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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.

Audio ARC Review: What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix by Tasha Suri

Just look at this *gorgeous* cover!

Publication Date: July 5, 2022

Synopsis:

What Souls Are Made Of, British Fantasy Award-winning author Tasha Suri’s masterful new take on Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, will leave readers breathless.

As the abandoned son of a Lascar—a sailor from India—Heathcliff has spent most of his young life maligned as an “outsider.” Now he’s been flung into an alien life in the Yorkshire moors, where he clings to his birth father’s language even though it makes the children of the house call him an animal, and the maids claim he speaks gibberish.

Catherine is the younger child of the estate’s owner, a daughter with light skin and brown curls and a mother that nobody talks about. Her father is grooming her for a place in proper society, and that’s all that matters. Catherine knows she must mold herself into someone pretty and good and marriageable, even though it might destroy her spirit.

As they occasionally flee into the moors to escape judgment and share the half-remembered language of their unknown kin, Catherine and Heathcliff come to find solace in each other. Deep down in their souls, they can feel they are the same.

But when Catherine’s father dies and the household’s treatment of Heathcliff only grows more cruel, their relationship becomes strained and threatens to unravel. For how can they ever be together, when loving each other—and indeed, loving themselves—is as good as throwing themselves into poverty and death?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

My favorite of the Remixed Classics series thus far!

I wasn’t a fan of Wuthering Heights when I read it some years ago. There was too much tragedy, and the characters were all awful people. But I still jumped at the chance to read this because Tasha Suri is a fantastic writer, the synopsis is intriguing, the cover is stunning, and I have absolutely loved every installment of the Remixed Classics series thus far.

And it absolutely lived up to and exceeded every one of my hopes and expectations. I loved the split narration between Cathy and Heathcliffe. I loved their distinct voices and the way the narrators performed their chapters. I loved how, though they were distinct, their childhood belief that they shared one soul felt true. I especially loved how this story deviated from the original.

The character growth of both Cathy and Heathcliffe is immense. They do not start the book as ‘likeable’ people, either of them, but I was rooting for each of them to find themself from the beginning, and by the end I loved them.

The ending is a satisfying conclusion and very obviously a new beginning and I would happily read more books exploring where Cathy and Heathcliffe go and how they choose to pay the debts Cathy’s father owed as they set their ghosts to rest.

Speaking of ghosts, I loved the fantastical elements to the story. They were at once jarring and a natural extension of the plot. They felt right and true.

The discussion of the East India Company’s atrocities in India, colonialism in general, the way rich white men viewed all non-white foreigners, expecting them to be grateful to serve them, was sickening. The revelations about Cathy’s father were blows to Cathy and to the reader.

This story was hard-hitting and the language was gorgeous and kept the haunting gothic atmosphere of the original. I was riveted and couldn’t stop listening. I loved that I never knew what was going to happen. There were points where one of the characters would face a choice, and I could see where one choice would lead – to something like the plot of the original Wuthering Heights – and I would desperately hope they would choose the other path, even though it wasn’t clear what lay at the end of it.

I loved the element of found family that Heathcliffe stumbles into — I’m a sucker for a found family plot — and I really wish there could be a sequel where Cathy gets to meet them. I would love to see what she would make of Heathcliffe’s life and choices in Liverpool. At the same time I love where Tasha Suri chose to end the story. It felt… right.

This is my favorite of the Remixed Classics series thus far. Highly recommend.

I also highly recommend the audiobook because it is absolutely gorgeous and the narrators really bring the story to life. It is emotional and haunting and gothic and perfectly matches that gorgeous cover.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Feiwel & Friends, and Macmillan Audio for providing an audio arc for review.

Audio ARC Review: Valiant Ladies by Melissa Grey

Publication Date: June 14, 2022

**This Review can also be found on my tumblr book review and fandom blog (also called Whimsical Dragonette) here.

Synopsis:

Two teen vigilantes set off on an action-packed investigation to expose corruption and deliver justice in Valiant Ladies, Melissa Grey’s YA historical fiction novel inspired by real seventeenth century Latinx teenagers known as the Valiant Ladies of Potosí.

By day Eustaquia “Kiki” de Sonza and Ana Lezama de Urinza are proper young seventeeth century ladies. But when night falls, they trade in their silks and lace for swords and muskets, venturing out into the vibrant, bustling, crime-ridden streets of Potosí, in the Spanish Empire’s Viceroyalty of Peru. They pass their time fighting, gambling, and falling desperately in love with one another.

Then, on the night Kiki’s engagement to the Viceroy’s son is announced, her older brother―heir to her family’s fortune―is murdered. The girls immediately embark on a whirlwind investigation that takes them from the lowliest brothels of Potosí to the highest echelons of the Spanish aristocracy.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I LOVED this book so much. I have had high hopes for it ever since I first heard it announced — seventeenth century teenage Latinx vigilante sword lesbians? sold! — and it vastly exceeded my expectations.

Kiki and Ana were such great characters, and I loved their dynamic and their escapades. It was clear from the first pages that they meant everything to each other and loved each other very much. I loved their bond and the way their relationship and friendship strengthened as the events of the story unfolded. I also really appreciated their love of weaponry. The other characters were also very well-fleshed out and I came to feel strongly about all of them.

The villains were villainous (but not always obvious, which was nice). It was very satisfying to see Kiki and Ana stand up to them, especially when others didn’t always do so — for social or political or monetary reasons.

It was also really refreshing to see sex workers treated as regular people who are just as worthy of being rescued as anyone else? There was never any judgement or negativity toward them, which I loved.

The setting felt very real and… immersive, I guess? Like I totally believed I was there in 17th century Peru while reading.

Most of all, I had the best time while reading this. It was so fun and adventurous and it was like I was there alongside Kiki and Ana as the events of the plot unfolded. They were totally kick-ass and there was never any doubt in their minds about that fact. I will definitely be reading this one again.

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

ARC Review: Not Good for Maidens by Tori Bovalino

Publication Date: June 14, 2022

Synopsis:

Salem’s Lot meets The Darkest Part of the Forest in this horror-fantasy retelling of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.”

Lou never believed in superstitions or magic–until her teenage aunt Neela is kidnapped to the goblin market.

The market is a place Lou has only read about–twisted streets, offerings of sweet fruits and incredible jewels. Everything–from the food and wares, to the goblins themselves–is a haunting temptation for any human who manages to find their way in.

Determined to save Neela, Lou learns songs and spells and tricks that will help her navigate this dangerous world and slip past a goblin’s defenses–but she only has three days to find Neela before the market disappears and her aunt becomes one of them forever.

If she isn’t careful, the market might just end up claiming her too.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*edit: I should add that of all the books I read this year this one stuck with me more than I expected and I still find myself thinking about it 7 months (and dozens of books) later. I’m raising the rating to 5 stars based on that alone.


I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I really liked it. The story (parts of it at least) was compelling and some of the characters really drew me in. And I am 100% here for May and Atra’s star-crossed sapphic love story. On the other, it was closer to horror than I normally choose to read and was bloodier and more grotesque than I usually like. And some of the characters were like blank walls.

I’m a sucker for goblin market stories, and this was probably the most horror-adjacent one I’ve read. In that regard, it shaded towards being a bit too much for me. I was barely able to handle the body horror, though I put the book aside several times while reading because I kept thinking it would get to be just that tiny bit more and I wouldn’t be able to handle it. It also focused on the grotesque and bloody side of the goblin market, rather than the glittery tempting side you usually see in stories. There again, it was almost (but not quite) too much for me.

I was immediately sucked in to May and Atra’s story. They were compelling and intriguing and I would have loved the book more if it had been solely about them. The problem was that their chapters (18 years in the past) alternated with present-day Lou’s chapters, and Lou just wasn’t compelling as a protagonist. I never got a sense of her personality at all. I know that she’s asexual and that she doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere, but when I try to picture her I draw a complete blank. Laura (her mother), too, is a mystery, even though we see her both in present-day and 18 years in the past. But in the present we see her though Lou’s eyes, and in the past we see her through May’s, and that could be why she doesn’t feel complete. Neela isn’t on page enough to really get a sense of her.

In the end I stuck around through Lou’s chapters just to get back to May and Atra. If the book had been solely May and Atra’s story, I probably would have devoured it rather than putting it down over and over.

Also, mind those trigger warnings. There is a LOT of blood, gore, and body horror. Like, a lot.

The narration is really well done and the character voices are consistent and believable. I also really enjoyed the narrator’s voice. It made for an excellent listening experience.

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

ARC & Audiobook Review: A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft

Publication Date: March 8, 2022

Synopsis:

When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. If Margaret wins the hunt, it may finally bring her mother home. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.

Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist–yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret and her bloodhound Trouble. Margaret begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.

Although they make an unlikely team, Wes is in awe of the girl who has endured alone on the outskirts of a town that doesn’t want her, in this creaking house of ghosts and sorrow. And even though Wes disrupts every aspect of her life, Margaret is drawn to him. He, too, knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt – if they survive that long.

In A Far Wilder Magic, Allison Saft has written an achingly tender love story set against a deadly hunt in an atmospheric, rich fantasy world that will sweep you away.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I can see why one of the comp titles for this book is the Scorpio Races. This has a similar sense of place and magic, and a slowburn love story (though it’s a bit more physical). It slowly pulled me in until I was thoroughly hooked.

The writing is gorgeous and I highlighted several quotes. I also was able to listen to an advance copy of the audiobook and the performance was really excellent. The narrator was able to give each character a unique and recognizable (and believable) voice, and really brought the text to life.

Margaret, the main character, is cold and prickly and closed-off, trapped alone in her silent manor and barely alive. Wes burns with ambition, is impulsive, and has a large, loud family. It seems like they would never get along — and at first they don’t — but their gradual coming together is believable and romantic.

This book addresses religious prejudice well, making Margaret and Wes outsiders because of their family’s religion. They are bullied and tormented but they bear it and overcome it with empathy and grace.

The pace is glacial at first, and while it never gets anything like fast, it does gradually increase. I recommend giving it longer than normal to hook you because once it draws you in it really is a magical read.

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

Favorite Quotes:

“A little tragedy is good for the constitution.”

Beneath his fear, there’s a glimmer of relieved acceptance. Mauling, he thinks, is a preferable death to shame.

She scours every surface until it gleams, until her mind begins to disconnect from reality, until her pain feels distant.

She has built herself a mother out of those precious memories and kept herself alive on them. But she can’t subsist on crumbs anymore.

She could lose herself in this. The heat of his body against hers; the heady, ridiculous scent of his aftershave and the wild bright salt of the sea; the way he holds her as though she’s something precious.

Right now, she strikes him as entirely otherworldly. A siren — or one of the aos si liable to drag him to a watery grave. Fey magic as ancient and wild as the hala, wearing a girl’s skin.

She is so beautiful.

She feels as though she’s been threaded through with an electrical wire, jittery and wild with dread.

I love him. It doesn’t surprise her to finally admit it to herself. It feels nothing like a revelation, nothing like falling — only like the punchline of some cruel, predictable joke. She has only given the universe more ammunition to wound her.

There is something dark within him that enjoys this heady rush of power. It’s intoxicating to at last hold all the cards — to cradle a life in his hands. The divinity of God lives within each of them, but only an alchemist can harness that spark. Jaime’s is just a pale insignificant glimmer against his.

She’s lived her whole life braced for another blow, but no amount of preparation or precaution has stopped them from landing.

This is the beast half of the hunters here today would’ve killed them for. The last demiurge: the last of the Katharists’ false gods, the last of the Sumic god’s children, the last of the Yu’adir god’s gifts.

The wind quivers, as tremulous as a long-held breath. And there is less magic in the world.

ARC & Audio Review: Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe

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Publication Date: February 15, 2022

Synopsis:

The only life Mae has ever known is on the island, living on the charity of the wealthy Prosper family who control the magic on the island and the spirits who inhabit it. Mae longs for magic of her own and to have a place among the Prosper family, where her best friend, Coco, will see her as an equal, and her crush, Miles, will finally see her. Now that she’s eighteen, Mae knows her time with the Prospers may soon come to an end.

But tonight is First Night, when the Prospers and their high-society friends return to the island to celebrate the night Lord Prosper first harnessed the island’s magic and started producing aether – a magical fuel source that has revolutionized the world. With everyone returning to the island, Mae finally has the chance to go after what she’s always wanted.

When the spirits start inexplicably dying, Mae starts to realize that things aren’t what they seem. And Ivo, the reclusive, mysterious heir to the Prosper magic, may hold all the answers – including a secret about Mae’s past that she doesn’t remember. As Mae and her friends begin to unravel the mysteries of the island, and the Prospers’ magic, Mae starts to question the truth of what her world was built on.

Forbidden magic, a family secret, and a night to reveal it all…

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a really interesting reading experience. I was ready to give up on it really fast because it seemed to be setting up a very very typical YA love triangle with a villain-who’s-actually-good and a bad-boy-who’s-really-bad. I kept reading though, because I felt for Mae, who has spent her whole life on an island sort of on the outside of this very rich family. And it’s very well-written, which helped.

And then… everything flipped. And flipped again. I spent most of the book trying to figure out who is actually the good guy. My thoughts were like “Is he the good guy? Is he the good guy? Is there a good guy? You know what, these are all terrible people, why does Mae want anything to do with them? Oh ho, now Mae is a terrible people, what? Is… is there anyone on this island with even the tiniest redeeming quality?”

I couldn’t look away from the scheming and the backstabbing and the betrayals and the lies. It was like the Great Gatsby in that way. They’re all rich and terrible but you can’t look away.

And even after that, after all the darkness and lies, a whole new level of darkness and lies is reached. It was impressive, actually, that my opinion of these people could sink any lower. There is a tiny hint of redemption for some of them at the end, which is good because otherwise I would have come away with a very bitter taste in my mouth and might not have liked this book very much at all. As it is, yeah. You know, I really did enjoy it.

Also. That ending! That is a gutsy place to end a book, especially one that seems to be a standalone. And it’s also absolutely the right choice, because I’ve thought about it way more than I would have if the scene had gone on another few seconds and I think I like it more than I would have otherwise.

I have not read the Tempest, which I know this is a re-imagining of, but I don’t think that really impacted my enjoyment of this story. It definitely has Great Gatsby vibes, but again, I don’t think you need to be familiar with that story to read it. Just don’t write it off early on, because it does a great job of twisting that love triangle trope.

The audiobook performance was excellent. The narrator did a great job giving all the characters believable voices and acting out the story. I read a portion of the story and listened to a portion of it and I definitely enjoyed the listening experience more because it was so well done. It was like a movie playing out in my mind, seamless and totally immersive. I would definitely recommend getting the audio for the best reading experience.

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

Favorite Quotes:

We arrived at lunch with the bones of a plan. Actually, the bones of three different plans, which, combined, were not quite enough for a full skeleton.

I wished I could make him feel something other than rage. I wanted to make him smile.

ARC & Audiobook Review: Lord of Pleasure by Erica Ridley (Rogues to Riches #2)

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Publication Date: May 2, 2017

Synopsis:

Never fall in love at a masquerade…

Nondescript “good girl” Miss Camellia Grenville only ever opens her mouth when forced to sing at her family’s musicales. That is, until the night she infiltrates the ton’s most scandalous masquerade ball on behalf of her sister, and finds herself in the arms—and the bed—of the one man she’d sworn to hate.

Irresistibly arrogant and unapologetically sensuous, infamous rake Lord Wainwright always gets his way. When he accepts a wager to turn his rakish image respectable in just forty days, he never anticipates falling for an anonymous masked lover…or that discovering her identity would destroy them both.

In the Rogues to Riches historical romance series, Cinderella stories aren’t just for princesses… Sigh-worthy Regency rogues sweep strong-willed young ladies into whirlwind romance with rollicking adventure.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was delightful. I had to suspend disbelief a little at the idea that you could spend so much time with someone while masked and they’d have no idea who you were unmasked. But it did make for a lovely story so I forgave it.

I love how Camellia and Lord Wainwright are both playing roles for society. She’s a mouse and a wallflower, he’s ‘the lord of pleasure,’ while neither is really that. Really, one wonders how Lord Wainwright’s reputation got so out of hand. But in secret, they’re much more alike than it would seem. They make a wonderful couple, giving one another strength and courage to be on the outside who they are on the inside.

Camellia and her sisters were determined and outspoken and a joy to watch interact. I hope we get more of them in future novels in this series.

There were just the right amount of obstacles and drama to make it a delicious read and make the happy ending that much more enjoyable.

The audiobook narrator did an excellent job and a very pleasant listening experience. I’ll be continuing the rest of this series in audio and then seeking out more of her narrations.

*Thanks to Erica Ridley for providing a copy for review.

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

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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