Tag Archives: book review

December Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats

Total books read: 8

Audiobooks: 2

ebooks: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

2022 releases: 6

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

Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats

Total books read: 10

2022 releases: 10

ARCs: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats

Total books read: 8

ARCs: 1

2022 releases: 5

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats

Total books read: 11

2022 releases: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August Reading Wrap-Up

 

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

Stats

Total books read: 13

2022 releases: 9

Review copies: 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats

Total books read: 11

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 3

2022 releases: 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats

Total books read: 11

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

ARCs: 2

2022 releases: 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats:

Total books read: 11

ARCs/review copies: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 8

2022 releases: 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April Reading Wrap-Up!

 

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

Stats

Total books read: 13(!)

ARCs/review copies: 2

Audiobooks: 3

#readmyowndamnbooks: 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats

Total books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Audiobooks: 3

ebooks: 2

Novellas: 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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