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?

The Marks We Leave Behind: The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue by V. E. Schwab

I wanted to love this book. I was prepared to love this book. In the end, I…liked this book.

The only way I can describe what I’m feeling is to say that it’s like meeting someone with the qualities that should make them your soulmate but no matter how hard you try, the chemistry is missing. So, as much as it pains me, I’m friend-zoning The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue.

Who, What, Where?

The premise of TILoALR is great. Even after being disappointed in elements of its execution, I maintain that I love the concept of this book. The story follows a girl named Adeline who grows up in a small village in 15th century France. Not content with simply being married off, birthing babies, and never seeing anything of the world, Addie makes a deal with a mysterious god of darkness. Immortality in exchange for her soul. The catch, however, is that no one retains their memories of her once she leaves their sight. As you can imagine, this creates a freeing yet difficult and lonely existence. Things take an unexpected turn when in 2014 she meets a bookseller named Henry who somehow remembers her.   

Whimsical Prose

Schwab’s writing in this novel is beautiful. Sure, she repeats some details more times than she should (e.g. Addie’s freckles, Henry’s curls) but, by and large, the prose is stunningly poetic and lyrical. Had I been reading this on my kindle the pages would have been covered in highlights. Yet, while I admired the style, I feel as though it also distracted me and contributed to feelings of disconnect at times.

A Not So Love Triangle

TILoAL is a love triangle and yet, it’s not. If you were looking for a great love story, you won’t find one here. It’s just not that kind of book, it’s far more complex. The two main relationships are between Addie & Henry, and Addie & Luc (the dark God). Neither is deep, romantic love in a traditional sense but they’re as close to it as Addie feels she will get within the parameters of her existence.

Due to the nature of their deal, Luc is the only constant in Addie’s life, and he understands her like no-one else ever will. The book features numerous run-ins between the two over the centuries and although I enjoyed the adversarial nature of their relationship, these exchanges did become repetitive over time. They also largely lacked the deep, personal conversations necessary to support the book’s claim of them having an intimate, special connection. Things do evolve eventually, which I really liked, but I wish it had been a more gradual shift and started far earlier.

Henry is Addie’s first, and perhaps only, opportunity at pursuing a normal-ish, human relationship without the power imbalance involved with Luc. Their relationship is sweet and I really enjoyed the beginnings of it. However, once Henry and Addie get together, it does feel as though not a lot happens until late in the book. It won’t be difficult to guess the “twist” in their story, but I don’t feel that it affected my enjoyment at all.

A Girl, A Boy & the Devil

Confession: I never really warmed up to Addie. I sympathised with her desire to make her bargain and efforts to leave a mark on the people and world around her in spite of her curse, but I think my main issue was stagnancy. Although Luc claims Addie is learning and changing, I didn’t see this beyond the early chapters. Despite living over 300 years, travelling, meeting people, experiencing the world’s good and bad, Addie always felt like the same person in the present as she did in the past. Describing her, I could say she’s stubborn, streetwise, attracted to artists, and desires to see the world, but overall, her personality just seemed…flat. There was never anything that pushed me to either like or dislike her.  

Henry seems like another one of those boring, nice-guy characters but underneath he’s a lot more than that. As someone who, just like Henry, is currently in their late twenties and stuck in a low paying, uninspiring job because they can’t decide what they want to do with their life, I really related to and was unexpectedly comforted by his character. Henry’s struggles with depression and feelings of being lost or never enough will definitely resonate with a lot of readers. His story reinforces the idea that everyone deserves to be seen, loved, and appreciated for exactly who they are and even if you don’t know what your future holds yet, you’ll find your way eventually.

Luc is the character I’m most disappointed with. So much untapped potential! The reader’s time with him is mainly limited to his conversations with Addie and because of his unwillingness to provide her with information about himself, it really weakens his character development. With how compelling and mysterious he is, this frustrated me a lot. While I understand that limiting the reader’s exposure helps to put us in Addie’s shoes and understand the toxic, manipulative nature of their relationship, I can’t help feeling like I missed out on something big.

Then & Now

The narrative flicks back and forth between 2013/2014 New York and different moments from Addie’s past. I really liked this structure but considering the fascinating parts of history that Addie has lived through and places she’s been (few of which we actually see), I was expecting more interesting anecdotes from her past. I feel as though the book shows us little of her experiences during big historical moments where she would have been directly impacted and the stories that we do get start to seem the same as time goes on. The 20th century is also dealt with very quickly, something I found odd with how important it was to Addie’s relationship with Luc and the book’s climax.

The End

While I have a lot of praise for the ending, I get the feeling that many people won’t be so keen on it. For one, it’s quite open but it also reinforces the idea that the novel is not meant to be happy or a love story. It’s intriguing and really fits the trajectory of the story well.  

Slow Pacing and Thoughtful Themes

Unlike Schwab’s previous books, TILoAL is much slower in pace. It’s less about action or drama and more about character journeys and exploring themes. I’m not normally averse to gradual narratives, but there were stretches during this where I found myself switching off due to inactivity or repetition. Themes wise, though, I need to give Schwab credit. This is a story about loneliness, memory, personal legacy, the beauty in living despite life’s ugliness, and it handles them all quite well. For example, Addie, Luc and Henry are all completely different characters but who experience similar feelings of loneliness and isolation. They present distinctly for each of them and their responses are equally unique. This is a book you need to think about and process as you read and I can easily see why it’s taken Schwab so many years to feel as though she’s told her story right.


Ordering my thoughts and feelings to write this review was not an easy task. I’m still questioning whether my final rating is an accurate reflection but, in the end, while there are things I enjoyed about this book, I can’t help feeling that it never reached its full potential. I know TILoAL will be a favourite for plenty of others out there. Unfortunately, it just isn’t for me.

3 Stars

Binge Reading: How Many Adult Contemporary Romances Can I Read in a Week?

Now, looking at the title of this post you might be thinking: Why? Well, to that I say: Why not?

Okay, for a more expanded explanation: in August I finished a total of 2 books which is kind of sad and probably because I’ve been apathetic towards reading lately. Romantic contemporaries are always quick and easy reads for me so I thought, why not give my bookwormishness (what a monstrosity of a made up word) a jump start with an entire week of them?! I’m probably going to give myself whatever the bookish equivalent of a cavity after eating too many sweet things in one go is, but WHO CARES.

For fun, I’ll be scoring them using my usual star system but also doing individual ratings for sweetness, humour, sexiness/steam, and romance – just to give a better idea of their mood. I’ll also be mentioning whether they include any diversity because yo, it’s 2020. Let the week of romance begin!

Day 1-2: One to Watch – Kate Stayman-London

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Premise: A plus-sized fashion blogger goes on a reality dating show called Main Squeeze (a fictional version of The Bachelor/Bachelorette) and dates a bunch of hot guys whilst showing that bigger girls can be attractive and deserve love too.

  • Hurrah! A strong start to the week. I enjoyed this one, mostly because it was super relatable for me. As someone who’s far from a size 6, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have a protagonist who shares many of the same insecurities about love and relationships that I do. Reading about the MC, Bea’s, journey was hard but also empowering and encouraging. The body positivity message is very, very on the nose but I can mostly forgive it.
  • Diversity wise, this book is amazing. Aside from Bea being plus sized, among the contestants there’s also a black man, an Asian-American, and an asexual man. They’re all portrayed as being desirable & unlike on real life TV, they all make it close to the end!
  • The Bachelorette concept was fun and definitely why this caught my eye. However, having Bea cycle through different dates does mean that the love interests share the limelight, reducing the ability to give them lots of depth but the real focus is Bea anyway. Still, there are plenty of sweet moments and a little bit of sexual tension.
  • The book plays around with style a lot using articles, tweets and text convos in between standard third person narrative. It’s somewhat jarring to get used to at first but fine after a while.

Sweetness: ★★★
Humour: ★.5
Sexiness/Steam: ★★
Romance: ★★★
Diversity: Yes! All the YES.


Oh god. A four star read out of the gate. It’s got to be downhill from here, right? Suddenly the books on my pre-made list seem risky and unappealing. What does Goodreads suggest instead…

This looks interesting. *checks Amazon* SIXTEEN DOLLARS? ON KINDLE? This better be worth it.

Day 2-3: You Deserve Each Other – Sarah Hogle

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Premise: Naomi and Nicholas seem like the perfect engaged couple but, in reality, these days they can barely stand one another. Now with only 3 months left til their wedding, the pair decide to try their best to get the other to end the engagement and foot the massive bill. But what if they turned their attention to working out what went wrong with their relationship instead?

  • Yes, it was easily worth the $16. This was so unexpectedly enjoyable! I love a good enemies to lovers trope but it was great to see it used in a fresh way. I will gladly read another book about two people finding themselves again and remembering why they loved one another in the first place.
  • One of the best parts of this book was easily the humour. I was surprised by how funny it was. Like, actually laugh out loud funny. The banter between Naomi and Nicholas is great, mostly because, as a couple who’ve been together for a while, they know exactly how to push each other’s buttons. Particularly where Nicholas’s mother is concerned.
  • The characters are very likeable, too. With the way Naomi acts at times, I should have found her childish and petty but honestly, I loved her boldness and vulnerability. Nicholas, meanwhile, can just marry me. A man who can banter, loves skittles, proudly owns a How to Train Your Dragon tie and will fight for his relationship – swoon.
  • I should also mention how seamlessly the book’s mood changed from light and fun to serious and emotional. I loved that I could enjoy myself reading about Naomi and Nicholas’s antics one moment then sympathise with their difficulties in repairing their relationship and behaviour the next.

Sweetness: ★★★
Humour: ★★★★
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★
Romance: ★★★★
Diversity: Nope.


We’re definitely going down now. It’s inevitable. Maybe I need something completely different. Well, different within the confines of contemporary adult romance. Just kidding. More enemies to lovers it is. But with cupcakes. Cause I love cupcakes.

Day 3 – 4: Kiss my Cupcake – Helena Hunting

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Premise: Blaire Calloway is excited to finally be opening her own cupcake & cocktail cafe. However, her parade is rained on when she discovers hottie Ronan Knight opening a sportsbar next door on the same day. The two clash, setting off a competition for customers. But when a chain of popular bars opens their newest location across the street, the two have to work together to keep their businesses afloat.

  • Can I just say, this book has SO MANY CUPCAKES. Thank god I had left over birthday cake in the house while I was reading this because I might have died of cravings otherwise (it’s possible, okay).
  • I quite enjoyed the chemistry between Blaire and Ronan. Blaire is somewhat over the top in her reactions to things (especially at the climax of the book) but overall she’s okay. Ronan is hot – physically and in personality. He can stay. Enough said.
  • At the end of each chapter, the book incorporates “tweets” supposedly posted by Ronan and Blaire’s businesses but honestly, they’re mostly cringy alcohol & cupcake puns which offer nothing to the story. I have no clue why they’re included.
  • With romance novels I always expect some drama around the 80% mark before the couple makes up and sails off into the sunset. Unfortunately, the dramatic climax of this book is super disappointing. In fact, it’s almost non-existent and just makes Blaire look bad for thinking so badly of Ronan with barely anything to go off. That this is then followed up by an over the top and cheesy ending put a dampener on my enjoyment of the overall book.
  • The story is told in split perspectives between Ronan & Blaire but the balance between the two is really uneven, leaving Ronan with only a couple of chapters. I found this a somewhat odd choice which made me question the reason for the split at all.
  • KMC is definitely the most steamy of the books I’ve read so far this week. As in, there’s an actual sex scene. There’s also noticeable sexual tension throughout the book. So if this kind of thing floats your boat, *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*.

Sweetness: ★★★★
Humour:
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★★
Romance: ★★
Diversity: Nooopppee


Alright, let’s turn up the “romance” rating a bit more. I want some swoon-worthy love story here. Real depth of emotion with boomboxes outside windows. I will accept no substitutes.

Day 4-5: One day in December – Josie Silver

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Premise: When Laurie locks eyes with Jack riding the bus home one day, it’s practically love at first sight for the both of them. That is, until the bus drives away with him on the curb. She then spends the next year searching London for him until finally she finds him – introduced as her roommate Sarah’s new boyfriend. What follows is ten years of missed opportunities and complicated choices.

  • Based on the few reviews I’ve read of this book, I honestly didn’t expect to like ODiD as much as I did. Then again, I’ve always had a soft spot for stories told over several years in characters’ lives. I just love watching people grow, change, and experience life.
  • Normally I’m 100% in the camp of NO to love at first sight but somehow, this book actually made me believe in it for its duration. Now, if that ain’t magic, I don’t know what is.
  • The characters in this book aren’t always logical and don’t consistently do the right thing by themselves or each other, but that’s people. For the most part, I cared about what happened to Laurie, Jack & Sarah, and genuinely wanted them to get their happy endings. ODiD is definitely one of those books where you do have to be invested in the characters and their lives to enjoy it, otherwise it’s going to be pretty darn boring.
  • I should warn you, if you hate cheating plotlines, there’s an element of it here. Physically only minor but emotionally, plenty.
  • My two main gripes are: 1) I wish the ending had been handled differently as it felt odd and abrupt when fit into the rest of the story (I mean, we’d been waiting TEN YEARS by this point). Perhaps another time jump afterwards would have helped? And, 2) I would have liked more done with Laurie’s career considering its importance to her.
  • Less of a fluffy read than the other books so far this week, but very enjoyable.

Sweetness: ★★★
Humour: ★★
Sexiness/Steam: ★.5
Romance: ★★★★
Diversity: No, again. More straight, cis, able-bodied, white people problems.


I’ve just realised that this post is lacking a noticeable amount of gay so we should rectify that right now. Bring on the LGBTI romance!

Day 5: Boyfriend Material – Alexis Hall

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Premise: As the son of two rock legends, Luc has always been in the spotlight. After a compromising photo puts him in hot water with his employer’s donors, Luc is told to clean up his image by finding a respectable boyfriend. Enter Oliver Blackwood – vegetarian, barrister and in need of a date for a big event. And so the two strike up a deal: a fake relationship for a few weeks and then go their separate ways. But what happens when real feelings get involved?

  • Did I pick this book because it reminded me of Red, White and Royal Blue? Yes, you caught me. And I’m so glad I did because it was the perfect combo of adorably sweet & hilarious. I had an absolute ball.
  • The humour in this is great, mostly found in the lengthy sections of dialogue. Part of it stems from the banter and chemistry between Luc and Oliver, but the rest can be attributed to the fun supporting cast. This includes Luc’s vague co-worker Alex (my favourite) and his publisher friend Bridget.
  • I loved the relationship between Oliver & Luc. It’s an opposites attract situation which requires time to sort through the kinks but develops into something wonderful. I really enjoyed how good an impact they had one one another, especially with regards to Luc’s self-esteem and trust issues.
  • Aside from the romance, BM also involves a plot to do with Luc’s estranged, famous father. However, for something that took up a chunk of the novel, it ended up weirdly…fizzling out. It’s even more disappointing considering how much Luc’s life was impacted by his dad’s choices and lifestyle.
  • Speaking of family, there’s also an incident involving Oliver’s which I wish had been built up to more over the novel instead of becoming a factor all of sudden in the later stage of the book.
  • This book is boyfriend material in more ways than one – would for sure recommend snuggling up with it on a night in.

Sweetness: ★★★★
Humour: ★★★★★
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★.5
Romance: ★★★
Diversity: Yes! We have straight, bi and gay characters in this one.


I might be able to squeeze in one more book. Just ONE more.

Day 6-7: Get a Life, Chloe Brown – Talia Hibbert

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Premise: After a near death experience, chronically ill computer geek, Chloe Brown writes herself a list of tasks designed to help her “Get a Life”. Realising she’ll need a hand in completing it, Chloe enlists the help of talented artist (and her building superintendent) Redford Morgan, who has baggage of his own to deal with.

  • Once again, yay for diversity: this book features a black, curvy protagonist with a chronic illness. Even better, Chloe’s condition isn’t forgotten about whenever it’s convenient. It actually factors into her behaviour and how the romance plays out. It sounds like such a small thing but I adored the fact that Red was so attentive about Chloe’s pain & exhaustion, and that he always kept her condition in mind when they did things together.
  • It was interesting having a male lead who looks physically strong dealing with getting out of an abusive relationship. Not just physical abuse but emotional, too. Seeing how this trauma impacted Red’s self esteem and his painting really added something different to the novel.
  • To my complete shock, GaLCB ended up being the most steamy book I read this week! From the description and cover, it seems super cutesy but then BAM masturbation scene, public acts of indecency, dirty talk, erections & taut nipples galore…!! To be honest, it was probably too much for my liking. There were quite a few conversations between Chloe and Red which I wish had been more emotional and less I-can’t-stop thinking-about-your-body-on-mine.
  • Based on the blurb I was under the impression that there would be more elements to completing Chloe’s list and that this theme would provide a more structured plot. I was also expecting that doing these things would be the reason for Chloe’s new lease on life but it ended up mostly being about her opening up to Red. This was nice and all but I wanted something a bit more.

Sweetness: ★★★★
Humour: ★.5
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★★★
Romance: ★★★
Diversity: YES!


There we have it – 7 days, 6 adult contemporary romances. Phew! I’m pretty happy with myself to be honest. I had a fun week of reading, beefed up my Goodreads tracker for 2020 and I’m already looking forward to the next book I tackle. FYI, it will not be a contemporary romance. I’m starting to feel the bookworm cavities… Too much of a good thing.

Are you a romance reader? If so, what are some of your favourite picks?

Should I try doing this with a different genre in the future?

Romance for Bookworms: Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston

If there’s two things I love, it’s cute, YA romantic contemporaries and Beauty & the Beast. So, when I saw that Ashley Poston was releasing the next installment in her Once Upon a Con series combining both of these things, I quickly added it to my TBR. However, as much as it pains me to say, Bookish & the Beast just didn’t hit the mark for me.

Who, What, Where?

B&TB revolves around Rosie & Vance who meet at a convention whilst wearing cosplay. The two hit it off but don’t get details about who the other is. While bookish Rosie is currently trying to plan for college and dealing with her mother’s death, Vance is Hollywood Royalty and one of the stars of the Starfield film series. After a bad press incident gets Vance sent to a family friend’s place in Rosie’s town, the two run into each other which results in the destruction of an expensive and rare book. In exchange, Rosie offers to help organise and catalogue the owner’s library. Ordinarily Rosie would be excited to be working in close proximity to Vance but as luck would have it, he’s a massive jerk and wants nothing to do with her. Cue drama.

Missed Connections

One of my biggest disappointments on this one was the characters which I struggled to connect with. If I had to describe Rosie, the word would, unfortunately, be bland. All I seem to know about her is that she loves books, especially Starfield, and she’s the girl with the dead mother (something she says she doesn’t want to be defined as but won’t stop talking about). When she’s not being bland, she comes off as annoyingly immature – I mean the girl gets told off for using her phone at work and only a few minutes later does the same thing again! With Vance, I understood what the author was trying to do and probably liked/sympathised with him a bit more. Still, it didn’t click until a fair way into the book, probably because he spends the first half being a dick for very thin reasons.

Sparks Fly?

For romance stories, chemistry between the leads is everything and here I had trouble feeling the strength of the connection between Vance & Rosie. This wasn’t at all helped by the fact that they barely interact until the second half of the book (and, even then, it’s only over a couple of weeks!). Not the best approach when you’re trying to build a relationship solid enough to believe the two characters love one another by the end. Worse still, the moment real conflict affects their relationship, Vance immediately jumps to mistrusting Rosie without giving her a chance to explain. I’m sorry, but this is not what ships are made of.

Pop Culture Heavy

Something that’s damaged my enjoyment of books in the past is an overuse of pop culture references. They stick out like sore thumbs, age books much faster, and often feel forced. A few here and there is fine but when a book starts to feel cluttered, it bothers me. Particularly when it makes up a large chunk of the characters’ interactions. Did we need several references to Star Wars: The Last Jedi to legitimise the new Starfield film as being a big deal? Not really, no. And I love Star Wars.

Stuck to the Source Material

Retellings are tricky – you want to rely on the source enough that it provides a framework and satisfies reader expectations but not so much that it strangles the ability to tell a logical, creative, and enjoyable story. My issue with B&TB is there are multiple points where it feels like it’s trying desperately to cling to the Beauty and the Beast format even though it’s silly & forced in this context (Rosie chasing a “stray” dog into someone’s else’s house). But at the same time, there are others where it doesn’t feel related at all. Plus, the direct line references to the movie that should have been cute just left me cringing – “I don’t know half of the architectural jargon, but it’s pretty, and at least…it doesn’t use antlers in all of the decorating”.


On the whole, Bookish and the Beast isn’t a bad read but it’s a somewhat flat and disappointing one, especially after the highs of Geekerella. If you’re already a fan of the series, I’d recommend checking it out for yourself but as a first-time reader of Poston’s YA contemporaries, perhaps stick with the first entry.

ARC by Quirk Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summer Romance with Depth: Beach Read by Emily Henry

I think it’s time that I list adult contemporary romance as one of my favourite genres. They’re just so enjoyably bingeable. The banter, the sweetness, the steam – it’s the perfect little package I can’t resist. Almost like wiggling a Mars Bar in my face. And that’s pretty much what hearing the premise for Beach Read was. Two authors, living in beach houses, engaging in some friendly competition to see if they can write a book in the other’s genre, bouncing off one another until they eventually crack and rip each other’s clothes off… You see what I mean, right?

January & Gus

The two leads in this book are great. They’ve got complexity, great chemistry and, most importantly for romance, appropriate levels of personal baggage to dramatically bring up at opportune moments. January is a romance writer who after the death of her father and discovery of his mistress has been suffering from severe writer’s block. In the hopes of finally getting something written and recovering her sunny, hopeful disposition, she moves into her dad and his girlfriend’s empty beach house. To her surprise, her new next door neighbour is her former university classmate, and now successful literary fiction author, Augustus Everett.

Unlike January, Gus is cynical, broody, and more than happy to murder fictional characters. But he’s also sweet, funny and somewhat mysterious. Also, to my immense joy, he has none of that Alpha male type bullshit typical of romantic leads these days. Look romance writers: Proof that you can be nice and still have sex appeal!

Banter-ific!

As you can probably tell, this is an opposites attract kind of relationship and it works really well on that level. January and Gus’s interactions are perfectly balanced between fun banter and get-things-off-my chest emotional. Even when there’s not much happening plot wise, the book is enjoyable simply by having them be around each other, whether they’re terribly line dancing or writing notes Taylor Swift style through their windows. These interactions make up the bulk of the novel so thank goodness their exchanges work as well as they do.

Battle of the Authors

I really enjoy books about authors and writing so the idea of a competition between two writers involving them producing work vastly outside their comfort zones was a massive draw card here. Yet, while the competition is present and does result in January and Gus doing several research activities, it isn’t as prominent as I would have liked. Mostly because it tends to take a backseat to their romance and dealing with past troubles, particularly in the middle. It does, however, pop more to the forefront toward the end of the novel.

In Cheesy Territory

Beach Read is cute, okay. It is. It’s fun and sweet and mostly enjoyable. But it’s also kind of… cheesy and over the top at points. There were certainly a few lines of dialogue (“I don’t need snowflakes.” He kissed me. “As long as there’s January.”) and moments I could have done without to avoid the cringe factor. This is especially so considering the seriousness of some of the plot points. The book also frustratingly leans into the age old complication of failure to communicate properly. I could see it coming and resigned myself to the fact, but I really wish it hadn’t been done twice. There were also a few points at which I feel January behaved somewhat annoyingly irrational but hey, you can’t have everything.

Deceptively Fluffy Covers

I feel I should mention that because of the genre, blurb and cover imagery, this is a book people will go into expecting fluff, levity and laughter but, like me, will probably be surprised to find there’s a heaviness to it, too (something that’s become common in romance reads lately). Infidelity is a big theme in this book but there’s also the death of January’s father, Gus’s research into a cult, and both our leads’ somewhat fractured outlooks on love and life to contend with. In other words, be prepared for things not to be constantly sunshine and daisies.


As far as contemporary romance goes, this is a good choice. It’s got more emotional gravity than you’d expect from something titled Beach Read, but that’s perhaps what makes it more memorable. While I wouldn’t count this among my favourite romance reads, it’s definitely a good way to spend a few hours. If this seems like something you’ll like, there’s probably about a 90% chance that it is.

3.5 stars

Room for (Home) Improvement: The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

When the world goes insane, there’s nothing like copious amounts of junk food and a solid romance novel to get you through. Having read two books by Christina Hobbs & Lauren Billings in 2019, The Honey-Don’t List was definitely on my radar for 2020. However, after seeing a bunch of mediocre reviews, I did what any reasonable bookworm would do: I lowered the hell out of my expectations.

Who, What. Where?

THDL follows two assistants named Carey and James who work for home renovation gurus and reality stars, Melissa and Rusty Tripp. The Tripps are on the verge of airing a new Netflix series and have just released a guide to marriage and relationships. The only problem is that they can’t stand one another. When Melissa finds out about Rusty’s latest affair, Carey and James are forced to join the couple on their book tour to help keep their image intact. Both would rather be anywhere else but with Carey needing to keep her medical insurance and James desperate to salvage his resume, they’re stuck. Although, the more time they spend together, the more it seems like this tour may be the start of something unexpected.

Carey & James

One of the major reasons I’ve enjoyed past CL books is their characters. THDL is told in alternating first person POV and while I thought Carey and James were likable characters, they weren’t exactly favourites. Of the two, I definitely found Carey more memorable and interesting. Carey has been with the Tripps since she was sixteen, back when they owned their first furniture store. Now twenty-six, she does all the design elements of their projects with zero credit whilst managing her dystonia and having almost no personal life. I really felt for Carey and it was great seeing her grow in confidence to eventually take charge of her life and stand up for herself.

James was hired by the Tripps as a structural engineer and to his frustration has somehow ended up Rusty’s babysitter. After the last company he worked for turned out to be acting illegally, he desperately needs something respectable in his work history. James is what you’d call the hot-nerd type – smart, clean cut, looks good with his shirt off, and caring. I really liked how supportive and understanding he was of Carey, but…he’s also a teensy bit boring which made connecting with him difficult.

Romance with Missed Potential

In terms of the romance, I’m on the fence, mostly because the relationship shifts felt rushed within the time-frame. The bickering between Carey and James becomes attraction very quickly, they “get together” at halfway, and say the ‘L’ word by the end. It’s too much, too fast and the development of the relationship is often sacrificed to serve The Tripps storyline (which feeds into Carey and James’s personal journeys). When it comes to the relationship itself, while they don’t have the ease of Josh & Hazel or banter of Olive & Ethan, I still found Carey and James well suited for each other and sweet to read about. With more attention and time given to their interactions, this relationship could have been something really good.

Less Laughs, More Drama    

One of the other boxes CL usually tick for me is humour. Whether it’s dialogue or crazy situations, they normally get at least a snort. With The Honey-Don’t List, not so much. The conversations don’t have the same charm and the story itself is more serious than past books. There’s a failing marriage, a muscle disorder, cheating, two young people getting taken advantage of by their bosses – it’s not a “fluffy” read. This isn’t a bad thing, just something to be aware of going in.

An Underwhelming Plot

As for the actual plot, it’s okay. Not keep-you-up-to-til-early-morning exciting, not boring. just middle of the road, ‘eh’. Things happen as expected but there’s enough going on with the characters to keep you mostly engaged. A few things to comment on though: first, I could have done without the police interview transcripts which frame the story and mess with the tone, two, I wish the ending had more closure on certain characters, and three, I wonder whether the story would have been better served by having it set filming the renovation series rather than on the book tour.


Overall, a quick and decent romantic contemporary, but missing a couple of things. If the blurb appeals to you, give it a go but if you’re after a great adult romance, I recommend picking up one of Christina and Lauren’s other works.

2.5 Stars