Mini Reviews | Let’s Get Romantic: Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle and Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez

Fun fact: I recently noticed there are quite a few 2021 contemporary romance releases with yellow covers. Weird. Clearly everyone decided that yellow was the must have look for this year. Can’t say I’m mad because yay for cheerful looking books. But are the insides as cheerful? Not always.

Over the last few weeks I’ve ticked two 2021 romance novels off my TBR, both of which I was super keen for. The first was Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle, which I added to my to-read shelf as soon as I knew it existed because I loved Hogle’s debut in 2020, You Deserve Each Other. The second is Abby Jimenez’s third entry in her The Friend Zone collection. I haven’t read either of the previous two books but apparently you don’t have to read them in order. I’d heard good things about her novels and this one sounded good, so why not? Here’s how things went…

Twice Shy – Sarah Hogle

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Maybell Parish is a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. But living in her own world has long been preferable to dealing with the disappointments of real life. So when she inherits a charming house in the Smokies from her Great-Aunt Violet, she seizes the opportunity to make a fresh start. Yet when she arrives, she realises not only is the house falling apart around her, but she isn’t the only inheritor: she has to share everything with Wesley Koehler, the grouchy & gorgeous groundskeeper who has a very different vision for the property’s future.

Convincing Wesley to stop avoiding her and compromise is a formidable task. But when Maybell uncovers something unexpectedly sweet beneath his scowls, and as the two begin to let their guard down, they learn that sometimes the smallest steps outside one’s comfort zone can lead to the greatest rewards.

It’s official: Sarah Hogle is now one of my auto-buy romance authors. Because, darn if this wasn’t just the sweetest, most adorable, uplifting book. Yes, it might start to verge into corny at times but I can’t even be bummed about it, because this novel is a cinnamon roll if there ever was one.

The characters in Twice Shy are super endearing and loveable. Both have such a great level of depth. You really understand who they are, where they’ve come from, and what they want for their future. On the one hand, we have Maybell who’s this big-hearted dreamer, romantic and optimist who hasn’t experienced a lot of genuine love and care in her life and is trying to recapture the one time in which she did. On the other, there’s Wesley – a soft, sexy, vulnerable artist/gardener who cares deeply about animals and suffers from severe anxiety. Marry me already.

The interactions between Maybell & Wes, once I got past their early conflicts, were warm-fuzzy wonderfulness. Their note chain conversations were especially adorable. There was this lovely, gradual development of their relationship as they came to understand each other better and look beyond the surface. While their exchanges didn’t have the same degree of banter or snarky-ness as Nicholas and Naomi’s in You Deserve Each Other, I enjoyed them just as much but in a different way. I particularly loved how the characters were able to talk about their issues in a healthy way and be there for one another. Ugh, they’re just so ridiculously perfect together, okay?

Plot wise, most of the book revolves around Maybell and Wesley working to fix up Maybell’s Great Aunt Violet’s large and run-down house after they co-inherit it. FORCED PROXIMITY TROPE FOR THE WIN. They both have different ideas about what they want to do with the house but that’s part of the fun. This one is more of a character journey type book (e.g. Wesley dealing with his anxiety, Maybell realising her worth) than an external complication type thing, which means the climax is akin to a small speed bump rather than a major drama and this might feel underwhelming for some people.

I will admit, I didn’t find this one as laugh out loud funny as I did Sarah’s debut, but I can forgive that. Not every book needs to be jokes to the max. The one thing I did find somewhat…weird was Maybell’s tendency to slip into romantic day-dream interludes about her ideal man and imaginary café. Sure, it’s part of her charm and helps drive home her eventual realisation that reality can be better than imaginary perfection, but still…odd.

Basically, I read this in about a day and it’s the perfect medicine for when you’re feeling crappy.


Life’s Too Short – Abby Jimenez

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Vanessa lives every day to the fullest and isn’t willing to waste a moment when she has no idea whether she might share her sister’s fatal genetic condition. But when her half-sister leaves Vanessa custody of her infant daughter, Vanessa must put her life as a successful travel Youtuber on hold. The last person she expects to show up to help is Adrian Copeland, the hot lawyer next-door. As they get closer, Vanessa realizes that her carefree ways and his need for a structured plan could never be compatible for the long term. Then again, she should know better than anyone that life’s too short to fear taking the biggest risk of all.

Life’s Too Short was one of my most anticipated romance reads for 2021. I’m not sure whether I just wasn’t in the right mental space for it or couldn’t reconcile my expectations with the reality, but either way I have mixed feelings.

One of the things I wasn’t super keen on was the plot. I’m not averse to darker, heavier reads, but that is not what I come to romcoms for. While I want them to have depth and I’m fine with serious undertones, I found this one to be too tonally unbalanced, especially being marketed the way it is. Vanessa’s story is A LOT and the book would have benefited from her family baggage being stripped back somewhat. She believes she may have the terminal illness which killed her sister, her half-sister is a drug addict and has left her baby for Vanessa to deal with, her mother died in a car accident, her father is a hoarder and was a negligent parent, her step-mother abandoned them, and her half-brother is a lazy moocher. To top things off, the novel’s main complication is that Vanessa is convinced she’s going to die in about a year. Pretty bleak for something the blurb claims is: “A brilliant and touching romantic comedy”, huh?

In terms of the romance itself, I enjoyed Adrian and Vanessa’s opposites attract, strangers-to-friends-to-lovers relationship. Their scenes together were nice, had a good level of back-and-forth and felt weirdly comforting. I found the balance between their sexual tension and sweet bonding solid and really liked the dynamic being responsible for Vanessa’s niece, Grace, brought to their romance (even though she felt like a flat plot device at times). On the downside, there are some early insta-love vibes, the book really doesn’t need to drive home how attracted Vanessa is to Adrian as hard as it does, and some of the dialogue is super over the top and not how people would speak, but, on the whole, it’s a tentative thumbs up.

As individuals, I liked both Vanessa and Adrian, yet didn’t fall in love with them the way I have many other romcom leads. I enjoyed Vanessa’s sense of humour, adventurous spirit, and love for her family. However, this was tainted by my immense frustration with her stubborn unwillingness to consult a medical professional about her self-diagnosed ALS. Meanwhile, Adrian is the straight and narrow lawyer – organised, tidy, likes routine, not great with work-life balance, but caring and kind. I liked Adrian’s family subplot and interactions with his assistant Becky, but I feel as though the character’s anxiety could have been handled better than it was.

Another thing that didn’t really click with me on this one was the climax and ending, which felt extremely melodramatic, cheesy, and too neatly resolved. I think the reason it feels so exaggerated is because of how much heavy “reality” is crammed into the rest of the book. It’s a big, crazy romcom ending for a book that isn’t really a romcom.

Overall, Life’s Too Short has some good underlying parts but didn’t really hit the mark for me as much as I would have hoped.

Top 10 Tuesday: Books on my 2021 Winter TBR

It’s TBR time again – courtesy of this week’s Top 10 Tuesday topic (hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl). I’ve hit a rather large slump recently and haven’t done much reading for the last month. Making this list was kind of a challenge because I’m in that nothing-feels-appealing-to-me-right-now mood. However, I did manage to come up with a couple of titles that I’m keen to try and get through over the next few months. It isn’t 10 but with the way things have been tracking for me, perhaps 8 is a more reasonable number. HA, who am I kidding? It’s likely too LARGE a number already!

Just Last Night – Mhairi McFarlane

Just Last Night: A Novel: McFarlane, Mhairi: 9780063036857: Amazon.com:  Books

When I have been reading lately, it’s been mainly a romance mood and Just Last Night is one I’m hoping to read soon. This is a 2021 release and unlike a lot of the other books in the genre that I usually read this isn’t really a romcom (at least they aren’t trying to market it as such because I’ve been burned by that before). Going in, I know to expect some heavier themes like forgiveness, grief, loss, betrayal, but I’m cool with that. It’s about a group of thirty-somethings, Eve, Ed, Susie and Justin, who have been friends since their teens. Eve has been in love with Ed for years but he’s long been in a relationship with his unlikeable girlfriend Hester. However, one night, tragedy occurs and their lives are irrevocably changed. In the aftermath, Eve learns shocking new things about her friends which cause her to question how well she really knows them.


A Ladder to the Sky – John Boyne

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne - Penguin Books Australia

Some of you might remember that a few months ago I read one of John Boyne’s other books, The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I thought the writing was fantastic and enjoyed it so much I gave it 4.5 stars. After having a browse through Boyne’s other works, there ended up being several others I’d love to read. A Ladder to the Sky is the first on the list. It deals with a young man named Maurice Swift who wants more than anything to be a famous novelist. He makes his name by cosying up to an aging, closested gay author and uses the story of his youth in Nazi Germany to write an international bestseller. Maurice then continues to use his charm, manipulation and deviousness to steal stories from others and continue climbing the ladder to success.


The Maidens – Alex Michaelides

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I read Michaelides debut, The Silent Patient, back in August 2019 when there was a heap of hype surrounding it. It only took me about a day to finish but I wasn’t really sure why people were going as gangbusters for it as they were. Still, I can’t help feeling super excited to give his second book, The Maidens, a read. I think it might be the dark academia draw card. I’m fascinated and obsessed with the genre at the moment. The Maidens centres around a series of murders taking place in connection with Cambridge University. The main character is Mariana, a group therapist, who starts looking into the deaths when her niece, Zoe’s, friend is killed. She comes to suspect one of the professors, Edward Fosca, who runs a cult like secret society of female students called The Maidens who deal in ancient Greek rites. Mariana becomes determined to catch him and drama ensues.


The People in the Trees – Hanya Yanagihara

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I’ve actually started reading this one. I’m not sure whether it’s the book itself or my reading rut, but it’s been slow going and my motivation has been low. I might have to stop and come back to it next month. I do really want to read it though as I loved Yanagihara’s A Little Life. I know TPITT is supposed to be quite different but I really hope it’ll be a great read, too. It’s written in the style of a memoir and is about a doctor who takes a trip to a remote island in Micronesia where he discovers a tribe of locals who have obtained a kind of physical (but not mental) immortality by eating a rare turtle – a condition he names ‘Selene Syndrome’. He brings knowledge of this back to the US and also adopts a bunch of the children he meets on the island, both of which have severe consequences.


An Ember in the Ashes – Sabaa Tahir (Re-Read)

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The last book in The Ember Quartet was released in 2020 but as usual, being me, I haven’t read it yet. That’s largely due to the fact that I’d always planned to do a full re-read of the previous books in the series beforehand. Here we are, several months later and I haven’t even started. Since re-reads are a good way to help snap out of a slump, now might be the perfect time for me to finally start and refresh my memory with An Ember in the Ashes. I know I’ve probably forgotten a heap of stuff as it’s been like four years since I first read this. I vaguely remember there being some kind of competition to become emperor or something? I’m looking forward to spending more time with my girl Helene. What a badass.


Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir

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I really enjoyed Weir’s debut, The Martian, when I read it back 2017. I’d actually planned to read his follow up Artemis but after hearing some disappointing things, I eventually decided to give it a miss. So when Project Hail Mary was announced, I was interested but tried not to get my hopes up too high. However, this time around the reviews have been great and now I’m really excited to give it a read, especially since I’ve been feeling like I might be in the mood for some Sci-Fi soon. The story follows a middle-school science teacher who wakes up alone on space ship light years from home with no idea why or how he got there. Eventually he comes to realise that he is Earth’s only hope at stopping an impending extinction level threat. As with The Martian, Project Hail Mary is supposed to include quite a bit of scientific explanation but packaged with great story and fun humour.


All of Us Villains – Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

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Now, All of us Villains doesn’t actually come out until November which is still a good while off. Luckily for me though, I was recently approved for an ARC. Yay! This book is like The Hunger Games crossed with A Song of Ice and Fire plus magic. All the yes as far as I’m concerned. It tells the tale of a city where every generation seven families name a champion to compete in a fight to the death to win control of the city’s magic supply. One house normally wins every time but this year it seems like things will be different due to previously unseen publicity levels and attention on the event. I’ve been interested in reading other books by Amanda Foody before but have never really seemed to get around to them, so I’m glad to be giving this one a read.


To Sleep in a Sea of Stars – Christopher Paolini (Again)

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Yes, it’s here again. After I failed to get to it in Autumn. Don’t come at me, okay. This thing is enormous and scary. I’m working my way up to it. Slowly. Very slowly. It’s going to happen eventually. But, hopefully I don’t have to also include it on my Spring TBR post…*facepalm*. This is a first contact story about Kira, who discovers an alien relic during a survey mission on an uncolonised planet. Cue craziness and a potential war. Apparently there are no space dragons but there are alien squids. Make of that what you will. It took a gazillion years for Paolini to write this so I hope it’s good.


What books are you looking forward to reading over Winter/Summer? Are they mostly new releases or are you tackling your epic backlist?

New Releases: June 2021 Books I’m Excited About

The back-list pile may be large but, as always, that doesn’t stop the awesome looking new releases coming. June this year has a bunch of really great looking releases and I’m super excited to read them. Some are ones I’ve been waiting months for, others are new discoveries. I thought I’d share them just in case they caught your eye as well.

The Chosen and the Beautiful – Nghi Vo | GR

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society—she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

Nghi Vo’s debut novel The Chosen and the Beautiful reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice.


One Last Stop – Casey McQuiston | GR

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For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.


The Other Black Girl – Zakiya Dalila Harris | GR

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Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.


Malibu Rising – Taylor Jenkins Reid | GR

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid - Penguin Books Australia

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over–especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud–because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth. Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there. And Kit has a couple secrets of her own–including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.


We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This – Rachel Lynn Solomon | GR

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Quinn Berkowitz and Tarek Mansour’s families have been in business together for years: Quinn’s parents are wedding planners, and Tarek’s own a catering company. At the end of last summer, Quinn confessed her crush on him in the form of a rambling email—and then he left for college without a response.

Quinn has been dreading seeing him again almost as much as she dreads another summer playing the harp for her parents’ weddings. When he shows up at the first wedding of the summer, looking cuter than ever after a year apart, they clash immediately. Tarek’s always loved the grand gestures in weddings—the flashier, the better—while Quinn can’t see them as anything but fake. Even as they can’t seem to have one civil conversation, Quinn’s thrown together with Tarek wedding after wedding, from performing a daring cake rescue to filling in for a missing bridesmaid and groomsman.

Quinn can’t deny her feelings for him are still there, especially after she learns the truth about his silence, opens up about her own fears, and begins learning the art of harp-making from an enigmatic teacher. Maybe love isn’t the enemy after all—and maybe allowing herself to fall is the most honest thing Quinn’s ever done.


Animal – Lisa Taddeo | GR

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Honestly, sometimes I think it’s the only recourse. Killing men in times like these.

Meet Joan.

I drove myself out of New York City where a man shot himself in front of me. He was a gluttonous man and when his blood came out it looked like the blood of a pig. That’s a cruel thing to think, I know. He did it in a restaurant where I was having dinner with another man, another married man. Do you see how this is going? But I wasn’t always that way. I am depraved. I hope you like me.

Joan has spent a lifetime enduring the cruel acts of men. But when one of them commits a shocking act of violence in front of her, she flees New York City in search of Alice, the only person alive who can help her make sense of her past. In the sweltering hills above Los Angeles, Joan unravels the horrific event she witnessed as a child—that has haunted her every waking moment—while forging the power to finally strike back.


The Maidens – Alex Michaelides | GR

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Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge. Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.


Songs in Ursa Major – Emma Brodie | GR

The year is 1969, and the Bayleen Island Folk Fest is abuzz with one name: Jesse Reid. Tall and soft-spoken, with eyes blue as stone-washed denim, Jesse Reid’s intricate guitar riffs and supple baritone are poised to tip from fame to legend with this one headlining performance. That is, until his motorcycle crashes on the way to the show.

Jane Quinn is a Bayleen Island local whose music flows as naturally as her long blond hair. When she and her bandmates are asked to play in Jesse Reid’s place at the festival, it almost doesn’t seem real. But Jane plants her bare feet on the Main Stage and delivers the performance of a lifetime, stopping Jesse’s disappointed fans in their tracks: A star is born.

Jesse stays on the island to recover from his near-fatal accident and he strikes up a friendship with Jane, coaching her through the production of her first record. As Jane contends with the music industry’s sexism, Jesse becomes her advocate, and what starts as a shared calling soon becomes a passionate love affair. On tour with Jesse, Jane is so captivated by the giant stadiums, the late nights, the wild parties, and the media attention, that she is blind-sided when she stumbles on the dark secret beneath Jesse’s music. With nowhere to turn, Jane must reckon with the shadows of her own past; what follows is the birth of one of most iconic albums of all time.


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go prepare my wallet and TBR pile for the devastation I’m about to bring upon both of them.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Book Openings

This week’s topic for Top 10 Tuesday (hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl) is centred around quotes pertaining to a central theme. After discovering that a previous topic I had missed involved favourite opening lines to books, I thought why not use that as my quote theme for this week. Now, I’m playing it a bit loose with the whole ‘opening lines’ idea to cover more than just the first sentence in some cases but my blog, my rules!

I went through SO MANY books to find entries for this list. Finding ones I loved was harder than I though. As it turns out, books I’ve adored have not always had the strongest openers, and others which I didn’t enjoy as much came out of the gate stronger than I remembered. For the purposes of this list, I’ve stuck only to books I’ve read (or read part of), and because 10 seemed a bit limited for this topic, I thought I’d extend the number of entries somewhat.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.

Well, if this opening doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what else would. The dramatic tension contained within it is just fantastic. We know that someone is dead, our narrator, and people associated with him, are involved somehow, and the situation at hand has occurred in an unexpected way. But, why did this occur? How did it happen? What will they do in response to their grave situation? So many interesting questions to answer!

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.

I find this a really strong opener – short sentences, blunt sentiment, and a sense of contrast created by the dichotomy between peace and war. We immediately understand that our central character is someone who feels he has been forced down the path the novel is to take, that he’s not the ‘bad guy’ in this scenario. It’s also just a super dramatic and badass start to a book.

It – Stephen King

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

According to King, he has on many occasions spent months trying to write the perfect opening line to his books and IT’s is definitely one of his best. This first line gives the reader an instant sense of the gravity of the evil the characters in the book will face. It then contrasts it against something so innocent and innocuous as a floating newspaper boat. It’s jarring and eerie, but perfect.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.

I’ve actually only read part of Red Sister but still, this opening gets a entry here on shock value. I mean, come on. How could you not want to read on after seeing an line like that? ‘Killing a nun’??? And that’s something which requires a large army? You immediately think: ‘I’m missing something here, and I need to find out what’.

Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

In the myriadic year of our lord – the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death! – Gideon Nav packed up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.

I love this opening because not only does it give you really quick insight into the type of character Gideon is, it also hooks you with so many intriguing questions right from the get-go. Why is Gideon escaping? What is the House of the Ninth? And most importantly, how the hell has the king managed to reign for ten thousand years??

Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor

On the second Sabbat of the Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky. Her skin was blue, her blood was red.

This is another book opener which really draws the reader in with questions – what is the city of Weep? Why is a girl falling from the sky there? And why is her skin blue? It creates a striking and vivid image in your mind almost immediately – you can see that bright red blood against the blue of her skin and track her falling towards the ground. Shocking and memorable.

Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

A classic literary opener. I’m sure this one is included on many people’s lists. Why? Because it so flawlessly sets up the novel. For characters such as Mr Bingley and Mr Collins, it’s very much true – they have money (or money coming) and, therefore, believe they should have a suitable wife. Then, in the case of Mr Darcy, it’s just a social construct – he is wealthy and thus society believes he should be interested in finding a wife. However, in reality, at the beginning of the book he’s entirely disinterested in doing so. Very clever.

Beartown – Fredrik Backman

Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there.

Backman’s Beartown is another example of a novel kicking things off with a bold, dramatic moment which we’re suddenly desperate to understand the why and how of but can’t. A sneak-peek of events to come. It’s particularly shocking because not only do we have someone shooting somebody else but that someone is a teenager. It really drives home from the very first line that this is a story which will deal with the loss of innocence.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.

The opening to The Heart’s Invisible Furies is great because I feel as though it perfectly establishes the kind of book it’s going to be – a wonderful blend of humour and woe. Sure, as far as first sentences go, it’s on the wordy side but you’re immediately intrigued both by what has happened to reach this moment and what will happen next.

The Hobbit – J RR Tolkien

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

I really enjoy how easy-breezy the world building is in these opening lines to The Hobbit. Within moments we already know that these strange fantasy creatures, Hobbits, live in warm, cozy homes in the ground and that they love food and comfortable furniture. It’s such a lovely image and you can’t help but immediately develop a degree of fondness for them.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

This is such a simple opener to a book that’s considered a modern classic. But unlike quite a few other classic novels, with Rebecca I actually understand why the first line is so famous. We question where Manderley is, why our narrator is dreaming about being there, and why she isn’t physically there. More so, this isn’t the first time she’s dreamt about it, so what is it about Manderley that’s causing it to haunt her dreams? The more you think about it, the eerier it sounds.

A Darker Shade of Magic – V E Schwab

Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.

I adore the charm of this opening to Schwab’s ADSOM series. It’s so simple, talking about a piece of clothing, but we’re immediately introduced to the magic and mystery that this world is going to offer us. Kell’s coat is a significant element of his character and from page one we’re already able to identify him as someone different and special, purely by the fact that he owns a coat which is impossible even in the context of his own universe.

Scythe – Neal Shusterman

We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill. And as I see it, they’re all innocents. Even the guilty.

I’m drawn to these opening lines because they so clearly state the moral dilemma of all “good” Scythes. If you were given the power over life and death, who would you deem innocent enough to spare? Who would be bad enough to kill? And among those bad ones, how terrible do they have to be for you to be able to kill them without feeling some kind of distress or guilt? As a reader, you’re instantly drawn into why our narrator is killing people and within what social context. It’s a strong start to a great read.

The Martian – Andy Weir

I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked. Six days into what should be one of the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.

Okay, this opening’s here because it’s funny. Like, the dude has literally been left behind on Mars. What else is he supposed to say? This aside, it also quickly shows the reader that our main character is relatable and that despite this being a science based story, it’s going to be an approachable one.

Emma – Jane Austen

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to united some of the best blessings of existence, and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. . .

Yes, another Austen. I know. You must think I’m a crazy Austen fan at this point, but honestly these are just two books with fantastic openers. I really like this one because with the way our narrator describes the leading lady, you can’t quite tell whether Austen wants us to like her or hate her out of pure jealousy of her perfectness. I also love how it so clearly suggests that there are plenty of vexing things due to come Emma’s way some time soon.


What are some of your favourite openings to books? What was it about them that grabbed you?

Let’s Talk: Why I Love Re-Reading

If you’re anything like me, there’s always piles and piles of books that you plan on someday getting around to reading. No matter how many you finish, there’s more to take their place, and it often feels like there’s never enough time to read everything you want to. With this mentality, I can easily understand why some people choose to only ever read books once. It doesn’t matter whether it was the best thing since sliced bread or a burning dumpster fire, for them, once is enough. In my case though, I love re-reading books I’ve really enjoyed in years past. Sure, they’re nothing new and not exactly contributing to cutting down the growing unread pile sitting loosely stacked on my book cart, but I believe there are plenty of reasons to embrace the art of re-reading.

5 Reasons why I love to reread books | Writing and Communication Centre |  University of Waterloo

An *Almost* Guaranteed Great Read

One of the best things about re-reading is going into a book with the almost guaranteed knowledge that you’re going to enjoy yourself. I’ll admit, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule – for example, when we outgrow books we used to love – but for the most part it holds true. If you’re facing down a stretch of not so great reads or have been stuck in a bit of a reading slump, having something to reread that you already know and love is a great pick me up and will help kick you back into gear. It can also be really comforting for those who’ve been having a tough time or are particularly sensitive to certain triggers to know they can read something that’s going to give them exactly what they need at that particular moment in time without any nasty surprises. It’s like ordering your favourite dish off the menu because it’s exactly what you’re in the mood for.

New Things to Discover

Another aspect to re-reading I enjoy is that I pick up new things about a novel every time I read it. With books I really love, on my first read through I often get so caught up in the drama of the story that in my excitement to reach the climax I miss or gloss over little details and subtleties present in the writing, plotting and characterisation. Upon re-read I already know the path the story is going to take and, as a result, I’m able to view the journey to the big reveals in a brand new light, as well as the characters. This can sometimes drastically affect my opinions. My favourite thing, however, has to be coming across an author’s clever use of foreshadowing that I wasn’t able to appreciate the first time around. It’s also important to note that with particularly complex stories, rereading might sometimes be essential to my understanding of the full picture and what the author intended to get across in their work.

Prepping for Sequels

I tend to read a combination of both standalone books and series. With series, these books are usually released over a period of several years, or longer if the author is a popular one with multiple novels on the go at once (or you’re George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss). My memory isn’t always the best at keeping track of all the nitty-gritty plot and world building details of every book I read and this can make going into a newly released sequel challenging and confusing without first getting help from a re-read. Plus, having events fresh in my memory really helps me to emotionally connect with the sequel. Okay, yes, I could always try and track down a recap somewhere online but which is the more fun option?

Learning Experience

If you’re an aspiring author, the best way to improve your skills and encourage creative thinking is to re-read books that you’ve loved in the genre you want to write in. You’ve already read that book for the purpose of enjoyment and thought it passed the test, which means you can now reread it with a different mindset and think critically about what exactly it is that makes it work so well for you. You loved the writing? Great, what makes that author’s style and technique so appealing? Or if it’s the characters, how were they presented and developed to help them burrow their way into your heart? These are things we usually don’t pay attention to on our first read, I know I don’t, but they’re the perfect things to look out for on re-read.

A Chance for Revised Perspective

As I touched on in my 2020 post questioning the reliability of my past book ratings, it’s inevitable that as we get older our tastes, interests and reading experience develop and change. When this is applied to re-reading books it can potentially be a bad thing in that we realise we no longer enjoy a particular book as much as we used to, but it can also take a turn for the best! Sometimes growing older and going through certain life experiences allows you to connect with and understand certain characters and stories in ways you were never able to previously. Further education since your original read might allow you to grasp more complicated themes and ideas that previously went right over your head. Or perhaps, nowadays, you’re a more patient and introspective reader, one who enjoys slower, character-oriented novels to a greater extent than when you first read a particular book? Who knows, maybe your next favourite book is an old ‘meh’ book.


It’s easy to feel like re-reading is a waste of time or a stagnation of our reading progress. Yet, in reality, it can have a lot of value when it comes to personal enjoyment, comfort, learning and reflection. It’s definitely something I need to be less wary of doing on a regular basis and not something I should experience guilt over. Because when it comes down to it, if you’re enjoying what your reading, what else matters?

Are you someone who likes to reread books or are you a one-take type of reader? Why/why not?

If you do enjoy re-reading, what are some of the books you like to reread and why?

And That’s a Wrap: March and April 2021

We are a quarter of the year down (somehow) and that means it’s time for another wrap up post. The last two months feel like they’ve passed quickly but I’m pretty sure I say that every wrap up. In recent months, I’ve had some good reads and some not so good reads, occasionally got off my butt and did some blogging, and as usual made frequent trips to the book store (I’ve gotta keep my TBR on its toes, after all). Here’s what’s been going on in March and April.

A bit of a mixed month in March – fantasy, thrillers, romance, even a classic. In the end though, there were a couple of eh reads and only one book managed to crack the 4 star rating threshold.

Chosen Ones – Veronica Roth ★★.5 | Review

I feel like I say this a lot but, a great concept with disappointing execution. I really loved the idea – looking at the trauma that comes with being a prophesied saviour of the world. However, the reality was a slog to get through until the last third or so, which was really good but too little too late. I also had difficulty connecting with and getting invested in the characters which brought down the enjoyment factor a lot. Although this is Roth’s first adult novel, the characters and writing still have a very YA vibe to them but this makes sense within the context of the story. The book’s use of redacted files, newspaper clippings, etc. to provide background and world building was a fun touch.

The One – John Marrs ★★★.5

I now understand why people make Black Mirror comparisons with this book. A test that uses our DNA to determine our soulmate? What an intriguing idea for a novel. Although The One is classified as a thriller, it didn’t really feel like one for most of the time I was reading it. Only really towards the end. The short chapters and approachable writing made it really easy to get stuck into but the frequent cliffhangers, which often turned out to be nothing, became frustrating after a while (I just want to go to bed, okay?!). There are quite a few character POVs in this book, probably one or two too many, and I experienced plenty of moments where I was annoyed to leave a character I was interested in at a dramatic scene only to go back to a character I wasn’t. Overall, pretty well done but I wanted more.

Kingdom of the Wicked – Kerri Maniscalco ★★★ | Review

Witchcraft, demons, murder, supernatural romance…there was no way I could resist giving this a read. It took me a while to really click with Kingdom of the Wicked and part of that was due to some issues with the writing style, however, I had a lot of fun in the second half. I found the lead, Emilia, frustrating and naive at times, and her love interest, the demon prince, Wrath, was interesting but underdeveloped. Still, I did like their interactions with one another. The atmosphere was great and I loved the transportive descriptions of Palermo. While the ending was rushed and confusing, I have really high hopes for an exciting sequel.

Final Girls – Riley Sager ★★

This was not what I was expecting. For a thriller, the pacing in Final Girls was extremely slow. Half the time the main storyline faded into the background in favour of monotonous scenes and an unnecessary side plot. Things did pick up eventually, thank goodness, but the ending didn’t really feel like it fit the rest of the story, which was a bummer. I’m still not sure how I feel about the MC, Quincy, as her journey was somewhat all over the place but I was happy with where she ended up. I also enjoyed Sager’s use of concurrent past and present timelines again which really served to increase the tension. Bonus points for the horror movie trope usage.

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier ★★★★

I’ve wanted to read Rebecca for years so I’m super glad I’ve finally done it. The story is great – more psychological suspense than the Gothic romance critics classified it as. I loved the idea of a young woman struggling to find herself in a new marriage and stuck in the shadow of someone considered to have been the epitome of charm, beauty and wit. Rebecca has its slow points but they don’t overstay their welcome and ensure a gradual build up to the big reveals. I liked and disliked the writing. There were times where I was glued to the page and others I was bored with the overwhelming amount of descriptive detail. The ending was also too abrupt for my liking. Yet, I can’t deny, du Maurier’s prose is beautiful. I do wish that I’d read the book first instead of watching the 2020 adaptation though, as I feel like it ruined the mystery and tension for me. I probably would have rated it higher had I done so.

Layla – Colleen Hoover ★★.5

This was not what I was expecting. At all. I somehow missed the fact that it’s a paranormal romance so I was really surprised when a ghost showed up. That aside, I was pretty apathetic towards Layla for the most part. The plot was slow and most of the characters felt underdeveloped. I also wasn’t a big fan of the MC, Leeds, who’s an asshole for reasons I can’t explain without major spoilers, and this made being stuck inside his head a trial. However, the twists at the end turned it around for me somewhat and boosted my rating, even though they’re a little over the top, coincidental and try to absolve Leeds of his dick-ishness.


April was a good month of reading! My lowest rated book was 3.5 stars and I certainly cannot complain about that. I did happen to read mostly books I’d just bought which isn’t exactly great for my existing TBR but what can I say, I’m a mood reader – sue me.

Our Year of Maybe – Rachel Lynn Solomon ★★★★

This was a great YA contemporary read. It’s a slightly more mature young adult novel, which I enjoyed, and tackles themes like chronic illness, coming out, losing your virginity, co-dependency, religious belief, and the way friendships change over time. However, it does so in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s talking down to its audience or underestimating their ability to relate/understand. The writing is good and the two lead POVs, Sophie and Peter, sounded different from one another as well as felt like real teens just trying to deal with big changes in their lives. After this, I’m looking forward to reading Rachel Lynn Solomon’s other books.

The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter ★★★★.5

This was fantastically written and I get why Slaughter has remained such a popular crime author for so long. While The Good Daughter does have an overarching crime plot – a school shooting – which is good but could have been slightly more meaty, where the book really excels is its complex, well rounded and emotionally crafted characters. The relationship between the two MCs, sisters Sam & Charlie, and the way the novel handles their shared trauma was really well done, especially the use of dual POVs. The pacing is great as well, starting out with a bang and, aside from a few overly lengthy conversations, retaining strong momentum throughout. If you’re not into graphic, dark and violent reads, this won’t be for you but otherwise, I really recommend it.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson ★★★★

There’s been a lot of hype around this book so I was cautious about getting my hopes up too high, but in the end this was a really enjoyable YA mystery read! I loved the use of mixed media with third person to tell the story and thought it was a fun and effective narrative choice that really made me feel like I was piecing the mystery together with the characters. The plot was engaging but still made room for emotional investment in the characters (Ravi and Pip were cute). My biggest thing, though, is that the climax wasn’t disappointing! Colour me shocked. There were definitely a few things that bugged me (the odd & corny epilogue, an unnecessary dog death, etc.) but I’ll 100% be reading the sequel.

None Shall Sleep – Ellie Marney ★★★.5

If, like me, you’re into Silence of the Lambs or Mindhunter, and are interested in seeing a YA approach, None Shall Sleep is the book for you. This was an addictive read and I loved how much tension Marney managed to instill into her scenes, especially the conversations between our lead Emma, and her sociopathic interview subject, Simon. The writing is on the clinical side which works well in some instances but lessens the emotional impact of character centered moments and may be why I feel like the book didn’t delve as deeply into the two main characters’ traumas as it could have. The climax is really gripping and exciting but I can’t help wishing that Emma and Travis’s investigative efforts had paid off more and that the actual investigation itself had been drawn out longer.


No ARCs this time but there’s always purchases. As usual, I bought more books over the last two months than I’ve got listed here but these are the ones from the bunch that I still have yet to read. Overall, not too bad, especially when I consider the fact that most of these aren’t ridiculously long reads. People in the Trees and A Ladder to the Sky are books by two authors I’ve already read something from and loved so I’m really hoping lightening strikes twice. Death on the Nile and The Nowhere Child were bought during my mystery craze in March and I have high hopes for them.


Here are the posts you may have missed over the last two months:


Stardew Valley

Lately, I’ve been spending more time on video games than I have in a while. I’ve recently gotten into Stardew Valley, something that’s supposed to be relaxing (it’s a farming sim) but I’ve come to realise that I’m too highly strung for relaxing games to actually be, you know, relaxing. I’ve also finished a couple of Nintendo switch games recently like Luigi’s mansion 3 and Pokemon Let’s Go: Pikachu, but my newest obsession is Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I’m addicted.

Grey's Anatomy: The Complete Twelfth Season: Amazon.ca: Ellen Pompeo;  Patrick Dempsey; Justin Chambers; James Pickens Jr.; Chandra Wilson;  Jessica Capshaw; Sarah Drew; Jerrika Hinton; Camilla Luddington; Kevin  McKidd; Sara Ramirez; Caterina Scorsone;

TV wise, I’ve been binge watching my way through seasons of Grey’s Anatomy (I’m still a million years behind airing television though) and season 2 of The Circle US on Netflix. I’ve also casually been watching this wonderfully sweet Australian series called Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds. It’s about a study which pairs elderly people with young kids to help improve the adults’ quality of life and the kids’ social skills. It’s can be sad at times but it’s mostly really uplifting and nice. Perfect for dark Covid times.

Over the last few weeks I’ve also been trying to incorporate more exercise into my routine. It’s been a challenge getting up an extra hour or so early in order to fit it in before work and I’m so unfit it’s ridiculous, but I know it’s really important for my health, physical and mental, so I’m going to do my best to keep with it. Even though a dodgy ankle is making it more difficult than expected…


That’s it from me! Last year I got a bit slack when it came to my wrap ups and by the time I wanted to do my end of year posts I struggled remembering everything. So, in 2021 I’m going to make sure I’m much more consistent with it.

How have your last few months been? What have you been reading? Any new favourites to report?

Last Year I Was Reading… | 20.4.21

Back in September of last year, I tried out a post idea created by @ReadingMaria called ‘Last Year I Was Reading’. I had fun with it in comparing my different reading tastes so this week I thought, why not do it again? The general gist is to look at what you’re reading now, what you were reading at the same time last year, and compare the two reads. Easy peasy!

None Shall Sleep – Ellie Marney

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My current read is None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney (woo, an Aussie author!). It’s set in 1982 and is about two eighteen-year-olds, Emma & Travis, who both have personal experience with serial killers and are recruited by the FBI to interview juvenile offenders for information on cold cases. They soon get involved in consulting on an active case which leads them to speak to an incarcerated killer: super-intelligent sociopath, Simon Gutmunsson. Gutmunsson is highly dangerous and extremely manipulative but the advice he’s providing them with may be necessary to save lives. But what is his connection to the current murders and should they be concerned about his growing interest in Emma?

I went into this expecting it to be a young adult version of Mindhunter but once I got stuck in, I realised it’s actually more of a YA Silence of the Lambs. Regardless, I’m very much here for it. I’m loving it’s maturity, darkness and sense of tension. The writing is pretty matter of fact but I’m not opposed to it. I’m really excited to see how the rest of the book plays out because the reviews I’ve seen have been mostly really positive.

Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

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At this point in April 2020 I was coming to the end of the confusing, ambitious and badass sci-fi-fantasy, Gideon the Ninth. It’s about a bunch of necromancers and their sword-wielding bodyguards from eight royal houses coming together on a mysterious planet to compete to discover a secret knowledge and win the favour of the emperor. Our lead is Gideon who is tasked with protecting the heir to the Ninth House, Harrowhark. Things take an unexpected turn though when house members start getting murdered.

Gideon is a polarising book – either you enjoy it or it’s really not your thing. The main reason for this is that it’s complicated and there’s very little hand holding to help the reader understand. Either you just go with it until it makes sense or you get steamrolled. While I was super lost through large chunks, I still enjoyed it and thought it was a super interesting and unique read. The characters were fun and snarky, the ending was fantastic and the story was engaging.

Just like the last time I did this, both of the books involved are very different from one another. One is YA, the other is adult. Gideon is sci-fi/fantasy and set in the future, while None Shall Sleep is a Thriller/Crime book set in the past. The writing styles are completely different, too. I mean, both books have a degree of mystery, violence and murder to them and also involve a team of two major characters working together to achieve a particular goal, but I’m abstracting a lot to create that commonality. At this point I can’t really say which of the two books I prefer over the other, but I really hope my current read is a high starred one.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think? What book were you reading this time last year and how does it compare to your current read?

Witchcraft, Murder and Demon Princes from Hell: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

After a disappointing and frustrating experience with Stalking Jack the Ripper back in 2019, I was extremely hesitant to read Kingdom of the Wicked. But, in the end, there were just too many of my favourite buzz words associated with it to resist.

Who, What, Where?

The story follows Emilia, a Sicilian witch who has grown up being told terrifying stories about the demon princes of the underworld. When she finds her twin sister, Vittoria, murdered, Emilia vows to track down the culprit and get revenge. However, Vittoria is only the latest in a string of dead witches. Desperate for answers, Emilia summons a demon. To her shock, it’s no lower level lackey who answers her call but one of the princes, Wrath, with his own reasons for wanting to investigate the murders. And so, Emilia and Wrath come to an agreement to work together. However, Wrath isn’t the only demon, or member of the royal family, who’s recently appeared in Palermo.

Too Fast, Too Slow

One of the main issues I had with KotW was Maniscalco’s writing style. First up, there’s quite a lot of telling vs showing going on, especially in the first half of the book, and often in the form of Q&A type conversations. Second, there were points where I couldn’t help feeling as though certain scenes/developments were slightly rushed and would have benefited from greater build up or descriptive detail. This would have enhanced the sense of drama and better helped the reader follow what was happening. Prominent examples include the discovery of Vittoria’s body and the book’s end sequence, during which I was muddled as to what exactly was going on. Then, on the other hand, there were other scenes where it felt like we lingered too long. Did I really need to read about Emilia preparing what I’m sure was a lovely bruschetta? Probably not.

All About that Atmosphere

The atmosphere in this book is great. The descriptions of the buildings, food, markets, sounds and smells of Palermo worked wonderfully in not only creating lush Sicilian settings but varying the story’s tone from chapter to chapter. One minute we’re in a sunny, bustling, seaside city with the characters enjoying tasty cannoli, the next Emilia is rushing around ominous, darkened streets with demons potentially around the corner. Yet, I do have to mention that as I was reading I had trouble placing when the story was set. Had I not gone back to check the blurb before writing this review, I still wouldn’t be sure. While KotW is a fantasy, it takes place in a real part of the world and aside from a few references to clothing, there aren’t many era indicators which would have better helped immerse me in the story.

Witch/Detective/Chef

As a heroine, Emilia is a mixed bag. While I appreciated her tenacity, love for her sister, and passion for food, she has a habit of making annoyingly naïve, rash and bad decisions. At first, I was willing to let these slide but there comes a point where you wish you could just shake some common sense into her. She gets fixated on illogical theories despite there being a valid explanation to counteract them and often charges into danger without a proper plan. Here’s hoping for some improvement in book two.

Not So Fairy Tale Prince

In comparison, Wrath is a more interesting and less frustrating character. Mysterious, slightly dramatic, kind of a flirt, and I enjoyed Maniscalco’s somewhat dry approach to his humour. The only problem is that even after a whole book, I still know barely anything about him, which is very disappointing, but I expect that will change drastically in the next book. The interactions between Emilia and Wrath take some time to properly get going but I really enjoyed their conversations and seeing them slowly learn to trust one another, despite their opposition to the other’s species. Plus, the sexual tension is definitely something I’m keen to see more of *winks*.

No Rest for the Wicked

When it comes to the actual plot, KotW took a good while to grow on me. After the original set up, the earlier chapters deal mostly with Emilia attempting to investigate the murders on her own. This isn’t exactly a bad approach, but considering my issues with her as a character, it wasn’t the most exciting time. There’s also the fact that Emilia starts out with very little to go off which results in a lot of her poking around in a somewhat aimless fashion, just hoping a clue will land her in her lap (which it does). The other thing that dampened my enjoyment somewhat is I expected Emilia to team up with Wrath far earlier than she did and this delay was mostly out of stubbornness.

Following approximately the halfway mark, I began to enjoy myself a lot more! The investigation became more focused, Emilia and Wrath were pleasantly bouncing off one another, the interactions with the different demon princes representing the seven deadly sins was fun, and the bigger impending threat of the story was introduced. By the time I reached the climax, I was genuinely disappointed the book was about to be over. While I wasn’t a fan of certain elements of the ending, I’m really looking forward to the exciting change of scenery it creates for the sequel.


As far as a final verdict goes, there were things I liked about this one and others that missed the mark. Still, it’ll likely appeal to a lot of other readers, especially if you enjoyed the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. I will say though, I do feel like it’s set things up for a really good sequel and I’ll be eagerly picking that up later this year.

3 stars

Book Tag: The Romance Tropes Tag (Original)

Time for another book tag! Some of you might remember that back in 2018 I completed the fantasy tropes book tag. Fantasy is easily one of my favourite genres so answering prompts based around my favourite (and not so favourite) tropes was a lot of fun. Another one of my go-to genres is romance so recently I wondered whether someone had created a similar style tag. While there were a couple of romance related book tags, I couldn’t seem to find any dealing specifically with tropes. And so, I decided why not make one myself? Thus, ‘The Romance Tropes Tag’ was born!

Note:

  • If you’d like to do the tag, feel free! Just make sure to link back to this post so I can see all of your wonderful answers.
  • You are welcome to use my graphics or create your own.
  • Although this is based around romance tropes, your answers don’t have to be romance books. Whatever fits the prompt!

RED, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston

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If there’s a limit to how many times I can say I love this book on my blog, please do let me know because I’ve probably long exceeded it already. After reading the first couple of pages of RW&RB I just knew I was going to love it. As it turned out, I was right and it ended up being my second favourite read of 2019. The book deals with the relationship between an alt-version of the prince of Great Britain and first son of the USA. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s sexy, just magical really. RW&RB is over 400 pages long which is chunkier than your average romance read but I was so invested and having such a good time that the pages just flew by. Queer romance gold.

Alina & The Darkling (The Grisha Trilogy – Leigh Bardugo)

I know, okay. I really do. This pairing is a complete toxic mess. The logical part of my brain recognises this fact. I never expected them to actually be end game while I was reading the books but *sigh*, the heart wants what it wants. Maybe it’s the whole light-dark symmetry, or that Mal bores me, or the fact that every conversation between Alina and the Darkling is just plain electric. Nah, in reality it’s probably more than likely because I love the drama that comes with the hero and villain being in love with each other but the plot persisting in pitting them against one another. Why, hello there angst.

Chain of Gold – Cassandra Clare

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Every time a new Cassie Clare book comes out, FOMO rears its ugly head. While I read The Infernal Devices back in the day, I haven’t read the last Mortal Instruments book. When The Dark Artifices were releasing I was still determined to catch up but since then I’ve decided not to read any more Shadowhunter books because I just don’t enjoy them like I used to. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel seriously left out and pressured to change my mind with every new release. They’re ridiculously popular so they’re always all over the internet. When Chain of Gold came out last year I was so tempted. The cover was everywhere and the amount of fanart is crazy. I haven’t cracked yet but when the posters for Chain of Iron went up last month, trust me, the struggle was real.

Layla – Colleen Hoover

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This book was not what I was expecting at all. Although, it’s likely my fault in this instance. Clearly I need to read the genre tags on Goodreads more because I somehow completely missed that this was a paranormal romance. The blurb does not suggest this in the slightest (or am I simply thick? Read it and let me know). There I was, thinking it was going to be a whole ‘other woman’ scenario (which I guess it sort of was but with a very different approach). So, you can imagine my shock when a ghost showed up a few chapters in. I wasn’t super keen on it for the most part but the twists towards the end certainly picked things up and tied them together somewhat.

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Their Inner Beasts: 'Lord of the Flies' Six Decades Later - The New York  Times

I first read Lord of the Flies when I was in high school and hated it with a fiery passion. However, I ended up having to read it again a few years later during my university ‘Law & Literature’ elective and found that I enjoyed and appreciated it more the second time through. Published in the 1950s, the book follows a group of schoolboys who get stuck on a deserted island and try (and fail) to create their own version of an organised and lawful society. Sure, the characters were still stupid and nuts, but on reread I was better able to understand what Golding was attempting to say and demonstrate about society and humanity. From 1 to 3 stars. Not bad.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

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I don’t normally read lots of historical or literary fiction but I was determined to give this book a read. I’m glad I did because it was great and very different from much of what I’ve read in the past. The story centers around the life of a gay man named Cyril living in Ireland before homosexuality was legalised. I’m not sure how he does it but Boyne magically straddles the line between humour and tragedy throughout the book, jumping back and forth without ever giving you emotional whiplash. It’s a quirky, somewhat absurd read at times but super charming and immersive and I’m really looking forward to reading other books from Boyne’s backlist.

Kingdom of the Wicked – Kerri Maniscalco

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Originally I wasn’t going to read KotW because I’m not a huge fan of Stalking Jack the Ripper, but there were just too many things associated with it that I love – witchcraft, murder mysteries, demons, paranormal romance…so I gave in. It’s about a witch and a demon prince in 19th century Sicily teaming up to solve the murder of the witch’s twin sister. I was very unsure early on (I think it’s the writing, lots of tell rather than show) and the story took a good while to grow on me. However, by the second half I was having a much more enjoyable time – the plot had come together better and the dynamic between the two leads was working well. I was actually sorry to see it end so I’ll likely read the sequel later this year.

The Nevernight Chronicle – Jay Kristoff & Shades of Magic Series – V E Schwab

Why did I set myself such a challenging prompt? Crazy. Now I’m imagining all my beautiful books going up in smoke *hyperventilates*. I have quite a few favourite series so I’m approaching this prompt as: which two series would I hate to have to replace? With that line of thinking, and excluding Harry Potter to avoid sounding like a broken record, I’m going with The Nevernight Chronicle by Jay Kristoff and the Shades of Magic Series by V E Schwab. While I certainly adore both of these series for their great characters, amazing fantasy world building, and exciting story arcs, it more comes down to the fact that my copies are all signed (some personally addressed) by the authors so I would be heartbroken to lose either of them. Even if I were to buy them again, they wouldn’t be the same. I guess I’m going up in smoke with them then.

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Before you start throwing things at me, I liked The Hating Game (I gave it 3.5 stars after all), but I didn’t LOVE The Hating Game. Considering how hyped this book was I was expecting something more. The banter was a lot of fun and the chemistry between Lucy and Josh was great, I even laughed a few times while reading. However, I really wish the whole enemies part of the enemies to lovers transition had lasted longer than it did and that Sally Thorne hadn’t felt the need to repeat certain descriptors over and over again. Josh’s frequent alpha-male asshole-ness also put me off at multiple points.

I’m going to do 2 answers for this prompt – one for fantasy and another for contemporary. These were both books that I came across during mid-high school and really started my love of the genre.

Fantasy: Twilight – Stephenie Meyer

Twilight (Twilight, #1) by Stephenie Meyer

I assume this would be a lot of people’s answer to this question. No avoiding it because it’s true. I have a little soft, squishy spot in my heart for The Twilight Saga. Probably always will. While it certainly has its many flaws, at the age of fifteen I was pretty obsessed with Bella, Edward and Jacob, and their supernatural love triangle woes. This book hurtled me into the depths of the paranormal romance genre, something I still guilty pleasure enjoy today, many years later. Would probably still reread at some point in the future, not gonna lie.


Contemporary: The Secret Dream World of a Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella

The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic/Confessions of a Shopaholic | Sophie  Kinsella

This book was a gift from my mum and I actually DNF-ed it the first time I read it. I still have no idea why but in my defense, this was a really long time ago. I gave it a second try on a trip to visit my grandparents and ended up racing through it. Having read many more contemporary romances now, were I to re-read it today it probably wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it used to be but at the time I remember it being a lot of fun – Becky and her crazy shopping/debt antics. In the years after I read a whole bunch of Kinsella’s other romcoms (including several in this series) and it’s probably where my love of these types of novels started.

Jude and Cardan (The Folk of the Air Series – Holly Black)

Once again, I’m mentioning my messy and stabby faerie x human power couple, Jurdan. Eventually you all will get sick of me mentioning them over and over (then again, maybe you already are), but for now we’re going to talk about them for the millionth time. These two are somewhat of a toxic clusterf*** at times. However, they just get each other so much better than anybody else does and they feel perfectly matched. Plus the conflict and sexual tension is simply *chef’s kiss*. I love it when they’re sniping at each other, stabbing one another in the back, working together, or being adorably sweet and vulnerable.

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My two favourite romance tropes are enemies to lovers and fake dating. They’re massively overdone but I can’t get enough, especially when they’re in the same book. A book I enjoyed that featured both was The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren. It’s about Olive and Ethan who hate each other but whose siblings are getting married. After the bride and groom wind up with food poisoning, our leads decide to make use of their all expenses paid honeymoon to Hawaii. However, certain circumstances result in them having to pretend to be newlyweds. It’s a lot of fun and I love a good CLo read, especially one with good verbal sparring.


I hope you all enjoyed trope-ing it up romance style with me and fingers crossed I managed to tick off most of your favourite tropes from the genre. I’m not usually one to tag other bloggers in these types of posts but I’d be absolutely thrilled if you gave the tag a go. If you’d like to, the prompts are listed below for easy copying and pasting. Until next time!

Prompts:

  • Love at First Sight: A Book You Fell in Love with Almost Immediately
  • Forbidden Love: A Romantic Pairing You Probably Shouldn’t Love but Do
  • Stuck Together/Forced Proximity: A Book You Felt Pressured to Read (By a Friend, Bookstagram, Bloggers, etc.)
  • Mistaken Identity: A Book that Wasn’t What You Were Expecting
  • Second Chance Romance: A Book or Series You Enjoyed More the Second Time Around
  • Opposites Attract: A Book You Love from a Genre You Don’t Usually Read
  • Enemies to Lovers: A Book Whose Second Half is Better than its First OR A Series that Gets Better Over Time
  • Love Triangle: Your House is on Fire & You Can Only Save One Series! Which Two Series Do You Die Trying to Choose Between?
  • Friends to Lovers: A Book You Wanted More From
  • Meet Cute: A Book that Got You Hooked on Romance
  • Soulmates: Two Characters Who Are Made for Each Other
  • Bonus: Your Favourite Romance Trope/s & A Book that Features It

Book Haul: March Mystery/Thriller Book Buying Madness

Something I hadn’t realised until recently is that this is the first time I’ve ever actually done a book haul post. Pretty crazy, especially considering I’ve been blogging since 2017. It’s probably because I tend to list my hauls as part of my monthly wrap ups. But there’s a first time for everything after all, and now seemed like the time. With my newbie status in mind, I made sure to check out some other blogs for hints on how to format this. From what I could see, most people tend to copy the book covers off Goodreads, list the synopsis and some brief thoughts, and go on their merry way. Smart, efficient, practical. But me, oh no. Past Ashley was like, I should take proper photos of everything!

Never. Again. Let it be said here: past Ashley is stupid.

Moving along, as the title suggests, recently I’ve been really in the mood for mystery/thriller type reads and, as you do when you get fixated on something, I’ve bought a few of them over the last couple of weeks. Okay, more than a few. Here are the new additions to my shelves in all their (annoying printed sticker) glory.

Final Girls – Riley Sager

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

Surprisingly, I’ve already finished this one! I was really in the mood for a quick, satisfying thriller one day and after enjoying Sager’s The Last Time I Lied earlier this year, I thought this might be just what I was after. As it turned out, it wasn’t quick or satisfying. The main story took so long to finally get going and I wasn’t very keen on most of the characters. The big reveal was disappointing, too. Another one of those cases of a good premise and poor execution, I’m afraid.


Stillhouse Lake – Rachel Caine

Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop. 

This book was on my 2020 TBR and I never got around to buying or reading it. So, when I found it on sale on the kindle store last month for less than $2, I couldn’t resist hitting that ‘buy now’ button. I think it’s the cheapest book I’ve ever bought! I’ve seen quite a lot of positive reviews for Stillhouse Lake and the premise is intriguing, however I know it’s the first installment in a series and there’s a cliffhanger ending, which I’m sure will drive me crazy.


The Nowhere Child – Christian White

Kimberly Leamy is a photography teacher in Melbourne, Australia. Twenty-six years earlier, Sammy Went, a two-year old girl vanished from her home in Manson, Kentucky. An American accountant who contacts Kim is convinced she was that child, kidnapped just after her birthday. She cannot believe the woman who raised her, a loving social worker who died of cancer four years ago, crossed international lines to steal a toddler.

On April 3rd, 1990, Jack and Molly Went’s daughter Sammy disappeared from the inside their Kentucky home. Already estranged since the girl’s birth, the couple drifted further apart as time passed. Jack did his best to raise and protect his other daughter and son while Molly found solace in her faith. The Church of the Light Within, a Pentecostal fundamentalist group who handle poisonous snakes as part of their worship, provided that faith. Without Sammy, the Wents eventually fell apart.

Now, with proof that she and Sammy are in fact the same person, Kim travels to America to reunite with a family she never knew she had. And to solve the mystery of her abduction—a mystery that will take her deep into the dark heart of religious fanaticism where she must fight for her life against those determined to save her soul…

I realised looking at my 2020 reading stats that although I live in Australia, I read barely any books by Australian authors or ones set there. It’s kind of sad, so consider this my first step in trying to improve that somewhat. From the blurb this seems like an interesting approach to the kidnapping type story so I’m looking forward to getting around to reading it. The Nowhere Child was shortlisted for quite a few Australian literature awards (what gave it away I wonder, could it be ALL THE PRINTED STICKERS??!!) so fingers crossed it’s a good read.


A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson

Everyone in Fairview knows the story.

Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town.

But she can’t shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. She knew Sal when she was a child, and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer?

Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent . . . and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

I’ve been meaning to buy A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder for a while now so the fact that I finally did isn’t much of a surprise. Unlike the other books on this list, it’s a YA Mystery read. I’ve been burnt by other YA books in this genre before so I’m a little wary but I’ve seen so many great reviews that I’m really hoping for a home run with this one, particularly since there’s another two books in the series after it.


In the Woods – Tana French

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children. He is gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a 12-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox (his partner and closest friend) find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

In one of my recent posts I mentioned wanting to give some of Tana French’s books a try and In the Woods is the first in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. You can read them out of order but I’m a bit of nut when it comes to that sort of thing so the first book it is. She’s a popular author in the genre so I hope I enjoy this because it’ll mean I have plenty of other books from her back catalogue to work my way through.


The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter

Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind.

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father—Pikeville’s notorious defense attorney—devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, Charlotte has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself—the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again, and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized, Charlotte is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case that unleashes the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress–because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried forever.

Like Tana French, Karin Slaughter is another big crime author with a healthy backlog that I’ve wanted to give a go for some time. Picking where to start with her books was a tough decision but The Good Daughter is one of her highest rated on GR and the blurb for it definitely grabbed me more than for some of her other books. I know that my grandma enjoys her books occasionally so, at the very least, I’ll have someone to chat to about it.


Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie

The tranquility of a cruise along the Nile is shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway has been shot through the head. She was young, stylish and beautiful, a girl who had everything – until she lost her life. Hercule Poirot recalls an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: ‘I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.’ Yet in this exotic setting, nothing is ever quite what it seems…

Let me first say, Agatha Christie is a literary queen and amazing. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t buy this because of how pretty the hardback special edition is. I’m not sure how I missed this but over the last few years Harper Collins has released a couple of Christie’s books with brand new, special foiled covers. They have a chosen quote on the back and nice, patterned end pages. As you might have guessed, I’m now determined to collect them all. I decided to go with Death on the Nile first as I know the new adaptation is releasing soon. While I’ve seen other adaptations before, I’ve never read the book and there’s no time like the present, right?


And that’s that! While I have bought a few other reads recently, they’re from other genres and I’ll probably save those to include as part of my end of month wrap up, as per usual. What books have you recently purchased and are looking forward to reading? Have you read any of these books and if so, what did you think? Or even better, do you have any other good mystery/thriller recommendations for me?