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Book Review: We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

Genre: mystery/thriller

Release date: 8/11/20

Rating: 4 stars

We Are All the Same in the Dark is a  twisty, atmospheric mystery/thriller set in a small Texas town where secrets have stayed buried for too long. Our protagonist is Odette, a police officer whose leg was amputated after a car accident when she was a teenager, on the same night that her boyfriend’s sister and their abusive father both disappeared. Now, ten years later, hardly anyone in their community has really moved on from the girl’s disappearance, especially not Odette, whose search feels even more urgent after she rescues another missing girl with mysterious origins. Past and present seem constantly on the verge of blending together as Odette delves further and further into both missing girls’ stories and doesn’t know who she can trust in either case.

I haven’t been reading many mysteries or thrillers in the past few years, but I was drawn to We Are All the Same in the Dark due to its emphasis on strong, complex female characters. Odette is a multifaceted protagonist: she’s a police officer from a long family line of police officers, and one who returned to the small town in which she had a horrific accident despite the fact that it would seem like the last place she’d want to be. She doesn’t shy away from danger in pursuit of the truth or her own flaws, and she’s struggling with a crumbling marriage alongside complicated feelings for her teenage boyfriend, who’s remained a suspect in his sister’s disappearance. Neither missing girl (Trumanelle, Odette’s ex-boyfriend’s long-missing sister, nor Angel, the mysterious girl Odette rescues) descends into a stale stereotype; both are dynamic characters even when they’re not on the page.

Heaberlin’s writing style is addicting and compelling; it took me about 50 or so pages to feel really immersed in the story, but once I did, I didn’t want to stop reading. There were just enough clues and twists to keep the story moving, and one twist in particular really blew me away. However, I did feel that the final confrontation and reveal happened a bit quickly; I’d have liked more time to explore the secrets once they were revealed.

Overall, I found We Are All the Same in the Dark to be an excellent mystery/thriller great for readers who love complex female protagonists.

I received an ARC of We Are All the Same in the Dark from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

July Reading Wrap-Up!

I didn’t read quite as much in July compared to the past few months, but I did read several great new-to-me books and re-read a favorite from last year. Let’s get to the stats and reviews!

Stats

Total books read: 6

ebooks: 1

Audiobooks: 1

re-reads: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 3

 

Reviews

Sapphire Flames by Ilona AndrewsCatherine House by Elisabeth ThomasThe Worst Best Man by Mia SosaThe Heir Affair by Heather CocksLet Us Dream by Alyssa ColeSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews (re-read) (4.5 stars) – I wanted to re-read Sapphire Flames, one of my favorite books of last year, in preparation for the release of its sequel, Emerald Blaze, next month, and definitely held up.  Sapphire Flames is technically the fourth book in Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series, although it’s also technically the start of a new trilogy featuring the younger sister of books 1-3’s protagonist. I’ve actually just finished this one and LOVED it; I’m an Ilona Andrews superfan, but this was one of my favorites of hers. It’s set in a version of our world that features warring dynasties of magical families, and our main character Catalina has a very unique power; we follow her trying to solve a friend’s mother’s murder, protect her own family, and maybe connect with her crush, Alessandro, who has more than a few secrets up his sleeves. Honestly, this book is SO GOOD, and I think it’s also a great starting point for readers new to Ilona Andrews.

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa (4 stars) – Wedding planner Lina, who prides herself on her ability to control her emotions, was left at the altar by her ex-fiance Andrew, who blamed his younger brother Max for his last-minute change of heart. Fast-forward to three years later, and Lina is running her own business in D.C. but has her eye on a new position to plan weddings for an upscale hotel. The catch is that to interview for the position, she needs to collaborate with a marketing firm–whose team consists of Andrew and Max. Choosing Max as the lesser of two evils, Lina finds herself opening up to him and even falling for him, while Max is realizing that his brother’s ex-fiance might be the perfect woman for him.

This book has so many sweet moments, and a lot of really great discussion about what it means to be emotionally vulnerable, and how hard it can be to confront our assumptions about ourselves. It’s funny while also letting itself dive into more serious topics, and I really loved Max and Lina’s dynamic and how they brought out the best in each other. It’s also one that I think would make an amazing movie; fingers crossed that happens one day! If, like me, you’re finding yourself picking up a lot of romance lately, definitely add this to your list.

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas (4 stars) – Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas is a moody, atmospheric, Gothic-inspired book centered on a mysterious and unconventional Ivy League school at which our protagonist unexpectedly finds herself after her troubled teenage years. It fits perfectly into the dark academia subgenre (which is one of my favorites!) while also remaining unique. I don’t want to share very much about its plot; I went in with essentially no prior knowledge, and I think it’s best that way, but I will say that it’s full of strangeness and friendship, and deals with concepts of feeling like an outsider vs. belonging. It’s haunting and eerie, and there’s an overlying feeling of dread that suffuses each scene, and I really loved the experience of reading it. I did feel that the ending was more anticlimactic than I’d have preferred, and I wish that certain areas had been explored further, but I overall really enjoyed this one and am very excited for whatever Elisabeth Thomas comes out with next.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (4 stars) – An informative and accessible nonfiction book about many different aspects of racism that provides insight and nuance to different frequently discussed topics. It’s a book that I’d recommend to pretty much everyone, since it’s smart and incisive but with a conversational tone that’s also great on audiobook.

The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (3 stars) – I thought there were a lot of directions the authors could have taken this sequel to The Heir Affair, and unfortunately the direction they actually went with just wasn’t the most interesting one. The premise of these books–it’s basically a Prince William/Kate Middleton romance retelling–is fun, as are most of the characters (particularly Freddie, the Prince Harry character), but this book was too long, and in my opinion focused on the wrong things. I think it could have been a more interesting book if instead of a direct sequel we got a Prince Harry/Megan Markle romance retelling, or even if the sequel itself had been more streamlined and faster-paced. That being said, I did enjoy revisiting these characters and their constant drama, although I definitely prefer the first book.

Let Us Dream by Alyssa Cole (3 stars) – A historical fiction novella set during the women’s suffrage movement in New York, Let Us Dream follows cabaret owner Bertha and chef Amir as they learn from and teach each other about political engagement, dance, and love. I didn’t find this book quite as strong as some of Alyssa Cole’s other works; I think I would have liked it better if it had been longer and more developed, but it did have a great sense of atmosphere and a fantastic female protagonist in Bertha.

June Reading Wrap-Up

I read a LOT of things in June; not quite as many as April, my most productive reading month of the year so far, but still quite a few. Due to an injury, I had to stay off my feet for a lot of the month, and I definitely read quite a lot during that time. I focused my reading on picking up books from Black authors, and genre-wise, my reading was mainly comprised of romance, nonfiction, and literary fiction. Let’s get into it!

Stats

# of books read: 13

ARCs: 3

ebooks: 4

Audiobooks: 2

re-reads: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Stamped by Jason ReynoldsBorn a Crime by Trevor NoahLet It Shine by Alyssa ColeOne to Watch by Kate Stayman-LondonAn American Marriage by Tayari JonesKindred by Octavia E. ButlerSalt Slow by Julia ArmfieldOnce Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa ColeWould I Lie to the Duke by Eva LeighWhen a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa DareTake a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia HibbertHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. RowlingThe Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Reviews:

Kindred by Octavia Butler (5 stars) – Octavia Butler is one of my favorite authors, but until this month I hadn’t read her most well-known book, Kindred. I’m extremely glad I finally picked it up; every time I read one of her books I’m in awe all over again. Her writing is challenging and thought-provoking; it stays with you and forces you to engage with difficult topics rather than just finishing a book and being done with it. Kindred is a time-travel story set in the 1970s and following 26-year-old writer Dana, a Black woman living with her white boyfriend. She’s unexpectedly drawn back to the early 1800s to save a young white boy named Rufus from drowning and comes to understand that he’s her distant ancestor, and that she’s saving him to save her own family line. Dana is repeatedly drawn back every time Rufus’s life is in danger, and has to deal with his slave-owning family and the danger to her own life and freedom as a Black woman in early 1800s Maryland. Butler introduces a number of ethical questions throughout the book, and the answers are never easy; Dana is being forced to deal with the reality of slavery as a modern woman, and she constantly re-analyzes how her mind processes the inexplicable. It’s a powerful, insidiously devastating book, and I’d highly recommend picking it up along with Butler’s other works.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (5 stars) – This was my second read from Colson Whitehead, and my second five-star rating as well. I completely understand why this won the Pulitzer Prize; it’s devastating, impactful, crucial, and also deeply character-driven. Although fiction, it’s based on true events at a real reform school in Florida, which makes it all the more haunting and all the more relevant. Whitehead’s prose is continuously compelling, and he makes you feel so deeply for his characters. Highly recommend.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (4.5 stars) – I’m not going to lie, I don’t typically gravitate towards a book when I hear it described as literary fiction focused on a marriage. (That’s why I still haven’t picked up Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies despite the plethora of excellent reviews.) But! An American Marriage by Tayari Jones has completely changed my mind about judging books with this premise, because it was fantastic. Celestial and Roy have been married for a little more than a year when Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and their fledgling marriage, already flawed, is further tested as they try to figure out how to stay connected rather than become further divided during his incarceration. Jones’s prose is continually engaging, and the dialogue and issues Celestial and Roy face feel completely authentic throughout. She also explores different themes of racism, gender roles, and the concept of marriage in really interesting ways. Because we hear from both Celestial and Roy in alternating perspectives, and also through their letters to each other, we’re able to see how they present themselves to one another as well as what they’re feeling internally, giving us a deeper understanding of them as characters. I’d highly recommend picking this one up if you haven’t already.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (4 stars) – I haven’t watched the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, so it took me quite awhile to actually pick this one up (I don’t know why I was under the impression that you’d have to be a fan of Noah’s show to be able to enjoy it, but that’s definitely not true). It was my brother who highly recommended it to me and who finally got me to pick it up, and I have to give him a lot of credit, because this book is fantastic. It’s about Trevor Noah’s childhood in South Africa as the son of a Black woman and a white man, which was illegal at the time of his birth, and chronicles growing up under apartheid with his strong, determined mother. Noah’s writing is extremely compelling, and he’ll have you both laughing and crying during this one, along with educating you about the reality of living in South Africa. I listened to the audiobook, and Noah tells his story so well; I honestly really hope that he writes more in the future, because he’s very talented and I’d probably pick up anything he writes. Now I guess I’ll have to start watching his show, too!

Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (4 stars) – An essential book for teens through adults that provides a succinct, accessible look at the history of racism and antiracism. The audiobook, narrated by Jason Reynolds, is excellent. Definitely recommend for anyone looking for an introduction to and context for racism in the U.S., as well as an examination of antiracist leaders and thinkers.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (4 stars) – I loved this contemporary romance that featured fake dating, a social media-crafted relationship, a driven, career-focused heroine, and great mental health and work/life balance discussion. Check out my full review here; I received an eARC from the publisher courtesy of NetGalley.

Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole (4 stars) – My first foray into Alyssa Cole’s historical romances; I’ve read 5 of her contemporaries so far. Set during the Civil Rights era, we’re following a Black college student inspired to make a difference and join the movement and the childhood best friend who resurfaces in her life, a Jewish boxer. As a Jewish chick myself, I really loved seeing a Jewish main character in a historical that isn’t set during World War II, and I thought that the discussions about racism and anti-Semitism were really interesting and well-done. This book also had a really good mix of romance and history, with one never detracting from the other, and a lot of fascinating information about the Civil Rights movement.

When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare (4 stars) – I’m a sucker for a book with a great premise, and I’ve rapidly become a huge Tessa Dare fan over the past few months, so this was such a fun read for me. A young noblewoman with social anxiety invents a fake Scottish fiance and proceeds to write him letters for years on end, until she eventually kills him off in order to live out her life with the freedom to pursue the scientific illustrations that are her passion. Except that the fake fiance she was writing to turns out to be a real person, in need of a castle to house himself and his displaced army friends, who shows up asking for the marriage she invented. One of my favorite Tessa Dare books so far (although I’m just not into the Scotland thing–I understand it’s very big in historical romance, but I’m just not about it) and I’d recommend if you’re looking for an escapist read with plenty of humor amidst the romance.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling (re-read) (4 stars) – Although reading Rowling’s work right now leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, I’m participating in a book club with a group of friends and doing a re-read of the Harry Potter series as a way for us to stay in touch during the pandemic. I actually ended up skipping book 5 (I remembered it well enough to participate in the discussion without a re-read) but dove back in with book 6, which I remembered much less thoroughly. I really enjoyed this one, particularly the focus on Dumbledore, who’s probably the most interesting character in the series.

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (3.5 stars) – A contemporary romance novella companion to Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series that follows Likotsi, advisor to King Thabiso (we met them both in A Princess in Theory) and her love interest Fabiola, a jewelry designer she meets through an app while in New York. The two initially plan on a brief fling, as Likotsi has to return home to Thesolo, but both fall harder than expected, and when Fab unceremoniously ends things, they’re both somewhat heartbroken. During a chance meeting months later, the two are forced to confront their dormant feelings for one another and what exactly happened between them previously. It’s a sweet second-chance romance story, with flashbacks to their initial relationship interspersed with present day, and I thought the chemistry between Likotsi and Fabiola was really well done. I really wish it had been longer, though, as I would have liked to have seen things develop further, since I liked the characters so much.

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield (3 stars) – I really enjoyed several of the stories in Julia Armfield’s Salt Slow, but the majority didn’t quite work for me. I wanted to love this collection (I want to love every short story collection since they’re one of my favorite things to read!) and I do think that Salt Slow has a lot of great premises and ideas, but the execution often felt repetitive and the stories themselves felt like they would work better if either condensed or expanded. My favorites were the first few stories in the collection: “The Great Awake,” in which people gradually lose their ability to sleep, and the elusive Sleeps become manifestations that follow them around, and “The Collectibles,” about three lovelorn college roommates and how one of their theses turns sinister.

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London (3 stars) – One to Watch is a contemporary romance that very much feels like reading an in-depth take on a season of the Bachelorette, with a bit of the show Unreal mixed in. Bea, a plus-sized fashion blogger, goes viral for her critique of Main Squeeze, a Bachelor-esque franchise, and its lack of every type of diversity and representation in its cast–in particular its lack of women who don’t fit into a narrowly defined beauty standard. After a slew of low-rated seasons, the show’s new producer decides to cast Bea as the new Main Squeeze, but Bea is struggling to believe in the possibility of finding love after pining over her friend Ray for so long without true reciprocation. The men she meets on the show surprise her in several different ways, but she struggles to open herself up to the possibility of falling in love–and being hurt–again.

It’s an undoubtedly fun read, filled with pop culture references, a variety of love interests, Bachelor-esque tidbits, and body positive messages, and I flew through it. I was surprised by the addition of articles, Twitter hot takes, and recaps that interspersed the narrative, and it was a device that I really enjoyed as I felt it lent a more realistic portrayal (because in the world of the Bachelor franchise, there are no end to the slew of thinkpieces and gossip and brackets that consistently appear each season). But I felt that most of the plot twists were predictable, and Bea’s emotional journey faced the same issues too many times throughout the book; even though I understand that being vulnerable and open to love can be a difficult journey, I felt that the narrative could have been more streamlined.

I received an eARC of One to Watch from the publisher courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva Leigh (3 stars) – Leigh’s Union of the Rakes series follows a group of misfit best friends who met in school in a Breakfast Club-esque detention scenario and who are now grown up and living in different stratas of London society; each book utilizes tropes inspired by 80’s movies. It’s a really fun idea for a historical romance series, and one that necessarily leads to a lot of hijinks. Would I Lie to the Duke follows highborn Ash, the Molly Ringwald of the friend group, and love interest Jess, a small business owner whose family soap-making company was recently devastated by a fire. Jess is working as a lady’s maid while attempting to find investors to help get her company back on track when she stumbles into a risky but potentially lucrative scheme: disguise herself as a member of the nobility and infiltrate an exclusive annual investment conference–one that Ash is also attending–and persuade the elite investors that her business is one worth sponsoring.

I really loved the chemistry between Jess and Ash–even though she’s a commoner and he’s a duke, there’s never a sense of entitlement or uncomfortable power dynamics due to Jess’s strong personality and the way they come to interact with one another. Structuring the plot around business and investing was something I hadn’t seen previously in a historical romance, and I thought it was an interesting way to do things. What I didn’t love was the deception inherent in Jess and Ash’s dynamic and how long it took for Jess’s deception to be revealed; I found it frustrating and it kept me from being able to completely root for them as a couple. I do think this is a very fun series, and I plan to pick up the next book when it’s released.

I received an eARC of Would I Lie to the Duke from the publisher courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Have you read any of these, or are any on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

 

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (The Brown Sisters #2)

Genre: contemporary romance

Release date 6/23/20

Rating: 4 stars

The follow-up to last year’s Get a Life, Chloe Brown, which I enjoyed (check out my full review here), Take a Hint, Dani Brown follows Chloe’s younger sister Dani, a driven Ph.D. student who prefers casual hookups to relationships, and her friend-turned-love-interest Zafir, a former rugby player who runs a nonprofit dedicated to teaching boys about managing their emotions and avoiding toxic masculinity, while also working security at Dani’s university. The novel begins with Dani casting a spell (she’s a witch!) to find the perfect hookup buddy, because she’s afraid to enter into deeper relationships after being hurt in the past and internalizing the idea that she’s too focused on her own life to give enough in a relationship. A few months later, Dani’s trapped in an elevator during a fire drill at her university, and friend/security guard Zaf stages an overdramatic but sweet “rescue,” which is captured on the cell phones of the undergrads outside. They’re assumed to be in a relationship and given the moniker #DrRugBae and, although being social media famous is something neither of them are particularly looking for, Zaf discovers that it’s actually a great way to promote his nonprofit. Dani and Zaf agree to enter into a fake relationship, but Zaf has been harboring feelings for Dani ever since they met, and despite her aversion to relationships, Dani soon begins to fall for Zaf as well.

I can be picky when it comes to contemporary romance, but I loved this one. I actually liked it a lot more than I did Chloe Brown; not that I didn’t enjoy that one, but I wasn’t a fan of Chloe’s love interest. Both of Dani Brown‘s main characters are compelling, relatable, flawed, and trying to grow; there’s also a strong focus on mental health, as Zafir is dealing with anxiety and grief, and Dani is working on the way she perceives herself after past relationship issues. Although I loved both main characters, I identified with Dani SO MUCH–we’re both nerdy, obsessive, career-focused women who have trouble making time and emotional space for relationships. There were so many instances and descriptors of Dani that really resonated with me, and I felt so seen in this character. Like her, I’ve had a hard time picturing the kind of relationship where someone would not only not be bothered by my devotion to my career, but be supportive of it, and it was great to see a depiction of this on paper.

I also really liked that there was a reversal of traditional gender roles in Dani Brown, with Dani being commitment-averse and Zafir a relationships-only kind of guy; this theme is a constant throughout the novel. There’s also a meta discussion about the power of romance novels themselves that I really loved (Zafir is a big fan; Dani doesn’t read them and doesn’t quite understand the appeal) and great discussion about the importance of work/life balance. The entire book felt extremely current and relevant in its themes; I can’t wait to see what the next book, which focuses on youngest Brown sister Evie, will focus on.

I’d highly recommend this one to contemporary romance fans, and in particular to anyone who enjoyed Alisha Rai’s Girl Gone Viral, as both books involve fake relationship hashtags that spiral out of control, and also focus heavily on mental health issues.

I received an eARC of Take a Hint, Dani Brown from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

May Reading Wrap-Up!

May was probably one of my most successful reading months of 2020. I got into this very weird and specific reading mood where I just did not have the patience to finish anything I didn’t absolutely love, and so I ended up DNF-ing quite a few things, but then the books that I did like enough to finish I ended up loving in pretty much every case. Nothing I read this month got less than 4 stars from me, which is pretty unheard of (again, this was totally due to my DNF-ing/impatience strategy), and I read two 5-star books that will likely become favorites for the year. My reading goals for the month were to do some catching up on Book of the Month titles (I finished 2 and started another, which I hope to finish in June) and to participate in the Tome Topple Readathon by reading 500+ page books (I finished 2 new-to-me tomes in May, and also re-read another tome), so I’m quite happy with that.

Stats:

# of books finished: 10

ebooks: 3

audiobooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Re-reads: 2

Reviews:

The Other World, It Whispers by Stephanie VictoireAurora Rising by Amie KaufmanQueenie by Candice Carty-WilliamsBeach Read by Emily HenryPossession by A.S. ByattCork Dork by Bianca BoskerAurora Burning by Amie KaufmanThe Governess Game by Tessa DareThe Seas by Samantha HuntHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Possession by A. S. Byatt (5 stars) -A. S. Byatt’s Possession is one of the most ambitious books I’ve ever read, and I’m so glad to have finally picked it up. Its two main characters are researchers in the world of academia and focusing on two 19th century poets; they meet when a surprise discovery reveals a previously unknown connection between their two subjects. We’re thrown into the world of skeptical ’80s literary research as well as the romanticism and poetry embraced in the mid-1800s, and Byatt impressively manages to not only bring these characters to life but to write original 19th century-style poems, letters, diary entries, and stories in several different voices. My favorite aspect of the book was the feminist poems and stories from Christabel LaMotte, which focus on retellings of mythology I wasn’t familiar with. Highly recommend; it’s a gorgeous and impressive book.

The Seas by Samantha Hunt (5 stars) – I devoured this book. It’s about a 19-year-old girl living in an unnamed, isolated small Northern town on the coast with the highest rate of alcoholism in the country. Her father disappeared when she was younger, and to cope with his loss, she’s come to believe that both she and her father are mermaids and that she is destined to bring death to the man she loves unless he marries her or she returns to the sea. She lives with her mother and grandfather and pines after her only friend, Jude, an alcoholic Iraq war veteran more than ten years her senior. It’s not a happy book, but it’s gorgeously told with fabulist elements and short chapters that almost work as self-contained pieces themselves. Highly recommend.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (5 stars) (re-read) – I know I’ve talked about this in previous wrap-ups, but I’m currently doing a book club with some friends I went to high school with, and we’re doing a re-read of the Harry Potter series during the pandemic as a sort of comfort re-reading/discussion series. I think all of us agreed that Goblet of Fire was our favorite so far (by a large margin), and it was a re-read that I really enjoyed. (We are all also VERY disappointed in and disgusted by J. K. Rowling’s recent transphobic comments and her attitude toward the trans community in general. We decided to continue with our book club, as the Harry Potter series played a huge role in our childhoods and we’re enjoying the social interaction and connection from our re-reading, but separating the books from Rowling herself, although it has been part of several of our discussions.)

The Other World, It Whispers by Stephanie Victoire (4.25 stars) – I really enjoyed the fabulism and fairy tale elements in this short story collection, which were reflected both in the content of the stories and the almost old-fashioned, fairy tale style of writing. Would definitely recommend to any other short story fans out there. My favorites in the collection were “Time and Silence,” in which a mysterious girl is discovered in the show by an abused young boy; “The Bouquet Witch,” in which a lonely young woman joins forces with a local witch to avenge the brokenhearted; and “Shanty,” a powerful exploration of gender identity and mermaids.

Beach Read by Emily Henry (4 stars) – OK, I get the hype now. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about the sheer volume of 5-star reviews I was seeing for this one, but I can confirm the hype is well-deserved. Emily Henry’s writing is just SO GOOD, and January is such a likable and relatable main character, that it was so hard to put this book down to get things done. I love all of the discussion about genre snobbery and romance/women’s fiction vs “literary” fiction and how the antagonistic relationship between the main characters develops into a sort of teamwork vibe; I love all the discussion about how much books, reading, and writing mean to people. For some reason the last third or so didn’t work as well for me, but overall a smart and addictive contemporary romance that I’d definitely recommend.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (4 stars) – A contemporary fiction set in London that was longlisted for the Women’s Prize that follows Queenie, a 25-year-old working for a news magazine and navigating friendships and relationships while coping with hints of past trauma. Queenie is a character who feels so completely real; while there definitely is a plot, the book almost reads like a character study, and you get to know her so well throughout the novel. I’ve seen this book compared to Bridget Jones in the marketing, which I don’t think is accurate at all (no offense to Bridget, but Queenie is a much better book that also deals with serious topics like racism and mental health). I’m so impressed that this is a debut novel; I’ll definitely be looking for more from this author in the future.

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (re-read) (4 stars) – My review from last year: Unexpectedly fun and well-written YA science fiction book featuring a band of misfits, that reminded me slightly of Six of Crows but in space. I picked up this one randomly after reading a recommendation on Litsy and was not at all sorry. The trope of a bunch of extremely different people teaming up has always been one of my favorites (Six of Crows, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Lord of the Rings, etc, etc) and it worked really well in the context of this new first-in-series book by the co-authors of the Illuminae Files trilogy, which I also very much enjoyed. Lots of humor, lots of action, and many lovable characters.

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (4 stars) – I didn’t love this quite as much as Aurora Rising; two of the main characters became way less likable in this one, and there was a huge “plot twist” that was extremely predictable. But! It was still a really fun read for the most part, and I love the majority of Squad 312 and their banter and friendships. We get to know Zila a lot better in this book, which was something I was hoping for. I do feel that this book was a clear middle book in a trilogy, and I hope that the last book is a lot more satisfying.

The Governess Game by Tessa Dare (4 stars) – My favorite so far of Tessa Dare’s Girl Meets Duke quartet; I previously read books 3 and 1, out of order. This one follows astronomy-inclined Alex and flirtatious Chase, who’s recently become guardian of two younger cousins he’s not sure how to manage. When he mistakes Alex for a governess and hires her, the two begin to develop feelings for one another. Dare’s writing is smart, witty, and entertaining, and I can see myself picking up a lot more from her in the future.

Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker (4 stars) – An interesting, informative deep dive into the world of wine and sommeliers, written by a journalist who leaves her position as a tech editor to immerse herself in this strange subculture. I really enjoyed learning much more than I ever had about wine; I like wine, and I’ve tasted at a lot of different vineyards, but I didn’t know even a tiny fraction of what Bosker unearths.

March Reading Wrap-Up/Discussion

First of all, I really hope that everyone is safe and healthy, and I’m sending all of you bookish friends a lot of love. I know that this month has been difficult and scary, and I always want this corner of the bookish internet to be a place for us to celebrate our love of reading, in both good times and bad.

It would be a lie to say that everything going on hasn’t affected my reading life the way that it’s affected everything else; of course it has. I’m currently working part time; I work in the healthcare field, so it’s an essential service, but routine visits are being postponed at this time. Despite the fact that I’m working less, I’m not necessarily reading more–I’m doing more work outside of work than I usually do, talking and Facetiming with friends and family more, and I’m also finding it harder to concentrate. I think I DNF’d at least 3 books this month either because they couldn’t hold my attention, were too dark, or I didn’t think I’d rate them highly enough to be worth continuing; I’m finding that my DNF threshold is very low right now, because I only want to read books that are a good distraction and are easy to follow.

What has been working for me genre-wise has been romance, contemporary YA, and fantasy; almost all of my books from this month (and probably for next month too, since I’ve got several going right now) fit into those categories. Familiar authors are also comforting; I was grateful that Alisha Rai and Sarah J. Maas had new releases or ARCs that I was able to dive into. I was able to finish six books this month and I rated all of those 4 stars or above; I’m very grateful to have found some very good and comforting reads in the last few weeks. I hope that you all have too.

Stats:

Books finished: 6

ARCs: 2

Audiobooks: 2

What Shines from It by Sara RauchSolitaire by Alice OsemanHouse of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. MaasGirl Gone Viral by Alisha RaiThey Both Die at the End by Adam SilveraThe Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare

Reviews:

What Shines From It by Sara Rauch (4.5 stars) – A fantastic short story collection focusing on fractured or fracturing relationships and incredibly human characters. The stories are thoughtful and beautifully written, and they stayed with me long after I finished reading them; check out my full review here. I received an ARC of What Shines From It from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai (4.5 stars) – I absolutely loved this contemporary romance featuring strong friendships and family bonds, discussion of mental health issues, and two sweet main characters. Check out my full review here; I received an eARC of Girl Gone Viral from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas (4 stars) – It’s hard to review a book that I was anticipating for so long. I’m a huge fan of Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series, but I could never get into her YA series, Throne of Glass, but from what I know of both series Crescent City does retread some familiar ground, particularly in regard to characterization. It’s also definitely too long, which I wouldn’t have minded if it was also a bit better, but there were also things I did really enjoy about it. I might do a long, spoilery review involving a pro/con list later on, but essentially, I felt it was a fun read with some characters that I really loved, a beautiful female friendship at its heart, and hints of intrigue to come.

Solitaire by Alice Oseman (4 stars) – A well-written, character-focused contemporary YA from the author of Radio Silence, which I loved. This is Oseman’s first novel, but doesn’t read like it–it has both humor and emotional depth, but it’s the characters that really shine.

The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare (4 stars) – Historical romance is still a new-to-me genre, but what everyone I talk to seems to agree on is that Tessa Dare is a must-read author. With The Wallflower Wager, I understood why–this book is fun but also packs emotional punches, and it’s light without ever feeling inconsequential. It’s the perfect book to pick up if you need assurances that a happy ending is around the corner.

They Both Died at the End by Adam Silvera (4 stars) – YA contemporary, with a twist: a service called DeathCast calls you just after midnight on the day you’re going to die, and although there’s nothing you can do about it, you’re then able to live out your last day to the fullest. In the case of protagonists Rufus and Mateo, they decide to use the Last Friend app, which matches you with another person fated to die so that the two of you can spend your day together. It’s a well-written book, poignant without being overly sappy, and features a really lovely relationship that’s totally believable despite its day-long time frame.

 

What books worked best for you this month? Are there certain authors or genres you find yourself drawn to lately? And how are you guys doing with everything? Let me know in the comments.

Book Review: Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

 

Girl Gone Viral (Modern Love, #2)

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

Modern Love series, #2

Genre: contemporary romance

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

Alisha Rai is one of my favorite romance authors, not just because she creates fantastic love stories, but because her books also focus on strong friendships, family dynamics, and mental health. In Girl Gone Viral, we’re following Katrina, a former model and current investor who suffers from panic disorder, and her bodyguard and love interest Jas, a veteran dealing with PTSD and the heir to his family’s peach farms. No one is ever just one thing in Alisha Rai’s books–people are multifaceted, the way they are in real life, and this is one of the best things about her writing. She shows us, over and over again, that people can struggle yet remain awesome, and that mental health issues aren’t something to be ashamed of. It’s a message that’s never heavy-handed, but instead infused into the story, as we see Katrina and Jas support each other, as well as how they’re supported by their friends, family, and therapist, and how, without fail, open and honest communication makes things better, not worse.

Katrina and Jas have a sweet relationship; both have unwittingly been pining for each other for years. I don’t always like when couples in romance novels have relationships prior to the start of the book, but Rai does a great job justifying why they aren’t together yet (not only does Jas work for Katrina, but he also worked for her late husband, and no one wants to cross any lines). I loved how supportive they were of one another throughout the book; what tips off the series of events that brings them together is a threat to Katrina’s identity that occurs when a chance encounter at a cafe with another man goes viral, akin to the live-tweeting of a possible couple on an airplane that went viral awhile back.

I can’t ever talk about an Alisha Rai book without remarking on her strong female friendships (although there’s also a developing friendship group with Samson and his former NFL buds from book 1 that Jas finds himself included in). Rhiannon, the heroine of The Right Swipe, the first book in the series; her badass associate Lakshmi; and Jia, a beauty influencer and Katrina’s roommate, support and love one another throughout the book. I also loved the scenes with Jas’s family, and their near-instant approval of Katrina.

If you love contemporary romance, and want to read a book that’s both extremely fun and extremely thoughtful, you’re really going to need to pick this one up. It’s one of my favorite romances I’ve read in a long time.

 

I received an eARC of Girl Gone Viral from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: What Shines From It by Sara Rauch

What Shines From It by Sara Rauch

Short story collection

Release date 3/3/20

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review: 

A fantastic short story collection focusing on fractured or fracturing relationships and incredibly human characters. The stories are thoughtful and beautifully written, and they stayed with me long after I finished reading them.

Some of my favorite stories in the collection:
-“Kintsukuroi,” about a woman who uses gold to repair broken pottery in her shop, as she focuses on the beauty despite the wrongness of the affair she’s having
-“Abandon,” about a woman who seemingly loses everything in the aftermath of an accident and a miscarriage–except her best friend, who’s there, like it or not, to help her pick up the pieces
-“Seal,” about a woman and her partner debating whether to relocate when they have their first child, and how she faces the aftermath of her mother’s alcoholism

And my absolute favorite of the collection was the final story, “Beholden,” which is the most sensitive and achingly real portrayal of post-9/11 New York that I’ve ever read, and which uses fabulism to convey the way that memories never leave us.

I look forward to reading more from Sara Rauch in the future, and hope that her next collection includes even more fabulist fiction in the vein of “Beholden.”

I received an ARC of What Shines From It from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Feb Reading Wrap-Up!

 

Feb was a solid reading month for me, but not a standout one. I found some books I enjoyed and learned from, as well as some really fun reads, and participated in two readathons (Tome Topple and the Contemporaryathon), but I also had a few disappointments. I think I also set myself up for failure a little bit considering I read my NEW FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME, Bunny by Mona Awad, in January, which of course was a tough act to follow.

Stats:

Books finished: 8

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

ebooks: 2

The Last Book Party by Karen DukessThe Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri WilsonSerpent & Dove by Shelby MahurinJuliet Takes a Breath by Gabby RiveraWicked Wonderland by Eva ChaseWrathful Wonderland by Eva ChaseOctavia's Brood by Adrienne Maree BrownMiddlegame by Seanan McGuire

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (4 stars) – I just finished Middlegame, and I…have some thoughts. Here’s the thing: I was really hoping that this book would blow me away, and it didn’t, and even though I overall enjoyed it, I just kept wanting more weirdness, more alchemy, more fantasy, more explanation and exploration of the genuinely awesome concepts at work in this book, and also less time spent with the main characters as children with little forward motion. Middlegame is fantastically creative, following twins created to become the living embodiments of math and language and, through fantastical alchemy, harness the power to shape the world for their creator. It’s a long book, but I think it spends time in the wrong places, and for that reason it’s a 4 star and not a favorite for me. I’d still recommend it, and I remain a huge Seanan McGuire fan, but I wish this amazing story had been told just a little bit differently.

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin (4 stars) – After seeing this YA fantasy romance on about a million top ten lists at the end of 2019, I was fully convinced I needed to pick it up. And although this wasn’t a favorite for me, I did find it a very fun read–it’s a marriage of convenience/enemies-to-lovers plotline, featuring a kingdom divided between witches and witch-hunters. I think that I might have enjoyed it more if it leaned more thoroughly in the direction of either fantasy or romance, rather than straddling the two, but it’s definitely worth picking up, and I’ll be looking for the sequel, Blood & Honey, which comes out in the fall.

Wicked Wonderland by Eva Chase (4 stars) – I’ve been looking out for a good Alice in Wonderland retelling for awhile now; I’m obsessed with the SyFy adaptation of Alice, and have had this hope of somehow finding the book equivalent. With Wicked Wonderland, the first book in the Looking-Glass Curse trilogy, I finally found one that worked for me! Lyssa’s just been cheated on by her boyfriend, and after her aunt passes away and leaves her a house, she moves into the secluded mansion in the forest and discovers an unusual mirror. This being an Alice retelling, she of course falls through the mirror into Wonderland and into the resistance movement against the tyrannical Queen of Hearts–while falling for three very different men she meets. It’s a slow-burn fantasy romance, with the heroine moving in the direction of a poly relationship rather than a love square (which was a refreshing change in a romance, as there isn’t any jealousy or competition, but rather mature people communicating about what they’re looking for in relationships) but the resistance plotline, along with the heroine’s journey towards believing in herself, takes center stage. Definitely recommend if you’re looking for an adult retelling of Wonderland with plenty of action and romance.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera (4 stars) – I really loved this contemporary coming-of-age story that focuses on intersectional feminism. The main character, Juliet, is so relatable, as is her search for knowledge about gender, feminism, race, and intersectionality that leads to constant questioning and learning from everyone around her. It’s a book that I really think everyone would benefit from reading.

Wrathful Wonderland by Eva Chase (4 stars) – In the second installment in Chase’s Looking-Glass Curse trilogy, Lyssa finds herself more deeply enmeshed in the resistance movement against the Queen of Hearts, and even more drawn to the three men she met in book 1–and they, in turn, begin to have more and more faith in her ability to save Wonderland.

The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson (3.5 stars) – A very cute, Miss Congeniality-esque book about a nerdy teacher who has to take her twin’s place at a beauty pageant after an allergic reaction renders her twin unable to compete. It was a very fun read that made me want to re-watch Miss Congeniality immediately afterwards.

The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess (3 stars) – I was hoping to like this one more than I did. It’s a summer coming-of-age story set in the 1980’s, following an aspiring writer finding herself wandering down the wrong path, in no small part due to her desire to be a part of the literary and artistic elite crowd where her family summers on Cape Cod. Unfortunately, I felt that although it was a quick, entertaining read, it lacked depth, and I had a big problem with one character’s extremely problematic actions being excused at the end.

 

Here’s to finding some 5-star reads in March!

December Reading Wrap-Up (Last Wrap-Up of 2019!) (Belated)

 

OK, yes, it’s late January, and here is finally my December reading wrap-up, but last year I promised that I’d stop remarking on the lateness of my wrap-up blog posts, so I’d like to take that energy into 2020. December ended up being the month with the most 5-star reads in all of 2019, and I discovered a few new favorites in addition to re-reading one of my favorite YA books of all time. I also picked up several novellas that surprised me, and read a Star Wars book for the first time in many years in preparation for the release of The Rise of Skywalker. Let’s get into the stats!

December reading stats

Total books read: 10

ARCs: 1

ebooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

The Test by Sylvain NeuvelAll Systems Red by Martha WellsNinth House by Leigh BardugoArtificial Condition by Martha WellsGhost Wall by Sarah MossIn Other Lands by Sarah Rees BrennanAn Easy Death (Gunnie Rose, #1)A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris

Resistance Reborn by Rebecca RoanhorseDeathless by Catherynne M. Valente

And now for some reviews!

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (5 stars) – this is now my third 5-star read from Catherynne M. Valente, the previous two being The Refrigerator Monologues and Space Opera, and if she wasn’t already, she’s now been firmly cemented in favorite author status for me. Deathless is dark, disturbing, even disgusting at times, but beautiful in spite of or perhaps because of these elements. Set in Russia, it has so many elements of both history and mythology twisted into its narrative (some I was familiar with, some I was not, but I definitely don’t think you need to be an expert of Russian history to enjoy this book, although you’d probably pick up on some elements I may have missed) but still manages to create something wholly new and unique. It centers around the twisted, myth-based love story of Marya Morevna, who when the story begins is a young girl growing up as Russia turns to communism, and Koschei the Deathless, a villainous god from Russian mythology. They spend years fighting against and falling into the tropes that myth have set for them, meanwhile encountering other memorable figures both historical and mythical. Valente’s writing is so saturated and compelling that you feel completely immersed while at times forced to distance yourself and reflect on what she’s doing with the narrative, which is always something impressively clever. I was absolutely blown away by this book, and I can’t wait to pick up more from her and find out what other worlds she’s created in her books.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (5 stars) (re-read) – Although this is my second reading of In Other Lands, my feelings have not changed since my initial read, so I’m just going to include my original Goodreads review, with a brief addendum at the end:

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 struture.

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.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (5 stars) – I’ve seen some stellar and some disappointed reviews for this highly hyped adult fiction debut from YA powerhouse Leigh Bardugo, and I found myself falling firmly in the “love” camp on this one. Ninth House is dark, yes, and there is a LOT of infodumping, yes, but neither of those things tend to bother me; on the contrary, if I’m really interested in a book, I’d always rather err on the side of more information, and I don’t really mind if it’s presented in the narrative or outside of it. And although the worldbuilding of Ninth House is fascinating–magical secret societies at Yale, a protagonist with the ability to see ghosts, magic driving political and business leaders’ decisions but sourced from college students–it was the characters that really grabbed me. Alex, a misfit with a dark, haunted past, and Darlington, an old-money “gentleman,” both won me over instantly, and their scenes together were some of my favorite in the book. I also think Ninth House sets itself up really well for a sequel, which I can’t wait for.

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (5 stars) – I love a short, impactful literary fiction novel with a unique premise. Ghost Wall is about a modern-day family who joins a summer university project to live like it’s the Iron Age, but the historical reenactment brings out the worst in the family’s abusive father, and the daughter is confronted with just how disturbing his actions are. It’s extremely tightly written, a very fully realized story with no extraneous words or actions, and I’ll definitely be looking to pick up more from this author.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (4 stars) – Even after hearing about a million positive reviews of this scifi novella series, I was put off by the name (Murderbot isn’t a word that’s instantly appealing to me) but I finally gave into the hype, and I’m very glad I did. Following Murderbot (who named itself) a bot intended for guard/protection duty who has hacked its system and now spends most of its time watching TV inside its head, All Systems Red is both very funny and also full of plenty of action, as Murderbot’s most recent mission to protect a team of scientists goes very awry and it’s forced to interact with people far more than it feels comfortable with. Murderbot is a great, memorable character, and as soon as I finished this novella I knew I’d be picking up the rest of the series next.

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel (4 stars) – a twisty, addicting scifi novella about a man taking a UK citizenship test where something goes horribly wrong. You really don’t want to know much going into this one, since it goes in several unexpected directions, but I read it in one sitting and would very much recommend–it would be perfect for a readathon,

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (4 stars) – the sequel to All Systems Red, this novella follows Murderbot as it attempts to fill in the gaps in its memory about the events that lead to it hacking its system and gaining autonomy. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as All Systems Red, but I did enjoy the interactions between Murderbot and an overbearing transport ship it meets.

Star Wars: Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse (4 stars) – the last time I picked up a Star Wars book, I think I was about ten and obsessed with Queen Amidala’s outfits and badassness from Episode 1. I was inspired to return to the world of Star Wars books for a few specific reasons: Rebecca Roanhorse, whose Sixth World series I’m obsessed with and recommend to everyone who listens; my love of the new Star Wars sequel trilogy and impatience for The Rise of Skywalker to come out; and my best friend, who’s obsessed with Star Wars and bought me a copy of Resistance Reborn when she was worried she wouldn’t finish her copy in time to lend it to me before the movie’s release. I’m very glad I did end up picking it up, as I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book; it’s a bridge between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, jumping between several perspectives but focusing in particular on Poe and his struggles with the events of The Last Jedi and the ramifications of his actions. I really liked how Roanhorse delved into the emotional fallout from The Last Jedi, and also was very much on board with the interesting side characters she introduced. I’m definitely glad I picked this one up; it’s definitely not necessary for understanding the movies, but it works well as a companion.

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris (4 stars) (re-read) – Again, since this was a re-read, I’m including my original Goodreads review; I felt similarly about it upon re-read.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Charlaine Harris book, but for years and years, I devoured every book of hers that I could get my hands on, starting with the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries series. She’s still #1 on my most-read authors feature on Goodreads (although Ilona Andrews has recently caught up, and they’re currently tied for first place with 28 books each). When I heard that she had a new book coming out, though, and that she would be signing copies at BookCon, I was so excited to be able to dive back into her writing. And An Easy Death definitely did not disappoint; the premise is a lot different than Harris’s other books, but it has her signature cozy mystery-esque writing style alongside plenty of action and lovable characters.

An Easy Death is hard to classify, genre-wise; it’s sort of an alternate history Western with fantasy elements. It’s set in a version of a fractured United States that splintered apart after the assassination of FDR and a series of disasters, and at the time the book is set, pieces of the U.S. are now owned by Canada, Mexico, and England, and the exiled tsar of Russia has settled on the West Coast with his army of grigoris, or wizards. Our main character Lizbeth Rose lives in the southwestern country of Texoma and works as a gunnie, sort of a gunslinger/bodyguard hired out to protect people. She gets drawn into a search for a missing grigori when she’s hired by two wizards as a guide and protector, and although she’s not a fan of magic or the Russian wizards that brought it with them to her country, she’s determined to see her mission through.

There are really no dull moments in An Easy Death; it’s action-packed and does have a high body count. Lizbeth Rose is a badass, street-smart heroine who’s easy to root for, and she faces down a series of bandits, wizards, and rival gunslingers head-on. The worldbuilding is gradual and fascinating; the concept of the Romanovs surviving an assassination attempt and fleeing Russia for California is a particularly interesting one, as well as the idea that Rasputin had actual magical powers that he taught to a host of other magic-wielders. The book sets up a sequel well, as there’s still a lot left to explore at the end of the book, and I really can’t wait to return to this world. I think that this book would work really well for fans of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (which I also loved) as well as urban fantasy fans looking for something different. Highly recommend!

A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris (3 stars) – Unfortunately, A Longer Fall missed the mark for me, especially compared with the first book in Charlaine Harris’s fantastical, Western alternate history series, An Easy Death. I love the world-building in these books (FDR was assassinated, which set off a chain of events that fractured the United States into several smaller countries, and California/Oregon was settled by the exiled Russian tsar and an order of magic users founded by Rasputin), and the first book was an action-packed ride featuring “gunnie” or hired bodyguard Lizbeth Rose as she took a job protecting two Russian wizards whose mission had a connection to her past.

A Longer Fall brings back Russian wizard love interest Eli, who I did find likable in the first book and who hires Lizbeth to help him track down a mysterious crate in the nearby country of Dixie, or what was formerly the American South. A Longer Fall is slower in pace, with not much of a payoff at the end, and a romance that quickly turns from interesting to stale. A central issue in this book is Dixie’s pervasive racism and sexism, which could have been interesting for the story to delve into, but unfortunately I didn’t feel that either topic was handled very well.

I love Charlaine Harris, and I hate that I’m not giving this book a higher rating, but ultimately it just wasn’t as enjoyable for me as many of her other books have been.

I received an eARC of A Longer Fall courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.