Unexpected Roommates, Self-Partnering and a Han Solo Look-a-Like: One Night on the Island by Josie Silver (ARC)

A trip to a beautiful, remote Irish island with barely any people, an abundance of cake, and a hot photographer who bears a resemblance to a young Harrison Ford? Sign me up! After really enjoying Josie Silver’s One Day in December a few years ago, I was really excited to give One Night on the Island a read but, sadly, this wasn’t the romance for me.

Who, What, Where?

ONotI follows Cleo and Mack, two strangers who travel to Salvation Island in the hopes of finding some peace and quiet, and their creative muses. Cleo, a dating columnist and aspiring novelist dreading her 30th birthday, has been sent by her editor to do a feminist piece about self-coupling involving marrying herself. Meanwhile, Mack, a talented photographer with the charm and looks of Han Solo, has been struggling with the separation from his wife and being a good father to his boys. He hopes that visiting his grandmother’s hometown will bring him some perspective and comfort. The problem is, both Cleo & Mack claim to be staying at Otter Lodge. With boats to the mainland delayed due to bad weather and each person stubbornly resistant to leaving, they decide to bunker down together for the next few weeks and make the most of the situation.  

Less Romance, More Individual Journey

Part of the problem I had in gelling with ONotI is that I went into it with a misunderstanding about the type of novel it was. When I read One Day in December, I was very clear on the assignment: romantic drama. Yet, the setup and blurb for this book made me think it would be more in line with a romantic comedy. While it does have elements you’d find in a rom-com e.g. only one bed, that’s not what it is. I would even go so far as to say the romance isn’t the focus of the book. It’s more about the individual journeys of two characters who just happen to fall for one another while on their way to other things. This isn’t a criticism, but something to keep in mind if you’re hoping for an intense romance read.

Three’s a Crowd

Speaking of the romance, unfortunately, it didn’t really work for me. I have two main reasons for this. First, it didn’t feel as though Cleo and Mack spent enough quality time together to really justify the depth of their feelings. Second, I had trouble reconciling their relationship with Mack’s marriage situation. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Mack being separated from his wife and this being his first romantic interaction since. However, it’s tough to root for a couple when the male lead is not over his wife and the marriage itself is still ending. One thing I did quite like was the ‘reveal three things’ exchanges between Cleo and Mack throughout the novel. I thought it was super endearing and worked well in showing us the two getting to know one another.

Lacklustre First Impressions

When it comes to the characters themselves, the first few chapters were rocky. Cleo is rude to Mack before there’s any real reason to be and I found it bizarre that Mack somehow thought his distant relative saying he could crash at the cottage trumped Cleo’s booked and paid for vacation. Still, they grew on me a little with time, despite Cleo’s occasionally childish antics. Something I wish had been toned down a little, though, was the immense focus on Mack as a father which dominated a lot of the story and his characterisation. I completely understood why being a good parent was so important to him but it felt repetitive and overwhelming at times.

Take me to Salvation Island!

My favourite part of ONotI was the setting. Salvation was such a lovely, peaceful (despite the weather) and isolated place, and it was so easy for me to imagine Otter Lodge in all its cosy, cottagecore comfort. By halfway, I was ready to pack my bags and head to Ireland in search of a quiet spot where I, too, could scream like a maniac knowing no one would hear me and only get decent reception on a random rock at the top of a seaside hill. I also liked the addition of the small handful of Salvation locals with their knitting circle, packed to bursting pub on trivia night and welcoming nature. Although, I wish that these characters had been better developed as they did feel weak outside of group settings.

Self-Partnering?

On Cleo’s self-marriage journey, I’m torn. The marriage itself felt silly but I was very supportive of the ideas of self-love and self-partnering behind it and appreciated the sense of freedom and empowerment it instilled in Cleo. However, I can’t help feeling like this was an odd storyline to include alongside Cleo’s romance with Mack. This is mainly because, for me, it wasn’t able to properly find momentum until Mack departed the island, giving Cleo the time and solitude to think about her life and make some big changes. Then there’s the fact that the book literally includes a scene in which Cleo lists three things she fell in love with during her trip and, even with all the talk of self-love, she still ranks herself below Mack. It’s just a bit of a vibe clash.


Despite this not being my cup of tea, I can still see myself reading more of Josie Silver’s books in the future. The things that didn’t work for me here were subjective so I definitely recommend giving One Night on the Island a read if you’ve liked Silver’s previous books or if it catches your eye.

2 Stars

Thank you to Penguin & Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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?

Getting Hot and Heavy in Hell: Kingdom of the Cursed by Kerri Maniscalco

It might seem strange considering I only gave the first book in this series 3 stars, but I was super pumped for Kingdom of the Cursed. I honestly thought this would be the case of a sequel blowing book one out of the water. As it turned out, yes, I enjoyed it more, but at the same time I can’t help feeling like my weirdly high expectations are on the train to disappointment city right now.

Who, What, Where?

KotC kicks off almost immediately after the end of KotW, with Emilia travelling to Hell and taking up residence in Wrath’s kingdom while she prepares to fulfil the bargain she made to marry his brother, Pride. However, when cryptic messages start showing up in her chambers, she begins searching for answers as to what really happened to her sister and the nature of the curse binding the Devil. She comes to believe that locating certain magical objects will assist her in discovering the truth, but as a mortal navigating the dangers of hell, nothing is easy.

Upping the Steam Factor 

The direction and vibe of this book was very different from what I was expecting. KotW was a mix of mystery, romance and fantasy, and I assumed the sequel would be the same. Instead, the first half of KotC is pretty much a straight-up romance novel. A Hades-Persephone type one. Other plotlines pop up eventually but it takes a while before the book deals with anything outside of Emilia and Wrath’s relationship. Also surprising is the series’ sudden jump from slightly sexy YA to Sarah J. Maas-ish New Adult, complete with swearing and a smorgasbord of explicit sexual content. I’m talking parties with orgy buffets. Personally, I enjoy adult romances and believe loosening the content shackles here suits the story better but I’m positive there’ll be fans of KotW who will find this change jarring.

All About that Angsty Romance

I thought the romance in this book was great. Angsty, but pretty darn hot. It’s largely why I rated it what I did and probably higher than I should have, but anything that can get me turning pages that freakin’ quickly gets bonus points. I really enjoyed Emilia and Wrath’s conversations, flirting and occasional fights. It was also nice seeing the relationship evolve as Emilia became more confident in her sexuality and we learned about Wrath & his world. However, I have to mention the black mark that is chapter 17 *sigh*. (BEWARE SPOILERS) During this chapter, Wrath tries to train Emilia to resist the magical influence of his brothers in preparation for a social event. This involves mind control antics that left me with an icky feeling. I might have been able to forgive it had it assisted Emilia later on but nope. While I wish this scene had been cut, it didn’t ruin the book for me so I’m going to carry on and hope the author avoids this type of thing in the future.

Plot Confusion

When it comes to the non-romance plotlines, I have one word for my feelings: confused. Magical artefacts, a magic tree, talking skulls spouting riddles, witch-goddesses, the devil’s curse, the original witch, the witch murders in KotW, the crone…I’m exhausted listing it all. There’s just so much to keep track of, link and contextualise, especially considering most of it doesn’t come into play until the second half. I’m still lost on parts of the ending as well but, then again, I felt similarly about KotW so, what’s new? I really wish these elements had been introduced earlier and developed gradually with more of a mystery/investigative trajectory (like book 1) to better serve the dramatic reveals. I can see the potential, it’s just muddled.

I’ll See You in Hell

Going into this, one of the things I was most excited for was the new setting. I really liked atmospheric Sicily, but Hell?! How could I resist? Different Princes’ courts, demons, plotting, backstabbing…GIMME. In the end, though, I was a little let down on this front. The first half of the book is spent almost entirely between two locations – a passage called the Sin corridor, which Emilia and Wrath traverse on entry to Hell, and Wrath’s castle. As you can probably guess, this wasn’t the exciting and cutthroat backdrop I’d been hoping for. However, once the characters finally started to move around the map somewhat, I had much more fun, despite only really getting to see Envy and Greed’s Houses. Fingers crossed we’ll get further expansion on the world in book three.  

Extra Random Comments

  • Why are there so many clothing descriptions? I love pretty dresses but there comes a point where it becomes overkill.
  • Once again, Emilia flicks back and forth between badass and complete idiot. I still have no idea if I like her or want to yell at her.
  • How Emilia loves romance novels yet has no idea what oral sex is will never cease to confuse me. Then again, maybe she’s just reading Pride & Prejudice type stuff.

Although not one of my favourite series, I’ll definitely be checking out the last Kingdom of the Wicked book when it releases. Not going to lie, it’s pretty much entirely for the romance. Make of that what you will.

3.5 Stars

Searching for Life’s Silver Lining: Beautiful World, Where Are You? by Sally Rooney

Beautiful World, Where Are You? is quintessential Sally Rooney. If someone had handed me this book with absolutely no information whatsoever, I’d be able to pick the author within minutes. In other words, if you already love her work, you’ll probably like this and if you don’t, reading it isn’t going to change your mind.

Who, What, Where?

In small-town Ireland, successful and disillusioned novelist Alice meets warehouse worker Felix, and, despite a rocky start to their interactions, she invites him to join her on a work-related trip to Rome. Meanwhile, in Dublin, Alice’s best friend Eileen is getting over a breakup and falls back into flirting with her emotionally closed-off childhood friend, and long-time crush, Simon. And so, the four attempt to navigate sex, love, friendship, loneliness, careers, and life in general, in a world that it can often be difficult to see the beauty and meaning in.

Email Essays

I loved the structure of BWWAY. The majority of chapters are written in third person, usually from the POV of either Alice and Eileen, and the narrative shifts back and forth between the two through emails they send one other. These transitions were very smooth and really helped shape the connection between the characters, even though they weren’t physically together. However, I wasn’t a fan of some of the content of these emails. Part of the time A & E discuss their relationships, careers, families, etc., which I really liked, but the rest they spend philosophising about random topics like the nature of beauty or human relationships. I’ll admit, I zoned out during some of these musings, mainly because they’re not really what I signed up for and some of them are pretty lengthy. In the past, I’ve heard Rooney’s characters accused of being pretentious and unrealistic, something I normally go ‘eh, whatever’ to, but during these sections I could understand the criticism.

Imperfect Characters

As with Rooney’s other novels, the characters in Beautiful World aren’t the most easily likeable at first glance (Felix, especially). They’re frustratingly bad at communicating, say hurtful things just to be shitty, have a tendency toward self-involvement, frequently overlook their privilege, and the women feel heavy-handed on the ‘aren’t-I-intellectual’ side. And still, they grew on me – not immensely but more than enough to feel for them. I’m slightly confused as to how, but I think it has something to do with them all being relatably flawed messes. Like us, they have moments of weakness, say things they regret, and have trouble expressing their feelings, or hold back from doing so out of fear of change or rejection. It’s all about their idiosyncrasies, and I enjoyed exploring their desires, fears, hopes and hurts over the course of the book.

What’s a Quotation Mark?

All I’ll say about the writing is: it’s Sally Rooney. Expect dialogue without quotation marks, densely packed pages of text, instances of unnecessary descriptive detail, and passages that seem simple but upon reflection paint the loveliest picture. One of my favourites was this from Alice:

“When I try to picture for myself what a happy life might look like, the picture hasn’t changed very much since I was a child – a house with flowers and trees around it, and a river nearby, and a room full of books, and someone there to love me, that’s all. Just to make a home there, and to care for my parents when they grow older. Never to move, never to board a plane again, just to live quietly and then be buried in the earth.”

More About Who Than What

Rooney’s books have always been more about characters than plot, and it’s the same here. Yet, in both Conversations and Normal People I feel as though there were more personal events going on in the lives of the characters alongside their relationships to maintain a sense of momentum. In Beautiful World, aside from an early trip to Rome and some minor drama during a visit to Alice, it seemed to be much more about the ebb and flow of the core relationships. While this subtle approach to the story was nice, I wish there’d been more to it at times, perhaps drawing on Eileen’s family issues, Alice’s mental health struggles, Simon’s difficulty opening up to others, or Felix’s past, all of which felt slightly underexplored.

Messy Relationships

When it comes to the relationships, for the most part, I enjoyed them. They’re weird, awkward and unpleasant at times, but also written so intimately. Gestures, lingering looks, small conversational exchanges, words unspoken…it’s strangely addictive and somewhat mesmerising. I sat there turning page after page, wondering whether the two romances would work out (despite being more interested in one than the other) and if Alice and Eileen’s friendship would survive the distance. In the end, I was satisfied with the outcomes and found myself smiling during the book’s final email epilogues.

Millennial Voice

Rooney has often been labelled a writer for millennials and that’s mainly because she relatably and succinctly captures so many of their experiences, aspirations, and fears in her work. Beautiful World continues this trend and looks at things such as: navigating modern romantic relationships, loneliness and the difficulty of making new friends as an adult, feelings of failure associated with comparing yourself to others who are seemingly thriving, and the difficulty of juggling life, work and relationships alongside mental health struggles. As with Rooney’s previous works, I can certainly say that I felt seen at multiple points reading this and I know others will feel similarly.


While Beautiful World, Where Are You? wasn’t the five-star read I’d been hoping for, it was an enjoyable, if flawed, reading experience. If you’re new to Sally Rooney this may not be the best entry to her work, but if you’re looking for something slower, quiet, and thoughtful which focuses on the complex nature of people’s relationships, perhaps pick this one up.

3.5 Stars

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

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

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

Twice Shy – Sarah Hogle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Life’s Too Short – Abby Jimenez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who, What, Where?

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

Too Fast, Too Slow

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

All About that Atmosphere

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

Witch/Detective/Chef

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

Not So Fairy Tale Prince

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

No Rest for the Wicked

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

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


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

3 stars

Book Tag: The Romance Tropes Tag (Original)

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

Note:

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

RED, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston

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

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

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

Chain of Gold – Cassandra Clare

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

Layla – Colleen Hoover

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

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

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

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

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

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

Kingdom of the Wicked – Kerri Maniscalco

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy: Twilight – Stephenie Meyer

Twilight (Twilight, #1) by Stephenie Meyer

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Prompts:

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

Threaten, Flirt and Repeat: A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout

To those who said this book was better than the first, you lied. I feel betrayed. Prepare yourselves for an unpopular opinion. A VERY unpopular opinion,

Plot, Wherefore Art Thou?

I have no idea how to talk about the plot of AKoFaF. If I had to sit down and write a summary, I wouldn’t know where to start because, aside from an early kidnapping attempt and a mild skirmish while travelling, almost NOTHING happens for most of the book. While From Blood and Ash had a few action-filled and dramatic events to keep things engaging, this book mostly feels like a million pages of Poppy talking (and “not talking”) to Casteel and side characters. When that’s not happening, it’s pages of inner monologuing about the same tedious things until you want to stab someone. Things start to pick up around 75%, or maybe a bit more, but by the time I was finally interested in what was happening, the book was over.

Keep the Tropes Rolling

I mentioned in my review of FBaA that it was a trope-filled bonanza. Well, it keeps on going in AKoFaF. Clearly JLA couldn’t handle missing a couple in book one. As a result, we get the soulmates, here comes the cavalry, and fake dating tropes. Now, I normally love fake dating but its use here was not only annoying but unnecessary. As we all know, the point of this trope is that by two characters pretending to love one another they actually do fall for each other. My issue is that Casteel and Poppy already love each other. That’s what the first book was for! So this whole ‘fake it til you make it’ layer to their relationship only serves to add frustrating, silly drama and makes Poppy spend ages questioning everything Cas does or says.

More Romance, Less Fantasy

While FBaA felt mostly balanced between romance and fantasy, AKoBaB is more the former. If you were disappointed by the number of steamy scenes in book one, there are certainly more here. A couple feel same-same in the middle, but overall they range from very decent to hot. The whole vampire aspect of the romance is played up more this time, too, which I was super happy about (just give the people want they want, alright?). Yet, I did find that the other interactions between Poppy and Cas got tedious as the book went on, mostly because their exchanges are so damn repetitive, even more so than in book one. Half the time it feels like JLA has hit copy & paste and changed one or two words of dialogue in the hopes we won’t notice.

Cliffhanger Ending

By about 65% of the way through this book, I just wanted it to be over. I was also almost positive that I wouldn’t bother to read book 3. And then…the last couple of chapters came. *sigh*. Damn you, JLA. Why couldn’t the rest of the book be as interesting as the last 20%? WHY? The reveal at the end is predictable as all hell and still, I was like YES, PLOT DRAMA. GIVE IT TO ME. Unfortunately, now my brain keeps thinking it wants to read the next book. Good, God.

Pluck Poppy

Poppy tested my patience in this book. She really did. Her personality can now be narrowed down to just two things – is violent and asks a lot of questions. I also find it ridiculously frustrating that, despite her empathic abilities, she’s a blockhead when it comes to understanding other people’s motivations and feelings. The cherry on top: her repetitive, constant and lengthy internal ramblings which made me want to scream by the end. Just figure your shit out already, girl.

Something I actually liked was that one of the plot points in this book deals with Poppy’s powers beginning to evolve. The reasoning is vague but we’ll allow it. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll be able to guess where that leads us by the end. This plotline really doubles down on the super special protagonist trope but because it feels like the natural progression for Poppy’s story to take (especially since people treat her like a super special snowflake anyway) I’m cool with it.

Other Random Thoughts:

  • Kieran is easily my favourite character. What a bro. His relationship with Poppy is cute, too.
  • I can’t help finding it really weird that Poppy feels people’s emotions as flavours. Like, why?
  • Why is it that people like Poppy or will like Poppy just because she’s stabbed Casteel? Um, how much do you people hate Cas? Poor guy.
  • “Heartmates”. Ugh. Had I been drinking something, I would have spat it all over my kindle.
  • Poppy and Cas getting it on in the back of a carriage right in the middle of a battle was a bit of a WTF moment. Like guys, to quote Kourtney Kardashian: “Kim, there’s people that are dying.”

A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire is longer than it should be, mostly filler, and loses some of the funner elements I liked about the first book. After everything I’ve just said, I wish I could say I won’t be continuing with the series but that would probably be a lie because, clearly, I hate myself.

1.5 stars

Vampire Romance Makes a Comeback: From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

I may not be twelve anymore (thank god), but for some reason my ears still prick up at the mention of ‘vampire romance’. I can’t help it. It’s like my brain’s been programmed against my will. So, you’ll understand why this + ‘most hyped romance of 2020’ lead to me giving into FOMO and reading From Blood and Ash.

Who, What, Where?

Our protagonist is Poppy, ‘The Maiden’ and chosen of the Gods. Poppy lives her life with strict restrictions on how she dresses and behaves as she waits for the day of her Ascension – a mysterious ritual that will supposedly secure the future of the Kingdom. However, Poppy longs to experience life outside her limited bubble and is drawn to activities and interests that risk her being found unworthy. After a kidnapping attempt, she’s assigned a new guard, the attractive and alluring Hawke who’s like no one she’s ever met before and makes her rethink her destiny. But when things inside the castle turn deadly and a fallen kingdom rises, determined to retake what was lost at any cost, Poppy begins to question whether everything in her world is what it seems.

You get a Trope! And YOU Get a Trope!

If you’re looking for something original, keep walking. However, if you’re a reader who eats tropes for breakfast, step this way. I knew going into this it’d be trope heavy, just not this heavy. Honestly, I wish I’d had a bingo card. Let’s start a list, shall we? Hidden/growing powers, dead parents, “The Dark One”, the servant confidant, ‘Not Like Other Girls’, the chosen one, a secret identity, forbidden romance, the virginal MC and experienced love interest…there’s more, but I’ll stop here.

Don’t Need a Crystal Ball to Predict This One

Tying in with what I said about the book’s reliance on tropes, From Blood and Ash is very predictable. Even going into this 100% blind, I guarantee you’ll work out all the major plot reveals from a mile away. Unfortunately, you then have to sit through the rest of the book questioning why characters (*cough* Poppy *cough*) are so freakin’ stupid that they can’t work it out themselves.

The Maiden & The Guard

In terms of our leads, Poppy is, for lack of a better word, okay. I love the fact that she knows how to kick ass and I do sympathise with her difficulties, but she also feels annoyingly young at times and extremely dense when it comes to seeing things right in front of her face. Hawke feels like many of the fantasy love interests I’ve seen before (especially if you’re a SJM fan). He’s generally likeable, has some depth, but he’s nothing new.

For the most part, I enjoy Poppy and Hawke’s relationship. It’s banter-y, fun, sexy and I love the scenes where they physically face off. Yet, there are a couple of things that bother me. First, Hawke does verge into toxic ‘alpha male’ territory at times and second, there are a few moments where their interactions verge on forced. For example, Poppy says something, and Hawke just has to give an arrogant/teasing/sexy reply even though it doesn’t really suit. They also weirdly have a couple of the same exchanges repeatedly (‘You’re so violent, it turns me on’, ‘There’s something seriously wrong with you’, ‘You love it’). I know they’re supposed to be in jokes but it’s a lot.

Steam Up Those Windows

No complaints here. If you’re in this book for some solid smuttiness just know that you’ll have to wait a long time to get there but it’s worth it. Also, bonus points for actually mentioning contraception. Woo!

Questionable World Building

Ah, world building. I wish I could say this book doesn’t fall into the trap of dumping boring bits of information on you in heaps right from the beginning, but I can’t, and it does. There’s even a chapter in which Poppy reads passages from a history textbook *face palm*. Even with these infodumps, I was mighty confused for a while. It’s probably all the terms – Rise, Rite, Ascension, Atlantians, Descenters, Ascended, Wolven…lord, help me.

This aside, there are elements that I liked. I just wish they’d been handled better than coming together at the end. I enjoyed the idea of the three different types of “vampires” and the distinctions between them – bloodthirsty traditional vampires, not-so traditional vampires, and the vicious, zombie-like Craven. I also enjoyed the reveal of the history between the Atlantians & the Ascended, although it does paint a very basic good vs evil scenario.

Pacing

The pacing in this book is messy at points. While the opening scenes which take place at a gambling den/brothel are engaging, following this, things get slow and take some time to pick up again. After this point though, I found the story pretty addictive and raced through to the end. The latter chapters, however, is where things get out of sorts again, slowing down and speeding up in a weird mish-mash of events that left me feeling serious whiplash and confusion.

Writing Issues

There were a couple of things that bugged me about the writing as I was reading:

  • Ellipses. I’m probably a hypocrite saying this, but boy were they overused in this book.
  • JLA has a weird habit of repeating the exact same information about something in dialogue and Poppy’s thoughts, almost word for word, very close together. It’s bizarre and unnecessary.
  • For a high fantasy book, the language used by the characters is extremely modern. It does make the book more digestible, but the idea of characters using words like ‘totally’ and ‘whatever’ in this context is disorienting.
  • Two words, ‘female’ and ‘male’. Just no. JLA you’re banned from reading Ms Maas.

Now, the two big questions, do I think this book deserves the hype and best romance of 2020? No x 2. Still, despite my massive amounts of complaining, I didn’t mind From Blood and Ash. It’s not amazing or revolutionary but it’s addictive, fun and a good way to shut your brain off. With this in mind, I’ll be reading the sequel.

2.5 Stars

2021 TBR: 24 Books I Want to Read in 2021

A new year, a new probably unrealistic list of books I’d like to tackle before the end of the year. In 2020 I set myself a list of 30 books I wanted to read from a bunch of different genres. I ended up only reading…well, 14 of them. Er, yeah. It could have been better. Anyway, here’s hoping that this year is more productive and less subject to intense shifts in my reading mood.

  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte: I bought a Penguin faux leather copy of this and it’s too pretty not to be read. Hopefully I like it a lot more than I did Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier: I’ve been putting this off for YEARS. Now that I’ve watched an adaptation, I feel I really, really need to finally read the book.
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott: Yes, this book was on my 2020 list. Yes, it’s here again.
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson: Lately I’ve been wanting to try my hand at writing a ghost story. I should probably see how one of the experts does it.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benhamin Alire Saenz: I’ve heard so many amazing things about this book and it sounds so good.
  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne: Heaps of positive reviews, an interesting sounding blurb and recommended for those who liked A Little Life (which I did). Please don’t make me cry.
  • Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami: I tried reading 1Q84 many years ago and found it super weird. This is supposedly less so. I might hate it, might love it. Trying it for something different.
  • The Comeback – Ella Berman: There’s something intriguing about this book. It just seems like something I’d like. Plus very topically relevant in today’s day & age.
  • If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio: I read The Secret History back in 2020 and really liked it. This has been regularly recommend as being similar in feel. Yay, dark academia & murder!
  • The Boy From the Woods – Harlan Coben: I came across TBFtW while perusing the GR Choice awards noms. I do enjoy a good mystery from time to time and this one certainly sounds exciting.
  • The Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager: It’s bizarre, I am so keen on reading Sager’s books despite having this nagging feeling that I won’t love them. This one is set at a camp which is cool yet creepy.
  • A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson: This is my next stop in the search for an amazing YA crime/thriller book. I’ve been burnt before but reviews have been great so fingers crossed!
  • To Sleep in a Sea of Stars – Christopher Paolini: The size is definitely intimidating but as if I’m going to pass up new Paolini, and an interesting sounding one with a gorgeous cover at that.
  • Dark Age (Red Rising 5#) – Pierce Brown: You guys already know how much I love this series. I FINALLY read Iron Gold last year so that means it’s time for Dark Age. I’m preparing my heart.
  • Ready Player Two – Ernest Cline: Reviews on this one haven’t been great but a) I got it for Christmas and b) I really liked the first book. So we’re doing it in 2021.
  • The Midnight Library – Matt Haig: The Goodreads Choice Awards Fiction winner for 2020! This book sounds so good and I’m almost 100% positive that I’m going to love it.
  • The Burning God (The Poppy War 3#) – R F Kuang: I’m legit obsessed with this series. Book two was my favourite read of 2020 and I’m SO keen for the last book. Pain is coming, I can tell.
  • Piranesi – Susanna Clarke: Shiny foiling on covers, I can’t resist it. Piranesi sounds super different from other things I’ve read in recent years and I’ve seen some amazing reviews, too.
  • The Well of Ascension (Mistborn 2#) – Brandon Sanderson: I have a sudden desire to go back to this series (blame Skyward maybe?). I read The Final Empire back in 2015 but for some reason didn’t continue onward. I’ll have to reread it before tackling TWoA but I’m really looking forward to it.
  • Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett: I’ve had Foundryside on my radar for a while now and I think it’s finally the time. Magic, politics, a heist, adventure…sign me up!
  • Layla – Colleen Hoover: It’s been hit or miss with Colleen Hoover reads, but I like the sound of this. Hopefully it’s more Verity & It Ends with Us than Confess. I also got it for $2 on kindle, SCORE.
  • The Two Lives of Lydia Bird – Josie Silver: The concept for this sounds kind of weird but I enjoyed Josie Silver’s One Day in December so I’m keen to give this a whirl.
  • From Blood and Ash – Jennifer L. Armentrout: Blame the hype. I have to see what people are talking about. I’m sure it’ll be tropey and cringey to the max but the FOMO is too intense.
  • Today, Tonight, Tomorrow – Rachel Lynn Solomon: This looks like a solid ya rom-com. It also features enemies to lovers (= my crack). I’m worried about rushed development because of the time frame but we shall see.

What’s on your list of backlist books to read in 2021?