Tag Archives: book review

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.

 

 

Feb Reading Wrap-Up

My Feb reading involved several novellas, a healthy dose of romance, several scifi selections, and a new favorite for the year. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Stats

Total books read: 10

Novellas: 3

ARCs/review copies: 2

Audiobooks: 3

ebooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen CollinsWahala by Nikki MayUnder One Roof by Ali HazelwoodPortrait of a Scotsman by Evie DunmoreLight from Uncommon Stars by Ryka AokiMaking Up by Lucy ParkerSing Anyway by Anita KellyGet It Right (Love at Knockdown, #1)How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia NagamatsuSkye Falling by Mia McKenzie

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (5 stars) – I don’t always find book blurbs or comparison titles to be terribly accurate, but whoever decided to market Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki as Becky Chambers meets Good Omens knew what they were doing. This book combines the feelings of Chambers’ big-hearted scifi with the irreverent humor and unconventional demonic elements of Good Omens, but it also keeps itself grounded with a strong contemporary fiction storyline. Light From Uncommon Stars has so much that I look for in a book: it’s unique, creative, written in a way that’s engaging and immersive, and it has a lot of heart, anchored in its young trans violinist prodigy protagonist, Katrina. There’s a fantastical element–Katrina’s violin teacher is seeking to collect her soul–and scifi as well–the neighborhood donut shop is run by a family of intergalactic refugees–but the story still feels so grounded with emotion. It’s an endlessly imaginative book that’s also full of feelings, which is exactly what I want in a great read, and I highly, highly recommend it.

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (4.5 stars) – One of my reading goals for 2022 is to read more short story collections than I did last year, since they’re one of my favorite types of books to read. I’m already ahead of schedule after reading My Monticello last month (which is my favorite book I’ve read this year so far!) and now just having finished Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins, which I also ended up loving. The stories in this collection were written decades ago but not published as a collection until 2016. They’re thoughtful and poignant, with themes involving racism, colorism, and complex family and relationship dynamics present throughout. It’s a very short but impactful collection, and some of the stories actually gave me goosebumps. I did find some stories much stronger than others, which is why this was a 4.5 star read for me, and I’d highly recommend it.

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (4 stars) – It’s understandably taken me awhile to feel mentally prepared to read a book with any kind of post-apocalyptic or dystopian setting, let alone one featuring a pandemic. How High We Go in the Dark was my first return to this kind of literature, and it’s a take that I haven’t quite seen before. It’s told in a series of interconnected stories, many of which feature recurring characters and themes, that span a fairly contemporary setting during the awakening of what will come to be called the Arctic Plague to far in the future. For these reasons, I’ve seen it compared to Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven; I’d also throw in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles for a better idea of its structure. As a fan of short story collections, I liked that the story was told this way, but this also of course necessitates that some stories and characters will be more successful than others. The book opens with a beautifully written section that seamlessly combines climate change, family ties, and archaeology, and if every section had been like that one, this would have been a five-star read for me; unfortunately, I didn’t find every story to work quite as well. I think some readers may still be wary of picking up pandemic-related books, and if so, I’d definitely give this one a pass–although not every story is set during the Arctic Plague, many are, and some can be difficult emotionally. If this doesn’t bother you, I think that many fans of literary science fiction and short story collections will really appreciate How High We Go in the Dark.

I received a free copy of How High We Go in the Dark from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wahala by Nikki May (4 stars) – Wahala follows a friend group of three biracial women who are half Nigerian and half British, and whose different personalities and lifestyles have never gotten in the way of their love for one another–until a new friend worms her way into their dynamic and things slowly begin to change. I really enjoyed reading this book; it switches perspectives often enough that the narrative with any one friend never felt stale. I’m always drawn to novels about complex female friendship dynamics, and Wahala works very well in this theme. I have to call out the Sex and the City comparisons this book is getting, though–the two stories have nothing in common except that both have four central female characters, and I’m not sure why this comp is being used in reviews and marketing. Overall, I found it an entertaining read with a compelling plot that I’d recommend, although some aspects of the ending felt frustrating to me.

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

Sing Anyway by Anita Kelly (4 stars) – A lovely contemporary romance novella that’s a fantastic exhibit of what a novella can and should be, with the exact right amount of character development, plot, and romance. After loving  Anita Kelly’s Love & Other Disasters, my favorite romance of 2022 so far, I immediately went to their backlist and discovered this series of novellas set in and around a queer karaoke bar. I can’t wait to read the other books in the series!

Get it Right by Skye Kilaen (4 stars) – Another great example of how wonderful contemporary romance novellas can be. Skye Kilaen is a new-to-me author, and I’ll definitely want to pick up more from her after this. The romance and characterization developed so seamlessly, and it’s another first-in-series, which bodes well for my future novella TBR.

Portrait of a Scotsman by Evie Dunmore (4 stars) – I really enjoy this historical romance series that focuses on a friend group fighting for women’s suffrage, and although this was probably my least favorite pairing and plot so far, I continue to enjoy Dunmore’s writing style.

Skye Falling by Mia McKenzie (4 stars) – An audiobook I started somewhat randomly while searching for books read by one of my favorite audio narrators, Bahni Turpin, I ended up laughing out loud many times during this one. There’s a thoughtfulness and character growth to this story in addition to the humor, and I’ll be looking out for what the author comes out with next.

Under One Roof by Ali Hazelwood (3.5 stars) – I knew that this was a novella going into it, but sometimes the stories that authors choose to develop into novellas rather than novels would be better suited to a longer format. I enjoyed the enemies-to-lovers romance in Under One Roof; the main characters had great chemistry and I liked how their relationship developed. I wasn’t a fan of the premise, however, which seemed a bit too silly for me, and I wished that we had spent more time with these characters than we did.

Making Up by Lucy Parker (3.5 stars) – This isn’t the last book in Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series, but since I read the last 2 books first then circled back to books 1-3, it’s my last reading experience in the series (unless she publishes more, which it seems like she might be planning to?). It wasn’t my favorite in the series, but was still a very cute and enjoyable audiobook following Trix, an aerialist, and Leo, her makeup artist nemesis-turned-love interest.

January Reading Wrap-Up!

 

I started 2022 off strong with 2 five-star reads and read several more review copies than I normally do in most months. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Stats

Total books read: 12

ARCs/Review copies: 4

ebooks: 3

Audiobooks: 3

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding, #1)Never Say You Can't Survive by Charlie Jane AndersLove & Other Disasters by Anita KellyA History of Wild Places by Shea ErnshawCount Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria BellefleurWhere the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuireMy Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole JohnsonAlways Only You by Chloe LieseForged in Fire by Juliette CrossThe Sum of Us by Heather McGheeOut Front the Following SeaElectric Idol (Dark Olympus, #2)

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (5 stars) – Consisting of 5 short stories and the titular novella, My Monticello is written in a way that’s incisive and impactful. Many of the stories center around themes of racism and use uncommon voices (second person, first person collective) to convey their messages. Although all 5 of the short stories were excellent, my favorite part of this collection was its novella, which is, hands, down, the best novella I have ever read. Set in the near future after climate disasters have disrupted the central government and infrastructure, a group of white supremacists drives members of a Virginia community out of their homes. They’re then forced to seek refuge in the only safe place they can find–Monticello. While there, they deal with both the house’s racist history and the threats that they are facing in the present; it’s devastating and so well-crafted.  I’ve been recommending this book like crazy, and I think it’s one that everyone should read.

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly (5 stars) – This is only the third book I’ve read in 2022, and the first romance, but I don’t see how it won’t be my favorite romance of the year.

Love & Other Disasters is incredibly sweet, well-written, inclusive, and big-hearted, and it made me cry several times (to clarify, these were happy tears due to how absurdly cute it is). It’s a contemporary romance following two contestants on a Top Chef-esque reality show who, after an awkward first meeting, develop a friendship and begin to fall for each other. Our protagonists are at very different places in their lives: Dahlia is recently divorced and struggling with her direction in life and self-confidence, and plans to use the prize money to help pay off her student loan debts; London, the show’s first openly non-binary contestant, is happy with their life and career in Nashville, but dreams of using the prize money to start a charity for LGBTQIA+ youth. Dahlia is outgoing and quirky, whereas London exudes quiet confidence, and their opposite personalities complement one another from the start.

I really can’t overstate how much I loved this one. Dahlia and London have a very sweet and supportive foundation, but also fantastic chemistry. Since I love Top Chef, I liked the cooking show premise, but it never overshadows the development of their relationship; I’d say that it takes up exactly the right amount of the story. I don’t know the last time I read a romance where I felt that the characters fit together so well on both an emotional and a romantic level, and where I loved both protagonists and their perspectives equally. More than anything else, this book just made me really, really happy to read, and I’ll be recommending it to everyone all year.

I received a free copy of Love & Other Disasters from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee (4 stars) – An extremely informative and well-researched look at economic inequality and its roots in racism that discusses how racist policies negatively impact not only Black Americans, but all of society. I felt like I learned so much while reading this book; I don’t have much background knowledge in economics, so there was a bit of a learning curve while reading this book, but it’s still accessible.

Electric Idol by Katee Robert (4 stars) – I think I liked the second book in Katee Robert’s Dark Olympus series even more than the first. It’s a marriage of convenience story between Eros, who for years has been doing the dirty work to keep his mother, Aphrodite, in power, and Psyche, a strategic and good-hearted daughter of Aphrodite’s mother Demeter. When Aphrodite asks Eros to kill Psyche, he finds himself drawn to her and marries her for her protection instead. I really liked the way their romance developed quickly from fake to genuine, and this book seems to also set up several possible subsequent romances. As a Greek mythology and romance fan, these books are a lot of fun; I’ve seen critiques saying that they stray too far from the original stories, but that’s very intentional–they’re inspired by the gods’ characters and power struggles rather than direct retellings.

Out Front the Following Sea by Leah Angstman (4 stars) – One of my 2022 reading goals is to pick up more historicals (fiction, fantasy, and romance alike) and I’m glad to have started off with a book that I loved.

Out Front the Following Sea’s protagonist Ruth is a smart, indomitable survivor and a feminist in a time where it wasn’t safe for women to be anything close to one. The story begins with her trapped in a small New England town that considers her a witch and blames her for the deaths of her parents, and Ruth’s dreams of escape manifest in a twisted sense when she’s forced to flee for her life. Ruth’s saga, and her quest for not only survival but to live without having her intelligence and ambitions quashed, is a twisted path full of different types of danger and occasional unexpected friendship. There’s also a very human love story at the center of the narrative between Ruth and her childhood best friend, half-French sailor Owen, although rising tensions between the English and French threaten to divide them more than societal norms already do. The incredible historical details of life in late-1600s New England keep the story rooted in a deep sense of place, even as its themes still resonate in today’s society. I’d definitely recommend this one; it’s fast-paced and full of both action and emotion, and I really enjoyed it despite not being an avid historical fiction reader.

I received an ARC of Out Front the Following Sea from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this third installment in Alexandria Bellefleur’s Written in the Stars series, which is centered around a group of friends living in Seattle. Count Your Lucky Stars is an estranged childhood best friends-to-lovers romance between recently divorced Olivia, who is struggling with anxiety and and her tendencies to prioritize others’ needs over her own, and prickly Margot, who after seeing her best friends fall in love is starting to yearn for her own deeper romantic connection.

As teenagers, Margot and Olivia found their friendship deepening into a brief romantic connection, which quickly ended due to miscommunication and lead to their separation for many years. They reunite as twentysomethings when Olivia becomes the wedding planner for Margot’s best friend’s wedding, and find that their chemistry and love for each other is still alive and well. I’m not normally the biggest fan of second chance romance, but I found Margot and Olivia’s connection really beautiful and believable, and I liked how they encouraged and brought out the best in each other by continually advocating for one another. I also liked the reappearance of Darcy and Elle, one of my favorite fictional couples, from the first book in Bellefleur’s series. It’s a very sweet story about friendship and love, and I’d recommend it to any contemporary romance reader.

I received an eARC of Count Your Lucky Stars from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire (4 stars) – I liked this installment in the Wayward Children series much better than the previous one; we learn about the second, sinister rival school to Eleanor West’s, where the previous books are based around, and a new, large-scale, real-world conflict is introduced. It isn’t my favorite book in the series, but I read it in one setting and very much enjoyed the read.

Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this nonfiction audiobook focused on how to write and be creative during difficult times. It’s read by the author, who I’ve been following since she ran the science and science fiction site io9 and who I’ve been lucky enough to see speak at BookCon, and has a lot of really solid writing advice as well as inspiration.

Forged in Fire by Juliette Cross (3.5 stars) – Forged in Fire is the first book in a UF/PNR trilogy that was re-released this month and originally published in 2015. I’m a huge fan of Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, so I was excited to be able to check out one of her earlier works.

Set in New Orleans, Forged in Fire follows Gen, a college student who’s thrown into an underworld of demons and demon hunters when she discovers that she’s a Vessel, meaning that she has access to a variety of magical powers that make her a target for powerful demons looking to use her for evil. Helping to train and protect her is Jude, a powerful demon hunter with a mysterious past, and who Gen immediately finds herself falling for.

I didn’t love this book quite as much as Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, but I really loved Gen as a main character. She’s strong yet flawed, and you can’t help but root for her. She’s determined to hang on to some form of normalcy while being thrust into a world that she doesn’t understand, and she keeps the story grounded through its introduction of more and more otherworldly elements. I also liked the concept of the Vessel and the worldbuilding of a demonic underworld hiding in plain sight.

What I didn’t love quite as much, unfortunately, was the romance between Gen and Jude, which developed a bit too quickly for my taste, and felt too unbalanced in terms of age and experience level. I’d also caution readers that there are several scenes of sexual assault in this book (perpetrated by the villains), which I did at times find difficult to read.

I received an eARC of Forged in Fire from the author in exchange for an honest review.

A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw (3.5 stars) – I’m very hit or miss with mysteries, and I was hoping that this book, with its mild infusion of fantasy, would hit the sweet spot for me. Instead, it was more of an up and down reading experience; I was really interested in the first viewpoint character, a private investigator with the power to see a person’s past by holding an object they interacted with, who was searching for a missing author of disturbing children’s books. Unfortunately, the middle of the book, where we spend time in the forest cult where we believe the author to have disappeared, really dragged, and the three new viewpoint characters didn’t have very interesting personalities. The ending of the book did add more interest, and my investment in finding out the book’s twist kept me reading rather than DNF-ing, but I’m not sure that I’d recommend this one.

Always Only Yours by Chloe Liese (3.5 stars) – I read my first Chloe Liese contemporary romance at the end of 2021, and decided that I wanted to pick up more from her. I generally steer clear of sports romances, but for some reason (probably because I’m from Buffalo), hockey tends to be a bit of an exception, so I enjoyed most of this romance between a prickly social media manager and a cinnamon roll hockey player. It did get a bit too sweet for me at times, as did my previous Chloe Liese read, but I do think I’ll try her again in the future.

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (3 stars) – My first read of January was, unfortunately, my most disappointing of the year so far. I really thought I’d love this historical fantasy romance, but despite the great premise, I found that the characters and the plot both fell very flat for me. I needed more dimension in the characterization and more intrigue in the plot; I’ve seen so many glowing reviews of this book, and I wish that mine was one of them.

December Reading Wrap-Up!

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

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

Stats:

Books finished: 9

ARCs: 1

Audio: 3

ebooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November Reading Wrap-Up & Reviews

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

Stats

Total books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October Reading Wrap-Up

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

Stats:

Total books read: 9

ARCs: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Audiobooks: 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September Reading Wrap-Up

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

Total books read: 10

ARCs/review copies: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.