I actually have another post about a Talia Hibbert book coming up soon but I had to get this one posted before Christmas had passed so just ignore that these are posted out of order please and thanks 😉
Oh! And Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating and happy Saturday to everyone!
William Reid is nothing special, except for his billion-dollar acting career and his, you know, face. (Apparently, it’s a good one.) Winning ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ was nice, but this Christmas, he has more important goals in mind… like finally winning over his best friend’s little sister, the super-smart and kinda-scary Abbie Farrell.
When a blizzard leaves Will and Abbie alone at Grandma Farrell’s house (if bunking with 27 pets counts as ‘alone’), it’s the perfect opportunity to pull off a Christmas miracle. Convincing clever, frosty Abbie to give Will a chance will take more than mistletoe, but hiding his lifelong crush on her is no longer an option.
Okay, I want to start this off by saying that I think the synopsis doesn’t quite represent what this story is about. There is a blizzard but it plays into the story a lot less than I expected it to and I assumed that they would be the only characters at Abbie’s Grandma’s house but they aren’t!
Now, with that being said, I adored this novella. Abbie and Will were such a cute pairing and I wish I could have seen more of them. I do think that this could have (and maybe should have) been a full length novel but I did enjoy the story that we were given. There was a depth that I wasn’t expecting and while I loved that aspect, I would have loved it even more if we had been able to see it play out in a longer narrative.
Abbie and Will (and Abbie’s twin brother) have been best friends since childhood and when returning to the UK for Christmas, Will has a hairbrained scheme to get Abbie to fall for him. Will had moved to the US to work as an actor in a Captain America type role. He’s got the personality of a golden retriever and his crush on Abbie was endearing. Abbie has become jaded to romance after having removed herself from an abusive marriage years prior. This was a slow burn back and forth between the pair as they both try to communicate to each other what they’re feeling and why.
I enjoyed the honesty that this couple had. It was nice seeing how Will did what he could to reassure Abbie that his feelings were true and that he cared about her and never wanted to do anything that could hurt her. To give her peace of mind after everything that she had been through was a priority for him and he was willing to have whatever type of relationship with her that she would allow. That was really lovely to see, that he was willing to set aside his own feelings in order to make her comfortable.
Following Abbie and Will as they were the first two to arrive at Grandma Farrell’s house, I found so many parts of this story humorous as they danced around each other. Another reason that I wish this would have been a novel is because I wanted to see more of the family interactions. Books where families are close are some of my favorites and I especially love eccentric grandmas which is exactly what Abbie’s was.
Wrapped Up In You was a cozy and sweet holiday romance novella and I enjoyed every second of it. With a lovely friends to lovers plot and some healthy doses of comedy I highly recommend this read. I would have enjoyed a longer version especially considering this was a slow burn but it was a story I’ll come back to again and again for some cozy feelings. I rated it five stars.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Roy Kent from Ted Lasso and Jessica Day from New Girl ran a bookstore together? Well, you’re in luck because The Mistletoe Motive by Chloe Liese is exactly that story.
He loathes the holidays. She loves them. She’s full of festive cheer. He’s brimming with Bah, Humbugs. Besides unreasonably seasonable names, the only thing Jonathan Frost and Gabriella Di Natale have in common is a healthy dose of mutual contempt. Well, that and the same place of employment at the city’s most beloved independent bookstore, Bailey’s Bookshop. But when the store’s owners confess its dire financial state, Jonathan and Gabby discover another unfortunate commonality: the imminent threat of unemployment.
With the Baileys’ requests to minimize expenses, win new customers, and make record sales dancing in their heads, Jonathan and Gabby conclude—barring a financial Christmas miracle—one of them will soon be cut from the payroll. Neither are willing to step down from their position, so they strike a bargain: whoever has more sales in December gets to stay on in the new year; the loser will resign. With a lifetime’s worth of festive tricks up her sleeve, Gabby should easily outsell her nemesis, except the unreadable Mr. Frost’s every move seems purely designed to throw her off her game.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Gabby’s deceptive ex won’t quit pursuing her, and her anonymous online friend suggests they take a break. Worst of all, as the pressure mounts to save the bookshop and her job, Gabby meets a new, tender side of Jonathan. Is this the same man she’s called her cold-hearted enemy?
Maybe he’s got a motive she just can’t figure out—or maybe Jonathan Frost isn’t as chilly as she once thought. Maybe Jonathan and Gabby already know—and love—each other in ways they never thought possible.
I’m a self-proclaimed Grinch. There are aspects of the holidays that I enjoy (ugly Christmas sweaters for one) but overall I always end up super grumpy when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around. Usually I avoid any sort of holiday centered media but this year I decided I wanted to give some holiday romances a try. I’d seen a tweet about this novella, summarizing The Mistletoe Motive as a grumpyxsunshine couple and likening the pair to Roy Kent and Jessica Day. Now it might be because I just binged almost all of Ted Lasso and am also in the midst of rewatching New Girl but I said “bah humbug spirit, who?” and immediately bought the book. I then proceeded to read the entire thing in one sitting when I couldn’t sleep the night before one of my finals.
Jonathan and Gabby are a force to be reckoned with. The chemistry between them was instantly palpable and I knew that I was in for a fun read. I’ll admit, this book was cheesy as hell but I think that added to my enjoyment. It’s been a while since I’ve felt the type of warm and fuzzy feelings that this book gave me and I loved every minute of it. Gabby is autistic as well as demisexual and I liked seeing how these aspects of her life tied into the overall story. It was funny seeing how she was absolutely baffled by this attraction that she was feeling to Jonathan even though, from an outside perspective, it was obvious how much they were meant for each other.
Another aspect to this was Gabby’s own inner struggle with interpersonal interactions and her nerves over revealing that she was autistic to Jonathan. These nerves really hit home with me as I saw myself reflected in some of her thoughts. It can be terrifying telling someone that you potentially have feelings for about something personal that could end up changing their entire view of you. And adding in on top of that the ease with which one could misread social cues I could completely understand why Gabby reacted the way that she did time and time again throughout the novella.
The more that Jonathan and Gabby communicated with each and got more comfortable with each other, the more that my heart absolutely ached for them. This was a painful slow burn and I mean that in the best way possible. It was clear that Jonathan cared about Gabby because even though he was grumpy to the max, he would do so many little things that displayed how well he knew her. Like remembering her coffee shop order. One thing that always gets to me in romances is either main character simply remembering small things about the other. It makes me melt every single time!
Other things that I really enjoyed about this were the inclusion of hockey in the plot and the side plot “mistaken identity” of the internet love interest. I love hockey so this was just fun even though it was a really minor part of the story. I also absolutely love books where the characters are unaware of the fact that the anonymous person they’ve been interacting with online is the person that they’re falling for in real life. It’s one of my favorite tropes so I loved that this was part of this story.
Overall I absolutely adored The Mistletoe Motive. It was so cheesy but I loved every second of it. I finished my marathon one sitting read with so many warm and fuzzy feelings that I almost wanted to immediately reread it. If you’re looking for a quick read with a bookstore setting and some good old holiday cheer with a grumpyxsunshine couple I highly recommend this book. I rated it five stars.
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And if you’re interested in buying it, this is a Kobo original so that’s the one place you can find it. The link to that is here.
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I can’t believe it’s December already!! This year has been such a whirlwind but I still feel like my brain is stuck in 2019 even though we’re almost in 2022.
Now, as we close in on the final month of the year, I know that there are some of you out there frantically reading books to try and catch up with your Goodreads goals if you’ve fallen behind. So I decided today I’d recommend four sci-fi novellas and one fantasy novella for some quick reads that you can pack in before the end of the year.
Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
I’ll kick things off with Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor. This is 160 pages long and follows Fatima, a young girl who has become Death’s adopted daughter. Ever since the day she forgot her name, she has gone by Sankofa. Death, and a fox, have been her constant companions. I really want to recommend going into this book as blindly as you can. It’s eerie and intriguing and heart wrenching all at once. I was captivated from page one and rated this four stars.
Another sci-fi novella that explores the topic of grief is The Seep by Chana Porter. The Seep is 216 pages long and follows Trina Goldberg-Oneka, a trans woman living in the aftermath of an alien invasion called, The Seep. This is an alien book that is different than any other I’ve read before and it was absolutely fascinating. In the years following the initial invasion, Earth has drastically changed. Capitalism has fallen and barriers are broken down, essentially anything is possible in this Seep filled world. As the book opens, Trina’s wife makes a life altering decision to be reborn as a baby and the rest of the story follows how Trina tries to accept what has happened. This was a really unexpected story and I rated it four stars.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Everyone has been raving about this book since it came out and I’ve picked it up more than once but never ended up finishing it. This is HowYou Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone follows two agents, Red and Blue, who are on opposite sides of a war that spans across time. This book is beautifully written and there are so many quotes that stole my heart. It’s captivating while I don’t think that the writing style will be for everyone it’s such a unique story and I highly recommend it. It’s 209 pages long and I rated it five stars.
You can add This is How You Lose the Time War on Goodreads here.
And if you’re interested in purchasing a copy of your own, you can find it at the following links:
Here is the one fantasy novella I have for this post. A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson is a fantasy horror retelling of Dracula. Written as a letter to an unnamed vampire, one of Dracula’s wives reclaims her power as she recounts her time with him. It’s an immaculate story about surviving abuse and I was pulled in from the opening page. Moments were hard to read as Constanta was pushed and pulled through her narrative because even though the ending was told at the very beginning, it still had me nervous for all the victims of Dracula. This book was 248 pages long and was a five star read for me.
Content warnings for this include emotional and mental abuse, war, plague, famine, gaslighting, blood, and violence.
I’m going to end the post with a novella that’s part of a series, just in case you want a bunch of books you can devour. All Systems Red is the first book in The Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells. I sped through this book the first time I read it. It’s such a unique concept following a robot that’s supposed to be used only to murder but instead has become sentient and really just wants to watch TV. Not only was it action packed, there were moments that were genuinely laugh out loud funny. I can’t wait to reread this and finally keep going with the series! It’s 144 pages long (and it so didn’t feel long enough!) and I rated it five stars.
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Alexander Woodroe has it all. Charm. Sex appeal. Wealth. Fame. A starring role as Cupid on TV’s biggest show, God of the Gates. But the showrunners have wrecked his character, he’s dogged by old demons, and his post-show future remains uncertain. When all that reckless emotion explodes into a bar fight, the tabloids and public agree: his star is falling.
Enter Lauren Clegg, the former ER therapist hired to keep him in line. Compared to her previous work, watching over handsome but impulsive Alex shouldn’t be especially difficult. But the more time they spend together, the harder it gets to keep her professional remove and her heart intact, especially when she discovers the reasons behind his recklessness…not to mention his Cupid fanfiction habit.
When another scandal lands Alex in major hot water and costs Lauren her job, she’ll have to choose between protecting him and offering him what he really wants—her. But he’s determined to keep his improbably short, impossibly stubborn, and extremely endearing minder in his life any way he can. And on a road trip up the California coast together, he intends to show her exactly what a falling star will do to catch the woman he loves: anything at all.
Content warnings will be included at the end of the reviews.
e-ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley in exchange for review.
All the Feels truly gave me all the feels.
This might be one of my new favorite romances of all time. I flew through this and saw so many parts of myself in the main characters that I couldn’t help but root for both of them. All the Feels follows Alex, an actor with ADHD, after an incident at a bar leads him to be assigned a minder to keep him out of future trouble. Lauren, the woman who has been tasked with keeping Alex out of trouble, is an emergency room therapist who hopes that after her previous work this job will be a welcome break. What neither of them expects are the feelings that begin developing between them and the scandal that threatens to break them apart.
I feel like I shouldn’t focus my entire review on the ADHD rep in this book but genuinely I felt so seen that I absolutely won’t hesitate to scream my praises for this aspect. The impulsivity, the rage, the rejection sensitivity. Yes, there were also all of the aspects that had to do with the inability to focus or the hyperfocusing but it really got to me seeing all of the other parts included too. Plus seeing how that played into first his friendship, and then his relationship with Lauren had me remembering so many little aspects of relationships I’ve been in in the past and realizing how much my own ADHD factored in. Seriously though, absolutely can’t emphasize enough how spot on the ADHD rep was.
In terms of the story, I liked the way it progressed. From an almost disastrous meeting to friendship to scandal and more I was loving every minute of it. All the Feels was angsty but funny and I enjoyed the dynamics between Alex and Lauren. I’m a fan of relationships where one person is constantly bugging the other and that other person tries their hardest not to give in and acknowledge it because they actually do find it funny and that’s exactly the dynamic that Alex and Lauren had. She tried so hard to keep up this no nonsense demeanor that when it would crack I couldn’t help but laugh. And when she would join Alex and they would banter it made it all the better.
Another thing that I really liked about this book was that Alex and Lauren challenged each other. They both had growing that they needed to do and I liked seeing how they both taught each other things. It was refreshing to see another book where both of the characters needed to work on themselves a bit and as I will always say, yay for book characters going to therapy!
Oh, and the fact that Alex not only reads fanfiction, but takes a stab at writing it?? Coupled with the absolute sheer joy he gets upon realizing he gets to live out the “only one bed” trope made my entire week when I first read this! I’m already contemplating rereading this before the year is over just because I enjoyed it that much. Five stars to All the Feels.
Since reading All the Feels, I did also end up picking up the first book in Dade’s series, Spoiler Alert so I thought I’d add a mini review of that before I sign off.
Dade has created such fun stories in this series that I can’t wait to see what sort of scenario she creates next. I really enjoy seeing how the characters connect and I so appreciate that friendship is a big aspect of these books.
I will say that I thought that Marcus and April had significantly less chemistry. It was harder for me to read their relationship as genuine because it felt more like lust instead of genuine chemistry. With that being said, I know that’s a very *me* opinion and I still completely understand why people adore this book. There was also character growth in this book and it was nice to see both characters open up to each other as the story progressed. Overall, I enjoyed Spoiler Alert and ended up giving it three stars.
I would highly recommend either of these books and will happily pick up Dade’s next book too. I think that these are so much fun and I’m so glad I picked them up!
Content Warnings (this is a combined list from both books): fatphobia/fat shaming, domestic abuse, emotional manipulation/abuse (from parents)
Now, if you’re interested in picking up a copy of either book, you can find them at the following places:
I always have big plans for October. So many blog posts I want to write, books I want to read, things I want to do; but I always end up doing none of them. October is a weird month. The weather begins to change and the leaves are bright and colorful. It’s my favorite time of year but at the same time, it’s the hardest time of year for me.
I’ve done a lot of work in the past year and half to get back on a path that makes me happy. I feel like I’ve made huge strides in some areas but other areas I’m stuck. Trauma is weird. It doesn’t matter how much I love fall, how happy it makes me, I still freeze and spend most of the season getting through each day because I’m unable to truly focus on the things that usually bring me joy. I’m thinking next year I might write all my October posts in August, but we’ll see 🙂
With that being said, it’s November! This semester is simultaneously dragging and flying by. There’s only one full week of classes left before finals and I’m amazed that I made it this far. Once the semester is over I think I’m going to try and write a more thorough post about my return to school but for now, I’ll just say that despite all the challenges I’ve had to deal with I’m really proud of myself for getting to where I am.
October was a good month. I got to see my best friend and
Went on a hike and took a bunch of pictures. This was the first time in a long time that I’ve pulled out my camera and it was nice to get excited about taking photos for once. (All the pictures in this post are ones I took with my phone because I haven’t gotten the other ones off my memory card yet.)
I haven’t read many books over the last month but I am working on a bunch of partially written posts so hopefully I’ll have some up over the next week or so.
And now that I realize it took me a month to actually write this post and I didn’t really say anything, I’ll sign off with well, November happened too.
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I mentioned a a few posts back in my review of Radiance by Grace Draven that I was working on a review of The Bridge Kingdom duology and here it finally is!
So I desperately want to love books that are marketed as “enemies-to-lovers” but until now I have yet to find any book that fulfills this trope to the extent that I always hope it will. Look, there’s nothing wrong with a book being considered “rivals to lovers” or even simply “we got off on the wrong foot to lovers” but when I say I want enemies to lovers, I mean enemies. I want my characters to be actively plotting how they’re going to kill each other before they finally realize that they actually don’t want to kill each other. Most of the time, enemies-to-lovers boils down to two characters who had some sort of miscommunication and once they finally talk to each other then they’re fine. Personally, I think that this trope fits in best in fantasy settings so when I was watching a video from Riley Marie about another trope I enjoy (video is hyperlinked through her name) and when she suggested The Bridge Kingdom duology I jumped at the chance to read it. And let me tell you, it was everything I was looking for in an enemies-to-lovers book. If you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts on the books, keep reading!
The Bridge Kingdom Review
A warrior princess trained in isolation, Lara is driven by two certainties. The first is that King Aren of the Bridge Kingdom is her enemy. And the second is that she’ll be the one to bring him to his knees.
The only route through a storm-ravaged world, the Bridge Kingdom enriches itself and deprives its rivals, including Lara’s homeland. So when she’s sent as a bride under the guise of peace, Lara is prepared to do whatever it takes to fracture its impenetrable defenses. And the defenses of its king.
Yet as she infiltrates her new home and gains a deeper understanding of the war to possess the bridge, Lara begins to question whether she’s the hero or the villain. And as her feelings for Aren transform from frosty hostility to fierce passion, Lara must choose which kingdom she’ll save… and which kingdom she’ll destroy.
This book was so much fun to read. I’ll admit that I thought the story was slightly outrageous at times but I’ve never read a fantasy romance before and I think that this might be a new favorite genre for me if I’m lucky enough to find more books like The Bridge Kingdom.
From the very beginning I was entranced by the plot, this book threw us almost straight into the action and while it wasn’t necessarily what I expected I was intrigued to see where the story went. Our main character, Lara, has trained for most of her life alongside a number of her sisters in order to one day potentially be chosen to wed the king of Ithicana, or the Bridge Kingdom. Ithicana is seen as a power hold because the bridge that crosses over it is an essential trade route and Lara has been trained to see this bridge as a way to save her homeland from ruin. For her entire life she has been told by her father and her mentors that Ithicana is a selfish kingdom that only cares about gaining riches for themselves and so when she becomes the daughter that will wed Ithicana’s king, Lara knows she will do anything in her power to destroy the Bridge Kingdom and save her home.
The Bridge Kingdom was a delightfully angsty slow burn romance. At times, I genuinely forgot that this was supposed to be a romance because of the way that Lara had been so thoroughly brainwashed by her father and mentors. There were so many moments where evidence showing her the opposite of what she was taught were right in front of her and yet Lara constantly fought against that. It was frustrating but so realistic to the power that being brainwashed can hold on someone. As I watched Lara and Aren dance around each other waiting for one of them to slip up but also both falling for each other I was delighted with their chemistry and the path the story took.
The angst in this duology is honestly next level. As the story went on I enjoyed reading Lara’s inner battle with her duty to her home kingdom, her personal mission, and her conflicting feelings regarding Aren and Ithicana. Aren trusted Lara long before she trusted him despite the fact that everyone close to him still warned against trusting her so much. Lara wants to take down Ithicana because ultimately she wants freedom and that’s the only way she sees a positive outcome for herself. She wants her home kingdom to be taken care of but after being trapped for so long by her father she wants to be free from it all. Seriously, so. Much. Angst. Basically, if you’re not into characters who are prone to the dramatic, this might not be the book for you!
One other thing that I wanted to mention that I really enjoyed about this duology is the setting. I’m used to reading fantasy books that take place in deciduous or coniferous forest biomes with mountains, etc. There are usually oceans and they do often sail in other books but I liked that this duology had such a large focus on water. Lara grew up in the middle of a desert and Ithicana is a tropical grouping of islands. Ithicana has to deal with a storm season that make water travel incredibly dangerous. On top of the storms the waters are also infested with sharks. The islands also have deadly snakes so honestly just loving the danger in these books.
The Bridge Kingdom hit every single mark in my dream enemies-to-lovers book and I rated it five stars.
Heads up but this section will contain spoilers relating to the first book! If you haven’t read the first book feel free to skip down to the end of this post for my sign off and some extra links. Otherwise feel free to sign off here and I’ll talk to you in my next post!
A queen now in exile as a traitor, Lara has watched Ithicana be conquered by her own father, helpless to do anything to stop the destruction. But when she learns her husband, Aren, has been captured in battle, Lara knows there is only one reason her father is keeping him alive: as bait for his traitorous daughter.
And it is bait she fully intends to take.
Risking her life to the Tempest Seas, Lara returns to Ithicana with a plan not only to free its king, but for liberating the Bridge Kingdom from her father’s clutches using his own weapons: the sisters whose lives she spared. But not only is the palace inescapable, there are more players in the game than Lara ever realized, enemies and allies switching sides in the fight for crowns, kingdoms, and bridges. But her greatest adversary of all might be the very man she’s trying to free – the husband she betrayed.
With everything she loves in jeopardy, Lara must decide who – and what – she is fighting for: her kingdom, her husband, or herself.
I hopped into reading The Traitor Queen immediately upon finishing The Bridge Kingdom. If anything, these are great books to read back to back. The story is fast paced enough that you almost won’t realize that you’ve read about 700 pages by the end of them. The ending of the first book had me needing to find out what happened next so I devoured this book in about half the time it took me to read The Bridge Kingdom.
This book had so much action in it and I really enjoyed seeing how Lara’s sisters fit into the plot. Honestly all of the characters that we were introduced to in this book were integral to the plot and the way everything came together had me in shock more than once.
Now if The Bridge Kingdom was angsty, The Traitor Queen is on another level entirely. I definitely didn’t hate it but holy cow it was taxing to read at times. I just kept waiting for things to fall into place and stop having more things become something disastrously dramatic. Aren became a bit frustrating in this book because he had trusted Lara so readily in the first book and yet became so wishy-washy. I could understand his thoughts from the perspective of hating Lara but I also felt like he was heavily influenced by the people around him and at times it made me question his ability as a king. Obviously it’s important for him to be able to trust his companions but at the same time, he pushed them to trust Lara in the first book and I found it surprising that he took such a firm stance against her despite the fact that she tried to explain to him what happened.
Now Lara was dealing with the consequences of her actions from the first book and I could understand her feelings most of the time but I wished she had been stronger in her beliefs and her dedication to Ithicana. If this had been the case, I think that this book potentially could have been shorter and by the time I reached the actual ending I found myself thinking how much less taxing it would have been if this book were about 50 pages shorter. It seemed like Lara kept ending up in bad situations because she was in that same wishy-washy mindset as Aren and instead of dedicating herself fully to Ithicana from the beginning she kept getting in her own head. And don’t get me wrong, I loved this book, but again I warn you that if you aren’t a fan of angst or drama, this might not be the duology for you!
In the end, I gave this book 4 stars because it was a genuinely fun read. I think the main reason I ended up knocking off a star was because of the length and the heightened dramatics towards the end of the story. This was such a fun duology though and I can’t wait for the next book in this series to come out!
e-ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley in exchange for review.
When I first saw the cover reveal for this book I was entranced and couldn’t wait to pick it up. It was giving me Gothic romance vibes and I wanted to see how this might be incorporated into a young adult novel. That being said, I think that this might have done better as an adult Gothic romance but as it was I was bored with this book and found it lacking.
There are monsters in the world.
When Violeta Graceling arrives at haunted Lakesedge estate, she expects to find a monster. She knows the terrifying rumors about Rowan Sylvanan, who drowned his entire family when he was a boy. But neither the estate nor the monster are what they seem.
There are monsters in the woods.
As Leta falls for Rowan, she discovers he is bound to the Lord Under, the sinister death god lurking in the black waters of the lake. A creature to whom Leta is inexplicably drawn…
There’s a monster in the shadows, and now it knows my name.
Now, to save Rowan—and herself—Leta must confront the darkness in her past, including unraveling the mystery of her connection to the Lord Under.
This review will contain spoilers.
Lakesedge followed Violeta (Leta) Graceling and her younger brother, Arien, after they’ve been taken back to an estate with Rowan who is a boy known simply as The Monster of Lakesedge. As the story progresses, she realizes how entwined this estate is with the evil god the Lord Under. It’s a story about magic and seems very connected to a larger metaphor for mental illness and I can only hope that the second book improves upon the events of the first.
I thought that Lakesedge started off interesting enough. I will include a more comprehensive list of content warnings at the end of this review but I do want to start off by saying that this starts off right away with scenes depicting emotional and physical abuse. I’ll admit, I found large portions of this book to be really triggering and I almost DNF’ed it but when I set it aside for a few weeks I was already 60% of the way through and decided to just see if it got any better. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
When the story first opened it raised so many questions. I was so confused by the world and spent the entire book waiting for questions to be answered but only ended up with more questions. The world itself felt underdeveloped as a whole and I hope that the second book gives more explanation but saying that ultimately doesn’t fix this book. The woman who raised Leta and Arien was very religious and this seems to be how people are in the world overall. They essentially worship a goddess of light which is why the dark magic that Arien possesses is seen as evil. Leta has spent her entire life protecting Arien with a zeal that I think many older sisters could relate to. The Lord Under is the evil god that they have in this religion and he gets the main focus in this story which left me, again, with more questions because he was so tangible and yet the goddess was often an afterthought.
Past these aspects I found myself understanding next to nothing about the religion and culture of the world that these characters resided in. YA fantasy often doesn’t have the in depth systems that adult fantasy has and I’ve always been grateful for that because they’re easier for me to consume. This is one story though where I definitely needed more to understand what was going on. There was magic, and alchemy involved with said magic, but nothing really came of this. The powers were just mentioned and there and the story would move on. I understood that at the heart of it, Lakesedge was a character driven story but with the plot as it was, I didn’t feel like I was able to connect with any of the characters.
Our main character is Violeta (Leta) Graceling and I’ll come back to her later because I have a lot of thoughts about who she was as a person but first, the other characters. We also had Arien, Leta’s younger brother, Rowan, the Monster of Lakesedge, as well as an alchemist, Clover, and a housekeeper, Florence. I found all of the characters to be flat and too often they seemed to be there for no real reason at all. I was especially confused by Florence because as the only true adult in this group she didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Maybe if there was more explanation into the dynamics between her and Rowan or the culture I would have understood why she just sat on the sidelines while she watched these kids destroy themselves both physically and mentally.
The central conflict to this book is a corruptive magic that has spread through Lakesedge following an incident in Rowan’s past. Rowan is supposed to be this evil monster and yet there was next to no evidence of this outside of the stories from his past. So when Leta constantly tried to remind herself that she couldn’t possibly have feelings for him because he’s a monster, I got really frustrated. Their romance almost felt like it was supposed to be a take on the “grumpy-sunshine” trope though I’ve also read in some other reviews that it was a Beauty and the Beast retelling of sorts. I could see where the author wanted it go but neither character ended up being strong enough characters to make this work. I genuinely thought that Leta had more chemistry with The Lord Under than she did with Rowan (whoops).
Now on to Leta.
I know that the author probably meant to give Leta pure intentions in her actions throughout the course of this novel but she made me so sad. Her self-sacrificial martyr complex was genuinely too much for me. I kept waiting for her to find a different solution, or for the group to come together and actually stop her from taking the steps that she did and yet that never occurred. The heavy depictions of trauma and mental illness throughout this book coupled with the fact that the corruptive magic required a physical sacrifice from Rowan that took the form of self harm through cutting ate away at me. I have no idea if this overall portrayal of mental illness is something that the author intended to have going in but I don’t think that it was done justice if it was. And if it was unintentional I have to say I’m really disappointed with how it all came together overall.
Leta was characterized in a way that she was unable to think past the actions she was currently taking. She had been through so many traumatic things in her life and it broke my heart to she how she treated her own life and future as something that could be thrown away so easily. With everything she did, she took care of everyone else before herself. It got to the point where it felt selfish instead of helpful, the pain that Leta was causing the other characters, especially her brother, was too much.
A battle with mental illness often feels impossible. From my own experiences I can say that with every step forward I take it feels like I take ten steps backward. Reading this book I saw a lot of my own mental illness in the story and that worried me a bit. There have only brief periods of time where I have had a healthy journey with mental health and I have put in a lot of work to try and deconstruct from the beliefs that I held and still hold. Reading Lakesedge I thought my younger self would have loved the book but I also have to note that my younger self would also seek out books that perpetuated the bad beliefs because I didn’t want to get better. I didn’t think that any aspect of my life would ever get better. I kept waiting for Leta to realize that she was hurting others and when she didn’t I just felt numb.
Arien knew what he was getting into and I was frustrated that Leta did whatever she could to either sabotage his efforts or pull all the burden onto herself. This is an incredibly unhealthy mindset and I can only hope that something changes in the second book and things get better but I’m worried. I don’t want people to step away from this book and think that they have to suffer along or think that they have to sacrifice themselves for the good of others.
Lakesedge began dark and it was intriguing. I was looking forward to an angsty romance with a grand Gothic setting. There was angst galore but instead of something captivating and unique I found the plot to be depressing and repetitive and the characters to be two-dimensional. Everything about this book felt underdeveloped from the setting and characters to the plot and fantasy elements. I was disappointed by this and ended up rating it two stars.
If you want to check out the book on Goodreads, you can find it here.
Content warnings: Death of a parent, death of a sibling (neither on page, but mentioned), self harm in the form of cutting (for the purpose of sacrifice), vomiting, drowning, emotional and physical abuse, depictions of trauma and depression
If you’ve picked up Lakesedge, what did you think of it? Am I wrong for reading into the plot so much? I just know how I was as a teen and don’t want someone like me to pick this up and find it influential in a negative manner.
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The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.
To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
Content warnings will be included at the end of my review.
This book was amazing. A futuristic sci-fi retelling of the only female emperor of China, Iron Widow took an already fascinating story and elevated it even further. Before I get into my review, I want to point you towards the author’s YouTube channel, linked here. Not only are the videos well researched, they’re all wonderfully scripted and I’m in awe of Zhao’s ability to weave in sponsorships from other companies as well as hype for this book.
So, as mentioned before, Iron Widow is a futuristic sci-fi retelling. Though a number of liberties were taken with the story I loved seeing how Zhao laced historical tidbits into the larger futuristic setting. There were Chrysalises, giant robots that are powered through a psychic link, that are used to fight off mecha aliens. But on the flip side, there is a stinging commentary on the harm of a patriarchal society. The story touches on things like the practice of foot binding and the dangers that young women face in terms of purity. It was scathing and heartbreaking at the same time.
Zhao wove together a fantastic narrative that balanced all of the complex elements perfectly. Looking back, I can see how hints about the finale were sprinkled in though in the moment I was so absorbed in finding out what happened next that I was shocked I hadn’t seen it coming. Without potentially giving anything away, I will just say that I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on the second book.
Now a huge portion of why I loved this book was the characters. They were spectacular. Morally grey and scheming I think that if I ever started writing fanfiction it would be for this book. Wu Zetian is our narrator and at times she seemed to run solely on spiteful fumes but in the grand scheme of it all I was amazed at what she was capable of. Bitter and intent on avenging the death of her older sister, Zetian volunteers to be a concubine to a pilot of one of the Chrysalises. By surviving killing the man who murdered her sister, she ends up being paired with Li Shimin, a pilot known as the Iron Demon, as both punishment and test.
By surviving her link with Shimin, Zetian becomes something more powerful than the pilot system has seen before. This pair spent so much time dancing around each other that I really appreciated the addition of Gao Yizhi, a boy that befriended Zetian in secret when she lived in her family’s home. I think that the three of them ended up working together in such an unexpected manner I was surprised by how their personalities ended up differing from what I imagined them to be.
I have a lot of respect for how Zhao crafted these characters. Each one struggled with trauma in their own way and it was well shown that they have a lot to learn about not only themselves but each other and the greater world. And yet even with all of that, I adored watching the three of them come together. Zhao has marketed this as a book that steps away from the standard love triangle and instead ushers in a polyamorous relationship and I have to say, I think that this should be the new standard. No hurt feelings over sides being picked and I think that the representation of a relationship like this, especially in YA, is something that adds new depth to the genre.
Iron Widow was a dark and gripping narrative that kept me on the edge of my seat. It was unique and powerful and a spectacular book overall. I rated it 5 stars and I highly recommend this.
Content Warnings: murder, death, torture, violence, thoughts of suicide, a lot of abuse (including domestic abuse and parental abuse), talk of sexual assault, alcoholism, depictions of trauma, anxiety, depression, mentions of needles, forced body modifications including footbinding and stolen organs, misogyny and sexism
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I am on such a romance kick right now, specifically fantasy romance. I’ve been struggling a lot mentally (thanks uni!) so diving into some books that give me all the warm and fuzzy feelings I could possibly want has helped immensely.
I’ve seen so many people talking about Radiance by Grace Draven recently so I checked it out from my library because I wasn’t sure how I’d end up feeling about it but let me tell you…. This was PHENOMENAL and I completely understand why everyone who talks about this book raves about it.
The Prince of no value Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne secured many times over. A trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty. Always a dutiful son, Brishen agrees to the marriage and discovers his bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined.
The noblewoman of no importance Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn’t just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she’s known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light.
Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics will discover they are destined for each other, even as the powers of a hostile kingdom scheme to tear them apart.
Radiance is a friends-to-lovers romance following Idilko and Brishen, two individuals pledged to marry one another in a strategic political move for their respective kingdoms. They’re both close enough to the throne to warrant an arranged marriage, but far enough away that their feelings were never considered before being betrothed. This was such an intriguing start to a book, these two kingdoms are vastly different, one isn’t even inhabited by humans, and I couldn’t wait to see where it went. Ildiko is human and Brishen is from a race of human-like creatures called Kai. The Kai have gray skin, sharp teeth and claws, and large dark eyes that better suit them for their nocturnal existence. I thought that this aspect of the story brought so much humor to the plot. I loved how they were both disgusted with each other in the beginning in terms of appearance and the fact that their insulting descriptions quickly turned into terms of endearment was amazing. The humor that Draven laced throughout this book really brought it to a new level from what I expected it to be. I won’t spoil anything but there are a few scenes where Ildiko and Brishen tried foods from the others kingdoms and oh boy, I actually laughed out loud reading about Brishen trying this particular human food.
Something else that I thought Draven did well with this book was the honesty that she fostered between the couple. It was refreshing and downright adorable at times. I swooned on more than one occasion while reading because I couldn’t handle how sweet Brishen and Ildiko were together. Brishen was respectful and caring and he complemented Ildiko perfectly. With the honesty that they harbored the chemistry was evident from their first on page interaction. It was such a joy to watch their relationship develop. Friends-to-lovers is such a joy of a trope to read!
Radiance is the first book in a series, the first three books are currently out. I thought that this gave a great set up to the story. I could see it being read as a standalone, however, the epilogue immediately had me wanting to pick up book two (I’ve got about a two-month wait before I can get a copy from my library). The reason that I do say that it could be read as a standalone is because it gave me everything I would want in terms of a fantasy romance. It set up the relationship and had some conflict that did largely get resolved and with the exception of the epilogue there was a happy conclusion but I am very excited to get absorbed into this world some more. Draven has written a superb romance with this book and I recommend picking it up if you’re looking for an engrossing fantasy read with a sweet couple and a healthy dose of humor. A five star read for me.
Y’all, I think that I’m realizing how much more I enjoy fantasy romance compared to contemporary romance because I can’t get enough of these types of stories. Since the stories are romance centered, the fantasy elements sometimes take a backseat but I think that’s why I enjoy them so much. I love to get immersed into these fun plots where fantastical events occur but I don’t always have the brain power to read intense fantasy tomes. I have another review that I’m hoping to post soon for The Bridge Kingdom duology by Danielle L. Jensen. Same vibes and I loved them. And with that I’ve got to get back to studying!
Lifelong rivals Natalie and Reid have never been on the same team. So when their school’s art budget faces cutbacks, of course Natalie finds herself up against her nemesis once more. She’s fighting to direct the school’s first ever student-written play, but for her small production to get funding, the school’s award-winning band will have to lose it. Reid’s band. And he’s got no intention of letting the show go on.
But when their rivalry turns into an all-out prank war that goes too far, Natalie and Reid have to face the music, resulting in the worst compromise: writing and directing a musical. Together. At least if they deliver a sold-out show, the school board will reconsider next year’s band and theater budget. Everyone could win.
Except Natalie and Reid.
Because after spending their entire lives in competition, they have absolutely no idea how to be co-anything. And they certainly don’t know how to deal with the feelings that are inexplicably, weirdly, definitely developing between them…
Reading the synopsis, As If On Cue sounded so cute. This prank war started between childhood rivals as they try to save their respective art fields at their high school? And a student created musical on top of that? It was too good to pass up!
After reading it, however, I kind of wish I had. Unfortunately, this book was boring and instead of focusing on a creative endeavor between high school art groups it recycled the plots of Frozen and Frozen 2 into some messy musical and added interpersonal drama between characters to spice things up. On top of that the writing was painful to read and the way that the main character, Natalie, tried to reassure herself that each bad decision she made would work out for the better was not only frustrating but I think had a negative impact on the plot overall.
The concept behind this book was solid. Budget cuts in schools are a sad reality that many students and faculty have to face and I think that this could potentially plant a seed in teens about ways they may be able to help save programs that they cherish. I was lucky enough to make it through high school with the worst budget cuts to affect me being transportation ones and I’m thankful that I had ways of getting to school without having to walk four miles every day. (I did it once in the middle of a rain storm that started to turn to ice and it was miserable!) Nowadays, however, I read so many stories of schools that cut important or cherished programs and I was looking forward to seeing how the students in As If On Cue worked to save the arts.
Right off the bat I found myself disliking the writing style and how Kanter introduced characters. I think that this book gave me the prime example of an author needing to “show” and not “tell”. Every character in this book was an overachiever and instead of introducing them in a smooth way it all was pretty cut and dry “this is NAME and they are in CLUB & SPORT & ETC” and a lot of the introductions happened back to back. I know it was important to give them their passions and show that these students had wide interests but I ended up not connecting to any of the characters and actually forgot who a number of them were. Our two main characters, Natalie and Reid, are into theatre and band respectively. As the story progressed I still found myself disliking the writing style and thought the story dragged on and I ended up being bored for quite a bit of it.
In terms of the plot itself, again, I thought it started off okay. Natalie and Reid are childhood rivals after setting themselves up against each other over their clarinet talents. Natalie’s father is the band teacher at their high school and Reid is his “protege” since he dreams of playing the clarinet professionally. After finding out that there are going to be major cuts to every art program EXCEPT the band, Natalie and her friends go behind the band’s back to try and find a way to save all of the clubs. This is the part of the plot that I truly enjoyed but unfortunately from there it went downhill.
Kanter seemed to want to fit as many topics as she could into one novel. See, Natalie had written a play that was essentially a parody of Frozen and Frozen 2 and this play would be what the students would be turning into a musical for their art program fundraiser. This parody (which Natalie kept treating as if it were original) was about a world being consumed by fire and thus became an insertion of a discussion on climate change. A timely discussion? Yes. However, it felt shoe horned into the overall plot and I think it detracted from the plot line about friends and microaggressions against Jewish people. See, Natalie’s younger sister is working towards her Bat Mitzvah throughout the course of the book and she was struggling with how her best friend (Reid’s younger sister) was beginning to treat her as she became closer to two other girls who consistently made micro aggressive comments towards them. I think that this would have had so much potential as a larger plot line but I don’t think it got the focus it really deserved. I also think that this may have helped to tie into some of Natalie’s own anger and frustration with the larger world because otherwise she seems to be consumed with a lot of rage for not very many reasons.
To go back to the musical that Natalie and Reid are working on, I wasn’t too pleased with how it fit into the plot. Natalie played it off as an original and while yes she wrote it by herself, it was a parody and I felt like it should have been referred to as such. There’s no shame in parodies, heck I got into musical theatre because of Starkid and their parodies, so I have a lot of respect for anyone who has the talent to create one. That being said I do think that without calling it a parody it just felt too on the nose for me.
I also thought that in terms of who Natalie was as a character, her passion was clearly in the arts and I think that the story would have benefitted from her wrestling with herself and her own biases about this. She has a staunch belief that creative jobs are not worth going into despite the fact that both of her parents work creative type jobs. I could see how she was mulling over her parents and their work and seeing how they struggled with certain aspects but every time she got close to a self awareness breakthrough she backslid into her little anger nest. I don’t think that it was wrong for her to think that she shouldn’t pursue a creative job for herself, I know plenty of people who will rationalize being “practical” with their futures because for most people that practicality will bring stability. That being said, it seemed like Natalie had a very stable life and I didn’t really see why she had such a large bias about creative jobs other than the fact that she would just think about the possibility of losing stability or she would watch her parents in a low spot in their careers and think that they were destroyed when that really wasn’t the reality.
I think that this was my biggest issue with As If on Cue overall. Natalie was a flawed character which is nice to see but her lack of self awareness had me scratching my head at the end of the book wondering if she had learned anything at all about what she had gone through. In short, I’ll just say that the choices that she made should have led to greater consequences than she ended up facing and it was a big disappointment. In the next section I’m going to talk more at length about these feelings but I am not able to do so without spoilers, so note that the next part of the review will contain spoilers for the plot.
This section will contain a major spoiler if you don’t want spoilers, skip to the paragraph that starts with “Overall”
I really didn’t understand how Natalie went through the entire course of this book with such severe lack of self awareness and yet ended up in a better place than she began despite the fact that she continually jeopardized the futures of not only Reid but also her father. From her perspective, I could see exactly how her resentment towards Reid and her father had grown over the years but once she started to participate willingly in things and accept the role that Reid had in her life I really had hoped that Natalie would have started to open up more and begin to accept herself and her passions more instead of continuing to interfere with other people. It upset me that she never fully grasped the fact that the main reason that Reid spent so much time with her dad was because he fostered Reid’s passion for music and he wanted Reid to succeed in ways that Reid’s own parents refused to support.
Before I go on I did want to say that I did feel for Natalie and the resentment that she harbored. I could see that it was difficult for her to see that her parents supported her future decisions fully no matter what choices she made. They both chose creative fields and they would support Natalie if she also chose to follow her passion into the arts but they also respect and support her choice to want to pick a more “practical” job. I’ve personally wrestled with choosing my own future path because one of my parents would always say “I just want you to be happy” and sometimes growing up I almost wished that I would have had parents who were more outspoken about what I should or shouldn’t do. But then I did have an instance where that was the case and when my own passions didn’t align with what this person wanted me to do, it felt suffocating and heartwrenching. So I can understand why Natalie felt the way that she did but the fact that she took steps to actively sabotage Reid’s entire future gutted me. And the fact that she essentially committed a felony by tampering with his mail made me so mad that I had to put the book down for multiple days before I could finally bring myself to pick it up again and finish the story.
Now, I would have taken the third act conflict as it was IF Natalie had faced some consequences about the decisions that she made. But instead, it all ended with Natalie making up with her dad and Reid and the musical being such a success that they saved the arts programs. This was such a disappointment. I think that it leaned too far towards allowing someone (Natalie) to make a decision for someone else (Reid) without learning why it was really wrong to do so. I’m still really frustrated with this so I’m going to try and stop ranting now.
Overall, As If on Cue was not great. I think there will be an audience for this, as Kanter’s first book (which I also read and didn’t enjoy) had an audience, but I found this was poorly written with too many plot lines and characters thrown together which created an incohesive plot that lacked some of the nuance I think it could have had. I didn’t think that Reid and Natalie had enough chemistry to form a rivals-to-lovers relationship and their prank war was barely part of the overall plot of the book. The musical puns were aplenty but unfortunately I don’t think I will be picking up anything from this author in the future.
You can check out As If on Cue on Goodreads here.
And with that, I’d like to hop into a mini review about a book I would recommend picking up instead! I’m hoping to try and include something like this in any future book reviews about books I’m not a big fan of.
A Book I’d Recommend Instead
Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.
Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.
All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.
As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.
This book had exactly the right amount of banter and I adored the characters. I think that it balanced teen angst and family drama perfectly with a fun side plot of what would happen if two teenagers were the faces behind some restaurant Twitter accounts. Meet Cute was fun but I also think that it did a good job with illustrating how Pepper and Jack grew more into themselves as the story progressed. I enjoyed how social media and texting were incorporated into the story and part of it centered around mistaken identity, which is one of my favorite tropes. Pepper and Jack and were overachievers learning how to cope with that in their own ways and I think that if you’re looking for a book with some banter this one might be right up your alley.