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.

Romance Interlude 2.10


Give Love a Chai (2021)
by Nanxi Wen
ASN/ISBN: B08NS6V82S
Publication: March 18, 2021
Goodreads Summary
Series: Common Threads #2

One liner: Tia needs to divorce her husband before she can get married to her fiance.

The book started off rather interestingly with Tia in her car trying to gather the courage to serve her husband with divorce papers…again. She didn’t realize she was still married when she accepted her boyfriend’s proposal. I has hooked pretty quickly from there but it didn’t pan out to be the romance I expected. It’s established immediately that even after 10 years, both Tia and Andrew still have feelings for one another but they’ve forged different paths. The book hit so many right notes for me and yet I felt a bit distant from their relationship, like the emotional aspect of it that would make me root for them was missing. Additionally, it didn’t make sense to me that the only emotion they seemed to display was desire for each other and the pain and anger were muted. They should have been pissed some of the time rather than just still feeling like they were still in love….even if they were supposed to be. There were things thrown in at the end that were unnecessary, so I had to drop a star.


Choose Me: A Small Town Romance (2021)
by Leah Busboom
ASN/ISBN: B093MPLQBZ
Publication: May 16, 2021
Goodreads Summary
Series: Connor Brothers Book 9

One liner: Austin decides he wants to date someone he normally wouldn’t so he decides to pursue Luci, a software engineer who took his ski course.

It started out as a cute opposites attract novel with non-athletic software engineer Luci taking a ski class from trainer, ski instructor, and rock climbing instructor Austin. Austin ultimately makes the first move and before long they’re dating. Before long, he’s pretty sure she’s the one. Before long, her parents object. And before long…well, the clichés pile up and make this one a pretty forgettable book. I actually forgot I read it even though I finished it not too long ago.


Love’s Defense
by Laura Marquez Diamond
ASN/ISBN: B092SZLNFS
Publication: April 16, 2021
Series: The Thrasher Series #2
Goodreads Summary

One liner: Daniel is attracted to Stella, his dog’s new vet, but different obstacles stand in their way.

The book started off interesting but for a somewhat short book at just under 200 pages, it packs in a little too much from Stella’s fear of starting a new relationship to Daniel’s complicated family. I would have liked it to stick to one main plot and have the subplots take up less space. The dialogue also gets a bit cringey at times. The book was okay the first time around but I don’t know if I could reread it in full again.

The Unbroken (2021)

by C.L. Clark
ASIN/ISBN: 9780316542753
Publication: March 23, 2021
Series: Magic of the Lost #1

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

I started reading The Unbroken in early March but struggled to finish it. The book is long-winded, and I had to take multiple breaks in-between to read it. After nearly four months, I finally finished it a few days ago. It is character-driven with an overall plot that is interesting and provides a critical perspective of colonialism. The biggest drawback of the book is the painstakingly slow pace, which makes the already nearly 500 pages–over 500 pages depending on which edition is read–feel a lot longer than it is.

Stolen as a child and raised to be a soldier by the Balladairan empire, Touraine returns to Qazāl more a stranger than someone coming home. As a lieutenant in command of the Sands, soldiers stolen as children just like her, Touraine’s loyalty is to those in her unit first, but she also has a longing to be accepted by Balladaire. Her behavior throughout the book is reflective of this desire. From experience, she knows the Sands will always be the first to be called to the front lines and will also likely be the first punished in any situation they take part in. Touraine’s story is the most compelling as she straddles the middle, looking for where she belongs. As a Balladairan soldier, she’s called a traitor by Qazāl, but she will never be fully accepted by Balladaire either. She is forced to tread a path where she will always be a scapegoat because she is a victim of imperialism. It’s difficult to watch her struggle and try to make the best choices when there isn’t a right choice to make if she remains in the middle. The longer she remains there, the longer she falters.

The story alternates between Touraine and Luca, the Balladairan princess without her throne. Luca arrives in Qazāl with hopes of quelling a rebellion so she may ascend her throne, taking it from her uncle who has cleverly placed himself there in her stead after her parents’ death. Luca is similar to Touraine in that she also hopes to find a balance somewhere in the middle. Of course, her somewhere in the middle also includes her being in power.  On the idealistic side, Luca wants peace between Qazāl and Balladaire, but it’s difficult to figure out who she can trust when there are those on both sides who would like to tip the status quo in their favor. Touraine and Luca are forced to work together when Luca comes up with a plan to try to establish peace with the rebels that may require treasonous actions. Luca is someone I wanted to root for because she appeared genuine in her desire for peace and had the qualities of what a good leader could be, with the understanding that good is relative. Is it possible to be a good leader if her desire for peace also requires she sits on the throne? Is it possible to be a good leader if those forced into becoming part of her empire desire to be free from her authority? When is enough going to be enough for Luca if sitting on her throne requires her to continue taking?

The book is well-written. The plot and Touraine’s journey to self-discovery were elements that I especially liked. Touraine’s story tugged at me and gave the book sad undertones that constantly had me questioning what it is like to lose one’s heritage. Although I recognize the necessity of many of the events that take place because they contribute to Touraine’s character development, the pace was a struggle for me. Another element I wanted more of was the magic Luca constantly talked about it. If you can overcome the pacing like I eventually was able to, this is a book filled with layers worth reading.

To Sir, With Love (2021)

by Lauren Layne
ASIN/ISBN: 9781982152819
Publication: June 29, 2021

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

(If you’ve never seen You’ve Got Mail then this review will be filled spoilers for both the movie and the book. Please proceed with caution. Sorry!)

To Sir, with Love updates the dial-up connection of You’ve Got Mail with the DM alerts of a dating app; however, the romance doesn’t quite hit the mark. Of course, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’s chemistry is a tough one to recreate. The book closely mirrors the plot of You’ve Got Mail, which mirrors the plots of those titles it is an adaptation of. A woman has a connection with a man whom she has regular correspondence, but they have never met, except they have and just don’t realize it. In person, they mostly despise each other, but there’s a bit of a spark that is the complete opposite of hate. There’s enough to differentiate To Sir, With Love and appreciate it on its own merit, but if you love You’ve Got Mail as I do, the comparisons are inevitable.

Gracie’s backstory is compelling. She is a budding artist who gave up her dreams to fulfill her dad’s dreams of keeping their store in the family. Faced with the impending close of the store, she has to figure out what she wants to do–continue daydreaming or live her dreams. The exploration of Gracie’s character beyond the store was an aspect of the book I especially liked, giving her character a bit more depth. The secondary characters fill out Gracie’s life and help enhance the plot. I especially liked neighbor and friend Keva’s potential love line with her boss Grady. There’s just enough information about it for me to want a book about it from Layne in the future.

Here comes the inevitable comparison. I wanted to like the romance but was disappointed with the development of Gracie’s relationships with both Sir and Sebastian. Sir is introduced through messages to Gracie on the dating app. Their interactions appear more formal than personal and sometimes even a bit detached. I could believe it to be an attraction, but I wouldn’t think it was love, not enough to stake my entire love life around it especially because there is no declaration of love, even if you read between the lines.

With Sebastian, Gracie shares a moment–more Sleepless in Seattle than You’ve Got Mail–and it didn’t work that well for me. This is the moment Gracie harkens back to when she thinks of Sebastian. They meet again and grab food a few times, but it never feels like they move beyond that first magical connection. It’s something to build on but the building never reaches love or friendship potential. There lacked a book equivalent of a montage of them getting to know each other and becoming friends. Remember how Tom Hanks knows he needs to change Meg Ryan’s perception of him so he works hard for them to become friends before the final reveal? There’s hardly any of it before Gracie was already saying she was in love with two people. Just like with Sir, this relationship felt one-sided as well. The addition of Sebastian’s point of view might have helped remedy this, helping to establish a connection on his part and build a sturdier foundation for possible later declarations.

I liked the book but had expected a bit more. Despite my disappointment, my heart still managed to flutter as the book neared its conclusion–I am still a hopeless romantic after all.

Lying with Lions (2021)

by Annabel Fielding
ASIN/ISBN: B095J8D5XC
Publication: June 21, 2021

Goodreads | Amazon


DESCRIPTiON

Edwardian England. Agnes Ashford knows that her duty is threefold: she needs to work on cataloguing the archive of the titled Bryant family, she needs to keep the wounds of her past tightly under wraps, and she needs to be quietly grateful to her employers for taking her up in her hour of need. However, a dark secret she uncovers due to her work thrusts her into the Bryants’ brilliant orbit – and into the clutch of their ambitions.

They are prepared to take the new century head-on and fight for their preeminent position and political survival tooth and nail – and not just to the first blood. With a mix of loyalty, competence, and well-judged silence Agnes rises to the position of a right-hand woman to the family matriarch – the cunning and glamorous Lady Helen. But Lady Helen’s plans to hold on to power through her son are as bold as they are cynical, and one day Agnes is going to face an impossible choice…


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Annabel Fielding, having graduated from the University of Arts London with an MA in Public Relations, is a PR assistant by day and a novelist by night. Being a self-professed history geek, she dedicates her free time to obscure biographies, solo travel and tea. Her special areas of interest are Edwardian age and Late Middle Agnes/Renaissance, but sometimes veers into other directions, too, when distracted by a shiny thing.  She is the author of A Pearl for My Mistress (2017).

Website | Twitter | Goodreads


REViEW

**I was provided a copy of the book by the author through NetGalley as a Tour Participant. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Lying with Lions is not the typical book I read but on occasion I am willing to venture out and try new genres.  I found an intricate character-driven plot and knew immediately this was my type of movie as opposed to my type of book. As I read, the thought that I would enjoy this on the big screen accompanied was often on my mind.

The story is written in present tense, which was a bit jarring at first.  Eventually I settled into it along with the feeling that I was watching the events unfold as an omniscient narrator allowed me a glimpse into the machinations of high society through Agnes.  From a humble background, Agnes is hired by the Bryant family to serve as their archivist to compile and organize the family history.  Eventually she becomes more than just a bystander, becoming Lady Bryant’s secretary.  Rather than an observer, she becomes a willing participant in the political maneuvers of those she comes to be associated with.

Agnes was often an enigma to me, making it hard to figure out her motives. Is she being genuine? Does she have something planned? Is she a “good” person? Part of me wanted to skip to the end because I wanted to know the why behind Agnes’s actions. My urge to spoil the ending was further spurred on by the novel’s slow build.  It was not until about a fifth of the way when the pieces started to fall into place, and I recognized with some amount of certainty where the book was heading. The pace was slow, but it was the deliberate kind that encourages readers to be immersed in the plot and observe as well as question the decisions of characters, what will those in power do to remain in power? I had to exercise a fair amount of self-control but the ending was worth it as revelations are made. 

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.

Friends With Benedicts (2021)

by Staci Hart
ASN/ISBN: B08HPD92F9
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


DESCRIPTION

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

Amazon | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Website | Newsletter


REViEW

**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
ASN/ISBN: B07P16B1MD
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
ASN/ISBN: B07N8857KK
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
ASN/ISBN: B01FQ6IL94
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.

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.

For the Wolf (2021)

by Hannah Whitten
ASIN/ISBN: 9780316592789
Publication: June 1, 2021
Series: The Wilderwood #1

For the Wolf was a challenge to read because I’d been anticipating it for so long. I had to read it in blocks so I wouldn’t overwhelm myself. My final verdict? It was worth the nearly year-long wait and the teasing from Whitten on Twitter.

Eamonn is our tortured hero, whose tenure as Wolf has made him more than just the keeper of the Wilderwood. As the woods begin to weaken, his desire to protect others from similar paths drives him to repair the woods by himself. Red is the sacrificial second daughter destined for the Wolf. Her entire life has been shaped by this single fate. When she enters the Wilderwood she eventually learns that some stories alter the truth while some stories are passed from one generation to the next because they aren’t just stories at all. Sometimes the things you’re scared of are less terrifying than what those things are keeping out.

For the Wolf is a reimagining of multiple fairy tales, including Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, but to solely call it that minimizes how wholly novel the book feels. It’s a dark adult fantasy rife with love, obligations, and sacrifice. Whitten’s attention to detail, from the plot to the landscape, transported me to the Wilderwood and Valleyda. Although the descriptions can seem lengthy, maybe even excessive at times, they contributed to an atmospheric read that allowed me to immerse myself in the story and the relationships. Furthermore, the complexity of the magic and the world we get a glimpse of is what contributes to this being such a good read. There’s a lot to the book but I am focusing on the relationships.

The relationships are one of the highlights of the novel with the most compelling one being Red and her older sister Neve. While they are destined to traverse different paths, their devotion to each other is moving. Can you imagine giving up one of the people you love the most in the world to a sinister fate? Neve’s character arc in the book is based on this need to get Red back. It serves as justification for Neve to embark on a mission to save Red even if she doesn’t fully understand what she’s getting herself into. We get snapshots of how Neve is faring through Valleyda Interludes. These chapters also contain characters who are as painstakingly secretive as the Wolf, and it was frustrating.

The romance between Eammon and Red is a slow burn. They’re bound to each other because of their circumstances, and feelings gradually grow from there, including frustration, desire, and eventually love. As much as I enjoyed the their relationship, it was also frustrating. I tried to understand Eammon’s behavior but I was increasingly irritated with him and his unwillingness to provide Red with answers. Although he believed he was helping her, he instead took away her agency, or at least what she had left of it. She deserved to not only make decisions for herself but to make these decisions with the most information possible. I get why he did it but I hated that he deliberately made it so difficult for her. (Okay… I go back and forth about this relationship because I just keep wondering if there’d be anything there had it not been for their connection to the Wilderwood. Like, how much is it the Wilderwood and how much of it is them? Am I reading too much into this? Ack…)

Then there is the Wilderwood with its many complicated relationships. It’s at once beautiful and terrifying. It would be fairly easy to describe the sentient woods as evil, and in the beginning, it feels that way. It is demanding and asks a great deal of those connected to it. It serves as both friend and foe, wholly immersed in its own survival. The Wilderwood takes more than many are willing to give, but it’s important to understand that in the larger context, it only asks as much as is required to maintain the bargains made.

Throughout the novel, I felt a certain amount of anxiousness, and I largely attribute it to my anticipation of the novel and the unknown. I had guesses, but I didn’t always figure out what was going to happen next. Additionally, I desperately wanted parts of the book to move along faster so I could get to the end. And the end is worth it. I realize that I continually remark about how frustrated I was with the book but as much as it frustrated me, I enjoyed it a lot. While it may be the allure of an adult version of known fairy tales (and the lovely cover) that compels individuals to first reach for the book, Whitten’s novel stands well on its own as an original taleFor the Wolf is only the beginning, and I cannot wait for the next book slated for Summer 2022.