Audio ARC Review: Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was my second audiobook arc and I loved it. The story is compelling and relatable – anxious gay cosplayers and artists? Um, yes, please. Raffy is a bit of a mess and I loved seeing how Luca helped reign in his anxiety and perfectionism. They both have rough relationships with their parents for most of the novel, and though it was maybe a little too neat at the end, I loved seeing their parents come through for them. Because let’s face it, we need all the queer happy-ever-afters we can get.

Ryan La Sala made the interesting choice of starting the story in the middle and then with alternating chapters working forward from the beginning to the middle and also the middle to the end. It really worked though, and it was such an interesting perspective, seeing how Raffy and Luca got together, how they fell apart, and how they got back together all at the same time.

The audiobook narrator was excellent and really brought life to the story. He was a bit over-the-top in how he portrayed Raffy but then Raffy is pretty over-the-top all on his own. I’m so happy I was approved for the audiobook arc because I probably would have chosen to read an e-book otherwise and I would have missed out on a fabulous audiobook.

After Reverie and now this, I look forward to anything Ryan La Sala writes.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media for providing an audio arc for review.

ARC DNF Review: The Princess and the Rogue by Kate Bateman

Rating: 1 out of 5.

This book disappointed me, especially given the other ratings. I started skimming pretty much from the beginning, and eventually gave it up as it was clear that it wasn’t going to become a book I enjoyed.

The writing wasn’t particularly smooth and was the first strike against it. The next was the characters I couldn’t connect to or care about – in fact, they just irritated me. Then the cartoonish characterizations, improbable events, and unbelievable insta-lust. It became very clear very quickly that this is just not a book that I would enjoy.

I’m sure plenty of people will enjoy it – it seems plenty of other people do, from the other reviews. It’s just very much not for me.

*Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC DNF Review: The Inkeeper’s Daughter by Bianca M. Schwarz

Rating: 1 out of 5.

All right. I should have learned my lesson by now to ONLY request romance books from authors I already know and love because I’ve had quite a few duds.

This one I could tell almost from the first pages that it was absolutely not for me. It starts with a scene where a man is abusing a young woman. It was rough, but it was also full of oddly anachronistic lines (since it’s supposed to be set in 1819. Lines such as “I told ya t’ go pack yar crap” and “calling Wilkins ‘Pig Face’ was sure to get his goat” and “what the fuck’s yar problem?” (all of which happen within the first few pages).

Reading some of the reviews, I see that those anachronisms continue, as does the focus on rough, brutal sex and abuse. Not my cup of tea.

Thanks to NetGalley and Central Avenue Publishing for providing an e-arc to review.

ARC DNF Review: The Brass Queen by Elizabeth Chatsworth

Rating: 1 out of 5.

This one looked really promising, but I didn’t enjoy it. By 25% I can usually tell if I book is going to become more enjoyable or continue as a slog, and this one was definitely the latter.

My first issue was the the characters. Miss Constance Haltwhistle is… annoying. Brash, rude, entirely self-centered and expecting the world to revolve around her. She’s also puzzlingly supposed to be both completely sheltered and innocent AND a successful weapons dealer. Those don’t really go together. J.F. Trusdale just sort of sits back and let her steamroll over him. He’s also puzzlingly not a spy, but impersonating his dead brother (who was a spy) at the request of his brother’s agency… which, would make him a spy, right?

I wasn’t a fan of the writing style – it was obviously trying very hard to be funny but for me, it just fell flat. Some of the steampunk details (like the carriage that serves breakfast) were cool — but also a bit confusing. Why have horses at all if the thing already uses steam power for the breakfast cooking and transforming? The steampunk details also didn’t really seem to mesh well with the setting. And the worldbuilding in general was spotty.

I will say that a lot of people will probably really enjoy the style of humor employed here, even though I’m not one of them.

*Thanks to NetGalley and CamCat Publishing for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: House of El by Claudia Gray

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I only meant to download this today but I got completely sucked in and ended up devouring all of it in one sitting. I’m not super familiar with Superman lore beyond the basics, but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the story.

The characters are interesting and compelling and the stakes are high from the start – and really feel like it. I really enjoyed reading about Zahn and Sera and their friends, as well as their blossoming friendship and potential for more. Of course, it ended far sooner than I would have liked, but it was a great length to whet the appetite for the story while still leaving potential for more.

I’ve really enjoyed Claudia Gray’s work in the past, and this was no exception.

The art was really great, with easily distinguishable characters, tension and drama, great colors, and a throwback comic-book style. It definitely enhanced the reading experience.

I will definitely be picking up the next books in the series as soon as they’re available.

*Thanks to NetGalley and DC Entertainment for providing me an e-arc to review.

**Some teaser images below:

ARC Review: Tales from the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Rating: 5 out of 5.

These are my favorite sort of fairy tales. They have teeth; they bite and haunt and chill you. They are eerie and magical and strange and creepy and unsettling — and they don’t have happy endings. I haven’t actually read the Hazelwood yet, but now I know I’m going to, because I love Melissa Albert’s writing style. It flows beautifully and is full of unusual phrases that make you slow down and savor the words.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Flatiron books for providing an e-arc to review.

ARC Review: Spellmaker by Charlie N. Holmberg

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I wasn’t completely convinced by Spellbreaker and deducted a star because the info-dumpy worldbuilding at the beginning made it hard to become fully invested in the story. But this book got off to a running start and didn’t stop until the end.

I love the characters and their troubles and motivations. I love the romance (despite a few cringe-y lines). I especially love the magic – Spellbreaking especially is fascinating, as is Master Spellmakers turning into Opuses in death – and the fast-paced plot. This duology is closer to the Paper Magician trilogy than any of Holmberg’s other books, and so I liked it a lot more. Not quite as much as Paper Magician, but close. I would definitely read more books about Elsie and Bacchus and Ogden and Emmeline and Reggie.

I would definitely recommend this duology to anyone who enjoyed the Paper Magician series.

*Thanks to NetGalley and 47North for providing an e-arc for review.

Top Ten Reads in 2020

2020 has been a rather sucky year for just about everyone, as far as I can tell. However, my reading in 2020 has been Ah-mazing. So far I’ve read 161 books, and hope to knock out a few more before the year is up. Pretty sure my top 10 and runner-up 10 won’t change, though, so here we go. These are the books that stood out to me as most original, imaginative, magical, inclusive, and progressive. The ones that have stuck with me and that I still find myself thinking about in moments of downtime. The ones I absolutely, wholeheartedly, unreservedly recommend to everyone who enjoys fantasy (and even those who don’t). The ones I will be anxiously awaiting sequels, follow-ups, and future works by the authors, as well as diving into their backlists.

My Top Ten Reads in 2020 (in no particular order):

And, because I can’t ever manage to stick to a top-whatever list:

My Runner-up 10 Reads in 2020 (in no particular order):

I HIGHLY recommend each of these and would love to hear what you think of them!

And now… bring on 2021!

ARC Review: Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book surprised me. I won an ARC of it from bookishfirst after enjoying the sample, and thought it might make an enjoyable enough read, but it was so much more than that. It’s deceptively simple and very intense, and I loved the depiction of therapy. Ellie’s therapist is awesome. Ellie has endured bullying about her weight from her schoolmates and her family, and her journey to speak up and overcome that was empowering and emotional. Highly recommend to anyone who has ever struggled with their weight or had to deal with unhelpful critical remarks from family – those who should lift you up instead of drag you down.

I love a good novel written in verse, and this one really took advantage of the format to be sparse and cutting and pack a punch. I was crying rather a lot by the end of it, and came away feeling like I could hold my head up a little higher despite my oft-pointed out flaws.

Thanks to bookishfirst for providing an arc to review.

ARC Review: The Governess Gambit by Erica Ridley

Rating: 5 out of 5.
I really enjoyed getting some background for the Duke Heist (which I already read my arc of and LOVED). Bean’s illness was so heartbreaking and I really felt for the Wynchester siblings. And OMG but the new Duke of Faircliffe was infuriating. I even know why from Duke Heist but ugh. Did not like him here. (Yes, I know that’s the point.)

I do see how starting the series here could make it seem somewhat lacking – I am glad to have read this after Duke Heist, though that did make the introductions of all the Wynchesters slightly tedious.

I love the Wynchester siblings so much. They are a wild, wonderful family and I really wish I could know them in real life. Even better, if I could be one of them. Besides their capers and plotting, it’s clear they love one another and trust one another deeply.

Thanks to Erica Ridley and WebMotion for providing an e-arc of this for review.
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