Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

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Star rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis: from Goodreads

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

General information: This book was published in October 2020 by Orbit Books.

My thoughts:

So…. I really thought this would be a 5/5 for me when I read the blurb. I mean, suffragette witches? Sign me up!

But it just didn’t quite land emotionally with me like I thought it would, especially the ending.

Don’t get me wrong, this book was amazing! The main characters are all flawed but loveable and interesting, and I really related to all of them in different ways. There was really strong character development as well and I loved how well it was worked into the narrative.

There were some plot twists that took me by surprise and had me turning pages (metaphorically- I listened to the audiobook).

And I loved the way the romantic interests of the sisters were worked into the plot. I was really rooting for the romance subplots, especially one character’s (no spoilers).

Another really strong point of the book was its social and historical grounding- the author obviously did her homework and I loved the alternate history she presented. The social issues mentioned were relevant and interesting in ways that worked well for the plot.

I even cried at one part in the middle. No spoilers, but damn, the sisterly bond got me emotional.

So what didn’t connect with me about this book?

Honestly, I have no clue. Maybe it was the audiobook narration. Maybe it was the slow pace. Maybe it was the large cast of characters. Who knows? I just didn’t fall in love with this book like I thought I would.

This book felt very slow-paced to me, which felt out of place during the huge, eventful climax; I wanted to speed up the audiobook narration at some points, which is a problem I’ve never had before with an audiobook. The slow pace didn’t feel purposeful, like in other fantasy books I’ve read before. It was a definite turn-off and I almost DNF’ed the book.

Speaking of DNF’ing- I actually got a physical copy of this book on release day, read a few chapters, and then put it down until a couple of weeks ago, when I caved and got the audiobook. I came so close to a permanent DNF, and as good as this book was, I don’t think I would have regretted it.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely! It was a really good read, it just wasn’t for me.

Trigger warnings: ***possible spoilers ahead***

Major character death (and a gruesome one, at that), torture, homophobia/transphobia, sexism, racism, violence

Have you read this book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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Star rating: 5/5 stars

Synopsis: via Goodreads

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations. The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

General information: This book was published in May 2019 by St. Martin’s Griffin.

My thoughts:

I absolutely devoured this book and I have no regrets. I read all 420 pages in a day and a half. Was it worth it? 100%.

I’ve been hearing so much praise about this book and I though “there’s no way this can live up to the hype.” But, dear reader, this book did more than live up to the hype. It EXCEEDED the hype. (*insert Andy Samberg Parks & Rec gif here*)

Seriously, I will be recommending this book to everyone, forever. I was already hyped for One Last Stop, McQuiston’s next novel involving sapphics and time-travel, but now I’m even more excited.

Okay, okay, enough fangirling.

The characters. The ending. The sense of hope. The humor. Everything was full-on amazing.

Yummy Natasha Lyonne GIF by Team Coco

Be warned, however: homophobia was used as a plot point in this book. Understandably, considering it involves a romance between two political figures, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Personally, though, it hit all the right notes and I didn’t mind the use of homophobia due to the way the conflict was resolved in the end. No spoilers, of course, but I feel like the ending was saccharine and loving and heart-warming in all the best ways.

Y’all know I’m a sucker for enemies-to-lovers.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely, to nearly everyone. Do I plan on re-reading it? YES, and soon! This is going on the list of my favorite comfort books.

How have I not read this book sooner? I don’t know! Fangirl with me in the comments!

Review: The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

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Look how gorgeous this cover is!

Star rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis: via Goodreads

Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates––a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie––not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past––or his––catches up to her?

With delicious suspense, incisive wit, and a fresh, feminist sensibility, The Wife Upstairs flips the script on a timeless tale of forbidden romance, ill-advised attraction, and a wife who just won’t stay buried. In this vivid reimagining of one of literature’s most twisted love triangles, which Mrs. Rochester will get her happy ending?

General information: This will be published in January 2021 by St. Martin’s Press. Thank you to Book of the Month for my copy!

My thoughts:

This was a fun read! And by fun, I mean engaging and a little stressful. However, it wasn’t quite as tense as I wanted it to be, especially for a thriller.

Ultimately, I gave it three stars (closer to 3.5, probably) because I just couldn’t connect to anyone in the book and the story fell a little flat for me.

I loved Jane Eyre when I read it back in high school so I knew exactly where this book was headed; the main reveal about Bea was not a surprise. (I won’t spoil it just in case anyone isn’t familiar with Jane Eyre…. despite the name of this book kind of giving it away. But hey, better safe than sorry. No spoilers here).

However, this one didn’t quite hit me the way I expected it to. I love retellings of classics so I expected to love this, but I was kind of just… meh about it. It was a good read, and I finished it within two days, but I just didn’t connect with it.

Nearly all of the characters are unlikeable to an extreme. This was an interesting twist on Jane Eyre and I actually liked that idea. Unlikeability doesn’t usually stop me from becoming emotionally invested in a character, but for some reason the main characters fell a little flat for me. I loved some of the side characters and wanted to hear more about them (the Ingrahams, for instance). The main trio just didn’t quite do it for me, though.

I loved the setting! Jane Eyre set in a rich suburb in the South? Yes please. The author did a great job of setting scenes and making you feel part of the story. I felt like I had visited the wealthy enclaves of Birmingham by the end.

I was also surprised by many of the twists- this book definitely did not go where I thought it would, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The plot took many twists and turns that I did not expect, especially near the end. The reveals were done really well, in my opinion.

Thrillers aren’t my usual genre so I kind of took a chance on this one. I still really enjoyed it, I just didn’t find myself emotionally invested in the story. Will I read it again in the future? Probably not. I still recommend it for fans of classic retellings and those who want a quick read.

Thanks for reading! Have you read this one yet or is it on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

Review: In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren

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Star rating: 5/5 stars

Synopsis: from Goodreads-

One Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones in In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by Christina Lauren, the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.

But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.

The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.

Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.

General information: This was published in October 2020 by Gallery Books.

My thoughts:

Y’all, this book was adorable. Cozy, wintery, romantic, funny, everything you would expect from a holiday romcom.

The main couple were adorable and built up very well- I was really rooting for them by the end. There’s a slight hint of a love triangle but I feel that it’s handled well. The synopsis mentions two brothers, after all, so I went into this expecting some hurt feelings from at least one party.

And the time travel aspect (if it was time travel?) was worked into the plot interestingly. I felt like Mae’s reaction to being thrown back to the beginning of the vacation was realistic and, at times, pretty darn funny.

I loved the found family aspect of it, as well. The larger cast of characters were sweet, especially her not-quite-uncle Benny. I really enjoyed their characters, but I felt that sometimes the large ensemble cast made it difficult to remember who was who. (That could 100% be my fault, though. I just have a hard time with large casts).

Mae grew a lot as a person over the course of the book. Her character was very relatable to me- she starts off the book as someone who’s not sure about her career, her love life, her living situation, and really, we’ve all been there, right?

My only issue is that she’s in an incredibly privileged position- she has a decent job and the ability to live with her mother while she figures things out. Sure, it’s not ideal for her, but many people couldn’t say the same. In the end, some of the themes of the book only really apply if you, too, are in a privileged position. Of course, your mileage may vary if you take your life advice from romcoms, but that was something that struck me as important to mention, because it may affect how you view her character and her decisions.

In the end, though, I loved the romance in this book and the larger story about family and tradition. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a romcom to read this holiday season!

Have you read this book yet? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

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Star rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis: via Goodreads

Marcus Caster-Rupp has a secret. While the world knows him as Aeneas, the star of the biggest show on TV, Gods of the Gates, he’s known to fanfiction readers as Book!AeneasWouldNever, an anonymous and popular poster.  Marcus is able to get out his own frustrations with his character through his stories, especially the ones that feature the internet’s favorite couple to ship, Aeneas and Lavinia. But if anyone ever found out about his online persona, he’d be fired. Immediately.

April Whittier has secrets of her own. A hardcore Lavinia fan, she’s hidden her fanfiction and cosplay hobby from her “real life” for years—but not anymore. When she decides to post her latest Lavinia creation on Twitter, her photo goes viral. Trolls and supporters alike are commenting on her plus-size take, but when Marcus, one half of her OTP, sees her pic and asks her out on a date to spite her critics, she realizes life is really stranger than fanfiction.

Even though their first date is a disaster, Marcus quickly realizes that he wants much more from April than a one-time publicity stunt. And when he discovers she’s actually Unapologetic Lavinia Stan, his closest fandom friend, he has one more huge secret to hide from her.

With love and Marcus’s career on the line, can the two of them stop hiding once and for all, or will a match made in fandom end up prematurely cancelled?

General information: This book was published in 2020 by Avon Books.

My thoughts:

Can we talk about all the Game of Thrones references in this book? Because I seriously loved catching the little jabs at the last few seasons. And this book was full of jabs at the last few seasons. (It made my ASOIAF book!fangirl heart very happy).

Fandom references aside, this book was amazing! It managed to combine a cute romance with a serious discussion about difficult topics, such as growing up dyslexic and fat-phobia. Come for the wish fulfillment, stay for the serious meditations on reacting to familial abuse.

But yes, the fandom references- in fact, the whole premise of the book- made my fangirl-self want to start writing fanfiction again, just in case I accidentally meet an actor from the show. No? Too unlikely? Shhh.

The romance was adorable and I loved both characters, they both felt very fleshed-out. I also loved the cast of side characters, such as their zany coworkers and errant family members. Their relationships with their families felt very realistic and well-written. It added a lot of color to the story and I really appreciated how it ended.

My only nitpick is that it didn’t quite hit me emotionally the way other romcoms have. I never had to put the book down because I was so emotionally invested in the characters that I needed a break. It never made me laugh out loud. Really, that’s the only flaw I can find, and it’s totally subjective. A different person may experience the book totally differently (as it always goes with media).

All in all, I highly recommend this book, especially to fellow nerds! It was a love letter to fandom in a way that only a fellow nerd could write, and I really loved it.

Thanks for reading! Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Well Met by Jen DeLuca

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Star rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis: via Goodreads

All’s faire in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author, Jen DeLuca.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

General information: This book was published in 2019 by Berkley.

My thoughts:

A romcom set at a Renaissance Faire? Yes please!

For real, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was heartwarming and cute and swoony, all the best things about reading a romcom.

For a romcom, though, it felt pretty light on the “com.” It didn’t make me laugh out loud at any point like The Unhoneymooners did, and also didn’t make me exhale heavily out of my nose, like most funny books do. (I’m not the only one here who does that, right?)

However, I still fell in love with the characters and the town of Willow Creek (sidenote: isn’t that the name of a town in the Sims 4?). I loved Simon, especially, and his struggle to keep up his brother’s legacy. I loved the small-town atmosphere of the book- and I’m not usually one for small towns in real life. This one, though, was charming and filled with a cast of supportive characters. Can I move there?

This book had me swooning every time the main couple so much as kissed, and I had to put it down in a couple of parts because I was so emotionally involved in the main couple.

However- and this is a big ‘however’- looking back, I honestly don’t see what attracted them to each other in the first place. They hate each other out of nowhere, which, fair enough, that happens all the time. But then suddenly, they’re incredibly attracted to each other? Which, again, fair enough (or faire enough?), that happens too. But then, boom, they’re in love! And have been for a while! Who could have predicted that?

It’s a romcom, so I was willing to suspend disbelief while I was reading, but having had some time to think about it, I just don’t fully believe in the main couple. It was fun and lighthearted and swoony (have I mentioned how swoony it was?) but it felt like something was missing.

I’m honestly not sure if I want to read the next book in the series yet because of this. I liked Stacey’s character but I wasn’t very invested in her, and I’m not sure I could read a whole book about her. That being said, I’d probably get Well Played if it was on sale? Just not right now.

However, this author can write the hell out of a kiss scene.

Do I plan to read this again? Yes, probably. Would I recommend this to romcom fans? Sure. But my rating of 4 stars is probably closer to a 3.5 because of the issues I had with the romance development.

Thanks for reading! Have you read this? What were your thoughts?