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Blog Tour and Arc Review: The Severed Thread by Leslie Vedder

Welcome to my stop on the Severed Thread book tour with Colored Pages Blog Tours. (This blog tour is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Book Info:

TITLE: The Severed Thread
AUTHOR: Leslie Vedder
PUBLISHER:
Razorbill
RELEASE DATE:
February 7, 2023
GENRES: YA Fantasy
PAGES: 416
REPRESENTATION: Queer

Synopsis:

Fi has awakened the sleeping prince, but the battle for Andar is far from over. The Spindle Witch, the Witch Hunters, and Fi’s own Butterfly Curse all stand between them and happily ever after.

Shane has her partner’s back. But she’s in for the fight of her life against Red, the right hand of the Spindle Witch who she’s also, foolishly, hellbent on saving.

Briar Rose would do anything to restore his kingdom. But there’s a darkness creeping inside him—a sinister bond to the Spindle Witch he can’t escape.

All hopes of restoring Andar rest on deciphering a mysterious book code, finding the hidden city of the last Witches, and uncovering a secret lost for centuries—one that just might hold the key to the Spindle Witch’s defeat. If they can all survive that long…

Set in a world of twisted fairytales, The Severed Thread combines lost ruins, ride-or-die friendships, and heart-pounding romance.

Author Bio:

Leslie Vedder is a YA author who loves girl heroes and adventurers. She grew up on fantasy books, anime, fanfiction, and the Lord of the Rings movies, and met her true love in high school choir. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a BA in creative writing, and currently lives in Colorado with her wife and two spoiled house cats.

Author Links:

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was such an incredibly good follow-up to the Bone Spindle. I loved it!

I love love love these characters and this world. They’re all so multi-faceted and intriguing. I can’t wait for the next book. I especially love how unpredictable I find it. I’ve read so many YA fantasy novels over the years and this one never quite reveals what I expect it to with each turn of the page. As is the way of second books in trilogies, the entire story feels like a relentless headlong rush, and at the same time a carefully balanced push-and-pull of wins and losses. Not a stalemate, exactly, but never with a clear winner either.

My absolute favorite part, hands down, is when they form a small band of adventurers and treasure-hunters. First it was Fi and Shane, then they picked up Red and Briar, and now they’ve reeled in Perrin as well. And there is such warmth and camaraderie between them — and they all seem a lot happier out in the elements, fighting for their lives and searching for treasure and hatching plans. I never trusted the golden city of Everlynd, and I find I like the story much better once they leave it behind.

I’m not sure what I think of the Paper Witch either. He has his own secrets, and he holds them closer than the others do. He’s more enigmatic and I’m never sure what he’ll do. The others’ motivations are easier to read.

I love how we get a glimpse into the founding of Andar, with the history of Aurora and the Butterfly Witch and the Spindle Witch! I hope we get to discover a lot more about this later because I find it fascinating.

The ending came out of nowhere and wasn’t anything like what I predicted and at the same time I can’t imagine it going any other way. It, like the rest of the storytelling, feels right and perfectly placed and thought-out.

I care about these characters so much: Fi and Shane and Briar and Red. Perrin, too, though I don’t know him that well yet. I’m not sure I trust him yet – his motivations have been too unclear to me, but I like him quite a lot. I like all of them and I feel almost like a part of their group. Which is probably why the plot was able to take me so off-guard – I’m in the thick of it with the rest of them.

This (and the Bone Spindle) are definitely going on my favorite books of the year list.

*Thanks to Colored Pages Blog Tours, Penguin Teen, and NetGalley for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Fi looked disappointed. But Shane wasn’t surprised. The kind of person who crawled around in the bowels of Witch mines prying out rubies with ominous names was just asking to go missing.

The Severed Thread by Leslie Vedder

Ivan must have mounted up after she lost track of him, fast enough on horseback to get out of the way of the mudslide. Or he’s come back from the dead to get revenge, Shane thought. She wouldn’t put it past him.

The Severed Thread by Leslie Vedder

“Just cut it all off,” Shane insisted. She was looking a little ragged around the edges and a dark bruise stood out on her cheekbone, but she was in high spirits.

“With what, your ax?” Fi asked, arching an eyebrow. “Because I can guarantee that haircut would strike fear into the hearts of your enemeis—and your friends.”

The Severed Thread by Leslie Vedder

“No,” Perrin said with a smile. “The magic is locked tightly inside it. It’s perfectly safe. Well, mostly safe.” He gave it a mistrustful look. “Probably safe. You know, on second thought, I’m just going to put this away.”

The Severed Thread by Leslie Vedder

“I didn’t even know you could burn soup,” he admitted.

“Typical prince. You can burn anything—I would know,” Shane assured him. “But most of it’s edible anyway.”

The Severed Thread by Leslie Vedder

Her fingers fumbled for something to hold on to—and then her hand found Briar’s, squeezing it tight, and something swept through him, such a big warm feeling it had to be magic.

The Severed Thread by Leslie Vedder

Tour Schedule:

February 1st

Fall Between the Pages – Book Review

Allmyfriendsareinbooks – Book Review

February 2nd

@the_princess_library – Book Review

February 3rd

More Books Please – Book Review

February 4th

Brittyoreads – Book Review

February 5th

Whimsical Dragonette – Review & Favorite Quotes

February 6th

Conn_reada – Book Review

Leandra the TBR Zero – Book Review & Recommendation

February 7th

Pisces: The Book Lover – Book Review

February 8th

Ofbooksandromance – Book Review

February 9th

Readwithatlas  – Book Review

February 10th

Utopia.state.of.mind – Book Review

The._bookarazzi – Book Review

February 11th

My World of Wonders – Book Review & Favorite Quotes

@poatic.library – Book Review & Reel

February 12th

@Margiebythebookcase  – Book Review

February 13th

_holmescollections – Book Review

February 14th

@theenchantedshelf – Book Review

Blog Tour and Arc Review: The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan

Welcome to my stop on the Buried and the Bound book tour with Colored Pages Blog Tours. (This blog tour is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Book Info:

TITLE: The Buried and the Bound
AUTHOR: Rochelle Hassan
PUBLISHER:
Roaring Book Press
RELEASE DATE:
January 24, 2023
GENRES: YA Fantasy
PAGES: 384
REPRESENTATION: BIPOC, Queer

Synopsis:

As the only hedgewitch in Blackthorn, Massachusetts—an uncommonly magical place—Aziza El-Amin has bargained with wood nymphs, rescued palm-sized fairies from house cats, banished flesh-eating shadows from the local park. But when a dark entity awakens in the forest outside of town, eroding the invisible boundary between the human world and fairyland, run-of-the-mill fae mischief turns into outright aggression, and the danger—to herself and others—becomes too great for her to handle alone.

Leo Merritt is no stranger to magical catastrophes. On his sixteenth birthday, a dormant curse kicked in and ripped away all his memories of his true love. A miserable year has passed since then. He’s road-tripped up and down the East Coast looking for a way to get his memories back and hit one dead end after another. He doesn’t even know his true love’s name, but he feels the absence in his life, and it’s haunting.

Desperate for answers, he makes a pact with Aziza: he’ll provide much-needed backup on her nightly patrols, and in exchange, she’ll help him break the curse.

When the creature in the woods sets its sights on them, their survival depends on the aid of a mysterious young necromancer they’re not certain they can trust. But they’ll have to work together to eradicate the new threat and take back their hometown… even if it forces them to uncover deeply buried secrets and make devastating sacrifices.

Author Bio:

Rochelle Hassan grew up reading about dragons, quests, and unlikely heroes; now she writes about them, too. She is the author of the middle-grade novel The Prince of Nowhere and young adult fantasy novel, The Buried and the Bound. She lives in New York

Author Links:

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was phenomenal! It was just the right amount of dark for me – full of creeping dread and a constant level of darkness that you don’t usually find in fantasy books. Like a Sabriel level of darkness. There were plot twists upon plot twists, and always revealed at the exact right time to make an impact and change the direction of the plot. And while the groundwork was carefully laid, several of them took me by surprise.

I never felt like the plot was forced into the ‘standard’ YA formula. I was dreading a typical love triangle and am so relieved that this is not that at all. In fact I love this, the bonds between each of the characters, the secrets and the trust. I have become used to checking the percentage on my kindle as a way to gauge what will happen next – but that didn’t work here. The story shifted and changed and breathlessly barreled towards the end without ever letting up or falling into the standard back and forth I am used to. I loved it and I couldn’t tear myself away.

I LOVED the characters. Aziza is practical and competent and I loved seeing her grow as a hedgewitch. Leo was warm and caring and it hurt to see the effects of the curse on him. Tristan was desperate and in a lot of pain and I really felt for him. I loved how their lives slowly twined together as the story progressed, and how three seeming strangers became inseperable and bound together. I can’t wait to see where the next installment takes them.

I love how the story explored the boundaries and margins of things. The way Leo fought constantly against the edges of his curse. The practicalities and difficulties of Tristan being homeless. The way Aziza spent her time protecting the boundary between Blackthorn and Elfhame. The way the hag pushed up against both of those and was neither. The boundaries between love and friendship and trust and curses and lies.

The darkness was all-encompassing and weighed on everything, but there was just enough light to counter it that it never felt too oppressive or too much.

The writing was gorgeous. It was absolutely perfect for the story, and there were phrases that really stood out to me and stuck with me because of how beautiful they were. Darkly beautiful, but beautiful all the same.

I am SO glad it’s going to have a sequel(s) because I don’t want to leave this world or these characters and there is so much more to be discovered.

I would recommend this to people who enjoyed Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom books (Sabriel), Libba Bray’s Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy, Holly Black’s Cruel Prince trilogy and Darkest Part of the Forest, Margaret Rogerson’s Vespertine, Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series, and maybe also Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series. Stories of magic and darkness and terrifying, creeping evil and traditional fae and characters who are determined and hold just enough light to counter the darkness of their worlds.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Macmillan Children’s and Colored Pages Blog Tours for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Even on four legs, it was taller than either of them and broader than the two of them combined: a wolf blacker than black, as dark as the space between the end of a dream and the moment of waking.

The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan

Her roots weren’t there; they were here in Blackthorn, not only because she’d been born here, not only because her parents had chosen it, but because it had chosen her.

And Aziza chose it back. That was how you made a place your home: You put work into it. You carved out a role for yourself. You made yourself belong even if you weren’t sure you did.

The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan

If they could’ve cut him up into pieces and kept only the parts they found acceptable, they would’ve done it in a heartbeat.
No, they hadn’t loved him. They hadn’t even liked him.

The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan

Leo’s car was a bucket of rust held together with duct tape and hope. It whined, it groaned, it sputtered threateningly anytime Leo turned left — but as Leo put what must have been all his weight on the pedal and the car lurched into motion, it was a chariot of the fucking gods.

The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan

She sounded calm, and she felt it, too, the cool practicality that came of being in a situation that was so completely fucked that your mind tricked itself into not being afraid — like cold that was so cold it burned. Fear that ran so deep it became bravery.

The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan

Overhead, the forest canopy dropped off suddenly, and the night sky gaped down like an audience, silent and breathless.

The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan

He knew better than most people that Blackthorn was ugly and dangerous sometimes, and its magic was ugly and dangerous sometimes, but the ugly parts of Blackthorn had a right to exist too.

The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan

Dawn broke sluggishly, with a first sliver of sun like the horizon cracking open an orange eye.

The Buried and the Bound by Rochelle Hassan

Blog Tour and Arc Review: Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

Welcome to my stop on the Spice Road book tour with TBR and Beyond Tours. (This blog tour is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Book Info:

TITLE: Spice Road (The Spice Road Trilogy #1)
AUTHOR: Maiya Ibrahim
PUBLISHER:
Hodder & Stoughton
RELEASE DATE:
January 24, 2023
GENRES: YA Fantasy
Content Warning: politics, colonialism

Synopsis:

The first book in an epic fantasy series for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Hafsah Faizal and Elizabeth Lim, set in an Arabian-inspired land. Raised to protect her nation from the monsters lurking in the sands, seventeen-year-old Imani must fight to find her brother whose betrayal is now their greatest threat.

In the hidden desert city of Qalia, secret spice magic awakens affinities in those who drink the misra tea. With an affinity for iron, seventeen-year-old Imani wields a dagger like no other warrior, garnering her the reputation as the next greatest Shield for battling the dangerous djinn, ghouls, and other monsters that lurk in the sands beyond city limits.

Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother who tarnished the family name after he was discovered stealing their nation’s coveted spice – a tell-tale sign of magical obsession. He disappeared soon after, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes, and leaving Imani reeling with both betrayal and grief.

But when Imani uncovers evidence her brother may be alive and spreading their nation’s magic beyond the desert, she strikes a deal with the Council to find him and bring him back to Qalia before he can reveal the city’s location. Accompanied by Qayn, a roguish but handsome djinni, and Taha, a powerful beastseer whose magical talents are matched only by his arrogance, they set out on their mission.

Imani will soon discover there are many secrets that lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes – and in her own heart – but will she find her brother before his betrayals endanger the fate of all of Qalia?

In this epic and action-packed fantasy, one young heroine navigates the treacherous road between protecting the ones you love and staying loyal to the place you call home.

Author Bio:

Maiya Ibrahim is the debut author of SPICE ROAD, publishing January 24, 2023 from Delacorte Press and Hodder & Stoughton. She graduated with a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Technology Sydney. When she isn’t writing, reading, or spending time with her family, she enjoys video games, gardening, and expanding her collection of rare trading cards. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

She is represented by Peter Knapp of Park & Fine Literary and Media, Claire Wilson of RCW Literary, and Mary Pender-Coplan of United Talent Agency.

Author Links:

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book started slowly and I wasn’t convinced by Imani at first because she was naiive and self-important,and frankly a bit annoying, but wow did she grow emotionally over the course of the story. Also what started out looking like a typical love triangle turned into… something else. I’m honestly not sure what it is yet and I have no idea where it will end up, with all the twists and turns it went through in this book. The plot was also very twisty. I saw some of the twists coming, but a bunch of them surprised me. There’s also a bunch of things only beginning to be hinted at that have me very excited for the next installment.

Each of the characters is slowly revealed to have hidden depths and motivations and desires as the story progresses and it makes it very hard to know who to trust and who to let yourself get attached to. I honestly still don’t know. As this is book 1 of a trilogy, it will probably be a while before I find out. But that’s ok — I’m here for the journey.

The setting is very intriguing, with Imani’s kingdom hidden from the outside world for centuries — and the outside world hidden from it. The magic is also very cool. I like that it’s tea-based and has to be replenished daily. All the hints about the desert “monsters” also add up to what will hopefully be a very promising twist later on.

I love the emphasis on family bonds and also the emphasis on how important it is to help those in need even if they aren’t of your family or clan or even kingdom.

The plot barrels along once it gets started — I was completely hooked by about 20-25% — and is constantly throwing new things at you and pulling the sand from beneath your feet. I approve. It was a lot of fun, I was very engrossed, and I know this trilogy is going to be a favorite.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Random House Children’s: Delacorte Press, and TBR and Beyond Tours for proividing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

We will fight, but first we will have tea.

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

It avalanches upon me, this abhorrent realization that I must venture into cursed lands with someone who plainly dislikes me, and I must rely on him for survival. What a laughable concept. I’d fare better relying on an empty pistachio shell.

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

Night arrives like a thief, with a slow creep, stealing the day piece by piece.

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

I am unsure how to feel, but I feel it all at once.

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

I am searching for our differences yet finding only similarities in the ways we look, speak, dress, live.

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

I have finally learned something substantial about who Taha is — the maxim he lives by: find a way or make one.

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

– But that is the problem. It is not enough to mean well, not anymore — I must also do well.

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

“Then why do you not want to win anymore? If you forfeit now, you will assuredly lose. But if you press on while you can, you may find yourself a victor. The future is not final until we reach it.”

….

“There is one lesson that comes above the rest, Imani, and it is this: if you decide to play, play until the end.”

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

The right decision. This entire journey from Qalia to here has been a cascade of decisions, one knocking into another, nudging me along a path, the end of which I cannot know. Who is to say what is right if wrong has not yet had its day?

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

“What can I tell you, Slayer? Not all who are bad are bad the whole way through.”

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

Blog Blitz and Arc Review: A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett (The Secret Scientists of London #3)

Welcome to my stop on the A Love by Design Blog Blitz with Berkley Publishing. (This is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Publication Date: January 17, 2023

Synopsis:

You couldn’t design a better hero than the very eligible and extremely charming Earl Grantham. Unless, of course, you are Margaret Gault, who wants nothing to do with the man who broke her youthful heart.

Widowed and determined, Margaret Gault has returned to Athena’s Retreat and the welcoming arms of her fellow secret scientists with an ambitious plan in mind: to establish England’s first woman-owned engineering firm. But from the moment she sets foot in London her plans are threatened by greedy investors and–at literally every turn–the irritatingly attractive Earl Grantham, a man she can never forgive.

George Willis, the Earl Grantham, is thrilled that the woman he has loved since childhood has returned to London. Not as thrilling, however, is her decision to undertake an engineering commission from his political archnemesis. When Margaret’s future and Grantham’s parliamentary reforms come into conflict, Grantham must use every ounce of charm he possesses–along with his stunning good looks and flawless physique, of course–to win Margaret over to his cause.

Facing obstacles seemingly too large to dismantle, will Grantham and Margaret remain forever disconnected or can they find a way to bridge their differences, rekindle the passion of their youth, and construct a love built to last?

About the Author:

Elizabeth Everett lives in upstate New York with her family. She likes going for long walks or (very) short runs to nearby sites that figure prominently in the history of civil rights and women’s suffrage. Her series is inspired by her admiration for rule breakers and belief in the power of love to change the world.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved many things about this novel. First would have to be the characters. It was fun to revisit the characters of Athena’s Retreat, and I loved seeing George and Arthur “fighting” (in other words: expressing best-friendship) about George’s increasingly ridiculous gifts for Violet & Arthur’s baby. I loved George as a character in general – he was so sweet and funny and had an absolute heart of gold. He cared and was trying to do good with the title he’d never wanted. I loved Margaret as well, though she was a bit pricklier and also incredibly stubborn. If she’d let people in and asked for help earlier in the novel I wouldn’t have been so frustrated at her decisions… though it also would have meant there would be less story. She is strong and bold and determined and yes, stubborn. I also loved the bit we get of Sam, who I remember loving in the previous book.

This novel really drove home the ‘rich and powerful men want to control and dominate women and will do anything to undermine them and keep them from succeeding and keep the status quo’ point from previous books — a point which really hits close to home after watching the events of the past few years unfolding. Much like the real-world events, the events of the novel were infuriating and had me rooting for Maragaret and her friends to prove themselves.

The romance was sweet and one of my favorite kinds — a second-chance romance between childhood friends / crushes. It was easy to get behind it because George was so very gone on Margaret. He was so in awe of her engineering brain and determined spirit and it was so refreshing, with all the terrible men in the story. They all wanted to crush her beneath their boots for the audacity of being a woman with ideas, and he just wanted to worship her for it. It was clear that Margaret loved him as well — she just had to get past her stubborn self-reliant independence.

The one thing I could have done without was the sex scenes. There weren’t too many — three, I think? — but they were very… detailed. Luckily they weren’t vital and I could skim them (slowing down to read the dialogue in case it advanced the plot, which it occasionally did). And for me, three sex scenes is three too many. I know I’m in the minority here, and in fact I saw some reviewers lamenting that there weren’t enough sex scenes — which, how? — so I’m going to chalk it up to just the average romance reader apparently liking to read about sex a lot more than I do and not let it impact my rating.

Margaret also dragged the stubborn independence thing on a liiiiiiittle bit too long, in my opinion, and it bogged down the middle 40% of the book. I think some tightening of the plot there would go a long way toward making this flow better and feel more consistent.

Overall though I really loved it. I love stories with smart women and men with hearts of gold, and this delivered that beautifully.

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

Favorite Quotes:

The work came first. She mustn’t ever forget when everyone abandoned her, the work was always there.

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett

As the sun battled to punch through the haze of coal smut hanging in the damp London air, Grantham sat in shadows, jealous of the lone shaft of light that fell through the window and landed on Margaret’s left cheek.

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett

Everything would be fine if you do the work. Do not aim too high, do not set yourself out to be noticed. If you were a woman in a man’s world, moving forward meant bending to their desires or just doing the work.

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett

Yes, and imagine what they would think if Margaret failed? If they learned she spent every day unsure of her talents and worried about exposure? Shouldn’t she feel like a role model if she was going to be one?

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett

“I have always loved her,” he said. “I breathe her and bleed her, and if you open me up, my heart is the shape of Margaret Gault. I have loved her from the moment she knocked me to the ground; a blow from which I have never tried to recover. Of course I love her.”

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett

Whether that step leads you to where you were always meant to be depends on how you define courage. Is it the tenacity to forge ahead no matter the obstacles, or the ability to ask for help when those obstacles seem insurmountable?
Or is it both?

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett

Excerpt:

Maggie had returned.

Of course, she was now known as Madame Margaret Gault.

Try as he might, Grantham could never twist his tongue around the name.

Almost his whole life, he’d called her Maggie.

His Maggie.

From upside down, he watched as she turned the corner of the carriage house, the wind unfurling the hem of her simple bronze pelisse. A brown capelet hung about her shoulders, and a matching muff hid her hands. Catching sight of him, she paused, tilting her head so he caught a glimpse of lush auburn curls peeking out from beneath her tea-colored bonnet trimmed with bright red berries. Margaret’s fair skin showed no hint of the freckles that had once plagued her every summer, and thick brown lashes shielded her hazel eyes.

She was unusually tall for a woman; nevertheless, she moved with effortless grace, and not even the blazing clash of colors adorning Violet next to her could detract from her beauty.

For she was a beauty, Margaret Gault. Once wild and graceless, she’d bloomed into a woman of elegant refinement.

A woman who was more than met the eye.

A woman who would rather feast on glass than give him the time of day.

For eleven years, the first day of summer meant Margaret would be waiting for him beneath the willow where they first met. She and Violet attended the Yorkshire Academy for the Education of Exceptional Young Women together. While Violet came home to her large, affectionate-and very loud-family, Margaret had no one waiting for her at home. Her father had died of a stroke when she was ten and her mother had little interest in Margaret’s whereabouts or well-being.

Violet and Grantham had been Margaret’s family. The three of them had been the best of friends until one hot afternoon when Margaret had smiled a certain way and the ground went out beneath his feet. A year later he was soldiering in Canada and Margaret lived in Paris and their summers together were nothing but a memory he pulled around himself like a blanket on cold lonely nights.

“Good afternoon, Grantham,” Violet greeted him, seemingly unaffected by his headfirst dive into her rosebushes. She wore a shocking yellow day dress beneath a burgundy velvet paletot and atop her head sat a garish blue bonnet topped with a life-sized stuffed parrot.

Swallowing a barrelful of curses, Grantham tried wriggling out of the bushes, every single thorn piercing his flesh a hundredfold as Margaret stared without saying a word.

“Ahem.” He cleared his throat as he managed to get to his feet despite being trapped in the center of one of the bushes. As he pulled a branch from his hair, a shower of wrinkled brown rose petals drifted down his shoulders. “You are especially . . . vibrant today, Violet. I brought this for Baby Georgie.”

He thrust the torn, dirtied rabbit at Violet, who received it with a bemused air. One of the buttons had come off and the silk was stained green and brown.

“Madame Gault,” he said, bowing to Margaret. “So lovely to see you again.”

No matter how strongly Grantham willed it, Margaret did not speak to him in return. Instead, she bent her knee a scant inch in a desultory curtsey, her lush mouth twisted like the clasp of a coin purse, no doubt to hold inside the names she was calling him in her head. He had a good idea what some of them were, considering he most likely had taught them to her.

Grantham hadn’t seen Margaret for thirteen years until their reunion-if one could call it that-a year and a half ago in the small parlor of Athena’s Retreat. He hadn’t exactly met the moment then, either-although to be fair, there’d been a hedgehog involved. The handful of times he encountered her since, she’d avoided meeting his eyes with her own, as though he were an inconsequential shadow cast by their past.

Someone to be dismissed.

Someone who had broken her heart and whom she would never forgive.

“See who is come to live in England for good.” Violet linked her arm with Margaret’s and beamed at her friend.

This was news.

When Margaret had come to stay at Athena’s Retreat a year and half ago to complete an engineering project for her father-in-law’s firm, Grantham had hoped she’d stay but she returned to Paris after three months. He’d asked Violet if Margaret might ever return, but Violet had doubted it.

“She’s one of the only women engineers in Europe with an excellent reputation. Why give up a dream hard fought to come back to England and fight all over again?” Violet had asked.

Something had changed, however, and now Margaret was home.

His heart leapt in his chest and the bitter orange flavor of hope flooded his mouth.

“Clean yourself up and come inside for tea,” Violet said to him now.

Margaret did not echo the invitation. Instead, she tightened her hold on a stylish carpet bag and accompanied Violet and Arthur into the building.

There are moments in life when the world shifts as though a door has opened somewhere out of sight. Whether a person runs toward that opened door or not depends on how fast they’re stuck in place. Grantham considered for a moment how painful it would be to get himself unstuck.

Although the tangle of branches in front of him twisted menacingly, he pulled a deep breath of resolution into his lungs alongside the scents of rosehips and crushed greenery. Gritting his teeth, he made his way through the thorns toward the open door.

Excerpted from A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett Copyright © 2023 by Elizabeth Everett. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. 

Audio ARC Review: Babel by R.F. Kuang

Publication Date: August 23, 2022

Synopsis:

From award-winning author R.F. Kuang comes Babel, a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tool of the British empire.

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide…

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh. My Gods. Five Stars do not do this book justice. It was stunning and gorgeous and horrifying and devastating and so, so believable. The way R.F. Kuang grounds every aspect of her worldbuilding in real-life history (documented in copious footnotes) makes the progression of the story logical and feel true. It also makes the horrors of colonialism creep up on you until it’s overwhelming.

I adore the magic system, based on translation between languages, and the shades of meaning that are lost in the process. It is these lost shades of meaning that power the magic when inscribed on silver bars.

The academic setting feels incredibly realistic and nostalgic (in that weird way that brings back memories both good and bad).

The way everything is tied together and carefully plotted, the slow revelation of the horrors of the web of colonialism that traps them all, the slow and inevitable way the characters grow and grow apart — it’s all masterful.

Did I mention devastating? Because I cried more than I have at most books I’ve read this year. I got so wrapped up in the characters and their struggles that it felt so incredibly real

The audiobook was performed beautifully, with a different narrator reading the footnotes and pronouncing the things being translated from other languages, which made it easy to separate them from the main text. I couldn’t put it down and if it hadn’t been for the holidays would have flown through it in just a few days.

11/10 highly recommend.

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

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.

ARC Reiew: Kids’ Nonfiction Books for January & February 2023: Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular and Destiny Finds Her Way

Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular by Polly Owen

Publication Date: January 3, 2023

Synopsis:

Learn the funny and fascinating story of Charles Darwin and the groundbreaking discoveries his love of the humble worms led to in this hilarious illustrated book.

Charles Darwin is widely known for his “Origin of Species” book, yet Darwin had another great love, and that was for worms.

Told for the first time for children, this is the silly and fascinating true story of how Charles Darwin came to discover that the humble earthworm is the most important species on our planet.

Darwin suspected worms were special but his scientist friends laughed at him. In a quest to find out the worms’ special talent, Darwin played the bassoon to the worms to see if they could hear, laid out a picnic treasure hunt for them to see how well they could smell, among many other bizarre but entirely true experiments.

But so far Darwin didn’t find anything extra special about worms. Until, one day he realized that worms do have a superpower. They POO! Without their life sustaining, nutrient rich poo, there would be no plants and no animals on earth. 

Darwin’s 40 years studying worms is still essential to our understanding of worms today, and ever since, scientists have taken him VERY seriously, and never again laughed at his love of worms. 

Told in a humorous and engaging way with non-fiction informationon each page to help educate alongside the story, curious minds will love this fact-filled, laugh-out-loud title.

The story of Darwin and the worms not only centers around the perennially brilliant subject of poo, it teaches children about a key historic figure, the food cycle and deductive scientific thinking. It is also a heartwarming story of the triumph of a zany underdog who won’t let bullies get in the way of his love for worms.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was super cute and my 3rd grader loved it and found it hilarious. (It has that universal kid appeal of talking about poop.) I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of Darwin’s obsession with worms before.

The story was engaging and told with maximum humor. The illustrations were cute and humorous and matched the text perfectly. They also added quite a bit to the story.

I would definitely recommend this to kids in the 6-12 range who are interested in science.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group – Wide Eyed Editions for providing an early copy for review.


Destiny Finds Her Way: How a Rescued Baby Sloth Learned to Be Wild by Margarita Engle

Publication Date: February 7, 2023

Synopsis:

Explore the Costa Rican rainforest with Destiny, a rescued orphan baby sloth who must learn to return to the wild, in this heartwarming true story from Newbery Honor winner Margarita Engle.

Destiny must learn to be strong and confident after she loses the use of one of her eyes. Without her mother to protect her or teach her, Destiny is found and taken to a rescue center in Costa Rica. The little sloth soon befriends other orphaned sloths. Her poor eyesight, however, makes it hard for her to keep her balance. Eventually Destiny begins to use all of her senses to explore the world around her. But can she learn to climb? Can she master the other skills she needs to survive on her own? And will Destiny be brave enough to return to her wild, forest home?

Join award-winning author Margarita Engle and photographer Sam Trull as they introduce you to the world of sloths in this inspiring story about overcoming obstacles and believing in yourself.


For more true animal stories of rescue, friendship, and facing challenges, check out these National Geographic Kids picture books:

Little Larry Goes to School
A Leap for Legadema
Natumi Takes the Lead
A Friend for Lakota
Jimmy the Joey

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This short book is packed full of information about sloths and what happens to those who have been rescued and are being rehabilitated. The photos on each page are gorgeous and show the sloths’ personalities and activities.

I look forward to reading this with my 3rd grader. He is really into animals right now and I think he will enjoy learning about this.

The text is at an appropriate reading level for my 3rd grader and he should be able to read it himself. The layout of each page is attractive, with photos and text arranged in an aesthetically pleasing and easy to read manner that draws the eye around the page.

I would recommend this to any kid who loves animals or is interested in animal rescue. It would be great in an elementary school library or classroom library.

My kiddo did in fact really enjoy reading this one. He even chose to read most of it aloud (after bargaining for reading every other page while I read the rest) and was really into the story. He found all the sloth pictures very cute.

*Thanks to NetGalley and National Geographic Kids for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: A Wicked Game by Kate Bateman

Publication Date: December 27, 2022

Synopsis:

If there’s one thing impossible for a Davies to resist, it’s a challenge from a Montgomery. . .

A teasing bet.

Shipwrecked and imprisoned thanks to an incorrect map, Captain Morgan Davies has returned to London to exact sweet revenge on the cartographer responsible for his suffering. He’s also vowed to claim the winner’s prize―three kisses―in the bet he made with his long-time nemesis, the prickly, smart-mouthed Harriet Montgomery. His incarceration has clarified his feelings for her, but convincing the infuriating woman he wants to marry her is going to be his greatest challenge yet. When Harriet’s revealed to be the very mapmaker he seeks, Morgan decides to combine revenge and seduction into one delightful package. . .

A dangerous enemy.

Harriet’s always wanted witty scoundrel Morgan, and now he’s back; as handsome and as taunting as ever. She has enough on her plate dealing with her father’s failing eyesight and a rival mapmaker copying her work to play wicked games with a dastardly Davies―however tempting he might be. But when a threat from Morgan’s past puts them both in danger, Harry discovers that she and Morgan might not be enemies at all . . .

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Maybe I’m out of practice reading romance novels, but I was disappointed in this one. The previous books in this series had more plot, as I recall; this one was nothing but seduction and foreplay from the first page. The conflict seems to be that each of them wants the other but thinks they have to convince the other to want them. Which would be fine but… I don’t know. The writing isn’t quite up to the standards of the other books. Or maybe it’s so focused on the bedroom scenes and seduction that everything else suffers. I was willing to forgive it its flaws at first because there was a hint of plot beyond the seduction, but as it progressed I became more and more bored. And the writing became full of his “masculine” this and her “feminine” that and his large body looming over her and it just. Is not my style. At all. I finally gave up when I passed the 50% mark and no plot had shown up to distract from the seduction.

I did enjoy some of the banter and rivalry and one-up games Morgan and Harriet played, and the flashbacks to when they were younger, but I think this book could have been far, far better with some plot. There was a hint of some, in the beginning, with the maps and the treasure and the revenge… but it all gets swept away by lust. Since I don’t actually read romance books for the bedroom scenes (and prefer to skip them most of the time), this book wasn’t it for me.

I also never connected with either Harriet or Morgan. They both felt really flat to me and I was never convinced of their chemistry. They didn’t have a lot to their personalities or motivations except lust for each other which left it all feeling sort of hollow.

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

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

Publication Date: November 29, 2022

Synopsis:

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

Publication Date: November 8, 2022

Synopsis:

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.