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ARC & Audio ARC Review: Infamous by Lex Croucher

Publication Date: March 21, 2023

Synopsis:

22-year-old aspiring writer Edith ‘Eddie’ Miller and her best friend Rose have always done everything together-climbing trees, throwing grapes at boys, sneaking bottles of wine, practicing kissing . . .

But following their debutante ball Rose is suddenly talking about marriage, and Eddie is horrified.

When Eddie meets charming, renowned poet Nash Nicholson, he invites her to his crumbling Gothic estate in the countryside. The entourage of eccentric artists indulging in pure hedonism is exactly what Eddie needs in order to forget Rose and finish her novel.

But Eddie might discover the world of famous literary icons isn’t all poems and pleasure . . .

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this book, although there were many places where it dragged a bit and felt too-long. I also don’t know that I would call it “the best laugh-out-loud Regency romp of 2022” as it is advertised. There were funny moments, but a lot of it was more Eddie being painfully oblivious to what was going on around her. She’s so in her head and fixated on the idea of being a published writer – as well as in complete denial about how she feels about Rose – that she doesn’t really see what’s happening until it’s (metaphorically) hit her across the head a few times.

Poor long-suffering Rose stands by Eddie faithfully until she has to take a stand (which, good for her) and even then Eddie doesn’t wake up to what’s going on. Really, Eddie has a lot of growing up to do in this book before she becomes a likeable character. I was constantly tempted to shake Eddie and go “oh, come on!”

Nash was an excellent villain. He at first seemed fun and playful, and the scene with him charming Eddie’s entire outlandish oddball family was endearing. Nash’s charming of everyone takes on a darker cast, however, as the book progresses and his true character comes to light. As with everything else, his true character comes to light MUCH later for Eddie than for everyone else, as she is again painfully oblivious and in complete denial. She’s fixated on the idea that he can get her published and all else is seemingly easy for her to ignore.

The ‘house party’ adventure gets wilder and stranger the longer it goes on, and I felt a lot of secondhand embarrassment at Eddie’s refusal to see what’s happening around her. Or maybe it’s just a willingness to overlook just about anything with the dangling possibility of a book deal.

I mean, the house practically falls down around their ears and no one bats an eyelash. To say that the people in Nash’s orbit are strange is… an understatement.

I found the cast of weirdos to be quite wonderful, however. I’ve always been drawn to the outcasts and those who buck the strictures of society, so I did appreciate the bohemian outlook they had. And I liked them all the way to the end – it’s just Nash (and to a lesser extent his wife) that gets revealed to be more terrible every day.

The ending was cathartic after the mess that went down, and after Eddie’s eyes are opened to a few things. Eddie still isn’t my favorite character, but I did like her more by the end, even though I don’t think she does enough to earn Rose’s forgiveness.

The writing was really beautiful and evocative, and the audiobook performance was great. The narrator did a fabulous job capturing everyone’s mood and personality, and the voices the narrator chose were perfect for the characters.

*Thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and Bonnier UK Audio for providing an early copy for review.

Audiobook ARC Review: Saint by Adrienne Young

Publication Date: November 29, 2022

Synopsis:

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.

ARC Review: Never Ever Getting Back Together by Sophie Gonzales

Publication Date: November 29, 2022

Synopsis:

When their now famous ex-boyfriend asks them to participate in a teen reality show, two eighteen year old girls—one bent on revenge, the other open to rekindling romance—get tangled up in an unexpected twist when they fall for each other instead in Never Ever Getting Back Together by nationally and internationally-bestselling and Indie Next Pick author Sophie Gonzales.

It’s been two years since Maya’s ex-boyfriend cheated on her, and she still can’t escape him: his sister married the crown prince of a minor European country and he captured hearts as her charming younger brother. If the world only knew the real Jordy, the manipulative liar who broke Maya’s heart.

Skye Kaplan was always cautious with her heart until Jordy said all the right things and earned her trust. Now his face is all over the media and Skye is still wondering why he stopped calling.

When Maya and Skye are invited to star on the reality dating show Second-Chance Romance, they’re whisked away to a beautiful mansion—along with four more of Jordy’s exes— to compete for his affections while the whole world watches. Skye wonders if she and Jordy can recapture the spark she knows they had, but Maya has other plans: exposing Jordy and getting revenge. As they navigate the competition, Skye and Maya discover that their real happily ever after is nothing they could have scripted.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was super cute. It’s funny – I don’t watch reality TV, but I’ve really enjoyed a number of books that center around reality TV shows in the past few years. This one hit all the right notes for me.

I love love loved that it was two girls supposedly competing for a past boyfriend’s heart who really try to take him down and fall in love along the way. They were great together. Their frank ‘yes i dated this guy and this girl and this guy’ coming out to one another was enjoyable because it was very much a “yes, I’m bi, what are you going to do about it?” and very matter-of-fact.

Jordy was the sleaziest sleazeball ever and his part was painful to watch but bearable because you just know that he’ll get his comeuppance in the end. The ‘enemies to lovers’ thing was done well and believable. Maya and Skye were enjoyable and while it was frustrating to watch them at odds with each other over a misunderstanding created by sleazeball Jordy, it was very satisfying when they finally worked things out.

The other girls were very much not in focus for most of the book, so I don’t feel like I have a very good sense of them beyond the barest sketch of personality, but they worked as background characters to better show Maya, Skye, and Jordy.

The way the show played out, and the way we could see Jordy manipulating everyone and pulling them all along was fascinating and kept my interest riveted. I listened to the audio and ended up finishing it in two sittings because I just couldn’t stop listening.

The audiobook narrators did a great job bringing the characters to life. They made Maya and Skye sympathetic, though not without flaws, and made Jordy truly insufferable. They also did a good job making the other characters waver between sympathetic and self-interested.

I loved the way things played out. The misunderstandings and conflict and moment of realization and grand gesture. Not Jordy’s “grand gesture” – his sucked. Maya’s, though, was great. Also the ending was sooooo satisfying.

Thanks to NetGalley, Wednesday Books, and Macmillan Audio for providing an early copy for review.

Audio ARC Review: Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrotra

Publication Date: October 18, 2022

Synopsis:

To learn what she can become, she must first discover who she is.

Katyani’s role in the kingdom of Chandela has always been clear: becoming an advisor and protector of the crown prince, Ayan, when he ascends to the throne. Bound to the Queen of Chandela through a forbidden soul bond that saved her when she was a child, Katyani has grown up in the royal family and become the best guardswoman the Garuda has ever seen. But when a series of assassination attempts threatens the royals, Katyani is shipped off to the gurukul of the famous Acharya Mahavir as an escort to Ayan and his cousin, Bhairav, to protect them as they hone the skills needed to be the next leaders of the kingdom. Nothing could annoy Katyani more than being stuck in a monastic school in the middle of a forest, except her run-ins with Daksh, the Acharya’s son, who can’t stop going on about the rules and whose gaze makes her feel like he can see into her soul.

But when Katyani and the princes are hurriedly summoned back to Chandela before their training is complete, tragedy strikes and Katyani is torn from the only life she has ever known. Alone and betrayed in a land infested by monsters, Katyani must find answers from her past to save all she loves and forge her own destiny. Bonds can be broken, but debts must be repaid.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this book so much! It’s so nice to get a good standalone adventure that wraps up in a satisfactory way but doesn’t suffer from feeling too abrupt. I thought it was the perfect length and the pacing was excellent throughout. I connected very quickly with the characters and was consistently surprised by the plot twists.

One of my favorite things is reading fantasy books set in places other than “Medieval Europe” and learning about the customs, mythical creatures, food, clothing, etc and there is plenty of all of that in this book where the setting is an alternate medieval India.

The writing was beautiful and kept me fully engaged while I read and listened. There were many passages I took note of for their beauty.

I loved learning about all of the different monsters. I had limited knowledge of most of them and so I appreciated the descriptions of their physical forms and actions. It never felt info-dump-y though and was always relevant to the plot.

I especially loved how there were many descriptions of monsters and their monstrous ways and it managed to be bloody and occasionally horrific without being horror. I was never really scared by the monsters – only intrigued. Especially since there is an emphasis on the monsters’ humanity even though they are not human. They’re very different, but in many ways they aren’t. In fact I would say that the most monstrous characters were humans.

I loved the slow-burn romance – there was just enough of it to make me root for them while not overpowering the rest of the story – the magic, the monsters, the politics, and Katyani’s journey to knowing and finding herself were the main focus.

Katyani goes through many trials throughout the story as she learns who she is, who she was, and who she can become. Her journey of self-discovery is compelling and pulls the reader breathlessly along for the ride.

The audiobook narrator did an excellent job bringing the story and characters to life. She obviously knew how to pronounce all of the unfamiliar terms that I would have stumbled over, and that made it a richer experience.

Even though this is a standalone and does wrap up satisfactorily, it leaves room for future books exploring Katyani and Daksh’s adventures. I hope the author does write such sequels, and will read them as soon as I can get my hands on them.

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

Audio ARC DNF Review: Last of the Talons by Sophie Kim

Publication Date: September 27, 2022

Synopsis:

After the destruction of her entire Talon gang, eighteen-year-old Shin Lina—the Reaper of Sunpo—is forced to become a living, breathing weapon for the kingdom’s most-feared crime lord. All that keeps her from turning on her ruthless master is the life of her beloved little sister hanging in the balance. But the order to steal a priceless tapestry from a Dokkaebi temple incites not only the wrath of a legendary immortal, but the beginning of an unwinnable game…

Suddenly Lina finds herself in the dreamlike realm of the Dokkaebi, her fate in the hands of its cruel and captivating emperor. But she can win her life—if she kills him first.

Now a terrible game of life and death has begun, and even Lina’s swift, precise blade is no match for the magnetic Haneul Rui. Lina will have to use every weapon in her arsenal if she wants to outplay this cunning king and save her sister…all before the final grain of sand leaks out of the hourglass.

Because one way or another, she’ll take Rui’s heart.

Even if it means giving up her own.

My Review:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I was really looking forward to this one because it sounds amazing. I love reading books grounded in other cultures’ mythologies, and Korean mythology is one I haven’t really had much experience with. The cover is gorgeous and promises a magical fantasy adventure. The synopsis brings to mind stories like Six of Crows. Sadly, the execution fell far short.

The writing could use some polishing. Everything is described endlessly, using the biggest words possible and five where one would do. It’s sprinkled lavishly with curse words that just feel unnecessary. I’m all for cursing, just, it has to make sense. Our ‘living breathing weapon’ and skilled assassin of an mc just isn’t. She reads much younger than the stated 18, is constantly getting herself in trouble with her impulsive actions (partially forgiveable because of trauma), and never actually does any killing or shows any skill, only talks about how awesome she is at it or gives a brief overview of things she’s done in the past. The closest she gets to showing her skill is entering a building and opening a chest. And not even a human chest, before you ask. Like. That’s about as much effort as she puts into the ‘steal the priceless tapestry’ escapade. Walk in, notice the dust, info dump a bit, open the chest, walk out. Mission complete. (yawn.)

She doesn’t get along with any of the other women. An awfully lot of time is spent describing how she started / continued smoking. Yes, this leads into memories of her trauma from her family dying but… it’s still sort of weird and abrupt.

The first-person present tense is my least favorite to read but it can be done well. Sadly, I did not find that to be the case here. She just reads as annoying. Also the moment she described her “shit-eating grin” I knew it was not going to improve. And it didn’t.

The instant the eventual love interest enters the scene you can clock him as the love interest. He might as well come with a flashing neon sign proclaiming it. If the detailed description of his appearance wasn’t enough, there’s the bad boy sarcastic sense of humor and the enigmatic interaction and disappearance. Like what even was the point except to go ‘hey, love interest here!’?

The narrator was ok, although her male voices were not very believable and her reading of the main character made her seem younger than she was supposed to be. I maybe enjoyed her performance less than I would have enjoyed reading the text as I was unable to skim the info-dump-y bits or the places where the descriptions dragged on.

I do think that anyone who loves Sara J. Maas’ romances – ACOTAR especially – will probably love this. It seems to be much more focused on the romance with the fantasy used more as set dressing. It also gives major ACOTAR vibes which could be part of why I reacted so negatively to it – I enjoyed ACOTAR initially but hearing about it over and over in facebook book groups and spending some time reflecting on it lowered my enjoyment of the series dramatically.

After thinking some more about what it was that didn’t work for me here, I think I’ve figured out why I was so disappointed with this book. The cover, narrator’s voice, and initial writing of the main character all led me to believe this would be a middle-grade fantasy adventure with the narrator being around 11-12 years old. So the swearing and the smoking felt really jarring when I encountered them, because they definitely wouldn’t be in a middle-grade book. And then it took a hard turn into fantasy romance with some major ACOTAR vibes which my initial impression of middle-grade fantasy did NOT prepare me for.

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

Audio Arc Review: Fraternity by Andy Mientus

Publication Date: September 20, 2022

Synopsis:

A queer, dark academia YA about a mysterious boarding school, a brotherhood that must stay in the shadows, and an ancient evil that could tear it all apart.

In the fall of 1991, Zooey Orson transfers to the Blackfriars School for Boys hoping for a fresh start following a scandal at his last school. However, he quickly learns that he isn’t the only student keeping a secret. Before he knows it, he’s fallen in with a group of boys who all share the same secret, one which they can only express openly within the safety of the clandestine gatherings of the Vicious Circle––the covert club for gay students going back decades. But when the boys unwittingly happen upon the headmaster’s copy of an arcane occult text, they unleash an eldritch secret so terrible, it threatens to consume them all.

A queer paranormal story set during the still-raging AIDS crisis, Fraternity examines a time not so long ago when a secret brotherhood lurked in the shadows. What would Zooey and his friends do to protect their found family?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This started slowly but little by little it picked up steam until I was on the edge of my seat. It hits hard, blending magic and all-too-real topics in a way that feels wholly natural and right. This wouldn’t be the same book if you removed the witchcraft and black magic, and it wouldn’t be the same book if you removed the talk of AIDS and conversion therapy and queerness and race. It’s queer and it’s unapologetic and it’s set so specifically in time. I was too young in 1991 to pay attention to the news, but even growing up later in the 90s I felt a sense of kinship with these characters and a sense of recognition.

The characters are distinct and well-rounded. They can be summed up in a few descriptors, or so it seems, though they are revealed over the course of the book to be more than they first appear. I enjoyed the multiple POVs, which helped me feel closer to each boy.

The villains are monstrous (in more ways than one) and the monstrous future they were pushing toward felt all-too-real, especially in light of recent events. We may be a far cry from shadowy political cults and the AIDS epidemic… but in many ways we aren’t.

This is not a happy book, and it’s not an easy one to read. There is bullying and intolerance and bigotry and evil. But there is also friendship and queer joy and community and love.

I took a while to warm up to the characters and story, and I even questioned whether I wanted to continue a few times. But by about 40% in I was thoroughly hooked and for the last several hours of the audiobook I couldn’t tear myself away from the story.

The audiobook narrators were really excellent and delivered a gripping and emotional performance. The voices they used for each character were believable and felt right, and I was more invested in the story than I would have been if I were reading it to myself.

I’m not often a fan of an author narrating their own book because they so rarely deliver a riveting performance — it’s a different skillset, narrating a book rather than writing it. But in this case Andy Mientus did a fabulous job and I highly recommend getting the audiobook version.

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

Favorite Quotes:

She took one of us on each arm and, as we walked to our seats, I felt the kinds of looks I used to get at Blackfriars and had an unexpected pang of nostalgia. In a weird way, I’d missed feeling like a freak. Being a freak alone is tough, but being a freak arm-in-arm with your fellow freaks can feel pretty punk.

Fraternity by Andy Mientus

If we’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that history lets us carry the work of those who came before us forward so that we might finish it.

Fraternity by Andy Mientus

Arc & Audio ARC Review: Aces Wild: A Heist by Amanda DeWitt

Publication Date: September 13, 2022

Synopsis:

What happens in Vegas when an all-asexual online friend group attempts to break into a high-stakes gambling club? Shenanigans ensue.

Some people join chess club, some people play football. Jack Shannon runs a secret blackjack ring in his private school’s basement. What else is the son of a Las Vegas casino mogul supposed to do?

Everything starts falling apart when Jack’s mom is arrested for their family’s ties to organized crime. His sister Beth thinks this is the Shannon family’s chance to finally go straight, but Jack knows that something’s not right. His mom was sold out, and he knows by who. Peter Carlevaro: rival casino owner and jilted lover. Gross.

Jack hatches a plan to find out what Carlevaro’s holding over his mom’s head, but he can’t do it alone. He recruits his closest friends—the asexual support group he met through fandom forums. Now all he has to do is infiltrate a high-stakes gambling club and dodge dark family secrets, while hopelessly navigating what it means to be in love while asexual. Easy, right?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was so much fun! I was drawn into the story immediately and immediately sympathetic to the main character. He was sarcastic, self-deprecating, funny, and a very believable teenager — some of my favorite things in a protagonist. He made a lot of very realistic, very bad decisions, especially early on when he felt like he was alone and his world was falling apart. Sometimes he even knew they were bad decisions and he still made them. He was a very realistic teenager, in other words.

I LOVE that the entire crew he pulls together for his heist are ace. It’s such a fun detail, and so relatable – not having friends in your immediate surroundings but connecting with people all over the country on fanfiction forums and then forming a chat support group for ace people? Definitely felt familiar, which drew me in even more. I almost felt like I was a member of the group and in on their shenanigans.

The heist itself sometimes took a backseat to the family and friend group drama, but I’m ok with that. There was still plenty of heist action there, but I was there for the character interactions anyway as I generally prefer character driven to plot driven stories. I love love loved the characters. They were all such individuals, with unique characteristics and mannerisms that didn’t feel forced at all. They felt like real people you might find anywhere. Well, they felt like real teenagers that you might meet at the outskirts of the school social scene, which is where I’ve always been the most comfortable. In short – I wanted to be their friend too. They were very obviously my people.

I like how the ‘being ace’ aspect was handled, as well as the tentative love story. It was sweet and realistic and believable… and familiar. Aside from the whole heist thing, it could have been me and my friends in high school and college.

That sense of familiarity, of belonging, made me love this book 1000x more than I would have based solely on the plot. Obviously not everyone is going to feel this sentimental about the book and characters, but I think a lot of people will really see themselves here and feel seen.

Las Vegas was an excellent choice of setting because the glitter and glamour made an excellent contrast to the seriousness of the beginning and then an excellent background and distraction during the plotting and executing of the heist itself. I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but after reading this I feel like I was there. The descriptions didn’t ever try to take over the story like in some books, but I still felt like everything was very grounded in a specific place and could even almost see it playing out in my head. in fact I did see it that way – I have very specific visual memories of events in the book. It was like watching a movie. Ocean’s 11, but with teenagers.

The audiobook was narrated flawlessly and I love the narrator and the choices he made for the different voices and the way he told the story. Just perfect all around. I bumped the speed up to 2x because he spoke a little slowly for my taste – many people do – and it was still perfectly clear and easy to understand and all the emotion came through easily.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Peachtree Teen, and Recorded Books for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.

Audio ARC Review: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: No Guts, No Glory by M.K. England

Publication Date: November 2, 2021

Synopsis:

The official prequel novel to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the hotly anticipated action-adventure game developed by Eidos-Montréal and published by Square Enix.

Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Racoon and Groot. They’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, turning a tidy profit as heroes for hire—or, they will be if Peter Quill can get his act together. After he botches the most critical part of their latest mission—getting paid—his newly assembled crew is close to ditching him for good. Now he needs a big payday, fast.

When an old acquaintance shows up offering a whole lot of units for a field trip to Peter’s past, it’s a no-brainer. Thirteen years ago, Peter fought the Chitauri alongside the Resistance on Mercury to prevent an invasion of Earth. Now it’s time to go back. The old Resistance base has a squatter, and it’s up to the Guardians to ‘gently escort’ them off the premises… and unmask a wartime traitor while they’re at it.

But war is heavy, man, and the Galactic War screwed up each of the Guardians in their own special ways. The brand-new team is barely hanging together, and the mission brings up all kinds of bad memories. It’s make or break time for the Guardians, and they do so love breaking things…

Just hopefully not each other.

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I somehow missed the “official prequel to the blockbuster video game” on the cover of this. As I haven’t played the game, I think I am missing key details that would make me care more about the events within the book. Additionally, I haven’t seen the Guardians of the Galaxy and related Marvel movies (just the trailers) — which means I’m missing a LOT of key details and most importantly, the characters’ canon personalities and interactions. I requested this solely because I have loved everything MK England has written and I assumed I would love this as well, despite not being familiar with the franchise. I have read other books and fanfictions of franchises I am unfamiliar with and loved them in the past. However this… missed the mark for me.

I liked the plot all right, but I didn’t really care about any of the characters. Additionally, it was confusing with the way it was structured. It is divided into sections that alternate between the present and the past, 12 years earlier. I listened to the audio, which made it very difficult to flip back and check whether I was in the present or the past. I think the confusion stemmed mostly mostly from the fact that both feature Peter getting into scrapes, fighting for his life, etc but with a different set of crewmates each time. The characters weren’t distinct enough for me to easily tell which scenario I was in sometimes, especially with similar battle scenes and running from the enemy scenes in each. Also they were all — especially Peter AKA Star Lord — a little annoying. He was very much a bumbling fool who is eternally optimistic and somehow always comes out on top while everything and everyone around him falls to pieces and I’m not really a fan of that character type.

I was into it, but not really, I guess? Like I cared enough to keep listening, but not enough to choose to listen over doing/reading other things. I actually listened to half of this and then put it down for eight months and by the time I decided to give it a second chance, I’d forgotten enough details that I had to start over from the beginning. This should have made it easier to tell whether I was in the present or past in any given scene, but they still blurred together for me. I realized eventually that I was having trouble distinguishing between Gamora (present) and Ko-Rel (past) in their interactions with Peter. At 80% in I can’t really tell you the point of it all. Things keep happening but they don’t make any impact on me. I’m in the midst of the plot twist / confrontation with the enemy and I think I’m going to put it down again because I have other things to read that will hopefully hold my attention more.

I think this would go over well with fans of the movies and games franchises as well as those who like an emphasis on space action/battle scenes and not so much character development.

The narrator was fairly good and did a decent job giving the characters different voices (except for some of his female voices which were difficult to tell apart, possibly contributing to my confusion.) I found his voice a bit on the annoying side, though I don’t know how much of it was his voice and how much of it was his voicing of Peter as the POV character (who I also found annoying). He also tended toward the dramatic, but that’s understandable given the amount of battles and narrow escapes and arguments between the (very dysfunctional) characters.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media (Marvel) for providing an audio arc for review.

ARC Review: The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones (e-ARC and audiobook ARC)

Publication Date: August 16, 2022

Synopsis:

Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.

The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing… but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.

The Drowned Woods—set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a whole new, unforgettable cast of characters—is part heist novel, part dark fairy tale.

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I wanted to love this one. In fact, I expected to love it like I loved the Bone Houses. But I just…. didn’t.

It *should* be everything I like. Set in the same world as Bone Houses, a heist with magic, characters with mysterious pasts… But it just felt flat.

I tried reading the book and listening to the audiobook and neither one could keep my interest. In fact, it sent me into a bit of a slump where I just couldn’t bring myself to pick up any book because I dreaded returning to this one. It just felt like a slog?

I’m finally calling it and DNFing at 60% of the way through. I mean, if you’re 60% into a standalone heist novel and you’re still slooooowly introducing characters / gathering the crew and none of them have been fleshed out enough to have personalities (and you can barely remember their names and certainly not what they look like) and you have almost no idea about the bigger picture or more than the sketchiest details about the characters’ pasts or the heist itself then that’s a problem.

The one thing I did like was the relationship between Mer and her former mentor. There is obviously fondness there on both sides, mixed with quite a bit of mistrust on Mer’s and a tendency for her mentor to go into teacher mode and/or fail to disclose critical pieces of his plot so that Mer has to follow him with a dose of blind faith.

In the end, too much is kept a mystery both from the characters themselves and from the reader. Mysterious pasts and gifts and magic and plans can intrigue the reader. But if so much is kept in the dark that all you can do is stumble around hoping to figure out what the heck is going on, it does not make for a pleasant reading experience.

The audiobook narrator, Moira Quirk, is one of my favorites. She has a great range of character voices and a good grasp of the pronounciation of the various Welsh names. However, even her excellent narration can’t make up for the foggy vagueness that encompasses this novel.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and Hachette Audio for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

The third time a customer grabbed her, Mer considered drowning him.

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

“Cities like these, with all the people and the iron — both in their blood and all around them —it pushes back the old ways. Makes me wonder how things will fare in the future.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Fane said, “that humanity has a tendency to push into every corner of a place. And with their iron and their armies, it may be only a matter of time until someone like Garanhir turns his attention on Annwvyn.”

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

ARC and Audio ARC DNF Review: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

Publication Date: August 23, 2022

Synopsis:

Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.

Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest.

After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.

If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most – Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares – each other?

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This was… underwhelming.

I requested it because I love fantasy, romance, grump/sunshine, epistolary romance, enemies-to-lovers, and You’ve Got Mail. So it really *should* have ticked ALL the boxes for me.

Instead I found myself feeling lukewarm about the characters at best and the story just didn’t hold my interest. Also the whole dealing with zombies and dead bodies (with associated fluids and scrabbling through intestines for appendixes) thing was … gross.

The first stumbling block for me was worldbuilding. A quarter of the way through the book I know very little about the world it takes place in. A few terms tossed in but never explained, a vague hand-wavey ‘super complicated portals thing that no one understands except that one guy who invented them’, references to old gods and new gods and demigods, and a brief ‘lesson recitation’ for background on the zombies themselves. (I forget the in-book term for them, which tells you a lot about how invested I am.)

I don’t understand *why* everyone thinks Hart is such a jerk. I don’t understand the beef he and Mercy have with each other. I don’t understand… basically anything.

Also, the physical descriptions and fantasies Mercy and Hart (unknowingly) have about one another are far too graphic and lewd for my taste. And I’m still at the ‘we can’t stand each other’ stage before they get physical. (disclaimer: I’m ace and very much don’t like extended on-page sex. Yes, there technically hasn’t been any yet but it’s clear that there *will be* and based on the vibes I’m getting so far it will not be my cup of tea AT ALL.)

The story is also … very much a You’ve Got Mail retelling with zombies. I knew there were similarities and that it was perhaps inspired by the movie but parts of it are way too close to the original for it to feel fresh or new or anything but heavily inspired (only grosser because that’s apparently what the original needed?).

There *are* some things that the story does well. The day-to-day lives of Hart and Mercy and their relationships to their families / friends / coworkers are really well done. Hart’s apprentice he’s forced to take on is endearing and I like that he brings out the softer side of Hart. The animal couriers are amusing. Parts of it are really funny.

But. That’s not enough to make up for the parts I found dull, boring, confusing, or distasteful. I feel like this will miss the mark for many fantasy and romance readers. For romance readers, the world is too confusing. For fantasy readers, there aren’t enough details about the world and it’s too romance-heavy.

The narration was all right. Nothing stood out, and a few of the voices used for the characters felt off to me. It certainly wasn’t terrible, however, and if I’d liked the book more I would have found it to be perfectly fine. I’d definitely try a different book read by the same narrators.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Orbit Books, and Hachette Audio for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.