Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

Summary:
When Najwa Bakri walks into her first Scrabble competition since her best friend’s death, it’s with the intention to heal and move on with her life. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to choose the very same competition where said best friend, Trina Low, died. It might be even though Najwa’s trying to change, she’s not ready to give up Trina just yet.
But the same can’t be said for all the other competitors. With Trina, the Scrabble Queen herself, gone, the throne is empty, and her friends are eager to be the next reigning champion. All’s fair in love and Scrabble, but all bets are off when Trina’s formerly inactive Instagram starts posting again, with cryptic messages suggesting that maybe Trina’s death wasn’t as straightforward as everyone thought. And maybe someone at the competition had something to do with it.
As secrets are revealed and the true colors of her friends are shown, it’s up to Najwa to find out who’s behind these mysterious posts—not just to save Trina’s memory, but to save herself.

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. But I did actually end up listening to the finished audiobook that I borrowed from my local library.
I didn’t love this book like I thought it was going to. I thought that it was lacking in a few of my favorite things about mystery/thrillers. There was a real lack of suspense and little to no stakes for the story to just go “ha ha no one did it?” It felt like nothing happened the whole book. A murder mystery should have the stakes slowly raised and I feel like that didn’t happen. It felt like we just did a character-by-character investigation with a backstory with each of the characters. I honestly could have gone for a little info-dumping over the oversharing that I feel like we got with this story.
I still liked the idea of a competitive scrabble community. I’m sure this is something that exists out there and I love it. Really niche hobbies like this are really interesting to me. I really liked how the main character had turned her love for scrabble into an incredible vocabulary.
I did like Najwa. The way that she thought was really engaging for the story. She’s the reason that I finished the book even though I didn’t really love the story. I did I love the casual mention of putting her hijab on and things like that which we get a few times in the book.
While I didn’t love this one, I think it was an issue with my reading lately, and not the fault of the story. I will still be recommending this one in the future.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

Summary:
Catalina Martín, finally, not single. Her family is happy to announce that she will bring her American boyfriend to her sister’s wedding. Everyone is invited to come and witness the most magical event of the year.
That would certainly be tomorrow’s headline in the local newspaper of the small Spanish town I came from. Or the epitaph on my tombstone, seeing the turn my life had taken in the span of a phone call.
Four weeks wasn’t a lot of time to find someone willing to cross the Atlantic–from NYC and all the way to Spain–for a wedding. Let alone, someone eager to play along my charade. But that didn’t mean I was desperate enough to bring the 6’4 blue eyed pain in my ass standing before me.
Aaron Blackford. The man whose main occupation was making my blood boil had just offered himself to be my date. Right after inserting his nose in my business, calling me delusional, and calling himself my best option. See? Outrageous. Aggravating. Blood boiling. And much to my total despair, also right. Which left me with a surly and extra large dilemma in my hands. Was it worth the suffering to bring my colleague and bane of my existence as my fake boyfriend to my sister’s wedding? Or was I better off coming clean and facing the consequences of my panic induced lie?
Like my abuela would say, que dios nos pille confesados.

Review:
After seeing so many people online rave about this book, I selected it as the book for the subscription I have.
The Spanish Love Deception follows Catalina who is looking for a date to her sisters wedding. Her coworker, Aaron, quickly volunteers when he overhears Catalina talking about it. When Catalina can find no other option, she agrees to take him with her to the wedding.
I think the story had minimal plot outside of Catalina and Aaron flirting and getting to know one another before they travel to another country together. But I didn’t really mind that. I liked the slow burn. I liked seeing them get to know one another. But some of the story just felt a little over the top. It felt like it tried to use as many tropes as possible. I can totally see why so many people live this book, but for me it was a little corny.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Fool Me Once by Ashley Winstead

Summary:
Lee Stone is a twenty-first-century woman: she kicks butt at her job as a communications director at a women-run electric car company (that’s better than Tesla, thank you) and after work she is “Stoner,” drinking guys under the table and never letting any of them get too comfortable in her bed…
That’s because Lee’s learned one big lesson: never trust love. After four major heartbreaks set her straight, from her father cheating on her mom all the way to Ben Laderman in grad school—who wasn’t actually cheating, but she could have sworn he was, so she reciprocated in kind.
Then Ben shows up five years later, working as a policy expert for the most liberal governor in Texas history, just as Lee is trying to get a clean energy bill rolling. Things get complicated—and competitive as Lee and Ben are forced to work together. Tension builds just as old sparks reignite, fanning the flames for a romantic dustup the size of Texas.

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review. I was supposed to be a part of the blog tour team, but I dropped the ball with this review.
Fool Me Once follows Lee, also called “Stoner.” She has been working toward getting a clean energy bill ready to be promoted and hopefully passed. But her ex shows up at the office that’s working with Lee. An ex that she treated pretty poorly.
I really enjoyed this one. I felt like I could really relate to Lee. She was almost two different people when she was working versus the rest of the time. She also had some serious trust issues when it came to cheating and she let those issues guide her actions which led to hurting her ex, Ben. But it had been 5 years since all of that happened, so, Lee and Ben have agreed to be friends.
The progression of their relationship was well done, in my opinion. I really like the second chance romance trope. This one had the potential to go wrong, but I was happy with how the author handled their past and made amends for things both of the main characters had done. Their falling back in love with one another was believable and enjoyable.
I genuinely laughed out loud while I was reading this. I absolutely will be recommending this in the future and buying a finished copy for myself.  

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas

Summary:
Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar are trying to get back to normal―they may have saved Crescent City, but with so much upheaval in their lives lately, they mostly want a chance to relax. Slow down. Figure out what the future holds.
The Asteri have kept their word so far, leaving Bryce and Hunt alone. But with the rebels chipping away at the Asteri’s power, the threat the rulers pose is growing. As Bryce, Hunt, and their friends get pulled into the rebels’ plans, the choice becomes clear: stay silent while others are oppressed, or fight for what’s right. And they’ve never been very good at staying silent.
In this sexy, action-packed sequel to the #1 bestseller House of Earth and Blood, Sarah J. Maas weaves a captivating story of a world about to explode―and the people who will do anything to save it.

Review:
I’m genuinely not sure how I’m supposed to talk about my feelings regarding House of Sky and Breath outside of “holy fucking shit.” Normally, I would have powered through an exciting new release like this, pushing aside all other responsibilities. But I just had a baby, so my newborn obviously was my priority. Let me tell you, it’s not easy reading an 800-page book while feeding a baby.
House of Sky and Breath follows the same characters we came to know and love from the first book, plus a few more that play a bigger role in this sequel. I really liked the way that it was written. It’s written in the third person, so we follow along with a few different characters getting to see a wider view than just the main character’s perspective. I think it really allowed the world to be opened up more. I really loved learning more about the world. I thought that the bits of history about Midgard that we learned were absolutely fascinating and definitely made certain mysterious plot lines more engaging. Also, I’m absolutely dying to know more about the gates and how they work after that big reveal at the end.
The characters were absolutely what made this story for me. While I was engaged by the plot of the book and the adventures these characters went on, I was mostly here for the character development and the relationships. I would die for Bryce and Hunt. This book was pretty steamy when it came to the sex scenes. I actually really liked that Maas included more than just “traditional” sex. There were a lot of emotional challenges for both Bryce and Hunt in this book that I thought was really interesting. But most of all, I was excited to see more about Bryce’s other relationships. Her slowly healing relationship with her brother, Ruhn, especially. I loved seeing them train together and come to rely on one another. I also really liked that Ruhn got his own plot points for the book. I enjoyed his involvement in furthering the plot just as much as what Bryce and Hunt were doing.
Overall, I loved this book. That’s it really. And it’s no big surprise that I loved it.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Summary:
Ari Abrams has always been fascinated by the weather, and she loves almost everything about her job as a TV meteorologist. Her boss, legendary Seattle weatherwoman Torrance Hale, is too distracted by her tempestuous relationship with her ex-husband, the station’s news director, to give Ari the mentorship she wants. Ari, who runs on sunshine and optimism, is at her wits’ end. The only person who seems to understand how she feels is sweet but reserved sports reporter Russell Barringer.
In the aftermath of a disastrous holiday party, Ari and Russell decide to team up to solve their bosses’ relationship issues. Between secret gifts and double dates, they start nudging their bosses back together. But their well-meaning meddling backfires when the real chemistry builds between Ari and Russell.
Working closely with Russell means allowing him to get to know parts of herself that Ari keeps hidden from everyone. Will he be able to embrace her dark clouds as well as her clear skies?

Book Cover

Review:
Weather Girl was one of my most anticipated January 2022 releases. The story follows Ari Abrams who is a meteorologist in Seattle, Washington. She and a coworker, Russell, get drunk after their work holiday party and come up with a plot to get their bosses to fall back in love. Their bosses, Torrance and Seth, make working at KSEA almost unbearable even though both Russell and Ari love their jobs. The constant fighting and drama that come from Seth and Torrance is unprofessional and is creating a pretty toxic work environment. So, Russell and Ari come up with a plan to see if they can make things better by getting their bosses back together. And maybe Russell and Ari manage to find love along the way as well.
Ari is Jewish and struggles with depression. These are two things that play a big role in the story. Ari manages her depression with medication and therapy. I absolutely loved this inclusion in the story. I know that depression looks different for different people, but for me, I loved the thoughtful and caring way that it’s shown in this story. Ari’s childhood memories are often discussed because her mother also suffers from depression but her mother never did anything about it and Ari really resent that. I thought this was an interesting aspect of the story too because Ari is pretty harsh in her judgments of her mother, which is sometimes understandable. I loved the way things worked out with Ari and her relationship with her mother, though. We get to see quite a bit with Ari being Jewish as well. I can’t speak to this representation, but I’ve seen a few glowing reviews from Jewish bookstagrammers about the representation. So, I did want to mention it. I just genuinely liked Ari. She’s doing her best, and that’s all we can as of her. She grows a lot and I liked her “aha” moment when she’s talking with her therapist and she says “I didn’t think of it like that” and it makes her think about a situation in a whole different way. I love growth and learning like that.
Russell is also Jewish. He’s a single dad. And he’s fat. He was honestly just a cinnamon roll and I loved him. And then we got to some sex scenes and damn he has a filthy mouth and I absolutely loved it. He kept himself pretty closed off, so every time we learned something new about him it felt like a huge deal (like him being Jewish and again when we learned he has a daughter.) I really liked getting to know Russell. He was just genuinely such a nice guy (even when he needs to shove his whole foot in his mouth). I loved how his relationship with Ari developed. We only really got to see things from her perspective, so I feel like we got to know her way better, but I still really liked Russell.
Overall, I had such a good time reading this book. I loved the romance between Ari and Russell. I loved the romance between Seth and Torrance, even though that was a lesser focus of the story. I liked the way the story unfolded. I think this will absolutely be a huge hit with many of the romance readers that I know.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

When You Get the Chance by Emma Lord

Summary:
Nothing will get in the way of Millie Price’s dream to become a Broadway star. Not her lovable but super-introverted dad, who after raising Millie alone, doesn’t want to watch her leave home to pursue her dream. Not her pesky and ongoing drama club rival, Oliver, who is the very definition of Simmering Romantic Tension. And not the “Millie Moods,” the feelings of intense emotion that threaten to overwhelm, always at maddeningly inconvenient times. Millie needs an ally. And when a left-open browser brings Millie to her dad’s embarrassingly moody LiveJournal from 2003, Millie knows just what to do. She’s going to find her mom.
There’s Steph, a still-aspiring stage actress and receptionist at a talent agency. There’s Farrah, ethereal dance teacher who clearly doesn’t have the two left feet Millie has. And Beth, the chipper and sweet stage enthusiast with an equally exuberant fifteen-year-old daughter (A possible sister?! This is getting out of hand). But how can you find a new part of your life and expect it to fit into your old one, without leaving any marks? And why is it that when you go looking for the past, it somehow keeps bringing you back to what you’ve had all along?

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
When You Get the Chance follows Millie, a theatre kid, who is doing quite a few things. She’s looking for her mom (after narrowing it down to three possible women), trying to convince her dad to let her go to a super-selective theatre program that she’s been accepted to (except it’s across the country), and also, she’s falling in love.
I was not a theatre kid. They didn’t have any sort of drama program at my high school, so that aspect of this story went right over my head. Though I could totally feel the energy and excitement and passion that Millie had for acting from this book. My favorite part was the mom drama. I have to say that once you get past a certain point about the mystery moms, I absolutely guessed who Millie’s mom was before it was revealed. Growing up with a single dad, I really liked this aspect of the story. Millie’s family dynamic was an interesting one. I loved Millie’s dad and it was so clear that he loved her. He obviously did his best to raise her and love her and I loved that. But I also could understand Millie’s complicated emotions about her mom. I think this part was really well done. Because it’s not that Millie is unhappy with her dad and her aunt, but there’s nothing really that can replace the mom that birthed you, even if she gave you up.
Now, the romance. I was absolutely here for the rivals to friends to lover’s romance between Oliver and Millie. I think they were so fun to follow as they figured out what a great team they can be. I liked learning about the ways that they helped one another and didn’t even know it. I think their journey from grudging respect to friends to lovers was absolutely to die for. I devoured it.
Overall, this was a fun and easy to read story about Millie who is just trying to find herself (but what else are we going to do at age seventeen), and instead finds more of a mystery, love, and possibility. I think this will be a hit among YA readers, for sure.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: You’d Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow

Summary:
For all of Emory’s life she’s been told who she is. In town she’s the rich one–the great-great-granddaughter of the mill’s founder. At school she’s hot Maddie Ward’s younger sister. And at home, she’s the good one, her stoner older brother Joey’s babysitter. Everything was turned on its head, though, when she and Joey were in the car accident that killed Candy MontClaire. The car accident that revealed just how bad Joey’s drug habit was.
Four months later, Emmy’s junior year is starting, Joey is home from rehab, and the entire town of Mill Haven is still reeling from the accident. Everyone’s telling Emmy who she is, but so much has changed, how can she be the same person? Or was she ever that person at all?
Mill Haven wants everyone to live one story, but Emmy’s beginning to see that people are more than they appear. Her brother, who might not be cured, the popular guy who lives next door, and most of all, many ghostie addicts who haunt the edges of the town. People spend so much time telling her who she is–it might be time to decide for herself.
Inspired by the American classic Our Town, You’d Be Home Now is Kathleen Glasgow’s glorious modern story of a town and the secret lives people live there. And the story of a girl, figuring out life in all its pain and beauty and struggle and joy.

Book Cover

Review:
You’d Be Home Now is following Emory, who is in a violent car crash after leaving a party. She injures her leg, but in the car with her was her brother, who was overdosing on drugs, his best friend, and a girl that Emory was trying to help get home. After the accident, Emory’s brother, Joey, is sent to rehab, the driver is sent to a juvenile hall, and the girl died. We follow Emory as she recovers over the summer and lives in a quieter than normal house, hooking up with the boy next door in the pool house.
This is a very slow and steady story. It all takes place over the summer and the first few months of the next school year. We get to know Emory while she’s recovering over the summer and then we get to know how things are changing once the new school year starts. We’re told rather than shown these changes because we didn’t even get to see what Emory’s life was like before. But I think Glasgow did a good job of showing how all the changes feel for Emory. I liked seeing how she adapted to these changes and the things and people that encouraged Emory herself to grow and change.
Overall, this was a really tough and hard-hitting story about a girl who loves her brother so much but can do nothing for him while he struggles with addiction and recovery. I could really sympathize with what Emory was feeling but also what Joey was going through. Teenagers can be really cruel and going back to high school after everything they’ve been through would be incredibly hard, but to add trying to stay sober on top of that? No thanks. I would absolutely recommend Glasgow’s newest release for any readers that like hard-hitting contemporary books.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

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.

Book Cover

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.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochran

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.

Book Cover

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.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: The Dating Dare by Jayci Lee

Summary:
Tara Park doesn’t do serious relationships. Neither does she hop into bed with virtual strangers. Especially when that particular stranger is her best friend’s new brother-in-law. It isn’t an easy decision, though. Seth Kim is temptation personified. His unreasonably handsome looks and charming personality makes him easy on the eyes and good for her ego.
When a friendly game of Truth or Dare leads to an uncomplicated four-date arrangement with Seth, Tara can’t say she minds. But their dates, while sweet and sexy, have a tendency to hit roadblocks. Thankfully, their non-dates and chance meetings get frequent and heated.
Seth is leaving for a new job in Paris in a month and a no-strings attached fling seemed like a nice little distraction for both… But soon Seth realizes that Tara Park doesn’t come in a “nice & little” package–she’s funny and bold, sweet and sexy, and everything he ever wanted and never expected to find. Neither of them are ready for something serious and both have past relationship baggage they’ve been ignoring, but with a shot at forever on the line will they follow their hearts and take a chance on happily-ever-after?

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this advanced copy, here is my honest review. The Dating Dare follows Tara (who is the bff from A Sweet)and Seth (the brother of the love interest in A Sweet Mess). The story starts off at the wedding of the couple from A Sweet Mess. Tara tells Seth to stop staring at her and they are immediately flirting and the attraction between them is obvious. The issue is that both Seth and Tara have sworn off of serious relationships because they were both hurt very badly in their first serious relationships in college. So, Seth dares Tara to go on four dates with him and not fall in love with him while he’s house sitting for his brother, before he leaves to move to Paris. Obviously the two fall in love, but not without some bumps in the road.
I liked this book. It was a fun romance that had great sexual tension and flirting. The lead up and tension to the pair finally having sex was excellent. They kept finding themselves out in public or in other places where it wasn’t really appropriate to get naked and I thought that was a funny, but good way to build up the anticipation of them finally getting together. I didn’t love that both Seth and Tara had the same emotional issues. I don’t know why I didn’t like that though. There was just something about it that had me rolling my eyes a little bit. I also didn’t love that they didn’t really talk about any of those things until after they finally mended things after the third act break up.
Overall, I had fun reading this book. Their dates were fun and sweet. It was a bit funny to see them try to keep things between them a secret. I liked the familiar setting of Wheldon. And I was happy to see them end up together at the end of the book.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: The Boy With Fire by Aparna Verma

Summary:
Dune meets The Poppy War in Aparna Verma’s The Boy with Fire, a glorious yet brutal tour-de-force debut that grapples with the power and manipulation of myth in an Indian-inspired epic fantasy.
Yassen Knight was the Arohassin’s most notorious assassin until a horrible accident. Now, he’s on the run from the authorities and his former employer. But when Yassen seeks refuge with an old friend, he’s offered an irresistible deal: defend the heir of Ravence from the Arohassin, and earn his freedom.
Elena Ravence prepares to ascend the throne. Trained since birth in statecraft, warfare, and the desert ways, Elena knows she is ready. She only lacks one thing: the ability to hold Fire. With the coronation only weeks away, she must learn quickly or lose her kingdom.
Leo Ravence is not ready to give up the crown. There’s still too much work to be done, too many battles to be won. But when an ancient prophecy threatens to undo his lifetime of work, Leo wages war on the heavens themselves to protect his legacy.
The first of The Ravence Trilogy, The Boy with Fire is the tale of a world teetering on the edge of war and prophecy, of fate and betrayal, of man’s irrevocable greed for power — and the sacrifices that must come with it.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced review copy. All opinions are my own. The Boy With Fire follows three points of view, for the most part. The king, Leo, his daughter and heir, Elena, and an assassin, Yassen. Yassen is defecting from the assassin organization he’s been a part of since they recruited him as an orphaned child. He’s been made a part of Elena’s guard. It’s almost time for Elena to claim the throne. Elena’s coronation is what most of this book is leading up to. Until the coronation, it’s mostly world-building and character building, as well as, the politics of the kingdom and the potential arrival of someone called the Prophet.
I thought the world-building was interesting enough. I think fantasy is just not my genre lately. I had a really hard time focusing until more than halfway into the story. It wasn’t that the world-building was overly complicated because it wasn’t. It was detailed and complex, but not so much so that it was confusing. It was interesting, I just wasn’t invested. I don’t think it was any fault of the story that I wasn’t invested either. The writing was really good. There were quite a few parts where the writing really stuck out as good and memorable. I think I just personally need to take a break from fantasy.
I felt similarly about the characters. They were all well developed and interesting. But I wasn’t invested. Again, I think this was a me thing and not really the fault of the book. I liked Elena the most because she’s about to become Queen and her father won’t prepare her in the ways that he’s supposed to. So, she takes it upon herself to train from scrolls and literature. She’s stubborn and very obviously loves her kingdom. Yassen was an interesting character too because he’s finally back home in the country he grew up in and that brings some tough memories back up. He’s also is not looked upon very favorably because of the assassin organization he was a part of. But he proves himself loyal. I think the twists involving Yassen were some of the better ones in the story and also the twist at the end with Samson was totally a surprise.
Overall, this was a well-written and well-explained fantasy world with characters that were well developed. I don’t have any negative things to say about the story aside from the fact that I wasn’t really invested in any of it, the world or the characters. But, one last time, I think that’s a personal thing that I’m dealing with for the genre of fantasy at the moment and not the fault of the story.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

Summary:
Single mother April Parker has lived in Willow Creek for twelve years with a wall around her heart. On the verge of being an empty nester, she’s decided to move on from her quaint little town, and asks her friend Mitch for his help with some home improvement projects to get her house ready to sell.
Mitch Malone is known for being the life of every party, but mostly for the attire he wears to the local Renaissance Faire — a kilt (and not much else) that shows off his muscled form to perfection. While he agrees to help April, he needs a favor too: she’ll pretend to be his girlfriend at an upcoming family dinner, so that he can avoid the lectures about settling down and having a more “serious” career than high school coach and gym teacher. April reluctantly agrees, but when dinner turns into a weekend trip, it becomes hard to tell what’s real and what’s been just for show. But when the weekend ends, so must their fake relationship.
As summer begins, Faire returns to Willow Creek, and April volunteers for the first time. When Mitch’s family shows up unexpectedly, April pretends to be Mitch’s girlfriend again… something that doesn’t feel so fake anymore. Despite their obvious connection, April insists they’ve just been putting on an act. But when there’s the chance for something real, she has to decide whether to change her plans — and open her heart — for the kilt-wearing hunk who might just be the love of her life.

Book Cover

Review:
Well Matched is finally the book where we get April and Mitch falling in love! I had a lot of fun reading this one but I wanted more of it. The story follows April, who is mostly focused on helping her daughter get ready to graduate high school. April’s plan has always been to move out of Willow Creek once Caitlin went off to college. So, she’s doing some things around her house, like painting, to get ready to sell it and move closer to her job in the city. But things get a little complicated when Mitch asks April to be his fake girlfriend and go with him to his grandparent’s anniversary family get-together. As this is a romance novel, obviously hijinks ensue, and the two fall in love. I’m happy to say that we get not only the fake dating trope but also the “there’s only one-bed” trope (which was absolute perfection).
I had a hard time connecting with April for the first half of this book. She’s incredibly defensive, which I might not have noticed if the story wasn’t told from her perspective. She’s been a single mom for almost 18 years, and she’s still living like she’s just arrived in Willow Creek. She’s private and doesn’t allow herself to really connect or develop relationships with anyone. Her sister, Emily (the main character of Well Met), has gotten April a little bit more involved and April has sort of become friends with Emily’s friends. But even after living here for all this time, she’s kept herself pretty distanced. I had a hard time with this until I realized that it wasn’t that April hadn’t changed in the last 15+ years she’d lived in Willow Creek, it was just that she hadn’t *realized* that she’d changed. And once that was pointed out, I liked April a lot more.
Mitch is a total cinnamon roll. I loved every bit that we got to see with him in previous books and this book only made me love him more. His family is incredibly judge mental of his career choice and they dismiss him. So, they’ve never really gotten to know the extent of what he does for the kids he teaches or what he does for the Faire. I thought this was a really interesting aspect of the story and allowed for great development between April and Mitch when April learns of this dynamic in his family.
I really liked April and Mitch as a couple, but I felt a little bit like we didn’t really get to see them fall in love. We did see that, as they worked on painting her house, staining her deck, putting in new carpet. But so many of those scenes felt so similar to one another that when they finally said they loved each other I couldn’t help but think “wait, when did that happen?” I think a part of this was because of April’s desire to deny that anything real was going on between them and her thinking that their relationship needed to be a secret. Everything being kept so quiet and sneaky meant that we didn’t really get to see them doing a lot of the usual things that we might see couples do (like dating, in front of other people). We did get some absolutely excellent scenes of the two of them at the Faire.
Overall, I really had a fun time with this book. It was a fun romance following two characters that had depth and a romantic connection I was easily invested in. I really love this series and I can’t wait to see what other romantic tensions at the Ren Faire DeLuca can come up with. I can’t wait to get to know Lulu more in the next book in the series.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle

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.

Book Cover

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.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

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.

Book Cover

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.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

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.

Book Cover

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.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.