A miniature mansion, a woman who lovingly crafts its tiny rooms and shares them on the internet for others to see, and a man on the other side of the country who is inexplicably finding photos of a dollhouse on the internet that portrays... his actual home?
Myra Malone lives in her home surrounded by the frozen time warp that is her life. At the age of five, she was in a devastating car accident—it killed her step-grandmother and left Myra traumatized and near death. Her recovery journey went from coping with some altered facial differences as a child to isolating herself inside as a homeschool student to being an adult wholly unable to leave her home.
In this very, very isolated and hermit-like existence, Myra has her Mansion.
Well, it's not a mansion. It's actually a very well-crafted large dollhouse, complete with dozens of furnished rooms, beautiful miniaturized fixtures, and a little extra something that Myra herself never questions. (If the rooms she creates react and adapt on their own, who's to say? Myra knows there's something a bit like magic happening under her nose, but she doesn't mind.)
Across the country, Alex works in his father's furniture store. His family is Virginian old money, and they have an old estate in the woods that his father hates and Alex loves. It's a true mansion in the Virginian woods, and it calls to Alex like some kind of magic. Furniture moves around when he's not looking, and every once in a while he can here music and voices.
Alex and Myra don't know it, but their worlds are about to collide.
Myra made an online blog about her miniature Mansion, and it developed a massive cult following despite her lack of interest—it was all her friend Gwen's idea, after all. But that cult following kept growing, and one day it reached the ears of Alex in Virginia.
Alex is stunned to discover that Myra's "Mansion" is... his house. And the bedroom she just took a photo of is... his bedroom. Done in miniature, of course, but it's his room. And that's his library, and that's his... and on.
Myra and Alex are about to uncover a lot of history and the magical ties that bind them together...
The Miniscule Mansion of Myra Malone was such an enchanting and original read. I was drawn to this story by its very unique title, but the ultimate thing that made me ask for an early reading copy was this concept of a magic dollhouse tied to a real mansion. What a fun twist on the magical house trope!
And, for those who come to this story for that reason, I think you're in for a similarly delightful read. Quaint, soft, yet overwhelmingly filled with heart and healing, this is a story that I think will find broad appeal in the soft fantasy, romance, light historical, and contemporary literature market. There's a dash of this, a dash of that...
At times too drawn out and at others too condensed, I did feel like this story included too much and yet also too little. This was a deceptively large concept hiding behind a small pitch line, and once you pulled on the first thread it all just collapsed into your metaphorical reader lap.
Something about this story that I did not expect were the multiple timelines throughout it. This is a multi-generational epic that spans over 100 years, with chapters of various points in time. Myra and Alex each have their own POV thread with chapters throughout the book, but interspersed continuously through that main story arc is a very dense historical narrative with some other characters. I wasn't expecting that in this story, and frankly I think it led me as reader to feeling too spread out between such a long time period and too many characters. My personal preference would have been to keep this story contemporary, with Myra and Alex, and let the past be the past. But take that with a grain of salt—I am not a historical fiction reader!
However, quibbles aside, I think this story will find its niche audience and bring out some joy and emotional healing to its readers.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
A ship traveling from America to England. A deadly game of find-that-magical-item. A fantastic sapphic romance. Oh and also? More of a truly engaging magical world. I love this series!
Maud Blyth is on a mission. She's helping her brother, Robin, with his quest to save the magical community of Great Britain from some truly deadly stakes that we discovered in A Marvellous Light, the first book in the series. She's on her way back to Britain via steamship.
It's not Maud's fault that her charge, an elderly woman holding a secret magical artifact, dies on the first day of their voyage. And it's not Maud's fault that said elderly lady never actually told her what item in her possession was the all-important magical artifact.
Oof. Things aren't going to be so easy, after all.
Good thing Maud Blyth is the best person to have in your corner when you're trapped and in need of assistance.
Enter Violet Debenham from stage right, the beautiful and enigmatic heiress-to-be with a reputation she keeps in purposeful tatters and way too much personality and charm for any one room. She's a gravitational pull, and Maud finds herself helpless to resist—and discovering that even she could, she may not want to escape Violet's embrace.
And from stage left, the broody and constantly irritated Lord Hawthorne enters the scene as well with his anger, lack of magical ability, and tortured past. He's a reluctant player in Maud's play of Christie-like whodunit, but he's present and more helpful than nothing so Maud takes him into her stride too.
With magicians, murder, and mayhem... We're in for a bumpy voyage. All aboard!!
I am so pleased to report that A Restless Truth proved to be just as delightful as its first book, A Marvellous Light.
I was initially bummed to find out that this book abandoned the characters from the first book (Robin and Edwin), but quickly found myself getting over it in the absolutely perfect character in Maud. Maud was everything. I loved her. (Don't get me wrong, I found Violet to be a ton of fun too in different ways, but MAUD!)
There's just something about this quaint historical fantasy series that pushes all of my buttons. It's intriguing, yet not pulse-pounding. It's quaint and quiet, yet grips me. It has a dense and interesting magic structure and yet at no point do I feel lost or overburdened by complexity. It's "just right," and continues to be.
My only quibble with this installment was its limited setting... I am not a fan of boat-centered content. Or any other limited-setting story that traps our characters into a very small geographic range. Outside of certain mystery books with extreme action, this type of limited setting leads to me as the reader feeling trapped and pent-up in the mental reading space. It's hard for the plot to feel like it's moving along when our characters can only go from A to B... and back... and repeat. I wish this story had taken place somewhere else and given Maud, Violet, and the crew more room to breathe and explore. But, that in mind, I still greatly enjoyed this read.
Eagerly awaiting book three!!
Many thanks to Tordotcom for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
I have never read a novel like this before. I have…feelings about it. Can you be repulsed and engrossed at the same time??
Body horror: ★★★★★
My enjoyment: ★
I love body horror books. Or at least, I used to say that. I think Leech broke my brain and has redefined the threshold on which we determine "body horror" in the realm of medical trauma, consent, and what it means to be a person in, essentially, meat suits.
If the phrase "meat suits" makes you uncomfortable, please take that as your cue to stop reading this review here—and to avoid this book.
Leech is very hard to describe. I commend whoever was tasked with writing the blurb for the inside jacket... it couldn't have been easy. How does one describe a novel like this?
Every monster is the hero of its own story... that could be said about this book.
When our society collapses in on itself and future versions of humanity exist in a very bleak, grim, and macabre future... that could be said about this book.
Let's combine the idea of parasites with a gothic, moldering castle and make it mentally insane... that could be said too.
Leech has a LOT going on in its pages. It's dense by every meaning of the word-- paragraph-wise, character-wise, worldbuilding-wise, and horror-wise. It is a LOT. And it makes no apologies for being that way. (It doesn't have to apologize, but it could have done with a stronger warning label! Lol.)
To say "I enjoyed this reading experience" would be a lie. I did not have a good time.
I loved the first bit of the book a lot—it's confusing, but intriguing and interesting at the same time. I thought the middle was a very dense attempt at trying to figure out the setting, worldbuilding, and sense of pacing. It took me ages to get through the middle sections because it was terribly easy to put the book down and simultaneously very hard to reengage with it when I tried to pick it back up. The ending... was both absolutely horrifying to my personal reading tastes and also a wild trip into the ether in terms of character arc upheaval.
If you've made it this far into my review, you might be wondering why I'm giving this novel a generous 4 stars despite being viscerally upset by its contents. I, too, am a bit confused by myself. But at the end of the day, I think the author deserves some very high praise for instilling such a unique concept into such a horrifying package that dealt with literally every single variant of medical body trauma that could possibly exist in our human minds. All of it. It's all here in this book.
If, for some reason, you're not yet turned off from this book by my review, then I do recommend it. Hiron Ennes is an author to watch—they are doing very unique things in the horror space.
Thank you to TOR for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Such a satisfying end to this series! A slow-burn friendship with tension, lots of room for quiet dramas and growth, and a sweet romance at its core.
Characters: ★★★ 1/2
Please Note: This book is the third installment in the Spoiler Alert series by Olivia Dade. While this is technically a standalone romantic story between two characters, I highly recommend reading this series in order to get the full context. There are a TON of references to the first two books in this one, and Maria and Peter's story exists in a dense bubble of context references from the other books.
Maria and Peter are both costars on the same TV show, Guardians of the Gates. It's a Game of Thrones-esque show with an international following and a lot of drama and character arcs.
Their characters play two isolated gods who have been stranded on a remote island with just the two of them.
It's just them. And a small production crew. On a very small island. Staying in a limited-space boutique inn.
Why does this matter, you ask?
Because Maria and Peter had an explosive, no-holds-barred sexy one night stand the night before they both landed roles on Guardians of the Gates. After one night of perfect passion, the last thing either of them thought would happen would be to see each other again. And now they're not just seeing each other—they're acting face to face, in a remote location, for several years of filming.
It's not... shall we say... ideal. Especially when their passion still exists, and yet personal hang-ups and a desire to maintain professional boundaries keeps them from ripping each other's clothes off and resuming their hot-HOT chemistry.
Can these two costars make it through the slowest burn of their lives? What will happen once they have the space to make their own decisions?
Ooooooh, oh. Ship Wrecked was fun, y'all. I enjoyed it very much. The tension, the soft drama, the dual points-of-view of two characters and their unique torture of falling in love while being unable to admit it?? Delicious.
This was a very sweet end to a wonderful romance trilogy. I think fans of Spoiler Alert and All the Feels will be quite satisfied. I definitely was! While this one had the most worldbuilding context and the least amount of fanfiction references—the first two books were heavily influenced by fanfiction internet culture—I do think Maria and Peter's story fit the series. And, just as important, Ship Wrecked provided a happily-ever-after ending for all of the people we've grown to love over the series.
Thank you to Avon for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
A locked room mystery, a 1950s queer haven manor, and an interesting soap side plot. This was so wonderful—and remarkably cozy even with its dark themes.
Mystery(s)/Reveal(s): ★★ 1/2
Andy is a former detective at the end of the line. He's ready to call it quits in a very real way—trigger warnings right out the gate—and he has nothing left to strive for. He's gay in 1950s America. Recently outed at a raid by his own former police officer coworkers and ruthlessly fired from the force, Andy doesn't know what is next, and if it's worth finding out at all.
The last thing he expects is to be offered a job sitting at the bar, blind drunk at 11 am. A well-dressed, wealthy older woman wants him to solve a murder. Well, maybe it was a murder. Either way—she wants to know what happened, and she's willing to pay Andy and house him for his trouble.
Oh, and the best part? This woman and her surviving found family live in a hidden utopia of queerness. The dead woman is her wife, and their blended family are all queer on the estate.
Andy doesn't know how to receive this news, but he takes the lifeline for what it is and accepts the job.
However, the family is hiding secrets. (Aren't they all?) And Andy's stepping into a much bigger scene than he's anticipating. When you factor in the dead woman's soap dynasty... things are about to get interesting.
Lavender House was the perfect read for me at the right time. It was surprisingly cozy, the right blend of serious with quaint, and a remix of the classics bringing something fresh to the character tableau of the "classic" murder mystery setting.
It also deftly handled the line of realism vs. utopian ideals surrounding the concept of a hidden queer family living happily in the 1950s. They were a wealthy family who kept to themselves and had the resources to keep their happiness separate from harsh realities, true, but the doses of reality in this novel kept this story grounded for me.
I will caution my queer friends and those reading this review—given the contents, there is a lot of potentially triggering content for period homophobia and other elements. Please proceed with caution.
Overall, a fantastic cozy read that I would be happy to pick up again when I'm in need of a quaint escape.
Thank you to TOR Forge for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Oh YES. I had such a horrifically good time. This is the mirror-twin counter melody to Mexican Gothic, the Fall of the House of Usher done grotesque.
Well, it's happened again: I have fallen in love with yet another bizarre and lingering horror story with a special focus on mushrooms. ("Again," yes, because this niche apparently has multiple books in it.)
Join me and the spores...
Alex Easton has heard word that their childhood friends, the Ushers, are struggling. Madeline is gravely ill, Roderick is not faring much better, and something is amiss.
Alex arrives, and they quickly realize that Roderick's understated things. There is something very, very wrong with this scene.
Madeline looks like she's already dead, Roderick doesn't look much better. The Usher estate is damp, moldy, and near-death itself. There's a visiting American doctor who has no idea what is going on, and a wandering older British woman on the grounds with a passion for mushroom study and a daughter named Beatrix Potter.
As Alex stays in the home, a creeping sense of foreboding and inevitability starts to sink in. The longer they stay at Usher, the worse it seems to get...
And that's IT. I won't say any more.
What Moves the Dead looks like—and sounds like—a repeat of concepts to those of us who have already read and loved Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Mexican Gothic. In fact, T Kingfisher themselves writes in the Author's Note that they'd been chewing on this idea already, and then Mexican Gothic came out and What Moves the Dead disappeared into a drawer, almost for forever, as Kingfisher went "gah, I can't do it better than THAT!"
Well I, personally, am thrilled that someone got T Kingfisher to revisit and finish this tale. This is something akin to a cousin, a neighbor, someone with the same facial features as Mexican Gothic but with an entirely different set of personality traits. These two novels are NOT the same, and—as a Moreno-Garcia superfan I can't believe I'm saying this--What Moves the Dead did it... better.
This was grotesque, truly horrifying, and went somewhere that even I didn't full expect. I thought I knew the steps, and I was having a good time, but then... yeah. This seasoned reader was still surprised in an interesting way. A very, very good horror novella that I recommend to anyone with the stomach to handle it.
Thank you to TOR/Nightfire for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Told in a hypnotic, prismatic point-of-view using multiple characters all turned toward the same direction—our "main" character, distanced yet vital--Calling for a Blanket Dance is one of the most unique fiction novels I have ever read. And its resonances thrum deep.
Narrative voice: ★★★★★
Plot/Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Sense of time and place: ★★★★★
Ever Geimausaddle is a Native man living in Oklahoma. This is his story, but it's not told in his voice. (But, is it?)
Carried through the voices, emotions, and chords of his multigenerational family and community, this story follows Ever as he is raised and formed by his community, his family's struggles, and the seemingly endless loop of forced endurance and perspective placed upon him in harsh and gentle knots.
Who are you, individually, among all of the roots and tangles of your family, culture, and place in time and space?
Can you be an individual when the circumstances around you pilot more of your choices and opportunities around you than you do?
These weighty questions and deeper concepts of Native experience, generational expectations and situations, and reactionary living are all explored in Calling for a Blanket Dance. I thought it was beautiful, poignant, surprisingly lyrical yet accessible, and overall an interesting view of the contemporary Native experience. There is a lot of trauma here. There is a lot of joy. There is muchness, there is never-done.
As a white woman living in Michigan, I'm sure I missed some of the deeper ties to Native culture and the possible resonances within the community and others familiar with the unique situations of marginalized groups. I'm interested to see how those with more perspective find this novel. From this non-Native reader, I thought it was stunning.
Looking forward to more from this author.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Can two anxious people overcome their obstacles and find love over a bingo card? Strap in for an emotional and lingering journey.
Representation vs. Romance: ★★
A small disclaimer for this review: my rating has nothing to do with this book's actual contents. It has more to do with my perception what this story was going to be based on its description and pitch.
Aja spends each of her days walking hand in hand with her anxiety disorder. It's her constant companion, it affects how she goes about her day, and it occasionally severely impacts how she deals with people and experiences.
So when she has a panic attack in the grocery store one night, the last thing she wants is to meet a cute guy. Said cute guy supports her during her attack, and afterwards Aja flees into the night. She'll never see him again, right?
Well, then the cute guy shows up at Aja's weekly bingo night with the town's senior citizens. Turns out his name is Walker, he's super cute in person, and he's going to be bopping around Aja's life for the next several weeks.
Walker's dealing with some anxiety and other issues on his own, so he not only gets Aja—he's interested in her. Cue the sparks...
Aja and Walker end up in a bizarre bingo pact together that promises to deliver some steam... and they're both very much on board with placing bets on who will come out on top. (In more ways than one.)
I thought Bet On It was a very cute concept for a romance novel. Bingo isn't a sexy activity, really, but the idea of the two young people in a sea of senior citizens having a connection was kind of adorable, and the addition of Aja and Walker's anxieties gave it a very realistic edge.
However... this book kind of lost me when it came to the romance and pacing. I heard "sexy bingo bets" and thought this would be smutty, funny, and quickly paced. Not sure why I thought "quickly paced," exactly, but the other two points seemed like a given.
Instead of a lot of banter and smut, Bet On It delivered on some serious plot points, emotional deep dives, and personalized healing journeys. On a large scale. Not a bad way to go for a general fiction novel about healing from trauma and coping with mental illness, but again, given the hook of "sexy bingo bets" I was...confused. (And bored. I kept getting a bit bored.)
Overall, I thought this novel was extremely sweet and a story of personal triumph over struggle. I will be recommending it to those looking for anxiety representation in stories, and for those who enjoy emotional journey-dominant tropes in their general adult fiction.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Witchy fall vibes, sapphic love, and a cute cozy town atmosphere collide in this fun rom-com. And it's the start of a series!
A short reader disclaimer: So first off, I have to SINCERELY apologize to the publisher, as I messed up and did not review this book in a timely manner despite having an early digital copy. In general, I've struggled a lot more with ARC reviews this past year due to a lot of upheaval in my personal life, but that's not this book's fault or the publishers so please keep that in mind.
On to the review!
So, did you ever watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Halloweentown, or those other adorable witchy vibe tv shows and wish they had a lot more lesbian action and just a gooey romantic plot arc?? Payback's a Witch is the novel for you.
The magical town of Thistle Grove has been the home of several powerful witch families for generations—including the Harlow family. Emmy Harlow thinks that her family's line isn't exactly prestigious or on the same level as the others, but it's still their claim to fame and Emmy's the reluctant heir of the situation.
The catch is, Emmy fled Thistle Grove years ago due to some unfortunate angst and hasn't been back to her home town in quite some time.
When she does come back for the all-important tournament that requires all of the Thistle Grove witch family heirs to be present, Emmy is met with something new: the enigmatic and wickedly devious Talia Avramov, one of the other family heirs and a reluctant partner-in-arms.
Will Emmy and Talia intertwine as they work together to bring down their mutual ex, Gareth, or will tensions collide?
Ok y'all, this was super cute. I do regret missing out on the opportunity to read this in the fall, when the vibes would have been immaculate, but this did give me a wonderful dose of the season anyway. Payback's a Witch was clever, funnier than I expected it to be, and filled with a lot of small town shenanigans.
I had some small quibbles with the pacing and lack of real stakes—it was a bit too quaint for me, a little less dramatic angst than I tend to like in my romances—but overall I do think it was a wonderful and fun rom-com to spend an afternoon reading.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
The 1960s, Greek islands, a young girl on the cusp of artistic pursuits and adulthood, and a saturated look at men and women colliding together.
Sense of place: ★★★★★
Erica's a fresh-faced young woman from London who's just arrived on Hydra, one of the picturesque Greek islands haunted by the rich, artistic, and beautiful. Its 1960, bohemia is all the rage, sexuality and the artistic are colliding together in various ways. It's heady days, and a heady setting.
A Theater for Dreamers follows Erica's journey into this rich tapestry of desires, art, lush settings, and mired interpersonal relationships. For us readers, it's an interesting blend of fact and fiction too—Leonard Cohen's real life persona meets a fictional group of folks in this window into the past. It's fantastically described, enviously set in a beautiful location, and classically portrayed through the eyes of our young and naïve protagonist.
I am, admittedly, a weird audience for this book. Every once in a while I like to step out of my reading comfort zone, if you will, and try things setting in different genres and settings. Historical fiction and destination locations/summer reads are not usually my cup of tea, so I think my rating reflects the fact that this isn't my usual read.
I found Erica to be an enjoyable main character to follow, if a bit annoyingly naïve. (I find this is often the case though with this kind of setup, so let's call it part of the territory.) Her fresh eyes experiencing this kind of sweltering landscape of sensual politics and artists in collision was extremely well done. Even though we've seen this story before, I thought it was done well.
I will say the novel lost me a bit with its sheer number of descriptions and meandering prose. I'm a "get to the point" type of reader unless it's a special case (usually in the fantasy realm) so I found myself getting frustrated with the paragraph to paragraph pacing. But do take that with the reviewer's grain of salt—I think this prose will work beautifully for those who love historical fiction/beach reads.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.