ARC Review: Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall

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Synopsis:

From the author of Boyfriend Material and Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake comes a cozy mystery that revisits the Golden Age of detective fiction, starring a heroine who’s more podcaster than private eye and topped with a lethal dose of parody — perfect for fans of Clue, Knives Out, and Only Murders in the Building!

When up-and-coming true crime podcaster Liza and her corporate financier wife Hanna head to a luxurious hotel in the Scottish Highlands, they’re hoping for a chance to rekindle their marriage – not to find themselves trapped in the middle of an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery with no way home. But who better to take on the case than someone whose entire profession relies on an obsession with all things mysterious and macabre? Though some of her fellow guests may consider her an interfering new media hack, Liza knows a thing or two about crime and – despite Hanna’s preference for waiting out the chaos behind a locked door – might be the only one capable of discovering the killer. As the bodies rack up and the stakes rise, can they save their marriage — and their lives?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This, as I’ve come to expect from Alexis Hall’s books, was clever, delightful, and incredibly funny. I highlighted SO many quotes.

I don’t normally go in for the cozy mystery genre, despite my younger self’s love of the Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, Mandie, and the Hardy Boys. I took a chance on this one because of the author and I’m so glad I did because I loved it. Especially the witty and cheeky references to Clue.

I also really love the way Liza and Hanna’s failing marriage was portrayed, from the cold bordering-on-hostile relationship at the start of the book to their increasing closeness as the guests were killed off. One might expect a series of murders to drive people apart rather than bring them together, but in this case one might be wrong.

The characters were so quirky and the crimes so tangled that it was just fun to watch Liza play detective for real, not just for her podcast, to try to brazen her way through it to a solution.

All in all a delightful read.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Kobo Originals for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

But she also wasn’t interested in sitting around an expensive room in an expensive hotel for two days and three nights, glaring at her wife with nothing to say. So they went downstairs, to see if they could find something to say there.


He was in that unguessable age range that could have been anywhere from twenty-something to forty-something, and somehow gave the impression of wearing a monocle despite not, in fact, wearing a monocle.


So as an almost-functional party of five, or at the very least, a party of five with their resentments deeply buried, they went through to the dining hall.


Nearer to the door, an older woman made entirely out of corners and decorum was engaged in a far less one-sided conversation with a man of unguessable years in a plum-coloured smoking jacket.


Liza could feel her heart in her chest, not pounding exactly, just… there, drawing her attention in a way she couldn’t quite remember it doing before.


Outside the snow was dancing a waltz with the wind.


So they went to breakfast. Which, like all of the other parts of the holiday that didn’t involve corpses, mysterious women in cupboards, or wondering where it all went wrong, was divine.


She blinked again. “It’s like she’s come to a costume party as the abstract concept of heteronormative sex.”


There was the colonel, slathering mustard onto a Cumberland sausage. There was the professor, sipping coffee and picking a plum from the fruit bowl.


Liza knew she was talking about the investigation, but the words still hung in the air like really unwelcome snowflakes.


She found Hanna sitting up in bed with her nose in her eReader. If you could have your nose in an eReader, which you probably couldn’t.


Hanna had done the I statements which meant that she was trying super hard to be understanding while also, on some level, losing her shit.


And with either the best or the worst timing in the world, there was another gunshot.


“A thousand apologies.” Sir Richard did not look as if he was offering even one apology.

ARC Review: A Winter’s Earl (A Regency Christmas Romance) by Annabelle Greene

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Publishing: November 9, 2021

Synopsis:

Come to me. I need you. It’s a matter of life-and-death.

Infamous poet Sherborne Clarke is a scholar, a lover—but not a father. When he finds a baby abandoned on the steps of his crumbling castle, he knows he must get her to London and an orphanage. It’s the perfect excuse to contact the one person he trusts…the man whose love he stills yearns for, and whose heart he broke years before.

Richard Ashbrook was groomed from birth to become the Earl of Portland, until Sherborne betrayed him, exposing his sexuality to the papers and forcing him into exile. But as much as he hates Sherborne, Richard has never managed to break their link or let his confusing sentiments concerning him subside. When he receives a missive implying that Sherborne’s life is at risk, he knows it is time to return home.  

Richard undergoes the perilous journey from Sicily only to find the other man untouched. Furious, he agrees to transport the baby to London—whatever gets him out of Sherborne’s life once and for all. But when a snowstorm leaves them stranded, they’re forced to confront the past—and deal with the love between them that’s all too present.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I did not expect to like this as much as I did. I was swept up into the story from the very beginning and it never let me go. I felt very strongly for Richard and Sherborne and was kept enthralled as their love story drama unfolded. My favorite part is the way they rekindled their old romance in a way that let them grow and move beyond the angry, jealous passion of their youth and into a warmer, steadier love, as well as the way each new event only deepened their connection.

The writing was beautiful, too. The prose was easy to flow along with, with no awkward stumbling blocks, and the emotion was beautifully rendered. The sex scenes were necessary to the story and each furthered Richard and Sherborne’s emotional connection. The did not bother me as the more gratuitous scenes do in most romance.

The minor characters were endearing – though not as much as Richard and Sherborne, except perhaps for Parsley. I enjoyed reading about all of them and I thought the ending especially beautiful.

The plot was admittedly rather thin and some events a bit contrived (and it was hard sometimes to figure out who was speaking during dialogue — I can’t believe I’m going to say it, but it could have used a few more dialogue tags), but overall it was a lovely Christmas story that I can definitely see myself reading again.

I will definitely be seeking out more of Annabelle Greene’s books.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin – Carina Press for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC DNF Reviews: Never Fall for your Fiancee by Virginia Heath AND An Heiress’s Guide to Deception and Desire by Manda Collins

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Publishing November 9, 2021

Synopsis:

The first in a new historical rom-com series, a handsome earl hires a fake fiancée to keep his matchmaking mother at bay, but hilarity ensues when love threatens to complicate everything.

The last thing Hugh Standish, Earl of Fareham, ever wants is a wife. Unfortunately for him, his mother is determined to find him one, even from across the other side of the ocean. So, Hugh invents a fake fiancée to keep his mother’s matchmaking ways at bay. But when Hugh learns his interfering mother is on a ship bound for England, he realizes his complicated, convoluted but convenient ruse is about to implode. Until he collides with a beautiful woman, who might just be the miracle he needs.

Minerva Merriwell has had to struggle to support herself and her two younger sisters ever since their feckless father abandoned them. Work as a woodcut engraver is few and far between, and the Merriwell sisters are nearly penniless. So, when Hugh asks Minerva to pose as his fiancée while his mother is visiting, she knows that while the scheme sounds ludicrous, the offer is too good to pass up.

Once Minerva and her sisters arrive at Hugh’s estate, of course, nothing goes according to his meticulous plan. As hilarity and miscommunication ensue, while everyone tries to keep their tangled stories straight, Hugh and Minerva’s fake engagement starts to turn into a real romance. But can they trust each other, when their relationship started with a lie?

My Review

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I was drawn in by the cute cover and description but alas, this book is not for me. The characters are oh-so-flat, the dialogue is stilted and awkward, and the writing stumbles along with almost entirely telling. Also the hero and heroine’s connection is 100% ‘oh no she’s hot’ and ‘oh no he’s hot.’

Hugh has lied to his mother for literal years about a fake fiancee (who is battling consumption and then in mourning for her unexpectedly dead fictional father) and now has to produce a fiancee when his mother arrives. Or, y’know, tell her the truth? But I guess not. But miracle of miracles he immediately stumbles over a woman who clearly needs money and who also shares the name Minerva with his fictional fiancee. What are the chances?

DNF

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


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Publishing November 16, 2021

Synopsis:

Former lovers become reluctant allies in this delightfully witty historical rom-com from the bestselling author of A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem—for fans of Evie Dunmore, Enola Holmes, and Netflix’s Bridgerton!

England, 1867 : As half of the writing duo behind England’s most infamous crime column, Miss Caroline Hardcastle has quite the scandalous reputation. It may have cost her a fiancé, but she would much rather bring attention to crimes against those ignored by society than worry about what the ton thinks of her.

After Caro’s dear friend is kidnapped, however, she has no choice but to work with Lord Valentine Thorn, the same man who broke her heart. Worse, when her actions put her father’s business at risk, a marriage of convenience may be her only solution . . . but can she trust Val to stand by her? Or will their past repeat itself?

Val–the new Viscount Wrackham–is in an untenable position: His father is demanding he find a respectable bride to secure the succession. Yet the only woman he’s ever loved, Miss Caroline Hardcastle, is notorious for behaving improperly. And she’s never forgiven him for his youthful transgressions, missteps made in the name of familial duty, but ones he still regrets to this day.

As they grow closer to unmasking the culprit, Val sees an opportunity to show Caro he’s a changed man. But can he convince her to give their love a second chance–before death does them part?

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This book was…. boring. Which is unexpected for a mystery but there you go. I wasn’t interested in the characters, who all seemed rather shallow and prone to misunderstandings, or the plot, which was a bit thin, or the love story, which was annoying more than anything. If the characters would have just talked to each other there wouldn’t have been a plot I suppose. The writing was decent at least but failed to draw me in.

DNF

*Thanks to NetGalley and Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

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Publishing: November 2, 2021

Synopsis:

Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.

Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it–not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.

Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles–and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this! It reminds me in a lot of ways of KJ Charles’ The Magpie Lord series, but with a completely different relationship dynamic.

I saw other reviews that described this as ‘like top tier fanfiction’and ‘a himbo and a librarian’ and really I don’t think I can top that. Because this is those things, and more.

You know how sometimes a story has that indefinable characteristic that just makes you go “ooooooh this is gonna be good!” as soon as you start reading? That’s what happened here. I picked it up because it sounded good; I read it in a day because it was excellent and sucked me into the world completely. Also the writing is just gorgeous.

I love how Freya Marske took the ‘secret society of magicians’ trope and flipped it on its head. Robin has spent his whole life knowing nothing about magic. Then he finds out the dead-end civil service job he’s been shuffled into is actually a magical liaison job that includes daily reports to the Prime Minister. Then he’s accosted in the street and cursed over a missing object he knows nothing about… And things spiral from there. Edwin has always been the weakest magician of his family, forced to use actual string for his cradling as a crutch, bullied and laughed at and retreating into books his whole life, and now he’s stuck with a liaison who is cheerfully oblivious to what the actual duties of his job are and comes across as a dumb jock. It doesn’t seem like a promising start to a relationship, but it certainly is delightful.

Ooh, and the cradling! First, a magic system built on cat’s cradle is unique and genius. It made for such a visual experience of spellcasting, with the fluid (or clumsy) movement of fingers through positions, and a shimmering or color change of the air between the fingers. Having Edwin be forced to use an actual string (the horror!) was also great.

But the inventive magic system doesn’t stop there! Later they encounter a secret magic system developed by girls who were shut out of the traditional magic world, this time based on liminal spaces. And that is genius, really. Because liminal spaces are magic, and it makes perfect sense that one would be more open to magic while in one.

The slow-burn relationship was lovely and I look forward to more adventures of Edwin and Robin in the future, as the ending sets them up for this perfectly.

The narration was good though it took a bit of getting used to. The narrator speaks very slowly with such long pauses between sentences that I bumped the audio speed past where I comfortably keep it, but then the words were too fast and I slowed it down again. So the optimal listening speed ranged from 1.25x to 1.75x and I’m not sure if it was the narration itself or my processing speed at different times I was listening that made the difference. The narrator did a fairly good job with the different voices although some were a bit too similar at times and it occasionally made it hard to keep track of who was speaking.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing an e-arc for review, as well as Macmillan UK Audio for providing an audio arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

The only other woman was Trudie Davenport, the sharp-featured brunette with a da Vinci nose and an actress’s high laugh, who even on ten seconds acquaintance gave off the air of a marble set loose in a bowl — always trying to return herself to the centre of things.


“Bel and Charlie surround themselves with people who are in love with them,” said Edwin. It didn’t sound like malice. It sounded like tired statement of fact. “They can’t stand not to be loved.”


“I don’t want to intrude.”

“You’re not. You can’t It’s extremely irritating.” Edwin stepped close, very close indeed.

“What’s irritating?”

Edwin said, “Every time you touch me it’s exactly what I want.”


“One doesn’t need to define the individual if the contract includes all of us.”

All of us. Every living magician in Great Britain. Flora Sutton’s words were the final piece; Edwin’s mind shook itself like a tablecloth and laid the solution out, flat and clear and horrifying. If every British magician truly was descended from the Three Families, then it defined them all on the bloodline level; even more horribly, it negated the need to rely on an individual’s consent, if you constructed the spell properly. A contract was consent, even if it was given on your behalf by your ancestors.


Usually he’d have been tense enough to snap, standing this close to Walt, but his fear had washed out of him. He’d never outgrow it entirely — he’d grown up with it woven into his nerves, a spell cast on a sapling — but he also didn’t think it would ever return to the same extent.


Robin gave him his hands back. Robin gave a grin of open affection and pure relief that brought the sunlight back into Edwin’s mouth for a fleeting moment.


Something about that cracked Robin’s heart into pieces and rectified it with the next beat.


“You,” said Robin. Every time it was easier. It was carving its own groove in his mouth. “I want you.”


And he paused, in the space between inhalation and exhalation, and invited magic in.

ARC Review: A Rose by Any Other Name

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Publishing: November 1, 2021

Synopsis:

Juliet is the perfect daughter to her cold parents. She’s devoted to her magic studies, studious and serious, and she even spends her weekends at home.

If she’s a little lonely, well, that hardly matters.

Romeo writes poems, collects fancy pens, makes wine, and is, according to everyone who cares about him, a romantic disaster. He does his best to ignore their knowing looks and disregard their entirely-too-practical advice.

Juliet hates the upstart, uncivilized Montagues because they’re her family’s enemies. Romeo does his best not to think about the wretched and pompous Capulets because he doesn’t need that kind of negativity in his life.

But then one morning they wake up in each other’s bodies, and everything changes.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Well, that was delightful!

I requested this, despite having read many Romeo and Juliet retellings in the past, because of the last line of the synopsis: “But then one morning they wake up in each other’s bodies, and everything changes.”

I read that, and I thought, “Huh. How unexpected. Must know more.” And now I know more, and I can tell you that this story is just as wonderful as the premise makes it sound.

Romeo and Juliet have VERY different voices. She’s studying to be a mage, he’s a poet. She’s calculating, he’s sensitive. This is made very clear in the beginning of the story when they first change bodies, which can be summed up thusly: Juliet wakes in Romeo’s body and begins scheming. Romeo wakes in Juliet’s body and begins screaming.

A lot of it unfolds similarly to the play, with obvious departures. Benvolio and Tybalt were an unexpected and enjoyable couple.

This story is very short, though certain sections feel overly long because they are more telling a series of events than showcasing Romeo and Juliet’s personalities. The novelty and amusing bits make up for it though.

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

ARC Review: The Perks of Loving a Wallflower by Erica Ridley

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Publishing Oct 26, 2021

Synopsis:

Fans of Bridgerton will love this Regency romp in which a proper Society miss recruits a very improper lady grifter in a quest for vengeance, only to find love instead.

As a master of disguise, Thomasina Wynchester can be a polite young lady—or a bawdy old man. Anything to solve the case. Her latest assignment unveils a top-secret military cipher covering up an enigma that goes back centuries. But when Tommy’s beautiful new client turns out to be the highborn lady she’s secretly smitten with, more than her mission is at stake . . .

Bluestocking Miss Philippa York doesn’t believe in love. Her cold heart didn’t pitter-patter when she was betrothed to a duke, nor did it break when he married someone else. All Philippa desires is to rescue her priceless manuscript and decode its clues to unmask a villain. She hates that she needs a man’s help—so she’s delighted to discover the clever, charming baron at her side is in fact a woman. Her cold heart . . . did it just pitter-patter?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The most important point is that I absolutely ADORED this book. I was hoping Erica Ridley would get an f/f (or perhaps more properly sapphic f/nb) regency romance right and she definitely did. I absolutely cannot wait for the next Wynchester novel.

This novel was a joy and a delight to read. Having the Wynchester siblings AND an sapphic f/nb romance in one book — and genderfluid/nonbinary representation, demisexual representation, AND realistic body size representation all in the same main couple! — was more than I had ever hoped to see in a traditionally published romance. I felt seen. More than that, I felt loved.

I have always loved Erica Ridley’s gift for creating well-rounded characters that jump off the page and then giving them sweet romances where they overcome their own prejudices and doubts in order to enter into a partnership together. I would choose the Wynchesters over the Bridgertons any day. Not only are they a diverse bunch, but they each possess unique skills that they use as a team to (only slightly illegally) bring justice to those not normally served it.

I especially loved how Elizabeth was brought to life in this book. She is still a side character, but she has some delightful lines. In fact, half of my favorite quotes involve Elizabeth. I hope we see her story soon.

As for our main couple, Tommy is genderfluid / nonbinary, possessed of minimal curves, and a master of disguise. Philippa is a bluestocking who doesn’t believe she can love, possessed of lush curves (that Tommy is very obviously physically attracted to), and is stifled by her parents ambition. They each own their story and leap off the page, with a love story and life lessons I loved to root for.

I listened to the Duke Heist audiobook to remind myself of the characters before reading this, and I’m so glad I did because Moira Quirk’s narration was superb. I have now preordered this book as an audiobook.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Erica Ridley, and Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for providing an e-arc for review.


Favorite Quotes

And… what was wrong with Philippa’s breathing? Was her bosom heaving? Was this a heaving bosom?


“Everyone extorts everyone else all the time, darling”
“Do they?” Philippa said doubtfully.
Her mother pursed her lips. “That’s what a society is. A group of people with agreed-upon methods of social extortion. ‘Do this, or suffer the consequences.’ We call it ‘proper comportment’ so that it sounds nice.


“Tiglet is a homing kitten,” Tommy reminded him. “If she sets him down, he’ll run back to Islington.”


“Graham is out gathering intelligence, and Elizabeth… is off shopping for rapiers.”


“We call those ‘words.’ Extremely adept practitioners can advance all the way to ‘conversation.’


“I guess everyone has a weakness,” Elizabeth said with a sigh. “Mine is uncontrollable bloodlust.”


“Huzzah,” said Elizabeth. “Contravene patriarchal coverture’ is exactly the sort of evening activity I was looking forward to. I’m going to need a bigger sword stick.”


“…but being splendid at something does not mean a body is obliged to do it.”


Any sign.” Elizabeth patted the handle of her sword stick. “Blink if you want mayhem.”
Philippa blinked in surprise.
“Perfect.” Elizabeth unsheathed her sword. “I’ll attack first.”


Philippa was not afraid to be Philippa. She wore more lace on her person than most people owned in their entire wardrobe. Philippa was the bluestockingest ringleader of the bluestockingest reading circle in existence. Philippa was proud to be Philippa.


“We are all saving the day,” Tommy said firmly. “The Wynchesters are a family of knights of various colors and genders who save the day together as a team.”


Tommy grinned. “Elizabeth has even woken herself up giggling maniacally.”
“Not maniacally,” Elizabeth said from across the table. “Giggling with cold calculation.”


This was truly the worst library Philippa had ever seen.

ARC Review: The Burglar’s Ball (Jane Austen Investigates #2) by Julia Golding

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Publishing Oct 22, 2021

Synopsis:

Nancy Drew. Enola Holmes. Sally Lockhart. Move over girls, it’s Jane’s time!

Join young budding detective Jane Austen in her second investigation to uncover a devious diamond thief at the glitziest, most scandalous ball of the year! Inspired by Sense and Sensibility.

*
‘No one who had ever seen Jane Austen in her infancy would suppose her to be born to solve crimes. From her early love of sugar plums, and cleverness in hiding her expeditions into the pantry, her mother declared her far more likely to commit them. However, as Jane would counter, there was no better person to identify the culprit than the thief turned thief-catcher.’

When the headmistress invites her past favourite pupil to attend their end of term ball, Cassandra brings her younger sister, Jane, along too. Cassandra plunges into the feverish excitement of preparing for the biggest event of the year – the dresses, the dances and the boys expected from the neighbouring school.

Feeling rather excluded, sharp-witted Jane unearths the reason for the fuss – the headteacher wants to impress a rich family returned from India as the school is at risk of going bankrupt. Jane also befriends the dancing master’s assistant, a former slave, called Brandon, who is as quick to notice things as she. At the ball, a diamond necklace is stolen from a locked room and they are propelled into a race to uncover the burglar and save Brandon from gaol.

With the ever-present Austen spirit, Jane with notebook in hand, boldly overcomes the obstacles to finding the truth.

Perfect for readers aged 9-109, and for fans of Katherine Woodfine and Lucy Worsley.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was just as charming and engaging as the first. It’s so easy to fall into Jane’s world, and she’s such a plucky, determined heroine that her books are a delight.

This one brought back some familiar faces from the first adventure, as well as introducing many new ones. I love the way the mystery played out, giving just enough hints while still leaving me guessing.

I especially love the way Jane is forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about the East India Company’s activities in India, racism, slavery, animal treatment in circuses, etc. They’re handled well and don’t take over the lightness of the storyline while still maintaining an appropriate seriousness.

I look forward to the next Jane Austen Investigates adventure!

*Thanks to NetGalley and Lion Fiction for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: Little Thieves by Margaret Owen

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Publishing Oct. 19, 2021

Synopsis:

Once upon a time, there was a horrible girl…

Vanja Schmidt knows that no gift is freely given, not even a mother’s love–and she’s on the hook for one hell of a debt. Vanja, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele’s dutiful servant up until a year ago. That was when Vanja’s otherworldly mothers demanded a terrible price for their care, and Vanja decided to steal her future back… by stealing Gisele’s life for herself.

The real Gisele is left a penniless nobody while Vanja uses an enchanted string of pearls to take her place. Now, Vanja leads a lonely but lucrative double life as princess and jewel thief, charming nobility while emptying their coffers to fund her great escape. Then, one heist away from freedom, Vanja crosses the wrong god and is cursed to an untimely end: turning into jewels, stone by stone, for her greed.

Vanja has just two weeks to figure out how to break her curse and make her getaway. And with a feral guardian half-god, Gisele’s sinister fiancé, and an overeager junior detective on Vanja’s tail, she’ll have to pull the biggest grift yet to save her own life.

Margaret Owen, author of The Merciful Crow series, crafts a delightfully irreverent retelling of “The Goose Girl” about stolen lives, thorny truths, and the wicked girls at the heart of both.


My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was SO GOOD. I love how it took a somewhat-obscure-but-still-familiar fairytale plot and turned it on its head so many times it was hardly recognizable by the end. Everything about it was so unique and fascinating, and I absolutely adored the characters.

Vanja is a force to be reckoned with, and her dry commentary was a joy to read. I highlighted SO MANY passages, especially the ones that contrasted the vaguely medieval Germany fairytale setting with some very modern phrasings.

Emeric, too, was a delight, especially when he and Vanja forgot to be annoyed at each other while sharing the joy of a chase/investigation and their own cleverness.

Ragne was wonderfully baffled at human customs, frequently disdaining them, and Gisele grew on me by the end, and I hope we get many more of this foursome’s adventures.

I loved the taste we get of Death and Fortune and I hope they, too, will show up in future adventures. The villains (minor and major) were quite dastardly and it was so nice to see them get their comeuppance.

The writing is utterly gorgeous, with plenty of Margaret Owen’s signature unexpected phrases that are devastating in their simple truth.

This is a story I know I will be revisiting.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for providing an e-arc for review.


Favorite Quotes

The piper she’s interrupting looks both delighted and furious, and I have to agree with her earlier assessment: Her archnemesis is unreasonably handsome.


I am not going to smile at him. I refuse on principle. (The principle is: I’ve already met my emotional availability quota for the day.)


“Sorry–sorry–I’m not looking–” Emeric starts to back out of the room, spots the nachtmahr, and proceeds to visibly cycle through both fight and flight instincts at a speed heretofore unobserved in the common man.


(It might not surprise you to know the two most popular urns are copper and coal. Maybe that says something about human nature, but I also think it says something about personal budgeting. Buying good luck? In this economy?)


I want him to stay like this. Close to me, touching my face feather-light, like I am something precious, I am worth taking care. Like I deserve to live without wounds, not despite them. I want this moment trapped in amber, so I can hold it tight when I need it most.


There’s a shimmering, intoxicating kind of thrill to it, this game between us. I am his puzzle and he is my lock, and it’s an arms race to solve the other first. But somewhere in all the knots and twists and trapdoors, he turned to an arsonist, leaving his embers in my veins, smoke on my tongue, a fire burning softly in my heart. And it will not die easy.


I cannot believe I’m attracted to a human civics primer.


You would think the most formidable thing in Castle Reigenbach wouldn’t be a reedy law library incarnate, but in that moment — he is, because I believe him.


It’s not a challenge; it’s a quiet, immovable fact. For all my schemes and facades and artifice, I am not prepared in the slightest for the simple, devastating intimacy of being believed.


I don’t know what’s worse: that he’s slipped into my heart like a knife, or that I like the feel of him there.


I’m at a loss for words. Probably because I’m having an extraordinary and overwhelming number of feelings right now, and chief among them is outrage that I am this attracted to a personified pocket ledger.


The oak door gives a surly rattle, creaking open with absolutely no regard for the heart attack I’m having.
“You’re coming in, ja?” croaks the withered turnip of a doorman, before muttering something about frisky teenagers.


His voice echoes over the Gottenmarkt, which looks like someone sucker punched the treasury, and it spewed all over the plaza. (Adalbrecht. Adalbrecht was the one doing the punching.)


Above her floats Truth, who has taken the form of a wheel of eyes today. (As one does.)


Justice looks down, and while a skull can’t frown, she is absolutely nailing the same feeling.


(This is where I have to admit I’m impressed he’s coming up with the rhymes on the fly. Not bad for, you know, a horse.)

ARC Review: Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

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Synopsis:

What the heart desires, the house destroys…

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, Andromeda quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, but leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option. Evil may roam the castle’s halls, but so does a burning desire.

Kiersten White meets Tomi Adeyemi in this Ethiopian-inspired debut fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was such an interesting story! It definitely captured the spirit of Jane Eyre but it did it while telling a wholly original horror story steeped in Ethiopian culture, food, dress, and custom.

The worldbuilding at first seemed limited by the claustrophobic setting of the story, but upon consideration the details present throughout made it incredibly thorough and transporting. I loved the harsh desert setting, the unnatural chill of the fantastically creepy house, the enigmatic Magnus, the magic of the debtera and Evil Eye.

Andromeda is practical and blunt, used to living with her difficult guardian and then on the streets. Magnus is spoiled and petulant and lazy, but also endearing and sweet. The mystery of the very creepy mansion had me enthralled.

The other characters faded into the background somewhat, but I greatly appreciated Jesper and Saba by the end.

The one thing I wasn’t convinced by was Andromeda and Magnus’ romance. It was abrupt and melodramatic, and I would have liked it to be more drawn out so they could settle more comfortably into their relationship. The ups and downs gave me whiplash and sometimes I felt like I had missed something while reading.

Overall, an excellent and immersive read that transported me fully to another place. Definitely recommend.

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

ARC Review: Intolerable by Darcy Burke

Book Cover

Synopsis:

Every three years, like clockwork, Ruark Hannigan, Earl of Wexford loses his heart. Alas, he promised his father he wouldn’t marry until the age of thirty so that he’d be certain in his choice. When his best friend’s sister needs him to pose as a potential suitor to garner attention on the Marriage Mart, he’s the perfect candidate—if only he hadn’t kissed her in secret.

Lady Cassandra Westbrook can’t forget the incident between her and Wexford, and she’s having a devil of a time focusing on finding a husband. The fact that her father intimidates every gentleman has made her quest intolerable, and her two brothers who could help are proving completely worthless. But if she doesn’t settle on someone, her father will arrange an “acceptable” marriage by the end of the Season.

Finally, Cassandra has a chance at courtship, but, frustratingly, it’s not with the impulsive and irresistible Irishman her father detests and she desires. However, when Ruark sees the woman he passionately wants—despite his better judgment—swept into the arms of another man, the prospect of losing her becomes intolerable.

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I… can’t believe I finished this. I liked the characters well enough, but I think most of my interest was from the first book in this series which I really liked. This one just felt… dull. The plot was incredibly thin and the conflict and angst were laughable. I feel like this one should have been a short story, not a full novel. There just wasn’t enough substance. Also some of the characters – like Cassandra’s father – had weird personality flip-flops. The writing was nowhere near the quality of the first in the series and I found myself reading around the words to get to the tidbits of story that were actually interesting. The final flaw, and what cemented the rating for me, was that once I turned the last page I could hardly remember the characters’ names or the plot.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Zealous Quill Press for providing an e-arc for review.

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