4.5 stars) – I wasn’t aware when I picked this book up that it not only encompasses sociological discussion of racism and antiracism, but is also part memoir, with Kendi recounting various times he either exhibited or witnessed racist or antiracist behaviors in his life. I thought that the addition of these sections made it even more powerful; the last chapter in particular hits especially hard. It’s an extremely valuable book that I recommend everyone pick up; it’s told in short chapters that discuss different aspects of racism and antiracism.

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (4 stars) – The stories in Helen Oyeyemi’s What is Not Yours is Not Yours are connected by the recurring motif of keys and also by a few recurring characters. Many of them have fabulist elements, which is something I’m always drawn to in short stories, and they often contain stories within stories that don’t seem to relate to each other at first but then blend beautifully by the end. My favorites in the collection were “‘sorry’ doesn’t sweeten her tea,” about a man trying to help his stepdaughter deal with the revelation that her musical crush is facing a MeToo allegation, and “is your blood as red as this?” about aspiring puppeteers and their very strange puppets. Although Oyeyemi’s writing is consistently great throughout, some of the stories grabbed me much more than others.

Act Like It by Lucy Parker (3.5 stars) – This is the first book in Parker’s London Celebrities series, a contemporary romance series centered around the theater world of London’s West End, but it’s actually the third book in the series I’ve read (I previously read books 4 and 5, The Austen Playbook and Headliners, both of which I loved). This time we’re doing the fake dating trope between likable actress Lainey and notoriously grumpy actor Richard. As with previous books, I loved the setting, side characters, and world in this one, but I did overall enjoy it slightly less than the other books in the series so far. The two main characters seemed a bit less well-developed than couples in books 4 and 5, and although I did like both of them, it caused the book to have a bit less emotional resonance for me. I’m still really looking forward to moving forward with book 2, Pretty Face, probably sometime in the next few months. (I’m not so sure about book 3, Making Up, since it involves the circus and I really hate anything circus-related.)

Weird But Normal by Mia Mercado (3 stars) – a debut essay collection that was fun at times but not a standout for me. My favorite essays dealt with millennial childhood nostalgia, mental health, and Mercado’s discussions of growing up biracial in the Midwest; the second half of the collection was much less successful for me, and many of the pieces included felt unnecessary.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (2.5 stars ) – I’ve been struggling as to how to rate and review this book, since my feelings about it have been a bit of a rollercoaster. The premise is simple: it’s the story of a marriage, with the first half of the book told from the husband’s perspective and the second half from the wife’s; we know going in that the husband, Lotto, becomes a famous playwright, supported by his wife, Mathilde. I started out hating the book, in part due to my strong dislike for its main character, Lotto, and almost DNF’d it. I kept going because there were certain elements of the writing that I did like, and then I started to enjoy the book a lot more when Lotto and Mathilde got together and the author showed the passage of time in a really interesting way, by showing scenes and snapshots of the parties they held in their first apartment over the years with a cast of friends. The prose can be beautiful at times, but is often pretentious and overwrought, but the parts I liked kept me interested through the parts I didn’t. I was determined to make it to the perspective shift, since I really wanted to see what the author would reveal, but I ended up more disappointed than not with the last section; there were certain plot points that I did appreciate the author shining a light on, but it was more anticlimactic than expected, and I found the ending itself to be somewhat of a letdown. I can completely understand why there are people who love this book, and also why there are many who hate it; its characters are determinedly unlikable, and its prose definitely isn’t for everyone, but there are things that the author does very well. For me, it was neither great nor terrible. While I did find it interesting, and I don’t think I regret reading it, I also don’t think I’d be missing anything if I’d skipped it, because when I add up the elements I did and really didn’t like, I’m left with a feeling that for me, the book was just OK. (I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Fates and Furies has a really absurd amount of fat-shaming. It’s present both in explicit statements from characters and the omnipotent narrator and also implicitly, with its only fat characters presented as the book’s biggest villains. It’s something that really takes away from the story, and I think readers should be aware.)

January Reading Wrap-Up

I started out my reading year strong with a whole bunch of compelling reads and a much more prolific reading month than I’d expected. I managed to kick off my Top 10 2021 TBR/5-star predictions list with my first 5-star read of 2021; caught up on several books that I’d meant to pick up as 2020 was winding down; and finished 2 NetGalley eARCs from my list. Let’s check out some stats and reviews:

Total books read: 10

ARCs: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Such a Fun AgeFirst Comes Like by Alisha RaiA Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. MaasHeadliners by Lucy ParkerA Rogue of One's Own by Evie DunmoreWhite Ivy by Susie YangDo You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa DareThe Russian Cage by Charlaine HarrisThe Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle EvansDon't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (5 stars) – My first 5-star read of 2021! I picked up this short story collection after I saw that it was highly recommended by Roxane Gay, one of my favorite writers, and found it to be fantastically, skillfully crafted throughout. The stories in this collection are all very distinct, although many of them focus on themes of racism and all contain extremely compelling characters. It’s difficult to choose favorites within the collection, but if I had to choose, I’d highlight “Happily Ever After,” which focuses on a woman working in the gift shop of a Titanic replica museum; “Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain,” which follows a reluctant guest at a wedding that gets unexpectedly derailed; and of course the title novella, “The Office of Historical Corrections,” which discusses misinformation and racism throughout American history. I can’t recommend this one highly enough; any short story fans should immediately pick it up.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (re-read) (4.5 stars) – I kicked off my intended re-read of the ACOTAR series in January, and ended up enjoying the first book even more this time around.

White Ivy by Susie Yang (4 stars) – This was a fantastic debut novel. I loved its twists, its “unlikable” main character, and its smart subversions of expectations. We’re following Ivy, who is taught to steal by her grandmother at a young age, and who falls for the golden boy at school, Gideon, who’s from an old money New England family. We then flash forward to an adult Ivy determined to make an adult Gideon fall for her–and to become a part of the world he represents. I was hooked early on by the premise and the compelling style, and this book continually surprised me.

A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore (4 stars) – The second book in Dunmore’s League of Extraordinary Women historical romance series, which revolves around a group of suffragist friends fighting for womens’ rights in late 1800s England. I continue to love Dunmore’s writing style and her passionate activist female protagonists, and I really liked the relationship dynamic between suffragist leader Lucie and rake/poet/war veteran Tristan in this book. I can’t wait for the next book in September, which is set to focus on banking heiress Hattie and shady businessman Lucian Blackstone.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane (4 stars) – Mhairi McFarlane is becoming one of my favorite contemporary romance authors. Both books of hers that I’ve read have been extremely well-written and contain a lot of heart; her main characters are so lovable and are dealing with a lot. In this one, protagonist Georgina gets unfairly fired from her waitressing job and walks in on her boyfriend cheating on her on the same day. She’s facing a lot of judgment from her family, who feel that at 30 she should be further along in her career and/or romantic life, and she falls into a new job at a bar that turns out to be co-owned by her high school boyfriend, whom she’s really never stopped carrying a torch for. It’s a sweet romance that’s also really a story about Georgie finding herself and standing up for herself, and I can’t wait to read more from this author.

First Comes Like by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – You can read my full review for this fun contemporary romance featuring a beauty YouTuber and great family and friendship dynamics here. (I received an eARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (4 stars) – It took me a little while to fully get into this story, but once I was past the first big twist, I was hooked and couldn’t stop reading until I’d finished it. I can see this making a really great movie someday; the dialogue felt very authentic, and it had thoughtful discussions and portrayal of racism throughout.

Headliners by Lucy Parker (4 stars) – Another great installment in Parker’s London Celebrities series; I liked this one just as much as the only other book in the series I’ve read, The Austen Playbook. Parker is great at setting up chemistry, and the enemies-to-lovers dynamic was very well done. Sabrina and Nick, rival TV presenters, are forced to work together due to a company merger and for the sake of ratings, and hijinks quickly ensue. Their relationship evolution is well-paced and believable, and I liked both of them more and more as they began to fall for each other. I’m looking forward to going back and reading the first few books in this series, since I sort of skipped to the fourth and fifth, and I hope that even more books come out in future.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare (3.5 stars) – A historical romance with a bit of mystery, featuring a diplomat/spy marquess and a young woman with an undeservedly bad reputation. I loved the premise of this book, which involves the protagonists attempting to discover the identity of a pair of mystery lovers at a country retreat to prevent being forced into an engagement for the sake of propriety, and I overall did like both main characters as well. However, the plot stagnated for a good portion of the book, and I didn’t love it quite as much as some of Dare’s other works.

The Russian Cage by Charlaine Harris (3.5 stars) – This is the third book in Harris’s Gunnie Rose series, which is a unique combination of alternate history, fantasy, and Western . Set in the 1930s, the U.S. has been fractured into pieces, with East Coast Brittania realigning with England, the South becoming independent Dixie, Texas and Oklahoma forming Texoma, where our protagonist Lizbeth Rose lives, and California and Oregon becoming the Holy Russian Empire, ruled over by the escaped royal Romanov family. In The Russian Cage, we’re finally getting a glimpse of the mysterious Holy Russian Empire (HRE) when Lizbeth rushes there to help her love interest, Eli, who’s been imprisoned under murky circumstances. Lizbeth remains a pragmatic, antisocial, capable main character who you can’t help but like and root for; I loved that we got a lot more interaction between her and her younger sister in this installment. I continue to be fascinated by Harris’s worldbuilding and the sharp contrasts between the places we visit in each book. I did, however, feel that the writing in this one wasn’t as strong as in some of Harris’s previous books, and the ending left me wondering where the plot will be going in future books. I received an eARC of The Russian Cage from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: First Comes Like by Alisha Rai

First Comes Like (Modern Love, #3)

First Comes Like by Alisha Rai (Modern Love #3)

Genre: contemporary romance

Release date: 2/16/21

Rating: 4 stars

First Comes Like is a book I’ve been anxiously awaiting for a very long time. We first meet its protagonist Jia in Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series as the younger sister of past protagonist Sadia who’s determined to forge her own path by leaving medical school to dedicate herself to her true passion. Jia is a beauty influencer with a YouTube channel and a large dedicated fanbase–she’s passionate about makeup and skincare, and dreams of one day owning her own makeup company. She’s a creative and charismatic character, and I’m so glad that she finally got her own story, after being featured as a side character in not only the Forbidden Hearts series but also the first two books of the Modern Love series. Although I’m fairly terrible at makeup, I enjoy watching beauty Youtubers, and I thought it was so much fun to have one as the main character in a romance novel–we get to see behind the scenes of what Jia’s process is like and watch her struggle with a creative rut and fears that she’s out of touch as an “older” influencer, and also see what some of her past content has looked like.

Like the previous two books in Rai’s Modern Love series, First Comes Like deals with a modern dating conundrum–catfishing. (The Right Swipe was focused around ghosting, while Girl Gone Viral featured, well, going viral.) Jia thinks she’s been talking to famous Indian actor Dev through his verified account, but when she finally tries to meet him in person, she realizes that he has no idea who she is–she’s never actually spoken with him in the first place. Nevertheless, Dev is intrigued by Jia, and after a rocky start the two begin a whirlwind and very sweet fake relationship that quickly turns into real feelings.

Everything I love about Alisha Rai was present in First Comes Like: a badass female protagonist, a strong friendship group that supports one another, complex and interesting family dynamics. I did find Jia a more compelling character than Dev, who has a quieter and less forceful personality, but I really liked their interactions and their eventual HEA. This is a great series that contemporary romance fans absolutely need to check out if they haven’t already, and I can’t wait to see what Alisha Rai comes out with next.

 

I received an eARC of First Comes Like from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

December Reading Wrap-Up

I had a stellar reading month in December! I ended up reading a lot more than I thought I would, especially considering the fact that I felt mired in a reading slump early in the month, and read several new favorites. My reading this month ended up having several unintentional themes: I read a bunch of books with blue covers, contemporary romance with the fake dating trope, and books that were almost exactly 400 pages long.

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Audiobooks: 2

Ready Player Two by Ernest ClineBoyfriend Material by Alexis HallIf I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlaneA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth OzekiI Want To Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel BloomA Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. MaasWritten in the Stars by Alexandria BellefleurThe Austen Playbook by Lucy ParkerRadiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (5 stars) – Yet another incredible read from Catherynne M. Valente. All of her books are so different in genre and concepts, but all are so beautifully and intricately written and rich with metaphors. Radiance is genre-bending, but it’s sort of a fantastical alternate-history science fiction that pays homage to classic filmmaking and tells its story through an alternative format made up of journal entries, radio broadcasts, scripts and film transcriptions, and gossip columns, among other things. It’s incredible, beautiful, and an experience to read. Highly, highly recommend.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (4.5 stars) – My favorite contemporary romance of the year! A really well-written, character-driven fake dating/enemies-to-lovers romance set in London. I listened to this on audiobook and absolutely loved the narration; the book is at times both hilarious and touching and makes you empathize so much with its main characters. I’ll definitely be picking up more from Alexis Hall in the future.

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane (4 stars) – This was a surprise addition to my list of favorite romance reads of the year. I wasn’t previously familiar with the book’s plot or with this author, but I quickly became a huge fan of the main character, Laurie, and rooted for her when her boyfriend since the age of 18 broke up with her out of the blue and upended her life. A work colleague, Jamie, at the firm where she and her ex both work proposes that they pretend to date each other both to make her ex jealous and to help Jamie advance in his career, and it develops into a very real friendship which slowly becomes something more. The main characters had great chemistry, but their friendship was very genuine and sweet as well. I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur (4 stars) – A sweet contemporary romance set in Seattle and featuring an opposites-attract, fake dating relationship that ends up becoming very genuine and real. Elle is an astrologer and the creator of a popular social media account called Oh My Stars who begins collaborating with a dating site to help them refine their algorithm based on astrology; Darcy is the straight-laced, reserved actuary and brother of the dating site founder who’s set up with Elle on a blind date. Although their initial meeting is disastrous, Darcy proposes that the two pretend to date so that she can stop the endless stream of setups from her well-intentioned brother. I loved the nerdy elements and references scattered throughout the book, as well as the really adorable relationship that develops as Darcy and Elle get to know each other better.

I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker (4 stars) – This was a really fun contemporary romance set in the theater world of London’s West End and centered around the production of an Austen-based murder-mystery live performance, but there’s also a real-life mystery surrounding the ancestors of the main characters. Freddy is a fun, optimistic actress who finds herself unexpectedly falling for grumpy and intimidating theater critic Griff, who falls for her right back. I loved their dynamic, the side characters, and the well-written and tightly plotted story. I’ll definitely be picking up more from Lucy Parker; this is the first book I’ve read from her, but it’s actually the fourth book in her London Celebrities series (although it can totally be read as a standalone!)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (3.5 stars) – One of the last books on my top 10 TBR for 2020, A Tale for the Time Being ended up being a bit of a miss for me. Its dual narrative resulted in me caring far more about one main character than the other, and I felt that the story dragged a lot in parts. There were some elements that I did find really interesting, but it never quite came together as a whole for me the way that I wanted it to.

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas (re-read) (3.5 stars) – I absolutely can’t wait for A Court of Silver Flames, which comes out in Feb, and I’d realized that I’d forgotten what had happened in this novella that takes place between that book and A Court of Wings and Ruin. This is definitely not the most eventful book in the series, nor is it my favorite, but I did enjoy the re-read regardless.

I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom (3.5 stars) – I absolutely loved Bloom’s musical show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and two of my friends highly recommended I pick up her memoir/essay collection as well. Bloom’s writing is funny and relatable, and there’s some really great discussion about mental health, but I wouldn’t say that I loved this one.

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline (2.5 stars) – A disappointing follow-up to Cline’s enjoyable and action-packed Ready Player One. The sequel is slower-paced and the action doesn’t really start until about 1/3 of the way into the book, and it lacks the competitiveness and panache of its predecessor. It felt unnecessary and frustrating, with its references forced rather than fun.