Music Monday 1.2: I see you calling…

This meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You pick a song you really like and share it on, you guessed it, Monday.

I’ve liked a few things from Marshmello but the Jonas Brothers have never really hit the mark for me…until now. Who knew I would like this collaboration so much? Certainly not me. This is the first track of my summer playlist. I’ve had this one on repeat for a while. It’s a fun bop with an 80’s beat. The beginning actually sounds a little like it samples Barry Manilow’s Smile.


The pairing could have gone a few ways but I wanted to highlight a co-authored book I liked. M.A. Carrick is the penname for Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms. Individuals who met on an archaeological dig and have remained friends for over two decades. The Mask of Mirrors is a tome at over 600 pages but it’s well worth the read if you’re a fan of fake identities and political intrigue. (Review)

Friends With Benedicts (2021)

by Staci Hart
Publication: June 8, 2021

Friends With Benedicts, a brand new, heart felt rom-com from Staci Hart, is finally LIVE! Grab your copy today from your favorite online book retailer!

Amazon | AppleBooks | Kobo | B&N | Goodreads


Timing is everything.

Presley Hale and Sebastian Vargas are no strangers to goodbye. Their high school summers were spent wrapped up in each other until she would inevitably go home to California. One season after college, Sebastian finally escaped the little Texas town to travel the world, and they said goodbye for what they thought might be the last time.

Sebastian went one way. Presley went the other.

For the first time in five years, they’re both in town, but the timing is no better than ever. So the only thing to do is what they do best. Keep it casual.

Friends with benefits.

They’ve done it before—doing it again will be easy.

But their hearts don’t get the memo.

When the lines of their arrangement blur, Presley and Sebastian are faced with decisions they’ve avoided for years. And that’s not even their biggest problem.

A small town in danger of failing.

A secret that could tear them apart.

And two hearts that can’t hide anymore.

They’ve shared so many summers, but none compare to what they’ll face.

Timing is everything.

And their time is almost up.


Staci has been a lot of things up to this point in her life — a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, a seamstress, a clothing and handbag designer, a waitress. Can’t forget that. She’s also been a mom, with three little girls who are sure to grow up to break a number of hearts. She’s been a wife, though she’s certainly not the cleanest, or the best cook. She’s also super, duper fun at a party, especially if she’s been drinking whiskey. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, sleeping, gaming, or designing graphics.

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**I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher and author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Presley made multiple appearances with her daughter Priscilla (Cilla) in Bet the Farm, and now we get their story. Having moved from California, Presley is currently living in Texas with her aunt and cousins. As luck would have it, the boy she’s always loved is now also there, but just like when they were young, timing remains a problem. Sebastian is set to leave as soon as summer is over.

Friends with Benedicts was satisfying in a way that Hart’s Bet the Farm was not. A lot of it has to do with the chemistry between Presley and Sebastian and just Sebastian himself. It also helped a lot that Cilla is so adorable. I can’t help but fall for the cute kid trope.

I generally like Hart’s female protagonists because they are often strong-willed, determined, and independent. Presley has all these qualities. It’s usually the male love interests that have me going back and forth. Sebastian was a love interest that I liked. For the most part, he has some emotional depth to him. There’s more to him than just being angry all the time (yes, I am comparing him to Jake from Bet the Farm, whom I was not a fan of).

Sebastian and Presley’s relationship moved both too quickly and at just the right pace. They just barely meet again but can’t keep their hands off each other despite different existing complications. Of course, jumping into their old habits is directly the result of their shared history. It’s always just been this way except for the last five years. Having quickly established this meant I wasn’t as bothered by their instant relationship as I could have been. The most irksome part of the book is the lines of communications headlining as one of the major tropes. It ranged from lack of communication to miscommunication. What helped lessen my dislike of the trope here was the amount of introspection from the characters and other characters pointing out the obvious communication problems. (Thank you so much for trying to make them see reason!)

A small town Hallmark-ish subplot is also present as Sebastian and Presley try to navigate their relationship. I’m not sure how necessary this was to the main storyline because the book already had a few things going for it. I would have kept on reading the book even if this hadn’t been present. In fact, when it popped up, I was surprised by it.

Overall, I connected to the characters because their connection to each other was one I generally liked. Their story was messy in the way real life love stories are, showcasing the difficulties of adjusting to a new life and a renewed love. I also appreciated that the main “villain” in the story was more complex than she could have been, she was made more human and had feelings.

Romance Interlude 2.9

I haven’t done one of these in a while mostly because I’ve been trying to catch up with other reviews that weren’t necessarily romances. I did get a chance to read a few new ones and reread some I never reviewed on the blog. Let’s get started!

Guarding Her Heart (2019)
by Adore Ian
Publication: July 16, 2019
Goodreads Summary
Series: Braxton Arcade #2

One liner: Elle’s past catches up with her just as she finally feels like she’s found a place she can call home and a man who makes her feel safe.

This one was unexpectedly good! I should have known it would be because it was on a list of romances curated by Remarkably Lisa and another blogger. Elle and Conor are co-workers and become friends while Elle is working at Braxton Arcade. When they start acting on their attraction to one another it doesn’t feel like insta-love. The close proximity was also nice. I wasn’t a fan of Conor’s virginity fetish, but his possessiveness wasn’t as extreme as I’ve seen in other novels so that didn’t bother me as much. My higher than expected star rating comes from how well the suspense and romance are integrated. It doesn’t forgo the suspense to focus solely on the romance and then have the suspense pop up out of nowhere. Past books that have tried to blend the two have disappointed me in this area but this one did not.

Summer Spice
by Kris Pearson
Publication: January 29, 2019
Goodreads Summary
Series: Scarlet Bay Romance #3

One liner: Mei needs a temporary place to stay after leaving her abusive ex and Ollie, who has been in love with her for 15 years, has the perfect place for her until he can fly her out.

If you can overlook Ollie continuously referring to Mei as “Dragon Lady” or her being exotic, this is a good read. The writing is engaging and although the romance develops in the course of a few days, it gave me all the warm, fluttery feelings, again if I ignored the above. Although Mei has only just left her ex, it’s established pretty well that they’ve both always been attracted to each other. Ollie has been carrying a torch for Mei for 15 years and when he sees her again it’s clear he is still smitten. Aside from overlooking Ollie’s name for Mei, I wasn’t a fan of the reveal about why it took forever for them to get together. The ending was abrupt and I didn’t really like how it ended, aside from Ollie referring to Mei as “Dragon Lady” that is. (As you can see probably guess it was difficult to overlook…)

Sin With Me
by Rose Chen
Publication: May 15, 2016
Goodreads Summary

One liner: Alicia is a serial dater and doesn’t date Asian men but Kenneth is set on her and will do his best to make her change her mind.

This was another book from the booklist curated by Remarkably Lisa. It was surprisingly good. Give me a lead like Dr. Kenneth Sin anytime! I know that in my Asian community, I have also often heard the “I don’t date Asian men” rule and I gave it the side eye here mostly because I wanted to know why first. Chen gives a reasonably acceptable, if cliche, answer–Alicia isn’t ready for commitment and Asian men seem to want more commitment than she’s prepared for. Of course, all this starts to blur with Kenneth. It’s easy to see why. First, they’re both physically attracted to each other and then they both have traits that each like in the other. Their mothers are friends and sharing a culture does make things a bit simpler. Kenneth is persistent but he also is respectful of Alicia’s wishes and I completely swooned for that. I liked the book a lot until the ending so that’s why it’s 1/2 a star lower than it should be.

First Lines Fridays 1.2: I take the coins…

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!


by Elsie Chapman
ASIN/ISBN: 9781338332629
Publication: September 3, 2019
Series: Caster #1

If the magic doesn’t kill her, the truth just might.

Aza Wu knows that real magic is dangerous and illegal. After all, casting killed her sister, Shire. As with all magic, everything comes at a price. For Aza, it feels like everything in her life has some kind of cost attached to it. Her sister had been casting for money to pay off Saint Willow, the gang leader that oversees her sector of Lotusland. If you want to operate a business there, you have to pay your tribute. And now with Shire dead, Aza must step in to save the legacy of Wu Teas, the teahouse that has been in her family for centuries.

When Aza comes across a secret invitation, she decides she doesn’t have much else to lose. She quickly realizes that she’s entered herself into an underground casting tournament, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Real magic, real consequences. As she competes, Aza fights for her life against some very strong and devious competitors.

When the facts about Shire’s death don’t add up, the police start to investigate. When the tributes to Saint Willow aren’t paid, the gang comes to collect. When Aza is caught sneaking around with fresh casting wounds, her parents are alarmed. As Aza’s dangerous web of lies continues to grow, she is caught between trying to find a way out and trapping herself permanently. (from Goodreads)

I am trying to go through my shelves and my TBR. Caster has been on my shelves for a while so I need to read it. It sounds good and right up my alley so I hope that translates to an enjoyable read.

The Devil Comes Courting (2021)

by Courtney Milan
ASIN/ISBN: 9798741161982
Publication: April 20, 2021
Series: The Worth Saga #3

Amelia Smith is intentionally sought out by Captain Grayson Hunter to help with telegraphic transmissions, except he doesn’t realize the genius he’s looking for is a woman. When he does, it’s not enough to deter him from trying to employ her. The problem is whether he can convince her of her value, that there is more to her future than just marriage and children.

I like how historical romances are embracing racial/ethnic diversity. Milan is one author doing this, and I have enjoyed some of her novels thus far. The Devil Comes Courting is a slow-burn romance with POC representation, and one of the highlights of the novel is the two leads. (There’s plenty more I could talk about but I’d prefer not to spoil anything.) Amelia is Chinese and the adopted daughter of an English missionary. Although she is sure her adoptive mother loves her, Amelia can’t help but also want a place to belong where she is accepted for who she is. In his willingness to employ her and to point out her current situation, Grayson offers her some semblance of what she is looking for. He is providing her the opportunity to give her life purpose beyond the one her adoptive mother wants her to choose, marriage and children. Amelia is a refreshing lead for the way her mind works. Amelia is inquisitive and curious, her mindset on tinkering and problem solving until she’s worn out whatever is on her mind. I liked Amelia and related all too well with her inability to remember names. I’m nearly as awful as she is at it. The way she relates things made me realize I’m pretty sure that’s how my brain works when I bring up seemingly unrelated things–“they were both in my head at the same time.”

Grayson is biracial of African American and white heritage. He is arrogant, immediately wanting to seduce Amelia as soon as they meet as well as proclaiming he knows how attractive he is when Amelia blurts out what is on her mind. I strained my eyes from epic eye-rolling. There is a fair amount of arrogance needed, I guess, for someone who is determined to complete such an endeavor. Grayson was easily forgiven for his belief in Amelia. Initially, it seems his belief is just to ensure he gets what he wants–her working for him–but he also recognizes the situation she is in and cares about her feelings. One of my favorite scenes is the somewhat odd questions she asks before deciding whether she wants to work for him or not. Throughout the entire book, his faith in her abilities never falters, and I couldn’t help but have heart eyes. For me, he turned swoon-worthy rather quickly. Underneath his tough exterior though is a man who carries his grief with him and believes he is unworthy of happiness. This plays a role in Amelia and Grayson’s slow-burn romance. His fickleness was irritating at times but understandable due to his situation.

There’s more than meets the eye in When the Devil Comes Courting, especially as the layers are pulled back and subplots are revealed. Readers find out the devil has appeared many times over. Some patience is warranted because it is a slow burn as the leads try to figure out and in some cases try to verbalize what it is they want. While it can get a bit frustrating with how much time they spend apart as opposed to together, their belief and support of one another is one of the highlights of the novel. I finished the novel on a high note because of their regard for one another.

In the Ravenous Dark (2021)

by A.M. Strickland
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250776600
Publication: May 18, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

I was quickly hooked as the book opened with Roven’s dad sacrificing himself to try to conceal Roven’s identity from the bloodmages sent to retrieve him and any family he might have. Some years after her father’s death, she reveals her powers to save someone. Her mistake leads to her whole world being uprooted. She is thrust into the palace and forced to conform to her new role, but she’ll stop at nothing to escape. While the book initially held promise, my hope began to unravel as I delved into Thanopolis and the palace intrigue awaiting Roven. Although there is a lot to like about the book, I couldn’t quite overcome the parts I didn’t like.

With its sigils, blood magic, and bloodlines, the magic system was primarily the most interesting part of the book. I was entranced by the complexity of the system and wanted so much more information than was provided. The powers and the role of the guardians–spirits who inhabit the world of the living and are chained to bloodmages–were fascinating. I wanted more details about the ability of guardians and how they became guardians in the first place. The process by which magic is passed from one generation was intriguing. Then there was also death magic, which was not explained very well because only those who served in the necropolis had full knowledge of what it was. Although I wanted more information, it was enough to momentarily pause my questions about how it worked. It felt like Strickland only scratched the surface of the magical system created, and more stories could be built around it in the future.

The world appeared Greek inspired from the structures to the language to the clothing but I couldn’t visualize much from the descriptions provided. The focus was mostly on the government in place and the magic system. Queer representation was present. One of the love interests Princess Lydea is a lesbian. Japha, who is the first to befriend Rovan in the palace, is non-binary, and Rovan is pansexual. While the world appears queer normative, there is still a perceived duty that individuals must procreate for it to be acceptable. Love between multiple individuals is also acceptable.

While I mostly stick to reading about monogamous relationships, the book deviates from my norm with a polyamorous relationship. I was curious to see how this would be written, and if I would be swayed to like one love interest more than the other; however, it turned out that the romance is likely one of the most disappointing aspects of the book. The problem doesn’t lie with the number of people Rovan potentially loves but in the absence of emotional depth in each relationship pursued. Lust and attraction immediately transform into deep affection with the word love easily escaping from the mouths of those supposedly having fallen into it. I, on the other hand, was still trying to understand how and when love happened. There were hardly any meaningful displays of affection and rarely passion beyond the physical to sway me of these sudden attachments. Because love serves as motivation for some actions characters take, it was difficult for me to overlook the romances supposedly taking place. Aside from familial relationships, the only relationship slightly believable to me was Japha and Rovan’s friendship. Needless to say, I was let down in the romance area. It’s certainly possible that had the book been longer the execution could have improved significantly.

The book moves at a fast pace, jumping from one event to the next. While this didn’t work well with trying to build a foundation for the story and the relationships, it worked fairly well with some parts of the final third of the book. The pace helped build momentum toward what was to come during the conclusion, but the actual ending was not as exciting as I hoped it would be. Due to the quick pace, there were limited opportunities to relish what the book had to offer, with its greatest effect being my lack of connections with many of the characters. I wasn’t invested in anyone other than Rovan, and it didn’t matter much to me what would happen to the rest.

As much as I liked the magic system, I was a bit disappointed by In the Ravenous Dark. The very beginning held a lot of promise, and I was excited to read it. The last third was also interesting. Despite enjoying parts of it, I thought it was lacking in certain areas, particularly the romance. It was difficult figuring out how to rate this because even with all the things I did like about it, I just kept thinking about how the execution was lacking. I compromised with myself and decided to put it smack dab in the middle.

Music Monday 1.1: Used to spend…

This meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You pick a song you really like and share it on, you guessed it, Monday.

I stumbled onto this meme through Mischenko @ReadRantRock&Roll. I love music and I love books, but I don’t always get a chance to make full playlists that pair music and books. Music Monday will let me do this whenever at all possible, one song at a time.

I am starting this meme on the blog with my absolute favorite Chris Stapleton song “Tennessee Whiskey.” It’s summer. Temperatures have already been in the three digits for the past few days and something as “smooth as Tennessee Whiskey” and “sweet as strawberry wine” is what I need during these warm summer evenings. I’d really like to see him live one day!


You’re as smooth as Tennessee whiskey / You’re as sweet as strawberry wine
You’re as warm as a glass of brandy / And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time

I know, I know. This book just keeps popping up everywhere on the blog but hear me out. It’s the perfect pairing for the song’s message that love is like a drug. Grace tries to make it clear how much she loathes Ewan, but he is completely in love with her, willing to do what he must to stay by her side despite his past decisions. He confesses he would burn down all of London searching for her. Grace is Ewan’s drug. It’s a friends-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers second chance romance with extreme groveling. (Review)

Six Degrees of Separation: June 2021

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme that began with Annabel Smith and Emma Chapman and has been hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best since 2016. Each month a new book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Links can be formed in any way you want, including authors, themes, keywords, and pretty much anything.

Join in by posting your own six degrees chain on your blog and adding the link in the Linky section (or comments) of each month’s post. If you don’t have a blog, you can share your chain in the comments section. You can also check out links to posts on Twitter using the hashtag #6Degrees

STARTING BOOK: The Bass Rock – Evie Wyld

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld is a book I have not read but the treatment of women and their fight to survive is a theme present in the novel.


1. The theme is present in one of my favorite trilogies. Subversive by Colleen Cowley is the first book in the Clandestine Magic trilogy. Cowley’s trilogy blends a few genres (historical fiction, romance, fantasy) to create an alternate U.S history where women never acquired rights and only men have magical abilities. While the entire trilogy is amazing, Subversive is my favorite. Beatrix is part of the women’s rights movement and is hired to be an assistant for the town’s new magician. (Review)


2. Similarly in The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk, a regency inspired romantic fantasy, women have limited rights. They are restricted from practicing magic but Beatrice Clayborn practices in secret, hoping she will be able to save herself from a marriage collar and having her magic blocked off. Beatrix and Beatrice are both similar in their desires to practice magic in male-dominated societies where they’re told it is impossible for them to do so. (Review)


3. The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee is a work of historical fiction set in Atlanta in the early 20th Century about a young Chinese woman Jo who hides her identity writing an advice column under the pseudonym Miss Sweetie. Like Beatrix and Beatrice, her rights are limited for simply being a woman, but also being Chinese means she’s treated doubly worse. Through the column, Miss Sweetie voices her support for race and gender equality and people, especially other women, pay attention.


4. Another young woman is forced to hide her identity in The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang. Cora Lee is the impossible girl born with two hearts. As a medical anomaly who is sought after, she pretends to be her twin brother Jacob and works as a resurrectionist, illegally exhuming bodies for science or whoever will pay for it, to make a living as well as to stay on top of the rumors of a girl with two hearts and those willing to acquire her body. Kang writes a compelling story and I found myself fully engrossed in the novel, especially the conclusion. It was so good.


5. The theme of hiding one’s identity continues with Sherry Thomas’s My Beautiful Enemy. Alternating between the past and present, ex-lovers Catherine Blade and Captain Leighton Atwood find themselves entangled in each other’s lives in England in 1891 just as they were in 1883 in Chinese Turkestan. Leighton first encountered Catherine as Ying-ying and dressed as a young man. When they unexpectedly meet again in England, an enemy also resurfaces trying to retrieve the Chinese artifact Catherine’s been sent by her uncle to steal. Hidden underneath her ladylike demure is actually a woman skilled in martial arts and isn’t as helpless as she seems as compared to the other women surrounding her and Leighton.

6. While also set in a period where women have limited rights and the expectation is that single women be married, Amelia Smith has the opportunity to do more with her life. Like Catherine Blade, Amelia is more than she seems. In Courtney Milan’s The Devil Comes Courting Amelia Smith is intentionally sought out by Captain Grayson Hunter to help with telegraphic transmissions, except he doesn’t realize that the genius he’s looking for is a woman. When he does, it’s not enough to deter him from trying to employ her.

ENDING BOOK: The Devil Comes Courting by Courtney Milan

I’ve been looking forward to this since the beginning of last month. I was more intentional this time around, sticking close to historical fiction and strong female characters pushing against societal constraints in their own ways whether it be practicing magic or working rather getting married.

Next month: Eats, Shoots, & Leaves by Lynne Truss

First Lines Fridays 1.1: In my fifteen years…

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

In my fifteen years, I have stuck my arm in a vat of slithering eels, climbed all the major hills of San Francisco, and tiptoed over the graves of a hundred souls. Today, I will walk on air.


by Stacey Lee
ASIN/ISBN: 978039915411
Publication: May 24, 2016

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city? (from Goodreads)

I’m currently taking a break and rereading books–Outrun the Moon being one of them. I thought I might try to hook you with the first line. You already know my stance on Stacey Lee’s historical fiction novels so I won’t say too much. I’ll try to put up a review soon though. I hope you decide to give it a try!