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ARC Review: The Gentleman’s Book of Vices by Jess Everlee

Publication Date: November 29, 2022


Is their real-life love story doomed to be a tragedy, or can they rewrite the ending?

London, 1883

Finely dressed and finely drunk, Charlie Price is a man dedicated to his vices. Chief among them is his explicit novel collection, though his impending marriage to a woman he can’t love will force his carefully curated collection into hiding.

Before it does, Charlie is determined to have one last hurrah: meeting his favorite author in person.

Miles Montague is more gifted as a smut writer than a shopkeep and uses his royalties to keep his flagging bookstore afloat. So when a cheerful dandy appears out of the mist with Miles’s highly secret pen name on his pretty lips, Miles assumes the worst. But Charlie Price is no blackmailer; he’s Miles’s biggest fan.

A scribbled signature on a worn book page sets off an affair as scorching as anything Miles has ever written. But Miles is clinging to a troubled past, while Charlie’s future has spun entirely out of his control…

Carina Adores is home to romantic love stories where LGBTQ+ characters find their happily-ever-afters.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this. Charlie and Miles and their friends and found family were interesting characters that were fun to spend time with, and the plot was consistent with my expectations. The grumpy/sunshine trope is one of my favorites, and Miles is very grumpy and Charlie very sunshine (on the surface, at least) so I enjoyed their dynamic quite a bit.

I appreciated that although Charlie and Miles’ sexual preferences were talked about and insinuated, the actual scenes were closed door. I may be in the minority, but I prefer closed door sex scenes for any gender pairing. I read romance for… the romance. Not the sex.

I thought that Charlie’s tendency to sacrifice himself was fitting considering how much he loves Miles’ books — all smut books, yes, but also all tragedies. Yes, his friends’ interventions were convenient but they were also consistent and believable for the characters. I don’t have a problem with them.

I loved the friendship Charlie and Alma have, even though they’re being forced into marriage to “save themselves.” There’s a real bond there, and it was so nice to *not* have Alma made into a villain. The same could be said about Charlie’s parents. Despite trying to marry him off for his own good, they really do love him.

Miss Jo was wonderful, and I appreciated her even more once she revealed who her husband was. Out of all of the characters in the book, she is the one I think I’d most like to know and read more about.

I prefer to read romances that aren’t based solely on physical attraction, since I value emotional connections more. And this book definitely hit the spot – there were so many sweet and tender moments, and when things looked like they were going to fall apart they felt oh so bittersweet. There were also many humorous moments and moments of joy.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Carina Adores for providing an early copy for review.

ARC Reviews: Art Books Read in Fall 2022

How to Draw Hairstyles for Manga by Studio Hard Deluxe

Publication Date: November 8, 2022


From bed head to battle hair, the way you style your manga character’s hair can make or break their look. In this guide, discover hundreds of styles to transform your sketches into amazing illustrations.

How to Draw Hairstyles for Manga includes:

Detailed information on how hair influences characters and scenes, how it grows and moves, common male and female hairstyles, and more!

Step-by-step instruction for sectioning and drawing hair to achieve more realistic looks. Plus, learn tips and tricks for taking styles up a notch.

600+ illustrations showing hundreds of hairstyles from multiple angles. From French braids and ponytails to defying gravity with underwater looks and epic battle scene styles, this book has it all!
With step-by-step guidance and hundreds of sample illustrations, this is your must-have guide to drawing hairstyles for your manga characters. What are you waiting for? Grab your supplies and get started drawing with style!

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is an excellent and very useful guide to drawing various lengths and styles of hair. I learned a LOT, and found the discussion of combining hair and movement especially useful.

The book discusses accurate representation of hairstyles, shadows, combining style with movement, emotion, and personality, wet hair, windblown hair, and power stances.

It includes just about every hairstyle you could want — if you don’t want to include Black hair. While it is specifically for manga, it still seems like an oversight to not include any Black hairstyles.

Each style is clearly illustrated in black and white and has a short text explanation of what is happening and why it is drawn that way as well as a step-by step guide to guide the reader in recreating that style.

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

Satisfying Stitches by Hope Brasfield

Publication Date: November 15, 2022


Discover the creative satisfaction and stress-relieving benefits of embroidery while stitching fun, modern, vibrant designs such as flowers, plants, animals, landscapes, and celestial scenes.

Beginning a new creative pursuit can be intimidating, but Satisfying Stitches takes all the guesswork and fear out of getting started with techniques designed to boost confidence and provide relaxation. This easy-to-follow, photo-illustrated guide includes a review of the basic and inexpensive supplies needed to get started, foundational techniques, and step-by-step instructions for creating a variety of stitches. As your skills and confidence grow, you will find that stitches that may look advanced are quite simple, and you’ll be able to easily add dimension and texture to your designs.

The exclusive embroidery designs include a wide variety of motifs and patterns, such as houseplants, florals, mushrooms, butterflies, fish, landscapes, and sunsets, in a variety of color palettes. The projects are divided into three levels to match your confidence, skill level, and time.

While most beginner books don’t go beyond a couple of easy stitches, Satisfying Stitches takes the opposite approach, incorporating stitches that pack a big “wow” factor but are quite easy, such as fern stitch, wheatear stitch, thistle flowers, and woven wheel roses. Author Hope Brasfield offers tons of encouragement to beginners and beyond. You’ll learn to embrace imperfection, slow down, and enjoy the process.

You will also discover, as Hope did, that embroidery offers much more than a creative outlet. Focusing on something that requires imagination, handwork, and concentration can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Satisfying Stitches features:
A wide range of attractive embroidery stitches that can be used to create any embroidery designs
18 original embroidery designs for popular motifs
Detailed step-by-step instructions with clear photographs
Troubleshooting tips and tricks throughout the book

So much more than pretty patterns, Satisfying Stitches offers an exciting opportunity to gain new skills, become a more confident creative, ditch the smart phone, and de-stress.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a really good beginner embroidery book. I found the information on different stitches incredibly useful as there were many I did not know. There are photos included with the step-by-step instructions that makes it easy to understand what to do.

I wasn’t terribly interested in the designs – they’re not really my style and they’re a lot simpler than the designs I usually use. However, a few of the designs were cute or offered a different way to think about technique. I am excited to employ my knew knowledge in my own designs.

The beginning information was perhaps more useful for those completely new to embroidery, such as how to use basic embroidery tools and the many reminders that embroidery isn’t supposed to be perfect. The designs included emphasize that principle – they are solely nature themed (plants, fruits, flowers, skies) and lead naturally to the ‘nature isn’t perfect so your embroidery doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t be perfect’ theme.

I would definitely recommend it for those who are new to embroidery but want to learn or those like me who have been dabbling in creating our own designs for years but lack knowledge of some of the more useful stitches.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Quarry Books for providing an early copy for review.

ARC Review: I am Okay to Feel by Karamo Brown and Jason “Rachel” Brown

Publication Date: November 8, 2022


A father and son are caught in a storm and must learn to navigate the uncertainty together in this poignant picture book by talk show host and beloved QUEER EYE star Karamo Brown and his son Jason “Rachel” Brown, perfect for reassuring young readers in times of stress.

I AM OKAY TO FEEL empowers children to talk about their emotions and anxieties, with the reassuring message that “I am okay to feel and heal.” Paired with back matter and resources developed with psychologists, this picture book offers a loving framework for how to identify and express feelings in a healthy way, providing the tools to build emotional intelligence at a formative age.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is such a beautiful book!

The colors are vibrant and the illustrations whimsical and sweet. The story is told through a conversation between a father and child. As they go on a walk, the weather changes and they talk through several emotions and what they can do to feel better.

It clearly shows the link between thoughts, feelings, and behavior and offers a compassionate explanation of those things and how we can keep our thoughts and feelings from leaking out into uncontrollable actions.

I can’t wait to show this to my kiddo (8) who struggles with his thoughts and feelings and behavior. I think he will really connect with it. I would definitely recommend it to any parent whose child is struggling and to elementary school classrooms where I suspect it could come in very handy.

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

Audio ARC Review: Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk

Publication Date: November 8, 2022


A magical detective dives into the affairs of Chicago’s divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life. This sapphic period piece will dazzle anyone looking for mystery, intrigue, romance, magic, or all of the above.

An exiled augur who sold her soul to save her brother’s life is offered one last job before serving an eternity in hell. When she turns it down, her client sweetens the pot by offering up the one payment she can’t resist―the chance to have a future where she grows old with the woman she loves.

To succeed, she is given three days to track down the White City Vampire, Chicago’s most notorious serial killer. If she fails, only hell and heartbreak await.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’m not usually a fan of the hardboiled detective / noir genre, even though I always feel like I should be? But this was just gorgeous. I should have realized that if anyone could, CL Polk would be able to write a queer noir that would tug at my heart and keeep me riveted.

There was so much story here, for such a short book. I loved how specific a place and time it was set. Everything about it just screamed noir prohibition-era Chicago. Aside from the angels and demons, I suppose. But even they fit right in and didn’t feel at all out of place. It’s short but does a great job building the atmosphere. I was immediately hooked.

Helen presents as a typical noir detective (only a woman, and a queer one at that) except that she isn’t an awful person at all. She’s a bit rough around the edges, but she loves her girlfriend and her brother deeply and her decisions throughout the novella revolve around that. I think that’s what I love the most about this as opposed to more ‘typical’ noir – the amount of love and heart.

There is, of course, more to everything than it at first seems – so much more I’m surprised it all fits into this novella and the story isn’t bursting at the seams. It’s the perfect length, and yet I would read so much more of Helen and those she loves. And crime-solving, of course. Longer books, more books, a whole series of books.

The narrator was excellent and really brought the characters and story to life. It made the story even better, and her voice was very pleasant to listen to. I was fully immersed in the story for the entire time I was listening.

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

ARC Review: How to Win a Wallflower by Samara Parish

Publication Date: December 13, 2022


A wallflower will put everything on the line . . .

When John Barnesworth inherits unexpectedly, he abandons his solitude and returns to London to settle his brother’s affairs, only to discover his estates are crumbling and he is now betrothed to his brother’s unpleasant fiancée. Her dowry might save him from ruin, but at what cost? His only hope lies with the vivacious, charming Lady Charlotte Stirling, whose audacious solution to John’s troubles might actually work. If only he can keep his feelings for her out of the equation . . .

Lady Charlotte Stirling knows she can’t fall for John. He’s her brother’s best friend, he’s engaged to her mortal enemy, and he wants to return to America. Not to mention he’d never survive in her bustling social life. She can, however, try to solve his money problem. But the closer she gets to ensuring his freedom, the harder it is to let him go . . .

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I had a disappointing experience with a historical romance immediately prior to reading this, after not picking one up for awhile, and I was afraid I had lost my taste for the genre. I picked this one up hesitantly but flew through it in a day. I am happy to report that I have not, in fact, lost my taste for the genre — it was just that one book.

I had greatly enjoyed Samara Parish’s previous installation in this series, and I’m happy to say that I greatly enjoyed this one as well.

This time we have an unconventional Viscount, ill at ease with his newly acquired title, who would rather spend his time holed up in a solitary cabin with nothing but his myriad inventions to keep him company. He is scornful of and greatly dislikes society, and it is him the ‘wallflower’ in the title refers to — not Lady Charlotte. He is gentle and kind and good and it was wonderful to get a softer, more intellectual hero.

Lady Charlotte is a social butterfly who spends her time helping others. Making clothing for orphans, chairing comittees, drawing wallflowers into the social scene, helping her brother forge political connections… She has her work cut out for her in convincing John that he should make a bit of an effort with society, but as they embark on a wild scheme to acquire enough money to save John’s crumbling estates and her brother’s neck, they learn that though seemingly too different they fit together perfectly.

There are obstacles, of course, not least of which is Charlotte’s older brother — one of John’s few closest friends — who seems determined to keep them apart as he doesn’t think they will suit.

Some of the events strain credulity but I was completely engrossed in the twists and turns of the story and loved every minute. It reminded me of some of Georgette Heyer’s whirlwind, ridiculous plots. I greatly appreciated that the spice didn’t overwhelm the story or plot.

I would definitely recommend this if you are a historical romance fan, especially if you like unconventional heros and heroines – it ticked all the boxes for me.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Forever for providing an early copy for review.

ARC Review: A Consuming Fire by Laura E. Weymouth

Publication Date: November 22, 2022


Uprooted meets The Grace Year in this dark young adult fantasy of love and vengeance following a girl who vows to kill a god after her sister is unjustly slain by his hand.

Weatherell girls aren’t supposed to die.

Once every eighteen years, the isolated forest village of Weatherell is asked to send one girl to the god of the mountain to give a sacrifice before returning home. Twins Anya and Ilva Astraea are raised with this destiny in mind, and when their time comes, spirited Ilva volunteers to go. Her devoted sister Anya is left at home to pray for Ilva’s safe return. But Anya’s prayers are denied.

With her sister dead, Anya volunteers to make a journey of her own to visit the god of the mountain. But unlike her sister, sacrifice is the furthest thing from Anya’s mind. Anya has no intention of giving anything more to the god, or of letting any other girl do so ever again. Anya Astraea has not set out to placate a god. She’s set out to kill one.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Laura Weymouth has a way with words, with turns of phrase that are simple and cutting and achingly true. Her books break me every time, and this one was no exception. I saved several quotes and I know I will revisit them. With only a few words she can conjure that aching, burning, wistful feeling better (and more consistently) than just about anyone else.

I also love the repetition of certain words and phrases throughout the book. Wetherell girl. Sacrifice. Don’t go. Don’t let anyone else go. Vengeance. Burning. Their repetition serves to heighten them and gives the story a rhythmic, chanting feel. Like a prayer. Or a vow. It gives them power.

I LOVE Anya Astraea. She has such a fire burning within her, setting her up as the perfect false sacrifice to bring down a god. The characters she meets throughout the story are wonderful (and sometimes terrible). Her choices and the path she walks and everything about her burn so brightly it hurts to look at her.

The title of the book would seem to come from the unjust god at the heart of her world, and in fact those exact words are used to refer to him at one point. But it’s not the god but Anya who burns with passion and conviction. I would say that the consuming fire is Anya’s deep-seated belief that her world is wrong and terrible and could be better – and that it is her duty to make it so.

The world she lives in is a terrible and unjust one, and her sacrifices and convictions help bring about a crossroads with the hope of a better world beyond it.

I loved the story of Matthias and the other travelers. They were so good, and when it was revealed where they had come from, who they were, and what they were trying to do, it was so satisfying.

I loved Tieran so much. He deserves so much more than he thinks – and I know Anya will do her best to make sure he gets it. Their romance was perfectly paced for me and just present enough to make itself known but not enough to get in the way of the story. They were also perfect together, and watching them grow closer and learn to trust one another was so satisfying.

I gasped at a few of the reveals – I did not see them coming – and they only made the story more impactful for me.

I actually put off reading this one for an embarrassingly long time. Once I finally buckled down and began it, however, I was sucked in and devoured it – finishing almost the entire story in one sitting.

My one criticism is that the very painfully obvious reference to Christianity – Ilva’s pendant – is jarring and feels out of place within the story. Without it, this reads as an alternate fantasy world. With it, and with the references to the Romans who had previously settled there, it reads as a weird, twisted, alternate history / fantasy. It lessens the impact of the story for me. That could be a purely personal preference thing, though. Even the barest hint of Christianity in a story is enough to sour it for me somewhat. But it isn’t necessary and doesn’t add anything to the story. It feels like an author-self-insert.

Weird Christianity insert aside, this was a gorgeous book and I definitely recommend it if you enjoy Laura Weymouth’s other books. I also think you’d enjoy it if you like Margaret Rogerson or Maggie Stiefvater or Laini Taylor.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Margaret K. McElderry Books for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

“You think you been treated poorly,” he said. “And maybe you have, a bit. But it can always get worse.”

A Consuming Fire by Laura E. Weymouth

“Sometimes, Weatherell girl” — Tieran’s voice was low and unexpectedly earnest, his words spoken so close that Anya could feel as well as hear them, warm against her skin where the knife had been cold — “life’s easier if no one knows who you really are.”

A Consuming Fire by Laura E. Weymouth

“You both like to keep your truths close and your ways out wide open, don’t you?”

A Consuming Fire by Laura E. Weymouth

However powerful her wish for vengeance, she’d been brought up in peace and bred for one thing — sacrifice. She was made to shatter and made to suffer, and it was foolishness to grasp for anything else.

A Consuming Fire by Laura E. Weymouth

“Trying not to be a monster doesn’t mean I been good. Don’t know if I ever can be.”

A Consuming Fire by Laura E. Weymouth

Inside Anya Astraea, the flame that had plagued her all her life grew into a towering inferno. It sent rage scorching through every inch of her, and perhaps the god of the mountain and Tieran the thief burned visibly, but Anya was no less a living fire because her fury burned unseen.

A Consuming Fire by Laura E. Weymouth

*Note: This last one is a bit longer than I usually quote, but it’s my favorite passage in the book, I think. It’s gorgeous and really shows off Laura Weymoth’s skill and genius as a writer. I’ve come back to it several times times since finishing the book because it captures that wistful, happy/sad, joyful/painful emotion I love that is so hard to find.

When you come back down,” Tieran said stubbornly.

Anya reached up and cupped the side of his sharp, clever face with one hand, running her thumb from the corner of his mouth to the line of his jaw.

“I choose what happens to me,” she whispered.

“You do.” Tieran answered, his voice a raw and wanting thing.

And Anya chose. She rose up and kissed Tieran the thief the way a dying girl kisses a boy — with hunger and regret and desperation. She kissed him like a sacrifice, holding nothing of herself back, her hands on his shoulders and on the stubble of his shorn hair. And Tieran, despite his sharpness and his lies and his leaving, kissed her like a worshipper, as if he would lay all of himself out at her request, and count it glory just to be looked upon by his god. They came together and did not part for a long while, and when at last they did, it was Tieran who moved back first. His hands were trembling, shifting from shape to shape, and Anya took them in her own and pressed them to her lips.

“I want to be a knife,” she told him.

“You are,” Tieran swore.

“Make me believe it.”

“Anya Astraea, you could cut me open with a look.”

“With a touch?”

Anya glanced up at her thief. She put a fingertip to his chin and ran it down his neck, his chest, the travel-lean stretch of his abdomen, and before she could go further, Tieran let out a sound that set every part of her alight. He took her by the wrist and pulled her closer and they were kissing again, a wildfire between them, but the burn of it did not feel like blasphemy or vengeance or anger. It felt, to Anya, like shackles cast off. Like the first bright day of a journey that could lead only to joy.

So Anya knew as she kissed Tieran that her heart was a worse liar than the rest of her, and selfish as well. There could be no joyous ending for them, and if she were righteous and fair, she’d pull back now, for the journey she’d set herself up on would only lead to devastation. But Anya could not bear to think of that or to pull away. Instead, she carried on, tangling herself and the thief together, and it was a mystery to her how she could all at once feel so tainted by guilt and radiant with glory.

A Consuming Fire by Laura E. Weymouth

ARC Review: Never Been Kissed by Timothy Janovsky

Publication Date: May 3, 2022


Dear (never-been-quite-over-you) Crush,
It’s been a few years since we were together, but I can’t stop thinking about the time we almost…

Wren Roland has never been kissed, but he wants that movie-perfect ending more than anything. Feeling nostalgic on the eve of his birthday, he sends emails to all the boys he (ahem) loved before he came out. Morning brings the inevitable Oh God What Did I Do?, but he brushes that panic aside. Why stress about it? None of his could-have-beens are actually going to read the emails, much less respond. Right?

Enter Derick Haverford, Wren’s #1 pre-coming-out-crush and his drive-in theater’s new social media intern. Everyone claims he’s coasting on cinematic good looks and his father’s connections, but Wren has always known there’s much more to Derick than meets the eye. Too bad he doesn’t feel the same way about the infamous almost-kiss that once rocked Wren’s world.

Whatever. Wren’s no longer a closeted teenager; he can survive this. But as their hazy summer becomes consumed with a special project that may just save the struggling drive-in for good, Wren and Derick are drawn ever-closer…and maybe, finally, Wren’s dream of a perfect-kiss-before-the-credits is within reach.

A feel-good summer LGBTQIA+ New Adult RomCom, perfect for fans of Red White & Royal BlueBoyfriend Material, and What If It’s Us.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was suuuuuuper cute. Wren does come across as very young at first, but as the story settled into its groove I felt like his reactions and thought processes were actually very accurate for a 22-year old. He starts the novel fairly immature and at loose ends, but through the course of the story he gains confidence in himself. This is helped along by his managerial position at Wiley’s Drive-in (where he has to find the line between working with his friends and being responsible for his friends’ mistakes), his blossoming friendship with reclusive former film star and director Alice Walker, and his rekindled friendship and burgeoning relationship with his high-school crush Derick.

What begins as a terrible drunk decision – sending emails to all his former crushes and almost-kisses – ends up with a real chance at happiness.

Wren’s friends are adorably quirky – sometimes a little too much so – and sweet. Reading the scenes of them together took me back to my college friendships. Derick is a bit of a mystery for pretty much the entire book and I think it could have benefited from some Derick POV chapters. The mystery does add drama and move the plot along in places, however, so I can understand why the author chose to do it this way. I also really appreciated how many of the characters were LGBT+ and how matter-of-fact it all was. There was a little bit of drama between Derick and his family but it wasn’t too much and didn’t detract from the sense of queer joy that develops throughout the book.

I listened to the audiobook version of this and really like the way the narrator chose to read it. His voices for all the characters were easy to tell apart and fit the characters very well.

I was fully invested in the story from beginning to end, and came away with a lot of nostalgia and also a real appreciation for how the author handled the story.

Also! It was SO nice to see demisexual rep in this story! Ace rep of any kind is hard to come by in fiction, and demisexual rep even more so. It was also explained really well without taking the reader out of the story and really fit Wren’s character and experiences. As someone who is demi, I really appreciated the rep. It made me feel that much more connected to the story and more sympathetic to Wren. Especially when he decides that “queer” is how he’s going to identify, with the knowledge that he’s also gay and demisexual. It was very relatable. Society doesn’t know how to handle asexuality for some strange reason, and it can feel very alienating.

The best parts of the story, hands down, were the scenes with Alice Kelly, reclusive film star and brilliant director – and cantankerous old lady. She really came to life in my imagination and quickly became my favorite character. The way Wren approached his friendship with her, slowly drawing her out while making sure she is always comfortable with what is happening, was wonderful to see.

I loved her story that was slowly revealed even more than Wren’s and Derick’s tbh. I would definitely read a book about her life. I’m glad she became such an important character and her story interwoven so thoroughly with Wren’s and Wiley’s Drive-in.

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

ARC Review: A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar

Publication Date: December 13, 2022


Adiba Jaigirdar, author of one of Time‘s Best YA books of all time, gives Titanic an Ocean’s 8 makeover in a heist for a treasure aboard the infamous ship that sank in the Atlantic many years ago.

A thief. An artist. A acrobat. An actress. While Josefa, Emilie, Hinnah, and Violet seemingly don’t have anything in common, they’re united in one goal: stealing the Rubaiyat, a jewel-encrusted book aboard the RMS Titanic that just might be the golden ticket to solving their problems.

But careless mistakes, old grudges, and new romance threaten to jeopardize everything they’ve worked for and put them in incredible danger when tragedy strikes. While the odds of pulling off the heist are slim, the odds of survival are even slimmer . . .

Perfect for fans of Stalking Jack the Ripper and Girl in the Blue Coat, this high-seas heist from the author of The Henna Wars is an immersive story that makes readers forget one important detail— the ship sinks.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was SO excited for this one. I really enjoyed Adiba Jaigirdar’s other books, and ‘sapphic heist on the Titanic’ ticks like, ALL the boxes for me.

And for the most part, it lived up to expectations.

The plot progressed smoothly without any hiccups and without stalling, which I appreciated.

The heist itself was a bit underwhelming, and they gave up on the initial objective pretty quickly, making the whole endeavor seem a bit pointless. However, it was written quite well and it kept my interest and had the appropriate amount of things kept back from the reader and reveals and such.

The part after the heist was actually more intense and kept my interest more. At first I didn’t pay much attention to the dates and times at the beginning of each chapter, but towards the end the chapters got shorter and the timestamps sped up until it became a pretty intense countdown. Equally intense was the fact that the reader knows first that the Titanic is sinking (not a spoiler – we all knew it going in but we didn’t KNOW know it. Or at least I didn’t) and the tension builds quickly as we watch the girls separate and each have to discover that fact on their own.

I was confused about which character was which at first, but as the story progressed they each got more time to shine and I grew to appreciate each of them. Violet and Hinnah were maybe not as well-developed as Josefa and Emilie, but I still appreciated getting their POVs.

I liked the romance, and I also liked that it was very mild and was very much not the focus of the book. It was there in the small things if you looked for it, but it didn’t overpower the heist storyline.

The ending was a bit of a shock as I didn’t know to look up content warnings on the author’s website, but upon reflection I feel like it was fitting and more realistic than the ending I was expecting. The final epilogue-like section took away some of the drama and tension of the ending and I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one had I like it and it feels necessary, but on the other hand it leaves everything feeling a bit anti-climactic.

Some of my issues with the story could have stemmed from the fact that I listened to a ‘digital voice galley’ which is not the actual audiobook and is not read by a real person. So it is necessarily a bit robotic and it can make it hard to differentiate between characters. In the actual audiobook, I imagine they will have the four main characters either read by different people or read by a skilled voice actor who can give each girl her own ‘voice.’

Overall I enjoyed this a lot and I would recommend it to readers who enjoy historical novels and heists and sapphic characters. I would however caution that it does not reach the intricacy or depth of heist novels like Six of Crows (not many do – perhaps it’s not the best benchmark by which to judge this genre).

*Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Audio for providing a digital voice galley to review.

Audiobook ARC Review: Saint by Adrienne Young

Publication Date: November 29, 2022


New York Times bestselling author Adrienne Young returns to the world of The Narrows with Saint, a captivating prequel to Fable and Namesake.

As a boy, Elias learned the hard way what happens when you don’t heed the old tales.

Nine years after his lack of superstition got his father killed, he’s grown into a young man of piety, with a deep reverence for the hallowed sea and her fickle favor. As stories of the fisherman’s son who has managed to escape the most deadly of storms spreads from port to port, his devotion to the myths and creeds has given him the reputation of the luckiest bastard to sail the Narrows.

Now, he’s mere days away from getting everything his father ever dreamed for him: a ship of his own, a crew, and a license that names him as one of the first Narrows-born traders. But when a young dredger from the Unnamed Sea with more than one secret crosses his path, Elias’ faith will be tested like never before. The greater the pull he feels toward her, the farther he drifts from the things he’s spent the last three years working for.

He is dangerously close to repeating his mistakes and he’s seen first hand how vicious the jealous sea can be. If he’s going to survive her retribution, he will have to decide which he wants more, the love of the girl who could change their shifting world, or the sacred beliefs that earned him the name that he’s known for―Saint.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this. Adrienne Young’s writing always seems simple on the surface but then immediately draws me in and I remain hooked throughout the story.

I loved Fable and Namesake, so I was excited to read Saint. I wasn’t sure about it at first, because he and Isolde are hard characters to get to know. They keep everything so close to the chest and are very wary about trusting anyone. As the story progressed, however, they began to let down their guard little by little and I cared about them a lot before I even realized it.

The romance was the sort where they’re instantly attracted to one another but fight it, which isn’t my favorite trope but I think in this case it worked well. For Saint his attraction to Isolde is almost like his mystical rituals about the sea. For Isolde it’s like the Midnight. Like it’s bigger than the two of them and they can’t understand it or change it but just ride it out.

The story moved along at a good clip and there was plenty of action to keep me riveted. I loved that it was set either out on the sea or at various ports. Those are my favorite sort of books.

The side characters were great as well. They all felt real, as did the setting, like I could walk into those ports and those people would be there, exactly as described.

The story also managed to feel very new and yet end in a place that perfectly set up Fable and Namesake. It left a good span of years between the end and the start of Fable, but it arranged the playing pieces in such a way that I could see how they were lining up and how they would fall.

I will definitely be seeking out more of Adrienne Young’s books when they are published.

The audiobook narrators were excellent as well. I enjoyed their voices and the character voices they chose. It definitely helped bring the story to life.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for providing an early copy for review.

Excellent Nonfiction Books for Kids read in October and November 2022 (ARC and non-ARC review)

I read some *excellent* kids’ nonfiction titles in October and November. They made perfect bedtime reading with my third grader, who devoured them with at least as much interest as me. Reviews of all three books below.

Explorers: Amazing Tales of the World’s Greatest Adventures by Nellie Huang

Publication Date: September 3, 2019


Live and see the world through the eyes of 50 of the world’s greatest explorers and their trusty companions!

This book for kids is brimming with first-person accounts of gripping adventures in explorers’ own words. Find exciting tales complemented by rare maps, specially commissioned photographs, and artworks that re-create history’s greatest expeditions. Get ready to take a leap into the unknown…

An adventure book that will surely rival even the most thrilling adventure movies! You’ll meet some of the most famous explorers and adventurers of all time in this exciting non-fiction storybook for children.

Great explorers have one thing in common – a desire to leap into the unknown, no matter the dangers it presents. This book will take you through Ferdinand Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the world 500 years ago to Barbara Hillary’s treks to the North and South poles while in her seventies, and beyond. This knowledge book documents the stories of men and women who rewrote our understanding of the world and inspired us by pushing the boundaries of human capability.

A kid’s educational book that looks at the towering achievements of more than 50 explorers from all walks of life in great detail. See sensational cross-sections revealing the amazing detail inside Spanish galleons, lost cities, and spaceships. Magnificent photographs highlight the artifacts and relics they found along the way, while hand-drawn maps reveal their intrepid journeys in such detail, you feel as though you could be walking in their very footsteps.

It is a glorious introduction to history’s most famous trailblazers – people whose courage opened frontiers turned voids into maps, forged nations, connected cultures, and added to humankind’s knowledge of the world by leaps and bounds. Packed with jaw-dropping fun facts about the world and written so beautifully it will get your heart racing. Explorers is the perfect kid’s book for any young mind with an avid sense of adventure!

Explore Unknown Waters – Take To The Skies – Investigate Our Planet!

For centuries, explorers have been unable to resist the secrets of the sea. We have looked toward the skies and stars since the beginning of time. Through dense jungles, dry desserts, and frozen mountains we have pushed the very limits of human endurance in the name of exploration and adventure!

These tales are not for the faint of heart – these adventurers faced challenges that threatened their very survival! Their courage has allowed us to collect a wealth of knowledge about our awe-inspiring universe.

Set sail to faraway frozen lands, defy gravity and take to the skies, and investigate our planet through the stories of those who came before us. Happy exploring!

Learn about the explorers who defied the so-called possibilities of their time in:

– Sea & Ice
– Air & Space
– And Land

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was an excellent book about explorers and their expeditions. Each explorer got a page or two-page spread filled with fascinating facts about them and what they discovered.

One thing I really, really liked about it is that it does not focus on the standard white / European explorers one learns about in school. Several of them are there, but there are also many non-European explorers, non-white explorers, and women explorers. There is also always a note at the end about the negative results of the expeditions. Like yes, it opened the new world up to Europe but it also exposed the indiginous peoples to new diseases and wiped out huge swaths of their populations, or exacerbated the slave trade, etc.

This book also doesn’t focus solely on conquering expeditions. There are scientific expeditions, deep-sea and outer-space expeditions, mountain-climbing and arctic exploration expeditions… There’s a huge variety of information in this book and my kiddo (8) ate it up.

It also avoids standard history-book pitfalls by having great writing that sucks you in and makes you want to know more about each expedition and explorer.

ARC Review: History’s BIGGEST Show-offs by Andy Seed

Publication Date: November 1, 2022


Some people just can’t resist showing off… and this BIG book introduces readers to some of the biggest braggers and loudest show-offs throughout history. 

This book takes young readers on a tour of some of history’s greatest show-offs, from wealthy kings and queens who loved to splash the cash to masterful musicians who weren’t shy about their talents or brilliant artists who could not stop telling others how great they were.

Some of the showoffs in this book include:

Queen Marie Antoinette of France, who arrived for her wedding with 57 carriages pulled by 376 horses, 

Alexander the Great, who named more than 70 cities in his vast empire after himself,… and one after his horse!

The Montgolfier brothers, who showed off their flashy new invention, the hot air balloon, in front of huge crowds and even the King and Queen!
Andy Seed’s hilarious text brings these crazy but true stories to life, as he tells readers tales about massive palaces, fast cars, monster banquets, immense armies, frilly outfits, dazzling bling, musical masterpieces, epic artworks, outrageous inventions and much, much more!

Featuring long-dead leaders, artists, musicians and more, from all around the world, the snappy facts are paired with humorous character illustrations from the brilliant Sam Caldwell for maximum hilarity.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a super cute and fun book and has a surprising amount of easily digestible information about a variety of historical figures (and they’re not even all white guys!). There are a range of famous leaders, artists, scientists, writers, engineers, and entertainers that include a number of women and people of color.

The illustrations are whimsical and playful and the expressions on the people’s faces are hilarious. There are also many puns and funny comments that elementary- and middle-school-aged kids will love.

I actually love the way they have reframed the famous people included as “show-offs” because of how rich, talented, clever, powerful, and/or imaginative they were. It gives the whole book an irreverent air so you feel like you’re rebelling against staid and boring history professors everywhere.

It’s also an interesting point that some famous historical figures are pretty much just famous because of how rich they were. I mean, really rich people are still famous today. But if you think about it… they didn’t actually do anything to deserve that fame, unlike those famous for being talented and clever. I can see it spurring some interesting discussions.

I think it will really appeal to kids in the 7-14 range and plan on getting it for my 8-year-old for Christmas. I might read parts of it with him but I can also see him reading it on his own and enjoying it.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Quarto Publishing Group, and Francis Lincoln Childrens Books for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: Lore of the Land: Folklore and Wisdom from the Wild Earth by Claire Cock-Starkey

Publication Date: October 18, 2022


Unearth the secrets of our natural world with the Lore of the Land, a richly illustrated compendium of folklore and wisdom from the land, skies, and seas.

From thundering rivers to shady groves, flickering marshes to lightless caves, and from snow-capped mountains to the depths of the ocean, discover the folklore of Earth’s wildest places. Stories and spirits abound in these land- and seascapes, where traditional wisdom and mysterious magics have intertwined over centuries.

Each of the six chapters covers a different natural landscape, revealing the worldwide folklore surrounding Woodlands, Seas & Oceans, Wetlands, Mountains, Rivers & Streams,and Hills & Caves. Beginning with tales from cultures spanning the globe, each chapter then dives into the legends of how these places were formed, their place in the human imagination,and their natural and otherworldly denizens.

Learn how the forests hold up the sky in Māori tradition; how in Ireland, seaweed was once thought to predict the weather; and that the ancient Greeks believed Mount Etna housed the fiery forge of the gods. All this and more is accompanied by beautiful artwork based on real folklore, uncovering the secrets of our natural world as never before.

A treasury of fascinating tales and ancient wisdom, the Lore of the Land is sure to fire the imaginations of young nature-lovers, and delight anyone who has ever wondered whether there is more to our natural world than meets the eye.

Also in the series:
Lore of the Wild: Folklore and Wisdom from Nature

My Review:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This is a charming collection of myths, legends, and folklore about creatures and plants living in various environments (oceans, rivers, marshes, mountains, forests) and the natural features and environments themselves.

The folklore is arranged into sections based on environment rather than nationality, so that you get stories from around the world about rivers, or forests, etc all together. This is a wonderful way to arrange it because it makes it easy to compare different myths about the same features.

I really like how each bit of folklore is condensed into a short paragraph and is accompanied by illustrations. There are a few longer stories sprinkled throughout as well, which break up the reading nicely.

The illustrations are colorful and vivid and intriguing and make each bit of folklore come alive in the imagination. They add a lot to the book. The cover is also gorgeous.

My only complaint is the font chosen for this story. It would have been great if confined to headings or similar, but trying to read the entire book in that font was headache-inducing. It would be nearly impossible for a child learning to read or struggling with reading to make any sense of it.

**After some thought, I have decided to revise my rating. The godawful font chosen for ALL of the text is nearly impossible to read without going cross-eyed. It will prevent many people from being able to read it – including children who are learning or struggling to read. Since the book seems to be aimed at children, it’s basically sabotaging itself. I can’t in good conscience recommend it unless a different font is chosen.

I look forward to sharing this with my kiddo (8). I think he will really enjoy learning about the varied mythical creatures.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Wide-Eyed Editions for providing an e-arc for review.