Categories
Books Reviews

A Book That Had A Lot of Room to Grow: Review of Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through that link, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Do you ever set a book down and think to yourself, “Damn, I really wish those characters would have gone to therapy?”

Summary

Teddy Phillips never thought she’d still be spending every day surrounded by toys at almost thirty years old. But working at a vintage toy store is pretty much all she has going on in her life after being unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend. The one joy that she’s kept is her not-so-guilty pleasure: Everett’s Place, a local children’s show hosted by Everett St. James, a man whom Teddy finds very soothing . . . and, okay, cute.

Teddy finds the courage to write to him, feeling slightly like one of the children who write to him on his show. He always gives sound advice and seems like he has everything figured out–and he pretty much does: Everett has a great support system, wonderful friends, and his dream job. But there’s still that persistent feeling in the back of his mind that something’s missing.

When a woman named Theodora starts writing to Everett, he is drawn to her honesty and vulnerability. They continue writing to each other, all the while living their lives without meeting. When their worlds collide, however, they must both let go of their fears and figure out what they truly want–and if the future they want includes each other.

Review

This review will contain light spoilers.

Instead of being proposed to, Teddy gets broken up with. That’s how Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey Opens. I thought that this was a great opener, I like romances where a character splits from a long time partner because it usually leads to the character realizing that their “idyllic” relationship was anything but and they learn a lot about themselves and their new partner in the process. The characters spend time healing and learning they deserve better and I love these types of books. I think that this is what was supposed to happen to Teddy but I don’t know that the lessons she learned ever fully sunk in for her.

So I’ll just say it. Teddy’s ex was a dick. He spent years taking advantage of her kindness and squashed her down into becoming not a partner, but a caretaker instead. He expected her to come running when he called her and it physically hurt to watch Teddy continue to fall for it, thinking that his neediness equated to love. It’s eventually revealed that much of Teddy’s lack of confidence stems from childhood trauma and her parent’s divorce. She has spent almost her entire life trying to please everyone else in order to avoid conflict and in doing so, she’s lost her way. This is a story I can relate to and I know how difficult it is to realize you need to change and it’s even harder to begin to make those changes. Knowing how much of this story needed to be based around self-discovery and healing had me questioning how much the romance played into everything. And ugh, I just wish Teddy would’ve gone to therapy because she really, really needed it.

As the story unfolded it was a constant back and forth with herself over if it was okay to make her own decisions and questioning everything she did because “what if it’s the wrong thing”. It was nice to see her grow a bit but I have to say that I think this story leaned a little too far into “a relationship can fix things” and “the right person can make everything better” type of story.

Before I finish with my thoughts on the plot, I do want to talk about our other main character, Everett. Now Everett is lovely, he’s creative and hard-working, he’s close with his family, and he’s passionate. But his passion for his job, a children’s TV show called Everett’s Place, borders on obsessive. Essentially, he’s the opposite of Teddy. Teddy has no idea what she wants to do with her life, while Everett only wants to do this one thing and he can’t wrap his head around why other people have issues with his inability to step away from his work. There were a few times when other characters began to call him out for his poor work-life separation but no one really fully went there to tell him what the issue was. It was hinted at a few times that people in his life had made sacrifices over the years and simply accepted that Everett was unable to set his work aside but I don’t know if he ever truly realized how unhealthy it was. This aspect of Everett’s personality is what had me going back and forth on what I really thought of his and Teddy’s eventual relationship.

So Everett’s TV show is Teddy’s comfort show. She reaches out to him via email and the two strike up a friendship. Their emails were funny and vulnerable and I thought that they had almost instant chemistry. This book takes place over the course of only a couple months and I think that I would have enjoyed this more if the timeline had been longer. I was surprised that they met so soon in real life and I do think that many of my critiques about their relationship would not apply as much had they not met when they did. The arc just didn’t feel as complete as it could have been. Teddy had really just gotten out of this long-term relationship only to quickly fall into a new one with Everett despite the personal journey she really needed to go on. While there were moments where she was learning and growing and setting boundaries and standing up for herself, I was uncomfortable with what the pair went through in this short timeline. This especially applies to the main conflict that was due to Everett’s inability to have any sort of work-life separation. I was proud of Teddy stepping away from this relationship when she saw that it was potentially going to be harmful for her, but I think that they could have stayed apart from each other longer than they did. To me, Everett didn’t fully learn the lesson that he needed to and I felt like Teddy really still needed to grow more on her own. There were too many parts of this that leaned into what I saw as “love fixing things” it didn’t seem like either character were truly being themselves outside of this relationship and that the relationship only added to who they were.

And I do know that other people may not look at this story at all and think that the message is that a relationship can fix a person, but it makes me nervous nonetheless. You can absolutely be in a relationship while you work on yourself, people can work together to be their best selves and support each other in that process. This book may have benefitted from a little more inner dialogue from Teddy as she learned to be strong as herself. I liked seeing her set boundaries and make her own decisions but absolutely hated how she continued to justify her behavior when she let people walk all over her. I really do think this could have been a lot stronger of a story than it was.

Very Sincerely Yours is a closed-door romance with only a handful of kisses on page. It’s cheesy as hell and I loved that about this book. I liked the email component of Teddy and Everett’s relationship and would have loved to see more of this incorporated. While I did have issues with Teddy’s characterization, I don’t think that everyone will hold my same views. If you’re looking for a sweet romance with a quirky cast of characters set in a small town, I’d definitely recommend picking this up.

Final rating is three stars.

Links For Places to Find This Book

Save it on Goodreads here.

To purchase a copy you can find it at the following:

Bookshop // Libro.fm // Book Depository // Barnes & Noble // Kobo

Other Places You Can Find Me:

Goodreads profile linked here.

Twitter: @nihilisticactus

Readerly: @sideofadventures

If you’d like to buy me a coffee, my ko-fi is linked here.

For review requests and inquiries: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

Categories
Books Reviews

A Love Letter to Queer & Questioning Teens & A Deep Look at Finding Your Own Identity: Review of Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie

**This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using my link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you**

Happy (belated) book birthday to Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie!

I was lucky enough to get an e-ARC of this amazing book and I have to say, it was probably my favorite book of 2021. I really hope that you’ll read my review and if you haven’t already been interested in picking this book up, that you’ll consider it now!

Ophelia After All
Image: Cover of Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie

Sidenote: I think this cover is so pretty! The colors are perfect and I love the subtle details, like Ophelia’s freckles. I will absolutely be getting a physical copy of this as soon as I’m able because I want this book on my shelves.

Summary

Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys – way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn’t change, even if she wanted to.

So when she finds herself thinking more about cute, quiet Talia Sanchez than the loss of a perfect prom with her ex-boyfriend, seeds of doubt take root in Ophelia’s firm image of herself. Add to that the impending end of high school and the fracturing of her once-solid friend group, and things are spiraling a little out of control. But the course of love–and sexuality–never did run smooth. As her secrets begin to unravel, Ophelia must make a choice between clinging to the fantasy version of herself she’s always imagined or upending everyone’s expectations to rediscover who she really is, after all.

Review

If I could go back in time and give my teenage self one book, it would be this one. Ophelia After All is a stunning debut from Racquel Marie that I would recommend to queer and questioning kids everywhere. This is a book about growing up and learning how to accept yourself with grace and heart.

Following Ophelia in the lead up to prom and the end of her senior school year, she begins to wrestle with the feelings that she’s having for another girl. She has a fantastic group of friends and a close family but as she feels more and more inner turmoil she begins to find the relationships around her on the rocks. She struggles but she grows and in doing so this book reveals a really beautiful message of hope in confusing times. I truly loved every second of this book.

I found myself relating so much to Ophelia as she finds herself stuck feeling like she has to stay in this role she has always been in. She’s “boy crazy” Ophelia and along with the other attributes that her friends and family have assigned to her over the years, when she realizes that things might be changing she doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t want to let anyone down which is something that I think many people will be able to relate to. All of a sudden, Ophelia feels like she isn’t enough in every aspect. From her typical crush behavior, to even how she interacts with cultural aspects of her family. She feels like she’s floating at the edge of it all and for a high schooler who is about to hit adulthood and college, it quickly overwhelmed her. This is such a realistic story that weaves together friendship, family, and teenage emotions and it will hit close to home for many. Identity is confusing enough as it is, throw in feeling like you aren’t going to live up to the expectations that other people might have for you and it’s all too easy to feel like everything is going to fall apart around you.

The plot of Ophelia After All was unexpected and yet the messages that were laced throughout give a lasting impression. It’s hopeful and inspiring and I think that it will be a starting point for any number of young adults who find themselves lost. This is organic and full of the most satisfying friendships I’ve read in a long while. The connections between every character were so strong and I felt like I knew them all to their depths. As every aspect shifted and Ophelia slowly started to find her footing again, I was overwhelmed with how much I loved every single one of the characters in this book. They felt so real and I loved seeing how they all interacted with each other and how friendships and relationships fell apart and developed throughout the course of the story. I really appreciated that this plot took a different turn than I was expecting it to and I think that Racquel made all the right decisions with Ophelia. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop gushing about this book!

Now, I remember being in high school and maybe even younger and realizing that things felt different sometimes. Thinking back on that time of my life, I often wish that I would have been kinder to myself, but that’s something that I’m still working on as an adult. I’ve always said I was thankful for Tumblr because even though it is a hellsite for so many reasons, it helped me learn a lot about myself. It’s where I found out about asexuality and got to see many people post openly about their own identities. That being said, I would have appreciated to have a book like this in my life back then. Ophelia After All is raw and honest and it depicts a realistic story about wrestling with self-doubt and self-acceptance. I hope that young adults and adults alike will be able to pick this book up and find a message that supports and encourages them. I really can’t recommend it enough.

This was an easy five stars from me!

For every queer or questioning kid, this is a love letter to you and I hope that you find some solace in these pages in the same way that I did.

To add the book to your Goodreads, I’ve linked it here.

And if you’d like to pick up a copy of your own, you can find it at the following links:

Bookshop // Barnes & Noble // Libro.fm // Book Depository // Kobo

Other Places You Can Find Me

My Goodreads is linked here.

Twitter: @nihilisticactus

Readerly: @sideofadventure

For review requests/inquiries: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

If you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is linked here.

Categories
Books Reviews

The Secret Relationship Boyband Book You’ve All Been Waiting For: If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich Review

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

e-ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley in exchange for review

Oh no, I accidentally didn’t post for an entire month… Again. I think if you follow me you’re probably used to this by now. I just pop in every once in a while like, “Here’s a book I liked, here’s another one I didn’t. I’ll see you later!” With that being said, here’s a review for an ARC I read last year!

If you’ve ever shipped members of a boyband, or spent hours reading fan fiction about boybands, this book will be right up your alley. If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich follows two members of a band called Saturday as they navigate international stardom and a secret relationship.

If This Gets Out
Image: Cover of If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzalez and Cale Dietrich

Summary

Eighteen-year-olds Ruben Montez and Zach Knight are two members of the boy-band Saturday, one of the biggest acts in America. Along with their bandmates, Angel Phan and Jon Braxton, the four are teen heartbreakers in front of the cameras and best friends backstage. But privately, cracks are starting to form: their once-easy rapport is straining under the pressures of fame, and Ruben confides in Zach that he’s feeling smothered by management’s pressure to stay in the closet.

On a whirlwind tour through Europe, with both an unrelenting schedule and minimal supervision, Ruben and Zach come to rely on each other more and more, and their already close friendship evolves into a romance. But when they decide they’re ready to tell their fans and live freely, Zach and Ruben start to truly realize that they will never have the support of their management. How can they hold tight to each other when the whole world seems to want to come between them?

Review

I definitely think that this book had its moments. I was intrigued by the discussion of exploitation in the music industry and of course was excited for the romance too. With that being said, I think that this lacked a lot of depth. There were the beginnings of discussions on drug abuse, disordered eating, and more and all of these were consequences of the power that Saturday’s management company had over them. It had the set up of a book that could have started a lot of conversations about exploitation and the way that we treat musical idols. Instead of looking deeper at these, the story was repetitive in nature surrounding entirely on teen angst and a relationship that I found lacked chemistry.

Ruben and Zach were the narrators of the story and despite being best friends and eventually falling for each other I didn’t really get it. Zach was indecisive to the point that I was actually angry with him. He was a people pleaser to the extreme and while this did become a central conflict I didn’t finish the book thinking that he had changed at all. Ruben was a fine character and I really don’t have much to say about him on that front. I think that his family drama was a unique plot point and I felt a lot of sympathy for him and all that he had gone through. This was something else that I thought could have been explored more. Honestly, the other members of Saturday were at times more intriguing than the narrators but I understand why Zach and Ruben were chosen for the main characters without adding the points of view of Angel and Jon.

In terms of the writing, If This Gets Out really did bring me back to high school and reading fan fiction late into the night. I wasn’t someone who did read much involving boy bands but this book gave off a lot of the same vibes. I think that this will be a big appeal to readers because it’s familiar and fun. I really did think that this was an interesting concept and I think that anyone who has ever shipped members of a boyband might be interested in picking this up. Personally, I ended up reading it a lot slower than I expected to and I have a feeling that was due simply to the fact that I didn’t enjoy the plot as much as I had hoped. From the synopsis and the way that the book began I definitely expected this to be more dramatic than it actually was. Moments of conflict or drama would start to pop up, or there would be an event that seemed to foreshadow something bigger but then all of it just fizzled out. Then the ending arrived and it all wrapped up conveniently with a nice tight bow. It didn’t bother me but it didn’t impress me either. I really can’t come up with any other way to describe this other than it was fine!

If I step back, I do see how Zach and Ruben fell for each other. The close proximity and their friendship heavily factored in and I’m kind of disappointed that I wasn’t able to like this book as much as I had hoped I would. I think a lot of my opinions boil down to how little the conflicts seemed to matter. Sure, it was angsty but that angst never seemed to go anywhere. The inner conflict the boys had overpowered a lot of the conflicts that were happening outside of their relationship. Like I had mentioned at the beginning, numerous heavy topics were sprinkled throughout the book but that sprinkling was all we were given. Personally, I would have loved to see larger discussions on these topics as well as the angsty romance bits. Overall, I see why many people loved this book and found it enjoyable. It didn’t blow me away but I didn’t hate it either so I ended up rating it three stars.

If you’d like to check out the book for yourself, you can add it on Goodreads here.

And if you’d like a copy of your own, you can find it at the following links:

Bookshop // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository // Kobo // Libro.fm

Other Places You Can Find Me

Add me on Goodreads, or follow my reviews. Profile linked here.

Twitter: @nihilisticactus

Readerly: @sideofadventure

For review requests/inquiries: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

If you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is linked here.

Categories
Books Reviews

A Wholesome Holiday Novella: Review of Wrapped Up in You by Talia Hibbert Review

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!

Wrapped Up in You
Image: Cover of Wrapped Up in You by Talia Hibbert

Synopsis

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.

Review

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.

Place You Can Get the Book

You can add Wrapped Up in You on Goodreads here.

And this is a Kobo original and you can find the e-book linked here.

Other Places You Can Find Me

Twitter: @nihilisticactus

Readerly: @sideofadventure

For review requests/inquiries: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

To add me on Goodreads, or follow my reviews there, my profile is linked here.

And if you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is linked here.

Categories
Books Reviews

The GrumpyxSunshine Holiday Romance That Made This Grinch’s Heart Grow: Review of The Mistletoe Motive by Chloe Liese

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.

The Mistletoe Motive
Image: Cover of The Mistletoe Motive by Chloe Liese

Synopsis

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.

Review

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.

Image: White cup of coffee photographed from above on solid bright yellow background. Overlaid on the coffee cup are five white stars

You can add The Mistletoe Motive on Goodreads here.

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.

Other Places To Find Me

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofadventure

Add me on Goodreads (or follow my reviews there), profile linked here.

For review requests/inquiries: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

And if you’d like to help support the blog financially, my Ko-fi is linked here.

Categories
Books Recommendations

5 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Novellas For When You’re in the Mood to Fly Through a Book (Or You’re Trying to Catch Up On Your Goodreads Goal)

This post contains affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase something through that link with no extra cost to you.

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

Remote Control
Image: Cover of 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.

You can add it on Goodreads here.

And if you’d like to buy a copy for yourself, you can find Remote Control at the following:

Bookshop // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository //Libro.fm // Amazon // Indiebound (if you want to find a local store to shop through)

The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep
Image: Cover of The Seep by Chana Porter

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.

Add The Seep on Goodreads here.

And you can pick up your own copy at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Book Depository // Libro.fm // Amazon

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose the Time War
Image: Cover of This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and 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 How You 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:

Bookshop // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository // Libro.fm // Amazon

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

A Dowry of Blood
Image: Cover of Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

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.

You can add A Dowry of Blood on Goodreads here.

And if you’re interested in picking up a copy of your own, you can find it at the following links:

Bookshop // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository // Libro.fm // Amazon

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)
Image: Cover of All Systems Red by Martha Wells

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.

You can add All Systems Red on Goodreads here.

And here are some links in case you’re interested in picking up your own copy:

Bookshop // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository // Libro.fm // Amazon

And with that, happy reading! I hope you make your Goodreads goal, or at least find a new favorite book in the process.

Other Places You Can Find Me

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofespresso

You can add me on Goodreads here.

For review requests or inquiries: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

And if you’d like to help support the blog financially, my Ko-fi is linked here.

Categories
Books Reviews

ADHD Rep, Living Out Fanfiction Tropes, and More: Review of All the Feels by Olivia Dade + A Mini Review of Spoiler Alert

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using the link I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

All the Feels (Spoiler Alert, #2)

Synopsis

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.

Review

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.

Spoiler Alert (Spoiler Alert, #1)

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:

All the Feels: Bookshop // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository // Libro.fm // Amazon

Spoiler Alert: Bookshop // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository // libro.fm // Amazon

Or if you’re interested in finding a local store to shop through, you can find one through Indiebound, linked here.

And if you’re interested in connecting with me elsewhere you can find me:

On Twitter: nihilisticactus

On Readerly: sideofadventure

On Goodreads, profile linked here.

For review requests or other inquiries my email is adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

And if you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is linked here.

Categories
Books Reviews

A Fantasy Duology That Finally Fulfilled the Enemies to Lovers Sized Hole in My Heart: The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen Review

This post contains affiliate links, if you purchase something through them I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.

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

The Bridge Kingdom (The Bridge Kingdom, #1)
Image: Cover of The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen

Synopsis

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.

You can add The Bridge Kingdom on Goodreads here.

And if you’re interested in getting your own copy you can find it at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Book Depository // Amazon

The Traitor Queen Review

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!

The Traitor Queen (The Bridge Kingdom, #2)
Image: Cover of The Traitor Queen by Danielle L. Jensen

Synopsis

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.

Review

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!

You can add The Traitor Queen on Goodreads here.

And if you’re interested in picking up this book you can find it at the following:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Book Depository // Amazon

If you’ve read the first (or both) book(s), what did you think of them? Also, if you have any fantasy romance recommendations feel free to leave a comment!

And with that, I’m signing off for the day. If you want to connect with me elsewhere you can find me:

On Twitter: nihilisticactus

On Readerly: sideofadventure

On Goodreads, where you can add me as a friend or follow my reviews. My profile is linked here.

For review requests, etc: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

And if you’re interested in supporting the blog financially, my Ko-fi is linked here.

Categories
Books Reviews

I Sincerely Hope the Second Book is Better: Review of Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone

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.

Lakesedge (World at the Lake's Edge, #1)
Image: Cover of Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone

Synopsis

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.

Review

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.

If you want to connect with me elsewhere:

You can follow my reviews or add me as a friend on Goodreads, profile linked here.

Readerly: sideofadventure

Twitter: nihilisticactus

For review requests, etc: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

And if you’d like to support the blog financially, my Ko-fi is linked here.

Categories
Books Reviews

A Powerful YA Sci-Fi Novel: Review of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

This post contains affiliate links, if you make a purchase through them I will receive a small commission with no extra charge to you.

Iron Widow (Iron Widow, #1)
Image: Cover of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

e-ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley in exchange for review

Synopsis

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.

Review

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

You can add Iron Widow on Goodreads.

Or if you’re interested in picking up a copy of your own:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Book Depository // Amazon // Libro.fm // Indiebound (to find a local store to shop through)

If you’d like to connect with me elsewhere:

I’m on Twitter: nihilisticactus

You can add me on Goodreads or follow my reviews here.

I’m on Readerly: sideofadventure

For review requests, etc.: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

And if you’d like to support the blog financially, my Ko-fi is linked here.