Given the ratings, I was surprised at how much in enjoyed this slim novel about dream walking and monsters. It’s a odd one.
Out of Body comes out on May 26!
Out of Body is definitely a polarizing novella. For me, it was a clear winner—but that's because it felt like the darker, grown up version of one of my favorite young reads. This reminds me SO MUCH of Scott Westerfeld's The Midnighters.
Owen is a librarian living out his days of monotony in a haze of repetition. He's 35, but he feels both ancient and young. (He dresses like an old-school businessman, yet survives on boxed mac and cheese and frozen pizza.)
One day, Owen witnesses a robbery-turned-murder at his local gas station, where he's viciously knocked out with a head injury. After his head injury, Owen discovers that something about his reality has changed.
Now, he can dream walk. But other things also walk the nights...and not all of them are friendly.
The novel's so short I have to stop there - spoilers!
What I loved:
I LOVED the similarity in concept between this novel and Scott Westerfeld's The Midnighters. Both involve a select group of people who are active during the nighttime due to speculative circumstance. (Beyond that, the concepts are very different.) I loved Owen's bland character—yes, I know that sounds like a negative, but hear me out. Owen's lack of character distinction perfectly represents the feeling of detachment that a surrealist dreamscape requires. It was the perfect amount of distance vs. Other.
What I didn't love:
I can see why others didn't enjoy the pacing of this novel. It was slightly odd, and slow for the beginning bits. However, I think that is also an intentional part of the distanced narrative, so this "negative" was neutral at best for me.
Thank you to TOR via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A mother-daughter college tour that tests their relationship in hilarious ways—with a few surprises along the way.
Characters: ★★★ 1/2
Jessica Burnstein doesn't know how to talk to her daughter anymore. She barely understands her, she's not sure how to help her understand that all she wants is for Emily to be happy, and she sure as heck isn't sure how to fix where they are now.
Emily Burnstein doesn't know how to talk to her mother anymore. She doesn't understand why her mother barely talks to her, she's sick of coming in last in her mom's priorities, and she resents the pressure to be perfect.
This mother/daughter duo is about to be tested in ways that they never expected: it's time for a college tour road trip. Jessica and Emily are signed up for an exclusive, only-for-the-best college bound students tour package with students with more extracurriculars and special skills than empathy, and parents that make the term "Helicopter Parent" seem too kind.
Will they bend and break, or will this tour finally get them to let their guards down?
What I liked:
The selling point of this novel, for me, was its humor. This is a funny novel, no doubt about it. If you need a conversational pick-me-up or a distracting afternoon, this is the perfect pick. I loved the antics, the humor, and the utter relatability of family dynamics gone sour.
What I didn't like:
I really had a hard time with the choppy POV transitions. It was nice to have both Jessica's and Emily's POVs, but it was not chapter to chapter... it was almost page to page in some spots. It was too much for me—I'd barely get my grip on one scene and then have it flipped for me as we switched perspectives. It was a bit like generational whiplash, as these rapid-fire transitions were meant to give us a window into the daughter's AND mother's point of view as close to the event as possible.
Thank you to Berkley for a giveaway ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Sometimes you just need a Regency romance... This was a cute and enchanting read, with more fairy tale elements than steamy scenes.
Miss Sophie Kendall, organizer of the feminist group the Debutante Underground, has a few problems. Her family is one step above financial ruin, her father is a drunk, and her family has given her an ultimatum: she must marry, he must be rich, and it must be quick.
Now, in a deviation from one of the more traditional Regency plots, it's not an arranged setup—the family has already found Sophie a marquess willing to marry her. Too bad Sophie doesn't love him...
Reese, Earl of Warshire, is a man with a serious problem: he can't sleep. We're not talking casual insomnia—he's literally killing himself with a lack of sleep. A former war general, he's haunted by the loss of his men and even more haunted by the loss of his older brother, Edmund, who was supposed to be the Earl. Now stuck in the position with more nightmares than hope, Reese is not doing so well.
One chance encounter with Sophie Kendall radically changes his life.... And begins their sweet, chaste encounters in the nighttime. In a twist that feels more like a fairy tale than a romance, Sophie agrees to spend her Friday nights with Reese—no funny business, for real—and engages in fairy tale-like adventures with him on the moonlit gardens of his estate.
But Sophie's betrothed to another, and Reese knows he has her on borrowed time...
I thought When You Wish Upon a Rogue was a cute and soft installment for the Debutante Diaries series. This was my first introduction, and to be honest I really enjoyed it! My main qualms with the story involved the lack of realism... I know that most Regency romances often deviate from historical accuracy to follow the romance, and normally I'm on board with it, but for this particular plot the facts kept me from fully immersing myself in the story. I thought it was extremely sweet, but not overly plausible.
Intrigued enough to try out the next book in series!
Thank you to St Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Love always wins, even when the obstacles seem insurmountable. Time for a classic Regency romance!
Gone with the Rogue is the second in the First Comes Love series, but like many other romances it can be read as a standalone—I, personally, can vouch for that as I'm a newbie to the series with this book.
Julia Fairbright's husband drowned at sea, leaving her with their young son and under the "protection" of her father-in-law, the duke. The duke is oppressive and controlling, and holds Julia's son over her head in order to make her follow his wishes. It's a black and white situation. Julia wants out, but she's stuck.
Garrett Stockton is the owner of a prominent shipping company and a bit of a scoundrel. He's dashing, he's independent, and he's always at the edge of polite society. So when he sees the beautiful Julia stuck in a tree, he's shocked at the surprisingly warm feelings towards her.
Obviously, these two characters are meant to fall in love—it's just Julia's pesky father-in-law and the societal norms of her status as a widow that stand in their way. Will their love find a way?
Now, please take my review with a grain of salt, because I'm pretty sure this was a case of "it's not you, it's me" reader syndrome. Gone With the Rogue was cute and filled with all of the right things, but for some reason I could not fully engage myself in the story. I found Julia hard to fixate on due to her similarity to other romance heroines, and Garrett too reactionary—he didn't seem to have much personality outside of his fixation on Julia. I feel like I might have enjoyed this story more on a different day, or even as a newer romance reader.
However, this story does deliver on its sweetness, so if sweet and chivalrous is your thing, give this one a try!
Thank you to St Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A dead body in a teagarden. Secrets buried from the distant past. Political intrigue mixed with London's society. Welcome to London, 1814.
Mystery plot: ★★★ 1/2
Enjoyment: all the stars, this was the perfect evening read
Who Speaks for the Damned is the 15th book in the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries, but don't let that stop you from picking it up--I was a new reader to this world and these characters and had a darn good time.
Sebastian St. Cyr is the Viscount Devlin in early 1800s London. He's a nobleman with a past...and a habit for ferreting out crimes that the nobles would rather be left alone.
When a disgraced former member of society winds up dead in a teagarden, Sebastian is on the case. The man is Nicolas Hayes, the third son of the late Earl of Seaforth. Eighteen years ago, Hayes was convicted of attempted assault and murder and banished to a distant prison camp for life. Thought to be dead, Hayes' recently dead body in London comes as a shock to society and unearths secrets better left buried.
Who killed this former murderer, and why?
I really, really enjoyed this one.
Sebastian St Cyr is not your average gentleman, and he doesn't care if you know it or not. Given the time period and the historical setting, I found his character extremely unique and surprising. I loved his way of questioning the ton—with surprising elements of humor—and his core of steel when it came to class injustice.
The author also did a FABULOUS job with the sense of place and historical accuracy. It felt like 1800s London, down to the dialogue, as opposed to a historical novel with just enough details. I loved the total immersion into the time period.
And, last but not least, the mystery! Obviously can't talk about this too much without spoilers, but let's just say that C.S. Harris knows how to spin a good yarn. I was right about a few things, wrong about a few things, and in the end so thoroughly entertained by the entire experience that I just settled in for the ride.
Thank you to Berkley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
So so cute, so so positive, so so what we need right now. A quirky elementary school librarian in Texas meets her match in the new school principal.
Romance: ★★★★ 1/2
What You Wish For comes out on July 14, 2020!
So, let's start off with the fact that I'm extremely biased to love Katherine Center. Her past few books have become all time favorites, and her blend of romance, heartfelt healing, and memorable settings made me oh-so-excited to get to this one.
It did not disappoint!
What You Wish For follows Sam Casey, a librarian with epilepsy who has found a haven for herself in Galveston, Texas. Adorning herself with quirky outfits and surrounded by conversation starters in her whimsical school library, Sam's got it good. Her life is filled with laughter and friends, and her found family includes the school principal and his wife, who have taken Sam in to their home.
Then, her school's beloved principal dies suddenly.
Reeling from the personal and professional loss, Sam can't believe what comes next: the new principal coming to town is none other than Duncan Carpenter, a former teacher from Sam's previous school district. The former teacher that Sam had a hopeless, unrequited obsession with. Yeah. That one.
But this Duncan isn't the same as the goofy teacher Sam used to know. This Duncan is hard, stern, and unwilling to see the charms of Sam's beloved school. He seems obsessed with his vision, and a dark event haunts his past.
If Duncan thinks he can just waltz right in and change things in Galveston, he's got another thing coming...
Ugh. Another winner. I laughed, I teared up a bit, I grinned like a loon. I made the mistake of starting this at 9 p.m. and then went to bed at 1 a.m. because that's how long it took me to finish it. If that's not high enough praise, I don't know what to tell you. It's cute, it's positive, and memorable in its adorable side-quests and flirtations between Duncan and Sam.
My only caveat to this story is that it was missing some of the dramatic tension that other novels by this author have had. There was emotional resonance—and an intense commentary on the state of school life in America today—but the romance itself smoothly transitioned throughout. I guess I was looking for more drama? That's most likely a "me" thing.
Regardless, if you're a fan of How to Walk Away or Things You Save in a Fire, definitely check this one out!
Thank you to St Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Super weird, definitely meant to disturb, and not afraid of killing any expectations you had about faeries. Welcome to You Let Me In.
Concept: ★★★★ 1/2
Writing style: ★★★★
Content warnings: Yes, a lot of them, please see end of review.
You Let Me In comes out on April 21.
First off, I'd like to make a disclaimer that I'm about to praise this novel, but it in no way means that I am praising the subject matter. There are dark themes in this, and if you are concerned about warnings please see the end of this review.
You Let Me In follows the story (or stories?) of Cassandra Tipp's life. Tipp was a reclusive writer with a troubled upbringing and a tragic life, and it's time for her to tell her story. She's ready to share her truth...but you might not be able to believe it.
It's literally so hard to decide what to share and what not to share about this novel. I went in with very little—just what's in the description. I think in order to enjoy this for what it is, you should go in with little information.
One of the main themes at play in You Let Me In is the concept of memory and trauma. Did these events happen as Cassandra said they did? Is it possible for two conflicting stories to both exist? What is the "real" story? Is there a "real" story?
Now, you might be wondering, this was published by TOR...the fantasy publisher. Memory and trauma don't sound fantastical. What's up with that?
According to Cassandra, the "Pepper Man" is her closest companion. A "faerie," the Pepper Man lives next to Cassandra, lives off of Cassandra, and ultimately entwines her life with his and takes her on adventures under the mound. Faeries in this are not handsome, not romantic, and NOT something mysterious in the woods. These faeries are the undead/unmade. I don't know if I agree with the designation of "faerie" in this, but it IS very otherworldly. (In a way, I think readers who enjoyed Never Contented Things will like this too. Similar executions on unsettling faeries meant to horrify.)
My favorite aspect of this novel was its extremely masterful pacing and sense of truth. Novels often claim that they "leave the truth up to the reader." In my experience, they rarely deliver. There's always a more fleshed out "truth" to believe. In You Let Me In, this debut actually delivers on a double-edged sword of truth. What really happened? It's up to you. I know what belief I took out of this, but you and I might disagree. It speaks to the author's skill that we can have such opposing takeaways.
One of the main sticking points (as I see it, anyway) for You Let Me In revolves around its placement in the discussion of speculative fiction at this point in time. It's getting harder and harder for speculative dark fiction to deliver on an engaging, well-crafted, and memorable narratives. On the one hand, it seems like we're just getting more twisted and triggering narratives to deliver on this promise. On the other, some of the recent entries into the genre are dark and yet amazing (see Follow Me to Ground, which I also loved.) While this one's themes are dark and its content very upsetting to people with different expectations, I found it extremely singular and one-of-a-kind. Does it fall on the side of "too much" because of that? I don't know. I struggled with my opinions. I definitely loved what it was doing in realm of writing and story development, but I really struggled to enjoy the content due to its extremely dark themes.
Bottom line: read this if you like the genre, but definitely go in with eyes wide open regarding warnings and expectations.
Thank you to TOR for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Content warnings: Potential rape (depending on the versions of the story), potential familial abuse (same as previous), consent issues throughout, bad family treatment of main character's mental health, childhood trauma, abortion discussed, death of a child (discussed, version of truth issue again), murder, mind games, problematic mental health professional, etc.
So I was enjoying this—but not loving it—for a good portion. But then they managed to knock me out from the side with something that I wasn’t expecting. Nice.
You Are Not Alone was my first Greer Hendricks/Sarah Pekkanen book, and I can now say that I understand why so many people devour them.
Shay is a lonely woman living in New York City. Her roommate, Shawn, just got a serious girlfriend and that girlfriend is slowly edging Shay out of her own apartment. Her job security isn't great, as Shay has been primarily temping for different data firms. Her social life is empty. Her love life is empty.
Then one day, Shay witnesses a woman leap to her death in front of a subway train.
A life, gone like that. A woman who could have been Shay, gone like that.
Shay finds herself lost in a sea of post-trauma feelings and goes to the dead woman's memorial service, where she meets Cassandra and Jane.
Cassandra and Jane are glamorous, put together, and effortlessly perfect. They're sisters, business partners, and fierce friends. When Shay emerges onto the scene, the sisters go on high alert. Something is afoot.
As Shay and Cassandra and Jane entwine, it's important to realize that you are not alone.
So I don't like domestic thrillers, as they're often about husbands and wives and "other women" and suburban neighborhoods. I'm not this author duo's usual reading audience. BUT, I think this book is meant for those of us who aren't in their normal reading audience, because its themes are meant for a different group of people—and more importantly, a wider one. If you're a woman, I think the odds are good that you would at a minimum relate to this. This is a fierce tale of sisterhood, female friend groups, women vs. other, and self-acceptance.
Now I haven't lost my rocker, I know this is a thriller and it's obviously dark in themes. But I stand by what I just said. I was shocked to find some of the plot points in here and low-key understood some of the motivations. It's clear that this author pair is touching on an aspect of our female culture that was/is a hot button topic. It was really cool to read in a thriller setting.
No spoilers here! Give this a read.
Also, side note, I found the print formatting of the text to be super weird to read (lots of short, spaced out paragraphs). Not sure if this is typical for this author duo or not, but because of that I really enjoyed the audiobook much more than the print copy. The narrators are fantastic.
Thank you to Macmillan and Libro.fm for my copies of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Jennifer Weiner's latest is full of surprises and a deep dive into the world of influencers, body image, and acceptance.
Body Image Discussions: ★★★
Daphne is a plus-size influencer in our modern world of Instagram, hashtags, and body acceptance. But she's still at the "accepting" part when it comes to her own body—and the life she leads on Instagram is a constant push and pull with her internal monologue.
Drue Cavanaugh used to be Daphne's best friend, but when she burned Daphne and made their last epic fight about Daphne's weight, Daphne escaped and never looked back. Drue was rich, thin, blonde, and perfect—it's time for Daphne to cut her losses and be the average girl she was meant to be.
Years later, out of the blue, Drue contacts Daphne and asks her to be in her wedding. She even offers to pay her. Turns out Drue's mean girl self hasn't done her any favors, and her influencer lifestyle needs to look perfect. Daphne knows she's been coerced and bribed, but she says yes anyway. She's never been able to say no to Drue for very long.
Big Summer is mostly about Daphne's experience at the Cape with Drue's wedding, but it's also series of past memories of Daphne's childhood. And, more specifically, a journey through Daphne's mind as she glitches on every single moment with thoughts on her body and body size.
Also, there was a huge twist about halfway through Big Summer that I was NOT expecting. I'm so glad the description didn't allude to it. I thought it made this novel so much better, and really enjoyed where it took Daphne.
If I had to pick a negative to highlight, I'd say that this novel is the most "fat-focused" of any Jennifer Weiner that I've read so far. That feels weird to say as a negative, but hear me out--as someone who is plus-sized herself, I found it really disheartening that literally every single moment, every single thought, and every single plot point focused or mentioned something explicitly related to Daphne's weight. At the beginning, I was like "Yes! Someone gets it!" but towards the first half...and the middle...and the end...I felt myself wishing, desperately, for more balance in the main character. In a way, by focusing on this aspect of Daphne so much, we went past highlighting her "acceptance" to reducing her to that one characteristic...which I feel was a problem, as we're trying to make plus-size women feel seen and normalized. Not reduced to their weight, or distilled down to one trait of self body-hate.
However, overall I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and am thrilled to see where Jennifer Weiner takes us next--don't miss this one this summer!
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This alternative historical fiction novel centered on a "sin eater" in a version of Elizabethan England was dark, lyrical, and unforgettable.
Sense of place:
Sin Eater comes out on April 7, 2020!
May Owens is caught stealing a piece of bread in the streets of an alternative version of London. It's the time of the Virgin Queen. Taken to be sentenced, May is shocked to receive a one-of-a-kind punishment: she's been declared a sin eater.
A sin eater is always a woman. She's branded by a collar displaying an "S," and branded with a black ink "S" on her tongue. She's not allowed to speak, she's not allowed to be touched, she's not allowed to be looked at, and her entire life is plagued by the limitations of her new position—she "eats" the sins of the dying.
As you can tell, the job isn't great.
May's life as a sin eater in this alternative London was fascinating, heartbreaking, and poignantly human. This is a lingering read. I really disagree with the comparisons claiming this tale is like The Handmaid's Tale and Alice in Wonderland—neither of those comparisons resonated with me and they really miss the connections to historical England and the lyricism of this novel. This is about the grimy underbelly of London, the seedy witchcraft of a prescience era, and the life of a pariah among and separate from the people.
Also, there are no fantastical elements to this novel whatsoever, so fantasy fans take note. I still loved it, but would not call it a fantasy even in the loosest sense.
Thank you so much to Atria Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.