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Audio ARC Review: Darkhearts by James L. Sutter

Publication Date: June 6, 2023


Perfect for fans of Red, White, & Royal Blue and Perks of Being a Wallflower, Darkhearts is a hilarious, heartfelt novel about fame, romance, and what happens when the two collide.

When David quit his band, he missed his shot at fame. For the past two years, he’s been trapped in an ordinary Seattle high school life, working summers for his dad’s construction business while his former best friends Chance and Eli became the hottest teen pop act in America.

Then Eli dies. Suddenly David and Chance are thrown back into contact, forcing David to rediscover all the little things that once made the two of them so close, even as he continues to despise the singer’s posturing and attention-hogging. As old wounds break open, an unexpected kiss leads the boys to trade frenemy status for a confusing, tentative romance—one Chance is desperate to keep out of the spotlight. Though hurt by Chance’s refusal to acknowledge him publicly, David decides their new relationship presents a perfect opportunity for him to rejoin the band and claim the celebrity he’s been denied. But Chance is all too familiar with people trying to use him.

As the mixture of business and pleasure becomes a powder keg, David will have to choose: Is this his second chance at glory? Or his second chance at Chance?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Darkhearts is a beautiful book about love and second chances and learning to forgive others (and yourself) for missed chances. It’s about figuring out who you are and what you really want, and letting the rest go. It’s messy and painful and beautiful and full of second-hand embarassment and sheer joy. I loved it.

Watching David and Chance figure out what they can do, what they can’t do, what they should do, and what they want to do was a lot of fun. It was very much an end-of-highschool coming-of-age story, with the added complications of fame and missed chances at fame. I loved being along for the ride.

The audiobook is performed beautifully and the narrator really brings the characters to life. I’m glad I listened to it because I think it adds to the story and makes it easier to get swept up in it.

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

Blog Tour & Arc Review: That Summer Feeling by Bridget Morrissey

Publication Date: May 30, 2023

Welcome to the That Summer Feeling book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.


Turns out you’re never too old for a summer camp romance. Or a change of heart. When a divorced woman attends a sleepaway camp for adults only, she reconnects with a man from her past–only to catch feelings for his sister instead.

Garland Moore used to believe in magic, the power of optimism, and signs from the universe. Then her husband surprised her with divorce papers over Valentine’s Day dinner. Now Garland isn’t sure what to believe anymore, except that she’s clearly never meant to love again. When new friends invite her to spend a week at their reopened sleepaway camp, she and her sister decide it’s an opportunity to enjoy the kind of summer getaway they never had as kids. If Garland still believed in signs, this would sure seem like one. Summer camp is a chance to let go of her past and start fresh.

Nestled into the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, Camp Carl Cove provides the exact escape Garland always dreamed of, until she runs into Mason–the man she had a premonition about after one brief meeting years ago. No matter how she tries to run, the universe appears determined to bring love back into Garland’s life. She even ends up rooming with Mason’s sister Stevie, a vibrant former park ranger who is as charming as she is competitive. The more time Garland spends with Stevie, the more the signs confuse her. The stars are aligning in a way Garland never could have predicted.

Amid camp tournaments and moonlit dances, Garland continues to be pulled toward the beautiful blonde outdoorswoman who makes her laugh and swoon. Summer camp doesn’t last forever, but if Garland can learn to trust her heart, the love she finds there just might.

Author Bio:

Bridget Morrissey lives in Los Angeles, California, but hails from Oak Forest, Illinois. When she’s not writing, she can be found coaching gymnastics or headlining concerts in her living room. Her website can be found here.

Her upcoming adult novel, THAT SUMMER FEELING, releases on May 30, 2023. Her last two adult romances, A THOUSAND MILES and LOVE SCENES, as well as her first two YA novels, WHAT YOU LEFT ME and WHEN THE LIGHT WENT OUT, are all available now.

She is represented by Taylor Haggerty of Root Literary.

Image credit: Goodreads

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this cute summer romance. The characters were fun and quirky and believable, and who doesn’t want to read about thirty-somethings falling in love at their first experience of summer camp?

Garland was a great main character and I really sympathized with her. She had banked on a happy-ever-after only to find out it wasn’t and end up living with her sister and driving for a ride-share program and not knowing what to do with her life. Her sister Dara was also great and I would read more about her for sure. They were both grappling with their childhood dreams of love not turning out like they’d expected and learning to embrace their choices.

I loved Stevie and her brothers. They were vibrant and boisterous and they obviously loved each other very much. They swept Garland up into the family dynamic she’d always needed and it was really sweet.

The love story was adorable and a great way to allow Garland to let go of her past expectations and embrace what she truly wanted. I was 100% there for it and I’m so happy with how it turned out. I also love the way the experience of finally getting to go to summer camp helped the sisters embrace their quirks and become more confident in themselves.

Reading this made me want to go to summer camp too. It all felt very real, and the next best thing to going myself.

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

Favorite Quotes:

She wore athletic apparel with conviction. It looked like a carefully considered ensemble on her, not something you tossed on to exercise.

“This is even better than I anticipated, and I anticipated a lot.”

She could do a great impression of me. It made me feel understood in a different way than I’d ever felt before. Most people picked up on my optimism. Stevie captured my vulnerability. The worries I hid behind the hope I projected.

She still smelled like a cherished memory. Like I’d known her all my life, but somehow I’d forgotten her until today.

My heart ached harder. As if little construction workers lived in there and they’d started building something new without a permit.

I enjoyed being liked, but I wanted a more accurate version of me to be seen, and I wasn’t the person I’d packed into this luggage.

She made me afraid to blink, because to miss even a single second was to miss something revelatory.

I would dance with her until the music stopped. Even then, if she wanted to keep going, I’d create music for us.

“You can be a different you tomorrow. You can also own the person you are today. You don’t have to hide away because you might one day change.”

ARC Review: Liar City by Allie Therin

Publication Date: February 28, 2023


A murder has Seattle on edge, and it falls to a pacifist empath—and a notorious empath hunter—to find the killer before it’s too late

It’s the middle of the night when part-time police consultant and full-time empath Reece gets an anonymous call warning him that his detective sister needs his help. At an out-of-the-way Seattle marina, he discovers that three people have been butchered—including the author of the country’s strictest anti-empathy bill, which is just days from being passed into law.

Soon, Reece’s caller a shadowy government agent known as The Dead Man, who is rumored to deal exclusively in cases involving empathy. He immediately takes over the investigation, locking out both local PD and the FBI, but, strangely, keeps Reece by his side. 

As the two track an ever-growing trail of violence and destruction across Seattle, Reece must navigate a scared and angry city, an irritating attraction to his mysterious agent companion, and a rising fear that perhaps empaths like him aren’t all flight and no fight after all…

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I don’t usually read murder mysteries, but I really enjoyed this one. Allie Therin knows how to write great characters and a compelling, twisty plot of empaths and danger. I was kept guessing as the story progressed, and kept on the edge of my seat the whole time.

I love the hints of slow-burn future romance, sown in a relationship of slowly growing trust. Reece is prickly and difficult and full to the brim with sarcasm (that constantly gets him and his sister in trouble). Evan Grayson – the Dead Man – is mysterious and brooding and competently takes charge of any situation and intimidates everyone into doing what he says. They make a wonderful combination (and argue constantly).

Jamie is the best sister and detective and I’m so glad she has Liam to anchor her.

I will absolutely be picking up the next book as soon as it is available. Highly recommend.

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

Favorite Quotes:

“Pacifist and polite aren’t actually synonyms,” he said weakly.

Liar City by Allie Therin

“Do you practice being an enigma? Look at me, the mysterious Dead Man; I speak in riddles and have weird elevator manners, fear me empaths?”

Liar City by Allie Therin

Audio ARC Review: Ander & Santi Were Here by Jonny Garza Villa

Publication Date: May 2, 2023


Aristotle and Dante meets The Hate U Give meets The Sun Is Also A Star: A stunning YA contemporary love story about a Mexican-American teen who falls in love with an undocumented Mexican boy.

Finding home. Falling in love. Fighting to belong.

The Santos Vista neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas, is all Ander Martínez has ever known. The smell of pan dulce. The mixture of Spanish and English filling the streets. And, especially their job at their family’s taquería. It’s the place that has inspired Ander as a muralist, and, as they get ready to leave for art school, it’s all of these things that give them hesitancy. That give them the thought, are they ready to leave it all behind?

To keep Ander from becoming complacent during their gap year, their family “fires” them so they can transition from restaurant life to focusing on their murals and prepare for college. That is, until they meet Santiago López Alvarado, the hot new waiter. Falling for each other becomes as natural as breathing. Through Santi’s eyes, Ander starts to understand who they are and want to be as an artist, and Ander becomes Santi’s first steps toward making Santos Vista and the United States feel like home.

Until ICE agents come for Santi, and Ander realizes how fragile that sense of home is. How love can only hold on so long when the whole world is against them. And when, eventually, the world starts to win.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is an absolutely gorgeous story. It sucked me in from the very beginning, making me instantly love and care about the characters, and never let me go. It’s about courage and bravery in the face of unfair authority, about finding who you are and what you want to do and who you want to be with, about embracing your roots and being unapologetically yourself no matter what anyone else says.

Ander is a dramatic nonbinary teen in San Antonio who is getting increasing recognition for their murals and preparing to go to Chicago for art school. Santi is a shy and quiet undocumented immigrant teen fleeing from the violence that killed half his family. They meet in Ander’s family’s restaurant and sparks fly. Their love story is raw and honest and changes each of them for the better, giving them hope and courage and determination. Santi wears his heart on his sleeve for Ander, who does the same, and they fit together so well.

I loved the many scenes of Ander painting and the way Santi loves all of their paintings. The way it’s described, you can tell that the author is very familiar with artists and perhaps is one themself. There is so much love infused in each of those scenes and descriptions.

I also loved how loving and accepting Ander’s family are in this book. They are loud and they argue but the love always shines through and they support Ander through everything. Ander’s friends also come through for them and show their love. Ander comes from such a vibrant, loving family that I was jealous.

I also loved that the conflict does not touch Ander’s nonbinary identity. It is an established fact at the beginning of the book and no one questions it. It never takes a central role except as an essential part of Ander. Ander is nonbinary and that’s the end of it.

The conflict, instead, first centers around Ander’s self-doubt about their future as an artist and the way the influences they want their art to be shaped by, and then later, as Ander begins to figure themself out, the conflict shifts to center around Santi’s undocumented status and his future and their future together. It’s masterfully done, and never feels forced or artificial.

ICE is a looming threat throughout the last quarter of the book, and things take a bit of a darker tone, but Ander and Santi grow to meet the challenges they are faced with and the ending felt right and inevitable and perfect. Did I cry? yes. Was it worth it? Definitely yes. 10/10 would read again.

The audiobook was brilliantly performed, with every character feeling distinct and real, with their own voice and tone. The way the different character voices carried emotion was excellent. The sprinkling of Spanish scattered throughout also was performed excellently and enhanced the setting for me, making it feel more real. Did I understand all the words? No. Did I understand the meaning behind them? Yes. And the emotions and tone they were delivered with helped with that.

This book needs to be in libraries and classrooms everywhere in this country. And it definitely needs to win some awards.

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

ARC Review: We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

Publication Date: June 6, 2023


[I have opted to remove the comps listed on Goodreads because they are nonsense.]

Nick Russo has worked his way from a rough Brooklyn neighborhood to a reporting job at one of the city’s biggest newspapers. But the late 1950s are a hostile time for gay men, and Nick knows that he can’t let anyone into his life. He just never counted on meeting someone as impossible to say no to as Andy.

Andy Fleming’s newspaper-tycoon father wants him to take over the family business. Andy, though, has no intention of running the paper. He’s barely able to run his life–he’s never paid a bill on time, routinely gets lost on the way to work, and would rather gouge out his own eyes than deal with office politics. Andy agrees to work for a year in the newsroom, knowing he’ll make an ass of himself and hate every second of it.

Except, Nick Russo keeps rescuing Andy: showing him the ropes, tracking down his keys, freeing his tie when it gets stuck in the ancient filing cabinets. Their unlikely friendship soon sharpens into feelings they can’t deny. But what feels possible in secret–this fragile, tender thing between them–seems doomed in the light of day. Now Nick and Andy have to decide if, for the first time, they’re willing to fight.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read this book in one sitting – while I was supposed to be reading an entirely different book. I picked it up meaning to read a chapter or two while I ate lunch — because it’s easier to read on a kindle than a paperback while eating — and the next thing I knew I was turning the last page. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

I knew I would love it from the beginning; that was a given – it’s a Cat Sebastian book. But I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love it, or for how many feelings it gave me.

This book is devastating in its quiet queer joy and relentless hope while living in the face of prejudice and hate. It’s about a queer couple in the newspaper publishing world of New York City of the 1950s. It’s about the slow realization of feelings, and the inevitable and infinitesimal merging of lives, and the way you can breathe easier when you have a community of people like you who understand you and know you. It’s about the comfort and happiness to be found in the little things in life. And it’s so soft and domestic, even with the uncertainty and the lies and the hiding. Which takes skill.

I teared up several times, enough that it made it difficult to keep reading. I *felt* the truth in this story viscerally. Times may have changed (somewhat) but I could still understand the hesitance and the fear and defiant joy that make up a queer existence.

In some ways it was starkly different than Cat Sebastian’s other books, and yet in other ways it felt familiar. She straddled the line between quiet joy and simmering rage at the realities of queer life. It was intense and healing and beautiful. I didn’t want it to end.

I was bracing myself for tragedy as the book progressed, and I’m so glad that isn’t the sort of story Cat Sebastian is telling here. That instead she is telling a story of people who just want to live their lives, and who find the courage in themselves to do so despite the fear and threats. Like Nick, I was dreading reading about another queer tragedy.

The characters were beautifully drawn and felt so real. I came to care about them so much and feel like they were my friends. It was masterfully done. The setting also felt incredibly, painfully real. It was 100% believable.

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

Favorite Quotes:

Nick has spent years making sure that when people look at him, they don’t see anything that sticks out like a sore thumb—they don’t see anything at all, they hardly even see a person, just a man in a suit.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

Andy gives him this flat, disappointed look that Nick recognizes because Nick invented it and now he’s going to have to sue Andy for copyright infringement.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“Back in his day they didn’t have Band-Aids,” Nick continues. “They just slapped mud on their wounds and went back to drawing the news on the walls of their caves.”

“I can still hear you,” Jorgensen says.

“It’s nice when the elderly keep their hearing,” Andy observes.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“It’s the creme de menthe,” Nick says, eying the green liquid distastefully. “It’s like drinking toothpaste, if toothpaste got ideas above its station.”

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“A heart doctor, though,” he says in a tone that suggests that getting jilted in favor of cardiologists is all anyone can expect. That maybe Andy should have considered medical school if he didn’t want to get jilted. That Emily did what she had to do, because who could turn down a heart doctor?

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“I was going to make minestrone soup,” Nick says. “You like soup.”

“I do like soup,” Andy agrees. “I take it that’s an invitation, not you taunting me with soup I don’t get to eat.”

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

He feels as if he’s been turned inside out, as if he just learned that a part of his heart is on the outside of his body, in the possession of somebody else entirely.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

But somehow, a journalist being hurt because he’s on to a dangerous story seems less traumatic than someone being attacked for living his life.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

Andy worries that it’s his lot in life to be mocked by elderly Italian women.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

Andy isn’t expecting an epiphany at eight on a Monday morning when he’s still mostly asleep, when his first cup of coffee is still hot in his hand. Honestly, Andy isn’t expecting an epiphany ever.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

A couple times a year, Nick finds a tale of gay misery and woe on his desk, because apparently Bailey has taken it upon himself to be Nick’s personal sad gay librarian.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“You have shitty taste in books. Would it kill you to read something that isn’t totally dismal?”

“I’m paid for my taste in books,” Bailey says easily. “And I don’t mind dismal things. I’m trying to be your friend, aren’t I?”

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

Families might usually be bonded by blood, but maybe sometimes they’re bonded by shared secrets, by a delicate mixture of caution and faith, by the conviction that hiding together is better in every way than hiding alone.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

That might be what turns the tide and makes Nick enjoy the book, at least a little. These men are finding time and energy to flirt and have queer parties and get jealous and fall in love despite bombs and injuries and death. That feels like the truest thing he’s ever read.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“Yes, well. I figured, you see.” He stops, looking suddenly at a loss. “People in New York have hearts, too, don’t they?”

And Emily must really love him if she’s susceptible to a line like that.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

A few months ago he told himself that his choices—that any queer person’s choices—were either to hide or brazen it out, and that’s still true. But there’s another possibility: pushing back against the injustices that force people to make impossible choices.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

ARC Review: Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Publication Date: April 11, 2023


From the USA Today bestselling author of Boyfriend Material comes a riotous Regency romp full of art, expensive hats, and a love that is nothing short of spectacular.

Peggy Delancey’s not at all ready to move on from her former flame, Arabella Tarleton. But Belle has her own plans for a love match, and she needs Peggy’s help to make those plans a reality. Still hung up on her feelings and unable to deny Belle what she wants, Peggy reluctantly agrees to help her woo the famous and flamboyant opera singer Orfeo.

She certainly doesn’t expect to find common ground with a celebrated soprano, but when Peggy and Orfeo meet, a whole new flame is ignited that she can’t ignore. Peggy finds an immediate kinship with Orfeo, a castrato who’s just as nonconforming as she is—and just as affected by their instant connection.

They’ve never been able to find their place in the world, but as the pair walks the line between friendship, flirtation, and something more, they may just find their place with each other.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

There’s something magical about Alexis Hall’s writing. His books are hilarious and witty and full of unexpectedly profound truths about life and love and everything in between, and always wonderfully, unapologetically queer. I always find myself highlighting dozens upon dozens of passages and then agonizing over which to choose for my ‘favorite quotes’ section of my review blog posts. Again and again his writing has me collapsing with laughter and then startled into profound revelations when my guard is down. This book is hilarious and tender and incisive with biting social commentary. Every character is ridiculous and dramatic and I love them all.

In this book we have Peggy, who is genderfluid – not only a woman nor only a man – and is often quite cross and contrary about it, and about how the world wants to box her in no matter how vehemently she protests. And then we have Orfeo, an agender castrati opera singer who is also neither man nor woman, simply beautiful. And though some of that was forced upon them, they would be neither man nor woman either way. Being nonbinary myself, I really appreciated seeing them struggle with and ultimately joyfully accept themselves and each other as they are.

Their love story is at times stunningly gorgeous and at times hilarious, and it was a joy to watch them discovering deeper truths about themselves and one another.

It was wonderful to see Valentine and Bonny and Belle and Sir Horley again, for they bring the sheer ridiculousness energy they brought in Something Fabulous. I do feel the Sir Horley marriage thread got dropped abruptly, but I’m hoping that’s just because there will be a third book focusing on him in the future.

I hope we get more of Belle, too, as her ending was also a little abrupt and I found her realization that she is aromantic, after a lifetime diet of nothing but romantic books and daydreams, very interesting, especially when contrasted with her twin Bonny, who is romantic to his core. I would like to see Bonny realizing that Belle, though his twin, is also her own person and they do not have to share everything and his dreams do not need to be her dreams.

I really liked the addition of the Duke and Duchess of Marshalsea, and I hope we see more of them in future books as well.

The final scene, involving four participants, struck me as one of the more profound sex scenes I’ve encountered. It was so unusual, and had so much love and care and trust in it, and such a striking lack of awkwardness, that I found it quite moving. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t normally enjoy sex scenes. It’s the kind of scene that’s incredibly difficult to write well, and it’s executed beautifully. Just four people who love and trust one another unconditionally, finding joy and even further closeness together.

In case it wasn’t already clear, I adored Something Spectacular. I adored Something Fabulous as well, but I may adore this even more. I will now commence hoping for further sequels.

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

Favorite Quotes:

(Yes, there are far too many, I know. But Alexis Hall is one of my absolute favorite authors and I have already cut 75% of what I highlighted.)

“Letter for you, darling.” Glancing up from her book, Peggy’s mother gestured with a forkful of bacon, causing the bacon to fly off the fork and land in her husband’s teacup. “Oh, bother.”

Mr. Delancey de-baconed his tea. “Thank you, pet. I always felt what tea was missing was more meat.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“Oh my God.” Belle’s voice broke upon them as abruptly as if she’d dropped a piano on their heads from the floor above.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

It was at this moment that Belle popped up like a shark beneath a shipwreck, seizing both Peggy and Sir Horley. “Come. We need to be at the front”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

It was beautiful, but it was beautiful in the way that looking at the night was beautiful in winter, when it was at its blackest and coldest, and you felt as infinitesimal as the distant stars. It was beautiful as only the bloodiest sunsets and the most jagged mountains were beautiful. Terrible beauty, beauty that wanted to drive you to your knees and drink the tears from your eyes, the sort of beauty to rend skies and topple cathedrals, as impossible as the flame of Prometheus.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Peggy had not come out tonight seeking a glimpse of the numinous, but the numinous was staring right at her regardless.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“So…” Peggy lurched to her feet. “I’m not very—I”m feeling a bit…” She could taste blood at the back of her throat. Her breath was knives. Her pulse a stampede of wild horses. “I think I might…”

Then the walls closed in, the ceiling rolled over like a dog wanting its tummy scratched, and the ground vomited itself into her face.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

It was almost imperceptible—perhaps so imperceptible that Peggy was probably imagining it, but something about Orfeo had changed. They offered the same warmth, the same curious gaze, the same tantalising play of humility and theatricality. But it was as though they had gilded themselves, somehow. Until they were nothing but the gleam of reflected light.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She wondered if Orfeo would be like that, a lion and an eagle and a fiercely burning flame before they were finally just themselves, safe and spoiled in Peggy’s arms.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“Perhaps had things been otherwise,” Orfeo went on, “I would have been a farmer like my father. Married some sweet. peasant girl. Had children of my own. Never dreamed in music and lived for the gleam of a thousand candles.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Someone who wasn’t her romance-oppositional best friend, an opera singer committed exclusively to their career, or a clergyman’s daughter with a fatal case of poetry.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

And someday she was going to like somebody who didn’t see their life as a story they were telling instead of something they were living. Or, then again, maybe she wasn’t. Maybe dramatic beyond all reason was her type.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Because the soiree had been little more than a glimpse of this: the kind of beauty that did things to you. Hurt you and healed you and humbled you.

Left you not quite the same.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Peggy tried to draw her knees up even more but was prevented by the limits of her own body and the physical laws of the universe. “It’s what they want.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She didn’t bother calling for a carriage because having to call a carriage to take you to the other side of the same damn square was the sort of nonsense society inflicted on ladies. And she wasn’t—had never been—a lady, and she was through with letting people force her to pretend to be one.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

He was fucking with her. Peggy was increasingly convinced he was fucking with her. This was going beyond butler and into obstructive.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“You’re not a coward, mio principe. Sometimes living, simply as we are, is the greatest act of courage there is.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

George bristled. “Are you ridiculing me Delancey? These are my feelings, in this sonnet. Do you know how difficult it is for a man like me to have feelings? I’m very athletic.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

In any case, Peggy liked the crocodile. For whatever reason, the taxidermist, perhaps not knowing very much about crocodiles, had positioned it on its hind legs, with its front claws extended before it and its long-snouted mouth open in an expression of mild exasperation. It was if it was saying “Oh, what the fuck now,” and it was exactly how Peggy wanted her visitors to be greeted.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Peggy wouldn’t have known to describe a piece of music as “fostering a vocal sensuality” if it stuck its tongue in her ear.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She could have told them that the world at large believed her made for certain things and that admitting she wanted them for herself felt like betrayal, triumph, and surrender all at once. She could have told them she thought that sometimes the only way to have a choice was to make it anyway.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

And Peggy wasn’t sure what was worse: resenting a piece of art for not speaking to you or having to face up to the fact it was.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“All I want”—it was Valentine’s most tragic voice—“is to be a very rich, powerful, and well-dressed man who gets to sleep until a sensible hour of one or two in the afternoon, and bathe uninterrupted at length.” He flung his arms to the heavens. “Is that too much to ask?”

As in answer, the sky darkened, and a few drops of rain plopped heavily down upon them.

“No,” said Valentine. He subjected the weather to a ducal glare. “Stop it. Stop it at once.”

Peggy patted him reassuringly on the arm. “We’re nearly there.”

They were not nearly there. But she didn’t want to admit that to Valentine in case he burst into tears or threw himself from the vehicle.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She had always chosen to be the naysayer, the sensible one, the voice of reason when dragged into the latest round of Tarleton hijinks, but she had never once said no. Because, at the end of the day, a world full of adventures, romantic reversals, grand gestures, and happy endings was simply better than a world without.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“If we do get married,” said Orfeo dreamily, “I shall wear gold.”

“And I’m going to wear”—Peggy gave it some thought—“clothes.”

“And this is truly what you want?”

“To wear clothes at my wedding? Definitely.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

ARC and Audio ARC Review: The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

Publication Date: March 7, 2o23


Bridgerton meets Poldark in this sweeping LGBTQIA+ Regency romance from award-winning author KJ Charles

Abandoned by his father as a small child, Sir Gareth Inglis has grown up prickly, cold, and well-used to disappointment. Even so, he longs for a connection, falling headfirst into a passionate anonymous affair that’s over almost as quickly as it began. Bitter at the sudden rejection, Gareth has little time to lick his wounds: his father has died, leaving him the family title, a rambling manor on the remote Romney Marsh…and the den of cutthroats and thieves that make its intricate waterways their home.

Joss Doomsday has run the Doomsday smuggling clan since he was a boy. His family is his life…which is why when the all-too-familiar new baronet testifies against Joss’s sister for a hanging offense, Joss acts fast, blackmailing Gareth with the secret of their relationship to force him to recant. Their reunion is anything but happy and the path forward everything but smooth, yet after the dust settles, neither can stay away. It’s a long road from there—full of danger and mysteries to be solved—yet somehow, along the way, this well-mannered gentleman may at last find true love with the least likely of scoundrels.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once again, KJ Charles has written my favorite kind of romance. I love how her books are instant comfort reads at this point, while at the same time remaining fresh and new no matter how many I’ve read. You’d think she’d run out of unique and loveable characters (most of them gold-hearted rogues who aren’t particularly morally bothered) with chemistry of the sort that means warmth and comfort and companionship and someone always on your side, in addition to the usual definition. And yet.

I love her wit and sly humor. I don’t tend to like must “humorous” books because they tend to rely on steortypes, punching down, bawdy humor, etc. Not so KJ Charles. Her humor is of the witty, sardonic, dry variety and it’s just wonderful. Here, I’ll give you an example:

“I would like to talk about this again, more civilly, to understand your point of view. I don’t know if I’ll agree but I’d rather disagree with more nuance.”

Joss hoped nuance didn’t mean shouting.

A lot of the humor in this book comes, as in the example above, from the language barrier of Marshman smuggler vs. educated Londoner. So I guess you have to like clever humor about words. Luckily, I do.

Joss and Gareth are wonderful characters. Really, every character in this book is a wonderful character. They all have such distinct personalities and feel so very real. Their romance feels very natural too, as they work together and learn to trust one another.

I absolutely LOVED everything about this and I had the biggest smile on my face while reading it. I knew I would love it – It’s KJ Charles, that’s a foregone conclusion – but it always surprises me how much I love it in the end.

The plot was great. Twisty and full of danger and trouble, but also full of quiet moments of companionship and connection. I loved how it ended, too. It was perfect. I will absolutely read the next one as soon as it comes out (and her next book, and the next…) because she’s one of my favorite authors at this point. I’ve preordered the audiobook as I know I will want to revisit this and that’s one of my favorite ways to do so.

Thoughts on the audiobook:

This audiobook and I did not particularly get along. LOVE LOVE LOVE the book, but the audio…

The narrator speaks very slowly which is fine, I can just bump up the speed (which I did, to 2x). But he adds. Random. Pauses. in the middle of sentences, then jumps back to speaking at a steady pace and. Then. Adds. More. Pauses. and it’s driving me nuts because I *can’t* increase the speed any more because then the rest is too fast.

I eventually got used to his particular style of narration, but it’s still not my favorite. Worth it, to experience the book again, but another narrator would have improved it.

I also found Joss’ grandfather to have a really strange accent in the audio. We know from the story that he was from a plantation in Georgia and thus speaks with a slow drawl. The audiobook narrator interprets this as. Speaking. Very. Very. Slowly. With. Long. Pauses. Between. Words. It has an almost staccato effect which is very much not how a southern drawl works.

5+ enthusiastic stars for the book, 3.5 unenthusiastic stars for the narration.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Sourcebooks Casablanca, and Dreamscape Media for providing an early copy and early audio copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Nobody liked paying taxes, granted, but governments levied them all the same, and one had to put up with it since there didn’t seem to be any way of stopping them.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

Gareth had spent most of the last two days outside in self-defense, despite the persistent light mist and drizzle. He was beginning to feel that country life was bad for the nerves.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

There was a remarkably pervasive quality to the rain on Romney Marsh, as if the sky had chosen its side in the precarious balance between land and sea. Everything felt damp, even indoors.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“He didn’t dine, Cecy,” Catherine said. “He just ate.”

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“That’s entirely specious.”

“Talk English,” Joss suggested sardonically.

Gareth discovered he couldn’t instantly define specious.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

Gareth had no idea what to say. He wasn’t a political philosopher. He had a vague sort of idea that country, king, and law were the foundations on which the nation was built, while nevertheless acknowledging that he had no intention of taking up arms for the country, the king was a mad German, and he’d spent much of his adult life happily breaking the law. Still, they were principles, even if they weren’t his principles. He’d thought this would be an easy fight to pick.

He’d met plenty of radicals in London—men who wanted wealth redistributed, laws changed, the government made representative. Joss Doomsday, fervent patriot of a hundred square miles of marshland, was perhaps the most radical man he’d ever met.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“Starting fights instead of facing problems isn’t courage.”

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“But I’ve a fair bit to lose if they hang me for smuggling too. You can’t just not do things acause of the consequences.”

“Consequences are literally the reason not to do things. That’s what they’re for.”

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“If you want something, you ask for it. You told me so, before. Is that always how you get what you want?”

Joss shrugged. “You don’t get what you want by not asking for it.”

Gareth contemplated the obvious truth of that statement. “I may have to change my approach to life.”

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“I would,” Joss said. He didn’t know what Gareth was up to; he’d back him to the hilt anyway. “Right obstinate fellow, the new squire.”

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

ARC Review: Something Wild and Wonderful by Anita Kelly

Publication Date: March 7, 2023


From the author of Love & Other Disasters comes a sparkling grumpy-meets-sunshine romance featuring two men’s sweeping journey across the Western wilderness.

Alexei Lebedev’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail begins with a single snake. And it is angling for the hot stranger who seemed to have appeared out of thin air. Lex is prepared for rattlesnakes, blisters, and months of solitude. What he isn’t prepared for is Ben Caravalho. But somehow—on a 2,500-mile trail—Alexei keeps running into the outgoing and charismatic hiker with golden-brown eyes, again and again. It might be coincidence. Then again, maybe there’s a reason the trail keeps bringing them together . . .

Ben has made his fair share of bad decisions, and almost all of them involved beautiful men. And yet there’s something about the gorgeous and quietly nerdy Alexei that Ben can’t just walk away from. Surely a bad decision can’t be this cute and smart. And there are worse things than falling in love during the biggest adventure of your life. But when their plans for the future are turned upside down, Ben and Alexei begin to wonder if it’s possible to hold on to something this wild and wonderful.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a warm, cozy hug of a book. Alexei and Ben were such warm characters. Well, Alexei took a bit of warming up to people, but he was earnest and friendly. Ben befriended everyone he met and just exuded friendliness and warmth. They had such an easy, peaceful companionship that they fell into as they walked the Pacific Crest Trail. It was so nice to read.

The descriptions of the trail and the hiking were so beautiful and so appealing. It made me feel like I was there with them and made me want to attempt the hike myself. There’s no way I could actually do it, but imagining it feels nice.

The difficult parts were not so much conflict between the two (aside from a few misunderstandings) but rather things each was struggling with internally. For Ben it was the loss of a close relative to Alzheimers and his past abusive relationships. For Alexei it was being cut off by his parents after coming out as gay. These were things each had to wrestle with on their own, and I really like that they weren’t swept under the rug when they got together. They took the time and space they needed and came to terms with them, allowing them to build a stronger future together.

It was wonderful to see Alexei being welcomed into Ben’s family and friend group, and it was wonderful to see Alexei and Ben’s close relationships with their little sisters.

There is a section toward the end where it becomes an epistolary novel for a bit, the sort where most of the letters are unsent. Those are always heartbreaking, and this was no exception. I really, really, like the way it was written. Having the letters be unsent halves of conversations made them so much more impactful.

Most of all, this is a book emphasizing the wonders of queer companionship. As a queer person myself, who values that sort of companionship very highly indeed, this book hit all the right notes for me.

The audiobook performance was beautiful and the narrator imbued the characters with so much personality. I loved listening to it and definitely recommend it.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Forever, and Hachette Audio for providing an early copy of the ebook and audiobook for review.

ARC & Audio ARC Review: Infamous by Lex Croucher

Publication Date: March 21, 2023


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