Art Book ARC Reviews

How to Draw Cool Stuff: A Drawing Guide for Teachers and Students by Catherine V Holmes

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Publishing Date: July 27, 2017

Synopsis:

How to Draw Cool Stuff shows simple step-by-step illustrations that make it easy for anyone to draw cool stuff with precision and confidence. These pages will guide you through the basic principles of illustration by concentrating on easy-to-learn shapes that build into complex drawings.

With the step-by-step guidelines provided, anything can become easy to draw. This book contains a series of fun, hands-on exercises that will help you see line, shape, space and other elements in everyday objects and turn them into detailed works of art in just a few simple steps.

The exercises in this book will help train your brain so you can visualize ordinary objects in a different manner, allowing you to see through the eyes of an artist.

From photorealistic faces to holiday themes and tattoo drawings, How to Draw Cool Stuff makes drawing easier than you would think and more fun than you ever imagined! Now is the time to learn how to draw the subjects and scenes you’ve always dreamt of drawing. How to Draw Cool Stuff is suitable for artists of any age benefiting everyone from teachers and students to self-learners and hobbyists.

How to Draw Cool Stuff will help you realize your artistic potential and expose you to the pure joy of drawing!

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this one! The step-by-step exercises are simple and easy to follow, with a wide variety of subjects sure to spark the imagination and truly impressive results. It would be excellent to use in schools as well as at home. Just flipping through it had me eager to pull out my pens and try some of the exercises, and I had a lot of “oh, duh! That’s how you draw that” moments.

I will definitely be trying out many of the exercises with my kiddo and in my own sketchbook. I would recommend this to anyone interested in improving their sketching, from beginners to more experienced artists. There’s something here for everyone.

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

How to Draw Cool Stuff: Shading, Textures and Optical Illusions by Catherine V Holmes

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Publishing Date: July 27, 2017

Synopsis:

“How to Draw Cool Stuff: Basics, Shading, Texture, Pattern and Optical Illusions” is the second book in the How to Draw Cool Stuff series. Inside you will find simple illustrations that cover the necessities of drawing cool stuff.

Specific exercises are provided that offer step-by-step guidelines for drawing a variety of subjects. Each lesson starts with an easy-to-draw shape that will become the basic structure of the drawing. From there, each step adds elements to that structure, allowing the artist to build on their creation and make a more detailed image.

Starting with the basic forms, the artist is provided a guide to help see objects in terms of simplified shapes. Instructions for shading to add depth, contrast, character and movement to a drawing are then covered. The varieties of texture and pattern that can be included in an artwork offer another layer of interest and depth to a design. These elements are necessary to indicate the way something looks like it feels in a work (texture) or creating the repetition of shapes, lines or colors (patterns). Illustrated optical illusions involve images that are sensed and perceived to be different from what they really are, showing examples of how the mind and the eyes can play tricks on each other.

All you need is a piece of paper, a pencil and an eraser and you are ready to draw cool stuff. Once the drawing is complete, it can be colored, shaded or designed in any way you like to make it original. Following these exercises is a great way to practice your craft and begin seeing things in terms of simple shapes within a complex object.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is an excellent companion to the How to Draw Cool Stuff: Drawing Guide For Teachers and Students. It again uses simple and easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions for drawing a wide variety of subjects but this time includes detailed information on shading and texture.

I am always a bit hesitant about shading my drawings, but now I feel equipped to attempt it. I am definitely eager to pull out my sketchbook.

This book has a bit more written instruction and description, which is helpful in learning the different types of shading and texture covered in these examples.

Again I would recommend this to everyone from beginner to advanced artist, although I do recommend starting with the Drawing Guide in order to become comfortable with breaking down objects into shapes before getting into the more complicated shading.

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

The Urban Sketching Handbook: Understanding Light: Portraying Light Effects in On-Location Drawing and Painting by Katie Woodward

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Publishing Date: December 28, 2021

Synopsis:

The Urban Sketching Handbook: Understanding Light is an informative guide to heightening the impact of your artwork by capturing the look and subtleties of light in any scene.

In settings ranging from fields and mountains at daybreak to neon cityscapes at midnight, learn how to express light effects through color and value to improve and refine your drawings and paintings.

Artist and urban sketcher Katie Woodward offers strategies for:  
Selectively translating values for maximum effect
Using your sketchbook to experiment with the effects of natural as well as artificial light
Considering many options for visual solutions through work contributed by experienced urban sketchers 
Master the art of rendering light with The Urban Sketching Handbook: Understanding Light as your guide.

The Urban Sketching Handbook series offers location artists expert instruction on creative techniques, on-location tips and advice, and an abundance of visual inspiration. These handy references come in a compact, easy-to-carry format with an elastic band closure—perfect to toss in your backpack or artist’s tote.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was an excellent overview of the many ways light can affect the appearance and mood of a painting, especially a landscape painting. The text was informative and detailed, and the many examples really brought the lessons home. I feel like I learned SO MUCH that I now am itching to put into practice. Natural light at various times of day and night are covered, as well as artificial lights and lighting combinations. Also the many and varied types of shadow, reflections, textures, and light viewed through translucent objects.

I would recommend this to anyone with some painting experience who wishes to take their work to the next level by considering lighting. It’s an excellent resource.

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

ARC Review: Something Fabulous by Alexis Hall

I just need to reiterate that this book is AMAZING and hilarious. I just read it for the second time (It’s out now, by the way), and loved it just as much.

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Publishing Date: January 25, 2022

Synopsis:

From the acclaimed author of Boyfriend Material comes a delightfully witty romance featuring a reserved duke who’s betrothed to one twin and hopelessly enamoured of the other.

Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, has twin problems: literally.

It was always his father’s hope that Valentine would marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. But, unfortunately, too many novels at an impressionable age have caused her to grow up…romantic. So romantic that a marriage of convenience will not do and after Valentine’s proposal she flees into the night determined never to set eyes on him again.

Arabella’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton, has also grown up…romantic. And fully expects Valentine to ride out after Arabella and prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted cad he seems to be.

Despite copious misgivings, Valentine finds himself on a pell-mell chase to Dover with Bonny…

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ARC Review: How to Deceive a Duke by Samara Parish

Happy Book Birthday to How to Deceive a Duke by Samara Parish!!

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Book Cover

Publishing Date: January 25, 2022

Synopsis:

Fiona McTavish is an engineer, a chemist, a rebel—and no one’s idea of a proper lady. She prefers breeches to ballrooms, but her new invention—matches—will surely turn as many heads. There’s just a little matter of her being arrested for a crime she didn’t commit. And the only person she can turn to for help is the man who broke her heart years ago.

Edward Stirling, Duke of Wildeforde, will do anything to restore his family’s name and put his father’s scandalous death behind them. But when Fiona needs his help getting released from prison, he can’t deny her—even though it means she must live with him as a condition of her freedom. With the desire between them rekindling as fast as the gossip about their arrangement is spreading among the ton, Edward will have to choose what matters…

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ARC Review: Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

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Publishing Date: February 1, 2022

Synopsis:

Following Written in the Stars and Hang the Moon, national bestselling author Alexandria Bellefleur pens another steamy queer rom-com about former best friends who might be each other’s second chance at love…

Margot Cooper doesn’t do relationships. She tried and it blew up in her face, so she’ll stick with casual hookups, thank you very much. But now her entire crew has found “the one” and she’s beginning to feel like a fifth wheel. And then fate (the heartless bitch) intervenes. While touring a wedding venue with her engaged friends, Margot comes face-to-face with Olivia Grant—her childhood friend, her first love, her first… well, everything. It’s been ten years, but the moment they lock eyes, Margot’s cold, dead heart thumps in her chest.

Olivia must be hallucinating. In the decade since she last saw Margot, her life hasn’t gone exactly as planned. At almost thirty, she’s been married… and divorced. However, a wedding planner job in Seattle means a fresh start and a chance to follow her dreams. Never in a million years did she expect her important new client’s Best Woman would be the one that got away.

When a series of unfortunate events leaves Olivia without a place to stay, Margot offers up her spare room because she’s a Very Good Person. Obviously. It has nothing to do with the fact that Olivia is as beautiful as ever and the sparks between them still make Margot tingle. As they spend time in close quarters, Margot starts to question her no-strings stance. Olivia is everything she’s ever wanted, but Margot let her in once and it ended in disaster. Will history repeat itself or should she count her lucky stars that she gets a second chance with her first love?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really, really enjoyed this story. The whole setup is classic romcom material and it was very well written. I was hooked from the beginning and flew through the pages.

Watching Margot and Olivia navigate their past and learn to trust in each other and build a future together was very satisfying. Margot’s friends were amusing and I love how they welcomed Olivia with open arms. Cat was also very amusing.

This was very much a story where the conflict was internal instead of external — learning to deal with feelings that had been shoved down and old hurts that had never healed. Margot and Olivia each have a lot to learn from each other and I love how they actually do learn from each other and admit (albeit reluctantly) that the other might have a point.

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

ARC Review: Creative Acrylics by Carla Co Chua

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Publishing Date: February 1, 2022

Synopsis:

Discover how easy, satisfying, and fun it is to create with acrylic paints and mediums in Creative Acrylics.

Acrylics are one of the most versatile, affordable, and accessible art mediums, and you’ll learn all the tips, tricks, and techniques for blending colors and building texture, plus excellent instruction on how to paint a range of different subjects.

Confused about which types of paints to use, and how to use them? Creative Acrylics cuts through the clutter and offers clear fundamentals for working with a variety of paints and mediums to produce beautiful results. Acrylic paint is water-soluble, dries quickly, and is forgiving, making it perfect for those starting out. Begin your acrylic painting journey with an expert who will guide you through enjoyable techniques and projects as you build confidence and ramp up your skills.

Step-by-step techniques, lessons, and projects cover a wide range of styles and genres, including color mixing, brushwork, glazing, and how to paint easy florals, still lifes, landscapes, and animals. Take your new skills even further and paint on different surfaces to create an apron, painted shells, a paintbrush rest, clay pot, and more.

In Creative Acrylics you’ll find:
How to set up your workspace to make painting more enjoyable
A guide to the different types of acrylic paint


Basic techniques such as understanding color and value, and how to add texture and other effects using paint and mediums

Lessons and projects that build skills: creating still lifes, florals, landscapes and skies, and painting on fabric, wood, shells, clay, and more
With all these ideas and inspiration, your acrylic painting journey can begin today!

Perfect for all skill levels, the books in the Art for Modern Makers series take a fun, practical approach to learning about and working with paints and other art mediums to create beautiful DIY projects and crafts.

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This book was more of a beginners book than I was expecting or hoping for. I was also expecting more discussion of acrylic mediums, from the title and description, and there was hardly any except one brief mention.

I was already familiar with all the basic lessons presented here, but if I were completely new to painting then I can see how they might be useful.

The projects also didn’t spark my interest at all. The style was too rough with not enough detail, and the subject matter was uninspiring. The pictures were not clear enough to follow the steps easily.

I also found the instructions to be lacking with too much glossed over if it were truly aimed at beginners. I think this book would be frustrating for painters at any level, with it being either too basic for those with any familiarity with painting or leaving out too many vital bits of information to introduce complete beginners to painting.

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

ARC & Audiobook Review: Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

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Publishing Date: January 18, 2022

Synopsis:

Edinburgh, 1817.

Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.

Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.

But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.

My Review:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This book had a fairly unique premise, and a cover that matched. In some ways it reminded me of the Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, with the female lead whose passion in life is anatomy, surgery, being a doctor, etc. Where that book leaned toward humor and madcap adventure, this one leaned hard into the gothic and macabre.

There’s a lot of blood, a lot of cutting up bodies complete with odors and squelching of organs and… well. You can probably imagine. There’s also many, many decaying corpses — and an ill-advised kiss inside a grave, complete with maggots. shudders

while the cover is clever and very appropriate for the title, the subtitle “A Love Story” felt misleading. The romance is actually minimal here – at 40% Hazel and Jack had hardly met and were still separated by plot.

This book was also a bit uneven overall. There were definitely passages that were quite beautifully written, and chapters that had me glued to the page. While Hazel’s ambition was relatable, it felt like that was all there was to her character. Jack felt unfinished, and their love story went from 0 to 60 in seconds. But in addition to the minimal and uneven romance, the sinister villains never faced any consequences. The focus of Hazel’s life for most of the book is forgotten toward the end. And the end itself is rather abrupt. While in some ways I like what Dana Schwartz is trying to do with that ending, I definitely felt unsatisfied overall.

I would probably recommend it to fans of Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, especially those who don’t mind a little — ok a lot — of blood and gore. Not to those with weak stomachs, though.

I thought the audiobook narrator did a decent job, though it was sometimes difficult to tell which character was speaking. Her voice was pleasant to listen to and overall it was an enjoyable listen, though I did end up switching back to the e-book to read a fair bit of it.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Wednesday Books, and Macmillan Audio for providing an e-arc and audiobook for review.

ARC Review: Love and Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

Available now!

Whimsical Dragonette

Love & Other Disasters

Publishing Date: January 18, 2022

Synopsis:

The first openly nonbinary contestant on America’s favorite cooking show falls for their clumsy competitor in this delicious romantic comedy debut “that is both fantastically fun and crack your heart wide open vulnerable.” (Rosie Danan, author of The Roommate)

Recently divorced and on the verge of bankruptcy, Dahlia Woodson is ready to reinvent herself on the popular reality competition show Chef’s Special. Too bad the first memorable move she makes is falling flat on her face, sending fish tacos flying—not quite the fresh start she was hoping for. Still, she’s focused on winning, until she meets someone she might want a future with more than she needs the prize money.

After announcing their pronouns on national television, London Parker has enough on their mind without worrying about the klutzy competitor stationed in front of them. They’re there to prove the…

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Blog Tour & ARC Review: Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews

Publishing Date: January 11, 2022

Welcome to the Siren of Sussex book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Synopsis:

USA Today bestselling historical romance writer Mimi Matthews makes her Berkley debut with a boldly feminist tale about a daring equestrienne in her quest for independence just as the birth of haute couture takes the echelons of Victorian society by storm.
 
Matthews’ novel is inspired by the real-life Pretty Horsebreakers, a scandalous group of equestriennes and infamous courtesans at the forefront of fashion trends in Victorian London who defied the rules of polite society, and Charles Worth, the father of haute couture. THE SIREN OF SUSSEX (Berkley Trade Paperback Original; January 11, 2022) introduces Evelyn Maltravers, an incurable bluestocking determined to make her first and only season in London a roaring success.
 
Evelyn Maltravers is not exactly the woman who comes to mind when picturing a distinguished lady of the ton. More suited to riding than dancing, and much more opinionated than a young lady ought to be, her chances of securing a successful match have always been slim. But after her eldest sister is embroiled in scandal, that is exactly what she must do. Freshly arrived in London, Evelyn has one season to secure a husband and ensure both her own future and that of her four younger sisters. While Evelyn knows she will never dazzle the ton in a ballroom, there is one place where she has the advantage over all the ladies of polite society—on horseback in Rotten Row. But if she is to rival the alluring beauty of the Pretty Horsebreakers, she will need a tailor unafraid to take risks to make her the most fashionable equestrienne of the ton.
 
Evelyn turns to half-Indian dressmaker Ahmad Malik, who has a unique talent for bringing out his clients’ best features. Despite the inherent barriers he faces to becoming part of high society, Ahmad is working toward owning his own shop by designing the eye-catching habits of the Pretty Horsebreakers. Evelyn is convinced that Ahmad is the only person who can make her debut at Rotten Row a success. Ahmad knows that Evelyn, a fierce and confident woman on horseback, is the perfect muse, and an alluring subject to display his designs to the ton, if only he can set aside the intense attraction he feels for her.
 
With both their futures at stake, Ahmad will have to turn the diamond in the rough into the diamond of the season—while they both strive not to lose their hearts in the process.
 
Mimi Matthews delivers an enthralling romance while exploring themes of race, class, and the lingering effects of British colonialism. Drawing from her own Indian heritage and experience as an avid horse rider, Matthews brings to life Ahmad and Evelyn, two outsiders who change the course of Victorian society.

Author Bio:

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, and two Siamese cats. Learn more online at mimimatthews.com.

Author photo by Berkley Jove (TR)

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Characters: 4 stars
Writing Style: 4 stars
Plot: 3 stars
Cover: 5 stars
Representation: 5 stars
Romance: 5 stars
Enjoyment: 4 stars
Overall: 4 stars

I really, really enjoyed this story. There are moments that absolutely shine — especially when Ahmad is inspired to create a dress- and I really enjoy the characters of Evelyn and Ahmad, as well as their friends. If anything, we get more of Ahmad in this book than we do Evelyn, and he is a truly good character who was a joy to read about. He’s everything a romance hero should be. I loved that it was a “closed-door” romance, which is a term I hadn’t really encountered before but I’ll definitely be looking out for more. There was plenty of passion and emotion but it didn’t hinge on sex, which is a rare find in a romance novel. The discussion of class and privilege was welcome, as was Ahmad’s determination to see the worth in people, not their station in life.

While I quite enjoyed the romance as it developed, Evelyn and Ahmad’s instant attraction was rather too based on insta-lust, however, and for the first quarter of the book I kept thinking of putting it down because I was afraid it wouldn’t deepen into something more substantial. It did deepen, though, and became a romance I could definitely root for. Still, I wish we’d gotten a bit more of Evelyn. She loves her horse, she pretends she’s not a bluestocking, she’s trying to provide for her sisters, but there’s not much beyond that.

While I appreciated the beauty of the dresses and Ahmad’s passion for designing them, I didn’t need the action broken quite so often with a description of what every character was wearing.

Everything also seemed just a tad improbable, even though, again, I quite enjoyed the story. Evelyn is supposedly attempting to launch herself into society to find a wealthy husband… but spends most of the novel alone with Ahmad. We never get a deep sense of who her friends are or who their love interests are, because the focus is so very single-minded. Then, too, all the obstacles and problems are so easily surmounted. Even the villain of the piece seems quite villainous until she melts away to nothing.

…I realize all of that makes my review sound a bit nitpicky or negative but that’s not what I’m going for at all. It’s more like, highlighting areas of an already very good story where it could be developed or polished just a tad more in order to make it really shine. After a few weeks away from it, I can hardly remember Evelyn at all but Ahmad sticks in my mind. He’s an excellent character and needed Evelyn to be a bit more developed to balance him properly.

All in all, it was undoubtedly quite good and I absolutely recommend it, but it could have been something more. Yes, I enjoyed it, yes the romance was swoony, yes the main characters were lovely… but with just a hint more depth and struggle it would have been an instant favorite and would have catapulted the author onto my auto-buy list. I will still look forward to her future books, however.

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

Favorite Quotes:

“Love!” Lady Arundell scoffed. “How can that possibly be?”

“He sewed pockets in all of her skirts,” Anne said.

“Pockets.” Julia signed. “Imagine.”

“And she didn’t even have to ask him to do it,” Stella said.

Non-exclusive Excerpt:

A surge of disappointment dimmed Evelyn’s smile. It occurred to her, quite suddenly, how little she knew about him.

Of course, he must have a sweetheart. Heaven’s sake, he was probably married! Just because he didn’t wear a wedding band didn’t mean he didn’t have a wife—and probably several children besides. It was none of her affair.

She turned back to the shelves. “In that case . . . What about a romance?”

“No romances,” he said darkly.

“No?” Was he one of those stuffy men who disapproved of romance novels? Many did. Even so, she’d expected better of him. A man who designed clothing so beautifully shouldn’t be averse to sentiment. “What about this one, then? Silas Marner. It only came out last year.”

Mr. Malik drew it from the shelf. It was bound in brown cloth with gilt lettering on the spine. “What’s it about?”

“An individual and his place in society. The hero of the story is a weaver. A man with no family to speak of, who keeps himself apart from his community.”

“A bit too close to home.” He returned the book to the shelf. “She needs something bright. Something to boost her spirits.”

Evelyn wondered why. Was she ill? Melancholic? Had she had some sort of disappointment? “In that case”—she reached for a Jane Austen novel—“I recommend this one.”

He took it from her, giving the title a dubious glance. “Northanger Abbey.”

“It’s Miss Austen’s satire of a Gothic novel. A vastly entertaining read. It should take her mind off whatever it is that’s troubling her.”

Mr. Malik thumbed through the pages. His expression was doubtful.

“I confess,” she said “there is a romance in the story, but it’s witty rather than mawkish. I can’t imagine she won’t enjoy it.”

“It’s still a romance.”

A cough sounded nearby, along with the thump of books being shoved back on a shelf. It was a reminder that she and Mr. Malik weren’t alone. Far from it. The shop seemed to be growing busier.

Evelyn sunk her voice. “What does she have against romance?”

“Nothing,” he replied, his tone equally low. “I just don’t want her to get any ideas.”

“Ideas about what?”

“About happily-ever-afters.”

The wide swell of Evelyn’s skirts brushed his leg. She belatedly realized that she’d drawn closer to him. That their conversation had taken on an air of intimacy. “You object to them?”

“I don’t believe in fairy tales,” he said.

She gave him an amused look. “Is that what they are?”

“In my experience.”

“How illuminating.”

“Is it?” He turned another page.

“Indeed. You’re a cynic, Mr. Malik. I wouldn’t have thought it.”

“I’m a realist.”

“Happily-ever-afters are real. For some people, at least. And even if they weren’t . . . A little romance never hurt anyone.”

His eyes lifted to hers. There was an expression in them that was hard to read. “You think not?”

Butterflies unfurled their wings in her stomach. The same feeling she’d had when she’d first touched his hand. A fluttering, breathless sensation. As if her corset had been laced too tightly. “No,” she said. And then she thought of Fenny. “Not in a novel, anyway.”

His mouth curled into the barest hint of a smile.

Once again, she had the unsettling sensation that he could read her mind. She took a step back from him. “Forgive me, but I mustn’t linger. My maid is waiting for me.”

He closed the book, clutching it in his hand. “Thank you for your help.”

“It was my pleasure. I hope your . . .” Wife? Sweetheart? “I hope she enjoys the story.”

“My cousin.”

Evelyn nearly stumbled in the process of taking another step backward. “I beg your pardon?”

“The book is for my cousin.”

His words penetrated before she could school her features. She was certain an expression of relief passed over her face.

She was equally certain that he saw it.

Heaven only knew what he must think.

“Your cousin. Well, that’s . . . that’s splendid.” Splendid? Evelyn’s eyes closed against a swell of embarrassment. She was quite ready to disappear into a hole in the earth. She took another step back. “Please convey my regards.”

His smile broadened. “I shall.”

From THE SIREN OF SUSSEX published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Mimi Matthews.

ARC Review: Love and Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

Love & Other Disasters

Publishing Date: January 18, 2022

Synopsis:

The first openly nonbinary contestant on America’s favorite cooking show falls for their clumsy competitor in this delicious romantic comedy debut “that is both fantastically fun and crack your heart wide open vulnerable.” (Rosie Danan, author of The Roommate)

Recently divorced and on the verge of bankruptcy, Dahlia Woodson is ready to reinvent herself on the popular reality competition show Chef’s Special. Too bad the first memorable move she makes is falling flat on her face, sending fish tacos flying—not quite the fresh start she was hoping for. Still, she’s focused on winning, until she meets someone she might want a future with more than she needs the prize money.

After announcing their pronouns on national television, London Parker has enough on their mind without worrying about the klutzy competitor stationed in front of them. They’re there to prove the trolls—including a fellow contestant and their dad—wrong, and falling in love was never part of the plan.

As London and Dahlia get closer, reality starts to fall away. Goodbye, guilt about divorce, anxiety about uncertain futures, and stress from transphobia. Hello, hilarious shenanigans on set, wedding crashing, and spontaneous dips into the Pacific. But as the finale draws near, Dahlia and London’s steamy relationship starts to feel the heat both in and outside the kitchen—and they must figure out if they have the right ingredients for a happily ever after.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I absolutely LOVED this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I don’t generally read contemporary romance, but I saw ‘queer and nonbinary’ and took a chance, and I’m SO glad I did.

The representation in this book was SO SO good. As a queer, nonbinary person myself, so much of what London said and was rang true. And I loved queer disaster Dahlia so much for her warm acceptance of them. They were just so good together and (almost) everyone in the book was surprisingly cool with respecting them and their pronouns.

I also loved how well-written this was. I was totally invested in this fictional cooking show and I don’t even watch real life cooking shows. Dahlia’s and London’s love of cooking came through so well, I could almost taste the dishes they were creating.

I was also totally invested in their relationship. And the writing was just so beautiful and there were so many passages that just viscerally struck true. I loved the discussion of Dahlia’s divorce, and the way she was trying to reinvent herself in LA, and when London realized that exuberant Dahlia was just… sad.

Gah I just loved it so much.

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

Favorite Quotes:

It would be September soon, and Dahlia was glad. It would be easier, somehow, she thought, to be sad in the fall.

A flurry of expletives ran around London’s mind like foul-mouthed bunnies on speed.

ARC Review: Servant Mage by Kate Elliot

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Publishing Date: January 18, 2022

Synopsis:

Fellion is a Lamplighter, able to provide illumination through magic. A group of rebel Monarchists free her from indentured servitude and take her on a journey to rescue trapped compatriots from an underground complex of mines.

Along the way they get caught up in a conspiracy to kill the latest royal child and wipe out the Monarchist movement for good.

But Fellion has more than just her Lamplighting skills up her sleeve…

In Kate Elliott’s Servant Mage, a lowly fire mage finds herself entangled in an empire-spanning conspiracy on her way to discovering her true power.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was such an interesting story. It took a conflict with two obvious sides — the Liberationists and the Monarchists — and yet neither side came out of it looking very good.

The Liberationists are obviously corrupt and no-good from the start, in some ways cartoonishly so. And on the surface, the Monarchists seem to be better. But this story peels back some of the surface layers to show that at their heart, the two sides aren’t all that different. They both have some serious class issues.

Fellian is an outcast in both groups and treated as a lower class of citizen, and clearly has no patience with either group. I like that she doesn’t immediately fall in with the Monarchists as her saviors, and I like that they respect her enough to make her own choice.

This story overall was a tough read because a lot of information is left unsaid and readers are left trying to piece together what’s going on for a lot of it. I like stories that don’t give you all the information, but I could have used just a little more.

The magic system was very interesting and I feel like we barely scratched the surface. I’m definitely left intrigued.

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

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