Tuesday, May 21, 2024

ARC Review: Summertime Punchline by Betty Corrello

 


HBO’s Hacks meets Carley Fortune’s Every Summer After in this hilarious and sweeping love story about a comedian forced to return to her Jersey Shore hometown and confront everything she left behind ten summers before—including the man who broke her heart.

Then. Delfina Silva-Miller wants one thing: to leave behind Evergreen, New Jersey and never look back. Despite her adoring grandmother’s best efforts, Del can’t bear to live another moment at the whims of her deadbeat dad (so cliché) and her ever-temperamental crush, Eddie Rodriguez (humiliating).

Now. If there’s one thing Del knows how to do, it’s spin her bad luck into a killer joke. After years of hard work, she’s finally landed a coveted spot at a huge comedy festival, molding the often tragic raw material of her life into comedic gold. But when Del loses her job, boyfriend, and apartment in the span of a few hours, she’s forced to pack her bags and return to the home she swore off at eighteen.

Del is determined not to let her history with Evergreen distract her. She has 45 days to perfect a new comedy set and march into her new life. Instead, she marches right into Eddie Rodriguez. But he’s nothing like the boy she left behind ten years ago.

As the festival draws closer, Del is faced with the terrifying possibility that everything she’s ever wanted isn’t as far away as it once seemed.

Vividly evoking the boardwalks and beaches of the Jersey Shore, Summertime Punchline is a hilarious, vulnerable, and sweeping love story celebrating the complicated relationships—romantic and not—that impact our lives, for better or worse.

Title: Summertime Punchline
Author: Betty Corrello
Publisher: Avon and Harper Voyager
Publication Date: May 21, 2024

Review:

Thank you to Avon who sent me an advanced copy of this book to read and give my honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Delfina Silva-Miller is having some bad luck. She's out a boyfriend, a roommate, an apartment, and a job! She finds herself back in her hometown; a place she never thought she would return. And a place where she experienced heartache, lonliness, and abandonment. She finds herself interacting with her childhood nemesis, Edgardo. As she tries to get her life back together, she slowly realizes perhaps her hometown was not as bad as she thought it was and perhaps the one person she thought she hated might be the soul mate she never thought she'd have.
This was a fabulous debut for Betty Corrello. She did a wonderful job with her character development, her plot line, and her pacing.
I went into this book thinking there would be a bit more romance than there was. And I thought I would be disappointed. But I was, in fact, very pleased with how this story progressed. I was happy the story was not all romance and spice. The plot was focused on Del's growth and her experience as she comes to terms with who she is and where she wants her life to go. Throughout the book she learns to open her heart more and more. She learns forgiveness and love. 
Del is a great character. I love that she's almost thirty and is still struggling with being an adult. This is such a true representation of what we are seeing these days with people returning to home as they try to put their life in order. So many people struggle with being an adult at such an early age and then feeling they failed because they are not able to pull it off. She's vulnerable and definitely wears that on her sleeve, despite not wanting to do so.
Edgardo is so sweet and tender. I love that he's a hometown guy who truly enjoys where he lives. And I love how his experiences didn't make him an angry person but show that he was capable of great growth. And his relationship with his family is so fun. I loved watching the banter between them.
I really enjoyed the flashbacks Corrello incorporated into the story. They gave amazing background on the relationship between Del and Eddie and how they had this intrinsic push and pull toward and away from each other over the course of their teen years. Many of their moments were filled with what they termed hate but really was them fighting their attraction to one another. It totally reminded me of the relationships I had in high school.
There was lots of humor used in this book to form the relationship between the characters. We are told many times how funny Del is and you can feel this with her interactions with Eddie, her grandmother, her father, and a few of the other side characters in the book.
One thing that pulled me out of the story was not having much of a background from the last ten years Del has spent away from her hometown and Eddie. I need more of what she truly experienced during that time. We do get some of this for Eddie, but also not as much as I would have liked to truly shape him and show us why he is the way he is. Since the entire book is told from Del's point of view, we never truly know what's going on in Eddie's head. I feel like having his point of view would have really helped with being able to form a better opinion on his character.
This was a great summer or beach read. Something easy to move your mind into feel good stuff. A second chance romance that is sweet and slow to burn. An exploration of relationships, love, and friendships and how these all help shape a life. An impressive first foray for this author into writing.

Author:

Betty Corrello is an incredibly beautiful and normal woman. Despite her hardened exterior, she is biologically 95% marshmallow. She blames this on the abundance of water in her astrological chart. Her greatest passion is writing stories where opposites attract, but love is chosen. When she's not writing, she can be found fretting about niche historical events most have forgotten––or petting her very tiny dog. In addition to writing books, she previously performed stand-up and sit-down comedy all over the east coast. She calls herself a stand-up comedian to avoid bullying, but she is actually an improv nerd. She does not like The Harold. She is Italian and American and spent time growing up in both countries. She is a proud Philadelphian. Go Birds.


Monday, May 20, 2024

ARC Review: The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center


She’s rewriting his love story. But can she rewrite her own?

Emma Wheeler desperately longs to be a screenwriter. She’s spent her life studying, obsessing over, and writing romantic comedies—good ones! That win contests! But she’s also been the sole caretaker for her kind-hearted dad, who needs full-time care. Now, when she gets a chance to re-write a script for famous screenwriter Charlie Yates—The Charlie Yates! Her personal writing god!—it’s a break too big to pass up.

Emma’s younger sister steps in for caretaking duties, and Emma moves to L.A. for six weeks for the writing gig of a lifetime. But what is it they say? Don’t meet your heroes? Charlie Yates doesn’t want to write with anyone—much less “a failed, nobody screenwriter.” Worse, the romantic comedy he’s written is so terrible it might actually bring on the apocalypse. Plus! He doesn’t even care about the script—it’s just a means to get a different one green-lit. Oh, and he thinks love is an emotional Ponzi scheme.

But Emma’s not going down without a fight. She will stand up for herself, and for rom-coms, and for love itself. She will convince him that love stories matter—even if she has to kiss him senseless to do it. But . . . what if that kiss is accidentally amazing? What if real life turns out to be so much . . . more real than fiction? What if the love story they’re writing breaks all Emma’s rules—and comes true?

Title: The Rom-Commers
Author: Katherine Center
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Expected Publication Date: June 11, 2024

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for providing me with an egalley of this title to read and give my honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Katherine Center is quickly becoming one of my favorite chick lit/contemporary romance authors. Her books are fun and funny, with just enough quirk in her main characters to make them extremely endearing and relatable. And this book, THIS BOOK!, is my most favorite by her to date!
Emma Wheeler has spent her life wanting to write screenplays. But her obligation to caring for her disabled father has taken the front seat to her dream. When she's given a chance to help rewrite a rom-com screenplay for one of the most famous screenplay writers, Charlie Yates, she jumps at it, even with the fear in her mind that something can go horribly wrong while her sister cares for their father. She and Charlie click and the screenplay begins to take shape, as she teaches him the meaning of romance, and they slowly form a closer bond. But when there is an emergency in her family, Emma knows she must put them first and leave Charlie behind, even if her heart tells her it will break if she does.
I first have to say how many times I laughed in this book. SO. MANY. TIMES. Literally laughing out loud and getting strange looks from those around me. But I didn't care because to say Center thoroughly entertained me would be an understatement. Her ability to write hilarious scenes with intriguing dialogue and characters who tear at your hear strings is amazing. I was thoroughly enchanted by the story line and the characters from the very start. And my heart was cheering for a happily ever after, though it seemed an impossible task.
The writing style is so much fun. Mostly because Center has the FMC, Emma, talking to her audience. I have rarely seen this done in books and have always worried this would not work well. But it works so well for this book. It really helps the reader to form a connection with the FMC. It made me totally invested in the story. It was as if she were my friend and she was telling me the greatest story of her life.
Emma Wheeler's character is fiercely loyal to family. Her tragic past shapes her future.  I want to take her in my arms and just give her the biggest hug, tell her everything will be alright, tell her she's not at fault for things, and tell her to just live her life and not feel so guilty. She never puts herself first. And it's always in the back of her mind that her tragic past is her fault and she has to somehow make up for what she thinks she's done. At the same time, she has a let's make lemonade out of these lemons attitude. She can see the good in situations outside of her own. And her determination to teach this to Charlie is unsurpassed.
Charlie Yates would seem to have it all: great career at a young age with many awards to show for it, a nice house, and plenty of money. But he's lonely, and a recluse, and doesn't believe in the good things in life. He's been hurt too many times to think that you can make lemonade out of lemons. When he meets Emma, he's determined to not change his mind. He's closed off to any possibility of happiness. But she slowly unravels his grump tendencies and he begins to realize there is more to life than the tragedies that happen to us.
It was easy for me to fall quickly in love with both Charlie and Emma. Their characters are unique and unconventional.
And the supporting characters are a lot of fun. Emma's dad, who is disabled but has the most amazing outlook on life. Emma's carefree sister, Sylvie, with whom she has a best friend relationship. Logan, Emma's ex boyfriend and friend, who has the best quote in the book: "You're lonely. He's lonely. It's like an incubator for fornication." T.J., Emma's nemesis and fellow screen writer. And a slew of other fun side characters to show what the Hollywood screen writing and acting scene is like. And, best of all, Jack Stapleton, from The Bodyguard, makes an appearance and it's lovely how it ties the books together (though you can read this as a stand alone as it does not make a true difference to the story line). I loved them all.
I truly had a hard time putting this one down. And when I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it and thinking about how I could get back to it. The pacing was perfect. I truly enjoyed the build between the male and female main characters. And I appreciate Center building a romance but not using spice. Don't get me wrong, I love some spice, but she makes the romantic connection through dialogue and situation and it's really just quite perfect.
Center does address a few topics that are sensitive; cancer diagnosis, tragic loss of a family member, and psychological child abuse. But she does so with great care and mastery adding lighthearted banter and situations where possible to even it all out. She also helps the reader see the bright side of things that can hurt us. Her story both ripped my heart out and healed it all at once. And I love how she doesn't sugarcoat things and shows romance from the imperfect side of things.
This book is about life and loss, love and tragedy, and understanding things happen but those things ultimately can shape you into a better person. It's full of life lessons that we all need to learn. 
5 stars



Author:


BookPage calls Katherine Center “the reigning queen of comfort reads.” She’s the New York Times bestselling author of eleven novels, including The Bodyguard, Hello Stranger, Things You Save in a Fire, and her summer 2024 book, The Rom-Commers. Katherine writes laugh-and-cry books: bittersweet romantic comedies about how life knocks us down—and how we get back up. She’s been compared to both Jane Austen and Nora Ephron, and the Dallas Morning News calls her stories, “satisfying in the most soul-nourishing way.” The Netflix movie adaptation of her novel Happiness for Beginners—starring Ellie Kemper and Luke Grimes—just hit the Global Top Ten in 81 countries, and the movie of her novel The Lost Husband was a surprise Netflix sensation in 2020, hitting number one and landing in their top 25 movies for the year. Her books have made countless Best-Of lists—at Audible, BookBub, and Book of the Month, as well as Goodreads' Best Books of the Year, and Amazon's yearly Top 100 books. Emily Henry calls The Bodyguard “my perfect 10 of a book,” and Jodi Picoult says of Things You Save in a Fire, “Just read it, and thank me later.” Katherine lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her husband, two almost-grown teenagers, and their fluffy-but-fierce dog.

 

Thursday, May 16, 2024

ARC Review: Summer Nights and Meteorites by Hannah Reynolds


From the two-time Sydney Taylor Honor author comes another sweet Nantucket-set summer romance, perfect for fans of Rachel Lynn Solomon and K.L. Walther.

Jordan Edelman’s messy dating days are over. After a few too many broken hearts, and a father who worries a bit too much, she’s sworn off boys—at least for the summer. And since she’ll be tagging along on her father’s research trip to Nantucket, she doesn’t think it’ll be too hard to stick to her resolution.

But hooking up with the cute boy on the ferry doesn’t count, right? At least, not until that cute boy turns out to be Ethan Barbanel. As in, her father’s longtime research assistant Ethan Barbanel, the boy Jordan has hated from afar for years. And to make matters worse, Jordan might actually be falling for him.

As if that didn’t complicate her life enough, Jordan’s new summer job with a local astronomer turns up a centuries-old mystery surrounding Gibson’s Comet—and as she dives into her research, what she learns just might put her growing relationship with Ethan in jeopardy.

Title: Summer Nights and Meteorites
Author: Hannah Reynolds
Publisher: G.P Putnam's Sons
Expected Publication Date: May 21, 2024

Review:
Thank you to G.P. Putnam's Sons for providing me with a finished copy and egalley of this book to read and give my honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.
First things first, I did not know this was third in a series. When the publisher contacted me, I read the summary and it sounded like a cute YA romance. I love a cute YA romance so I said yes! I'm not sure if perhaps having read the first two books and being introduced to some of the characters before hand would have made this one better for me or not. This can totally be read as a stand alone. But there are cross over characters and I would be interested to see if knowing them may have changed my opinions.
Jordan Edelman is going to Nantucket to spend the Summer with her cartography researching father. She's hoping to be able to bond with him from this shared experience. She's also sworn off any potential messy romance as they have never gone well for her. She has an encounter with a boy on her boat ride to the island who turns out to be her father's assistant that she's heard about for the past few summers: Ethan Barnabel. She has a streak of jealousy over this boy's relationship with her father that she's determined to overcome. But as she and Ethan are put in more and more situations where they must interact, including her living in his parent's house for the summer, something blossoms. Can she have the romance that's always alluded her? Or will being with Ethan ruin her?
I love the setting of this book. This is not the first book series I've seen set on Nantucket. I love the idea of being at the beach all summer; surrounded by the ocean, sand and sun. There's something about this setting that is very romantic for me and it becomes the perfect back drop for summer love to blossom. It takes me back to the days I used to spend on the shore of Long Island or New Jersey when I was a young girl. This nostalgia really drew me into the book.
The plot was just ok for me. I liked the science behind what was presented: astronomy, cartography. But I did find the plot was slow to move. I really wanted something a little more fast paced for a YA book. The inclusion of history was interesting, though I think a bit overdone. While I enjoyed the journal entries the author included, I thought there were way too many of them. It seemed a little overdone and I didn't feel like they all were related to the story. It actually took me out of the story many times and slowed down my reading pace. I had to push to get through them so I could see what else might happen between the main characters.
My other plot line issue was the Judaism. Its inclusion just seemed so side bar to me. Like it was included because the author wanted to show the characters as Jewish. It didn't seem to truly lend anything to the characters' development. Using Shabbos and talking about the high holidays just seemed to be thrown in to try and give the story Jewish identity. But it didn't do that for me as a Jew. I wish the author would have used that identity more. It felt 
I would have liked to feel more of a connection with the characters. I didn't find Jordan appealing. Ethan was romantic and fun but it was hard to get to truly know him having only seen him from Jordan's point of view. And their romance seemed a bit forced. I didn't feel the chemistry I wanted to feel. I didn't feel like there was anything really connecting them. Sure, they had her father in common, but in the end them being together seemed odd. And them wanting to stay together even more so. There was no real closure to their romance.
Overall this book was just ok for me, nothing special. I can see how it might appeal to the more scholarly teens overall. But for the most part I didn't feel excited to move through it, I just wanted to get to the end.
3 stars

Author:

Hi everyone! I'm Hannah Reynolds, the author of THE SUMMER OF LOST LETTERS, out now, and EIGHT NIGHTS OF FLIRTING, coming fall 2022 from PenguinTeen. You can also find my adult romance titles under my penname Allison Parr 



 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

ARC Review: Summer Romance by Annabel Monaghan


Benefits of a summer romance: It’s always fun, always brief, and no one gets their heart broken.

Ali Morris is a professional organizer whose own life is a mess. Her mom died two years ago, then her husband left, and she hasn’t worn pants with a zipper in longer than she cares to remember.

No one is more surprised than Ali when the first time she takes off her wedding ring and puts on pants with hardware—overalls count, right?—she meets someone. Or rather, her dog claims a man for her...by peeing on him. Ethan smiles at Ali like her pants are just right—like he likes what he sees. He looks at her like she’s a younger, braver version of herself. The last thing newly single mom Ali needs is to make her life messier, but there’s no harm in a little summer romance. Is there?

Title: Summer Romance
Author: Annabel Monaghan
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Expected Publication Date: June 4, 2024

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley, Edelweiss, and G.P Putnam's Sons to providing me with an egalley of this book to read and give an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.
This is my third book by Monaghan and I swear each book I read gets better than the last. A few months ago I picked up Nora Goes Off Script, because all my book buddies in my book groups told me it was fantastic. And guess what? They were right. I loved it and tore through it and ended up picking up Same Time Next Summer and liking just as much if not more. So, given the chance to read this one early, I jumped on it and I'm so glad I did.
Monaghan has a way of taking her stories and infusing tension that pulls you along and makes you feel like you never want to stop. I feel this often with Christina Lauren books. Like something heavy is sitting on my chest waiting to burst and it won't happen until I get to the end of the story. I love a story with this type of tension. It makes me want to keep reading. I really give a lot of props to the author that she can keep this up throughout the entire book. There was not a point that I wanted to put this book down. The pacing was that good for me. I ended up reading it in less than 24 hours!
This is women's fiction at it's finest. Monaghan chooses to write to a certain age group with her adult fiction and it just works. While I'm older than her characters, I still find them immensely relatable. They bring me back to that time in my life and that feeling of nostalgia is so soothing and right.
The book also infuses one of my favorite tropes, which I'm not sure I even knew about going in: best friend's brother. But unlike some books I've read where there is a hard line that cannot be crossed, this one is more blurry. The characters are older than what I usually see for this trope, mid to late thirties.
This book is a closed door romance. I do love my spice but sometimes it's nice to just have the story be the story and not worry about all the sexy scenes. I think this plays well with the single parent vibe Monaghan sets up. And it allows the characters time to get to know each other without worrying about always being naked together.
Ali never had a chance to find true love. Pregnant within a year of dating her boyfriend, they end up married. But after three kids and moving back to the town where she grew up, Ali loses herself in the marriage and becomes complacent with what she has been handed. She loses who she is. And she is still grieving the loss, even after two years, of the one person she had counted on to make her feel grounded, her mother. Add to that an ex who continues to step all over her and always put his own needs first and you have a recipe for someone who loses their self-esteem. Plus, she's now a single parent because her ex doesn't make his kids a priority. Juggling all of this takes it toll on her mentally. When she's presented with a chance at Summer romance, something that is fleeting and will give her just what she needs, she jumps in without hesitation. She craves to feel that feeling of romance and being cared for. I loved the growth this character went through. I love how she was able to find herself again and start to see all the parts of her she had buried deep for someone else. I also love how she can see that even though she was close with her mom, there were things her mom did to keep her complacent in her marriage. 
Ethan, aka "Scooter",  has so many fabulous elements as a MMC. He's a bit younger than Ali, but not by much. But it's his own life experience that has shaped him into a loving and caring human being. I love how Monaghan made him so involved in his community. At the same time, you could see he was running away from trauma he experienced as a teen. He has his own issues with understanding his own self worth and, like Ali, has to work through them. What I think I loved most about him was his compassion and ability to just listen, even if that listening was to silence. He was able to be in the moment and express his own wants and needs easily. He also has the best sense of humor and uses it to break up a lot of tense moments in this book that would otherwise have sent Ali off the rails. Above all, he shows Ali that she is a strong and capable woman who has so much to give the world if she would just be her true authentic self.
I do wish this book would have been dual point of view. On the one hand, I understand Monaghan's choice to really tell Ali's story. I can see she didn't want Ethan's to get in the way. At the same time, I wanted to truly see Ethan in his own element: interacting with his family, interacting with his community, making life decisions. And I didn't get that as much as I would have just seeing him through Ali's eyes. But I also know this is women's fiction and Monaghan for sure wanted to give Ali a true and honest voice without having it overshadowed by anyone else.
My favorite quote in the book: "And now I can never un-know the truest thing - the intensity of the love you feel will match the intensity of it's loss."
Monaghan is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and her books will automatically be added to my TBR before I even know what they are about. As soon as I was done with this one, I wanted to go back and be able to read it again for the first time. She makes me laugh, and cry, and clutch at my heart and then gives me everything I want in the end. I'm looking forward to what she puts on paper next!

Author:

Annabel Monaghan is the bestselling author of SAME TIME NEXT SUMMER and NORA GOES OFF SCRIPT. She is also the author of two novels for young adults, A Girl Named Digit and Double Digit.



 

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Most Anticipate Releases May 14, 2024

    Happy Tuesday May 14, 2024 release day! 

These are my picks for most anticipated releases this week.


When Among Crows by Veronica Roth

Step into a city where monsters feast on human emotions, knights split their souls to make their weapons, and witches always take more than they give.

Pain is Dymitr’s calling. To slay the monsters he’s been raised to kill, he had to split his soul in half to make a sword from his own spine. Every time he draws it, he gets blood on his hands.

Pain is Ala’s inheritance. When her mother died, a family curse to witness horrors committed by the Holy Order was passed onto her. The curse will claim her life, as it did her mother’s, unless she can find a cure.

One fateful night in Chicago, Dymitr comes to Ala with a bargain: her help in finding the legendary witch Baba Jaga in exchange for an enchanted flower that just might cure her. Desperate, and unaware of what Dymitr really is, Ala agrees.

But they only have one day before the flower dies . . . and Ala's hopes of breaking the curse along with it.

I'm a big fan of Roth. I know, I know, people hate her for what she did to Tris. I get it. But I feel that's artistic integrity to do what needs to be done. So I still read her and I'm looking forward to this one, her first foray into adult!


The Dixon Rule (Campus Diaries #2) by Elle Kennedy

Diana Dixon has a lot going on this summer. She’s rehearsing for a ballroom dance competition, juggling two jobs, and dealing with an ex-boyfriend who can’t take the hint it’s over. Yet despite all that, she still has plenty of time and energy to tell Shane Lindley to screw off.

Shane just moved into her apartment building and seems dedicated to sleeping his way through her entire cheerleading squad. Sure, he’s a tall, gorgeous hockey player, but he’s messing with her turf. This calls for some ground rules: no parties in her apartment, leave her teammates alone, and—most importantly—leave her alone.

What Diana doesn’t realize is that Shane’s sick of hookups and tired of being on the rebound after his long-term girlfriend called it quits. He wants a relationship. And when his ex comes back into the picture, he pretends he has one to make her jealous…and who better to play the girlfriend role than his sassy new neighbor?

Despite Diana’s reluctance to break her rule, a fake relationship is the perfect solution for her own ex issues, and soon she can’t deny something is sizzling between her and Shane. Something hot and completely unexpected.

And it might just be getting a little too real.

Elle Kennedy is an auto-read author for me. I love her angsty romances so much! And I especially love the world she's built for these particular romances (HOCKEY!). I have been obsessed with the Off Campus series since it was first released. And I adored reading The Graham Effect because I was obsessed with Garrett Graham when I read The Deal!



The Paradise Problem by Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren, returns with a delicious new romance between the buttoned-up heir of a grocery chain and his free-spirited artist ex as they fake their relationship in order to receive a massive inheritance.

Anna Green thought she was marrying Liam “West” Weston for access to subsidized family housing while at UCLA. She also thought she’d signed divorce papers when the graduation caps were tossed, and they both went on their merry ways.

Three years later, Anna is a starving artist living paycheck to paycheck while West is a Stanford professor. He may be one of four heirs to the Weston Foods conglomerate, but he has little interest in working for the heartless corporation his family built from the ground up. He is interested, however, in his one-hundred-million-dollar inheritance. There’s just one catch.

Due to an antiquated clause in his grandfather’s will, Liam won’t see a penny until he’s been happily married for five years. Just when Liam thinks he’s in the home stretch, pressure mounts from his family to see this mysterious spouse, and he has no choice but to turn to the one person he’s afraid to introduce to his one-percenter parents—his unpolished, not-so-ex-wife.

But in the presence of his family, Liam’s fears quickly shift from whether the feisty, foul-mouthed, paint-splattered Anna can play the part to whether the toxic world of wealth will corrupt someone as pure of heart as his surprisingly grounded and loyal wife. Liam will have to ask himself if the price tag on his flimsy cover story is worth losing true love that sprouted from a lie.

You can read my review HERE.


Blood & Fury (Chaos & Flame #2) by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland

Blood magic. Ancient fury.

Prepare for the gripping conclusion to the Chaos & Flame saga, the "fast-paced, action-filled fantasy that reads like a mix of Game of Thrones and The Last Airbender" (BCCB) from two beloved New York Times bestselling authors.


A single kiss set Chaos ablaze.

Picking up months after akiss transformed Darling into the long-lost Phoenix and every House regent into their empyreal form, Darling struggles to make sense of her destiny as a legendary creature. How can she, an orphan with no family, truly be the one to reunite the fractured houses and bring about peace, if she can't control the magic of her new Phoenix body?

Talon Goldhoard, still in love with Darling but wounded by her betrayal, is tasked with ending the vicious war that his family instigated. With the Phoenix reborn, Talon is hopeful that the bloodshed will end swiftly. Instead, the kingdom grows more fraught, with the threat of violence ever present – especially from dark, conniving forces within the walls of his own House Dragon.

As Chaos reigns, Talon and Darling must find their way back to each other to not survive but save the kingdom. Can Darling harness the power of the ancient magic that runs through her blood to bring about a new peace? Or will the fury that House Dragon fueled for a hundred-year war be too strong to break?

You can read my review HERE. PLEASE NOTE IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOK #1 THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS.


Monday, May 13, 2024

ARC Review: Icon & Inferno (Stars & Smoke #2) by Marie Lu


Spies meet romance meet popstars in this thrilling follow up to Stars and Smoke by bestselling author Marie Lu.

A year has passed since superstar Winter and secret agent Sydney Cossette went undercover - on a dangerous mission to bring down the baddest man in London.

Winter hasn't stopped thinking about Sydney since, and she's been trying not to think about him

Family secrets and nasty newspapers has Winter desperate to re-enter the secret world. And it's not long before he gets his chance.

Sydney is back, and this time the mission goes right to the heart of the United States of America. A rescue gone wrong, an assassination attempt - and the return of an old flame - puts Winter right back into the action . . . and into a country on the brink of chaos.

And when a murder accusation has Sydney on the run, suddenly it's not just a life at stake, but all-out war.

Title: Icon & Inferno (Stars & Smoke #2)
Author: Marie Lu
Publisher: McMillan Children's Publishing Group
Expected Publication Date: June 11, 2024

Review:

Thank you to NetGalley and McMillan Children's Publishing Group for supplying me with an egalley of this book to read and give my honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.
I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Stars and Smoke. And I love Marie Lu's writing. So I can say I was happy to get a copy of this book as the follow to the first, since the first leaves off on a small cliffhanger leaving you wanting more.
It's been a year since Syd and Winter parted, neither thinking they would ever be back in each other's lives. But Panacea needs Winter for another mission, and they need Syd to convince him to get on board. Of course their mission doesn't go as planned,. They find themselves being hunted by the very people who are supposed to protect them. And they find themselves fighting their attraction, once again!
Is it a silly notion that people so young would be working for a covert agency like Panacea? Yes. Do I care? No. Because I love these characters and their mission and the way they easily get out of things over and over again. It makes my Mission Impossible loving heart very happy,
Marie Lu truly knows how to write some great action. Every chapter had me wanting to turn the page to the next to see just where this mission lead these characters and how they would keep themselves safe. The pacing was great but I would have appreciated a bit of a slower pace to have some time with the characters. I do understand it would have been hard to do so with how much action happens throughout the story. But Lu's writing is addictive.
With this book, we get a bit deeper into the relationship between Winter and Syd. Their push and pull is undeniable. Their romance impossible. Syd continuously denies her attraction to Winter but Winter knows it's there and he is unabashedly honest about it. The inclusion of a few side characters who have history with these two definitely leant to the intensity of the build between Syd and Winter. I really enjoyed the background we got on Winter's character. His family dynamic is important to the man he's become. We know much about Syd from the first book, which explains how she has developed as a character with not letting anyone get close to her. So it's not surprising when she puts her walls up in regards to her and Winter's relationship. The romance was tense and angsty, perfect for YA readers.
As with book one, we see a lot of political intrigue in this one. Their mission is straight forward, to rescue another Panacea operative. But, of course, nothing goes to plan when an assassination attempt pulls them into a high stakes game where they are running for their lives. And the mission gets impossibly harder when they find out betrayal has become part of it all. 
I do see how Lu incorporated another of her series into this one, Warcross. I had no idea that would happen. I have not read that series and had no idea there would be a connection so I'm not sure anything was spoiled by me reading this first.
The ending, while satisfying, still leaves me wanting a third book. I need to see a final ending for these two. Don't get me wrong, there is a conclusion, but I was a little unsatisfied with it. I need redemption! And maybe this might be the plan? I have no idea but if it is I'm sure I will devour that one as I did with this and the first book.
4 Stars

Author:

I write young adult novels, and have a special love for dystopian books. Ironically, I was born in 1984. Before becoming a full-time writer, I was an Art Director at a video game company. Now I shuffle around at home and talk to myself a lot. :)

I graduated from the University of Southern California in '06 and currently live in LA, where I spend my time stuck on the freeways.



 

Thursday, May 9, 2024

ARC Review: Blood & Fury (Chaos & Flame #2) by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland


Blood magic. Ancient fury.

Prepare for the gripping conclusion to the Chaos & Flame saga, the "fast-paced, action-filled fantasy that reads like a mix of Game of Thrones and The Last Airbender" (BCCB) from two beloved New York Times bestselling authors.


A single kiss set Chaos ablaze.

Picking up months after akiss transformed Darling into the long-lost Phoenix and every House regent into their empyreal form, Darling struggles to make sense of her destiny as a legendary creature. How can she, an orphan with no family, truly be the one to reunite the fractured houses and bring about peace, if she can't control the magic of her new Phoenix body?

Talon Goldhoard, still in love with Darling but wounded by her betrayal, is tasked with ending the vicious war that his family instigated. With the Phoenix reborn, Talon is hopeful that the bloodshed will end swiftly. Instead, the kingdom grows more fraught, with the threat of violence ever present – especially from dark, conniving forces within the walls of his own House Dragon.

As Chaos reigns, Talon and Darling must find their way back to each other to not survive but save the kingdom. Can Darling harness the power of the ancient magic that runs through her blood to bring about a new peace? Or will the fury that House Dragon fueled for a hundred-year war be too strong to break?

Title: Blood & Fury (Chaos & Flame #2)
Author: Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers
Expected Publication Date: May 14, 2024

Review:

Thank you to Penguin Young Readers for sending me an egalley of this book to read and give an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.
I cannot say how excited I was to get to the conclusion of this dualogy. I tore through the first book and really adored most everything about it. To say I was excited to receive this for review is an understatement. 
That being said, this book cannot be read without reading the first. You will not understand it and be totally lost. So if you've not read Chaos & Flame, stop here and don't read because it will be spoiled for you!
Picking up a few months after the events in Chaos & Flame, the empyreals have returned, and Darling is the Phoenix Reborn. She is struggling with the betrayal of Talon. But there is blood magic at work that is tainting the kingdom and its lands and it must be dealt with. She needs to harness her new found power and use it to bring peace to the land
While I loved Chaos & Flame, this book ended up falling very flat for me. I wanted so much more for Darling and Talon's story. Not just where the romance was concerned, but also where the fight for peace within the kingdom was. Sadly, I didn't feel I got either. I feel like this one suffers from second book syndrome without even being a second book but a conclusion to the story!
For the majority of this book, I felt like Darling was whining. Whining about missing Talon and how he betrayed her. Whining about how she will be the Phoenix Reborn and harness her power. Whining about her struggling relationships with her family. It was one big whine fest and it had me wanting to punch her! I know this often happens in YA books. And it it usually what leads the main character to find themselves and become more than what they were. But I just didn't feel that development here.
Talon's character faired better for me. He never waivers in his love for Darling. But he also knows that he may have to give her up in order for her to find her own peace. He did whine a bit but nothing like his counterpart. And at least for him, I could feel his emotional distress and hear how his mind was working to solve things.
What I was missing most with characters in this book is Caspian. I really felt like we needed more of him, more of his POV. The authors totally missed the mark on this in my opinion. And his ending did not do him justice. It was just left laying there, open to whatever. There was no wrap up for his part of the story. I will say Elias is probably my favorite character in this book. They are so honest and open, nothing left as a mystery and heart on the table. I loved the conversation between them and Talon where they were speaking about Caspian. Probably my favorite part of this book.
Also missing, the politics, the intrigue, the history of the magic. It just was not there as it was in the first book. I missed it. I needed it. I wanted it. I craved it. And it made me angry.
Also, I felt like the book was disjointed. It moved along, very slowly, to try and get the characters to the point where their actions bring about change, but I hated how it got there. I was bored. I was scanning sentences and words just to get to the next chapter. The pacing was not at all like the first book which pulled me along and made me want to flip to the next page.
And could there be MORE scenes with the characters changing into their magical beast forms and losing all their clothing only to come back naked? And then not really even caring that everyone sees them as such with people rushing with robes or jackets to cover them. It seemed like an odd choice for YA, to be honest.
And the romance, ugh. I really wanted Darling and Talong to reunite, I really did. But I just was not feeling it. It's like they were saying they loved each other but they were in no way showing it. Zero of the chemistry I felt between them in the first book.
We didn't get as much world building in this book as with the last since it's the second book in the series. And that was ok with me because I knew what the magical system and kingdom looked like. What I would have liked more of was the background of blood magic. It's introduced in book one so I thought there would be more depth to it with this book but there really wasn't. It was glossed over. And expansion in this area definitely would have made the book feel more complete.
I will say I enjoyed the writing. It did flow well and the prose was truly beautiful. I think it's what kept me reading, to be honest. 
In the end, I wasn't truly impressed with this follow up. I just wanted so much more than what I got. I think this book may have done better as a trilogy. I feel like this book was stuffed full of all the things that needed to be revealed before it wound up less than climatic at the end. It was disappointing for me when all I really wanted was a fantastic follow up to the first book.


Author:

Tessa Gratton is the author of adult and YA SFF novels and short stories that have been translated into twenty-two languages, nominated twice for the Otherwise Award, and several have been Junior Library Guild Selections. Her most recent novels are the dark queer fairy tales Strange Grace and Night Shine, and queer the Shakespeare retelling Lady Hotspur. Her upcoming work includes the YA fantasy Chaos and Flame (2023), and novels of Star Wars: The High Republic. Though she has lived all over the world, she currently resides at the edge of the Kansas prairie with her wife. Queer, nonbinary, she/any.


Justina Ireland is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous books including Dread Nation and its sequel Deathless Divide, the middle-grade novel Ophie's Ghosts, which won the Scott O'Dell award for historical fiction, and a number of Star Wars books including Flight of the Falcon: Lando’s Luck, Spark of the Resistance, A Test of Courage, Out of the Shadows, and Mission to Disaster. She is a former editor in chief of FIYAH Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, for which she won a World Fantasy Award. She holds a BA in History from Georgia Southern and an MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University.





 

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