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ARC Review: The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

The Charm Offensive


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.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book has the charm and feel of Red White & Royal Blue with a lot more will-they-won’t-they push and pull to it. In other words, I loved it.

Dev has depression and doesn’t believe he’s worthy of love (despite his love of love stories and belief in the fairy-tale endings he orchestrates for his reality dating show). Charlie has OCD and anxiety and doesn’t believe he’s worthy of love — and also doesn’t know he’s gay.

It’s a lot to unpack, and it’s handled beautifully. Just. Chef’s kiss. As someone with mental illness (and a therapist – the ‘we’re all in therapy’ moment was beautiful and relatable) who is queer, this book was everything I wanted. I cried rather a lot and was very emotional throughout and never wanted it to end.

The entire cast of characters was wonderful and I want them as my friends now, please. (Except Maureen. She was a terrible person.) Alison Cochrun has just pole-vaulted onto my list of absolute must-read favorite authors.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow

So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow


Four young Black sisters come of age during the American Civil War in So Many Beginnings, a warm and powerful YA remix of the classic novel Little Women by national bestselling author Bethany C. Morrow.

North Carolina, 1863. As the American Civil War rages on, the Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island is blossoming, a haven for the recently emancipated. Black people have begun building a community of their own, a refuge from the shadow of the old life. It is where the March family has finally been able to safely put down roots with four young daughters:

Meg, a teacher who longs to find love and start a family of her own.

Jo, a writer whose words are too powerful to be contained.

Beth, a talented seamstress searching for a higher purpose.

Amy, a dancer eager to explore life outside her family’s home.

As the four March sisters come into their own as independent young women, they will face first love, health struggles, heartbreak, and new horizons. But they will face it all together.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I was a little apprehensive about this book, while at the same time desperately wanting to read it, because I’ve greatly enjoyed Bethany Morrow’s other works and Little Women was my absolute favorite book growing up. I can’t even count how many times I read it while dealing with middle school and high school stress. And I can now say without hesitation that this retelling knocks it out of the park.

One thing Bethany Morrow does especially well here is remaining true to the heart of the original story while still crafting it around a different family with a vastly different history and set of needs. Their desires, though, are very familiar. Meg wants a husband and family of her own, Jo wants to write and retains her tempestuous nature, Beth is sweet and gentle and loves to sew, and Amy is headstrong, a bit spoiled, and talented at art (dancing, in this case). But above all of those things is their love for one another and their closeness as a family.

I got hints of Jo being asexual here which really resonated with me and I found it very true to both this Jo and the original Jo. I am glad that this Lorie was willing to let Jo love him in her own way and not try to change her.

I think the choice to turn the March family from a poor Northern family with their father fighting in the Civil War to a formerly enslaved black family fighting to gain their freedom was brilliant. Their struggles and disagreements and love — everything about them really — were given a much deeper meaning and resonance. Beth’s mysterious disease not occurring in white people so of course their doctors were perplexed. The way Amy was spoiled made so much more sense when taken with the fact that the entire March family were trying to give her the childhood none of the rest of them were allowed to have. Jo’s book-in-progress being criticized not because she is a woman but because she dares to write intellectually instead of using the broken English and dialect expected of a formerly enslaved Black woman. The struggles are the same. The meaning and depth in every action and conversation are just. So much deeper. I’m in awe.

That last line of the book was utterly perfect and made me cry it hit so hard. Just. Beautifully crafted.

I also learned SO much while reading this book. I grew up in North Carolina and had no idea the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony even existed. Much as I have recently learned a LOT of things about the history of this country and its treatment of Black people that I never learned growing up.

This is a case where I think the audiobook narrator actually detracts from the story being narrated. This book deserves 5 stars absolutely, but I’m only giving the narrator 3. She spoke too slowly, with a somewhat odd lilt that made me a bit twitchy as I listened. I ended up speeding it up to 1.5x speed which at least made it go faster. Once I gave up on the audio and started reading my enjoyment of the story increased greatly. I wish I’d read it from the start because I think I’d have loved it even more and gotten more out of it.

*Thanks to NetGalley, MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group, MacMillan Audio, and Bookish First for providing an e-arc, audio arc, and physical arc for review.

ARC Review: In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

In the Watchful City

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Publishing Date: August 31, 2021 by MacMillan/Tor-Forge

This slim volume took rather a lot of brain to read, so it was slow going. It was also slow as I became used to the unfamiliar pronouns — ae, se, and e — that are used throughout. Even as I struggled to comprehend it, though, I loved it.

The writing is gorgeous and inventive, with stories within stories weaving a tapestry of what it means to be human, to feel grief, to live.

Anima watches over aer city from within the Gleaming, borrowing the bodies of animals to make aer way around the city and protect it. Though she can float through the Gleaming and city at will, she cannot physically leave her room.

Vessel is a psychopomp who has a magical collection of artifacts, each with a story to tell.

Their interactions are beautiful to see, as Vessel slowly uses the stories of the artifacts to bring Anima back to an awareness of her humanity and what it means to live.

This is definitely going into my top 10 books of the year, and I will be recommending it highly.

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

ARC Review: Fresh Paint by Flora Bowley & Lynzee Lynx

Fresh Paint by Flora Bowley

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book posed an intimidating challenge — 100 small paintings! interrogate your use of color, shape, design, materials, etc?! “Discover Your Unique Creative Style Through 100 Small Mixed-Media Paintings” — and at first I was dubious, but now that I’ve finished I want to jump into those hundred paintings right now. I’m actually rather disappointed that I have to go and make dinner instead. Adulting is hard sometimes.

I loved the example paintings throughout, and found the exercises insightful and brimming with possibilities. My excitement grew with each chapter and new idea. I also really loved the tip of cutting up large watercolor paper to paint on. First, because that would never have occurred to me, and second because I actually have giant watercolor paper and I’ve been wondering what I would do with it.

I have been making a mental list of the supplies I will need to start. I have a lot of them already — embroidery floss, glitter, various paints, pens, markers, colored pencils, etc… But what I don’t have are acrylic paints (I sold mine from school when making room for my baby several years ago). I DO however have a better understanding of the colors I like than I had in art school, and a lead on the colors I will need to get started.

I’m so excited. I have been wanting to get back into acrylic painting, but I was laboring under the impression that I needed to have canvases or panels, an easel, and the room to store those things (which I don’t have). But. Paper I can definitely do.

I also love to browse my local independent art supply store and the idea to purchase one color or pen or other small thing to add to the paintings with each trip is brilliant. A whole list of supplies? Expensive and intimidating. But I always come out with a few things anyway.

Another tip I found brilliant is the idea of working on several paintings at once, and pulling them out and adding more layers and details as inspiration strikes. I’ve never tried that, but I really want to try.

If you’re at all interested in mixed media painting, this book is a must and I would definitely recommend it – especially if you’re trying to develop your own style and color palette. I will be purchasing a hard copy to refer back to as I work on my paintings.

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

ARC Review: Anime Art Class by Yoai

Anime Art Class: A Complete Course in Drawing Manga Cuties

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was an interesting and informative guide to drawing anime. The things I found most useful were the tip sections on working with different media and tools (pencil, fineliner, alcohol marker, watercolor, prismacolor pencil). There were general tips on which type of eraser to use, how long to let pen lines dry before using another media, etc. There were also guides for common anime hairstyles, clothing types, facial expressions, and postures. It did get a bit repetitive as it went through the same steps for each character, but there was definitely some valuable info to be gleaned. I feel like I have a better handle now on how to take a ‘finished’ drawing and improve it by adding more shading and highlights, and how best to do that.

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

Book Reviews: Erica Ridley’s Dukes of War #3, 5, 2

Dukes of War #3: The Captain’s Bluestocking Mistress by Erica Ridley

The Captain's Bluestocking Mistress (The Dukes of War, #3)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Apparently I read this 6 years ago and gave it 3 stars because I was dumb and thought “oh romance novels can’t have more than 3 stars because how do I compare them to the literary greats?” smh. I wish I could tell my past self that you don’t have to compare your favorite romance novels to Charles Dickens: there are different ways to be great. shocker.

Anyway. This book was lovely. My absolute favorite thing about Erica Ridley’s books is that she consistently imbues her characters with so much life and personality in such a short space (and usually a short time period as well). Xavier and Jane leap off the page – not to mention Egui, who does his share of leaping even on-page – and endeared themselves to me very quickly. The premise is tropey but the execution gives it so much more gravity and oomph than might be expected. I read it in one sitting and was absolutely delighted with it the whole way through.

Dukes of War #5: The Brigadier’s Runaway Bride by Erica Ridley

The Brigadier's Runaway Bride (The Dukes of War #5)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I really wasn’t sure about this one at first but something kept me reading. And… I liked it, mostly. I loved the scenes with Sarah and Edmund and the twins. They were sweet and there was so much love and laughter there. It was very heartwarming. The scenes where Sarah and Edmund kept pulling away from each other over what was really a very small misunderstanding that could have been cleared up in a few sentences of discussion (instead of stretched out into a novel of back and forth plot) were… tedious. But the family scenes made up for it, hence the four stars.

Dukes of War #2: The Earl’s Defiant Wallflower by Erica Ridley

The Earl's Defiant Wallflower (The Dukes of War #2)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This was cute but I was never completely invested in the romance. It was too much lust and ‘he wants to save her’ and then ‘she wants to save him because she’ll be leaving.’ And the ending resolved with almost all the important events happening pretty much off-screen which was disappointing and made the whole story a bit hollow.

ARC Review: Bombshell by Sarah MacLean

Bombshell (Hell's Belles, #1)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I knew before opening the cover I was going to love this because, well, it’s Sarah MacLean. And I did. There were a few issues I had with it but there were also some things I absolutely loved that made up for it.

I really wasn’t terribly interested in Sesily’s story before and boy was I wrong. This is quite possibly my favorite one yet, and I am so hyped for the ones that will follow. Especially Imogen’s story XD.

Previously she has written about groups of (mostly) men and the women they fall in love with. Which is great, but this is so much better. A group of women this time, and at that a group of women who have a greater purpose and, I expect, will dominate the storyline.

There are many things that are very familiar from her previous novels: the slightly overwritten writing, the perhaps-too-frequent sex scenes (but you can’t skip them because they also advance the plot) that are dominated by oral sex, and most importantly, the man who falls in love despite himself and fights it every step of the way despite the woman spending the entire novel trying to show him that he doesn’t have to. That part does grow a bit old, even though she consistently brings the heartwrenching scene of despair and the joyful reuinion and plays my emotions perfectly every time.

But there were new things too, and I’m so exicted about them. I adore the Hell’s Belles. It’s a terribly clever name, but mostly it’s a group of women who work together in the shadows to bring down corrupt and evil men when society chooses to look away and ignore their crimes. And then men just sort of flail in their wake.

I can’t wait to read Adelaide’s story, for it is sure to be fabulous, but I really can’t wait for Imogen’s. She’ll have him wrapped around her finger before he knows what’s hit him. Possibly literally.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Avon & Harper Voyager for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: The Merchant and the Rogue by Sarah M. Eden

The Merchant and the Rogue (The Dread Penny Society #3)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I absolutely adore the Penny Dreadfuls series. It’s brilliant and so well done. The idea of a group of writers of Penny Dreadfuls – ranging from wealthy upper-class members to merchants to former urchins – banding together to rescue as many of London’s street urchins as they can is so fascinating, and of course endears us to the heroes who so obviously care for the children.

The characters are charming and sympathetic, the romances are swoony with strong, determined women who help the Dreads rescue urchins whilst falling in love with them.

Brogan’s inner turmoil over having to lie to Vera, to Moirin, to his fellow Dreadfuls in order to complete his mission made him sympathetic. Vera’s distrust of him once some of those lies were revealed was heartbreaking – especially as she already harbored an intense distrust of writers and those who lied. The way the story played out there was surprising and so well-crafted.

I also love the way the chapters are alternated with those of the Penny Dreadfuls by the hero and Mr. King, and how they relate to the overarching plot of the story.

This tale is no different, though the overarching plot has thickened. Now the Mastiff looms larger than in previous books. There is a difference, actually, in that this book doesn’t end with a wrap-up of the conflict as the others do. This one leaves off mid-conflict, with the characters knowing there is worse yet to come.

I am eagerly anticipating the next installment! (Which, if you think about it, is exactly what a writer of Penny Dreadfuls would want.)

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

Audiobook Review: A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I LOVED this slim little book. I can’t wait to read more in this world. It’s this sort of future utopia where humanity has purposely returned 50% of the world to the wild after a technology / climate near-disaster.

Sibling Dex lives in a monastery where the head considers her job well done if she knows what’s up with all her monks (heaven forbid she tell them what to do!). But their life seems empty and unfulfilling so they leave everything they know and strike out to be a tea monk.

This means they spend some time creating the perfect blends of tea, then take their bicycle-powered tiny house on the roads between the villages and at each one they hear people’s troubles and then give them the perfect cup of tea.

But eventually even this is unfulfilling and so they set out into the wild… and encounter a robot. This is startling as the robots became conscious some time in the past and left to live out their lives in the wild and there has been no contact since. The robot is there to answer the all important question: What do humans need? And so begins what I hope will be a very long friendship and adventure.

The story has all these delightful tidbits and philosophical musings, and Sibling Dex has a very amusing voice. They are forever in their head (and sometimes out loud) saying things like “a whole-ass [thing]” or “[thing] as fuck.” It’s the perfect counterpoint to the utopian philosophy.

The audiobook narrator did a perfect job with Dex’s voice (and Mosscap’s as well) and made all of the humor even more amusing, and the philosophical bits hit even harder.

10/10 would read a much, much longer adventure about Dex and Mosscap. And I hope one day I will. Definitely going on my top 5 of the year.

Audiobook ARC Review: Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta

Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was such a good audiobook! The narrators were great and really captured the emotions and voices of the characters. The story was original and engrossing and I found myself completely wrapped up in it. The only thing I didn’t like about the audiobook was that the narrators spoke too slowly for my taste, but that was easily remedied by speeding it up to 1.25x and sometimes 1.5x speed.

Sona and Eris are wonderful characters and have a very convincing enemies-to-friends-to-lovers relationship, with both of their feelings and emotions slowly evolving over the course of the book. Jenny is a great character, if a little harsh on her little sister Eris. Eris’ gearbreaker crew are endearing and wild. Sona was a bit heartbreaking when she got her first gear tattoos. It was everything she’d ever wanted and she couldn’t quite believe it was happening.

The twist at the end was pretty good. I saw part of it coming (but not ’til near the end), but part of it surprised me. I will most definitely be snapping up the sequel as soon as it is available because I really need to know what happens next.

*Thanks to NetGalley and RB Media / Recorded Books for providing an audio arc for review.