This was…bizarre. More bizarre than I was expecting even given the screwball pitch. But it was fun?
Actual plot: ★★
Sometimes, you read a book for the vibes. Assistant to the Villain is that book.
Evie Sage needs a job. Her father is ill, her sister is young, and they have no money. So when she encounters The Villain—the land's most notorious criminal and murderer!!—in the woods on the run from the king's guard, Evie finds herself in the bizarre position of accepting The Villain's offer of employment. Evie handled herself well in the crisis of escape, and The Villain wants her to handle his office.
It turns out Evie is the perfect personal assistant to The Villain.
From office drama to document filing disasters, Evie has The Villain's lair in tip-top shape. Her drama with the office manager, dastardly Becky, is a prick in her side, but Evie won't let that get to her. She is a professional. (Even when the severed heads of The Villain's enemies drip blood on her when she's trying to get to her desk.)
The Villain has no idea how he came to have Evie in his employ. She's fearless, she's clumsier than any human ought to be and make it alive to adulthood, and she's determined to succeed in her profession. (The Villain refuses to acknowledge that he would do a great many things to keep Evie's mood happy and content. Her smile and twinkling personality do absolutely nothing to the odd flutter in his stomach when she's nearby.)
But like all evil overlords, The Villain has those who wish him dead. And as a plot to end his reign of terror unfolds, Evie and The Villain find themselves trying to find a hidden culprit before its too late...
From that pitch, you know this is an odd satirical tale. It's like The Office mixed with medieval villainy, and it's a screwball pitch on a good day. Mix in a dash of romantic drama, some very iconic yet limited side characters, and you've got quite a narrative setup.
And I'll be honest... it was fun. Was it my favorite though? No.
This concept was fantastic, and the author clearly has a talent for the odd mix of Monty Python energy mixed with grounded plot. But in full transparency, this book was a lot. It was both easy to put down and very exhausting to try to read in large chunks. With a lot of sameness in the humor and some interesting turns in the plot that lost me rather than gripped me, Assistant to the Villain was a book that I found myself enjoying but not loving.
I also assumed this novel was a standalone, but it VERY clearly is not. So be warned for an unresolved ending that apparently has two more books... However, all that being said, I am intrigued enough to continue and see where the author takes us.
This hit all of my buttons—smashed them, really. When Harry Met Sally with some twists, and set in the present day?? Give it to me.
Plot Setup: When Harry Met Sally, literally, just more modern
Emotional damage: ★★★★★
Let me preface this review with an obvious caveat: I'm a huge fan of the 1990s hit movie, When Harry Met Sally. I love it. I've seen it way too many times. So when I received this early reader copy of You, Again and it said the magic words, I was all over it.
And it delivered all the vibes I wanted, plus a whole bunch of other ones that I didn't know I needed.
You, Again is a love letter to the messy ties that bind us to other people, the intricate ways we self-sabotage our needs, the fierce desire that we all have in our hearts for connection and purpose. It felt like a manifesto for the late 20-somethings and an intense mirror held up to our fault lines, our fears, and the worst authentic versions of ourselves.
It's a romance, sure, but it's more so a novel about human connection and enduring bonds. And I loved every minute of it.
When Ari and Josh first meet, the wrong kind of sparks fly. They hate each other. Instantly.
Ari's a hot mess. An aspiring comedian working the roulette wheel of temp jobs, sleeping in spare closets called rooms, and guarding her emotional core with spikes made of steel, Ari's the kind of modern-day female protagonist that we don't often see in novels.... but she's real. Uncomfortably real. (I felt called out, let's be honest.)
Josh is extremely put together on the outside. He's a talented chef, he's got inherited money and is employed well. He's talented, he's austere, he's witty and sharp. He's also a tangled mess of repression and self-loathing and anxiety spiraling and—okay, yeah, he's a mess too.
And fate keeps colliding these two messes together over time. Ari and Josh meeting in an apartment. Ari and Josh running into each other at a drunken New Year's Eve party. Ari and Josh running into each other on the literal streets of New York City.
When they both meet at their rock bottom worsts, the two give in to fate. They become friends.
And then, eventually, they messily collide into versions of themselves that realize that maybe it's time they became more than that.
Y'all.... You, Again gave me emotional damage. In the best way. Heartfelt, devastating, disturbingly real, and grounded in the "now" to the point where I felt like the author was just filming this poor couple in New York in secret—this novel was everything I was hoping to find. I loved it.
Will you love it? I don't know. It's not a stereotypical romance. It also relies too heavily on the When Harry Met Sally structure for the first 25% of the novel, so you've got to acknowledge that and keep going.
But if none of the above turns you off, you've got to try it. Eagerly looking forward to more from this author, who in my head is a messier, not-STEM-focused version of Ali Hazelwood.
Hot billionaire with issues + classy career woman + drama = a good time. Need a say more???
Elsa Cohen is a celebrity journalist in New York City with an up-and-coming news segment and a social media follower base on the rise. She covers the real stories, she steers clear of the drama, and she's determined to succeed to the top.
There's just one small snag in her setup: Hale Wheeler.
Billionaire Hale and his famous family are often on Elsa's radar—it's hard to avoid them as their beautiful family is mired in drama and involved in everything.
But Hale's been burned by Elsa's news before, and he refuses to allow for a repeat. So Hale and Elsa made a deal: Elsa wouldn't report on Hale's family, and Hale would break his reclusive media silence and give Elsa a one-of-a-kind interview.
But like every conflict, there's more than one side to the story...
And when sparks fly between Elsa and Hale during their interview, Hale's promise of eternal bachelorhood and Elsa's need to protect her heart are going to be tested.
AHHHHH this was a lot of fun, y'all. Fighting the Pull had all of those city-vibes, billionaire lover, and family drama ingredients that you could ask for in a contemporary romance. And it delivered in the heat and feels too, like every good Kristen Ashley book.
Now, in full and complete transparency, this was my first dip into the River Rain series. (I know!! This is book five!!) But I couldn't resist reading it when I was given an early copy as a member of the author's ARC team.
So, to my potential fellow new readers, I'll say that this book was a satisfying entry novel to the series. Hale and Elsa's backstories were fully fleshed out in this novel and I didn't feel like the late person to the party like other romances. This vibe did get... harder... as the book reached the 75% mark as the references to past books' relationships/dramas came to the forefront as the drama started to involve Hale's past and the side characters more. But even then, for me as a reader I felt that this book was its own complete story, and the references just made me curious to go back and read the other pairings. This might not be the case for all readers, but I'm game for pretty much anything so it didn't bother me a bit.
Elsa was my queen in this book. I loved her, I loved cheering for her in her dramas, and I loved her complex dynamics with Hale. She was my favorite part of this book.
Hale... was interesting. Would I date him myself? Absolutely not. Not a chance, even if he asked (which he wouldn't). His daddy issues mixed with an ego the size of a small country was kind of a lot to take in for this reader. I know this comes with the territory for billionaire romances in general, so let me just say that I'm also not a frequent reader of this trope... I came here for KA, and found myself warming up to the billionaire thing as the story unfolded.
However, the two of them were perfect for each other and it obviously sorted itself out—to the point where by the end, I did come around to liking Hale!
Another banger from KA! Don't miss this one if you're a fan of these tropes.
It's a rare thing to find a high fantasy that takes a familiar playbook and shakes something fresh out of the dust. This one does it, and she does it WELL. Don't sleep on this indie fantasy series.
World building: ★★★★
When you start Daughter of No Worlds, you're likely going to think about its similarity to a few very popular fantasy and young adult fantasy popular works. That's okay, because this novel does start in a somewhat familiar setting: it's a girl in a world against her, with some unique traits that make her a target who starts at the bottom of the ladder in an oppressed way—and she's going to do something about it.
That's a template that we know. Especially when it is paired with the older male, world-weary yet powerful, who finds himself drawn into the young woman's powerful, world-shaping energy.
But once you move beyond that surface-level introduction, Daughter of No Worlds begins to shine from the deep and grow with intensity with each reveal and new element. This author is playing the long game, and the further you dive in, the prettier the pearls.
A formerly enslaved woman with a need to succeed. A former warrior captain with scars and a weary acceptance of power corrupts. A world on the brink of war. A change in the air.
Enter the world of Daughter of No Worlds. I promise you won't be disappointed, and I promise that the bland blurb that you read—which, yes, I agree is like many a blurb for many a romance fantasy--is hiding some really cool and very unique things.
Tisaanah is a female protagonist that I understood on a deep level. She's not the best at everything, but she doesn't have to work for everything overly hard either. Her passion is deep but her capacity for brute force and single-minded focus allows her to make the difficult calls when others would balk. She's aware of her place in the world, and she's aware that everything between her and her goal is a fight that she needs to strategize to win.
Max is a male love interest/mentor figure who REALLY surprised me. He is no Rowan Whitethorn with his past battles and trauma. (I am the biggest Rowan stan, so let's not slander my man here either, Rowan is great and has his place.) Max is a soft boy with hard edges, less than 10 years older than our protagonist, and he'd rather garden all afternoon than train Tisaanah in the art of magic and power plays—until, of course, push comes to shove and his claws come out. His arc was one of the freshest I've read for this kind of fantasy and I loved that.
And there's a third intriguing character here that stands apart from our two mains and slightly off from our side characters... I won't spill the secret, but let's just say that element took me COMPLETELY by surprise and immediately catapulted this series into another unique level for me. This is where the series deviates dramatically from others you've read before and cracks open into something fresh.
I can't wait to see how this all plays out in the trilogy. Time for book two!
The first book from this author from a male point of view?? And a heavy mystery plot?? Kristen Ashley is really branching out, and I'm here for it.
Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
Writing style: It's a KA book, so keep this in mind as her writing style is Very Dramatic and she loves a good one-sentence paragraph (like, REALLY loves it)
The Girl in the Woods is the sequel to The Girl in the Mist. Yes, you could start with this one first as it's a new story arc—but it's a richer reading experience if you read them in order.
Rus is an FBI detective on the hunt for the Crystal Killer. He's tired, he's jaded, and he's pretty sure he's done with FBI work in general. And he's definitely done with murderers.
But when the Crystal Killer strikes in Misted Pines, a small town in the Pacific Northwest that's already seen their fair share of shit, Rus has no choice but to make the trek.
And it's another murdered girl. (Rus is bone-weary of finding cold girls in the dark.)
Unfortunately for Rus, there's a twist to this murder: while it's done in the style of his Crystal Killer, it's not...quite... right. So now Rus has a copycat killer on his hands AND the worrisome wrath of the real murderer to come once he finds out someone's got his calling card.
Suffice to say, things are not going well for Rus.
But things look up when he meets the local burlesque club owner, Lucinda (Cin) Bonner. She's everything Rus could want in a woman, and she's a level of competent that he can't help but want to have at his side.
Misted Pines might have more for Rus than just his ticket out of dodge. It might be what he was looking for all along...
Y'all, this series continues to be unlike any of this author's prior works. It's obviously a KA book—swoony men, drama-drama, and her characteristic writing style that drives me nuts but keeps me coming back--but there were several things in this one that really shook up her canon. And I loved it.
1.) The ENTIRE story was from the male perspective?? Rus is running the show, we don't get Lucinda's POV. This was fresh for KA and honestly fresh for most indie romances I've read. Rus was a very interesting and clearly male gaze for us to have. I liked it, I wouldn't mind seeing more of this.
2.) Of all the Kristen Ashley romances I've read, this pairing was the most mature and lowkey of all of them. Lucinda was an adult who made sound choices, Rus was an adult who made very reasonable choices, and their romance itself was solid. No spoilers, but let's just say there is usually more drama in the romance itself for KA stories. (I love that drama, but this was interesting and I liked it more than I thought I would.)
3.) It completely blurred the line between a mystery/thriller and a romance story. Was it romantic? Yes, as much as I could find a sole-male POV window romantic from my cis-het female perspective. Was it also a gory, descriptive, and pulse-pounding thriller? Also yes. In fact, if I had to pick one shelf for this series to sit, I'd actually place The Girl in the Woods on my thriller shelf, because that's the more natural spot for it to sit. The romance took a backseat to the plot in this one. Which ALSO surprised me, by fact that I loved that too more than I assumed I would.
Overall, another winner in the KA index for me. (I am a very biased audience.) Pick this up if you like male POVs, thrillers, and well-rounded romance leads.
Thank you to the author for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was an addictive read--fun and flashy, yet still a normal "competition" fantasy romance...until it surprised me and ripped open into something devastating and shiny. Then it became a new favorite.
Before we begin, a rambled note on TikTok:
In my opinon, TikTok is an odd zone for the book community. It's large, obviously, and a lot of people love it. I love that for them. But overall... I struggle. I almost never agree with the flashy/quick recommendation videos based on hype and aesthetics vs. actual similarities between books. I think they're formed on the fly in the hype culture of fast recs vs. quality recs, and I also think it's often the same books in the rec pot across the board. (This isn't a TikTok specific hate, I've always grumbled about Instagram and YouTube too when it comes to "if you like this, try this" content.) So usually, I avoid all TT recommendations like the plague until someone I trust and/or actually know takes a bite of the apple.
In a totally unexpected and surprising turn of events, Amy read a TikTok-recommended fantasy romance. (Did you hear that? It was the reality paradigm, it cracked in half when I typed that sentence.)
No, seriously, it's true. This ridiculous anti-platform gremlin/stick-in-the-mud reader picked up The Serpent and the Wings of Night because it refused to leave her alone, and there was something deep down that made her go... maybe they're right, maybe this is awesome.
And it WAS.
Imagine if you took everything you liked and stirred it into one pot. For me, it's a combination of the following ingredients (let's make a potion together):
-A deadly game, competition, or high-stakes survival scenario
-A female protagonist with *actual* hard edges/reasons to be a badass
-A male love interest who has more character traits than 1) I Am Powerful/Deadly/The Black Sheep, and 2) Relentlessly Attracted to FMC" (it's amazing how many SFF men fail this test—even some of my favs.)
-A unique world, bonus points for a clever twist of the usual tropes
-A sense of actual doom/high stakes/death impending
-A well-done, slower-burn romantic pacing
-Decent dialogue for the steamy scenes
-Great writing all around
-More than 1 side character with a backstory and personality
And that's it. I'm a simple girl, with simple needs.... and a longgg laundry list of things that need to hit right for me to love the fantasy romances. I usually love books that include at least two thirds of my list—it's not like I sit there with my checklist, but anecdotally, I've noticed I tend to follow this list subconsciously in my book selections.
The Serpent and the Wings of Night hit every. single. one.
I read this book in ONE DAY and then read all of book two two days after that. Don't sleep on this one, fellow fantasy fans and those who like those things on my checklist. This book has it all.
Loved the concept, loved most of the execution—I think this debut slightly fumbled the landing. BUT that being said, the vibes and concept were enough to keep this a personal favorite.
You visit an island. Something is off about it. The people are nice, albeit your standard rural area standoffish vibe. The island itself is a beautiful piece of land off the coast of Northern Wisconsin.
But there's something about these people—their clothes are dated, their cars are all rust buckets, their music is 20 years out of date. And weirdest of all... you can't find anything more tech savvy than a Walkman and a boom box.
You realize the town is acting like it's 1994.
And when you catch some members of the town captivated by seemingly "live" coverage of OJ Simpson's car chase in California—and then you catch them watching it multiple nights in a row—you realize something is seriously, seriously weird here. Because the entire town KNOWS it's not actually 1994. But they're acting out the scenario anyway.
And then you find out that people sometimes disappear.
Welcome to Clifford Island. You might not make it off...
Dead Eleven is a horror release that I found out about randomly on Goodreads one day, and IMMEDIATELY knew that I needed to have it. From that pitch you just read, can't you see why?? What a concept.
Layered into that killer concept was a mixed-media, brother/sister, and past/present timeline angle that I found too good to resist. So I bought this and read it almost immediately.
Ultimately, I think this debut did a few things perfectly: the vibes, the lingering/creeping dread, the pulse-pounding "I need to know what happened" element that keeps you reading late into the night.
Where this book fumbled was in the ending. I think it wasn't bad, but it wasn't as spectacular as its first half implied it would be. But then... maybe it will for you. Let me know!
Eagerly looking forward to more horror mixed media from this author.
This book was wayyyy too long. But I loved this small town and the family of characters! It gave me all of the fuzzies. (Knox though?? Good grief. Not my choice of male love interest, but that's okay.)
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
Things We Never Got Over is a book that I have seen all over the place. It's an adorable cover. Every time I saw it on the shelves, I was like "man, I've got to check out that book!" Many props to the graphic designer for making a really appealing design.
So clearly, the marketing worked and I picked this book up! And the verdict is.... It was a fine romance read.
I don't often read random contemporary romances these days—there's got to be some sort of complicating hook for me, like motorcycle clubs or paranormal twists—so I'm not sure if this book was a standard for the genre or not. But I think it had some great elements and some meh ones.
The great: the sense of community, the character depths in the secondary arcs, the small town vibes, the family drama.
The not-so-great: the sheer length of this book, how annoyingly two dimensional the male love interest was, and the unbelievable romance dynamics between our two main characters. But the main con takeaway is the sheer length. This could have lost 100 pages without even FEELING it, and could have shaved 150 pages with a decent trim of the side quests.
However - if you're looking for a community-rich and lingering feel good read, give this one a try!
It's Ali Hazelwood, of course I devoured it. But it wasn’t *quite* the same level of awesome as her first two books for me. (Still dang good though.)
Characters: ★★ for him, ★★★★★ for her
Elsie Hannaway is a theoretical physicist struggling to make ends meet in adjunct professing hell. So to pay her bills, she sidelines as a fake girlfriend for hire.
This gig requires relatively little from Elsie. She's already used to morphing versions of herself for each person she interacts with—some call it masking, some (Elsie) call it being amenable and whatever said person in front of her needs.
Elsie is always looking out for those around her, even when it is at the expense of herself.
But her fake-girlfriending side hustle goes pretty poorly when her client's older brother, Jack Smith, ends up poking into her veneer. And then to make matters WORSE, Elsie discovers that Jack works in her field of physics and is on the hiring committee for a job that she's trying to get.
Will Jack stop Elsie from this job opportunity? Will he blow her cover as a fake girlfriend? Or will he do the unthinkable and wreck Elsie's chances just like he wrecked her field of study years ago when he torpedoed the field of theoretical physics in a scathing academic essay takedown?? (Oh yea, there's science issues too!)
Cue the drama...
Love, Theoretically takes the classic Ali Hazelwood fable and turns it further into the realm of STEM women in love with this latest installment of intelligent women falling haplessly in love with stoic yet heartwarming men.
I think this novel did several things incredibly well: Elsie's characteristics, her journey toward self-prioritization, the academic drama, the banter. You KNOW Hazelwood has her banter down.
But I do think this novel lost me a bit when it came to the love interest, Jack. Hazelwood seems to always write her men as internally heartwarming and loving with a gruff exterior—ripe for that miscommunications trope to come in—and then shows us their soft side as the romance progresses.
I felt like Jack was TOO nice, TOO accommodating. He felt like a 2D man who fulfilled Elsie's needs a bit too perfectly. You know? Elsie's not perfect and makes a fair few mistakes and offenses. And Jack just completely rolled with every one of them, no doubt, no drama, hardly any justification. And I felt the conclusion hinged too much on that and I didn't understand the full motivations of why Jack cared so much, and why he was obsessed with Elsie in particular.
I don't know. Love, Theoretically lost me a little bit because of that. I did still love it, but readers beware if you're the kind of person who needs some depth to your men. (Hazelwood always is lighter on her mens' character traits, so this was even more so in that line of thinking!)
Yarros had the AUDACITY to put all of my favorite things in one book?? *fans self* Dragons, fights to the death, enemies to lovers, and a perfectly accessible writing style have made this an addictive series to watch.
This book really said, "Let's combine everything that worked in a bunch of fantasy books before and mash them into something awesome." And it worked.
Fourth Wing has been all over the book community this spring. If you've somehow not heard of it yet, you will, and if you haven't broken under the hype train and tried this story out, then you are an insanely strong personality and I fear you.
I had no desire to avoid this hype train—I've been eagerly awaiting it since this book popped up on my Amazon "you might be interested in..." window in late 2022.
Dragon riders. A college segmented into quadrants. A quashed rebellion with lingering consequences. A longstanding war. Magic powers. A girl caught in the middle, tugged on by Fate.
I know, I know. We've heard those things before, right? That's like Eragon + Divergent + Deadly Education + Red Queen + [insert blockbuster series here].
But Y'ALL. When I tell you that I couldn't put this book DOWN, I mean that I literally took it into the bathroom with me so that I could keep reading it. (Outing myself here, but you need to hear me right when I talk about this level of obsession.)
I ignored texts for this book. I ignored meal times. Like I've already said, I took this book with me for calls of nature. Fourth Wing couldn't be stopped, and I was obsessed beyond reason.
Addictive is the only word I can use to describe this reading experience and the subsequent fandom hype that happens after you finish. Unlike some popular reads out there—where let's be honest, once you gain some distance you realize flaws and your passion fades—I don't see this happening with Fourth Wing. I'm days out from my first read and I'm still wishing I could dive back into this world.
This is so clearly a reaction review that I don't think I want to talk about anything specific in this story. The blurb pretty much covers it.
My only caveat for Fourth Wing is related to its fanfiction-like status as a remix of the greatest trope hits: Listen, I know this book isn't a unique snowflake. But I literally don't care.
There's something to be said for the talent required in taking an established set of ingredients and still baking something tasty that feels like a handmade treat tailored to you, you know?
Ride the wave, y'all. It's so much fun.
Thanks to the author for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.