Yes, I loved it just as much as the first one. Happiness is an Ali Hazelwood book.
Love on the Brain comes out on August 23!
There is no better way to start this review than by using what the book's description starts with:
Like an avenging, purple-haired Jedi bringing balance to the mansplained universe, Bee Königswasser lives by a simple code: What would Marie Curie do?
And with that, that's almost all you need to know about Love on the Brain, with the added information that this is an exquisite enemies-to-lovers romance with a dose of lighthearted angst—and absolutely jam-packed with bonkers humor.
Bee and Levi are ENEMIES. This is known. In grad school, Levi made it extremely clear that he couldn't stand the sight of Bee and made it his mission to avoid her at all possible costs. Bee never really understood how she came to acquire an arch nemesis, but she rolled with it and life moved on. They both graduated and Bee thought she'd never see Levi again.
But of course, life has a funny way of dealing with your expectations.
When the opportunity of the lifetime lands in Bee's lap—working for NASA as their lead neuroscientist for a cool project—Bee is over the moon! This is it! Her dream, coming true! What could go wrong!
Well, Levi is listed as the engineering co-lead to the project. That is definitely a wrinkle.
Can these two scientists become more than nemesis?
Y'ALL. I thought The Love Hypothesis was in danger of being a one-hit wonder. It was too funny, too lovable, and too tailored to that perfect blend of steamy romance and plot. It was perfect—and how often do we get multiple perfects in a row with an author? It was the perfect storm of all of my favorite things and I thought to myself "there's now way that Ali Hazelwood can match herself with the next book."
Well, I'm eating my hat today. Hazelwood matched her energy with this one and then some--Love on the Brain was everything I wanted it to be and yet also, somehow, still fresh. How she managed to take a similar STEM-based setup and bring new feelings, scenarios, and characters to the table baffles my mind, but I digress. This was 10/10, my sweet cinnamon roll, the peanut butter to The Love Hypothesis' jelly, the answer to our Science! hetero romance dreams.
Read it, love it, and then come back here and rant to me about it because I would love that.
Bring on the next one, Ali!!
Thank you to Berkley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Previous fans of Rory Power are in for an adjustment, and the rest are also in for an interesting time. This adult fantasy was a combination of intense setup, rich worldbuilding, uneven pacing, and a unique sense of character. I feel mixed about it...but at the end of the day, positive? I'll do my best to unpack my feelings here.
Sense of place: ★★★
Pacing: ★★ for the first half, higher for the second half
Character arcs: ★★ 1/2
Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
Twins Rhea and Lexos have grown up over the course of a century with a unique set of powers. As a part of this world's ruling class of elite families, the twins' father, Baba, owns several of the world's various magical gifts and has bequeathed them to his children as needed. Rhea controls the passing of the seasons with her seasonal consort sacrifices, while Lexos stitches the constellations in the night sky each night and handles the ocean's tides.
In their seat of power, the twins, Baba, and their two younger siblings have ruled their small territory with an iron fist for over a century. The magical gifts of each ruling family pass along to subsequent family members in a patriarchal line of succession—unless someone comes along and murders the whole family and takes the gifts for himself—like Baba did.
This mythic and heavily Greek-inspired fable feels epic in scope from the start, with one sibling painting the colors of the garden to color in the plants of the realm and another building mechanical animals that manifest as real beings elsewhere. And that's just the tip of the iceberg for this world's grasp of magic. High concepts of magic are at their best here.
Rhea and Lexos are the heart of this novel. Their two points of view carry us through this sprawling epic of political intrigue, toxic families, and cultural influences. A serious dose of ancient Greek carries through into the political structure of this novel—and by serious, I mean SERIOUS, as a non-Greek academic I found this element unnecessarily confusing to grasp—while in other aspects of this novel popular book concepts peek out from the shadows in some of the side adventures and softer plot sides.
It's an interesting story set in a very confusing world and tied to a classic twist on a basic plot: how far will you go for family, and when do you choose yourself?
Ultimately, I found In A Garden Burning Gold to be a confusing mesh of too much and too little at the same time.
Too much: Reliance on the reader's knowledge of Greek influence. As mentioned above, if you are not familiar with the political intricacies of ancient Greek systems, the first half of the book is unnecessarily confusing and puts you immediately on the back foot. It also makes the first half of the book an absolute slog, as that half is almost entirely setup and politics. The author does work on explaining it for the average reader, but it was hard and I was aware that I was missing a few tricks right off the top. An unfortunately frustrating element for me.
Too little: Sense of authenticity in the family interactions. This is not a spoiler for significant events, but I will say that for siblings who have coexisted with each other in their family estate for almost 100 years, they do not feel like it. They don't understand each other, there are fundamental divides in their ability to communicate on even the basest of levels. They are also 100% reliant on their relationship with their toxic father to dictate how they interact with each other. It felt like no other family dynamic I've ever seen (positive or negative) and it made the family seem more like distant relatives that happened to be cohabitating as opposed to actual flesh and blood siblings. Siblings know each other, regardless of how the parent tries to manipulate the relationship(s). Even if its a toxic vibe, siblings know each other.
I also struggled with some of the plot reveals and character arcs, if I'm honest. Rhea's naivety bothered me, Lexos' inability to separate his sense of worth from his father and their family status seemed static and only gained dynamism toward the end. This is clearly a story that is going somewhere, and I can feel it's going to be epic, but given our starting point the entry into the world was a harder read to enjoy.
The ending was fantastic though... I think book two is going to rise from the foundations of this one with a lot of improvement given where we finally got our characters to be. Looking forward to continuing.
Thank you to Del Rey for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
An ominous, snail-paced crawl to the finish line with a lot of hidden horror and an ambiguously dark ending. This was interesting, but soooo not for me. (Take the star rating with a grain of salt.)
First off, I'd like to say that my low rating is 100% tied to my personal feelings for this novel's content and my general reading experience. I think, like most horror novels, how we respond to content warnings and plot points are very much dependent on individual reader preferences—and it's hard to know what you're getting into without spoiling yourself to a book's contents. Sundial was one of those reads for me—if I'd known where the plot was going to go when I started reading, I would have passed on it. (For that reason, I think some people who aren't excited by the book's pitch but do like certain horror tropes would love this book. But they'll have a hard time learning that without knowing details beforehand. A conundrum that often exists in this genre. )
But hey, we're here now, and I am going to do my best to sell this very well-told story that did not work for me, personally.
Rob's life as a suburban mom of two daughters looks great on the surface. Her husband has money and is respected, her job is stable and conservatively appropriate, and her two daughters appear to be beautiful and normal.
This is a horror novel, so I'll stop there with how things "appear" to be.
Rob's hiding behind several of her secrets, and her husband, Irving, isn't much better. Come to think of it, her oldest daughter, Callie, and her youngest daughter, Annie, also have their secrets. This is a family bound in their silence and (badly) hiding behind the cracks.
The façade is crumbling, and Rob's about to realize that there's nothing she can do to reverse the damage—it's time to do damage control.
And for Rob, the only thing that makes sense is to return to the start of everything--Sundial.
An isolated compound in the middle of the Mojave desert, Sundial is where Rob grew up. It's an odd place—almost cult-like—with more scientific experiments and death than most of us can imagine. Her family is bizarre, her upbringing strange. Rob's childhood and its secrets lay buried in the dirt along with the truth.
Rob grabs her oldest daughter, Callie, and flees to Sundial to fix the problem. (What is the problem though, exactly? Is it what Rob thinks it is? Is it was Callie thinks it is? Is it even what we, the readers, think it is?)
Told through split POVS, split timelines, and interspersed with story entries of a fictional world, one thing is true for this novel—the story is never solid.
Sundial is a very interesting concept for a novel. It takes many pieces from other stories, and its display of the truth/reveals held a classic "twist" flavor to it that made sense when looking at the entire novel from a bird's eye view. (In practice, it led to a very frustrating reading experience.)
As the reader, I was so frustrated by the stilted, distanced gaze. All of these characters felt like they were permanently behind a glass wall—sounds and pictures came through just fine, but I could never forget that there was a wall between us. I was so aware of the story being a "story" the entire time.
I also think that without foreknowledge of the ending, the entire first half of the book feels like a snail crawl. I didn't know what was happening, not enough action was carrying me through the confused intro stage, and I was so aware of the metaphorical wall between character vs. reader that my connection to the characters didn't exist. There was nothing tying me to continuing this story beyond the sense of duty I had as a book reviewer to complete my read of an advance reader copy.
Personal issues aside, I do think Sundial excelled in its sense of place and setting. The desert compound that the book takes its title from is grounded in gritty realities and horrors that felt as real and oppressive as a desert heat. The horrors within this book had a unique backdrop in Sundial's sense of place, and the animal elements were different than other horror novels I've personally read. The unique factor is strong here—genre readers will no doubt appreciate that.
I think all fans of horror should consider picking this up, especially if my cons don't seem like cons above... this is definitely an interesting and unique entry into a genre that is brutally exacting in its demands for new content.
A window into a potential future, a commentary on our Earth's ecosystemic future, a murder mystery, and a story of motherhood all in one. Clean Air is hard to pin into one category. And that's not a bad thing at all.
Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
This one's a weird one. But worth a try for the right audience, and anyone who is interested in genre mashes.
Clean Air follows the story of Izabel, a stay-at-home mom, who lives in a bubble home. (Ok, technically an airtight dome around her property, but still.) Her husband, Kaito, works remotely with the robot technology that harvests food in this brave new world. Her young daughter, Cami, only knows this life. The future has come.
Humanity's climate-changing, disasterous ways finally led to a crisis: the trees revolted. Gradually, or not-so-gradually depending on who you ask, the trees began to produce a poisonous pollen in such large quantities that it began to wipe out humans. In large masses. This feels vaguely like a mixed metaphor of COVID and climate, but the author handled it pretty well.
Now, a much, MUCH smaller civilization of humanity eeks out a life in these bubble communities that exist to prevent exposure to the rest of the planet. It's almost idyllic, when you get past the sheer "OH MY GOD" of it all.
Everyone is happy, everyone is cared for, everyone if cohabiting...
Nothing will go wrong again, right?
Humans are totally, totally able to exist without fracturing in some way...right?
Sigh. Of course not.
When someone viciously punctures a hole in a family's bubble home one night, the entire family dies from the pollen exposure. It was a murder, and it had to have been done by one of the community members. And the murderer keeps doing it, and more people keep dying.
Izabel, our mom with no experience, turns into our amateur investigator as she realizes that if someone doesn't stop this murderer, they'll eventually get to her and her family. It quickly becomes a fixation for Izabel... and we're along for the ride.
I thought Clean Air did a ton of things really well--juggling a bunch of different genres, juxtaposing this future situation with our own, and highlighting the core tenants of humanity that remain no matter the year, or the situation, or the future. Motherhood remains. Corruption remains. The will to survive remains. And some other things.
As someone who is not usually a science fiction/dystopian/futuristic reader, I can't say this novel was an ultimate favorite for me—it would have needed something speculative/magical to truly attach as that's who I am as a reader--I think it speaks to Clean Air's credit that I stayed invested and gripped by Izabel's journey the entire time. The murder mystery definitely helped with that, as without that compelling whodunit/whydunit narrative it would have felt much more meandering for me.
Overall, a very engaging and compelling read. Definitely recommended for fans of any of the genres I've mentioned so far, and anyone interested in the prismatic future predictions of climate change fiction.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Occasionally you read a book so immersive and stunning, you can only hold on and settle in for the ride. I'm not usually an adult literary fiction gal but this one snuck in and smacked me sideways.
As a woman, stories centered on gender and gender freedoms vs. oppression are always hard hitters for me. This one was no exception—strap in, folks.
In different cultures, countries, and regions, the situation around a woman's freedom varies between relative freedom to unsettling/unsafe realities. In this particular story, the author delves into the following: What does it mean to be a woman here? What about over there?
Honor explores these questions of womanhood, freedom, and agency through an Indian lens when one woman comes back to India after an adulthood of American living and reckons with her personal freedoms versus those of the Indian women in her home country.
Indian-American journalist, Smita, returns to India at the beginning of this novel and discovers that she's been brought here for a serious reason—she's asked to cover the story of Meena, a Hindu woman who is experiencing a dangerous form of community-led hatred with Meena's recent decision to marry a Muslim man. Meena's situation is dire. Smita can help, especially because of her status as an Indian-American woman without the restrictions of the local landscape.
Smita sets herself on the case, knowing that doing this will open a can of worms. But she can't stop—Meena needs help.
Smita and Meena might both be Indian women, but their polar-opposite situations create a chasm for Smita as she is forced to reckon with her identity as an Indian-American woman and how much that differs from Meena's current reality.
With absolutely beautiful prose and a heartbreaking core, Honor is one of those novels that explores heavy, lingering concepts with a deftness that keeps you reading—and keeps you hoping for the end.
There are so many powerful themes at play here: sense of family, sense of duty and tradition, the threads of hope. The ties that bind and the cultural and community identities that cause harm while encouraging growth and family. The dualities at the heart of so many.
To be honest, I feel like my review is struggling to encompass the realities of this story in a way that at all resembles the beauty of this novel. I'm not usually at a loss for words, but for Honor the scope was different and the emotions were deeper. This was an unstoppable story, and I am honored (pun intended) at the offer to be a part of its initial press.
If you are interested in literary fiction and stories centered on women, I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Wow, this mystery packed a punch... but the true star of the show was the complexity of the main character/amateur detective, Frankie Elkin. Very strong opener for a woman I hope we see in more sequels.
A woman with a haunted past, Frankie Elkin has carved out a space within empty spaces for herself as a traveling amateur investigator. No home, no possessions, no family to encourage her to settle down and keep her roots.
She follows the trails of the missing. And she's found 14 of them so far. None were alive, but that's not what Frankie promised their family in the first place--Frankie promised to find them. And she does.
In Before She Disappeared, Frankie arrives in Boston with her nose to the ground on a missing persons case that's spent 11 months gathering dust by the local investigators. Angelique Badeau, a promising young Haitian immigrant attending Boston Academy high school, went missing after school one day. The leads dried up fast.
Her younger brother, Emmanuel, is convinced that she's still alive somewhere.
The cops, including the brooding Detective Lotham in charge of the case, don't think that's the case.
Frankie doesn't know who is right just yet, but she's determined to find out.
If there's one thing Frankie is good at, it's asking the right questions. And being such a pain in cops' ass that they begrudgingly ignore her tactics and let her stumble around the fringes of the case. With one begrudging Detective Lotham at her side, Frankie's ready to roll...
I thought this was one heck of a good mystery/thriller. There was just enough of a pacing issue to keep it from being an all-time favorite for me, personally, but it came close. Before She Disappeared is a tightly plotted, atmospheric, and memorable thriller with a rock-solid core in its protagonist, Frankie.
Frankie and her singular sense of drive really carried this novel for me, even when I struggled to engage with the plot at the beginning. I wanted to know more about this woman—why was she doing this? What in her past made her this way, and what would it take for her to recover?
Other elements that really worked for me was the setting and side characters. I've never been to Boston, and I'm definitely not plugged in to the Haitian immigrant population and their day-to-day flow, but in this novel the author breathed life into that scenario and I could almost believe that I was there and knew what the heck I was talking about (obviously I don't, but it speaks to the author's research and/or ability to convey a particular geographic imprint that I felt that "sold" onto the worldbuilding).
I'd strongly recommend this one to fans of Louisa Luna, Jane Harper, and other moody mystery/thrillers with killer writing and unbelievably real main characters.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
These historical romances are like candy, you just can never have enough. When one young woman discovers her respectable, aristocratic husband died and left her to discover that she was actually one of three wives? Whew. Bit of a pickle.
Katherine Vareck shows up to her late husband's will reading and discovers, to her shock, that she is not the only Mrs. at the table. In fact, she's one of three wives... and all three of them are in for a real mess.
Enter Christian, the deceased's older brother and the Duke of Ransford.
Christian had no idea about these three wives, or his brother Meriwether's appalling lack of decency. Christian knows he needs to do some sort of right by these women, but he's not sure what to do and his own personal situation is in an interesting spot as well—so he's not sure what he can do, anyway.
With drama, wiles, and a whole lot of surprising business acumen, Christian and Katherine find themselves working together to support the other two wives, themselves, and potentially each other in this charming series opener.
Overall, I thought this story was cute and charming. It was not the most memorable for me, personally, as a romance reader—but I've had a pretty hard time with historical romances this year in general so it might just be my burnout talking.
Some unique elements of this story centered around the dynamic of Katherine and Christian, surprisingly. Unlike many, MANY other Regency-era romances that rely on animosity, misunderstandings, and mild enemies-to-lovers to make their characters pop, A Duke in Time actually started off with its love interests tackling their problem together, as a team very squarely on board with each other's place in their duo. It was refreshing and oddly charming.
If you're a fan of historical romances, add this one to your list!
Thanks so much to St Martin's Press for my copy in exchange for an honest review
Beautifully written, evocative and emotionally turbulent... the realities of generational trauma, sense of self, and womanhood collide in this insightful and literary novel.
Sometimes, you read a book and you realize that you're just not...there yet. For me, I think Carry the Dog was conveying messages that I was frankly too young to fully appreciate—I'm a mid-20-something woman, not someone looking back on her life in terms of decades. I'm not there yet, where Bea Seger is at in this novel. But I might be someday, and for that reason I found this novel extremely compelling.
In the 1960s, when Bea was a young child, she and her siblings were photographed in a series of provocative and explosive nude photographs taken by their own mother. They were controversial at the time, and they've remained so up until the present day. But now, museums want to showcase them—and they're talking to Bea about it.
Bea has spent a long time not analyzing those images, or her experiences with them. But should she? And even if she's not willing to self-analyze, would it be worth it for the money?
With those questions circling around her, Bea is also dealing with other elements in her life. Like her complicated relationship with her divorced husband, which is filled with toxicity, subtle and overt betrayals, and issues. Bea's not exactly handled that well internally, either.
But the light is starting to shine on Bea's life, and whether she likes it or not, it's time to look at the pieces around her and locate that inner steel at the core of her womanhood.
Complex? Yes. Beautifully rendered? Also yes. An uplifting and joyful read? Not particularly.
Like I mentioned earlier in this review, I think this book provides more poignancy and support to women and individuals with more life experiences under their belt—I'm not calling anyone "old," y'all, but I am calling myself too young to fully appreciate this novel's bittersweet and lingering resilience.
However, I didn't have to fully understand Bea's struggles and emotional palate to appreciate the raw storytelling skills at play here. The author did a fantastic job at rendering Bea and her journey, and I couldn't help but appreciate that.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Spooktacular, graphic, and ominous, this Japanese-inspired dark novella was a thrill from start to finish. (I just wish it had been longer.)
Sense of unease: ★★★★★
First off, if you love horror at all, then I think this title speaks for itself. What horror fan would pass up the chance to—at a minimum—try out this novel? Nothing But Blackened Teeth screams to be read. Literally.
So I came for the title. Then, once I read the blurb, I was ALL IN for this concept. A group of young people meet up for an impromptu wedding in a Heian ruin that's known to be the origin of a traumatizing and sinister undead bride?? Say no more. Add in the fact that every single person in this toxic friend group has issues with one another and are a powder keg of drama waiting to happen?? Really, say no more, I'm already reading it.
This novella comes in hot at just barely over 100 pages, and at times it felt like a fully fleshed out novel and at times it felt like it was only a few pages. I would have gladly read an entire novel on these characters and this setting, so my one main gripe about this short version of the tale is that it felt like it was only a teaser to the real thing.
Don't get me wrong—it has an official beginning, exciting middle, and final end. It's the full monty. Butttttttttt. I felt like we snipped out a lot of juicy options in order to keep this uber-slim final product.
Come for the concept. Stay for the beautifully rendered friend group on the brink of implosion. Leave with the unformed sense of lingering loss and unease.
A great read for this year's spooky season!
Thank you to TOR for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Calling all fans of Mexican Gothic....This is not a book for the meek, it's a book for those of us who loved that story and are looking for a more intense, Gothic-a la Victorian version of it with more magic and more medical gore.
Horror elements: ★★★★★
Engagement: ★★★ 1/2
Jane Shorefield lives her life by the numbers. A rare female accountant in a a world that feels like Victorian England, she's done the math and decided that she needs a husband--and after careful consideration of the bachelors in her small town, she decides on Doctor Augustine Lawrence.
Augustine is single, attractive, and respectable, with well-paying job as the town's only doctor. He's a great match. It is weird that Augustine is still single and seemingly not interested in marriage... but Jane decides to give it a try. She proposes a business transaction: they'll get married to save Jane from spinsterhood and to provide Augustine with a live-in woman to help him with his practice's accounts.
Now Mrs. Jane Lawrence, she discovers several things in quick succession.
First, Augustine's practice is filled with death and the dying--for a woman who only thought about the numbers involved, it's a rough awakening to be thrown into a hectic and gory surgery on her first day in the practice.
Second, her husband refuses to let her spend the night in his family estate outside of town. His vicious vehemence takes her aback. Jane agrees, but like all good stories we know that doesn't last.
Third, there's something Augustine isn't telling her. Jane can't expect anything more, as she knows they did this for convenience and not for love, but there's something under the surface that Jane can feel at the edges of their relationship. What is it?
When a simple miscommunication leads to Jane arriving at the estate, everything begins to change. Jane quickly realizes that her world is not what it seems.... and at the heart of the wrongness is Augustine.
Gross, gory, and enrapturing, The Death of Jane Lawrence was a doozy of a novel.
The sense of menace in the writing was top tier. From the beginning, you can feel the trap closing around Jane despite her point of view trying to make logical sense of her surroundings. I was waiting with baited breath for the shoe(s) to drop. (Boy, do they ever.)
Once Jane gets to the estate and things start to happen, the pacing and plot develops into its final form of intricately paced and plotted horror. I both loved the pacing and absolutely hated it. It was too slow for me, but I couldn't stop? That duality carries throughout the entirety of this novel. You're attracted and yet repelled, boring and yet enraptured, disgusted and yet understanding.
Intense. I liked it a lot for what it was, but count this one in the category of "I can't believe I liked this, it was so dark and twisted" fiction such as Mexican Gothic, Follow Me to Ground, and others.
Spoilers for the graphic elements: (view spoiler)
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.