Let’s Get Romantic: Reviewing the Goodreads Top 10 Romance Novels of 2021

So. The Goodreads Choice Awards. Every year I feel like by the time the winners are announced most people are in one of two camps: A) THAT book won?, or B) I have no idea what any of these books are. Let’s face it, these awards aren’t the greatest indicators of what the “best book” in any given genre is for the year. Mainly because GR bases nominations on the number of users adding, reading and reviewing books, missing out on some amazing indie releases and debut authors. Also, most of us voting are unlikely to have read all of the nominees by the time we place our vote. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to try reading each of the ten books in the final round of the romance category and reviewing them to see just how closely my opinions line up with the actual votes. And for kicks, I’ll also determine how I would have ranked them had I been the sole voter in the awards (because I’m self-involved like that).

The final ten nominees for 2021 were (if you’d like to jump to a specific review, just click the title):

Let’s jump into the reviews! And prepare yourself for a LONG ass post…


People We Meet on Vacation – Emily Henry

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I’m beginning to think that Emily Henry and I are stuck in an ‘I really like you, I just don’t love you’ relationship. PWMoV is a friends to lovers, When Harry Met Sally inspired romance that revolves around Poppy and Alex who meet at university and become best friends. For the last 10 years they’ve taken a summer trip together, but since the events of their last trip two years ago, they’ve barely spoken. Hoping to repair their friendship, Poppy asks Alex to take one more trip. Now, she has one week to fix everything.

PWMoV is structured to alternate between the present and Poppy & Alex’s past trips, slowly building up to what happened 2 years ago. While I understand what EH was trying to do with all this backstory, there were moments where these flashbacks dragged for me. Then, once I finally reached the big reveal, there was a moment of, that’s it? For something that supposedly had such a big impact on their relationship, I expected something more…dramatic.

My favourite thing about this book was Poppy’s sense of humour. Her jokes and quips were a lot of fun and a large part of why I liked her character so much. Alex’s more reserved nature took longer to warm up to but, like Poppy, I came to appreciate just how lovely he was. Their opposites attract dynamic was great, full of sweet, vulnerable conversations and witty back and forths. Although the slow burn romance was easy to root for, I found their friendship really endearing, too.

Lately, contemporary romances seem to be incorporating more serious real-world topics. PWMoV involves bullying, death of a loved one, millennial burnout (VERY RELATABLE), and navigating personal insecurities. Yet, it does so without making the book feel heavy or dampening the romance. It still felt like something I could fluffily enjoy but with depth.

Overall, a great pick for a summer romance binge and to consider bringing on your next holiday.


The Spanish Love Deception – Elena Armas

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

The Spanish Love Deception seems like something I’d easily award five stars. This book’s marketed tropes sound like my personal romance bingo card. So, understand my disappointment when I say I’m only giving it 2.5.

Our heroine Catalina works for an engineering consulting company alongside the hero, Aaron. The two haven’t gotten along since a bad introduction 2 years ago. Catalina’s sister is getting married back in Spain soon and wanting to avoid the pity stares, Lina tells her family she’ll be bringing her (non-existent) boyfriend. To her shock, Aaron offers to play the role and, without options, Lina accepts.

While I know it’s a debut, some of the writing in this was noticeably clunky. There are a few odd word choices/phrases and a lot of the dialogue doesn’t use contractions, making it sound stilted. The sex scenes also aren’t my favourite – the descriptions were fine but every time Aaron would open his mouth I’d cringe. And the number of times he calls Lina ‘baby’…stop, please.

One of the main drawcards for me was ‘enemies to lovers’ but, honestly, I feel let down. Part of the reason I love this trope is snarky banter and there was so little here. Even the “enemies” dynamic was questionable because the rivalry seemed to only be in Catalina’s head. I also had trouble feeling the chemistry between Lina & Aaron at the start but, thankfully, it improved with time. Probably all the intense staring and casual brushing of body parts.

It took a while for me to get into this. I felt really disconnected early on but things picked up a lot once Lina and Aaron got to Spain. The fake dating plot wasn’t the best I’ve seen, but I still had fun with it. The interactions with Catalina’s family were also sweet (except the dick pic requests & ‘bubbies’ comments? WHYYYY?), and I wish we’d gotten more time with them.

Lastly, our leads. I really disliked Catalina to start because she came off childish and annoying. Plus, the endless pages of internal monologuing were tedious. She grew on me slightly but her obtuseness about Aaron was frustrating. Aaron, on the other hand, was nice but verged on being too perfect (except for his dirty talk…). In other words, fine but nothing I’m obsessing over.

Despite my ranting, this was okay but I don’t understand the hype. With the internet you win some, you lose some, I suppose.


It Happened One Summer – Tessa Bailey

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I’m not a Schitt’s Creek fan, I’ve never read a Tessa Bailey book before, and yet, here we are.

It Happened One Summer is a Schitt’s Creek inspired romance about an influencer named Piper who gets sent to a small fishing town by her step-father after hosting an out-of-control party and falls in love with a gruff fisherman, Brendan. The premise for this was really cute and I had a lot of fun with it. The plot surrounding Piper and her sister Hannah fixing up their father’s old bar was especially sweet. However, the book’s third act complications felt convenient and frustrating.

I knew going in that TB’s books were known for high levels of steam and IHOS certainly didn’t disappoint. I mean…*fans self*. This was easily some of the better written (and raunchier) smut I’ve read in romance. Still, if I’m being honest, I could probably have used slightly less steam, only because the sex scenes and sexual thoughts became extremely dominant in the second half at the expense of things like plot and character development.

As far as leads go, I enjoyed both Piper and Brendan (despite the latter being too alpha for my liking sometimes). Piper was such a cheerful, ditsy, entertaining character, and I loved reading as she became more independent and realised her value outside of social media. Meanwhile, it was lovely seeing Brendan lighten up, embrace more change and move on from the death of his wife. The chemistry between the two was also pretty fire and perfect for lovers of the grumpy-sunshine trope.

This was a great opposites attract/small-town romance, suited to those summer feels. I’ll 100% be looking out for the sequel.


The Soulmate Equation – Christina Lauren

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In recent years I’ve become a bit of a CL fan so I hit this up as soon as it came out. Our heroine is Jess, a statistician and single mother, who sends a genetic sample to a matchmaking company called Genetically, which supposedly can use DNA to find your soulmate. To everyone’s surprise, she gets an unheard-of 98% compatibility score with the company’s stubborn and standoffish founder, Dr River Pena. Hoping to maximise publicity of the match, the company offers to pay Jess to spend time with River.

I really liked the premise – it’s similar to John Marrs’s novel The One, if it had been a cute romance instead of a thriller. The book focuses a lot on whether love is about choice or fate/chemistry and I found this quite interesting. I’m not usually drawn to ‘Soulmate’ trope books but I was okay with how it was handled here. The fake dating trope, however, was somewhat weak. There were also some elements of the story that felt unbelievable and the pacing had moments where it felt either too slow or too rushed.

The main reason I didn’t rate this higher was the chemistry between Jess and River. As individual characters, I liked both of them. Jess was smart, independent and kind, and while River was slower to connect with, I eventually got on board with him as well (despite a rough patch at the end). However, I just wasn’t as invested in their relationship or convinced of their spark as I have been with CL’s other couples.

The book’s side characters were my favourite part. Jess’s grandparents were lovely, her daughter Juno was sweet and I adored Jess’s best friend, romance author Fizzy. Sassy, funny, supportive and a little dirty, we should all have a Fizzy in our lives (and our rom-coms). It was really nice to have an MC who was a single parent with a wonderful support network behind her.

The Soulmate Equation was an enjoyable science meets romance read but nothing special and far from my favourite CL book.


The Ex-Hex – Erin Sterling

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I’m don’t know which is worse, a bad book or one for which the only descriptor you have is: it’s ‘fine’.

The Ex-Hex is about a witch named Vivi who lives in a small, magic-fuelled town called Graves Glen. After a breakup with fellow witch Rhys Penhallow, Vivi jokingly (& drunkenly) curses him. Nine years later, Rhys returns to recharge the town’s magical ley lines and finds the curse in full force. Wanting to depart quickly, Rhys charges the lines but in doing so infects the town with his altered magic. And so, Vivi and Rhys team up to reverse the curse and fix the resulting mayhem.

This book isn’t bad. It’s just bland. It’s a light, fluffy read that reminds me of magical sit-coms like Bewitched or Sabrina the Teenage Witch but with less charm and laughs. I love easy-going books as much as the next person but I still need something fun or swoon-worthy to engage with. Here, I wanted more from everything.

I really liked the idea of the curse and Vivi & Rhys fixing it, but the execution was disappointing. The main reason was that the stakes felt really low. For something with the potential to destroy the town, I expected more magical hijinks. The pacing was also off. Towards the middle of the book the curse plot halts for Rhys & Vivi to have a sex marathon and by the time they remember their situation there aren’t many pages left, leaving the resolution feeling rushed and flat.

When it comes to the witchcraft and world building, there’s almost no explanation. I have no idea how magic works or how witches fit into the world. It’s very vague and as someone who loves magic, it makes me sad. However, I did like Graves Glen as a setting. It’s charming, autumn-y and full of romantic, small-town vibes. I wanted to join the Halloween festivities and eat my weight in hand pies.

Onto the romance which is, to use that word again, “fine”. The back and forth dialogue is okay, Rhys & Vivi are both likeable (if unmemorable) characters, and the smut is…eh. Honestly, I don’t really have any intense feelings either way. It’s kind of sweet, but there’s little depth and the two never deal with the reasons for their original breakup.

In the end, not really my idea of a great magical romance but good for those after some fluff during spooky season.


The Love Hypothesis – Ali Hazelwood

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The hype around The Love Hypothesis has been insane so I was almost positive there was no way it could be as good as people were saying. But sweet Jesus, this book. It’s just so cute and lovely, and darn it, I think I’m in love. It’s about a biology graduate student named Olive who abruptly kisses grumpy professor, Dr Adam Carlson, in an attempt to convince her BFF that she’s dating someone new. When their supposed “relationship” hits the rumour mill, Adam and Olive realise they can both get something out of perpetuating the idea of a fake relationship. But, as with any fake dating scenario, real feelings start to get involved.

I loved Olive & Adam’s relationship. The banter and flow of their conversations were top-notch and genuinely funny. I could really feel the chemistry and was seriously rooting for them to get together for real. It was all so wonderfully wholesome, but still had room for an A+ sex scene (minus one questionable move involving a boob. How?). It was also super exciting to see a female lead who’s demisexual.

I really enjoyed the STEM setting and story revolving around Olive trying to continue her pancreatic cancer research. YES TO WOMEN IN SCIENCE. Sometimes these other narratives can get lost against the central romance but not so here, and I was interested in how things would turn out. You can tell the author has a background in scientific research because it felt very believable.

As a romance, TLH is super trope-y. One hotel room, workplace romance, grumpy-sunshine, not enough chairs, miscommunication, etc. But it uses them in such an enjoyable and self-aware way that it gets away with it, especially if you find these things comforting in your romcoms. Yet, the miscommunication element does get utilised slightly too many times which felt frustrating at points.

Basically, the internet told me so and they were right.


One Last Stop – Casey McQuiston

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Into awkward PDA-ing on the subway? This may be the book for you! One Last Stop is a F/F romance based around bisexual uni student/waitress, August, who has recently moved to New York only to meet an amazing girl named Jane on the subway. As it turns out, Jane is displaced in time from the 1970s, bound to the train line and unable to remember her past or how she got stuck. So August sets out to save her.

First things first, at over 400 pages, this was too long and it showed in the pacing. I’m confident it could have been cut down and still achieved its aims. Things started to drag around the middle, part of which was probably due to Jane being stuck on the subway and the repetition of having scenes in the same place. However, despite this, it also felt like there were a few too many things battling for attention. There are 3 main plot points – Jane’s dilemma, August’s missing uncle, and the fight to save Billy’s Pancake House, but also a bunch of small ones and it can feel like a lot.

The side characters in OLS were really likeable. You can never go wrong with a super sweet found family theme and, here, it was like being enveloped in a warm, welcoming hug. The cast was so charming, diverse and supportive, and I loved their uniqueness. Aside from being a LGBTI romance OLS really felt like a love letter to the queer community. It includes elements of queer history (remembering those who suffered and fought), incorporates the New York drag scene, and generally advocates for love, acceptance and pride in who you are.

Now, the romance. Fingering on a crowded train aside…it was good, but I wasn’t blown away. I could see the chemistry, I thought the sex scenes were done well and the ending was satisfyingly adorable, yet there was something missing I can’t quite put my finger on.

Two more small points:

  • Casey’s writing – still good! Approachable, easy to get into, and solid humour (even though I didn’t laugh as much as I did with RW&RB)
  • The time travel elements – a little iffy. The characters try to explain but it’s not the clearest, especially as to how August fits in.

Not my favourite read on this list but I’m still looking forward to CM’s YA debut I Kisssed Shara Wheeler.


Neon Gods – Katee Robert

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I had low expectations going into Neon Gods, mainly because I know my own tastes (I’m not just making a dig). It ended up being slightly better than I thought but far from a win.

NG is a Greek mythology reimagining. It’s set in the modern city of Olympus which is ruled over by a powerful body of thirteen, each with a title named after a Greek god, and headed by Zeus. Persephone, our heroine, flees after her mother tries to marry her off to Zeus, despite him supposedly murdering his previous wives. She finds refuge with Hades, who holds a grudge against Zeus for the murder of his parents. The two form a bargain to enter a public sexual relationship to reduce Persephone’s appeal to Zeus and get back at him.

The word people constantly use to describe this book is “spicy”. Now, if we’re measuring by the amount of sexual content, sure, it’s level 10 because there are a lot of sex scenes. But, even for erotica, something this length doesn’t need 8+ sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong, they started out hot and fun but after a while, it gets repetitive. I can only read about so much fingerbanging. Also, from the way this was marketed and early chapters teasing Hades’ “tastes” and “playroom”, I was expecting more kink, D/S or S&M scenarios but aside from some exhibitionism, it’s quite vanilla.

The world building is ambiguous and odd. Is there magic? Some elements suggest yes, but almost everything else feels contemporary (e.g. the thirteen aren’t Gods, just corrupt leaders). Then there’s Olympus itself – where is it? The book makes it sound like America, but I’m not sure and if so, why is everything named after Greek mythology? Does that lore exist in this world? Speaking of which, the actual mythology links in this are light. It’s a very loose retelling and the only real ties are the character names, division of the city, occasional references such as Persephone’s safe word (Pomegranate), and Zeus being a dick.

The plot is minimal. If you’re looking for meaty drama to go with your romance (or sex, really), there isn’t much here. The Zeus conflict ramps up around 80% but resolves in an anticlimatic and overly neat fashion with plenty of unanswered questions. The book’s focus is the central relationship, which I have mixed feelings about. There were parts I liked and I could feel the connection between Hades & Persephone. Still, I wish it’d been more of a slow burn fitting the myth and that the two of them had been given better developed character arcs. Also, Hades’ constant mother-henning of Persephone started to annoy me after a while.

I didn’t strongly dislike this, but I get the feeling that erotica might not be for me.


Act Your Age, Eve Brown – Talia Hibbert

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The order to read a series in is 1 and then skip straight to 3, right? Great, that’s what I thought.

Our heroine is Eve. Her life is a mess and when her parents cut off her trust fund, she finds herself interviewing for a job as a cook at a small B&B. The owner, Jacob, is organised, controlled, and wants chaotic Eve nowhere near his business. That is, until she accidentally hits him with her car, leaving him with a broken wrist and little choice but to hire her.

The story is predictable but in a cozy, comforting way. There isn’t much plotwise outside the relationship but I was completely fine with that since I loved the setting and liked the characters. The climax is tedious (DAMN YOU, MISCOMMUNICATION!) and you see it coming but I appreciated how quickly the characters overcame it.

Once again, Talia Hibbert brings the diversity goods. Two leads on the autism spectrum? A female MC who’s black and bigger in size? All the yes. It’s so wonderful to have some variety! Plus, I loved that these traits were important to Eve and Jacob’s characters and played a role in their interactions, but didn’t dominate their stories.

If you love ‘grumpy-sunshine’ and ‘enemies-to-lovers’, look no further. Eve is bubbly, charming, and unabashedly herself. She’s an endearing sweetheart and it was great seeing her journey of self-discovery unfold. Jacob, I went back and forth on, mainly because he’s an ass at the beginning but reveals himself to be considerate, supportive, and romantic underneath. There’s a lot of good banter between the two as they fire shots at one another and some wonderfully vulnerable moments as well.

In Talia Hibbert fashion, AYAEB is steamy. There’s a good build-up before the big moment (well, in pages if not time), and I liked that the sex didn’t completely take over, a problem I had with Chloe Brown. Still, there were a few lines I could have done without (vaginas dissolving into glitter, um what?) and I had trouble connecting Jacob’s bedroom persona with his everyday one.

Definitely would recommend! Guess I’ll have to go back and read Take a Hint, Dani Brown, won’t I?


Seven Days in June – Tia Williams

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I love surprises. And this book was the good kind.

SDIJ is about Eva & Shane who met in high school fifteen years ago. After sharing one crazy, loved-up week together Shane mysteriously disappeared, leaving Eva heartbroken. Both have since gone on to become authors – Eva of a bestselling fantasy-romance series and Shane of award-winning literary fiction. While Eva lives in New York with her daughter Audre and manages debilitating migraines, Shane is almost two years sober and working teaching underprivileged kids. The two reconnect when Shane visits NY to attend a literary event and find that the spark is as strong as ever.  

This was so refreshing. Not only does it feature a female lead who’s a single mum and dealing with a chronic pain condition, but both romantic leads are black. I really enjoyed Eva’s relationship with Audre and thought that the representation of her disability was handled really well. It was also great to read about characters who were so unapologetically black and for the book to not only comment on the challenges they face but celebrate their successes, especially through the lens of the literary world.

I’m not usually a big second chance romance fan but I was committed here. I loved the idea of Eva and Shane having this electric connection but the timing just being wrong because they hadn’t had the time and space to develop into the people they were meant to be yet. The fact that their bond had such a profound impact on them that it basically shaped their novels was pretty romantic, too. However, I wish that the flashbacks to their original week together had been expanded on slightly to better reinforce its impact as they felt somewhat brief and drug-hazed at times.

Writing-wise, I think SDIJ strikes a fantastic balance between levity, romance, and drama. While the side characters are fun and Eva & Shane have great chemistry, you still feel the weight of the story’s intense themes. Although, one negative for me was the amount of pop culture references and slang terms which, at times, made the book feel like it was trying too hard to sound young and cool. It’s also likely to date quickly going forward.

The characters were really well written. Both Eva and Shane felt like complex, real people with histories, dreams, fears and demons. I loved reading about the positive trajectory their lives had taken despite having to battle against immense hardship. I really wish we’d gotten more info about Eva’s family history, though, because it sounded so interesting!

This was a great read and I strongly recommend it if you enjoy slightly more dramatic contemporary romances.


Phew! We’re done. Ten reviews. I need a nap. A long one. I don’t think I’ve ever written this many book reviews so close together in my life. How do you review-everything type bloggers do this? Anyway, moving on to the rankings.

Official GRCA Results

FYI, this is how the books ranked in the awards based on the number of votes submitted:

My Rankings

I had a couple of books that ended up with the same star rating so I did have a dilemma organising things, especially when it came to the 4 star reads. In the end, this is where I settled:

I feel like a cliche but I loved The Love Hypothesis so it takes my number one spot. I’m always shocked when I buy into the hype train. With Eve Brown, It Happened One Summer and Seven Days in June, it just came down to overall enjoyment level because these were all great reads. I’m sad that I didn’t love People we Meet on Vacation as much as others did (seeing as it won the awards), but I’ll still be reading Henry’s next book. Two books I didn’t really understand the obsession with were The Spanish Love Deception and Neon Gods, both of which have been crazy popular on Booktube (or so I’ve heard) However, I’d still be willing to try other books from the authors.


Okay, I’m officially romanced out for the moment (well, except for a romance ARC that I really need to get to soon). This was definitely a challenge but I like that I managed to do it (even though I started to wonder why after three 2.5 or lower books in a row).

Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think and what are your thoughts on my ranking order?

And That’s a Wrap 2021: My Favourite Reads of the Year

It’s the final day of 2021 and that means the time has come to rave about the best books I read this year. In 2021 I read 60 books and, like last year, I had a lot of middle-of-the-road, 3-3.5-ish star reads. This meant that the books I loved (and the ones I didn’t) stood out a lot more than they would have otherwise. Yet, it also means I didn’t have as many 5 star reads as I would have liked. In fact, in 2021 I only rated 2 books 5 stars. Sad, but true. However, I did have a handful of 4.5 star ones, which is nothing to turn my nose up at either. And so, here are my 10 favourite reads of 2021…

Special Mention: Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir | Review

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I went back and forth for ages over what to rate this book. It came so close to getting an entry on this list so I feel I’d be remiss not to mention it because I had such a good time while reading. PHM follows a man named Dr. Ryland Grace who wakes up from a coma onboard a spaceship with no memory of who he is or how he came to be there. As he starts to piece things together, he realises he’s on a mission to save humanity. While there’s a lot of science-speak and Ryland does bear similarities to The Martian‘s Mark Watney, the story is super engaging from start to finish and full of questions you can’t help but keep flipping pages until you reach the answers for. There’s also a surprising and wholesome friendship that became one of my favourites of the year. Good to know that Andy Weir is back on form.

10. The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter

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I used to read a lot of crime books back in high school but since then I’ve tended to pick them up a lot less. Karin Slaughter is one of the bigger names in the genre and has been successfully publishing for around 20 years. Now, having finished The Good Daughter, I understand why because her writing is exceptional. The overarching crime plot of the book (a school shooting) is engaging enough and maintains a good sense of momentum, however, the depth and strength of her main characters, sisters Charlie & Sam, are where it shines. I really appreciated the way the book slowly dug into their childhood trauma and how the events surrounding their mother’s death affected them into adulthood. I also liked the way it dealt with the complex nature of their familial bonds. It’s a dark and violent read at times but worth the time investment if you can handle the themes. I’ll be making sure to check out more of Slaughter’s backlog in the future.

9. A Ladder to the Sky – John Boyne

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The true winner of my 2021, it seems, was John Boyne with not only one but two books on this list! A Ladder to the Sky was one of my 5 star predictions and while it just fell short, I thought it was fantastic. It’s about an attractive & charming aspiring novelist named Maurice who possesses great writing talent but little creativity for coming up with original ideas. And so, he climbs the literary fame ladder by getting close to, manipulating, and stealing the stories of others. As time goes on, he has to go to greater lengths to stay in the spotlight. The dialogue in this book is great and I really enjoyed its criticism of the literary world. I loved the moral greyness of the characters, the dark humour, and that the shifts in time and narration kept me on my toes as to what would happen next. If you enjoy love to hate characters, this will be right in your wheelhouse. Even the ending was unexpected perfection. Aside from a couple of slower points, pretty darn good.

8. Crying in H Mart – Michelle Zauner

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I finished this beautifully written and heartbreaking memoir in under two days. I’ve never really been a fan of Japanese Breakfast’s music but after hearing so many wonderful things about singer/songwriter Michelle’s book, I knew I had to read it. I completely understand why this was picked as Goodreads’ best memoir & autobiography for the year. It details Michelle’s complicated relationship with her mother and the deep pain of losing her to cancer when Michelle was only 25. The sections outlining Michelle caring for her mother and worrying about having lost her link to her Korean heritage following her mum’s death absolutely broke my heart. I also loved reading about Michelle’s bond with food and how important it was in connecting with her mum and her Korean identity. I’m not sure if this book made me want to curl up into a ball or eat until I explode. Probably both.

7. The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

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I wasn’t really sure what to expect with THIF. All I knew was that it was immensely well-reviewed and deservedly so. The book follows a gay man named Cyril and tells the story of his life in Ireland in the decades prior to the legalisation of homosexuality. As you can imagine, the story deals with some tough topics such as the religious and public persecution of LGBTI people as well as the AIDS crisis. Boyne’s writing is fantastic and perfectly straddles the line between comedy and tragedy. The style is a little absurd at times, especially the characters’ interactions, but if it’s something you can gel with you’ll have a lot of fun (well, with plenty of pain, too). I loved following the characters over a large part of their lives, although I do feel like I missed out on some things due to the time jumps. Still, this was an amazing read and I’ll be looking to pick up more of Boyne’s books in 2022.

6. Twice Shy – Sarah Hogle | Review

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The fact that this book was not read by more people is a crime because it’s SO LOVELY. At this point, I’m starting to think Sarah Hogle is one of those authors who could write a shopping list and I’d read it. TS is about optimistic and romantic, Maybell. She inherits a large house after the death of her great aunt with plans to turn it into a hotel only to find she’s actually co-inherited it with the grouchy groundskeeper, Wesley. The two then work together to fix it up but with different end goals in mind. Gotta love that forced proximity trope. It’s a little corny at times but so darn adorable and uplifting. I loved the characters, their romance (especially the grumpy-sunshine dynamic), and that they handled their issues in such a non-annoying way. It wasn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as Sarah’s debut but I was okay with that. The perfect medicine for a rubbish day.

5. The Love Hypothesis – Ali Hazelwood

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I went into this fully prepared for it to be an overinflated product of the hype train. Guess the joke’s on me. This book was the perfect bundle of sweet, trope-y, sunshine-y fluff and I had so much fun. It’s about a grad biology student called Olive who starts a fake dating ruse with one of the university’s grumpy professors, Adam, to convince her best friend she’s over a guy. The banter and chemistry between Olive & Adam was so enjoyable and comforting, and I was super eager for them to finally get together. The STEM setting for the book was also great and felt developed & believable (probably because of Hazelwood’s science background). The miscommunication trope was utilised a touch too much for my liking but I lapped up the book’s self-aware approach to the ample other romance tropes included. Easily one of my favourite romances of 2021 and I would 100% reread it.

4. Empire of the Vampire – Jay Kristoff | Review

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When you’ve been waiting over 2.5 years for a book, expectations get high. To my immense relief, EotV mostly managed to meet them. JK has brought scary, rip-your-throat-out vampires back in a big way. The book is set in a world in which the sun has disappeared and vampires now rule. Gabriel de Leon, last of a holy order, awaits execution and is compelled to tell his life’s story to a vampire historian, including his journey to find the holy grail. It’s full of gore, violence, smut, foul language, moody-vibes, religious themes, revenge, and emotional moments, and I had a blast (well, except for when my heart was being crushed at the end). The world-building is fantastic, pacing spot on, and although I started out on rocky ground with some of them, the characters grew on me a lot. There are a couple of questionable things that let the book down a little, but overall, an amazing blend of action, adventure, romance, horror and drama. Give me the sequel, stat!

3. The Burning God – R F Kuang

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I really wish I wasn’t this predictable but here we are, with another entry from The Poppy War series. After books one & two took out spots on my 2020 and 2021 lists, I don’t think any of you are surprised to see The Burning God here. I was massively looking forward to this last installment in the series and while it wasn’t a perfect read, I wasn’t disappointed with the final experience. There were a couple of plotlines that I wish had played out a little differently but this was still such a fantastically action-packed, twisty, exciting and heartwrenching book. The ending wasn’t what I was expecting but still fit the trajectory of the series, despite its shocking nature (my brain literally had trouble processing it). I can safely say that TBG secured The Poppy War trilogy as one of my favourite series of all time and I’m excited to go back and reread it all one day.

2. The Push – Ashley Audrain

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Back in August, I was starting to get worried about the state of this list. Then The Push came along and holy hell. This book just breezed right on in and not only captivated me from start to finish but sent me on an absolute emotional rollercoaster. It’s about a woman named Blythe who becomes convinced that there’s something…off about her daughter, Violet. When tragedy strikes, Blythe believes Violet to be the one responsible. But is it all in her head? There have been quite a few books revolving around an ‘evil’ child dividing parents but it’s done so well here. The writing is just *chef’s kiss* – raw, stunning perfection. The Push seems to have been marketed as this big twisty thriller but it’s more of a psychological drama that explores things like grief, mental health, societal expectations, and family life. It also delves into this complex and often brutal idea of motherhood in contravention of stereotypes. It’s short, memorable, crushing and so worth a read.

And now for the big one.

My favourite read of 2021 is….

*DRUMROLL*

1. If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio

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Dark academia reigns supreme this year! I have no idea how to explain why I’m so obsessed with this book, but I am. Literally, the minute I finished, I wanted to reread it. IWWV follows a group of acting students studying the works of Shakespeare at a prestigious college. Their friendships and lives implode after one of them dies under tragic and mysterious circumstances. It’s a bit pretentious but, apparently, I’m into that. The book explores the ideas of life imitating art & art imitating life. I loved the way the story was structured like a modern tragedy, the characters were designed like theatre role stereotypes, and that the plays performed tied into the group’s reality. Even though it’s a mystery/thriller, what I was most enthralled by was seeing the secrets, guilt, jealousy, and love eat away at the characters and their relationships. I loved exploring their strengths, insecurities, and desire to change the way they’re perceived. However, I really wish I were better versed in Shakespeare’s works to fully appreciate all the nuances and subtext because I’m sure there’s so much that I’m missing. Ugh, this book was just so GOOD. I loved it so much, and that’s why it takes my number one spot.


And that’s it from me for another year. I hope you’ve all had a fantastic 12 months full of wonderful books and that many, many more are in store for you in 2022.

What were your favourite reads of 2021? (So I can add them to my enormous TBR).

And That’s a Wrap 2021: Surprises and Disappointments

It’s time to move onto day 2 of my 2021 wrap up and today I’m looking back at the books I read which surprised or disappointed me. Now, I should probably explain, a book does not need to have received a super high rating to be considered a surprise and the same goes for terrible ratings and disappointment. It’s all about expectations – were they exceeded, met, missed? For example, something that I really thought I’d love could be listed as a disappointment even though it ended up with a 3 star rating. On that note, let’s get stuck in.

Lock Every Door – Riley Sager | Review

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I’ve had some varied experiences with Riley Sager’s books. So, with my reading experience of Final Girls still fresh in my memory and having read a few not exactly glowing reviews, I went into Lock Every Door with low expectations. As it turned out, I liked this a lot more than I thought I would! Yes, the concept is completely over the top and hard to believe but after deciding to go with it, I had fun. The pacing and tension were pretty good and I found myself reading most of it in one sitting. As a lead, Jules wasn’t always the sharpest but I understood her motivations and appreciated her determination. The big reveal is kind of nuts and I’ll admit, I did sit there and go ‘wtf’ for a bit but eh, rich people. For all of you who saw my least favourite reads of 2021 list: see, I do enjoy the thrillers I read from time to time.

It Happened One Summer – Tessa Bailey

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You all know I love contemporary romance but originally I didn’t intend to pick this one up. I’d never read anything by Tessa Bailey before and based on what I’d heard, I didn’t really think her books would be my thing. Plus, with this being a Schitt’s Creek inspired romance and me not exactly a fan of the show, I thought it best to skip it. However, after Chandler on Booktube raved about how much she loved it, I decided to give it a go and, to my surprise, it ended up being a 4 star read. While there were a couple of things I wasn’t so keen on (the frustrating reliance on miscommunication, male lead Brendan’s alpha tendencies, and the abundance of sexual content in the second half), I really enjoyed the plot and thought Piper & Brendan had great chemistry. A good summer read.

All of Us Villains – Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman | Review

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Considering All of Us Villains was likened to The Hunger Games with magic and a touch of Game of Thrones, you’d think I would have gone in with super high expectations. You’d be wrong! I’ve been burnt by so many of these comparisons before, especially with YA fantasy, that I’ve learned to just read the book and see how things go. In this case, though, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed myself. Was it a mind-blowing, absolutely amazing read? No, but gosh did I have fun. The characters were really well done and I had a blast with the magic. The plot had a couple of pacing problems around the middle and I wish one subplot hadn’t been included, but there were a lot of exciting elements to the competition that have me looking forward to the sequel.

The Nowhere Child – Christian White | Review

The Nowhere Child – Affirm Press

It may sound weird but, even though I’m Australian, I don’t read very many books from Australian authors. I know, bad Ashley. In the spirit of trying to improve on that, I decided to pick up the kidnapping mystery The Nowhere Child and was surprised to discover a really engaging 4 star read. White’s writing style is great and it’s so easy to read a chunk of chapters without realising it. I really liked the book’s focus on characters and their relationships as well as the use of dual timelines to unravel the mystery. There are a couple of plot points that could have been expanded on slightly and perhaps a few moments where things slowed down somewhat but overall, I really enjoyed this and will probably check out White’s other two novels in the future. Note to self: read more Oz books!


A Court of Silver Flames (ACOTAR 4#) – Sarah J. Maas

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Like many others, ACOSF was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I was so excited I bought an ebook to read while I waited for my hardback. I actually gave this 3.5 stars and generally enjoyed it but there were a lot of things that disappointed and frustrated me. Nesta & Cassian are two of my fave characters so I had high hopes for a book focused on them. However, there was such an overreliance on sex scenes to build their relationship. I love good smut but this was just gratuitous. It was also super annoying that SJM felt the need to include a Feysand storyline that kept stealing the limelight (and boy, I hated Rhysand). I really enjoyed Nesta’s journey plus the strong focus on female friendship & empowerment, but when it comes to the major plotline of the book, honestly, I could not have cared less. Basically, this did not need to be 750+ pages. I liked it but I’ll definitely be lowering my expectations for the next entry in the series.

Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked 2#) – Kerri Maniscalco | Review

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Even though I only gave KotW 3 stars, I was so excited for KotC. There were so many things to look forward to – an exciting new setting, an intriguing plot direction, and more room to build on the romance. And…I only ended up with a slightly higher 3.5 stars. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the romance in this book and the increased steam factor but the rest of the plot was confusing and messy. I’m still lost on what was going on. It felt like there were a million things happening that weren’t properly or gradually developed. My expectations regarding the setting weren’t exactly met either, mostly because we didn’t get to see much of it until the second half. Emilia, as a protagonist, also has a weird habit of flicking back and forth between being a badass and annoyingly stupid. *sigh* Guess I’ll just have to lower those expectations right on down again for book three.

Life’s Too Short – Abby Jimenez | Review

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I’d heard so many good things about Abby Jimenez’s books and the blurb for Life’s Too Short made it sound like it’d be right up my alley. Alas, it was a disappointing 2.5 star read for me. I’m okay with romances including serious topics but the tone of this one fell too much on the heavier side for my liking, especially considering it was marketed as a rom-com. Our heroine, Vanessa, had so many difficult things going on for one person and I wasn’t a fan of how the ALS storyline played out, with Vanessa continuing to believe she was dying but remaining unwilling to get a medical eval. The romance itself was okay, despite a melodramatic and cheesy climax/ending. I found it comforting and enjoyed the sexual tension, however, I didn’t fall in love with Vanessa & Adrian as characters like I have with other contemporary romances. Unfortunately, this one missed the mark for me.

A Lesson in Vengeance – Victoria Lee

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A Lesson in Vengeance is another book that, because I had such high expectations, ended up disappointing me (even though I gave it a decent rating of 3 stars). The witchy, dark academia vibes were a big part of why I picked it up and, luckily enough, the atmosphere was perfection. I enjoyed the ambiguity as to whether the supernatural elements were real or not, the relationship between leads Felicity & Ellis, and appreciated Lee’s ability to make an obvious plot twist feel unexpected for me. Where the book let me down is the historical angle. I expected there would be much more time devoted to the plot surrounding the group of so-called “witches” that died at the school and that we’d get some twists there but it was pretty lacklustre. I also found the pacing slow at times and there were elements of the story that felt unbelieveable and pretentious, even for DA. A good read but disappointing nevertheless.


Which books of those you read in 2021 were surprises and disappointments? Were any of yours the same as mine?

An Epic and Scientific Space Adventure to Save Humanity: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Would you look at that, only a few short weeks before the end of the year and here I am with a fantastic sci-fi read. Huh. Colour me shocked and impressed.

Who, What, Where?

Project Hail Mary follows Dr Ryland Grace, who mysteriously wakes up from a coma onboard a spacecraft with no memory of who is he is, how he came to be there or why. All he knows is that the rest of the crew is dead, there’s plenty of scientific equipment on hand and he’s nowhere near Earth. As Ryland slowly begins to piece together his history and mission, he discovers that he’s the only person standing between humanity and extinction.  

Get Your Science On

Let’s get the negatives out of the way. Firstly, most of the side characters are underdeveloped. They’re around for specific purposes but there isn’t much depth or attachment beyond that. Second, and more importantly, this book is really science-y. Like, really. Yes, I do realise it’s science fiction. I’m not a complete dummy. But, you don’t understand. It’s just SO science-heavy. I now know more about physics and the physiology of made-up microscopic species than I ever wanted to. To be fair, Weir does a great job trying to break down scientific theory and concepts for layman readers. Plus, it helps that his main character is a high school science teacher, accustomed to doing exactly this. Some of it is pretty interesting and a lot of it is extremely important to the story. It certainly enhanced the realism of the mission. Yet, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t paragraphs where I found myself skimming.

What in Outer Space is Going on Here?

PHM was an intense ride. That sounds weird considering there are so many stretches where the characters are conducting research or working through a problem, but it’s true. I’m sure there will be others who’ll find it snooze-worthy but, me, I was engaged in the story almost from start to finish. The plot has elements of Sunshine, The Martian, and Arrival woven into it, but it still feels like its own thing. I was hooked right from the first page and immediately intrigued by finding out what the hell was going on, why, and how Ryland of all people had ended up in this position. The first two questions are resolved without too much of a wait but the third takes far longer. I really liked the way the book’s mysteries unfolded gradually through Ryland’s discoveries and flashbacks as he remembered more and more of his past. I was also extremely invested in his efforts to solve humanity’s dilemma. The need for answers kept me flipping pages until the end, experiencing the successes and setbacks alongside the characters.

First Contact

BEWARE SPOILERS. During his mission, Ryland comes across an alien ship and ends up in a first contact situation with a being he names ‘Rocky’. I wasn’t expecting this plotline but I loved it, and the interactions between Ryland and Rocky were my favourite part of the book. It was such a wholesome and great friendship that I was willing to overlook how quickly they bridged the language barrier (I’ve seen Arrival, okay. Alien languages are complicated!). There were moments with buddy comedy vibes, which were fun, and I loved reading about the two working together and learning more about each other’s races.

Mark 2.0

As a main character, Ryland has some big similarities to The Martian’s lead, Mark Watney. Both are scientists, astronauts (technically), lone humans in remote locations, and rely on humour in their narration to lighten the mood. Admittedly, there are some differences – Ryland is a molecular biologist and generally avoids real curse words while Mark was a botanist and his favourite word was four letters long and started with an ‘F’. Ryland also gets ridiculously excited about science in a way I don’t remember Mark doing and has much more to worry about than his own survival. Regardless, if you weren’t a fan of The Martian for character reasons, you’ll likely have similar gripes here. Personally, I found Ryland easy enough to spend 500 pages with and I enjoyed his sense of humour, even though he’s terrible at naming things (or is he fantastic? It’s hard to tell).

Armageddon with a Smile

Something I really appreciated about PHM was its amusing and upbeat tone. Despite the serious nature of plot, the story doesn’t feel extremely heavy and bleak all the time. There’s hope, positivity, persistence, humour, and every time the characters hit a major speed bump, they’re disappointed, but they keep working the problem. The ending is also pretty uplifting and suited to Ryland’s character, although I do feel it could be slightly divisive.


Altogether, this was a great sci-fi read and I feel bad for putting it off for so many months. After hearing lots of not-so-positive things about Artemis and deciding to give it a miss, it’s good to know that Weir’s writing is back to the standard he set with The Martian.

4 stars

Book Tag: The Christmas Songs Tag

It’s December! The month of my favourite holiday, hurrah! And that means it’s time for a Christmas-themed book tag. This festive, Christmas music-themed tag comes from our Top Ten Tuesday guru Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. Jana actually does this tag annually and so limits her answers to those books she’s read in the past several months to keep things fresh and interesting. Just in case I also end up wanting to redo it, I thought I might do the same and stick with answering using books I’ve read in 2021 (easier said than done for some prompts, though). Here we go…

“All I Want for Christmas Is You”: Favorite Bookish Couple

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I’ve had quite a few great couples in books this year, which is wonderful, so picking one favourite is a big challenge. To avoid repeating myself in posts a bunch this month (always a problem with December wrap ups), I’m using Emilia & Wrath from the Kingdom of the Wicked series. It’s probably a super problematic pairing but eh, they’re hot together. That sexual tension just sizzles on the page. This romance is why I enjoyed Kingdom of the Cursed as much as I did because the rest of the plot is kind of a mess. I loved the conversations, the flirting, the fights…so good. Plus, the whole witch and demon prince dynamic is right up my alley.


“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”: A Book Where a Character is Away From Home (School, Vacation, Etc.)

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As you can probably tell from the title, the characters in You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry spend most of the book on a variety of different summer holidays. I know this is set in the northern hemisphere but had it been set in the southern where I live, they’d be the Christmas holidays! The book is about two best friends, Poppy & Alex, who take a trip together every year but fell out following the events of their Croatia holiday 2 years ago. After Poppy reaches out, the two agree to head to Palm Springs together, with Poppy determined to get their friendship back on track. But what if they’re meant to be more than friends?


“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”: Your Favorite “Little” Book (Children’s Book, Short Story, Novella, Etc.)

Unfortunately, I haven’t read any novellas, comics, or short stories this year but there are a few I really want to read. I’ve had This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone on my physical TBR pile for a few months now but I keep putting it off. Both volumes 2 & 3 of the Fence comic series by C S Pacat are on my shelf as well, but again, procrastination is my middle name. Also, with the next book in the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson finally out, I have three novellas to read in connection with it – Sunreach, ReDawn & Evershore. No idea when I’ll get to all of these things but hopefully sooner rather than later.


“Santa Claus is Coming to Town“: What Book(s) Do You Hope Santa Brings You This Year?

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As this question is the subject of a whole separate post for me, I’ll just list one of the books on my Christmas wish list and that’s A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir. I’ve been trying to work my way through re-reading the first three books in the Ember quartet before finally reading the last book. My progress has been pretty slow so far (as usual) but I’m hoping to finish my re-read this month, so it seemed like a good idea to ask Santa for this one. I’m really excited to see how it all ends. Hopefully it’s not too painful but considering Sabaa’s track record, I’m pretty sure I’m being set up for heartbreak.


“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: Which Book Turned Your Nose Red (Made You Cry)?

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As I’m always pointing out, I’m not a big book crier. However, there are plenty of books that have made me feel…things. Sad, gut-wrenching things. One of the books that hit hard in the feelings this year was Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy. I can’t explain too much about why without giving away major parts of the book but the story deals with themes like sexual assault, abuse, trauma, and humans’ relationship with the environment, which weigh heavily at times. In other words, it’s beautifully written but prepare to hurt.


“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”: Your Favorite Book/Kind of Book to Read During the Holidays

This is a tough one for me because I don’t really have a specific book that I tend to read around the holidays, nor do I stick to just one genre or type of read either. If I had to say anything, it’d probably be that I read a couple of romances and thrillers in the lead-up to the New Year. They’re good summer picks and perfect for binge-reading to beef up my reading stats for the year, especially if I’m behind on my goal. Even though I’m not behind this year, I know I’ll be reading some over the next few weeks.


“We Three Kings”: Your Favorite Trilogy

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As usual, it’s impossible for me to choose a singular favourite but if we’re talking trilogies, The Poppy War series by R F Kuang is easily one of my faves. Every entry has featured on my top 10 of the year posts and received either 5 or 4.5 stars. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what else is. I don’t normally read military fantasy but I should if they’re as good as these. The characters are fantastic, the world-building and magic are amazing, the pacing is spot-on, and lord, the emotions. THE EMOTIONS. This series crushed my poor heart repeatedly (especially The Burning God which I read back in January). I should probably mention it less because you guys are eventually going to get sick of hearing about it but we’ll just ignore that for now.


“Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow”: A Character You Would Love to be Snowed in With

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Weirdly enough, I’m picking a character from my current read for this – Dr Ryland Grace from Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. I’m only roughly halfway through at the moment but I’m still pretty confident about my choice. Since Ryland spends most of the book on his own, trapped on a spaceship far from Earth, I already know that he’s funny, resourceful, and makes the best of a really crappy situation (basically perfect for being snowed-in with). Plus, he’d probably teach me a bunch of fun science-related facts while we were waiting for the snow to melt. Ooo, we could do experiments! Fun!


“Last Christmas”: A Book that Seriously Let You Down

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I had a couple of options for this prompt, but The Final Girls by Riley Sager it is. I was on a sort of high after enjoying The Last Time I Lied so when I saw the blurb for this and that it involved final girls getting murdered, I was like: sign me up. However, it wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for. For a thriller, this was just so darn slow, I legit forgot what type of book I was reading. It was almost like the main plot was left to sit in the background until near the end when things finally became interesting only to let me down with the big reveal. *sigh* The characters were also somewhat of a mixed bag, although I did like the whole past & present timelines approach. Good premise, lacking execution.


“White Christmas”: An Upcoming Release You’re Dreaming About

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To avoid having my queen, R F Kuang, dominate this post by using Babel (which I’m so damn excited for), I’m going with Husband Material by Alexis Hall. This is a sequel to Boyfriend Material, which I read back in 2020 and loved. I only recently discovered the existence of this book and now I’m sitting here going: I have to wait until August, like really? WHYYYYY. The first book was so much fun and I laughed a lot, plus I shipped Oliver and Luc hard, so the fact that this follow-up could include them getting married….just gimme already.


Only a few more weeks until Christmas. Is anyone else frantically trying to get as many books read as possible before the end of the year? Or is it just me? I’m always like this in December. The logical part of my brain knows it’s silly but I do it anyway in the hopes of having a few extra books to add to my various wrap-up posts. *Sigh* I’m also currently in struggle town thinking about what presents to get people. I love this time of the year but it can also be a lot. I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying your current reads!

Making Vampires the Stuff of Nightmares Again: Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff

Until this month, I’d been waiting to read EotV for forever. Okay…in truth, it was more like a few months short of 3 years, but this led to some pretty high expectations – something I generally try to avoid for fear of heartbreak. Yet, to my complete surprise, this book managed to meet them, mostly.

Who, What, Where?

EotV is set in the world of Elidaen – an empire conquered by vampires after its sun disappeared one day twenty-seven years ago. In a prison cell, awaiting his death for murdering the vampire emperor, Silversaint Gabriel de Leon, the last of a holy order dedicated to defending humans against monsters of the night, is compelled to tell his life’s story to a vampire historian. Gabriel details his youth at the monastery of San Michon, rise to fame as a Chevalier of the realm against invading vampire forces, forbidden love, and journey with a small band of allies to find the Holy Grail, prophesised to bring an end to the eternal night.

It’s a Vampire’s World

First off, the world building in this book is fantastic! It’s complex, intriguing, intricate, and somehow JK breaks it down for the reader in ways that are easy to understand without bogging down the story. I was engaged in the world right from the very beginning and really enjoyed learning about its vampire lore and bloodlines, the Silver Order, Elidaen’s religion, and how the loss of the sun and vampire invasion affected people’s lives (a diet involving lots of potatoes, apparently). There were a couple of things raised and not fully explained but there’s got to be material left for the sequels, right? The one thing that bothered me a little was the use of random French words like ‘oui’ or ‘ma famillie’. It’s weird because the spoken language isn’t really discussed so it looks like they’re there purely to try and French-ify things.

Nevernight Vibes

I think it’s safe to say that if you loved JK’s Nevernight books it’s likely you’ll enjoy EotV. While there aren’t any footnotes (thank God), it’s similarly full of violence, revenge, corruption, foul language, moody-vibes, smut, religious themes, and emotional moments. It’s DARRRKKK. Vampires bathing in the blood of babies dark. The kind of dark and scary vampires should be. However, part of my reasoning for dropping that .5 of a star is that some of these things were slightly overdone in places. In the case of gore and violence, over time I felt myself becoming desensitised to the horror described, having read so much of it. Dead children littering the ground? Well, alrighty then! Likewise with the swearing and crassness, in that some lines came off feeling forced and excessive – we get it, they’re badasses with dirty mouths. And for the love of all that’s holy, please, no more ‘your mother/wife’ jokes. The audience is not a bunch of twelve-year-old boys.

Full Steam Ahead

There was no point while reading this book where I felt bored, and for a 700+ page novel, that’s pretty darn impressive. The plot of EotV is like if The Name of the Wind, The Witcher and The Last of Us had a threesome in a vampire nest with a twist from The Da Vinci Code thrown in. I have no idea if that sounds appealing, but it was. Gabriel’s tale switches back and forth between two different parts of his life. The first details his teenage years, during which he studied with the Silver Order and built his legend as The Black Lion. The second looks at more recent events – Gabe’s journey with a small group protecting a teenage street urchin named Dior in connection with the Holy Grail. At first, I was bothered by this structure but after seeing that it didn’t negatively impact the momentum, I realised it was a clever narrative choice. This is because it: a) stopped the book from being stuck in one place for too long, and b) allowed JK to slowly unfold certain plot elements to dramatic (and heartbreaking) effect. My only minor complaint is there were a couple of character-oriented moments in the first timeline which were summarised rather than shown to allow the book to move on to other events that I wish we’d actually seen.

A Grumpy “Hero”, Talking Sword and Scrappy Pickpocket

Talking about EotV’s characters without spoilers is a minefield, but I can safely say I liked a lot of them. Our lead, Gabriel, has been through a great deal and is akin to a more broken, bitter and arrogant Geralt of Rivia. He’s lost his faith and self-respect, and generally adopts a ‘F*** off’ attitude. While Gabe frustrated me early on, I came to understand and appreciate his interesting mix of heroic and asshole-ish qualities. His relationship with Dior was one of my favourite parts of the book and I loved seeing them come to trust and care for one another despite negative original perceptions. The surrounding cast of characters were also good but time with them was limited in some cases. A few standouts for me were Aaron, Gabe’s Silversaint nemesis turned friend; Ashdrinker, Gabe’s crazy, talking sword; Bellamy, basically Dandelion from The Witcher but more battle adept; and of course, Dior, our locking picking, smart-mouthed dynamo.  

Magical Illustrations

It would be a crime not to mention the stunning illustrations by Bon Orthwick in this book. As someone who doesn’t see books play out like movies in their head, these artworks truly enhanced my reading experience and helped me to feel and visualise scenes. HOWEVER, that one piece – you’ll know when the time comes – how DARE you squash my heart like that?


As I’m sure you already know, I had a blast reading this crazy, bloody, vampire ride of a paperweight and I’ll be looking forward to the next book in the series, whenever it finally makes an appearance.

4.5 Stars

Note: Thank you to Harper Collins AU and Netgalley for a large sampler of this book which allowed me to get started early!

Monstrous Genius: The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

The People in the Trees is a ridiculously difficult book for me to rate and review. Although it’s only around 360 pages long, it took more than two and a half months for me to finish and sent me into a book slump for most of June. So, do I blame the book or myself? The fact that I managed to read the last 130 pages in the space of around 2-3 days probably suggests option B but honestly, who knows. I guess the more important question is, is it possible to be impressed by a book and still dislike it?

Who, What, Where?

TPITT tells the story of scientist Dr. Norton Perina, who in 1950 signs on to an anthropological expedition to the remote Micronesian island of Ivu’ivu searching for a rumored lost tribe. They successfully locate the tribe only to also discover a group of exiled jungle dwellers they call “The Dreamers,” people who seem to be fantastically long-lived but with signs of mental degradation. Perina suspects the source of their “immortality” to be the consumption of a rare turtle. Unable to resist the scientific implications, he kills one and smuggles its meat back to America. He proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame and a Nobel Prize, but soon learns that the turtle’s gift comes at a price. As things spiral beyond his control, Perina finds that his discovery brings a terrible cost for the islanders and sets him down a path with a monstrous destination.

Am I Engaged or Bored?

As I was reading this, there were moments where I was highly engaged in what was happening. Yet, there were also many others during which I was bored stiff and seriously considered DNF-ing (I almost did but it ended up just being a month long break). TPITT is written in the form of a non-fiction memoir – something I don’t read much of. While my copy looked reasonably short from the outside, I soon discovered that it was often dense, involved plenty of footnotes, and, as with any real person’s life story, had several snooze-worthy periods (in particular, the first 70 pages detailing Norton’s life before Micronesia). Sure, much of the information included was essential to the believability of Norton’s story and his voice as an arrogant, asshole scientist, but as a reader there were so many things that I did not give two craps about.

Hello, Darkness

I read Yanagihara’s A Little Life in 2020 and, despite it’s difficult themes, I loved it. I knew to expect similarly dark topics with this book but reading TPITT felt like a different kind of unsettling and uncomfortable. Animal cruelty, traces of misogyny, graphic child rape, colonialism – this isn’t a feelgood story or “easy” read in the slightest, especially when it comes to its bleak epilogue. I don’t usually have too much of a problem with this sort of thing, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times where I felt something ugly twisting in the pit of my stomach.

A Triumph of Style & Voice

Now, you’re probably wondering why it’s so difficult for me to rate TPITT. Why not just hit 1 star and move on with my day? Well, there are a few other important things to note. The first being, this book is an amazing example of narrative style and voice. Norton may be an awful human being to view the world through the eyes of, but gosh does Yanagihara perfectly capture the tone, focus, unreliability and language of her narrator from start to finish. The book is extensively researched, detail rich, and entirely believable as the memoir of a disgraced Nobel Prize-winning scientist, written from the confines of his prison cell. Part of this is likely due to the story drawing heavily from the life of deeply problematic scientist Carleton Gajdusek. The prose itself is also undeniably stunning at points, a reminder of Yanagihara’s talent for beautiful descriptions and exposition which, without warning, drills right to your emotional core.

The Rape of the Natural World

The other major reason for my conflict is the book’s approach toward certain issues. These include: colonialism/westernisation, the destruction of the environment, weighing someone’s contributions to society against who they are as a person, and humanity’s selfish, single-minded pursuit of scientific discovery. These are all key themes in TPITT and whilst I may not have enjoyed its story, I believe it explores these ideas in effective, impactful ways which continue to encourage me to think about and discuss them. When I consider the novel, my mind is always drawn back to Norton’s return to Ivu’ivu after his discoveries are made public to the international community. The devastation this knowledge wreaks on the island’s culture, flora, fauna, economy and people will never cease to be heartbreaking.


The People in the Trees was a challenging read in more ways than one and, even now, I find myself thinking about it. Maybe that’s just the power of Hanya Yanagihara. While this may not have been the book for me, I understand why others have rated it so highly and can’t help but admire it as a piece of literary fiction.

2.5 Stars

My Favourite Reads of 2021 (So Far)

Once again, we’ve hit July and that means another half year has bit the dust. For the last few years I’ve made a habit out of doing a mid-year favourites post. It’s something I really enjoy because not only does it allow me to look back at the amazing books I’ve loved the most over the last six months, but it’s interesting to compare it with my end of year top 10 rankings. Some books manage to remain among my best of the best while others get knocked out by other fantastic reads. It’s a book eat book world out there, guys.

In 2021 so far I’ve read 30 books and I’ll admit, this is less than what I was hoping or expecting to be at by now. The main reason is that I hit a major slump around early May and my reading over the last two months has been abysmal. Up until yesterday, the last book I’d finished was around June 2nd. Fingers crossed I manage to snap out of it soon and better things are in store for July. As it stands, I currently have 5 books on this list. It’s not a lot but I can genuinely say I loved reading each of these. In no particular order, they are:

The Burning God – R F Kuang

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To say I was looking forward to this book’s release is an understatement, so there were definitely some high expectations there. To my relief, although there were a few plotlines I wish had been handled slightly better/differently, I wasn’t disappointed. This final installment secured The Poppy War Series as one of my absolute favourites. The Burning God was a complete emotional rollercoaster and ended in such a dramatic way that I almost couldn’t process the gravity and scale of what had happened. It again really drove home the brutal realities of war and reminded readers that there are never any true victors. The writing was fantastic and the story and characters remained compelling. Memorable right to the very end. I can’t wait to read whatever Kuang does next.


If We Were Villains – M. L. Ro

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I didn’t expect to fall in love with this book the way that I did. I really should have though considering its similarities to The Secret History but with Shakespeare instead of classical history. It follows a group of acting students whose friendships and lives start to destruct after one of them dies under tragic and dark circumstances. I was completely enthralled by this and got so invested in the characters (especially Oliver & James) who are designed like theater role stereotypes. The structure of the novel itself is so fantastically done as well and I really wish I had more knowledge of Shakespeare’s works so I could’ve appreciated all the little nuances even more. I regret not writing a proper review for this now. However, I did try at the time and had so much difficulty putting my thoughts into words. I’m sure I’ll reread it in the future so maybe then!


The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter

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The Good Daughter was my first introduction to Karin Slaughter’s books and I understand why she’s so popular because this was fantastically done. It’s technically a crime novel but the strength of the book is in its characters, particularly the two MCs, Sam & Charlie. They’re complex, well written and I really liked the way the book slowly dug into the childhood trauma surrounding their mother’s death and how this affected them into adulthood. The pacing is good and the ending is sastisfying, which is always nice for a novel like this. It’s definitely on the more dark and violent side of things, but I didn’t have a problem with it. I’ll 100% be trying out some of Slaughter’s other works.


The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

The Heart's Invisible Furies | Rakuten Kobo Australia

I picked up The Heart’s Invisible Furies based on recommendations made because I loved A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. While the two books are very different, I ended up loving this all the same. The book follows Cyril, a gay man living in Ireland in the decades before the legalisation of homosexuality. It wasn’t what I expected but in a great way, mostly due to the writing which has this magical blend of comedy and tragedy. It’s super quirky and absurd at times but it works. I also have a thing for books which follow characters over lengthy periods of their lives and this fits into that category. Because of the time jumps I did feel a little like I had missed out on things sometimes but was able to move past it quickly. I wish I’d gotten to know certain characters better to properly appreciate their big emotional moments but regardless, this was amazing and I’ve already got several of Boyne’s other books lined up to read.


Twice Shy – Sarah Hogle

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This book was so sweet and uplifting, and it’s cemented Sarah Hogle as an auto-buy author for me. It does get a bit corny and odd at times but you can’t help but love it anyway. The story is another version of the forced proximity trope and involves our leads co-inheriting a large house, then working to fix it up together. The characters are super loveable – dreamer, romantic Maybell & anxious, vulnerable Wesley – and really wonderful together. They have this lovely and gradual journey to understanding each other which I loved and they deal with their issues in such a healthy, non-frustrating way. There’s less banter and humour than in Hogle’s debut but that’s completely fine. Definitely recommended for those with Covid or mid-week blues.


Help me defeat my slump! Recommend me one of your favourite reads of 2021 so far and tell me why you enjoyed it so much.

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?

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