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ARC Review: Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Rating: 5 out of 5.

TW: this book contains rather a lot of a (former) abusive relationship, which is hinted at until near the end when there are some pretty vivid flashbacks. The abuse also really drives a lot of one of our mc’s actions for most of the book.

This book was such a joy to read. There were a lot of my favorite romance / fanfic tropes (more on that in a minute), sympathetic characters, conspiracy and peril, and enough drama and action to keep me reading for hours without even realizing it. You know the type – when you tear yourself away from the book and realize it’s nearly 11pm and you’ve been reading since early afternoon. There wasn’t a lot of worldbuilding but what there was was fascinating. I really need to know more about the remnants. Remnants of… what, exactly?

This is an arranged marriage slooooooow burn romance (mostly due to some misunderstandings at the start) which means you see each character fall in love while trying to hold themselves back because the other one *obviously* doesn’t feel the same. There is also a “there’s only one bed” moment and an absolutely delightful incident with a bear when our mcs find themselves the focus of a murder attempt and take an unexpected detour through the snowy wilderness. Kiem and Jainan have a distinct fanfic flavor to their personalities and relationship, which probably added to my enjoyment. I’m just really into the ‘affable, friends with everyone but can’t shake the mishaps of his college days so no one expects him to amount to anything’ and ‘uptight, private and self-contained, brilliant but mistreated and so just sort of floats along’ character types, I guess.

Kiem and Jainan realize pretty early on that they’re up against something big, which only gets bigger the more they try to discover the truth of what’s going on and who they can trust. I was really pleased with how it all turned out, as I didn’t guess a lot of it ahead of time. I also really liked how it ended. It was very satisfying.

Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing an e-arc to review.

ARC Review: The Night Parade of 100 Demons by Marie Brennan

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I love Marie Brennan’s work but wasn’t sure about this one because I had no prior knowledge of the game world it’s based in and I have only a smattering of knowledge about Japan’s mythological creatures. I requested it anyway and I’m so glad I did.

Apparently I’ve read more about Japan’s yokai than I’d thought, because I recognized a great many of them. The setting was easy to accommodate myself to, as it’s just a small mountain village in Imperial Japan.

What really shines here is the two main characters. Ryotoro and Sekken are samurai from different clans who arrive at the town for different reasons that eventually turn out to be the same. Told through alternating perspectives, we get a slow, thoughtful investigation of what exactly has been happening in the village. We also are privy to the secrets they are keeping from one another and their slowly burgeoning attraction as they work to save the village from the rampaging yokai.

I loved the slowly building layers of story and will definitely be seeking out more of Marie Brennan’s work.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Aconyte Books fro providing an e-arc to review.

ARC Review: A Summoning of Demons by Cate Glass

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I was hooked pretty much immediately with this book — in previous books in this series it took some time to get into them (especially with the archaic language) but I was either familiar enough with the world or it just started at a faster pace, I’m not sure which. But I was swept into Romy and her friends’ lives within the first few pages and read the entire book in 2 days.

As usual with these adventures, a seemingly small job turns into a much bigger problem over the course of the book, and there are definitely some big reveals here about the magic of the Costa Drago. One of my favorite things about these novels is the way Romy, Neri, Placidio, and Dummond’s magic work together – and the way Vashta’s non-magical help is necessary too.

I was a little surprised to see the blurb mention “the conclusion to the trilogy” when it doesn’t really feel like one? I mean, the immediate events get wrapped up, and a lot of the bigger mystery hinted at in the first two books is revealed, but it leaves off with almost an expectation of another adventure, and there’s certainly more to learn about the supernatural events. I think I would be disappointed if there aren’t more books about Romy and her friends in the future. At the same time, if we don’t ever get any more adventures, this one left me satisfied enough not to feel cheated.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: Of Silver and Shadow by Jennifer Gruenke

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Writing Style: 3/5
Cover: 5/5
Representation: 4/5
Enjoyment: 4/5
Worldbuilding: 1/5
Overall: 4/5

This book had a lot of things going for it, and a few things that could have been improved. Overall, I really liked it.

First: The cover, which is what drew me to this book in the first place. This is a *gorgeous* cover. It’s very clever and deceptively simple, and after reading the book and learning the meaning behind ‘silver’ and ‘shadow’ I love it even more. It’s rare that you find such a perfect visual representation of an important story concept. I adore it.

The pacing was perhaps a little off, as the first 3/4 seemed really slow and then part four was a fast-paced barrage of events and POV changes. It was well done, however, and I actually would have preferred the first 3 parts to have a slightly faster pace to match.

I enjoyed the characters, though sometimes they felt a bit too… convenient? Like they popped onto the page fully-formed when needed to suit the plot. This is what ultimately made me knock a star off my rating – too much convenience, too little struggle, and too neat.

Also the worldbuilding was practically nonexistent and you could have plopped the characters down into just about any story and it would have proceeded much the same way. The city and palace were so incredibly generic that it made it difficult to connect with or care for the characters.

*note: A year later and I have … no memory of this book beyond the inial scene of Ren and the dress. I’m leaving the stars because I must have felt it deserved them at the time but… It may be more of a 3 star book.

Thanks to NetGalley and North Star Editions for providing an e-arc to review.

ARC Review: Shadow City by Francesca Flores

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I went into this with mixed feelings, as I had a lot of issues with Diamond City. And… a lot of those issues remain. Some minor characters get shoved into relationships with some of Aina’s …. suitors? friends? and so she doesn’t spend the whole book in love with four people but… I don’t know. She doesn’t have to make any real choices.

The entire city is destroyed basically. There was a ridiculous amount of bombings and killings. Like. I know she’s an assassin but it gets ridiculous. There’s also a bit of a cop-out at the end which annoyed me and lessened the impact of Aina’s choices.

Aina also spends a lot of the book alone as her group of friends sort of splinters to focus on different things. so it’s mostly just her and Kohl – and at least she sorts out how she feels about him.

Mostly there’s no depth to anything. There’s running and exploding and blood and more blood and killing and blood and poisons and antidotes and fire and blood and that’s…. it, really.

Overall it was meh and I probably wouldn’t have continued (or even started really) if I didn’t have an arc to review.

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

ARC Review: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was slow and poignant and very real. I felt like I was there in 1950s San Francisco, chafing at the bonds of being a “Good Chinese Girl” and slowly discovering myself. I really enjoyed it.

I do think that the (overly long) flashback sections about Lily’s parents and aunt when they were younger were unnecessary. They kept wrenching me back out of Lily’s story and I feel like they detracted from the story a bit.

I was afraid it would end tragically, but I’m satisfied with how it ended. It was fitting and believable and left room for hope.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Young Readers Group for providing an e-arc to review.

ARC Review: Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In some ways I really enjoyed this book, but in others I found it rather lacking. Part of this could be that I read an arc, but I feel like some of the ideas were sort of half-baked. First there would be talk of Jatin being ‘the’ Raja of Naupure, and then there would be talk of some other random raja or rani and then poof there’s only one again? The familial ties between the royal families were a bit confused as well. The magic system, while interesting, also seemed to suffer – the names of the Gods were just… their power spelled backwards? Ice magic is Dloc (cold), fire magic is Erif (fire), healing magic is Leah (heal)… There were also several places where I wished the writing were tighter or where I ended up confused.

But at the same time, I loved the enemies to lovers — and not just enemies to lovers, but betrothed enemies to mistaken identity lovers! — and Andraa and Jatin’s love for their people and wish to help them. The magic system (aside from the names) is cool and makes for very satisfying battles. And the chemistry between Andraa and Jatin is real, despite their false identities.

Going with three stars as I’m wavering between the good and bad points. I will be interested to see what happens in the sequel but I might not seek it out immediately.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Children’s for providing an e-arc for review.

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.