Summary: Running the Spark House, a hotel/event space that has been in her family for years, has been Avery Spark’s lifelong dream. After years of working hard and making personal sacrifices, Avery and her two younger sisters have turned the Spark House into the premier destination in Colorado Springs. Avery is living her best life—she works with her sisters and loves every minute of it, she has a great group of friends, and she lives in a fantastic condo with her best friend Declan. She might not have any love in her life, but she’s happy. But everything comes to a screeching halt when Avery is in a car accident, leaving her immobile for weeks. After nearly losing Avery, Declan insists that he will be the one to take care of her while she recovers. However, as Declan becomes Avery’s caretaker, lines begin to blur. Avery and Declan have been best friends since college and always had an attraction to one another, but when she ended up dating his best friend, Sam, they successfully stamped down any feelings they may have ever had for one another. Now, as Declan and Avery spend more time together, they each begin to wonder what would’ve happened if she’d dated him instead of Sam. What starts as a friend helping out another friend turns into foreplay and, before they realize it, they recognize how deeply they care for one another. But when things get serious their past threatens to destroy everything they have built.
Review: When Sparks Fly follows Avery and Declan in alternating chapters. I liked that we got to see points of view from both of the love interests instead of just from Avery’s point of view. Avery gets into a car accident when Declan proves to be unreliable and Avery has to drive herself. She ends up with a few serious injuries. Declan is filled with guilt, feeling like all of this was his fault. So, he talks to his job about working from home, sets up their apartment, and becomes Avery’s at-home nurse. These two are best friends. They’ve been best friends since college. They’re roommates. I love the friends-to-lovers trope, so I was very excited to follow them as things moved from platonic to romantic. I liked the romance. It was fun and silly and Avery and Declan’s friendship remained strong. I really liked the friends-to-lovers aspect of the story. I think Hunting did a great job making it believable. Overall, I really had a great time reading this one. I loved the romance. I didn’t love the third act break up, but it was believable and true to the characters, I think. Outside of that, there were some great sibling moments between Avery and her sisters. I’m excited to read more about the sisters in the next books.
Summary: Ana Dakkar is a freshman at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a five-year high school that graduates the best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators, and underwater explorers in the world. Ana’s parents died while on a scientific expedition two years ago, and the only family’s she’s got left is her older brother, Dev, also a student at HP. Ana’s freshman year culminates with the class’s weekend trial at sea, the details of which have been kept secret. She only hopes she has what it’ll take to succeed. All her worries are blown out of the water when, on the bus ride to the ship, Ana and her schoolmates witness a terrible tragedy that will change the trajectory of their lives. But wait, there’s more. The professor accompanying them informs Ana that their rival school, Land Institute, and Harding-Pencroft have been fighting a cold war for a hundred and fifty years. Now that cold war has been turned up to a full broil, and the freshman are in danger of becoming fish food. In a race against deadly enemies, Ana will make amazing friends and astounding discoveries about her heritage as she puts her leadership skills to the test for the first time.
Review: Daughter of the Deep follows Ana Dakkar who one of the last living descendants of Captain Nemo (not the animated fish, as is pointed out 100 times in this story), one of the characters from Jules Berne’s novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. She’s a freshman at the Harding-Pencroft Academy and she’s about to go on her first weekend away for the freshman trials. But tragedy strikes and her school sinks into the ocean. As she and her classmates witness this devastation, she’s also made aware of her linage and many other secrets that involve her school and her family. The stakes are raised even higher when she learns that their rival high school is after her and they are willing to go to lengths that Ana has a hard time imagining. To say that I loved this book is an understatement. Ana was an amazing main character. I loved her so much. She’s thrown into a situation where she’s way over her head and she handles it incredibly well, but also really realistically. She’s level-headed but still takes time to feel and process her emotions. She takes into consideration the ideas and opinions of those around her. She’s just a genuinely good leader and I really hope that we get more than just this one book because I would love to see Ana grow more into her role as a leader. I also really loved all the supporting characters. They’re an incredibly diverse cast of characters and I think they were all very easy to get emotionally invested in. The story itself was so much fun. It’s fast-paced but it wasn’t jarring in the sense of going from one action-filled part of the story to the next. So many things happen, but it was paced so well and I couldn’t help but devour the story to see how things turned out. I loved the science fiction bits of the story with all of Captain Nemo’s technology but I especially loved the Nautilus. I think the submarine was one of my favorite characters. I would love another book set in this world to see what else the Nautilus can do and what the characters decide to do with it. Overall, Riordan has provided us with another hit novel. It’s fast-paced and action-packed. The stakes are high and things are absolutely dire, but it was still so much fun to read. The characters were easy to love and I hope that we get to see more of them.
Summary: It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one. Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for an advanced copy of this book. But I actually waited too long to read that arc, so, I bought the finished copy and read that because I’ve loved all of Harrow’s writing so far. A Spindle Splintered was no different. The story follows Zinnia, who isn’t likely going to live past her 21st birthday. She’s not cursed, just dying due to something in the water supply that her mother drank while pregnant with Zinnia. Her whole life, Sleeping Beauty has been her favorite fairytale. She’s read every version of the story she can find. So, on the night of her 21st birthday, she’s celebrating with her best friend, Charm, when she’s transported to another world, to another Sleeping Beauty. Here she meets Primrose and the two work together to try to change their fate. This was a novella, so it’s super short. I absolutely wanted more of this story. I wanted to know more about the rules that Zin made for herself and more about her experience of leaving high school early and starting college early. I wanted more stories of her and Charm when they were growing up. I absolutely want to know more about the witch that we get to meet. Despite my desire to want more, this still felt like a fully-formed story with world-building and character development that I was happy with. I really liked Zin. She knows she is dying and, at this point, is just waiting for it to happen. She literally says that she’s waiting out the clock. It was sad to think of her just waiting to die. But it sounded hard to live the way that she did. I really loved Zin getting to know Primrose. I liked that there was more to her than what we could assumed when looking at a princess. She’s brave and clever. Overall, I really enjoyed this story. It talks a lot about different versions of the same story. Also there’s a female/female relationship that was so easy to love. I think that all the characters were ones that I got invested in very quickly. I loved the feminist aspect of the story and I absolutely cannot wait to read the second book.
Summary: Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star. Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off. As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told. In this witty and heartwarming romantic comedy—reminiscent of Red, White & Royal Blue and One to Watch—an awkward tech wunderkind on a reality dating show goes off-script when sparks fly with his producer.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. This story is basically what would happen if the star of the bachelor fell in love with one of the crew members instead of one of the fellow contestants. But also, make it gay and bring some really great conversations in about mental health. I loved this. I thought the forbidden romance between the star of the show, Charlie, and his producer, Dev, was really well done. We see them make excuses for their actions, but there’s still an ‘oh no, what if we get caught’ element to the story and that’s a trope that I totally eat up. I liked both Charlie and Dev. They both struggle with different mental illnesses. Charlie has OCD and anxiety and Dev has clinical depression. It was so heartwarming to see them interact when they were struggling with their mental illnesses and they simply asked what the other one needed. Saying “what do you need from me?” is such a simple way to show someone you love that you’re listening and that you’re there for them. I also think this book did a great job showing lots of different aspects of having a mental illness. The stigma is shown and talked about with how people with mental illness are treated in the workplace. I think the representation was so great. Overall, I liked this book. I was easily invested in the romance. I didn’t totally hate the third act break up. I had a lot of fun with the reality tv aspect of the story too. I really loved how things turned out with the reality show. I really loved all of the characters. Dev and Charlie were a very lovable couple, but their friends were also such great additions to the story. I definitely think this one is going to be a hit with romance readers.
Summary: Maybell Parish has always been a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. But living in her own world has long been preferable to dealing with the disappointments of real life. So when Maybell inherits a charming house in the Smokies from her Great-Aunt Violet, she seizes the opportunity to make a fresh start. Yet when she arrives, it seems her troubles have only just begun. Not only is the house falling apart around her, but she isn’t the only inheritor: she has to share everything with Wesley Koehler, the groundskeeper who’s as grouchy as he is gorgeous—and it turns out he has very different vision for the property’s future. Convincing the taciturn Wesley to stop avoiding her and compromise is a task more formidable than the other dying wishes Great-Aunt Violet left behind. But when Maybell uncovers something unexpectedly sweet beneath Wesley’s scowls, and as the two slowly begin to let their guard down, they might learn that sometimes the smallest steps outside one’s comfort zone can lead to the greatest rewards.
Review: Twice Shy follows people pleaser Maybell and grumpy Wesley after they find out they have co-inherited Maybell’s great-aunt’s house. Maybell didn’t have a super great childhood. Her mom wasn’t really a stable adult, so she never had a stable home. They were always staying with relatives here or there for a week before having to find somewhere new. Maybell remembers her great-aunt’s house as one of her best memories of childhood. So, she is saddened to hear that her aunt has passed but delighted to inherit the beautiful house and property from her childhood memories. But she’s in for a surprise when she shows up at the house and it’s in complete disrepair. And also, she’s not the only one that inherited the property. Our love interest, Wesley, has been the groundskeeper of great-aunt Violet’s property for almost five years. She’s told him that he will inherit it after she dies, so he has lots of things planned to fix up the house and the property. But of course, Maybell arrives to complicate all those plans. Wesley has social anxiety. I loved this representation so much. I love the social anxiety representation, but especially in a man. I thought it was wonderful and really well done. I loved how he explained his anxiety and panic and how Maybell reacted to learning about it as well as her behavior toward him after she learned of his social anxiety. Wesley was just a wholesome cinnamon roll and I wanted to give him a great big hug the whole book. I really enjoyed the slow pace and build up of the romance. I didn’t think I was going to because it’s almost halfway through the book before they really start to actually interact with each other. But I think the payoff was worth the wait. I liked that the author took the time to let us get to know Maybell before we got into the romance. I also weirdly enjoyed the whole process of fixing up the house. I think there were some great opportunities for banter and playfulness between the characters and we definitely got to see that. Overall, this was such a sweet and wholesome story. It wasn’t a hot and passionate romance. It was slow and steady, but the pay off when the pair finally admits their feelings for one another was excellent. I especially liked that there wasn’t a third-act break-up. There totally could have been, but the author took things in a different direction and I really loved how that whole situation was handled. I want a whole sequel of Maybell and Wesley running their hotel/animal sanctuary together because it will be so sweet might need to check my blood sugar afterward. I really loved this story and its characters and I cannot wait to read what the author writes next.
Summary: 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: Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. I grabbed this one from a ‘read now’ email I got from NetGalley. I saw a few trusted book friends hype it up online and then saw that it was about giant fighting robots and an angry girl. So, that’s really all I knew going into the story. But I was already super interested just from those two things. There was an interesting author’s note before the start of my eARC copy of the book where the author talked a bit about how this story was inspired by the only female Empress that Chima ever had. She mentions that this book is heavily inspired by her own Chinese culture, but that specific woman in history really stuck with her and she wrote this as a retelling of sorts, of how the author thought that Empress might be as a teenage girl in the world that the author created for this story. We follow Zetian Wu as she’s about to enlist herself as a concubine-pilot for the Chrysalis (the giant fighting robots). This is a position that many families pressure their daughters into singing up for despite knowing that most concubine pilots will die. Zetian isn’t signing up for any reason other than to kill the pilot that murdered her sister and she knows that she will probably die soon after if she succeeds. I’m not explaining the Chrysalis very well, they’re complicated machines that are gifts from the gods, and the actual science behind how they’re built isn’t really explained, but the way that they’re piloted was absolutely fascinating. When Zetian succeeds in her mission, she’s surprised that she isn’t immediately killed afterward. Instead, she’s paired with another pilot: the famous murderer. This is where the story really takes off. Iron Widow is action-packed and will suck you into the story so quickly. Between the fighting robots and the unlikely team that Zetian finds herself in, it’s hard not to get pulled into the story until you’re spat out at the end left wondering what the heck just happened. The world-building was phenomenal. We see the world through Zetian’s eyes, so it’s easy to be angry about the way women are treated. And when she uncovers some of the military’s secrets that prove this unfair treatment, I raged right alongside the characters. I would have loved to know more about the gods of this world, but I think that’s something we will get in the next book if the ending of this one was giving any hints about what’s to come. I’d also loved to have known more about the nomads that Zetian meets (but it wouldn’t have really made sense in the story if that had happened. I just thought they were really interesting and maybe there was a bit of hinting that we will learn more in the next book.) The characters were easy to love. Zetian is angry. She’s angry that her sister is dead. She’s angry about how her family treats her. She’s angry about how her mother and grandmother are treated. She’s angry about the way the world treats women. Then she realizes that she just might be able to do something about that unfair treatment. I loved her. I was angry right along with her. The author made it so easy to feel the things that Zetian was feeling. There was a smidge of a polyamorous relationship that I absolutely was rooting for. It starts off between Zetian and her second pilot, but also there’s a romance between Zetian and another character. But both are accepting that she might love them both until they realize that all three have feelings for one another. I wanted more of the three of them. I loved the way the romance was developed. We got to see a slow formation of the dynamic between the three of them, but I wanted more of it. It felt cut short, but I’m hoping that we will get more of that in the next book. Overall, I cannot say enough good things about this book. It was beautiful and enraging, compelling, and fast-paced. It had characters that were easy to root for and love. There was a romance that I couldn’t help but get invested in. Plus the giant fighting robots, of course.
Summary: Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for an advanced copy of The Death of Jane Lawrence in exchange for an honest review. This story follows Jane, a woman that is seeking a platonic marriage of convenience so that she is no longer the responsibility of her foster family. She meets with Augustine Lawrence, a local doctor, who eventually agrees to her proposal. But she’s never allowed to stay overnight at his family home, Lindrige Hall. As things tend to go in stories, the first night they are married, Jane’s carriage is washed off the road on its way to town by a rain storm, so the only alternative is that Jane walks back and stays the night with Augustine at Lindrige Hall. This is when things start to get creepy. I really liked Jane. I thought her backstory and character development were well done. We didn’t get her life’s story dumped on us, but instead got to know her as the story developed. We learned that she was a level headed, logical woman. But the things happening at Lindrige Hall were anything but logical. It was really interesting to see Jane in a situation where her brain couldn’t use reason and logic to explain what was going on around her. I liked Augustine, too. He had secrets that he never thought he would have to share with Jane. It was a marriage of convenience, after all. But when his secrets start coming out, the reader isn’t left with a clear idea of whether or not Augustine is a good or bad person. He was a complicated man and Jane’s growing romantic feelings for him didn’t make things any easier. The mystery and weirdness of Lindrige Hall made this story excellently spooky. There are ghosts, we think. But they might not actually be ghosts. There’s magic, but is magic actually real? I guess it’s only real if you believe that it’s real. There was so much that defied the logic that Jane depended upon and this really added some confusion to the story, in a good way. Overall, The Death of Jane Lawrence is the perfect book for October. It’s creepy and atmospheric. It’s weird and confusing. It leaves the reader wondering ‘what the heck is actually going on?’ But all the things that the reader learns are wrapped up for the most part by the end of the story. I liked the characters, the setting, and the magic. I would definitely recommend this one and I will be seeking out Starling’s backlist very soon.
Summary: Jetta’s home is spiraling into civil war. Le Trépas—the deadly necromancer—has used his blood magic to wrest control of the country, and Jetta has been without treatment for her malheur for weeks. Meanwhile, Jetta’s love interest, brother, and friend are intent on infiltrating the palace to stop the Boy King and find Le Trépas to put an end to the unleashed chaos. The sweeping conclusion to Heidi Heilig’s ambitious trilogy takes us to new continents, introduces us to new gods, flings us into the middle of palace riots and political intrigue, and asks searching questions about power and corruption. As in the first two books, the story is partly told in ephemera, including original songs, myths, play scripts, and various forms of communication.
Review: I want to start by saying a huge thank you to Heilig’s publicity team that reached out to me to see if I was interested in reading an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. On This Unworthy Scaffold is one of my most anticipated releases in 2021 and I literally screamed a little when I got the email asking if I was interested. On This Unworthy Scaffold is the third and final book in the Shadow Players series. I won’t go too much into a summary of the book because there is a summary above and also this is the third book in a series. If you haven’t read the first two books you can read my reviews for For a Muse of Fireand A Kingdom for a Stage. This series follows Jetta, her family, and the friends she makes along the way. I’ve come to really love all of the side characters that make up the main group. Jetta and the rebels have a plan. But as things usually go, nothing goes according to plan. The plot of this story was really compelling. Jetta and Theodora go off on one mission. With this we finally get to see Aquitan. I liked this part of the story. We get to see Jetta think on her feet. She’s still often worried that her malheur. I liked that there was talk of her taking the elixir, a version of modern-day medication. I liked that she was aware of it and questioned herself sometimes to wonder if she was making good choices or not. I also really liked Jetta’s problem solving. She’s not afraid to stand up to those in power. I thought it was really clever the way that she brought things full circle when she finally performed in Aquitan. I just genuinely enjoyed seeing her in her own element, making choices on the fly to get herself out of the situation that she found herself in. I also loved Theodora. She’s an engineer/inventor. I feel like I didn’t get to see as much of her as I would have liked, but I still liked what we did see. She’s smart and unafraid to say what she thinks. Jetta and Theodora working together was really fun to read. The other team is the Tiger, Leo, Akra, Cheeky, and Tia. Cheeky and Tia are absolutely the comedic relief of the story. But they bring good conversations to the table. They are sex workers and it’s always talked about in a positive way, never with any shame. I also still love Akra. He and Jetta have their ups and downs that come from her bringing him back from the dead, but I loved their relationship. And my dear sweet Leo. I hate the way his story ended. No, I don’t hate it. I hate how fitting it was for his part of this story to end that way. Leo has tried so hard to do good and be loved. He faces his own challenges through this series, but he never lets anything get him down for long. His love for Jetta is so clear. Jetta and Leo lift one another up and I couldn’t help but root for them. Overall, this was a beautiful and heartbreaking finale to a series that I will reread and love for years to come. I love these characters. I love this story. It includes a lot of important things, like colonialism and bipolar. It’s filled with diverse and queer characters. It’s also written in a unique format, with sheet music, play scripts, myths, and prose. I cannot recommend this series enough.
Summary: Three cultures clash in all out war–against each other and against the gods–in the second book of this fantasy duology that’s sure to capture fans of The Hunger Games and An Ember in the Ashes. The Races are over. War has begun. Ashlord and Longhand armies battle for control of the Empire as Dividian rebels do their best to survive the crossfire. This is no longer a game. It’s life or death. Adrian, Pippa, and Imelda each came out of the Races with questions about their role in the ongoing feud. The deeper they dig, the clearer it is that the hatred between their peoples has an origin point: the gods. Their secrets are long-buried, but one disgruntled deity is ready to unveil the truth. Every whisper leads back to the underworld. What are the gods hiding there? As the sands of the Empire shift, these heroes will do everything they can to aim their people at the true enemy. But is it already too late?
Review: Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with this eARC in exchange for an honest review. Blood Sworn is the sequel to Ashlord (which I reviewed here.) In this book, we follow the same three characters, Pippa, Adrian, and Imelda. The way the first book ended left me wanting to know more. I wanted to know so much more about this world, the gods, and where the story is going. I got everything that I wanted from this book. Once again, the story is told in first person for Imelda and Adrian, but Pippa’s story is told in second person. I think Pippa’s story being told in this way was such a creative choice and it really does something to the story. Pippa’s chapters were absolutely my favorite parts of this book. She has the most growth and change in this series. She starts off so loyal to her people, the Ashlords, but slowly she realizes that everything isn’t as it seems. She finally learns the truth from one of the gods and that’s where this story gets really interesting. I think Pippa is so incredibly smart. I am awed by the plans that her brain manages to create. I think she’s an incredible character and I loved her. I also really enjoyed the way that Pippa’s relationship with Adrian changed over time. Adrian was an interesting character as well. But I feel like he sort of just went along with Pippa’s plans. I know this isn’t the case, but we didn’t actually see Adrian and Pippa make their plans so, it’s not hard to assume that Pippa (the master strategist) is the one that came up with the majority of their plans. I liked that Adrian did his part to show the Longhands that things could be different if everyone worked together to make a change. Finally, Imelda. I wanted more phoenix horse stuff, but we got enough that I wasn’t terribly upset about it. I like that Imelda is also super smart, but in different ways than what we see from Pippa. I think Imelda’s part of the story was interesting because the Dividian’s are the underrepresented group of the story, despite having a large population. I liked following Imelda because with Pippa and Adrian working together, their stories were similar, but Imelda’s path is so different from the others. She stumbles into something she doesn’t totally understand, but manages to find herself working toward the same goals as Pippa and Adrian. Overall, I absolutely loved this book. I loved this duology. I will recommend this series forever. Phoenix horses, political drama, characters that are complex and loveable, and a fascinating world and interesting gods, there is everything you could possibly want in a fantasy story.
Summary: Eleanor Zarrin has been estranged from her wild family for years. When she flees boarding school after a horrifying incident, she goes to the only place she thinks is safe: the home she left behind. But when she gets there, she struggles to fit in with her monstrous relatives, who prowl the woods around the family estate and read fortunes in the guts of birds. Eleanor finds herself desperately trying to hold the family together — in order to save them all, Eleanor must learn to embrace her family of monsters and tame the darkness inside her. Rose Szabo’s thrilling debut is a dark and thrilling novel about a teen girl who returns home to her strange, wild family after years of estrangement, perfect for fans of Wilder Girls.
Review: Generally, I start my reviews with a bit of a summary of the story in my own words. Well, I can’t do that with this review because I honestly have no idea what just happened. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the narrator. I felt like the story itself wasn’t super fast-paced (until the end anyway) but it still felt like I flew through the story. I think part of this is because I was so confused and filled with questions that I just needed to keep going so I could get some answers. I gave this book 4 stars, but honestly, I’m still so confused. The story follows Eleanor after she flees her boarding school and returns home to a family she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. Her family is filled with monsters and she is missing quite a few important pieces of her memory. The things that Eleanor couldn’t remember was one of the more frustrating aspects of this book because it clear that her family remembers more than she does, but because she’s been gone so long with no communication from anyone aside from her grandmother, there’s a lot of distrust between all of them. Eleanor’s grandfather, sister, father, and cousin are werewolves (they’re never called that because their origin is a whole other thing. But they’re basically werewolves). Her paternal grandmother (the one that sent her away in the first place) is a witch of some sort and her mother is hinted to be something, but it’s never really addressed. Now, with all of this, it was easy to assume that Eleanor was also something, but we didn’t know what exactly that was. This was one of the big plot lines of the book. What is Eleanor? Well, we learn that what she is played a big part of everything that’s happened to her. So, the things that I liked about this story were many. Despite being confused as heck for most of this story, I was interested. The setting was atmospheric and vivid. The author did an excellent job with stunning imagery. I liked seeing Eleanor uncomfortable. I think this was because I didn’t really like Eleanor. She doesn’t make good choices (her grandmother gives her advice on her death bed and Eleanor basically never thinks about it again even though following that advice would have saved her from literally everything in this book). But what compelled me to continue on in this story was that I couldn’t help but understand why Eleanor did the things she did. It wasn’t hard to sympathize with her even though I didn’t really like her. There were some things that were so clear to the reader that Eleanor didn’t want to see them, so she didn’t. But with her backstory, it was easy to understand why she was this way. I loved all of the fantasy/horror elements. The monsters and the magic, the stories that we heard the family tell, it was all so creepy in the best way. I also really loved Margaret. She’s Eleanor’s aunt. I liked the slow development of the relationship from actively disliking one another to finding themselves on the same side and working together. Margaret doesn’t speak and doesn’t like to be spoken to, so we get some fun charades scenes. I would have liked to have gotten a bit more from some of the other characters though. We got a lot of Arthur (a family friend) because he is a love interest. I think the ‘romance’ was absolutely not needed for this story to work. Romance is in quotes because there was a sort of happily ever after that I didn’t really care for. I would have totally been okay with all the other bits of the ‘romance’ if they hadn’t gotten that HEA moment, especially after learning all the details of Arthur’s backstory. We didn’t get much from Eleanor’s cousin and sister other than the fact that they were spoiled adults that acted like children because they’d been given or had taken anything they had ever wanted or needed. Overall, this was a wild ride that was spooky, creepy, scary, and a whole bunch of other things. I think it was written well. But sometimes there was just a bit too much going on. I loved all the monsters and magic and mayhem. I will definitely be reading more work by Szabo.
Summary: With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that. This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her parent’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows. In New York, she’s able to ignore all the constant questions about her future plans and falls hard for her creative and beautiful wife, Yuki Yamamoto. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.
Review: Going into Honey Girl, I was expecting a fun and humorous romance between two women. That’s not what this story is, for those that, like me, thought this was a romance novel. Don’t get me wrong, there is a romantic relationship (that I would die for) in this book, but at its heart, this is a story about the main character feeling lost after her life plan has come to an end. This is a story about lonely creatures wondering what comes next and of feeling lost underneath all of the expectations of others. Honey Girl follows Grace Porter as she’s trying to find her way into the career field of astronomy. She’s just graduated with her PhD in astronomy and her first interview was so bad that she walked out on the interviewers. Grace is black and a lesbian, so she not only faces the struggle of being a woman in this scientific field, but also those that come with being black and queer. Grace and her two best friends, Ximena and Agnes, take a vacation to Las Vegas to blow off some steam now that Grace has finished her degree. Grace wakes up the next morning with hazy memories of a girl who smells of sea-salt. With a picture, and a quickly written note, and her memories, Grace realizes she got married the night before to someone whose name she can’t even remember. After returning home, she receives rejection after rejection from jobs she’s interviewed for. She feels lost, but she doesn’t know what to do about it. Her whole life she’s had a plan and she’s followed that plan. But what is she supposed to do when there isn’t a plan to follow any longer? Grace keeps her marriage a secret until one night, she finally confides in her two best friends. Together the three of them listen to Yuki’s radio show about monsters. These monsters reflect humanity and loneliness. Grace works up the nerve to call Yuki, finding herself intrigued by this girl who smells of flowers and tells stories of monsters. With the pressure of her life and expectations from others, Grace escapes Portland and flees to New York, to Yuki. I cannot say enough good things about this book. I have to start by talking about the writing. This story was written so beautifully. The words were lyrical, emotion-filled, and a tad whimsical. I highlighted so many lines from this story on my Kindle. There was no way I wasn’t going to get pulled into this story. To believe that these monsters Yuki talks about might just be real. Now, Grace, she’s really struggling but she doesn’t know how to talk about it or what to do about it. I really appreciated that because I honestly feel like that’s where I am currently. I finished my degree in 2020 and I know what I want to do next, but unlike Grace, I don’t know how to stick to the plans I make. I loved seeing Grace and Yuki fall in love. Following them as they got to know one another was an honor. They were both such fascinating characters that I couldn’t help but love them individually and together. I love that they got their happy ending. There are several different kinds of love shown in this story. The obvious one, romantic love, between Yuki and Grace. But there’s also so many amazing friendships. The platonic love between Grace and her two best friends was a joy to read about. All three of them are imperfect humans, but getting to know these three was hard and wonderful. It reminded me of my relationship with Antonia (love you so much it hurts). There is also the love between siblings. Meera and Raj are Grace’s sister and brother by choice rather than by blood. I loved the three of them interact. But even more, I enjoyed seeing Grace’s relationship with them individually. Meera and Grace work together at Meera’s family’s tea shop. Meera knows what to say, when to say it, and when to say nothing at all. Then there’s Raj, Graces older brother. When they see each other in New York it was so hard to read, but their love for one another was so clear. Only those that love you know exactly what to say to hurt you. Finally, Grace’s parents divorced when she was young. She doesn’t have the best relationship with her mother and her father is a Colonel in the military and raised Grace like she was one of his soldiers. It’s his expectations that she’s trying and failing to live up to. I liked the development of Grace’s relationships with them. There’s progress by the end of the book, but everything isn’t suddenly ‘all better.’ This was realistic and I really liked it. There are some really tough topics covered in this book, including but not limited to: racism, sexism, mental health, self-harm, and homophobia. I think these topics were discussed and included with thoughtfulness and care. (Though I’m not the authority on that for racism, but this is an own voices story.) I think this story was hard to read at times, but it’s such an important one that I hope many people read and love as much as I do. I think the discussion surrounding therapy was so good and so important. There are several characters that talk about going to therapy and talking to their therapists. It’s always discussed in a positive light and I really appreciated that. There’s even a scene of Grace finding the right therapist (meaning she goes to several before she finds one that is right for her). Finally, the found families. Both Grace and Yuki have created their own families. We get to meet Grace’s while she’s still in Portland and we continue to see them throughout the story. I loved them almost as much as I loved Grace and Yuki. Once Grace gets to New York, we meet Yuki’s roommates, her found family. They are all hilarious and hardworking people. I loved them too. Overall, Rogers has created a story that will linger in my mind long after I’ve finished reading it. The writing was nothing short of beautiful. The characters were diverse, well developed, so funny, and a genuine pleasure to read about. This is a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world, trying to find out what comes next, and I think it’s such an important story that will speak to so many people. I will be recommending this book until the end of time.
“She is in the stars, bold and bright and beautiful. She is strong and unwavering, and not filled with the sour taste of failure and the weight of unknowns.”
““Tonight, I want to talk about the sea,” she says. “Is that okay?” She pauses, as if waiting for someone, anyone, maybe even Grace, to answer. “Good. I want to talk about the sea and its dark depths and foaming, white tides and its swelling, hungry waves. The sea isn’t inherently supernatural, or even scary. But it holds many unknowns.” Her voice quiets. “Sometimes unknowns are the scariest things of all, aren’t they?””
“Here is the thing about the tar, the sludge, the inky black poison. Once it starts its ascent out of your body, there is nothing you can do to stop it. It tastes like volcano ash and fire, and you must taste it, and gag on it, and ultimately, you must spit it out. There comes a time when you cannot swallow it down any longer. Everything that is buried will be unburied. Everything that is pushed down will find its way out. It iis the way of the universe.”
“There is a small, hollow ache, somewhere deep inside her, but she is learning that she is made up of many small, hollow aches. She will continue the process of exploring them, one by one.”