The Inheritance Games (2020)

by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
ASIN/ISBN: 9781368052405
Publication: September 1, 2020
Series: The Inheritance Games #1

After her mother dies, Avery is left under the care of her half-sister. She discovers her financial struggles are solved when she unexpectedly becomes the heir to billions of dollars despite not knowing the man who left it to her. With a disinherited family that calls foul on her new position, the biggest questions become what is the link between Avery and the Hawthornes and what game has Tobias Hawthorne forced them into.

The book is fast-paced and kept me engaged the entire time. I couldn’t stop reading it. While the main plot is about trying to solve the clues left behind by Tobias Hawthorne, multiple subplots helped to make the book interesting, including the dangers that come with being the heir to billions and navigating a new school and relationships. The book invokes the importance of family as well as the influence of money on behavior. Both themes are prominent throughout the book and manifests itself in different ways, but especially through Avery’s relationships with her sister and the Hawthorne boys.

I was immediately intrigued by Avery with her willingness to help those around her, despite her current means, and her personality. Avery is smart, loves puzzles, and wants to be a statisician. I liked her as soon as I read that–I’m a nerd who also loves data and stats. Avery has to learn to adjust to her new life including a new school, having a security detail, and living with the Hawthornes. While her integration into this new world isn’t without its problems, she tries to remain grounded. She doesn’t give up and tries not to let the money corrupt her. One of the curious pieces of this entire puzzle is that her mind works scarily similarly to that of the Hawthorne boys, especially Jameson and Grayson, even though she has no idea of her connection to Tobias or the entire Hawthorne family. Barnes skillfully injects clues here and there to make the reader question what they think they know.

Aside from Avery, everything is a mystery, and I enjoyed unraveling the clues alongside her. The estate immediately reminded me of the Winchester House in San Jose, CA with the many mysteries and secrets within the Hawthorne House. Of course, the Hawthorne boys are also one of the biggest mysteries in the book. I couldn’t tell whether they were genuine about helping her or if they wanted to depose of Avery in a roundabout way. When Avery’s paranoia began to set in, I thought it was smartly written because even I started to question everyone around her, especially the boys. I did have a soft spot for Xander, the youngest of the boys, and kept hoping he had nothing to do with the danger lurking in every corner.

There is a budding romance, or should I say romances, although it’s not the main focus. As someone who abhors love triangles, I feel it is my duty to report that a love triangle is brewing. Avery’s indecisiveness contributes to it and I hated that. I get it, she’s still just in high school and trying to navigate a nearly nonexistent social life with the mystery of the inheritance so I’m sorry…but also not sorry. It had to be said. I didn’t like her confusing actions.

After finishing it, I completely understand the hype around the book when it first came out. Individuals who like a good mystery and scavenger hunt will enjoy The Inheritance Games. The book ends on a cliffhanger, which I had somewhat expected, so with The Hawthorne Legacy already on hand….Let the games continue!

{audiobook} Subversive (2020)

by Colleen Cowley
ASIN/ISBN: B08GYLTKNZ
Publication: September 27, 2020
Series: Clandestine Magic Trilogy #1

Book review

Narrated by: Leanne Woodward
Release date: June 23, 2021
Length: 11 hrs and 57 mins

**I was provided access to the audiobook through the author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Peter Blackwell returns to his former hometown Ellicott Mills to serve as the town’s resident wizard, an omnimancer to help with illnesses or other problems that may arise in the town. Requiring an assistant, he manages to steal Beatrix Harper from her current place of employment (against her wishes). Although initially adverse to the idea, Beatrix agrees to help him, not realizing that helping Peter will require her to break the law because he didn’t exactly return home to just be an omnimancer.

I’ve gushed about the Clandestine Magic Trilogy as being one of my favorite trilogies in 2020. It was about time for a reread it when I found out about the audiobook. I don’t typically listen to audiobooks because I’m picky about narrators, and audiobooks take longer than if I read the book myself. I don’t mind audiobooks as rereads though. I immensely enjoyed the audiobook Subversive.

Subversive is the perfect blend of everything I love: historical fiction, fantasy, and romance. As a student of political science, I thought Cowley captured perfectly the distribution of power as it relates to women’s rights and those without magic, or typics. Those with magic hold an inordinate amount of authority as compared to those without magic and women have fewer rights compared to men. Wizards and men try to maintain their power by ensuring women remain without it. This serves as the backdrop to Peter’s return to his hometown and his employment of Beatrix. The reread reminded me why Beatrix and Peter make the perfect duo and remain one of my favorite couples.

While I initially listened to the audiobook at its normal speed, I eventually increased it to 1.1x its normal speed. Because I usually talk fast, this was a perfect speed and sounded more natural to me in both pace and tone. Once I got comfortable with the speed, it was easy enough to enjoy the narration. Through Leanne Woodward’s narration, Cowley’s magnetic storytelling comes to life. Woodward is the perfect narrator, and I don’t think I would have been able to finish the audiobook had I not liked her narration. Her enunciation is perfect, and her voice is clear. Characters are distinguished through different voices, which I liked a lot. Even with multiple female characters, each voice is distinct from the other so it’s easy to tell the individuals apart. For instance, Beatrix’s voice sounds closer to the narrator whereas Beatrix’s sister Lydia has a softer voice and is higher in pitch. Aside from the voices, I especially enjoyed the variation in intonation to exhibit an array of emotions. One of my favorite displays of this is when Beatrix first realizes what Peter has planned for her.  Woodward’s anguish as Beatrix called to me and broke my heart just like when I first read it.

I hope Leanne Woodward remains the narrator for the rest of the books. I already have Radical, book two in the trilogy, lined up as my next listen.

Love Her or Lose Her (2020)

by Tessa Bailey
ASIN/ISBN: B07QN8SRR3
Publication: January 14, 2020
Series: Hot & Hammered #2

I liked the premise of the story, and it is immediately engaging as the book begins with Rosie miserable while on the job. When a customer attempts to hit on her, it’s the catalyst to a life-altering decision to leave her husband–something that has been a long time coming. What are you supposed to do when your relationship ceases to be what it used to be, nor does it seem to be growing in a positive direction? What do you do when communication halts? Rosie sees this as her only choice while Dominic feels blindsided even though it hasn’t escaped his notice that their relationship isn’t how it used to be or how it should be.

With dual points of view, Rosie describes a relationship where she’s lost herself and her dreams. Her life is monotonous, which isn’t something she necessarily seems to mind, except that the person she loves is closed off and doesn’t make her feel loved anymore. From Dominic’s perspective, Rosie is the only woman he’s ever loved, but he is withdrawn and can’t seem to fulfill the role he thinks he should be doing. Like Rosie, he is aware their relationship is different but doesn’t know how to break the cycle. In each of their chapters, it is exceedingly clear that 1) the sex remains fantastic and 2) love for the other person has never ceased. The true culprit? A lack of communication contributed to the breakdown of the relationship. Unfulfilled dreams and somewhat unwarranted self-expectations place further strains in a once passionate relationship. Being that it’s a romance novel, the question isn’t whether there will be a HEA but how they will arrive there. It’s heartbreaking on multiple levels to see a relationship break down but there’s always hope when individuals are willing to try. And that’s what Rosie and Dominic do, they try.

While I wanted to lay all the blame on Dominic, I appreciated the realistic portrayal of the relationship where the fault is not one-sided; it takes two. Because individuals become too preoccupied with their own needs, they may forget their partner’s needs. Rosie and Dominic are receptive to each other and put in the effort once they are allowed to share how they feel. The book emphasizes the theme that love can serve as a foundation, but it needs to be nurtured to remain structurally sound. I’m not sure exactly how I felt about how their relationship problems were resolved. I was disappointed with how some of their problems were resolved and how quickly they were resolved, especially their last problem and its resolution, which seemed to sweep things under the rug more than anything else.

Love Her or Lose Her is the type of story that encourages readers to reflect on their relationships and examine if they’re doing enough for their relationship and their partner. Or, it could just be me because I certainly did a lot of thinking. I like when romance novels provide me with these moments of contemplation. Bailey effectively presents a story that addresses the essential role communication plays in a relationship and how crucial it is to try to understand a relationship from the other person’s perspective. While the first half was engaging, the second half started to slip with the relationship problems solved almost too easily.

The Worst Best Man (2020)

by Mia Sosa
ASIN/ISBN: 9780062909879
Publication: February 4, 2020

Lina is a wedding planner and asked to compete to be permanently on staff for a prominent hotel group. She’s excited at the prospect, but decidedly less so when she meets the marketing team–her ex- fiancé and his brother Max–who is supposed to help make her pitch. Although Max may have encouraged his brother to leave her on their wedding day, he can’t help but be attracted to her the more they work together. Similarly, Lina starts feeling like more than just work is happening with Max.

The Worst Best Man has a trope I hate, dating an ex’s sibling. I get it. You can’t help who you fall in love with, but there’s a code somewhere that has to be followed, right? The book addresses it, and the characters have a tough time figuring out their situation, but it’s still such a messy ordeal and feels nearly incestuous. This decreased my enjoyment of the novel, but I liked Max and Lina together enough that I would forget they were almost in-laws. The problem was when I would remember out of nowhere. **shudders** My other gripe was how quickly they became attracted to each other. It’s a substantial hurdle to overcome, going from despising the guy who encouraged your fiancé/his brother to leave you to being nearly instantly attracted to him. There needed to be more time to knock over the hurdle than was given.

Despite being conflicted about their prior connection and the pace of their interaction, I enjoyed Lina and Max’s relationship, from enemies to lovers, because they were so easygoing with each other. They not only worked well together, but they had fun while doing it. The aspect I enjoyed most was how they brought out the best in each other by helping to quell negative thoughts and provide comforting words. Their relationship, which may have started with some petty moves mostly on Lina’s part, had substance to it. This was a healthier relationship than I’ve seen in most books, one not marked by possessiveness but a willingness to talk and listen. While they were great together, the passion felt subdued. I am a fan of emotional reads (Kennedy Ryan owns so many pieces of my heart that it’s not funny), and The Worst Best Man doesn’t have that. Although it didn’t make my heart flutter miles a minute, part of me enjoyed that their affection toward each other wasn’t the all-consuming kind–it was nice to breathe and not be left in a book coma.

The subdued feelings, however, play well into Lina’s character. Lina is dedicated to her job and possibly even loves it, but I’m not sure because she doesn’t seem to express joy over it as much as she is dedicated to doing a good job. She is petty, which makes for some funny situations especially when her family is in the picture, but she is mature when it counts–seeing your ex and the cause of your breakup calls for a lot of maturity and restraint. It’s this latter ability that forms the basis of her character arc. She displays a lot of emotional restraint, while Max is the opposite. He’s very willing to take chances on what he feels, but he’s also patient, allowing Lina the space she needs to make her decision. Max isn’t perfect, which makes him all the more likeable. His insecurities often hinder his potential, but Lina reinforces how wonderful he is. He might be the worst best man, but they’re well-suited for each other.

Additional highlights in the book include Max and his heart-to-heart talks with best friend Dean. I enjoyed their bromance. Friends should be supportive like Dean. At one point, Dean lets Max crawl into bed with him, and it was too cute. Lina and her family are also fantastic. Natalia is fierce and ready to back up Lina at any moment. She’s awesome!

The Worst Best Man didn’t sweep me off my feet, but it didn’t have to. With characters who complement each other so well, it was easy to support the main romance, even if I wasn’t on board with the “dating an ex’s sibling” trope.

Gin’s Tonic (2020)

by Olivia Owen
ASIN/ISBN: B085RQJYWR
Publication: April 16, 2020

Virginia “Gin” Lee’s life is turned upside after a devastating loss. Running away from what’s left of her life in So Cal and looking for a place where she can be no one instead of someone, she finds herself in small town Jasper, Colorado after nearly running someone over. Yup, it’s a “city girl looking for escape in a small town” book. This may prompt an eye roll because of the abundance of similar books but Gin’s Tonic is so well-written. I picked it up on a whim but it was the book I needed in that exact moment. It embraced me like only a comfort read could. With imperfect characters, found family, and healing, Gin’s Tonic soothed a part of me I didn’t realize needed it.

Gin is broken and aware of it. She recently takes up smoking to purposely shorten her lifespan. She considers ending her life, even attempting it at one point. Anyone in her situation–going through the motions of living while not really living at all–might act in a similar way. While I cannot relate to Gin on every level, there were things about her I identified with, making the story feel more personal in some ways. The town easily embraces her, and she finds herself becoming part of the town’s “we” rather than the no one she wanted to be. The church ladies break the typical church lady stereotypes and are a fun bunch, and Aunt May and Becca essentially adopts her into their small family.

Roman is a big brooding alpha male. He’s the silent, protective type and seems to always show up when Gin needs him most. If this was real life, I’d be a little bit terrified but it’s a romance book so, for now, let me have swoon. I’m always on the fence about alpha males and some of their tendencies but Roman’s personality and overall behavior doesn’t particularly trigger any of my alarms and eyerolls the way other alpha male characters normally do. I loved how patient he was with Gin.

It’s told solely from Gin’s perspective, which is surprising considering the majority of my romance reads alternate viewpoints of the potential couple. As much as I liked Roman and would have liked to hear his thoughts–in the beginning I was wondering when would I get his perspective–I quickly realized that I preferred it without. I liked that this was solely Gin’s story; this was her journey to healing.

I flipped back and forth on the romance. Initially, I loved it because Gin and Roman seemed to fit so well but upon rereading my favorite parts over, it was difficult to understand why they gravitated toward each other. In piecing their progression from strangers to lovers, I found I wasn’t as easily convinced the second time around. It’s attraction at first, but becomes this unexplained connection that draws them to each other. It’s attraction mingled with lust bordering on instalove but they talk about it as if it’s something more. Eventually, it could be but I don’t know if I believe it is. Of course, maybe it’s just the cynical me who comes out when I try to understand rather than simply believing. Alternatively, it makes just as much sense to say Owen just doesn’t explicitly write it. It could be the brokenness they see in each and their loneliness that connects them to each other or something but there’s no explicit confirmation. Of course, after all of that (I’m so sorry for putting you through my rant) the hopeless romantic in me still enjoyed them together.

This is Owen’s debut novel and I liked it so much. I continuously looked at how much I still had left to read every few pages because I was scared I was getting close to the end. And, I didn’t want it to just yet. While I wished it would keep going, my heart was content with the ending, epilogue included. The book leaves a lot of room to continue the stories of those connected to Gin, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to leave Gin and Roman behind just yet. I will be rereading this book many times over.

Caster (2019) / Spell Starter (2020)

by Elsie Chapman
Series Review

**This is a series review that may contain spoilers for Spell Starter**

Caster_cover


Caster

ASN/ISBN: 9781338332629
Publication: September 3, 2019
3h-stars

Aza is left to ensure her parents’ debt to the Tea District’s gang leader is regularly paid after her sister is killed. Although against the law, she resorts to using full magic to make money while also trying to learn what happened to her sister. When she stumbles upon an underground tournament for casters such as herself, the prize money is too much to pass up. 

Caster grabbed my attention right away. I liked Chapman’s writing style, which immersed me in Aza’s life, even though it takes place in a matter of days only. It’s an atmospheric read that will have you also thinking about the potential demise of our world. The world of Caster is dark and bleak, especially for individuals like Aza. Losing her sister and trying to protect her parents spurs Aza to put her life at risk daily by casting full magic to make ends meet. The magic system Chapman creates is a harsh one, where its use exacts a high price. Not only do casters such as Aza pay with headaches and bruises, but the earth breaks down each time. This made me question why individuals would still choose to cast. From Aza’s perspective, it’s both a matter of choice and survival, but there’s also a need to cast that is created by magic.

Aza is a flawed protagonist, which was why I was both drawn to her and struggled with some of her decisions. Lies easily leave her tongue if her survival depends on it. It isn’t necessarily that she’s only interested in looking out for herself, but her family’s well-being is also her top priority. Don’t expect her to go jumping into a fire to save someone; she’s more likely to look the other way if it means she can keep those she loves safe. I found it admirable but also winced a little each time someone’s life was forfeit because of her. While her actions throughout the book are reflective of her priorities, there are glimpses of her fighting against herself to not care about other people, showcasing that if life were different she had the potential to be the protagonist I wanted her to be rather than straddling the middle.


SpellStarter_cover-rs


Spell Starter

ASN/ISBN: 9781338589511
Publication: October 6, 2020

Aza deals with the aftermath of her decisions during the tournament. Left beholden to Saint Willow, she becomes an enforcer, shaking debtors for late payments, until it’s decided her skills are more useful in one of Saint Willow’s new endeavors. Compliance is mandatory because refusing to do Saint Willow’s bidding could spell disaster for her parents.

Spell Starter feels similar to Caster but more dangerous due to Aza’s new circumstances. Just as things seem like they can’t get any worse, they do. I thought this was clever of Chapman because her magic system already requires such a high payment. While the second book ups the stakes, Spell Starter isn’t nearly as intriguing a book because it was mostly already done (and done pretty well) in Caster. Parts of the book also feels cheaper, but it’s obvious it is meant to feel this way. If you read it, you’ll understand what I mean and that it’s not a jab at Chapman because I think she purposefully does it well. Aza’s story is still compelling, but it doesn’t hit the same way Caster does with loss and revenge at the forefront of her decision-making. 

The beginning of the book had me a bit frustrated because it didn’t make sense why Aza didn’t just think about incapacitating or even just destroying Saint Willow until it was too late. She has full magic! My best guess is the devil you know is better than the one you don’t. While she tries to protect her parents throughout both novels, it also gets tiring and even frustrating, especially in Spell Starter. I started to question their obliviousness at so much of what Aza was doing and everything else going on. They couldn’t be that unaware…could they?


Overall Assessment

Caster is a gritty duology with a protagonist who isn’t always likeable. Aza goes to great lengths to protect her parents from the district’s gang leader and to find out the circumstances behind her sister’s death. The world is a bleak one, and Aza’s decisions aren’t always ones I readily approved of, even if I understood why she made them. The duology left me in a dreary state, with a less than positive outlook, as it moved from the impact of losing a loved one to the costs of a world where magic not only destroys the user but the world. Although I enjoyed Caster more than I did Spell Starter, the series is a worthwhile read, and there’s potentially more that can be added should Chapman continue Aza’s story. I’m all in.

Cinderella Is Dead (2020)

by Kaylynn Bayron
ASIN/ISBN: 9781547603879
Publication: July 7, 2020

I’ve been meaning to read Cinderella Is Dead since it was first published nearly a year ago, but being a mood reader means wanting and doing are two different things. I finally finished it yesterday. The premise behind the book is rather interesting, providing readers with a retelling of the fairy tale and what happens after Cinderella and her prince supposedly lived happily ever after.  While I did enjoy the book, it didn’t quite live up to the expectations I built around it. 

Sophia is in love with her best friend Erin, and while Erin seems to return those feelings, she is unwilling to rebel. The laws are explicit that young women are to attend balls where suitors will choose them as brides. And just like the fairy tale, they are meant to then live happily ever after with some caveats. The happily is optional, women only have three tries at finding a suitor, and men can terminate the ever after if they choose to. The ball maintains the illusion of what Cinderella had to go through to find her prince including arriving in one’s best dress and finding a life partner at the end of it. For over 200 years, this has been the way of things, and women have been without rights. Forced to attend her first ball, Sophia makes a run for it, choosing an alternate path she carves for herself.

While Sophia is tenacious and daring, willing to risk her life not only for love but freedom for herself as well as those of other young women in her position, I found her character naively idealistic at times. I wanted to yell at her and tell her to consider the consequences including thinking through her actions more carefully before doing anything risky. Maybe it’s meant to be part of her character but I wanted more complexity from Sophia. With the plot moving so quickly, jumping from one thing to the next, Sophia hardly ever gets to think many things through. I was also bothered by how quickly Sophia moves on despite being adamant about her love for Erin and her willingness to risk everything to be with Erin. She jumps from one love interest to the next in a matter of what seems like days. This feeds into the too fast pace of the novel, which I was not particularly fond of. I didn’t get the depth I was expecting in a story with a premise that fascinated me. The lack of depth also extends to Constance, Erin, and a few other characters.

While it lacked depth, I did like the dominant themes in the novel. The recurring theme of empowerment was particularly done well. There are several lines from Sophia that highlighted this that I loved. One of my favorites is Sophia saying, “I don’t want to be saved by some knight in shining armor. I’d like to be the one in the armor, and I’d like to be the one doing the saving.” I also thought one of the most poignant lines in the book asks who the tale of Cinderella is really for. It highlights how problematic fairy tales can become and the book confronts this through the retelling.

Cinderella Is Dead offers a retelling of the classic fairy tale that turns it on its head. Rather than waiting for a prince or princess, the book emphasizes seizing the opportunity to be your own hero. While not all my expectations were met, those who look forward to alternatives to the stories they’ve heard or watched growing up may enjoy the book.


Wrath of the Tooth Fairy (2020)

by Sarina Dorie
ASIN/ISBN: B0851NDS9G
Publication: July 21, 2020

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

Mira was a fairy godmother until she was found in a compromising position after falling in love with a godson, a Prince Charming. After losing her job as a fairy godmother and deemed a predator, she is relegated to a tooth fairy. After nearly a hundred years, she’s still trying to work her way back to being a fairy godmother. When she starts being visited by a bogeyman, she sets out to find a way to keep him away. The bogeyman, however, may be more than he seems when a prank he plays makes Mira suspect there may be shady practices going on within the company she works at.

Wrath of the Tooth Fairy can be classified as a romantic fantasy, but the romance is not as developed as I would like in my romance novels. Fortunately, the romance isn’t the draw of the book. Mira’s journey is what kept me reading. Mira loved her job as a fairy godmother and was on the way to holding a prominent position before falling in love with Prince Charming. She is determined to regain her fairy godmother status. She has a soft heart and bends the rules to help her clients beyond her teeth collecting duties even if being found out could lead to losing her job–becoming a toilet fairy does not sound fun. While she tries to keep her head down and stay away from trouble, the small ways in which she rebels against the system made her someone I rooted for. (You can do it!) But are these small gestures enough? What happens if you need to put more skin in the game?

The world immediately drew me in. Although there are different dimensions, the world we spend the most time in is the one that overlaps with humans and operates much like it as well. Individuals fulfill occupational roles ranging from bogeyman to Santas and Easter Bunnies. Not all fairies have wings. Unfortunately, cupids do have uniforms that look exactly like a giant diaper. Of all things replicated, it’s the oft-dreaded bureaucracies and their red tape that made me cringe. (Ugh! Not here too!) Joining Mira on her journey felt like it could be just another day at work: a lousy boss, incessant complaints, and commiserating with coworkers. Different world, the same problems. Heh…

Just like being on the clock, that darn minute hand doesn’t budge very easily. As much as I liked the setup of the novel and Mira’s journey, the pacing of the book had me checking how much more I had to go before the middle mark and then how much more until the end. It’s repetitive with Mira working, the bogeyman showing up many times over, and Mira trying to figure out what to do about him. It felt like so much happened, but also nothing happened at all. It’s not until the second half that the plot moves forward. When it did, I breathed a sigh of relief and was rewarded for overcoming the first half. It was an uphill battle for a while there. Then toward the end, it kept going when I was ready for it to stop.

Like Mira, I had to figure out whether I should risk putting my skin in the game–so many books, so little time, right? And, time is something you never get back. (That’s a lot of skin!) Overall, I made a sound decision. The pacing wore me down some, but Mira puts up a good fight, well, at least in the second half, which is how the half star appeared. For the most part, I enjoyed it and can positively say time was not wasted. While I do recommend Wrath of the Tooth Fairy, you’ll have to consider if the risk is worth it as well.

The Awakening (2021)

by Nora Roberts
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250272614
Publication: November 24, 2020
Series: The Dragon Heart Legacy #1

Breen Kelly is riddled with student debt and working in a job she doesn’t like. After discovering her mother has been keeping an investment account in her name with money sent from her dad that she never knew about, Breen decides to take charge and use some of it to change her current situation. She sets off to Ireland with her best friend in search of herself, to understand her past, and possibly to find her dad. She finds more than she expects: a portal to another world, a grandmother she didn’t know she had, and more weight placed on her shoulders.

This is my first Nora Roberts novel. I’ve been itching to get my hands on it after reading many positive blogger reviews. When the library finally alerted me it was available, I quickly jumped at the chance to explore Ireland and Talamh with Breen. While it’s not the amazing read I expected, it’s also better than average.

The Awakening is a slow build-up to what’s to come in the next books of the trilogy. When I say slow, I really mean it because nothing particularly “exciting” happens in this book. There are minor skirmishes here and there but they are nowhere near the scale I was hoping for. As the title suggests, it’s an awakening of sorts: the beginning of a trilogy, an introduction to a whole other realm, and, most importantly, the beginning of Breen’s journey toward self-discovery.

Raised to believe that her father abandoned her and that she is less than, the Breen first introduced is insecure, has low self-esteem, and is more than a bit miserable. By the end of the book, although remnants of who she used to be are still present, she carries herself with more confidence. Breen is a dynamic character with her transformation a powerful one as she learns to take charge of her life rather than allow someone else to dictate her worth.

I enjoyed the beginning of the novel because it starts quickly with Breen finding the financial documents that set off her adventure to Ireland. However, it slows immensely once Breen arrives in Ireland. While I appreciated the lush landscape of Ireland and the fun Breen was having with best friend Marco, I was ready to jump or dive or whatever I needed to do to find Talamh and its inhabitants. The book doesn’t get there until a third of the way through. Talamh is where things get interesting; however, it also becomes repetitive with the constant training and Breen’s back and forth between her cottage and Talamh.

The relationship she has with her best friend Marco is a highlight with the amount of love and support they provide for each other. Another highlight is her relationship with her grandmother, Marg. The opposite of Breen’s mother, Marg is loving, compassionate, and supportive. Then there is Keegan, the ruler or protector of the realm. Because of a promise to protect Breen, he’s bound to her, and he’s also set on ensuring she can protect herself.  Where Marg has a soft and reassuring touch when teaching Breen, Keegan has no qualms about making sure Breen knows what she is up against. Their training often leaves her with bruises.

The romantic pairing between Breen and Keegan is also being established, scratching the surface of their potential as romantic partners. Their pairing is both expected and unexpected. It was obvious they are being set up to be a couple, but there is no hint of an attraction. Their majority of their interactions with each other seemed non-romantic at best, with limited introspection about their feelings–no heated glance, no slight touch, nothing much to make my heart beat for their pairing. They spend a lot of time training, a prime time for building the attraction through descriptions and angst, but neither was present. When Keegan suddenly declares his attraction to Breen, it felt unnecessary and not quite believable. I like their pairing but hope more is in store to further develop the relationship in the next book.

In its entirety, The Awakening is solely an introduction. The world is being built here, establishing an understanding of why Talamh is in the state that it is, the rules, who comes and goes, why they’re still tilling with horses, and why Breen is important. While it’s an amusing and often entertaining experience as Breen learns about her heritage, it also became repetitive in parts. Overall, I found it was a good book. While I’m not quite invested in the characters, I am interested in where the story will lead.

Today Tonight Tomorrow (2020)

by Rachel Lynn Solomon
ASN/ISBN: 9781534440241
Publication: July 14, 2020

**May contain spoilers. Please proceed with caution.**

When Neil is announced as the school’s valedictorian, it puts a dent in Rowan’s diabolical daydream of having him finally bow to her as the more formidable opponent. Now, she has only one last chance to beat him, the school’s annual scavenger hunt for graduating seniors known as the Howl. The competition takes an unexpected turn when she finds out a group of seniors are out to eliminate both her and Neil, turning the academic rivals into an unlikely team. Spending time working with each other as opposed to against one another has Rowan reevaluating her perception of Neil, seeing him in a different (possibly more rosy-colored) light.

As a fan of Sleepless in Seattle, Rachel Lynn Solomon had me at Seattle but my adoration of the book is all Solomon’s doing. “It was like…magic” mixed with a hefty dose of nostalgia when I first read it last summer. It remained much the same when I reread it recently. During my first reading, words evaded me when I tried writing a review. Even months after, I was unable to express how I felt about my best read of 2020. As May comes around with graduation ceremonies abound, I finally found the words to write something coherent.

Today Tonight Tomorrow completely and unexpectedly overwhelmed me. It felt like I was thrown back into high school. I was flooded with nostalgia as I simultaneously lived Rowan’s last day of high school and recalled celebrating my last days–mine was nowhere near as exciting as the Howl but I did get one last hurrah with friends.

Rowan and Neil were well-rounded characters. We learn about their hopes, dreams, and fears. I couldn’t help but adore them as they turned from rivals into an unexpected team. Initially, they have a one-dimensional relationship due to their rivalry but teaming up forces them into a different relationship that allows them to discover different sides of the other. While the events of the book take place in the span of 24 hours, the feelings that blossom in a single night don’t feel new at all–just newly uncovered. The feelings have been nurtured throughout their rivalry, and the layers of their relationship are now being peeled back, or maybe more accurately ripped off like a bandaid considering the time frame. With the book told strictly from Rowan’s point of view, it was entertaining to observe her thoughts and feelings, to see the different stages of her discovery, and to witness her initial shock that (gasp!) Neil is a person with feelings (I’m completely exaggerating here), that he could be someone she would feel anything other than antagonism toward. It was deeply satisfying.

There are so many things I admire about Rowan, including her passion and drive to go after what she wants (like bringing Neil down). One of my favorite scenes is when her friends tell her that for someone she dislikes, Neil occupies an alarming amount of her thoughts and time. Rowan thinks they’re clearly out of their minds for suggesting she feels anything beyond wanting to take him down. I couldn’t help but also agree that her friends were onto something. I also admire her commitment to her writing aspirations, which leads to Rowan explaining her love of romance novels. I agree with her assessment of the genre and the less than warm reception it generally receives. Solomon, through Rowan, helped me be comfortable with my love for romance novels even as my friends cringed when I (cautiously) confessed my undying love for the genre.

In an interview, she says the book is an homage/a love letter to Seattle. What a love letter it is! I’ve never been to Seattle, but I’ve always wanted to visit one day. Solomon created a sense of urgency to visit the rainy city, as though I should have done it yesterday. She does a tremendous job creating a sense of place with the vivid descriptions of the many places, both touristy spots and hidden gems, throughout Seattle. All this is possible because Solomon isn’t just a writer, she’s a conjurer of images and feelings, able to stir my long-forgotten memories of high school to life and make Rowan and Neil feel alive.

Today Tonight Tomorrow solidified Solomon as an automatic buy author for me. If you’re still wondering if I recommend Today Tonight Tomorrow, then I haven’t done a good job of divulging my love for this novel. I hope you’re itching to read it, even if you’ve already read it before. It’s my chef’s kiss of 2020!

To deal with the feelings you might have after finishing the book (book coma anyone?), here’s a short list of things that might help. I wish I had prepared them in advance. You know what they–whoever they are–say, “Hindsight is always 20/20.”

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