Tag Archives: review

ARC: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon Pulse/Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Serious Moonlight debuts April 16th.

You know when you see a perfect cover, and you think to yourself, well, the book can’t possibly live up to THAT, could it? They’re compensating for something, right? Well, banish those fears—Serious Moonlight is a cozy contemporary that pairs an adorable romance with memorable characters and a Pacific Northwest setting. In my opinion, this book is exactly what new adult should be: kids post-high school taking their first steps into “adulting,” with sex present, but not in an erotic way. It has a YA contemporary voice, but the MCs are just a tad bit older. I also truly appreciated how Bennett placed her characters in a non-school setting. I’ve heard so many calls from people in publishing asking for manuscripts featuring MCs navigating college, and I’m just… not really interested in that?

The pitch is that the MC, Birdie, hooked up with a cute guy in his car, then totally freaked out and literally ran away from him. She’s doing her best to forget all this… but then said cute guy, Daniel, happens to work at her new job. Gotta be fate, right? But both Birdie and Daniel are going to have to work through a lot of things before they can get their happily ever after. Oh, and there’s a “mystery” in the book as well… I use quotes here because the mystery aspect really isn’t that big of a focus; we’re all just here for the developing romance between Birdie and Daniel. It’s cute, they’re cute, the setting’s cute, everything’s cute, cute, cute! Love it.

All this isn’t to say that the book is perfect. Daniel is a bit too much of a “nice guy” for my taste; he treats Birdie like gold at every opportunity, giving her all possible outs from their relationship. That didn’t come across as caring to me so much as unsexy; I was hoping he’d grow a spine. But Daniel did grow on me in time, especially as he plans one awesome date after the next. The one with a Clue focus? (Trying not to give anything away.) I was Googling if anything like that existed in my area. (Unfortunately looks like I’d have to travel to Boston, so… meh.) There was also some cringey, wooden dialogue—I could have done without the “skedaddling” scene. But these are just small quibbles; the setting, the characters, the “found family” aspect, the pitch-perfect new adult feel all added up to a thoroughly enjoyable read, so I will definitely be checking out Bennett’s other books.

The Stone’s Heart by Jessica Thorne (The Queen’s Wing #2)

The first in this science-fantasy series, The Queen’s Wing, is the best book I’ve read this year hands down, so suffice it to say that I was beyond excited to read The Stone’s Heart and bought it the day of release. The Stone’s Heart picks up pretty much exactly after the last book ended and introduces Petra, Bel’s bodyguard, as a new POV; the book shifts between their POVs throughout. It took me a little while to feel fully immersed in the book, but that was really a me-thing instead of a book-thing—sometimes you’re just not in that SFF mood, you know? But things clicked for me about a quarter of the way in, and I was fully along for the ride.

Thorne crafts great characters and excellent plots, with world building that’s just the perfect ratio of science fiction to fantasy. As I think I said in my review of the first in the series, whoever is doing the marketing for this series is picking the wrong comps (Sarah J. Maas and The Selection). I think a wayyyyy better comparison is the Lunar Chronicles series if it were aimed at slightly older readers. And can we talk about that last bit? Because this series is not YA; I don’t care what the marketing and the cover indicate. Yeah, it’s written in a YA-ish voice that’s going to appeal to YA fans, but these characters are too old for that designation, sorry. I get it, that’s where the money’s at, but… can we try the New Adult thing again? Pretty please? Because a couple books I’ve read this year fit super well in that category, and I just wish traditional publishing and bookstores would acknowledge that we can make this a thing if we all just take a trust fall together.

I really enjoyed the new POV; these characters are full-fledged, with their own hopes, dreams, and back stories. If you are a fan of courtly (and interplanetary!) intrigue, definitely pick this series up, since there are a ton of twists, turns, and back stabbings. Thorne is really skilled at writing plot twists that truly come from left field but feel absolutely plausible. There’s no listed third book on Goodreads, but I’m praying that the author has one in the works, since I’m on board for this series for the long haul—hoping it’s not a trilogy, so we can get more, more, more! And in the meantime, I might take a look at her back list, since she also writes under Ruth Frances Long and R. F. Long.

ARC: The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz

Thank you to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Dark Game debuts April 11th.

This may have been a poor choice for a first book to read by Jonathan Janz. I didn’t know much about Janz, though the name vaguely rang a bell. (More on that later.) The premise is a bunch of writers competing for mentorship and future literary prestige at a spooky retreat. Normally I’m not huge on stories where the MC is an author; the characters always read cringy to me, like an over-the-top author-insert. But the whole writer competition thing sounded fun, so I decided to request the book.

Yet it turns out that ten writer MCs read more cringy to me than one writer MC, by a factor of about ten-fold. (Whodathunkit.) Again, this is totally a personal preference thing; I just can’t get past all the talk about agents and advances and genre dissing, since I’m forever trying to suss out Janz the author’s actual thoughts.

He narrowed his eyes, appraising her. “You look like a YA writer. Am I right?”

She considered telling him of her early success, transforming his arrogant expression into a look of awe.

Take the above quote, for example—what do you mean by that exactly, Jonathan Janz? You wanna throw down? Huh? Huh? 😀

But then. Then. We get to the above and beyond part. Because Janz inserts multiple mentions of one of his own novels into the book and talks up how great it is. Read that again. One of the writers on the retreat is writing one of Janz’s books, The Siren and the Specter, and keeps saying how it’s amazing. It’s bookception, with a marketing twist. As my husband put it, “Wow, that takes a lotta balls.”

This is when I realized why Janz’s name seemed so familiar to me; I have The Siren and the Specter on my (lengthy) Goodreads TBR. Honestly I have no idea if there are other Easter eggs in The Dark Game, but I wouldn’t be surprised. My overall sense is that this book might be great for diehard Janz fans as a sort of fan service book, but it left me kind of feeling like I was missing a bunch of inside jokes, while also being served some sneaky advertisements. I also had a difficult time connecting with the characters since there were just so damn many of them. Some had interesting back stories, but most felt fairly interchangeable, and it was hard to keep everyone straight. (Save for Sherilyn; really enjoyed her brief POV sections.)

So I’m not ruling out reading another book by this author, but suffice it to say that The Dark Game was unfortunately a miss for me.


Just a real quick reminder to everyone that the next chapter of The Gold in the Dark will be releasing this Sunday at 11 AM EST! This is one not to miss, since there’s a new POV incoming. (Oooooh.) All right, that’s all, folks. ❤

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

Okay, what do I even say about Maureen Johnson at this point? She’s awesome? I love her characters, her voice, her plotting? Does that about cover it?

Listen, Maureen Johnson has a certain style that you’ll either like or you won’t, and her books are all different versions of the same wonderful thing. Quirky and intelligent MC, no parents for miles, a way of inserting detail and humor into the text that keeps you just reading one page, no, two pages, no, twenty pages more… If this is the sort of thing you enjoy, then go read the first in the Shades of London series, or Truly Devious, or 13 Little Blue Envelopes. (And presumably anything else by Johnson, all of which I’m sure I’ll read eventually.) If you’re trying to decide between her series, here’s a cheat sheet:

  • Shades of London series for ghosts (this book, The Madness Underneath, is book two)
  • Truly Devious series for true crime and historical elements
  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes series for quirky road trips

It’s been a while since I read the first Shades of London book, so I got to rediscover the MC, Rory, in this second in the series. A Louisiana native transplanted to a London boarding school, Rory behaves in a way that feels authentic. There are more than a few points in the book where I was mentally screaming at her to do something, anything other than what she was doing, but even when Rory’s making bad choices, you can see why she’s making them. She’s flawed but relatable, and you can’t help but be on her side, even when she’s royally fucking up.

So what else do I have to say about this book? It had that classic “recovering from the first book” feel, especially given the emphasis on therapy. I can understand if a lot of readers feel this book lags in the first half, but again, I don’t care; something about Johnson’s writing just calls to me, and the rip-roaring ending made up for any slowness. Plus it’s totally allowable to slow things down temporarily after the frenetic ending of the previous book. Our MC is in high school and just went through some truly traumatic events—it would be unrealistic to push ahead with the story any faster.

As the book moves toward the finish line, there’s a plot twist that I’ll admit I saw coming, but the execution and details of the surprise were still exciting and unexpected. As can be expected from Johnson’s other books, there isn’t so much a resolution at the end of this book as a pause and shift in the action, compelling us to reach for the next in the series. Cliffhangers are just something you have to deal with if you’re a Maureen Johnson fan.

I did also feel that the plot held together more cohesively than the first in the series. Leaving aside the aforementioned cliffhangers, the ends of both books struck me as a little bit off, like the reader is being expected to take a too much of a leap of faith, all at a breakneck pace. You can definitely leave both of these books with a dazed, what even just happened feeling. Yet the second book is an improvement on the first—not quite so manic, not quite so out-of-the-blue.

So overall The Madness Underneath was a crazy fun read (I mean, it’s not Truly Devious, but whatever…) and I’m looking forward to picking up the third book in the series.

Short Tuesday #4: “Manuscript Found in a Bottle” by Edgar Allan Poe

For this week’s Short Tuesday, I switched away from the Kelly Link collection to a short story anthology called S.O.S.: Chilling Tales of Adventure on the High Seas. This is a pretty obscure anthology, with only one Goodreads rating and two Amazon reviews, so I’m excited to see it passes muster! Sometime soon I’ll tell you how I came to have this book in my collection… but not today.

The first story I read in the anthology was Stephen King’s “Survivor Type.” It’s a grisly tale about a surgeon with copious amounts of heroin marooned on a barren island, but I unfortunately can’t find a legal copy to link to, so I don’t want to dwell on it overlong—just know that I highly recommend it, but readers should have a strong stomach. 😉

The second story I read was Edgar Allan Poe’s “Manuscript Found in a Bottle.” It’s been forever since I read any Poe, so I was excited to jump in, but pretty much from the start I didn’t enjoy this story—heretical, I know, since Poe is an American literary legend. I found the story’s language too dense to be enjoyable (though now I know what simoom means!), and the plot was also… nonexistent? The story is more a description of an immense, fantastical ship than anything else. I can see a tie to modern weird fiction, though, which is unsurprising given that Poe spearheaded the movement.

One last interesting thing to note is that some critics believe Poe meant this story to satirize classic sea tales. Maybe that’s one reason it wasn’t working for me, since I don’t normally read sea tales, let alone older ones. I’m not writing off Edgar Allan Poe, of course—just simply don’t think “Manuscript Found in a Bottle” is the tale for me.

Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch

Top o’ the mornin’ to ya and all that! In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a couple weeks ago I went on a quest for some Irish-themed reads. The Call almost made the cut, but I couldn’t stomach taking on another series at the moment, so that’s how I ended up with Love & Luck!

If you’re in the mood for a quick, cute St. Patrick’s Day read, look no further! Love & Luck is an adorable read that will transport you to the Emerald Isle. Readers follow Addie, who is in Ireland with her large, boisterous family for her aunt’s wedding. Fresh out of a relationship, Addie has a secret™ that is eating her up inside. She’ll need to spill the beans eventually, but is working on first coming to terms with how her relationship ended. Her moral support through all this? A guidebook called Ireland for the Heartbroken, which has Addie soon gallivanting across Ireland with her older brother and his Internet best friend.

This is one of the only road trip book I’ve truly enjoyed; most of the other ones that I’ve read didn’t feel entirely cohesive. But with the guidebook framework, everything comes together into a whimsical package, aided by the fast pace and authentic-feeling characters. The Maeve/female empowerment stuff did read a little bit cringey and forced to me, but this is a small aspect of the book only, so not much to worry about.

I’d say this is an excellent read for anyone who enjoyed Morgan Matson’s Save the Date. There are a lot of similarities (in the best way possible), from the older brothers-younger sister relationships to the romantic themes. (And the obvious wedding common thread.) Another pretty obvious comp is 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, which has a larger European focus… But you guys have heard me harping on about Johnson lately, so I’ll leave it at that. 😉 And if you do read this book and love it, Love & Luck has a sister novel called Love & Gelato, featuring Addie’s best friend Lina in, you guessed it, Italy. So hopefully I’ll be picking that up sometime, since this was such a cute book.

Short Tuesday #3: “The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link

This week I read the third short story in Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, “The Specialist’s Hat.” You can read the short story here… FYI that there are vague spoilers in this review.

Now that I’m three stories into the Kelly Link book, I’m starting to get a pretty good grasp of her style. I went into this anticipating I’d have little to no concrete answers at the end of this story, and I was right, but again I was left with that eerie, uncomfortable, awful things are happening in the background feeling that Link does so well.

One thing I did notice was the emphasis on the concrete, in particular the constant numbers throughout the text. The chandelier has “exactly 632 leaded crystals shaped like teardrops,” the house has eight chimneys, the twin main characters’ game has three rules. (A few things in the story even smell like Chanel No. 5.) And then there’s the difference between “gray” and “grey,” and “dead” and “Dead.” It feels like everything that is happening to the girls is so vague and creepy that they rely (subconsciously or otherwise) on numbers, definitions, and rules to define their slippery reality.

Overall, I can’t say I loved this story; I have the sense that it’s well-written, just not for me, or maybe not for me right now. It might have to do with the fact that I kept getting interrupted while reading, so I had to read the story in a very fractured way. In any case, I think I’m going to set down Stranger Things Happen for a week or two and try something else for next Tuesday.

Tell Me Everything by Sarah Enni

I’ve been a loyal listener of Sarah Enni’s First Draft podcast since 2014, so I was psyched to pick up a copy of her debut novel. Tell Me Everything follows Ivy, a sophomore photography nerd who’s been struggling with growing distance between her and her BFF Harold. To take her mind off her absent, over-scheduled friend, Ivy becomes engrossed with the new app VEIL, which allows users to view Instagram-style anonymous pictures local to a five-mile radius. The book follows Ivy as she attempts to uncover the secrets of the students at her school posting on VEIL.

It’s a cute, short book that I read in less than twenty-four hours. I really enjoyed the local art scene focus, and I feel that there’s a missed opportunity here for the book to include some photographs and illustrations to color the narrative, like in a Ransom Riggs book. Yet the book isn’t without its flaws; it felt plotless for a good portion of the book, like we were being treated to individual scenes that made up some sort of abstract whole. The voice, too, is a bit younger than I usually read. (More a preference thing than an actual detractor.) You know how a lot of readers (rightly) complain that a good portion of YA isn’t really YA anymore, but really just New Adult, repackaged with “eighteen-year-olds” and pretty YA covers? This isn’t that; it reads young, and Enni was clearly purposeful in the decision to make Ivy and Harold sophomores instead of upperclassmen.

I’ll admit that the tone of the book was a bit off to me. There is a lot of quirk for quirk’s sake, almost reminiscent of Katy t3h PeNgU1n oF d00m. That combined with an especially cringy (cringey?) scene between Ivy and Harold that read like progressive buzzword mad libs had me not exactly racing for the end of the book, but still edging toward eager-to-be-done territory.

***SPOILER INCOMING***

I did also feel like some questions briefly raised throughout the book weren’t explored deeply enough. In this book, online anonymity and an unmoderated user base butt heads with “safe spaces” and helicopter parents. There is a kind of resolution to this conflict in terms of the VEIL app, but not a satisfying one in my opinion, and what resolution Enni offers us doesn’t do much to address the very real debates that society is currently having about social media platforms. VEIL is deleted in the end, but let’s face it, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t about to delete Facebook, nor Jack Dorsey Twitter, so what exact lesson are we supposed to take from Tell Me Everything into the real world?

So some good, some bad. Tell Me Everything was a pleasant, quick read for a Sunday afternoon, but I wouldn’t highly recommend it for older YA readers, though a younger, less picky crowd might have some fun here.


Just a real quick reminder that Chapter Four of The Gold in the Dark will be posting this Sunday at 11 AM EST! All right, that’s all, folks. ❤

Short Tuesday #2: “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back” by Kelly Link

This week I read the second short story in Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back.” You can read the short story here… FYI that there are vague spoilers in this review.

I enjoyed this short story, though I do think I connected more with last week’s “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.” I assume that the name of the short story is tied to the idiom “like water off a duck’s back,” meaning that harsh critique doesn’t have any effect on someone, but I’m struggling to connect that idiom to the story. Perhaps something to do with the black dogs’ constant, menacing presence? Or the MC’s steadfast commitment to his clearly odd relationship?

I think the thing I liked most about this story was the penetrating feeling of dread. You can just feel that the MC, Carroll, has embroiled himself in something bad, and you’re left waiting for the other shoe to drop. (My, we’re all about idioms today!) This is another story built more on mood than plot; don’t expect much to make sense, but if you want to read something vaguely uncomfortable and foreboding, I’m getting the sense that Kelly Link is your author.

One thing I’m wondering having read these two Link stories thus far is whether magical realism necessitates a more passive MC. Both MCs in these stories do things, but they’re not exactly the questioning type. Strange things happen (har har), and the characters just sort of mosey along through life, taking the oddities as they come. I haven’t read much magical realism save for Murakami, so it’s hard to say for certain, but I think it’s a trend that I’m noticing.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

At last, I’ve done it: I’ve successfully completed one of the two famous “Seven Evelyns.” The other, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, continues to look plaintively at me from my TBR shelf. Like, how does this even happen that two titles are this similar? Do all the marketing people in publishing gather round and sacrifice a goat to an all-seeing algorithm, waiting for it to spit out titles worthy of doing the rounds on BookTube? Is this how we keep ending up with all those “thing” titles?

The pitch for Turton’s debut novel is essentially Clue meets Groundhog’s Day. The MC, Aiden Bishop, is charged with stopping a murder that is going to take place at Blackheath Estate, but he is a displaced spirit only, cycling between the bodies of eight hosts who all have different strengths, weaknesses, and personalities. For me, it was the interplay of personality between Aiden and his hosts that sealed the book as good; we watch as Aiden goads on cowardly hosts, restrains violent hosts, and everything in between.

That being said, I did feel like there were just quite a lot of other non-host characters—enough that it got hard to keep them straight. I think this might not be an issue if you binge-read the book, but I read this book over the span of a couple weeks. Every time I came back to it I had to reintroduce myself to everyone, making full use of the character list at the front of the book.

Something else worth mentioning is that this book is the prime example of characters saying “I can’t talk about that right now because reasons.” Honestly, I’m not sure if anything can be done about that given the unique premise and story structure, but all the same it was a bit frustrating. Nevertheless, the fascinating host characters and the strong writing kept me moving forward in the story.

I think a lot of people are wondering if there will be a sequel to this book, either with the same structure or following Aiden Bishop wherever he goes next. In vague, non-spoiler terms, I do wish we got to know more about what happens after. (I also realize how semi-ridiculous it is to want this to be a series, given the amount of series I have yet to finish.) Yet I also have to begrudgingly appreciate an ending that gives the book a standalone feel, yet is still ambiguous. Maybe Turton should just leave things where they are and keep us guessing—the book’s a mystery, after all, so why not leave readers with some cool questions to ponder?