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.”

GRADUATiON PLAYLiST

YouTube | Spotify

Daring and the Duke (2020)

by Sarah MacLean
ASN/ISBN: 9780062691996
Publication: June 30, 2020
Series: The Bareknuckle Bastards #3

I haven’t read the other books in the series, but it’s not necessary to read the prior books to understand Grace and Ewan’s friends-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers romance. MacLean provides enough background to understand the events that lead up to Grace and Ewan meeting again. Grace is also known as Dahlia, but I’ll just refer to her by Grace here.

Grace created a kingdom with her brothers in Covent Garden, but she sits alone on her throne while her brothers have found love. While several men would willingly stand beside her, she’s never gotten over the boy who broke her heart. When he reappears, she attempts to get her revenge so she can finally move on and remove him from her life. Unfortunately for Grace, Ewan isn’t going to let her go so easily. 

This book was everything I needed and more to get me back to reading romance novels. I reverted to rereading old and new favorites because I was unsuccessful in finding something new that I liked. Then, I read a mini-review at A Fox’s Wanderings that mentioned lots of groveling, and I said, “Yup! I need it in my life.” (I stand with Alienor at A Fox’s Wanderings as a lover of books with groveling heroes.) I read the review on March 30th, started it on the 31st, and finished reading it on April 1st.  It was flipping fantastic! I smiled, I swooned, I had to set it down for a few minutes to breathe and settle my aching heart, and then I smiled some more, and I swooned some more.

I liked Grace. She was smart, kind, and a real badass. But even love will make fools of the most intelligent people. Despite multiple attempts by Grace to remove Ewan from her life, he continues to maintain a hold on her. He never pushes her more than she is willing to give. I appreciated his non-alpha character and the respect he had for her. Although Grace tries to stay away from Ewan, their connection is electric. When they’re together, there is always an undercurrent of passion sizzling beneath the glances they throw one another. The groveling was near perfection. It made the butterflies swarm, and my heart beat erratically.

The pull between Grace and Ewan and their constant longing for one another wouldn’t have been so fever-inducing had it not been for MacLean’s gift with the written word. MacLean skillfully seduced my emotions–I was in love, vengeful, hopeful, outraged…filled with regret. It was an aching wave of so many feelings in such a short amount of time. It was wonderful! (The evidence: here, here, and below)

However, as much as I enjoyed Daring and the DukeI kept expecting just a bit more. A bit more revenge. A bit more plot. A bit more than just the romance. There were multiple opportunities to expand on interesting points, but they don’t pan out to very much. The book mentions parliamentary votes, conspiratorial women, and even raids, but it doesn’t really go beyond this. The description promises revenge, but I didn’t get the revenge I was hoping for. The only real revenge from Grace is at the beginning, while the rest of the book is more about their struggle to control their feelings and define what they might still be to each other. Also, I just really wanted Ewan to experience more pain for all the heartache he caused. 

Fans of historical romance will enjoy Daring and the Duke, especially if a groveling lovelorn hero is sought after. There isn’t much outside of the romance, which doesn’t necessarily take anything away from it being an oh-so-satisfying read. If you’re looking for romance, this is certainly a book that will sweep you off your feet. 


One last quote from The Duke…
(Photo: Manohar Manu on Unsplash)

Rebelwing (2020)

by Andrea Tang
ASN/ISBN: 9781984835093
Publication: February 25, 2020
Series: Rebelwing #1

Prep school student Prudence Wu regularly smuggles out illicit materials to customers outside of the city. In her haste to complete a deal, she leaves without her partner Anabel Park and, of course, it just has to be the one where she meets with dire consequences–her customer double-crosses her, and enforcers come after her. After being unexpectedly rescued by a cybernetic dragon, Pru is forced to work for a secret organization to keep her “extracurricular activities” off her records.

The overall story and the world Tang creates is an interesting one. The story is set in an alternate United States, in a different Washington D.C., one of the last places that has yet to be consumed by a growing authoritarian regime the UCC. The efforts of a past resistance have kept New Columbia one of the last strongholds of democratic governance; it’s not only independent but thriving in the aftermath of wars fought long ago. Although a tenuous peace has been established between it and the UCC, it’s becoming more difficult to determine how long peace can be maintained. This is the world that Pru, an Asian American teen, is trying to survive in.

Pru is a tough, wise-cracking heroine, and I liked her a lot. I’m prone to liking sarcastic heroines who stand up for themselves when life tries to shove them around. It’s especially when in the face of authority that her sarcasm and defiance are entertaining. In many ways, Pru bucks the model minority myth placed on Asian Americans. She is by no means a straight-laced rule follower, but one who takes risks (i.e. smuggling censored materials like graphic novels to UCC incorporated areas). She isn’t as privileged as her colleagues but does the best she can with what she has. Sure, she might be taking calculus but things don’t necessarily come easily to her–you know, like bonding with a mechanical dragon. As a fan of science fiction growing up, Pru and Rebelwing would have been the book I needed to feel represented in the literature I was so fond of. 

While the story was promising, it was lacking in one of the elements I was most excited about: the sentient cybernetic dragon. Rebelwing is the mecha dragon that saves Pru, imprinting on Pru and leaving her in a difficult situation. While Rebelwing is pivotal to the plot, there are only glimpses of her whereas I expected more interaction and bonding between Pru and the sentient dragon. I would have gladly read on for another hundred or so pages if it meant that I got more Pru and Rebelwing together, hopefully getting a better understanding of why Pru was chosen when there were so many potential pilots such as Alex or Anabel that would have been better options. Of course, this is touched on slightly, but not near the extent I was hoping for.

While I enjoyed Pru’s story, the more interesting storylines were not that of Pru or her peers, rather it was of Pru’s mom and Alex’s uncle. Who were they in their past lives? Who are they now? Who could have they been in the present had they made different choices? The little that is revealed about Pru’s mom and Alex’s uncle, of each of their past and how those decisions shaped who they eventually became was intriguing to me. Yes, I would have settled for more reading if it meant reading more about these two as well. Or, how about a prequel novella?

Rebelwing is a fun book and packed with action. Is it good? Yes. Is the writing good? Yes. However, it left me somewhat unfulfilled due to my expectations of the Pru and dragon imprinting bond. If you’re expecting a metal dragon, you won’t see too much so it’s best to put that notion aside and soak up what you do get. If you can set that hope aside, you’ll be able to enjoy the novel a lot more. The sequel Renegade Flight was released on March 23, 2021. That will be a forthcoming review while I wait for it to arrive.

**If you’ve read Rebelwing, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ve read reviews that range in ratings, from one end to the other, so I’d like to know what you think. There are different themes it touches on that I didn’t talk about in the review, but I’d love to discuss some more as well. And the ending was pretty good.**

Into the Crooked Place (2019)/City of Spells (2021)

by Alexandra Christo
Series Review

**Includes spoilers for Into the Crooked Place.**

**I was provided copies of both books through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed them. All opinions are my own.**

intothecrookedplace_cover

Into the Crooked Place
ASN/ISBN:  9781250318374
Publication: October 8, 2019


Into the Crooked Place (2019) invites readers into a gritty underworld through the eyes of four individuals: Wes the underboss of Creije with eyes and ears everywhere; Tavia the busker with a moral code; freedom fighter Saxony who is hiding among crooks; and warrior Karam who serves as Wes’s bodyguard. Christo has crafted a bleak world where the only thing you can trust is that the people around you are more than willing to betray you. The authorities, with few exceptions, are just as untrustworthy as the crooks they are meant to police. When Wes enlists Tavia, Saxony, and Karam, to help protect the city he loves, it’s unclear whether they can truly trust one another.

The book switches between the four main characters, interspersed with chapters told from the point of view of a few minor characters. Through their chapters, we learn about their motivations, their regrets, and their plans. We also get to see the lies they tell each other. With the book switching between the four, I didn’t feel connected to any of them, although I did gravitate toward Tavia as my favorite character. While I enjoyed the first book in the duology, it’s very much an introduction from the characters to the world, so it’s not as exciting as it could be. It’s easy to see the book is building to something possibly bigger that can’t be contained in a single volume. The ending makes up for a somewhat slow start.

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City of Spells
ASN/ISBN: 9781250318404
Publication: March 9, 2021

City of Spells (2021) is the exciting conclusion to the duology. The loss of Wes is more detrimental than expected. Tavia was said to have been the glue, but Wes was the mastermind. While Wes is left to fend for himself, Tavia, Karam, and Saxony are forced to look for allies to help bring down the Kingpin.

Because the first book already introduced the world and our characters, City of Spells doesn’t require as much time setting up what will happen here. They have to find allies and take down the Kingpin. Although Tavia and Karam maintain their status as main characters, I couldn’t help but feel they were, in many ways, relegated to the background in favor of Wes and Saxony. Karam doesn’t get to do as much except try to maintain peace between Saxony and Tavia. I wish there had been more chapters for Tavia but she doesn’t have as much to do here either so those things feed into each other. Of course, that could just be me being partial to her and wanting more pages allotted to her.

Despite a fairly straight-forward plot, there are enough twists and revelations in the book to ensure readers forge ahead; I couldn’t put it down once I got through the beginning. I can’t help but praise Christo for the ending of City of Spells: it was so good, maybe even better than the one for Into the Crooked Place.

Overall, the duology is a good read with edge of your seat action as each book heads toward their individual conclusions. There is enough world building to make Creije come alive. With a focus on the underbelly of the city, it’s difficult to fully realize the entire Creije society, its governing system, and the rest of the realms. There were times when a sense of place was missing for me. Even though both books have points where the story slows down or drags just a bit, Christo makes up for it with explosive endings–she excels at them. I was impressed with the endings for both books. Also, I don’t really talk about it for fear it might be spoilery but there is also romance and yes, I liked it. It’s only a small part of both books and doesn’t distract from main story.

Girl Gone Viral (2020)

by Alisha Rai
ASIN/ISBN: 9780062877888
Publication: April 1, 2020
Series: Modern Love #2

Katrina is a former model who has since left that life behind and now tries to stay out of the camera as much as possible. After sharing her table with a stranger at a cafe, Katrina finds her privacy invaded when the whole thing is posted on social media in real-time. To escape the potential media frenzy, her bodyguard–whom she’s secretly in love with–takes her to his hometown so they can figure out her next steps.

Recently, I was skimming books I liked for my top 5 favorite romance tropes for a post and I came across Girl Gone Viral. It was one of the books I read right after overcoming a long reading slump. Skimming the book turned into a full-blown reread. I wondered if its effects on me had worn off but quickly realized I had nothing to worry about. It still put a goofy smile on my face 8 months and many romance novels later.

The Modern Love series focuses on love in the modern age with apps to swipe right, social media, and meet cutes going viral. Rai addresses the darker aspect of social media and issues around privacy. The conversations in the book surrounding this were thoughtful in presentation. It’s a bit overwhelming to know that anything you do can potentially be uploaded somewhere for entertainment. That’s always bothered me when someone is live posting as things happen to someone or to people around them. There is always the potential that your privacy is being invaded because someone decides to share a picture or a video online. Maybe sharing without audio/video and images might not be so bad but I am not a fan of sharing things that might make people easily identifiable without permission. For individuals like Katrina who value their privacy, this can be both frightening and overwhelming. It’s common decency to think twice about what or who you’re posting about.

A few things about Girl Gone Viral make it stand out among the romance novels I’ve read. Girl Gone Viral remains one of the most racially/ethnically diverse romance novels I’ve read up to date. One would think the diversity that exists in the real world would be reflected in the more books being published, but that isn’t the case. Katrina is biracial, half-White and half-Thai, and Jas is Punjabi but also with Mexican heritage. They’re both considered non-traditional leads in a romance novel, which shouldn’t be the case but is. Jas’s family is one of my favorite parts of the book. His entire family including mom, dad, brother, and Grandpa are all likeable. Although Jas’s relationship with his family is somewhat strained, they all love each other dearly. The person he seems to get along the least with is his grandpa but it’s mostly because they’re both so much alike.

The romance itself is another aspect of the novel I adored. A lot of my original review posted on Goodreads still rings true, especially as it relates to the progression of Katrina and Jas’s relationship. It isn’t all passion and hormones. Their romance is slow but they both have this sweet innocence that makes it so easy to root for them. They’re both adults but lack more recent relationship experience. Both constantly wonder and second guess about whether the other person feels at all the same because they don’t believe their feelings are returned. I thought it was endearing. They’re always thinking of each other as well. Katrina wants to do things for Jas, and Jas always tries to make sure Katrina has everything she needs. How more thoughtful could two people be? The ending remains as sweet as ever.

It might not necessarily be for everyone because the beginning is slow but it’s worth it to get to the end. It’s a well-written novel with a diverse cast of characters with two endearing leads suffering from what each believes is unrequited love and are caught in a slow-burn romance. Alisha Rai knows how to bring on the zings while also addressing meaningful topics like romance in the age of social media and viral posts. I am looking forward to her next installment of the series with First Comes Like out on February 16.