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.
This debut came at me from left field! I cried, I laughed, I shouted "why" at the book. Let's just say I connected deeply to Tabitha's emotional journey through the author's skillful window into her world. A new favorite series for me!
I am so late this party—the third (and final?) book in this series is already out and I'm just now pulling up with my review of this first book. Oh well. Sometimes it's like that.
Black Girls Must Die Exhausted is that rare novel that completely transports you into the emotional journey of its protagonist. From page one, I was WITH Tabitha Walker in the way of all great storytelling. Tabitha very quickly became a friend.
Tabitha Walker did everything by the book—even down to the personal milestones. Have a good job. Have a good lifestyle routine. Have a nice-on-paper boyfriend. Have good relationships with her girlfriends. She's reaching for her next promotion and about to land a down payment for her first home. Things are looking good! Check, check, check.
But just as we meet Tabitha, her life freezes in place.
That last thing on her checklist that I forgot to mention? It was having a family. And Tabitha's just found out that she's got 6 months left of viable time to make her parenthood dreams come true.
Now it's time for Tabitha to reassess her life goals and pivot, fast. With her entire checklist now sidelined and reshuffled, we're buckled in as she swerves to keep climbing on her to success.
It seems like curveball after curveball keeps coming her way, and despite all of her successes, this last mic drop moment onto her life has got her sense of self shaking a bit. But there's happiness even in the journey, and Tabitha's framework of friends and family are there to help her weather the tide.
This novel is such a gem.
Now, to get my one and only critique out of the way--yes, this book was a bit of a rambler. I actually started with the audiobook and quickly(!) decided to transition to the physical copy because I found myself struggling to stay on pace with the meandering sense of backstory vs. real plot. There's a TON of context.
But after a while, I got into the flow. The strong sense of Tabitha's personality, which shines from the very first page, kept me going past the meandering back stories and contextual sidebars. And by the time I hit the 30% mark, I was in love with this story. I cared for Tabitha and rooted for her and her friends at each turn. They felt real, like "listening in to a conversation at the next table" real.
I'm so happy that Tabitha's journey has more books in it. While I think many readers could find satisfaction in stopping here at the end of the first book, I am definitely ready to see what happens next!
Call me an oddball: I loved this story. Simple exterior, complex interior. And, best of all, unforgettable.
Keiko Furukura is a woman who lives on the edges of everyone's "normal" expectations. She's worked in a low-level, part-time position at a local convenience store for decades with no advancement or wish for change. She is single, lives alone, and has no desire for change in her personal life either.
In fact, Keiko's life could be defined quite simply as: She is content as she is, and she does not wish for change.
However, as with many people who live outside of the bounds of "normal" societal expectations, the rest of Keiko's social and familial sphere cannot live with this reality.
Even though it doesn't affect them, even though Keiko is happy and able to pay her bills, the rest of the world is constantly asking her for more, for "normal," and for Keiko to change.
As Keiko herself put its, "the foreign body" is either assimilated or eliminated. So Keiko tries to assimilate based on other people's expectations.
Convenience Store Woman is Keiko's journey toward assimilation and selfhood. And she just might find out how to achieve personal joy along the way.
I thought this story was simultaneously extremely endearing and off-putting at the same time. (Much like Keiko herself, perhaps.) Keiko's life and internal motivations are intentionally on the off-beat for the rest of society, and that friction point is the keystone of this novel's entire existence. If it rubs you the wrong way, then it is telling you that this small story has a message worth exploring.
Especially in our modern times, where so many people are exploring different lifestyles, ways of operating in society, and finding their own joy in the human experience—this is excluding discussions of identity, self-presentation, and sexuality, as that's not the core of this novel--I think Convenience Store Woman is a reflection on the bizarre nature of our current times.
Who cares if Keiko is unmarried, alone, and working a "dead-end" job? Why does it bother others, when it doesn't bother Keiko and affects no one in a negative way?
Why do we, as a society, value the "normal" above all else? Even when—or maybe, especially when—our values of "normal" are extremely bizarre when viewed from a distance?
I thought one of the most ground-breaking and fundamental moments in this novel was when Keiko is internally examining the behaviors of her sister and friends when it comes to a relationship decision that she makes in this novel. (Omitting the details to avoid spoilers.)
Keiko's made a choice, and it's arguably made her daily life and future much worse. BUT, because it's a more "normal" decision that others know how to react to, the reactions from her friends and family are satirically positive. They're thrilled, even with this clearly negative life choice! Keiko becomes confused, quite logically, at the reasoning behind this. It's not a good choice for her, and she is not happy with it, but their reaction is so overwhelmingly positive—which is a reaction Keiko is unused to seeing--that is makes Keiko believe that this choice is what she "should" continue to make. This is just one example of societal reflection used throughout the novel that I found so fascinating to read.
Such an interesting social commentary. We've seen this type of concept before in other literary works, of course, but there is something so "of the now" about Convenience Store Woman and its endearingly likeable edge. A very clever novel with a surprising amount of heart.
What a cool, demonic sapphic noir! C.L. Polk always knows how to write the most intriguing worlds and yet keep them accessible to the casual speculative reader.
First off, I must say that the Tordotcom publishing house has become unstoppable with their cover design and title choices recently. This cover + this title? It was screaming to be read.
Helena Brandt is a magical woman living in Chicago in the mid-1900s. In this alternate-yet-similar America, magic and demons are all too real. And there are "good" magic users and "bad" magic users.
Ten guesses as to what side Helena's been labeled... Yep, you were right: a "bad" magic user, or warlock in this world.
Helena made one life-altering decision nearly 10 years ago, and the Brotherhood of good magicians cast her out for her sins. Ever since that fateful day, Helena's turned to a life of magical detective work and crime photography.
But life isn't all roses and daisies for a female detective in 1940s Chicago. Especially for a queer one who doesn't stay in her lane. With enemies closing in, the law a constant threat, and an internal clock ticking ominously down to a very final end, the LAST thing Helena needs is to encounter the worst case of her detective career.
She'd walk away from that job in a hot minute, but her boss offers her a deal that she just can't refuse...
And now it's up to Helena to catch a killer before the deadly trap closes around her.
Even Though I Knew the End was C.L. Polk at their finest. Complicated concepts done simply with accessible character development and dialogue. A fantastical world with the codes and dark sides of our real-world reality. And some very intriguing twists that feel simple and predictable...until they're not.
I recommend this novella to anyone who enjoys historical noir, queer stories, demonic thrillers, and perfectly packaged short fiction. This was a fun ride!
Intriguing concept. This entire first book felt like it could have easily been a condensed prologue instead of a drawn-out novel…. But I am seeing the glimmer of a cool plot here for the later books in the series.
Disclaimer: This is a reaction review. If you are interested in the book's plot, please see the book description!
As someone with a pulse and access to the online book community over the past few years, I'd heard of this book. It's hard to be in this community and somehow avoid seeing the Plated Prisoner series somewhere. For a while there, it felt like it have the ubiquitous staying power of Sarah J Maas—it was everywhere!
I went from interest, to zero interest, to extreme interest over the years. Fantasy romance with a lot of TikTok hype? I don't know... It's about King Midas and involves toxic relationship vibes and trigger warnings? Absolutely zero interest. But wait, it's actually got [soft spoiler] in there and involves some strong character redirections? Okay, never mind, sign me up.
It's been a journey. So I finally sat down and picked it up!
Gild is one of those books that I feel like I will never read again. Let me explain. Similarly to Maas' Throne of Glass novel (as in, the actual first book in the series and not the series itself), there are some introductory books out there that exist as barely-there prologues that are necessary evils for "first books" and then are immediately improved upon with later books in the series. Sometimes SO dramatically improved, that when you pick up the series later for a reread you don't even bother with that dull first book. (While I reread Throne of Glass as a series every year, I never actually go back to book one, I skip right to book 3 and onward.)
This was a similar reading experience. Gild had a really cool hook: Auren, a woman with literal gold skin/body parts, is kept in a gilded cage by King Midas. It's a toxic, well-worn love between Midas and Auren involving her pining for him and excusing his toxicity and Midas keeping her as his ultimate prize and allowing Auren just enough affection that she stays docile. As the Midas mythos goes, this was a very unique place to start. And it had enough world building to really intrigue me as a reader.
But then... this novel stalled out for me in a major way.
Auren's situation is the definition of two-dimensionally flat. She's essentially an enslaved sexual object in this scenario, and she both acknowledges that fact and simultaneously thinks she's more than that. And for the entirety of this novel--
MILD SPOILERS, STOP HERE IF VAGUE SPOILERS BOTHER YOU
—every single interaction between Auren and any male character was stripped down to this. She's lusted upon, constantly threatened with sexual assault, and then occasionally treated nicely for the purposes of showing the reader why Auren hasn't completely revolted in her cage by now. This dichotomy of an abusive relationship between Auren vs. Everyone was seemingly endless and, after a point, useless as a plot device.
And, problematic reliance on sexual assault as a plot device and lack of conversations around enslaved sex workers aside, this led to an extremely uninteresting and depressing narrative. I kept questioning why people enjoyed this series if this was all there was. Regardless of your opinions on dark topics in your fiction, this wasn't a well-told story!
But I kept going, because I'd been softly spoiled for some of the later elements in the books and I wondered if this series would follow another of Maas' books, A Court of Thorns and Roses, with its unique bait-and-switch structure to that series.
Let's just say that things got much more interesting in the last 10% of this story. So interesting, in fact, that I downloaded the second book IMMEDIATELY and thought to myself, "here we go, finally" and got to reading. More POVs, a new character has arrived, and the chess board has changed... I'm ready for the real plot. Let's go!
NOTE: Not recommended for sensitive readers. Trigger warnings for sexual assault, graphic sexual situations with murky consent, toxic relationships, emotionally abusive relationships, death, internalized mental health struggles.
Long-time fans of Kristen Ashley will be pleasantly surprised—I sure was! Very plot-forward and emotionally wholesome, The Girl in the Mist is the start of a new leg for KA.
Emotional angst: ★
Let's get two things out of the way right at the top: This book felt EXACTLY like a Kristen Ashley book in many ways. It also, surprisingly, did not.
Ashley's extremely distinctive writing style was present here—in particular, her dramatic pacing of single sentences as paragraphs used in a blatant way for dramatic layering of thoughts. This is a "love it or hate it" style, and I'll be honest, I have to be in the perfect mood for it. (I also seem to feel differently about it based on the format I consume the story? Kindle is the way to go, folks. The printed page really highlights this style and drives me nuts to look at from a distance, whereas the ebook format disguises this technique and you get into the groove.)
However, the distinctive KA styling aside... I was taken aback by this story. The Girl in the Mist was a different type of romance for my expectations, and the setting/plot/characters were a refreshing experience.
Unlike many, many other KA stories, this one makes a fantastic entry point into the KA universe and could be read as a standalone series too.
Delphine LaRue is a famous actress-turned-author who has a stalker. At the beginning of this novel, we learn that Delphine's stalker has escalated to the point where she needs to leave town and go lay low for while—she's not in the witness protection program, but she's in the KA commando version of it. (Longtime fans will recognize some names, even though none of the names are actually present as active characters in this story.)
So Delphine escapes to a cabin on the lake in the small Pacific Northwest town of Misted Pines.
It's a small town where everybody knows everybody. And everybody already knows Delphine LaRue.
This interesting, small town vibe aside, Delphine also has an interesting development. She meets her smoking-hot neighbor—single dad and retired FBI profiler, Cade Buchanan.
When a local girl is discovered dead, Misted Pines circles the wagons and Cade Buchanan gets involved. Delphine, being an empty-nest mother herself and an independent woman of means, also gets involved.
Sparks fly and situations escalate as the murder mystery at the core of this small town exposes the rotten roots of the "picture perfect" Misted Pines neighborhood.
I have some complicated feelings for this story. On the one hand, I think it's one of the most well-plotted and well-built worlds that I've read from this author. The mystery had some twists that I didn't see coming. The characters experienced quite a lot of emotional growth and unique situations. The town as a character was strong.
But... your girl loves drama. (Me, it's me, I love the drama.)
And I come to Kristen Ashley for that bad-boy, ridiculously Alpha male drama that involves a lot of running around, relationship drama complete with fights, making up, and all that jazz.
And Delphine and Buchanan just...didn't engage in any of that. I think it was a combination of their ages (they've done that before, they're wiser, they don't have the time for that B.S.), and the fact that the romance wasn't the core of this story. Their real-life drama was the murder mystery, so they didn't bring that into the home space.
Which was... fine. But there were several moments where Delphine and Buchanan had lots of reasons to have a lovers' drama and/or at least a playful dialogue about things and KA just... dropped it. We didn't get any of those highs and lows. This was emotionally wholesome to the point of being flat for the romantic pairing.
And, because of that, I found myself taking forever to finish this book. (Forever in KA standards, at least, whereas I usually start a KA book and don't put it down until it's done.) I think this book will have a wide readership, and it deserves it, but I do hope that the further books in the series give us a little Drama Drama for my drama-queen soul. Lol!
I went to from super hyped about this concept last year...to a lukewarm reading experience....and then a few days later to the realization that—despite my love for Roshani Chokshi—I just did not like this at all. I think this has a certain readership, and I'm sad I'm not one of them.
Sense of uniqueness: ★★
Investment into the characters: ★
Once upon a time, a man who believed in fairy tales married a beautiful, mysterious woman named Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada. He was a scholar of myths. She was heiress to a fortune. They exchanged gifts and stories and believed they would live happily ever after—and in exchange for her love, Indigo extracted a promise: that her bridegroom would never pry into her past.
Indigo is the beautiful and enigmatic muse woman of everyone's dreams. She's too flawless, clearly a bit dangerous, and so beautiful that you can't look away. The Bridegroom certainly can't. He loves his wife more than life itself and is willing to follow her into the dark.
One day, Indigo receives a message that her aunt is dying in her childhood home, the House of Dreams. Taking her bridegroom with her—this man is never named, so apologies for using "bridegroom" over and over again, it's a part of the dream-style repetition in this novel—they arrive at the surreal and darkly Other house.
It's while we're exploring this elaborate house filled with the echoes of secrets that we meet our second POV: Azur.
Azur's timeline is during Indigo's childhood, and she was Indigo's everything. A childhood spent surrounded by magic and twin ties and secrets and oaths, Azur and Indigo were two sides of the same coin. It was going to be Indigo and Azur, forever and ever.
But there's no Azur here with Indigo and the bridegroom.
As the bridegroom explores the House of Dreams, Azur's tale unfolds in the chapters in between. The House of Dreams has witnessed a lot of secrets, and it has some secrets of its own.
Will the bridegroom be able to keep his promise?
Or will he look back into the dark and find out the truth about Indigo's past?
Alright. So I'm not going to dissect the plot or anything here. I think this is a story that is intentionally like a fable, and more importantly, intentionally like the echoes of a story arc that some of us readers have likely read before. It's also a story that cares more for its ominous atmosphere and sense of lyrical flow than its concrete plot.
There's nothing wrong with any of that. But I will say that I wish this book had brought some more things to the table. For how drawn out it felt, for the amount of actual plot that happened in its pages, I needed more as a reader. I wanted something surprising, I wanted this very familiar arc to bring something fresh as a payoff for its very slow pacing. I needed to feel closer to these characters that felt, emotionally, like they were separated from me by layers and layers of glass. I just needed... more.
So, if you're like me and the above items bother you, I'd skip this one. But if you like the concept and don't mind that kind of thing, I do still recommend this one.
This was an intentionally messy story. And for...why? I don't know, and the more I sit with this the more I find myself bothered. (But who knows, that's likely the point.)
Overall message: ★★★
The best thing about this novel is its title. That's not as mean as it sounds, hear me out. I Have Some Questions For You relates to our main character's profession—she's a podcaster, she is literally paid to ask questions as talking points—and it also clearly relates to how this book is both posing its own questions at its audience and also meant to make us, as audience, ask questions.
A never-ending chain of questions, if you will.
And that's where this novel frustrated me to no end.
It's 2018. Bodie Kane has accepted a job at her old high school alma mater. Granby, a prestigious and private boarding school for elite high school students, has called her back as a short-term teacher for a podcasting class.
Bodie's got complicated feelings about Granby and her relationship to it.
In 1995, her one-time roommate was murdered. Thalia Keith, the beautiful and enigmatic girl whom everyone liked. The police quickly convicted the Black gym assistant, an early 20-something man who was convicted on hearsay, drug charges, and trace amounts of DNA.
This story is one that you've heard before. As the novel brings up throughout its pages, "you know the one." The one where she asked for it. The one where she was on birth control, and therefore consented. The one where she was found in the pool / the basement / the trunk / the woods. The one where it was the man she trusted. The one who was a beautiful white girl who died. The one where there was a Black man present, and that was enough.
Now armed with middle-aged wisdom and a 2018 lens on gender interactions, police bias, racism, and more, Bodie has feelings about this case. And she's never been able to let that go.
Her podcasting class sees 1995 as ancient history, so when one of her students asks Bodie if she can cover the infamous case of Thalia Keith, Bodie agrees. She's worried that this might be too biased. She's worried about her position of power as a teacher and if this will open up a can of worms she won't be able to justify. But like many things in Bodie's life, she lets it happen around her anyway and she justifies it to herself.
Tangled up in this story are themes of inappropriate conduct, gender imbalances, racism, unsolved justice, the #MeToo movement, messy relationships, and flawed perspectives. And all of the above sits in a messy knot, endlessly looping from one thing to the next and getting tighter and tighter as the novel progresses.
I don't know. I honestly don't. This novel covers understandably heavy topics that are meant to provoke an emotional response. I think it does this element well.
But I think that this novel boils down to one thing: it was messy and unsatisfying.
I Have Some Questions For You seemed to want to poke at everything and everyone indiscriminately—look at all of this injustice, look at all of this bias, look at all of these selfish people protecting themselves, look at this racism, look at this misogyny, look at this horror of endless fetishized female murder.
Every single piece of this story—Bodie's home life, Bodie's work life, Thalia's timeline, the narration style, the side characters, the endless plot points meant to mirror the core themes—seemed to want to simultaneously be a thesis moment confirming the story's overall message and also serve to be its own counterpoint in the argument.
I don't want to spoil this story, so I'll stop there, but let's just say that I did not feel like this tangled knot was justified, and I don't think it did anything to aid the genre or cultural dialogue. It just shone a light on all of the mess, which I guess highlights that I don't like those types of stories where their purpose is just to yell.
I recommend this story more to literary fiction fans as opposed to mystery fans.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.