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    Monday Minis

    Welcome back to another week of Monday Minis, full of supernatural creatures – vampires, ghosts and monkey kings. Many thanks to the respective publicists for sending me (e)ARCs of these titles – all opinions are my own as always.

    I loved The Coldest Touch by Isabel Sterling. This is the exact kind of contemporary YA fantasy that I will just devour like a vampire devours fresh blood – fitting, because this is a vampire book. But this aint Twilight. It is a fast-paced story about humanity, family and friendship, and also a tender love story between two girls, one of whom first needs to realise that she might not be quite as straight as she thought she was. Big yay for bi rights! It isn’t high literature, but it is incredibly compelling, with complex characters and an interesting magic system. While this is a standalone as far as I can tell, it could also work as the opener of a series, and I could totally see this being turned into an epic TV show too. Think The CW, but smarter. And more charming. I kind of want to reread it already.

    Ghostcloud by Michael Mann is a middle grade adventure set in a futuristic London, one where children are forced to work in factories that are more reminiscent of the nineteenth century than the future. Luke and his friends are shoveling coal under a bombed Battersea Power Station, when he meets Alma, a ghost-girl and learns that he himself is a half-ghost. With the help of Alma, he finds out about the evil plans of overseer Tabatha, and that they may all be in far bigger danger than the mundane risks of hard labour. It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, and I really liked Alma especially. I did feel like the concept was really cool and quite unique, but the writing didn’t completely convince me, and I felt like the characters were a bit flat. It’s a solid story, not an exceptional one, and thus probably not one I’d go out of my way to shill to people. And I slightly hate myself for this, because the cover and the inside illustration/decoration is absolutely gorgeous and I am a very simple Fab, and I like pretty shinies!

    Monkey Around by Jadie Jang is unfortunately a book I didn’t get along with at all. I realised very early on that this was likely going to be a DNF for me, but I still kept trying and made it around 100 pages in before capitulating. In terms of content, it is certainly an interesting one, blending South East Asian mythology with contemporary urban fantasy, set in San Francisco. But the voice is one that annoyed me – it is the kind of artificial humour and overt comedy that grates on me in any sort of context. Asking around in my group of friends and especially reviewers, this one has been a bit of a hit or miss, so if the idea of a modern Monkey King who doesn’t know what she’s doing intrigues you, do have a read of the blurb and see if that tone works for you – it is a good indication of the tone throughout the book. And if you’re looking for a more detailed and positive take on this, have a look at this review from Womble at Run Along the Shelves.

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    Monday Minis

    Welcome back to another round of Monday Minis where Fab catches up on their TBR! Many thanks to all the publicists who sent me eARCs of these three books via NetGalley, all opinions are my own as usual.

    Skyhunter by Marie Lu is your average YA science fiction novel. While I have enjoyed some of her earlier work, I found that this one read quite generic, and didn’t think that it particularly stood out. In fact, I considered DNF’ing it but kept hoping that I’d be sucked into the story. The story is about Mara, one of the last nations standing against the colonial force of the Karensa Federation, and its legendary fighting force, the Strikers, in particular. Talin is one of these Strikers, and when a prisoner is brought to her unit, she has to figure out whether he is a spy, or whether he might be a weapon that can help her side. Skyhunter as a whole is fast paced, but ultimately, nothing in in stands out and makes you connect to the story or the characters. I felt like it was a commercially-driven book, rather than one where I could tell that the author and the whole team behind it loved what they were doing and were thrilled to tell this story – especially because I struggled to really see what the story itself was, the plot felt quite meandering despite its pace, and the characters rather bland. This one is a miss, unfortunately.

    I really enjoyed The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin. This is an interesting take on fairy tales – Cinderella is very much not taken with the reality of her life after years of being married to the prince and is looking for a way out. This is a story full of unlikeable characters, of people you don’t necessarily want to feel for, but ultimately do empathise with. And that speaks to Grushin’s skill with words. But the pacing is off in this one. It feels choppy in places, and drags in the middle at times. It also has much more of a literary fiction feel than what I usually read, which might explain some of the struggles I experienced with the pacing. It does discuss what goes into making a marriage successful – from both sides, which I thought was really smart – and quite satirically portrays fairy godmothers as morally ambiguous characters. And my favourite parts were probably the little mice and their dynasty of self-replacing descendants! This is one to check out if you are into fairy tales, meta-analysis and intellectually challenging books.

    If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich isn’t my usual fare, but I’ve previously enjoyed Gonzales’ work, and so I picked this up on a whim on NetGalley and thought I’d give it a shot. And to be entirely honest, I still don’t quite know what to think about this one. This is the story of Saturday, a boyband, where two members end up falling in love with each other, to the dismay of their controlling management. Zach and Ruben, as well as Angel and Jon ended up growing on me throughout the course of their story and I really cared about them and their fates by the end of it. It was really frustrating to see how the boys were treated by their management when all they want to do is live their reality and share their love with the world. Staying in the closet when you’re ready to come out isn’t something that anyone should have to deal with, and I’m happy with how the story resolves. However, I did feel like it dragged on and was longer than needed – but the pacing issues I had with the story may be more down to the reader I am than the book itself as I rarely read contemporary. It’s definitely a fun book to spend a couple of hours with!

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    Monday Minis: Little Tiger Edition

    A little while ago, the lovely folks over at Little Tiger sent me a box full of their recent YA favourites to unbox over on my TikTok account, and now that I’ve had a chance to read them all, I thought I’d do a special Little Tiger feature for this week’s Monday Minis. All opinions are my own as usual.

    I already reviewed The Boy I Am by K.L. Kettle back when it came out at the start of the year (see my full review here) – I really enjoyed this dystopian YA that is reminiscent of the early 2010s and made me feel all nostalgic for a simpler time in my life. This turns gender roles on their head – boys are in a position of weakness, whereas women control the power in this world, and it shows the stark inequality still present in our system. A fun read with some deeper underthemes!

    I’m not sure why I didn’t fully click with Wranglestone by Darren Charlton. The book has generally been really well received, and quite a few of my friends have read it and liked it a lot. And while there really isn’t anything I can fault the book for, I found that while I didn’t dislike it, I was not emotionally invested in the characters – which meant that I found it hard to keep going. This is essentially both a tense zombie survivalist adventure and a sweet queer romance between two teen boys. But, I just ended up feeling like it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. And I’m not sure if it’s the book, or if it’s the fact that I’ve read most of the queer YA that’s been released in speculative fiction in the last few years and have just become super picky. Because by all accounts, I should have loved this. I think, ultimately, I just didn’t quite buy the romance. For me this ended up being a solid 3* read, and I hope that if you give it a read, it works better for you.

    I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed Radha and Jai’s Recipe for Romance by Nisha Sharma. And now I desperately want some Indian food because of all the delicious sounding recipes this romcom includes… I’m not usually a huge fan of contemporary romance, but this charmed me and I was absorbed into the story from the start, I really do blame it on the food – I am exceedingly food-motivated. While this is certainly not a perfect book, it is one that deals with a lot of the anxieties and challenges that teens face towards the end of their high school years, when they have to balance hobbies, passions, expectations and dreams for their future with the reality that comes crashing down on them. Radha and Jai, while utterly different and from very different backgrounds ultimately struggle with the same sorts of issues, and their differing approaches are interesting and make for a good story. I loved the flavour the Indian-American setting gave the story and the central theme of the Bollywood dancing theme. All in all, a very sweet story and one to look out for if you enjoy contemporary YA!

    The Rules by Tracy Darnton is a YA thriller about Amber, who is fleeing from her survivalist dad. He has been prepping them for some sort of impeding apocalypse for as long as she can remember and raised her under very strict rules for every aspect of life. It’s a gripping story, though not the most refined one. I felt like I didn’t get to know the characters as well as I would have liked – it feels like ultimately The Rules is really a predominately plot-driven story, and anyone outside of Amber is quite one dimensional. The ending was unexpected – though it felt rushed and didn’t get the sort of attention I would have liked to see. I did enjoy reading this, and felt for the characters, but I didn’t love it. It’s worth a look if you’re into YA thrillers though as YMMV!

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    Monday Minis

    Once again it’s Monday – so time for Monday Minis! A very eclectic combination of books this week – a teen mystery, an occult comic and a pandemic YA set in a juvenile detention facility. Many thanks to the publicists who sent me review copies or eARCs, all opinions are my own as always.

    I’ve had The Five Clues by Anthony Kessel for a while. And I read it quite a while ago. But I found reviewing this book very hard – I struggle to write reviews that are predominately negative, especially if a book is from a small press and there isn’t a whole lot out there. There are just some things that I struggled with and that I felt undermined the premise of the book as a whole. First and foremost I just could not deal with the inciting incident being that a supposedly loving mother (who was in fear for her own life) would leave her pre-teen daughter ACTIVE instructions to track down the people she thinks might KILL her?! What mother would put their child in danger like that? Not Edie, the main character, randomly finds something that leads her to believe that her mother’s death might not have been an accident. But her mother basically leaving a trail for her to follow. I was interested in reading the book because it is written by a public health physician and is marketed as teaching young readers to better deal with grief, something that is very dear to my heart as I too have lost my mother at a rather young age. However, I didn’t feel that this came across very well in the finished product, and would recommend other books for this purpose.

    I’m once again on a graphic novel binge, and so I was excited to get to read Shadow Service Volume 2: Mission Infernal by Cavan Scott and drawn by Corin M. Howell. I enjoyed the first volume earlier this year, and this continues Gina Meyer’s story as she runs from MI666, the secret division responsible for the supernatural. Gina is a witch, kicks ass and does not play around. Her adventures in this volume take her to Rome where she has to face a new threat and perhaps work together with old enemies to survive. Shadow Service is a very fun comic series, extremely fast paced – a little to the deterrent of character work, I think, I would prefer if it slowed down a bit and let us discover some more about who these characters are, rather than just their backstories – and it once again ends on a massive cliffhanger that has me very keen to read the next volume. While this isn’t one of my all-time favourite comics, it is one that I really enjoy reading and it has a lot of the elements that make me pick up a story. And every time I’m thinking, ah, I’m getting a bit bored, this story doesn’t quite feel like the right thing for me, they come up with some sort of twist or cliffhanger that ends up getting me hooked again, making the series very addictive. It feels a bit like that comforting thing you can read without having to think too much, similar to how I’ve been binging Riverdale again. A fun series for those of you who like occult action-packed stories!

    At The End of Everything by Marieke Nijkamp is a hard book to talk about. It took me quite a bit to get into it, probably because I tend to struggle with prison settings – I didn’t look up what the book was about before I started reading as I loved their last book, Even If We Break, and knew I would want to follow what they wrote. That the book deals with a virus breakout doesn’t help either, it hits very close to home as the characters struggle to survive after they’ve been forgotten by the world around them. But damn, once you get into the book, it grips you. The way Nijkamp manages to build tension through the rapid switch of PoVs, the addition of lists, transcripts of phone calls and left messages and similar scenes is brilliant, and as the story goes on, you end up not as close to any single character as you’d be in a traditionally told story, but caught up in the fraught atmosphere of the world. It is an excellent book, and one with great disability rep – there is a deaf character and an autistic character, both of which are really well written. Generally, Nijkamp’s a great bet if you’re looking for queer and diverse YA, and this one in particular is one for you if you like to tear your heart out and stomp on it. Be prepared for all the pain.

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    Monday Minis – Short Fiction Edition

    This week’s Monday Minis are a bit of a special edition. I’ve been reading quite a bit of short fiction recently – thanks to some amazing publicists who have sent me some anthologies and collections for review – so I thought I’d do a roundup of the lovely books I’ve read! I received review copies of all of these, all opinions are my own as usual.

    We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2020, edited by C.L. Clark and series editor Charles Payseur came out from Neon Hemlock Press in August. It reprints a selection of short fiction published in 2020 that the editors chose as their ‘best of’ 2020 – which, as they quite eloquently explain in the introduction is a very subjective classification and always ends up missing out on great things due to a variety of reasons. As such, this was quite a mixed bag for me personally. I think as a whole, the anthology was very well done and put together in a way that made sense, even if the individual stories weren’t all to my taste. I did feel like the stronger stories were in the second half of the anthologies – the ones that stood out to me most were “Thin Red Jellies” by Lina Rather, which shows the heartbreaking deterioration of a relationship under strange circumstances, and “The Wedding After the Bomb” by Brendan Williams-Childs, which focused on the found family aspect of queer groups. A solid entry if you want to get into reading more short fiction!

    I first came across Aliya Whiteley’s work late last year, when I read and reviewed the brilliant Skyward Inn (see my review here). So I jumped at the chance to read her new collection From the Neck Up, full of short fiction about the strangeness of life and the uncanny things that people encounter in their everyday lives, published by Titan Books in September. I highly enjoyed all of the stories in this collection – I really appreciate how Whiteley manages to evoke an uncanny atmosphere using relatively simple and accessible language, keeping her work grounded in reality while unsettling the reader with the content of the stories. These stories are really taken from the mundane, rather than the poetic and abstract, and that makes them all the creepier. An excellent collection of light horror stories.

    I’ve been on a bit of a translated fiction binge recently, and Sinopticon has only given me more authors to look up and read more from. Edited by Xueting Christine Ni, this collects and celebrates stories written by Chinese authors over the past few decades and makes them accessible to a far wider audience by translating them into English. I would love to see more of these kinds of anthologies and really dive into the way storytelling differs in different places. This anthology features some true gems – the two stories that stood out the most to me were “The Great Migration” by Ma Boyong and “Flower of the Other Shore” by A Que. Two utterly different stories that managed to draw me into their worlds completely. The first, “The Great Migration” is set in a far future where humans have colonised Mars and features two travelers who meet trying to travel home to Earth in the limited window where the two planets are closer to each other. This is an analogy to the Chinese tradition of people returning home to their families across the country for the holidays, such as Chinese New Year, turning a really mundane encounter into something special through great writing. The second story, “Flower of the Other Shore” is more out there – it’s story of the zombie apocalypse, but it’s a truly special one. The writing is haunting and the characters are ones that will stick with you. So definitely an anthology that should be on your radar!

    The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. Liu collects seven of the author’s stories and was published in June 2021 by Tachyon. This was my first foray into Liu’s prose work – I’d read the Monstress graphic novels, which she writes, but a graphic novel isn’t quite the same thing as a prose story. Now that I’m finished with the collection, I remain torn with my thoughts about it. I love that the stories all have that almost whimsical, ethereal feel to them that I expected from Liu’s work after Monstress, but none of them stood out to me in particular as stories that I loved. So while the atmosphere and the writing worked really well for me, I didn’t connect to the stories on an emotional level and found the individual stories almost forgettable. What I did really enjoy is that all of the stories had a little afterword about their inspiration, about their original publication. I loved reading these little insights that Liu had while going over her earlier work again in preparation for the collection, as all of the stories contained here are reprints. If you like Monstress, or enjoy atmosphere-driven stories with a good dash of whimsy, you might enjoy this collection a lot!

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    Monday Minis: A Few Novellas

    I don’t typically read novellas – not because of some active choice on my part, but merely by happenstance. But over the past couple months, a few novellas have managed to find their way into my reading queue, and so I thought I’d do a special Monday Minis looking at these three completely different little books. All opinions are my own.

    My Dirty Duke: A Victorian Novella by Joanna Shupe completely knocked my socks off! I heard about this book, because I follow author Sarah McLean on Twitter and she recommended it, and thank goodness she did. This novella checks all the boxes in terms of pure, unadulterated enjoyment for me. The writing is superb. The characters come to life on the page, and their arcs are real and meaningful despite its short length. The romance is delectably steamy right from the beginning (including naked, amateur photography) and is amplified by the age-gap trope – he is her father’s best friend – truly magnificent! If you want a wickedly decadent historical that you can read in a couple hours before bed, this is the novella for you! (Aside: OK, after writing this, I’ve decided I need to go read this yet again…)

    The Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a fantasy novella about a sorceress who loses her position of power after being betrayed by her lover. I was looking to fill the r/fantasy Latinx Book Bingo square, and was drawn to this novella by the description in Goodreads advertising it as Sword and Sorcery. Although I would not classify the book as such – I believe this to be a personal story about coming to terms with one’s hubris – it was still a pleasurable read delivering a solid message about the evils of desiring power in a interesting, fantastical setting. For me, the highlight of this book was the meso-american folklore influence on the world-building, especially in the form of what I would consider the main character’s cheeky familiar, the Nahual. Overall, a short, satisfying story.

    I saw a preorder announcement from the author for this book on my Twitter timeline (via the Romance Books hashtag), read the description, and immediately went to Amazon and bought it. Flesh and Stone: A Monster Romance Novella by Emily Hemenway is a steamy, contemporary romance novella that takes place between an almost 200 year old gargoyle and a contemporary, young New York woman. Yes, you read that correctly – the MMC is a gargoyle, and he and the FMC have gargoyle sex. You can thank me later. Thomas was part of a secret organization that investigated the supernatural when he was transformed into a gargoyle by an evil witch. He awakes in the present day when Hannah, an FBI analyst, recently moved to New York City, touches the statue on a tour of the old cathedral. You can imagine her surprise, but maybe not her reaction to this stony gentleman! This book was so cute and simply a fun read, perfect for October with all its witchy, monster vibes. 

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    Monday Minis

    And welcome back to Monday Minis, Switzerland Edition, the second. I’m still here, hanging out with my favourite person in the world (my grandma, sorry lads). I got to meet up with some lovely nerdy friends this weekend and eat lots of great food, so a fantastic time was had. Sadly, I didn’t have quite as much of a good time reading this batch of books… Once again, thank you to the wonderful publishers for sending me (e)ARCs for review, all opinions are my own.

    Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed is a fun YA contemporary with an added historical narrative woven into the story. Khayyam is spending the summer in Paris after losing an important art history essay competition and feeling like she has failed at everything she worked towards. And then she meets Alexandre. Alexandre Dumas, to be exact. Descendant of that Alexandre Dumas, the one who she was working on. Together, they follow her seemingly insane theory about a missing painting once belonging to Dumas, and thus end up following in the footsteps of Leila, a young Muslim woman living in the Paris of Dumas’ time. There is much here that makes a great story. But I ended up loving the premise a lot more than the actual book. To me, there were a lot of pieces that just didn’t quite fit together properly and the story and characters ended up like a puzzle with half the pieces missing or wrongly assembled. I might have approached it from the wrong perspective as someone very familiar with academic work in both history and art history, so it might well be that I am just the wrong reader for the book – but the way historical documents were treated in the story made me cry and that Khayyam’s parents (PROFESSORS!) encouraged her in this endeavour made me VERY upset. JUSTICE FOR RARE MATERIALS! I think this was a three star read for me, but ultimately more due to who I am than anything else.

    Dare To Know by James Kennedy frustrated me to no end. It starts out very intriguing – it’s a high concept thriller about a narrator who works for a company which developed an algorithm able to predict people’s deaths, until one day, he is in an accident, which causes him to calculate the time of his own death… which is half an hour in the past. This leads him on a wild goose chase for his ex-girlfriend who is the only other person who knows his time of death and might be able to help. But the story loses itself in a confused stream-of-consciousness narration skipping through moments of the narrator’s past, ultimately not leading to much of a coherent plot line. What further annoyed me is that the narrator is a self-centred narcissist who thinks he is smarter than everyone around him and I could not stand the bastard. I was close to throwing the book across the room many many times because of what a dick the narrator is – I don’t think he has any redeeming qualities. And because the book is so closely focused on his experiences, that is a major aspect of the reading experience. So, sadly not one I’d recommend.

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    Monday Minis

    Welcome to Monday Minis, Switzerland edition. I’m finishing up writing these as I am on the train from one end of the country to the other. I’m on a bit of a recuperation trip seeing friends and family until the middle of next week, so who knows how much I’ll be posting. Sadly, this week’s books are all ones that I didn’t get on great with even if I was really excited for all of them – keep reading to see why. Many thanks to all the publishers for sending me eARCs via NetGalley.

    What is it with sequels not living up to the potential of the first book recently? I feel like The Monarchs by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige is the latest in a series of second books following up on great initial novels that just left me wanting more. I read The Ravens, the first book, a couple times, both before it released for my review and after it came out and loved the characters, setting and approach to magic. But this second book felt very generic and lost a lot of the magic that sucked me into the first one to begin with. The plot takes a long time to get going – the main arc doesn’t really start until about halfway through – and much of what happens is basically petty drama. Honestly, I just ended up not being emotionally invested in this and constantly thinking of more interesting directions that the book could have taken. I think as a whole it is fine, and it ends up in a mostly satisfying ending to the duology, but it could have been so much better. While The Monarchs really focuses on just Vivi and Scarlett – and shows much less of their fellow Ravens – it seems to do so superficially, and not really explore their dynamic, which for me was one of the most interesting parts of the first book. So a solid three stars from me.

    The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl has such an interesting concept which is total Fab catnip – it made it onto my October hype post even. But, I struggled to even finish it. It ended up being more of a rage read than anything else. The story follows four girls at an elite boarding school after the death of one of their own as they slowly figure out that they’re actually set to repeat fairy tale tropes and their destinies are set. The concept is great, but that is pretty much the only thing the book has going for itself. The writing isn’t great – and in a crowded YA fantasy market, clunky writing is really something that does put me off. The characters were bland and because they fell into stock tropes, not characterised deeply enough. I didn’t feel like I got a proper sense of any single one. And while the book as a whole had a sense of casual queerness, I was rather upset to realise that the Beauty and the Beast insert characters included casting the only trans character in the book as the “Beast”… which is certainly a choice. I was quite excited when I realised that the book was set in Switzerland – and quite close to where I grew up too – but that soon turned to dismay when I realised that the setting was not well crafted, but relied on stereotypes and a lack of basic research. All in all, this is a book that I found underperformed in all aspects and would not recommend, as tempting as the premise is.

    The Ice Whisperers by Helenka Stachera is a middle grade fantasy that takes readers back to the Ice Age. The framing narrative is set in pre-revolutionary Russia, and the story then transports readers and characters into a dream-world close to the Ice Age. It centres Bela, who was raised as something of an orphan by extended relatives and never truly felt like she belonged, as she discovers that there is more to her parentage as she ever suspected. There is a lot to this story that is sweet, and I can see many young readers enjoying Bela’s adventures. But it is also not one that stands out enough in terms of writing and characters for me to recommend this over some of the other middle grades I’ve been reading. I think this is an author to watch, even if this particular book isn’t quite a standout success yet.

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    Monday Minis

    Have You Seen Me? by Alexandrea Weis started out as the exact kind of book I’ve been craving as part of my dark academia binge. I mean, girls disappearing at an elite boarding school outside of New Orleans, mixing cold cases with new tragedy, a young, atttractive teacher and a hardened cop turned small-town sheriff? Sounds pretty good, right? The combination of late-twenties Audrey and her teen students as narrating points of view mean that the book is interesting to both YA and adult audiences, as well as catnip for potential adaptation. However, the book didn’t manage to live up to its potential. Much of the adults’ behaviour did not follow any sort of logic, especially not when considered from a perspective of an educators responsibility to keep their students safe. The somehow insta-love between sheriff and teacher didn’t manifest in any kind of flirting, which would have been odd enough while her students kept dying, but in him constantly expressing worry about HER safety while not being worried about the students at all. WHO KEPT DYING. And then, around the middle of the story, Native Americans were brought in as a red herring. It was very clear that it was supposed to be a red herring – we never actually encounter one of them, their only purpose in the story is that they keep getting mentioned as some sort of barbarian people who perform rituals on the school grounds and thus are suspects in the girls’ disappearances. Which, no thank you. There is no reason why this is necessary – and no benefit to the plot of this specific book. The only reason I did not rage-quit when this was brought up, is because I needed to know exactly how angry I needed to be. Do not recommend.

    The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling is a fun romance centred around Vivi, witch, lecturer and chaotic young woman. A decade ago she accidentally hexed her ex, hot Welsh witch Rhys, which they only just found out as he’s in town for a big ritual. This is basically one big comedy of errors as the two bicker and eventually fall back in love as they try to save the town and undo the curse. The Ex Hex is lighthearted and entertaining, with charming characters, though it lacked substance for my taste. I felt like it was just this tad too easy of a read and wished there was a bit more of an underlying issue. Part of it was probably also that this was a cishet romance, which is not something I pick up often – I was drawn in my the witchy aspect, and it was definitely more romance than witchy novel. So I think this is exactly what it says on the tin, and if that’s what you crave, go for it! Just don’t ask it to be anything that it’s not trying to be.

    These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong made my favourite books of 2020 list. I adored the book and thought it combined so many things seemingly effortlessly, so I was very excited for Our Violent Ends, the sequel and end to the duology. However, it didn’t manage to get anywhere close to the magic of the first book and I ended up very frustrated with it despite all my efforts to try and love it as much as I did the first book. It felt like it needed a lot more editing (and it might well be that some of the issues I noticed will be resolved in the finished copies). Much of the plot seemed to be stuck in endless loops of the same over and over again rather than propelling itself forward, which to me was a less than ideal reading experience, combined with a lot of artificial pining between Roma and Juliette. I did enjoy the development of some of the minor characters, though partially that was more on principle than because their storylines felt natural. Ultimately the story did come to a somewhat satisfying conclusion, but the book as a whole did not come close to the magic I felt reading the first book. I’ll still be following what Chloe Gong does next, but Our Violent Ends was more miss than hit for me.

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    Monday Minis – Historical Romance Edition

    In this special edition of Monday Minis, I’ll be sharing thoughts on a few upcoming Historical Romance releases that I thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend to any lover of the genre! I received eARCs of all three of these books from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

    Duke Gone Rogue is the first book I’ve read by Christy Carlyle, and with this one book, she has immediately ascended to the top of my favorite Historical Romance authors list. To escape his reputation as a heartless curmudgeon in late Victorian-era London, the Duke of Ashmore takes a much needed vacation in Cornwall where he is forced to come face-to-face with his father’s debauched past manifest in the pleasure estate he must now occupy. Maddie Ravenwood is a pillar of the Haven’s Cove community and must convince the unrelenting Duke of Ashmore to repair the eyesore of a property that he just wants to forget. Intentions quickly shift as the two start to develop an easy rapport that blossoms into something more. I happily give this book my highest of recommendations. I think it’s an excellent example of a mature, well-developed Romance that doesn’t rely on sex to build intensity or chemistry. There was no “pining and whining,” and from the beginning, Maddie doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind or articulate what she wants, not only in her life, but also from her love interest. How satisfying to read a FMC that flat out says: “I want you” and “Please touch me.” More of this in Romance please! The prose is solid, the characterization near perfection, and there is no contrived side-plot used to drive the story. This book is about Will and Maddie and how their lives are enriched through knowing each other and falling in love. I will definitely be reading on in this series and look forward to more from this author!

    The second book in The Fifth Avenue Rebels series, The Lady Gets Lucky follows the relationship of wallflower Alice Lusk and rakish scoundrel Christopher “Kit” Ward as they navigate high society during the Gilded Age in Newport, New York, and Boston. At a house party in Newport, Alice decides to take her life into her own hands by asking Kit, a man purported to turn even the shiest of women into a vixen, to give her lessons on men so that she can find a husband and escape her overbearing mother. But as the lessons progress and they get to know one another, an unexpected relationship begins to develop, and they are forced to examine themselves, the emotional scars of their pasts, and each other to chart a path forward in their lives. This book is only the second I have read by Joanna Shupe. I was so enamored of My Dirty Duke, I wanted to get a sense of her writing in a full-length novel, and I was not disappointed. The relationship is slow-burn, taking the entirety of the book to develop, which makes the HEA that much more satisfying and authentic. But the highlight of this book is Shupe’s characterization. All the characters are lovable, not just Alice and Kit! The supporting cast (the unlucky Duke Lockwood and the naughty, but strong Nellie Young) piqued my interest, and I’m eager to read on, hopeful to see their stories develop in the broader context of the series.

    Eva Leigh’s The Good Girl’s Guide to Rakes is the first book of her new Last Chance Scoundrels series set in Regency-era London. Kieran and Finn’s parents are furious after the two rakish brothers help their best friend Dom leave their sister at the altar. Oops! They won’t see a penny of their parent’s money unless all three are married to respectable women. Kieran takes the challenge head-on and asks Dom’s sister Celeste to introduce him to proper society. But Celeste is sick of proper society. She’ll help Kieran, but only on the condition that he return the favor and show her the scandalous side of London. Throughout both their tame daytime excursions and their clandestine nighttime outings, the two find they are far more similar than outward appearances and reputations would have led either to believe. Their partnership turns into a steamy love affair that will have you frantically turning the page for more! For me, this book was entirely a pleasure read. I enjoyed the characters and found them engaging. The chemistry between Kieran and Celeste was intense and their encounters wonderfully steamy. Kieran’s dabbling in poetry was a delightfully unexpected, and well-executed, addition. The premise was a bit contrived and unlikely for my taste, but the book was so fun that it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment. I will definitely read on in the series – I cannot wait to find out what happens with Finn and Dom!