A very different historical romance... One with lots of caves and a Romeo and Juliet-style feud.
A Reckless Match comes out on September 28!
Maddie Montgomery's family has been in a feud with the neighboring Davies family for generations. By order of the Royal family, each year a representative of the Montgomery family and a representative of the Davies family must meet on the borderlands of their estates and shake hands to seal their yearly agreement—if either party fails to show up, the strip of borderland is taken from the no-show family.
Maddie thinks her family might just win this year... until Gryff Davies shows up on his horse, freshly returned from the war and looking Fine with a capital F.
Gryff's childhood crush on Maddie Montgomery was something of his past, Gryff thought. But when he sees Maddie on the border, he realizes he was just lying to himself. She's the only person who makes him feel something, and he's not sure he can bear to see her getting married off...
Will these two lifelong "enemies" meet their match?
I thought this series debut was entertaining enough, but to be honest I think this was a case of "it's not the book, it's just me and my reading tastes again" because I had a really hard time getting through A Reckless Match. And objectively, this was a wonderfully fresh historical romance. For one thing, there's a lot of adventure and cave exploring. How many historical romances set in England can say that?
This novel does include the "virgin female" trope, which is a personal dislike of mine. It also moved quite slowly and seemed to conveniently wrap up every plot point. Again, neither of those qualms are necessarily bad, but given my personal romance preferences they served to keep me from fully engaging in the story.
If you like historical English romances, feuding families, or caves, I do recommend this one!
Thank you to St Martin's Press for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Lyrical and lulling, this novel was an entrancing story of one woman's love of dance in 1960-1970s Bombay.
Narrative style: ★★ (did not work for me)
Main character: ★★★★
I absolutely adored Shruti Swamy's A House is a Body short story collection. It was out-of-this-world mesmerizing and filled with stories that seared your soul. Because of that collection, I was thrilled to pick up a copy of her newest novel.
Vidya is a girl growing up in 1960s Bombay. Raised within the traditional values of her culture and the world's views on womanhood, Vidya does not know how to fit in as a girl. She's hyperaware of her physical self and soul in her surroundings. But then everything changes when she begins to dance.
As she falls further into the dancing world of Kathak, a style of dance known for its precision, Vidya begins to make order of her life. Dance becomes her means of ordering herself and her place within time and space. The years flow. The dance remains.
This book calls itself "deeply sensual," and I strongly agree. Everything emotional and sensory is deeply feel through the pages, and there is a startling intimacy in the reader's connection to Vidya as she grows into womanhood and reckons with her life and the limitations of her gender.
The Archer is memorable and lyrical, but I do have to admit that I loved it slightly less than Swamy's short story collection. I had a heck of a time getting into the narrative style of this one. The character's narration of her own thoughts and life's journey was intentionally distanced and meant to highlight her internal journey toward herself, yes, but it did make for a very difficult reading experience.
Recommended for fans of the author's previous collection and for those who enjoy non-traditional narration.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
A vampire novel that plays with your expectations and brings new light into the niche? Nice.
In an alternate version of Mexico City, vampires exist. Well, they're outlawed from Mexico City itself, but they're a known species in Mexico and throughout the world. With several different subspecies of vampire originating from all across the globe, things come to a head in Certain Dark Things when the Mexican native group of vampires, the original Aztec blood drinkers, encounter a turf war with the European immigrant variant of vampire and the fallout impacts different people in Mexico City.
Atl, the lone surviving member of her vampire clan, is on the run from the European vampire clan that massacred her family. She picked Mexico City as a dangerous hideout spot in order to avoid the vampires in a city that outlaws their existence. While it makes it hard for the bad guys to track her down, it also makes it hard for her to get around—and she's not exactly hiding well with her huge genetically enhanced Doberman at her heels. Atl desperately needs to escape Mexico if she wants to survive.
Domingo is a trash collector in Mexico City. He's eeking a meager life for himself on the fringes of society, and he's still young enough to believe in adventure. So when a mysterious and beautiful woman with a hulking Doberman dog asks for his help, he agrees with a shocking lack of hesitation.
Atl thinks he's just a convenient meal for now. Domingo thinks he's having his shot at a grand vampire adventure. They're both in for a huge surprise.
I loved this neo-noir take on vampires in Mexico City. Like all of Silvia Moreno-Garcia's works, I thought this one was fantastic. I love her writing and her way of engaging storytelling. Her characters feel real and yet distant, easy to predict and yet surprising. Certain Dark Things was no exception, even though it did have a few more bumps in the plot and pacing than a usual Moreno-Garcia work (Gods of Jade and Shadow and Mexican Gothic were written later than this one, and you can tell. However, it's a testament to her writing ability that the difference in quality is not that large.)
Highlights for me: The characters, the worldbuilding, and unpredictable nature of the story.
Lowpoints for me: I did think the pacing suffered in the middle, but that's because I love drama.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one and am thrilled to see it republished in this form with this stunning cover edition. Its brief original release and subsequent abandonment due to publisher issues was not the fault of the work, and now we can all enjoy this tale in its updated form!
Thank you to Macmillan/TOR for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
4.5 bloody stars
The true horror of this novel has nothing to do with the gore or the slashers. This was deceptively stunning.
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Plot layers: ★★★★★
Overall impact: ★★★★★
Oof. How do I review this one. On the one hand, I want to start with the hard spoilers and work my way backward because I haven't see many reviews addressing the elements that I want to talk about. But on the other hand, half of this novel's brilliance comes from the reveals and final steps.
I guess we'll see how this goes.
My Heart is a Chainsaw was stunning. I had to read it roughly 1.5 times to get to this 5 star rating—let me explain. For the first third, I was NOT feeling the story. As someone who hated Catcher in the Rye for Holden's annoying internal monologues and meandering prose, the main character of Chainsaw, Jade, fit that bill too closely for my tastes. I wanted to reach into the pages and "make her stay on track, dang it!" Lots of pop culture slasher references, meandering thoughts, unlikeable character traits, the whole nine yards and then some.
But then some reveals hit us around 1/3-1/2 mark, and I was floored. Absolutely floored.
So now, at the halfway point of the novel for the first read, I went back to the beginning. I needed to see what I'd missed and see how the author had gotten us here—because clearly Jade had done what she'd intended to do... which was hide the truth from us and herself.
So let's just say that if you're not feeling Jade or the pacing of the novel on your first read, you're not alone. But it is disturbingly worth it.
This is a novel filled with guts and gore and slashers and horror. Not a single review disputes that. But it's also about Jade. It's about what she's not saying and not addressing—and yet putting in these pages like Morse code. It's about the true horror behind the curtain and the mind's way of (not) coping with reality. It's about our fantasies, our dreams deferred turned dark and deep, our use of pop culture to explain our present and idealize our future.
To touch on the surface plot for a bit, I found the slasher elements of this novel to be interesting. As someone who loves new horror trends and never quite got into the old-school slashers that Jade loves to reference, I didn't find it hard to follow. Maybe a bit heavy-handed, but isn't that the mode of the slasher in the first place?
I'm giving this five stars for Stephen Graham Jones' stunning interplay between surface plot and subplot, and his way of taking the familiar "outside" horror that we see in the movies and using it as a mask for the darker, intimate horrors that cut deeper.
A strong novel with a bleak outlook on truth and life and personhood, this is one that will linger with me for a long time.
Thank you to Gallery Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This had a bit of an odd start, but once it got going this turned into an adorable historical romance.
Edwina Dalrymple lives on the fringes of London society. The illegitimate daughter of an Earl who has no desire to claim her, she's made her living as an etiquette governess, one charged with teaching young charges the in's and out's of London's ton in order for them to make the best first impressions.
But when Edwina is hired by the Duke of Bentley to bring his illegitimate son, Rafe Audley, back into the London fold after being raised in the miner's community of the English countryside... Edwina realizes she might have bitten off more than she could chew.
Despite their similar life experiences as both being bastard-born, Rafe and Edwina have very different options on London's wealthy upper class and how it affects them.
Rafe Audley has no intention of leaving his life as a mining foreman and becoming a Duke's son. He's thirty-one and he's happy with his lot in life.
But Edwina can't let that stand—she's being paid a lot of money to secure his return to London society, and Edwina's future is at stake as her entire career is based on previous employer references.
Edwina needs to get him to London. Rafe swears that will never happen.
Cue the shenanigans.
I thought Along Came a Lady was cute, filled with commentary on birthrights and the hypocrisy of London's upper society, and surprisingly fun to read. Edwina and Rafe played the grouchy/sunshine trope to perfection and I loved all of their interactions. Would I read a sequel on them? YES!
My one caveat was that I thought the ending was a little abrupt... I wanted more of a conclusion/epilogue than the abrupt happy ending that we got. It was great, I just wanted to see them... enjoy that moment beyond the page. But overall, extremely cute and a great historical romance for fans of the genre.
Thank you to Berkley Romance for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Another hypnotic, unstoppable novel from an author who can seemingly tackle any genre. Crime noir, interesting characters, and a plot that moves at the pace of a snail and yet captivates your attention. A very interesting read.
Happy Publication Day!
Velvet Was the Night is a study in interesting contradictions wrapped around a "true horror story," as the author herself notes in her afterword. I found it to be utterly compelling even despite of a few personal quirks.
Maite is a 30-year-old woman in 1970s Mexico City. She lives in an apartment that she can't really afford, she works as a dictation secretary in a law office she doesn't like, and she's desperate for love and yet unwilling to open herself up to the possibility of finding it.
She's not a likeable character, to be honest. But I didn't care--she was interesting. And interesting people are more fun to follow within a story.
When her neighbor, the beautiful and artistic Leonara, asks Maite to watch her cat while she leaves town for a few days, Maite reluctantly agrees. Maite has no idea how that one decision will change her life.
Leonara doesn't return. And things in Mexico City are about to boil over into a political nightmare with Maite, of all people, somehow at the center of the story.
Entwined with Maite's story is the story of Elvis, a young man working for the Hawks, a shady, guerilla/gangsterized form of enforcers operating in the shadows of the current Mexican regime. Elvis fell into the line of work when his petty thieving brought him to the attention of the wrong people, and now he's embroiled in the drama whether he wants to be or not. And Elvis isn't quite sure these days.
As Maite's and Elvis' lives meld into one noir narrative bubbling with intrigue, Velvet Was the Night embarks on a simmering adventure.
Now, I'm starting from a place of bias when I say that I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia already. I'm primed to—at a minimum—enjoy her work as I love her writing style and her way of delving into character development. This novel was no exception. I loved it too.
Velvet Was the Night was a different kind of Moreno-Garcia read, however, and I'm still chewing on the why. For one thing, it took Moreno-Garcia's already slowwww pacing and dialed it down even further. Which I didn't know was possible. Let's be honest: I struggled with the slowness of the pacing for the first half of the book because it was just that—tooooooo slowwwwww.
But then the simmering, never-at-rest and yet slow-as-heck vibe started to get to me. I was hooked, and even though I still wanted the ride to go faster, I was getting into it as a slow burn. Good synonyms for this story: simmering, digesting, creeping, enveloping. Slow and steady wins the RACE, y'all.
I also had a bit of a harder time with this novel as the characters weren't who I wanted them to be. I don't know why, maybe it's society's expectations or stereotypes of the genre or something else, but the fact that Maite and Elvis continued to thwart my expectations of them (sometimes even in negative ways) just really took me aback. Looking back on the reading experience, I liked that about the novel. But during the read I found it frustrating.
See what I mean? Contradictions. An odd, lingering, inescapable story. Another winner.
Silvia, what WILL you write next??? I am already waiting.
Thank you to Del Rey for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
I liked it, didn’t love it sadly. There were tropes in here that I should have known would bother me, and then they did—so this is definitely an example of "Amy should read the summary first" and not a problem of the book!
Steam factor: ★★★ (for Tessa, this was bland)
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
A quick disclaimer: I LOVE Tessa Bailey! This might have been a miss for me, but it was for personal, niche reasons and not for a poorly-executed story. This review is a little meh, a little gripe-y, and overall lackluster. That was totally me not enjoying the tropes written on the tin and not a reflection on the book.
In Tessa Bailey's latest novel, It Happened One Summer, Tessa takes on some romance trope titans: the small-town coastal community, the "airhead, sheltered" main female character, and the trope of "finding true meaning in the simple life."
If it sounds like K.A. Tucker's The Simple Wild to you, then you'd be right. I would say that this novel follows a similar blueprint to K.A. Tucker with some different twists and a different ending of sorts (so for those who have read that one, I'm not spoiling this book by comparing the two).
In a bizarre move that sounds ridiculous as I type it out, I'm going to recommend this book by highlighting all of the things I didn't like about it... because I think this is the perfect romance for the right reader and it's just my cranky self that hates these things.
1.) If you loved The Simple Wild, you'll love this. Lots of similarities with enough unique twists to be a different reading experience.
2.) If you like the idea of your main character being a transplant into a community/situation/set-up where she is at a huge disadvantage and does not know how to cope and is constantly seen as the rich/spoiled/sheltered female, then you'll enjoy this setup of a Californian, rich social media influencer transplanted into this coastal Pacific Northwest town.
3.) If you like your romances with very little drama—and when it gets to the drama, it's of the low-stakes variety—then you'll love this story. This is a not an angsty ride through the trenches.
4.) If you're looking for a story that handles plot first, romance second, and sex third, then you'll enjoy this story. For Tessa, who is known for some steamy scenes and content, I thought this was... really tame. Not sure why. It was definitely a departure from her other work.
Overall, not for me, but I did think it was cute. I am interested in the next book in the series, as it sounds like the tropes are much more up my alley. We'll see!
Favorite in the series?? YES.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown is the third and final book in the Brown sisters trilogy, but as it's a romance series, each book is a great entry point into the universe. I recommend this to series readers and new readers both.
Eve was the sister that I connected to the least in the first few books, so I was really interested to see how Talia Hibbert was going to take her story. Eve is the youngest sister, the one with the most interesting (cough cough, flighty) career backstory, and she's also the wild child of the family.
So when Eve's parents put their feet down and tell her she's got to settle down and stick with a job, Eve is NOT happy. She knows she's been riding the high of no consequences and no responsibilities for a while, but this was... harsh.
So Eve gets in her car and drives into the English countryside. She stops at a quaint town. She sees a "Cook Wanted" sign at a cute bed and breakfast, and she interviews on the spot.
Jacob Wayne is the owner of said bed and breakfast. A man with a steel-fisted sense of control and manuals on manuals to "How-To" his way to success, Jacob can't rationalize Eve. He also can't stop fixating on her. He turns her down for the job.
Then Eve runs him over in her car—by accident!!—and fractures his arm. Now Jacob has no choice: it's Eve or bust as he's approaching a festival deadline and he needs the help.
What will Eve, the purple-haired feisty wild child, and Jacob, the tight-laced buttoned up soul, do with each other??
Obviously fall in love.
Oh, oh, OHHHHHHH this was so. much. fun. I could not get ENOUGH of this story!
I laughed! I threw the book down due to secondhand embarrassment! I thought Eve and Jacob were precious! The autism rep! The conversations about love and intimacy! The sex!
Nothing negative. I don't have anything intellectual to say (sorry), I just have insane amounts of fangirl screaming to shout down the internet void at you, reading this review.
Really interesting. Hypnotic. Didn’t go where I expected it to go, and carried an uncomfortable edge from beginning to bitter end.
Writing style: ★★★★
Sense of unease: ★★★★★
Plot/Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
The Temple House Vanishing comes out on July 6!
As I write this review, there's a thunderstorm outside my window and we're on our 5th day of constant rain and storms. This feels almost creepily tied to the review of this book... so I'm rolling with it.
It was a dark, and stormy night...
But actually, it wasn't. It was just "a" night in the rural Irish moors when Louisa disappears from the Temple House school. The enigmatic young male teacher, Mr. Lavelle, disappears too. Many theories abound over the years as neither student nor teacher are seen again.
Did they run off together?
Was their something sordid in their closeness?
Where are they now?
What REALLY happened that school year in the all-girls boarding school?
On the 25th anniversary of the disappearances, a journalist decides to have a crack at solving the case. The students are now middle-aged women, the nuns who ran the school are dead, and Temple House itself is slated for demolition. If the case is going to be solved at all, it must be now.
But all is not what it seems, and as the layers unpeel from this gothic tale the lingering sense of unease creeps up on you. Don't get too comfortable.
I thought this was a very interesting novel. Is it a mystery/thriller? Kind of. Is it a twisted tale, meant to unearth the darkest aspects of human nature? I don't know if I'd say that. In the end, I'd say it's a character study and an exercise in the gothic classics. The Temple House Vanishing is perfect for those who enjoy Sarah Waters and Sarah Moss.
The writing style took a little getting used to, as it's very no-nonsense and deals in overt sentences laced with undertones. I found it really easy to get lost in the surface plot and glaze over some of the fine print in the details... and then that would bite me later, as those fine details were where the true story is unfolding.
A complex, multilayered dual-POV novel with a lot of interesting nuances.
Now, a brief NON-SPOILER section on the ending. As this novel is centered around a mysterious circumstance, there is a final series of reveals regarding The Truth of What Happened. I found myself surprised by the ending... and also slightly cheated... and also vaguely uneasy. It wasn't a comfortable, or frankly satisfying, ending. But it felt very real and not over-sensationalized and honestly fit right in with the overall sense of lingering unease that the novel provoked.
If this review doesn't turn you right off from the book, then I'd say you should pick it up! The target audience is on the small, niche side, but you'll have a good time here if that's your thing.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was…complex. I've slept on this review, and at the end of the day I think it boils down to this: this is a memorable, engaging, and haunting story. But ultimately not for me.
Story structure: ★★★
Dave Cartwright is done. Unwilling to look his PTSD from Iraq in the eye, when his wife dies in a car accident after their last fight it's the last straw for Dave--he throws in the towel. With society.
He becomes convinced that the only way to take charge of his life--and the life of his seven-year-old daughter, Bella--is that he needs to move them into the North Cascades, a mountain range in rural Washington. So he does. He leaves his house, his life, his money, and his support network and takes Bella.
So the two Cartwrights move into the wilderness. So far, so good. Bella thinks its an adventure, and Dave can finally breathe away from all of the gunk that he didn't want to face in town.
But then things start to turn, and Bella's life changes--she starts seeing these visions. Not flashbacks, per se, but more glimpses into the life of an ancient Native American woman who lived in these mountains at the end of the last Ice Age.
With those two dual narratives--Bella and Dave's in the present, Sitka and her son's in the far ancient past--this novel unfolds with atmospheric undertones and an ominous edge.
Will the North Cascades let either duo survive?
If this feels very much like the concept of Into the Wild to you, you're not alone. I felt very similar vibes and reactions to this decision while Dave was putting it into place. (Into the Wild frustrated me to no end.) Does Dave think this will work? How does he think this is good for his daughter, who is still learning things in school and is grieving herself? How long does he think he can keep this up? Why are we spending so much time with this Native American family? Why is Bella seeing their lives play out like a disassociated movie in her head?
Those were my questions.
Maybe it was just me, as a 26-year-old female with no overly outdoor bone in her body. Maybe it was also my complete lack of experience with PTSD as it relates to our current veterans returning from a war with more grey areas than justice. But. At the end of the day, I just didn't understand Dave or his motivations. And when I couldn't get behind his decisions, I found myself upset with the story. I was worried for Bella, for their survival, for their sanity. I was also extremely perturbed by the lack of action taken by the town and Dave's surrounding family.
I don't know, folks. I found myself more concerned with the logistics and logic of this book to the point that I couldn't enjoy the story. My family calls me the extreme "over -worrier" though, so take my ??? with a grain of salt.
Another element of the story that confused me was the interjections of Sitka, the Native American woman, surviving with her young family in the same wilderness. I completely understood the parallels taking place--one family versus another in the same place, with the same desperate wills to survive. But to have Sitka's story displayed to Bella, and not to Dave, felt strange to me. How is a young child supposed to make sense of that story, and what was she supposed to do with this information?
I don't know. As you can see, I have a lot of feelings and strong emotions around this story. Because of that, I DO strongly encourage others to pick up Legends of the North Cascades if the story seems of interest to you. The writing is stellar and the plot is compelling, and it clearly provokes a response--which is the best type of fiction.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.