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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.

Best Books of 2022 — In Which I Fail Spectacularly to Compile a “Top Ten” List.

Image: Goodreads Year in Books 2022 – 166 Books read.

I read 166 books in 2022. Yes, some of them were shorter books: several middle-grade books and a few advanced review copies of picture books. Most were novels, though few were truly giant tomes. I really enjoyed most of them.

Which is to say, trying to pick the “top ten” was excruciating and an exercise doomed to failure. So… I cheated. Or rather, I modified the goal. Thus I present to you… my top 10 42 books read in 2022 (and even that is fudging things a bit as there are a few instances here of me using a single book to stand in for the entire series if I read the entire series in 2022 and didn’t want my list to balloon uncontrollably) organized like so:

  • Top 18 (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
  • Top 9 Romances read 2022
  • Top 9 Nonfiction Books Read With Kiddo 2022
  • Top 6 Fiction Books Read With Kiddo 2022

And just for funsies:

  • Song of the Year 2022

I have linked to the goodreads page for each book (and the youtube page for the song). Obviously these are all recommendations as well.

Best (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
(Part 1)

Best (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
(Part 2)

Best Romances read 2022

Best Nonfiction Books Read With Kiddo (8) 2022

Best Fiction Books Read With Kiddo (8) 2022

Aaaaaand, just for funsies:

Song of the Year 2022

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: Never Been Kissed by Timothy Janovsky

Publication Date: May 3, 2022

Synopsis:

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


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

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

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

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

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARC Review: The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

Publication Date: November 24, 2022

Synopsis:

Xích Si: bot maker, data analyst, mother, scavenger. But those days are over now-her ship has just been captured by the Red Banner pirate fleet, famous for their double-dealing and cruelty. Xích Si expects to be tortured to death-only for the pirates’ enigmatic leader, Rice Fish, to arrive with a different and shocking proposition: an arranged marriage between Xích Si and herself.

Rice Fish: sentient ship, leader of the infamous Red Banner pirate fleet, wife of the Red Scholar. Or at least, she was the latter before her wife died under suspicious circumstances. Now isolated and alone, Rice Fish wants Xích Si’s help to find out who struck against them and why. Marrying Xích Si means Rice Fish can offer Xích Si protection, in exchange for Xích Si’s technical fluency: a business arrangement with nothing more to it.

But as the investigation goes on, Rice Fish and Xích Si find themselves falling for each other. As the interstellar war against piracy intensifies and the five fleets start fighting each other, they will have to make a stand-and to decide what kind of future they have together…

An exciting space opera and a beautiful romance, from an exceptional SF author.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I love Aliette de Bodard’s books, but they are probably the most intellectually challenging books I read on a regular basis. Especially the mindship books. I think on the one hand there’s the Vietnamese-inspired names and foods and customs which are so different than what I’m used to (a good thing! Reading is for expanding one’s horizons!) and on the other hand there’s the whole human-falls-in-love-with-a-sentient-spaceship oh and also there is the physical plane and then there are overlays and avatars and bots that have physical form but can also be used a lot like coding but you can (I think) think the commands at them and have the information appear directly in your brain rather than having to rely on a pesky computer, oh and you can simultaneously have conversations out loud and other conversations virtually in your head — and my brain refuses to make sense of it all. I don’t regularly read a lot of sci-fi, so there’s that. I generally spend the first third of these books trying to wrap my head around how it all works and the next two thirds slowly sinking into the story and becoming immersed in it while the details stop being so confusing and fade to the background. And falling in love with the story and characters and romance

Aliette de Bodard’s writing is poetic and evocative and also understated, with a tendency to leave things unsaid for the reader to infer. This, too, takes a bit to get used to, but I really love it. I don’t especially like having everything spoon-fed to me all the time, and while I read and love a lot of ‘easier’ fantasy and romance, I appreciate having to really engage my brain to pick up on most of what’s happening. (I’m sure I don’t pick up on all of it.)

Some of the descriptions, especially of Rice Fish’s avatar, with her hair flowing into the floor of the ship and patterned with stars and nebulae, were so satisfying and just gorgeous. I had trouble with a mental picture of the characters (other than Rice Fish), but I think that’s just me — I rarely get a clear mental picture of characters in the books I read. I did get a clear picture of the Pirate Citadel – enough that I felt like I was there, walking beside Xích Si and experiencing it with her.

This is first and foremost a romance, one between a human who has been beaten down for years living on the edge of getting by as a scavenger, and a sentient spaceship who is also an influential leader of a pirate faction in a society she helped to build and carries deep emotional wounds left by her murdered wife, however unintentionally.

Xích Si, the scavenger, has been captured by pirates at the opening of the book and is forced to leave everything she knows – including her young daughter – behind. She understandably is scared and angry and fears the worst. Rice Fish, the mindship she is travelling on and head of the pirate faction who captured her, shocks her by proposing marriage — a ‘business arrangement only.’ Together they face a rebellious son, an endangered daughter, authorities determined to erase the scourge of pirates, treachery from within, and questions of the future of the entire pirate alliance. Not to mention their own bruised and bleeding hearts.

They make mistakes, they hurt one another, and — they learn. They learn to love, they learn to trust, they learn to hope and dream again and how to heal themselves. And the journey of how they get to that point is beautiful.

I would like to add that I have seen some criticism of ace rep in this book and I strongly disagree. I would not categorize Rice Fish’s murdered wife as ace, no matter that she did not want the physical aspect of the relationship that Rice Fish did. It’s not that simple. It was mentioned several times that she took her lovers outside of the marriage partnership (“Huan, for her part, had collected flings the way scholars collected books and vids”, “I watched Ma collect her friends and lovers and never get the intimacy she craved”) — she just did not want such a relationship with Rice Fish. I don’t know whether it was that she simply was not attracted to Rice Fish that way or whether she truly believed that any physical / romantic relationship between them would sully the partnership and what they were trying to build. But I think criticizing it for “bad ace rep” misses the point and is not fair. (Disclaimer: I am ace and I wanted to address this criticism because I have seen it more than once.)

The scenes with Xích Si’s daughter, and some with Rice Fish’s son, tug at the heartstrings. Alliette de Bodard knows how to use a few brushstrokes to create poignant, touching family scenes. I appreciate them more, I think, since having a child myself. It’s clear that she gets what it’s like, having to guide a child and be strong for them but also show yourself to be vulnerable, and eventually to let them go.

Even though this is a romance, it’s very politics-heavy. The different factions within the pirate fleet, the warring empires, the scavengers and wealthier scholars and beaurocrats… There is a lot of information to unpack and a lot of things that aren’t quite said out loud that are perhaps easy to miss. At first, it is very hard to grasp what is going on, which actually makes a lot of sense, as Xích Si is also unfamiliar with how the pirate fleet functions and also struggles to grasp it all. She learns and becomes more comfortable with it as the reader does, which makes it easy to identify with her.

Despite the heaviness of the themes (indentured servants are discussed quite a bit from several perspectives, as well as raiding and capturing merchants to hold for ransom, as well as emotional trauma and pain) and the dense, somewhat obscure way the text is written, and the sci-fi aspects, this also has quite a bit of adventure and mystery. I spent the last 40% or so on the edge of my seat wondering how it would all go down. I came away knowing that I absolutely loved and will recommend it, while at the same time I will need to read an easier book next just to give my brain a break.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Gollancz, and JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc. for providing an advance copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

She was still kneeling, but she did it like an empress.

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

Rice Fish nodded, and said nothing more — and for a time that felt like ten thousand years, they remained side by side, looking at the stars.

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

A pirate consort – no, a pirate queen in her own domain, and she was beautiful and she was terrible and so, so vulnerable in that moment. The air trembled with a distant music, a distant heartbeat.

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

Tam looked sheepish, which was a whole look on a pirate with a gun in her belt.

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

Xích Si sipped the tea – it tasted like fungi, like the greenhouses after the watering cycle, muddy and damp and unexpectedly sour.

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

…and every time she looked at him, Xích Si fought her own instincts to jump for the nearest suit – he looked like a walking habitat breach.

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

Xích Si realised that had been her, once upon a time. That she’d kept her head down and not dared to dream large, because she knew she would always get kicked in the teeth.

It wasn’t the habitat that was smaller. It was that she had outgrown it.

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

“Yes. But that’s not what matters. It’s being afraid and doing it anyway. And…” She hesitated, but what else could she do other than fling herself bodily into the void. “Love means we’re always going to know how to hurt each other. We choose not to. Or to repair our hurts”

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

But it was his choice to make, and he was her son, not an extension of her.

So often, being a parent was about letting go.

The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard

ARC Review: Paris Daillencourt is About to Crumble by Alexis Hall

Publication Date: November 1, 2022

Synopsis:

From the bestselling author of Boyfriend Material comes a sweet and scrumptious romantic comedy about facing your insecurities, finding love, and baking it off, no matter what people say. 

Paris Daillencourt is a recipe for disaster. Despite his passion for baking, his cat, and his classics degree, constant self-doubt and second-guessing have left him a curdled, directionless mess. So when his roommate enters him in Bake Expectations, the nation’s favourite baking show, Paris is sure he’ll be the first one sent home.
 
But not only does he win week one’s challenge—he meets fellow contestant Tariq Hassan. Sure, he’s the competition, but he’s also cute and kind, with more confidence than Paris could ever hope to have. Still, neither his growing romance with Tariq nor his own impressive bakes can keep Paris’s fear of failure from spoiling his happiness. And when the show’s vicious fanbase confirms his worst anxieties, Paris’s confidence is torn apart quicker than tear-and-share bread.
 
But if Paris can find the strength to face his past, his future, and the chorus of hecklers that live in his brain, he’ll realize it’s the sweet things in life that he really deserves.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book took me longer to finish than any book (that I was actively reading) in recent memory. I started and finished several others before managing to finish this one and that is because it was incredibly emotionally difficult for me to read. I related to Paris too hard, you see, and so I spent most of the book cringing hard out of second-hand embarrassment.

This book is an incredibly accurate portrayal of mental illness – specifically anxiety that gets so bad it runs your life before you realize it. I’ve been there. Anxiety isn’t my only mental illness, but it has loomed very large in my life and so I felt everything Paris was feeling on a very visceral level.

Case-in-point: even though it was a struggle for me to read, I was wracked with anxiety and guilt the entire time because I love this author and I really did enjoy this book and had intended to finish and review it before publication and… well, it’s a month past publication date now so you can see how that’s going.

My thoughts at 50%: “I am making such painfully slow progress through this book and I feel so guilty about it because I’d meant to finish and review it, gods, weeks ago now. And the thing is, it’s not that I’m not enjoying it or something. It’s so so good. It’s funny and relatable and secondhand-embarassment-inducing because gods Paris is basically me. And it’s painful to see the worst of yourself in print. I love it.”

I am SO glad that Paris learned strategies to cope with his anxiety, as well as started medication for it. It’s so clear that he is so much better by the end. Still dealing with it, but actually dealing with it rather than flailing about and crying about everything and being terrified of everything and feeling guilty about everything. I also loved the group therapy sessions and the way Paris implements all the strategies for coping with his anxiety.

Tariq is adorable and while he certainly wasn’t perfect in their relationship I am glad for the way the book ended. They have the potential to be really, really good together, now that they both know where they stand and can really see each other.

I really enjoyed the reality baking show framework, and the other contestants were great. And the Daves. And Morag. Really, all the characters were such… individuals. They were 100% themselves and that is my favorite kind of character.

In some ways, I think it was good for me to read this. Because I can look back on my former (un-medicated and un-therapied) self and really see what went wrong in my relationships as I was growing up and all the ways my brain lied to me. Which is why it was SO important to see Paris getting better at realizing when his brain is lying and how to deal with it. We see his thoughts and the anxiety trying to take over and the way he can combat that (with effort).

I had no idea how much this book would affect me emotionally. I mean, intellectually I knew it involved anxiety, but I underestimated how difficult it would be. I have struggled with anxiety my whole life but have spent the last 15 years coming to terms with it and learning to manage it. My husband has only recently really begun that journey, as has my kid. Anxiety is practically another member of my family, in other words. And sometimes it’s hard to see something that is such a big part of your existence.

It’s had to see it, as in it’s almost invisible it’s so prevalent. But also hard to see it, as in it physically hurts to watch it play out and recognize how prevalent it is. Watching Paris apologize incessantly about things he really didn’t need to apologize for was a lot. I saw myself, and my husband, and my kid in that. Again the second-hand embarrassment was intense.

Even though this book was very much about Paris’ anxiety, it was also a funny story about a baking competition, and a relationship that had problems and obstacles but was also so incredibly sweet. I love Alexis Hall’s way with words, and his ability to create touching but also hilarious moments. His characters always feel so well-developed and real that they try to jump off the page, and this was no exception. I loved them all. (Except Catherine Parr and maybe Gretchen.)

I haven’t read the previous Bake Expectations book yet, but it didn’t impede my enjoyment of this story. I hope to get to it soon (and hope it’s not quite so emotionally difficult to read).

*Thanks to NetGalley and Forever 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.

ARC Review: A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

Cover of A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Synopsis:

Award-winning author Malinda Lo returns to the Bay Area with another masterful coming-of-queer-age story, this time set against the backdrop of the first major Supreme Court decisions legalizing gay marriage. And almost sixty years after the end of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Lo’s new novel also offers a glimpse into Lily and Kath’s lives since 1955.

Aria Tang West was looking forward to a summer on Martha’s Vineyard with her best friends–one last round of sand and sun before college. But after a graduation party goes wrong, Aria’s parents exile her to California to stay with her grandmother, artist Joan West.Aria expects boredom, but what she finds is Steph Nichols, her grandmother’s gardener. Soon, Aria is second-guessing who she is and what she wants to be, and a summer that once seemed lost becomes unforgettable–for Aria, her family, and the working-class queer community Steph introduces her to. It’s the kind of summer that changes a life forever.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was emotionally devastating. That’s the best word I can think of to describe it. I turned the last page and read the author’s note through my tears, and then I ugly cried for a while. It’s poignant and nostalgic and gorgeously written so that you feel everything Aria feels and live breathlessly in the moment with her. Every time I opened the book I was sucked in and forgot about everything else.

Malinda Lo is exceptionally good at capturing a moment in time, especially a moment where the character is right on the cusp of something. I don’t remember Last Night at the Telegraph Club being quite so devastating, but I think part of that is my own emotional resonance with this story.

For most of the book, it’s like she captured one perfect golden late-summer Northern California afternoon. The kind the stretches on and on, where the light showers everything in gold and you could believe that the moment could last forever. It meshes so well with that last endless summer between high school and college, when you’re just beginning to discover yourself.

Aria is on the cusp of adulthood, the cusp of realization that she’s maybe not as straight as she once thought. Her crush on Steph simmers just beneath the surface, warring with the impossibility of it all and the electric novelty of her newfound queerness opens up a previously unseen world to her.

At the same time she’s having her ideas of her grandmother, her parents, her friends, and her past reshaped as she grows out of her childhood assumptions about them.

The ending circles back to the beginning in a wholly satisfying way that makes everything seem more profound and gives every moment, every gesture weight and meaning.

I love the exploration of time and memories and grief and art, and how they interconnect and weave together. The characters leap off the page, so full of life and well-rounded are they, and I felt them tugging at my heart more insistently than many.

This is a book that everyone should read and that I will probably never read again, because I don’t think it would have the same breathless impact the second time through and I’m not sure my heart could take it.

The cover is stunning and complements the story SO well. The cover artist captured the essence of the story perfectly.

*Thanks to Bookishfirst and Penguin Teen for providing an ARC for review.

ARC Review: The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian (The Queer Principles of Kit Webb #2)

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Publishing Date: June 7, 2022

Synopsis:

Cat Sebastian returns to Georgian London with a stunning tale of a reluctant criminal and the thief who cannot help but love her.

Marian Hayes, the Duchess of Clare, just shot her husband. Of course, the evil, murderous man deserved what was coming to him, but now she must flee to the countryside. Unfortunately, the only person she can ask for help is the charismatic criminal who is blackmailing her—and who she may have left tied up a few hours before…

A highwayman, con artist, and all-around cheerful villain, Rob Brooks is no stranger to the wrong side of the law or the right side of anybody’s bed. He never meant to fall for the woman whose secrets he promised to keep for the low price of five hundred pounds, but how could he resist someone who led him on a merry chase all over London, left him tied up in a seedy inn, and then arrived covered in her husband’s blood and in desperate need of his help?

As they flee across the country—stopping to pick pockets, drink to excess, and rescue invalid cats—they discover more true joy and peace than either has felt in ages. But when the truth of Rob’s past catches up to him, they must decide if they are willing to reshape their lives in order to forge a future together.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book is EVERYTHING. I live and breathe books and I would be happy to never read another book and just live in this one. It’s that good. But more than that it’s the perfect book for me. Like Cat Sebastian knew it’s been rough lately and wrote it just for me. I’m predicting it makes it at least into my top 5 books this year.

It’s a cleverly disguised Robin Hood and Marian book. It’s the perfect Robin Hood and Marian book. I want to paper my walls in quotes from this book (and I probably highlighted enough to do just that – a full 11 single-spaced pages of them!!) and just live in this story from now on. Is this because I love Robin Hood stories? Yes, partly. But also I love queer love stories and Cat Sebastian’s writing in general, and the Queer Principles of Kit Webb in particular, so this was just the happy convergence of all of my favorite things.

This is an excellent queer love story. Both leads are bisexual and Marian is probably some flavor of asexual and the dynamic is very much a dominant/aggressive/in charge Marian and a submissive Rob who only wants to please her. That stable scene! She pins him against the wall! Flip the gender status quo of historical romance why don’t you? I LOVE it.

I love how Marian is the prickly and closed-off and responsible one in this relationship, and Rob is friendly and charming and is distracted by kittens. And, now that I think of it, this is yet another case of me falling completely for a grumpy / sunshine trope.

Another reviewer pointed out that this book in a nutshell is ‘disaster bisexuals’ and ‘be gay do crime’ with a side of ‘eat the rich’ and if that isn’t Marian and Rob I don’t know what is. I can’t top that as a description.

I see hints of future books of ‘be gay do crime’ and i just want to say YES PLEASE. And baby Eliza will be raised by four doting queer parents and immersed in planning of heists before she can talk. I desperately want more books in this world, with these people.

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

Favorite Quotes:

**Note: I highlighted literally 11 single-spaced pages of quotes so obviously I can’t include them all here. I have consolidated as much as possible but it will still be rather long. But trust me – you want to read these. They will absolutely make you want to read this book.

Although, if you don’t want to read them, that’s fine too. This is the last section of the review for a reason.

What a trick it was to be able to say I beg your pardon in a way that meant fuck off and die, and to look serene and saintly while saying it.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

The memory made him feel both wistful and somehow homesick, in the way that happy memories too often did.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“I think we’re still in the cave, hitting one another with sticks,” Rob went on. “I know that I broke the law when I stole from those arseholes at the tavern this afternoon. But how is what I did any different from putting poor men into debtors’ prison? What I did is comparatively gentle. A targeted tax on rich men who behave badly. It’s very civilized, actually.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He was lost, and he had been from about the first time she sent him a scathing letter –what kind of person did that to a man who held her future in the palm of his hand? – and followed it up with trivia about that Italian fellow and his peculiarly organized version of hell.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“In the winter, you can imagine that the land could become anything. In the summer, all that’s left is for winter to come.”

Rob had never heard anyone express anything of the sort and didn’t know what to say, or even to think, beyond reflecting that if anyone were to enjoy an uninterrupted view of mud and dirt it would have to be Marian.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

She moved so slowly and deliberately it was as if she were inventing the concept of kissing right there on the spot, as precisely as if she were counting change in the marketplace. He kissed her back with none of those qualities, with nothing but profligacy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He wore rainwater and mud the way other men wore silk coats, only better, and she wanted him.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

And now he was looking at her as if she were a cake, if cakes were also religious icons, and she was possessed of a mortifying certainty that she was looking at him in precisely the same deranged manner.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

Rob knew better than most that sometimes nothing could salve your conscience. You just had to live with the guilt and find other ways to be the kind of person you wanted to be.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

But when she looked at him, what she felt wasn’t attraction. Or it wasn’t only that. It was a bright spark, something warm and glowing that took up residency in her chest and refused to budge. It was something like contentment, only sharp and with teeth. It was the urge to wrap her hand around his arm and not let go. It was the knowledge that he would let her.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

The idea that she was planning to go into mourning for a man she had killed with her own hands, while – regardless of what she said – robbing, extorting, or otherwise dealing feloniously with another man, made Rob feel faintly dizzy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Gentlemen typically don’t extort money from their tenants,” Marian retorted.

“That is precisely what gentlemen do,” he pointed out, exasperated. “It is practically the entire point of gentlemen.”

She opened her mouth as if to protest, then frowned. “Fair.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

It was a dark day indeed when he wanted to congratulate an aristocrat for simply remembering that servants were human beings.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

In his arms she felt as sharp as a knife and as sure as a promise and he never wanted to take his hands off her.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

And he didn’t try to hold it back, either. His friendship was like a creeping ivy – all one had to do was let it be, and it covered the whole barn.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

From where she lay, she could see at least half a dozen scars on his arms and back. He spoke of them as if he didn’t mind them, and she thought she understood – what were the pair of them, after all, but a collection of things gone wrong and then, slowly, made right again.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Well, she did leave me tied to a bed all night,” Rob offered as an explanation.

“It’s how I make all my friends,” said Betty.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Running away?” Rob scoffed. “I’m not running away from anything. I’m refusing to participate in inherited wealth.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“They’d suit you perfectly well if it were twenty years ago.” He sank into a chair by the fire. “And if you were a provincial spinster who drank tea without any sugar and terrified all the neighborhood children.”

Marian, momentarily impressed with this aesthetic success, preened a little before remembering why she needed to speak to Percy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He wore a blue suit of clothes so fine that Rob wanted to set things on fire.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

 It would not, however, accommodate Marian’s father and his household, and indeed the idea of cramming an elderly earl, a highwayman, a baby, the bigamous wife of a duke, and whatever on earth Percy considered himself these days under one roof was too farcical for Marian to take seriously.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

She was certain that most women felt something warmer for their children, something less sharp and jagged. Marian wasn’t much given to warmth, but whatever she felt now – a champagne lightness mixed with the usual knife-sharp protectiveness – felt like enough.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

Her laughter was rare and precious; it was the sound of church bells, the sound of coins dropping into a pocket, and he wanted to save it in a bottle and wear it close to his heart.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

ARC Review: The Servant and the Gentleman by Annabelle Greene

Publication Date: May 17, 2022

Summary:

A surly gentleman and his overworked clerk fake a relationship in this swoonworthy Regency romance from Annabelle Greene.

William Hartley’s wealth and social standing often make up for his short temper, but they can’t cure his claustrophobia. He’d lost hope of finding help for it, until meeting Josiah Balfour. In a moment of panic, Josiah’s presence is a balm to his senses, leaving Hartley calm for the first time in months.

Josiah Balfour knows his place—and it’s not in the bed of a gentleman. As the administrator for the Society of Beasts, he’s responsible for the club’s well-being. When a threat to the Society emerges from an unexpected quarter, it falls to Josiah to deal with it. But Hartley is willing to help, even if it involves posing as a couple to infiltrate a rival club.

Josiah needs Hartley’s prestige to help him save the Society, while Hartley simply needs Josiah. Their relationship might be a sham, but the desire between them is all too real. Stuck in close quarters with everything they love on the line, they discover that everything might just include each other. 

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this thoughtful and romantic story. The fake dating across class boundaries was fun, and Josiah helping Hartley fend off his PTSD was well done. There were so many sweet moments as the two of them fell for one another (while pretending they hadn’t because it was impossible), as well as the perfect amount of wry humor.

The writing was lovely and the heavier topics (class boundaries, protecting those accused of loving other men, money and power, PTSD from a traumatic event) deftly and thoughtfully handled. There were a few more sex scenes than I usually like, but I was enjoying the story so much I didn’t mind skimming them.

My favorite thing about it is the way Hartley and Josiah relate to one another and push one another to be better. Hartley is a bit of a Darcy – he doesn’t really see anyone he considers ‘lower’ than himself and Josiah pushes him to open his eyes to all that he’s been ignoring. Watching Hartley slowly work to change was very satisfying. Hartley in turn pushes Josiah to have more confidence in himself.

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

Favorite Quotes:

…Josiah joined him, lying down beside him, his face so full of long-suppressed emotion that it could have been a poem.