A MONSTER LIKE ME by Pamela Sparkman

Heart of Darkness series #2

HELLO STRANGER by Lisa Kleypas

The Ravenels series #4

THE BUTTERFLY PROJECT by Emma Scott

Companion to the Full Tilt series

PLAYING FOR KEEPS by Jill Shalvis

Heartbreaker Bay series #7

UNWRITTEN by Jen Frederick

Woodlands series #5

Cross My Heart by L.H. Cosway

Hearts series #5.75

MOONSHADOW by Thea Harrison

Moonshadow series #1

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Review: Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan


From the author of My Oxford Year, Julia Whelan’s uplifting novel tells the story of a former actress turned successful audiobook narrator—who has lost sight of her dreams after a tragic accident—and her journey of self-discovery, love, and acceptance when she agrees to narrate one last romance novel.


THANK YOU FOR LISTENING by JULIA WHELAN

Series: n/a
Publication date: August 2, 2022
Published by: Avon/Harper Collins
Genre: Contemporary romance

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SYNOPSIS

For Sewanee Chester, being an audiobook narrator is a long way from her old dreams, but the days of being a star on film sets are long behind her. She’s found success and satisfaction from the inside of a sound booth and it allows her to care for her beloved, ailing grandmother. When she arrives in Las Vegas last-minute for a book convention, Sewanee unexpectedly spends a whirlwind night with a charming stranger. 

On her return home, Sewanee discovers one of the world’s most beloved romance novelists wanted her to perform her last book—with Brock McNight, the industry’s hottest, most secretive voice. Sewanee doesn’t buy what romance novels are selling—not after her own dreams were tragically cut short—and she stopped narrating them years ago. But her admiration of the late author, and the opportunity to get her grandmother more help, makes her decision for her. 

As Sewanee begins work on the book, resurrecting her old romance pseudonym, she and Brock forge a real connection, hidden behind the comfort of anonymity. Soon, she is dreaming again, but secrets are revealed, and the realities of life come crashing down around her once more.

If she can learn to risk everything for desires she has long buried, she will discover a world of intimacy and acceptance she never believed would be hers. 

Purchase your copy now!
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Praise for Thank You for Listening:

"A perfectly intoxicating delight! Thank You for Listening is a witty, clever, and open-hearted love story full of delicious twists on all your favorite romance tropes. Julia Whelan has already proven herself to be a singular, wry voice in fiction but with Thank You for Listening, she has something truly special: a story so remarkable and original that only she could write it. A must-read for anyone who loves a good love story." -- Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author

"Thank You for Listening is a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at the voice actors who bring love stories to life for the rest of us. Mix Julia Whelan’s storytelling ability and smart banter with a cynical romance audiobook narrator who won’t trust a happily ever after and what do you get? Pure magic." -- Jodi Picoult, NYT bestselling author of Wish You Were Here 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julia Whelan is a screenwriter, lifelong actor, and award-winning audiobook narrator of over 500 titles. Her performance of her own debut novel, the internationally bestselling My Oxford Year, garnered a Society of Voice Arts award. She is also a Grammy-nominated audiobook director, a former writing tutor, a half-decent amateur baker, and a certified tea sommelier.

You can find her on:
 Website | Goodreads | IG | Twitter 



REVIEW

Thank You for ListeningThank You for Listening by Julia Whelan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This story centers around Sewanee Chester who is an audiobook narrator. Fans of audiobooks will appreciate the insight the author gives into the industry. Julia Whelan is, of course, a narrator herself as well, so her experiences lend true authencity to the character's thoughts and actions. For me personally, this was more of a drawback going in because I have never been able to enjoy audios. (I know, I know! I've tried, trust me.) So I have to say that the thought of reading about this topic did not interest me at all. However, after reading My Oxford Year by this author and adoring it, reading her second book was a no-brainer. I would probably have read anything she wrote regardless of the synopsis.

Sewanee is a former actress who had to let go of her dream of stardom when she had a horrible, fluke accident seven years ago. After graduating Julliard with her best friend, Adaku, she put everything she had into making her dreams come true. Her passion grew from her childhood learning about Hollywood from her grandmother Barbara (AKA Blah Blah) who had been in quite a few films. Imagine being just on the cusp of reaching stardom. You spent years fantasizing and working your butt off to make those fantasies a reality and right when you land your breakthrough role, you have everything snatched away from you in a heartbeat. Sewanee lost everything she ever wanted unexpectedly while being faced with the physical implications of her accident. It was like she was split into two versions of herself: the before and after. Being at peace with your new reality is hard to do when you won't allow yourself to face it head on. So she grew a hard, protective outer shell filled with bitterness and cynicism. She no longer viewed the world through rose colored glasses, and she certainly has no delusions about the dreaded HEA in her love life either.

   HEA is too much of a setup. 
It makes you believe we just need to 
get back what we lost and life will be 
rainbows forevermore. But it doesn’t address 
what happens if you try to get it back 
and fail, does it? There’s also the possibility 
it’s not a problem with Romance, 
it’s a problem with us?

I must admit, it took me some time to feel invested in Sewanee. The book doesn't really delve into her internal struggle in detail until you're well into the story which left me feeling somewhat detached. She could be a bit abrasive at times as one is when you have a big chip on your shoulder from life disappointments/struggles. The author chose to pace the story so that her accident and surrounding emotions had a layer of mystery around them, and while it did create a bigger impact further on, it took me longer to reach her emotionally. There was a quote from Sewanee when she was discussing characters with "Brock" that really resonated with me:

Surface versus substance. That’s the difference between caricature and character.

Without exploring what makes that character who they are emotionally, all you have is a falsely manufactured empty shell. Even though the pay off took some time, Julia Whelan did not skimp on exploring what made Sewanee tick. She pulled this aspect off magnificently with her first book, which I see now is going to be a common denominator with her future releases as well.

The romance with Brock was both original and in the end, ironic. Sewanee and Brock spend a large portion of the book getting to know one another through emails and text. Although they are working on a romance audiobook together, they don't actually meet in person until the episodes are close to being completed. They are both very private people and use pseudonyms in the romance community to protect their identity. But they have an instant ease with one another when writing that quickly graduates to humor and flirting. Their sense of humor seems to fit one another seamlessly and the attraction that grows is based completely on personality rather than appearance. Of course that was very refreshing as the reader, but it also plays into their own separate insecurities about their looks. "Brock" feels that he could never live up to the false expectations that are created from his über sexy narration voice, and Sewanee's has insecurity about her attractiveness after her accident. Long-distance chatting becomes something of a security blanket for both of them, but what happens when their paths cross unexpectedly for the first time? It was quite an entertaining reveal, let's just say that. The irony in their relationship was that the two most cynical people to ever work in the romance audiobook industry have the most romance novel, fateful, meant-to-be relationship from beginning to end. The people who don't believe in fairy tales got the fairy tale romance.

It feels like we fell out of a Romance tree 
and hit every trope on the way down.” He laughed. 
“Snowed In.” 
“Just One Night.” 
“Epistolary.” 
“Mistaken Identity.”

Based on other reviews, I think most people loved her grandmother Blah Blah. I loved the special relationship that Sewanee had with her, and the acceleration of her mental illness brought a tear to my eye late in the book but I didn't love her character. After Sewanee recalled a discussion she had with her involving her career, she lost all of the shine gained from her spunky personality and wit.

Overall, I loved the originality of the story. Even though it took a bit to pull me in, I ended up with a smile on my face over how these two characters worked through their personal demons and started a new beginning together. You truly feel as if they are the male and female counterpoint of one whole because their personalities are so complimentary. I'm very much looking forward to seeing reading whatever Julia Whelan decides to write about next.

“What do you want, love?” 
“I don’t want to be in any book with you anymore. 
I want to be in real life with you.” 
“However it may end?” 
“Yes.” 
“Happily or not?” 
She was surprised to find the answer so easy to say. “Yes.” 

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Saturday, July 30, 2022

Blog Tour: The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Bookshop in London comes a moving new novel inspired by the true history of America’s library spies of World War II.


THE LIBRARIAN SPY by MADELINE MARTIN

Series: none
Publication date: July 26, 2022
Published by: Hanover Square Press/HC 
Genre: historical fiction

 Add on Goodreads


SYNOPSIS

Ava thought her job as a librarian at the Library of Congress would mean a quiet, routine existence. But an unexpected offer from the US military has brought her to Lisbon with a new mission: posing as a librarian while working undercover as a spy gathering intelligence.

Meanwhile, in occupied France, Elaine has begun an apprenticeship at a printing press run by members of the Resistance. It’s a job usually reserved for men, but in the war, those rules have been forgotten. Yet she knows that the Nazis are searching for the press and its printer in order to silence them.

As the battle in Europe rages, Ava and Elaine find themselves connecting through coded messages and discovering hope in the face of war.

Purchase your copy now!
Amazon |  B&N | Apple


Praise for The Librarian Spy:

“This story blew me away. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as they are transported to 1940s Portugal and France with Madeline Martin's vivid and inspiring characters. The Librarian Spy is a brilliant tale of resistance, courage and ultimately hope.”—Kelly Rimmer, New York Times bestselling author of The Warsaw Orphan
 
“Madeline Martin immerses us in the expertly rendered and fascinating worlds of Lisbon and Lyon during the war as we follow the stories of two brave women who are willing to risk everything for the cause of freedom. Uplifting, inspiring and suspenseful, this is one to savor!” –Natasha Lester, New York Times bestselling author of The Riviera House
 
“Madeline Martin is a fantastic author, and this beautiful, heartbreaking tale of two young women who risk everything as they use the power of words to fight back against the Nazis will have you glued to your chair. The Librarian Spy is a stunning tour de force of historical fiction.”—Karen Robards, author of The Black Swan of Paris
 
“In Madeline Martin’s stirring new novel, readers will be whisked into her brilliantly depicted portrayal of 1940’s Lisbon, Portugal, and Lyon, France. Martin captures the essence of the French resistance in war-riddled France as we race with hearts in our throats through Elaine’s harrowing tale, juxtaposed with Ava’s thrilling and engrossing passages illustrated with sensory delights. Both heroines push the boundaries of their worlds, risking much in their shared missions for survival and hope. Not to be missed, The Librarian Spy is an inspiring novel that highlights the women who dared to resist in the face of adversity." —Eliza Knight, USA Today bestselling author of The Mayfair Bookshop
 
"Martin shows great reverence for the power of the written word in her pacey new novel, The Librarian Spy, set during the tumultuous backdrop of WWII in Lisbon and Lyon, when Nazis attempted to silence the press of the Resistance. This engaging, lively read featured a cast of characters I loved to root for and I couldn’t put it down!"—Heather Webb, USA TODAY bestselling author of The Next Ship Home
 
The danger of Resistance Lyon and the uncertainty of refugee life in wartime Lisbon leap off the page in Madeline Martin's The Librarian Spy. She artfully weaves an incredible, tense tale that will set your heart pounding as her characters navigate life and death decisions in this incredible novel of sacrifice, struggle, and hope. This is historical fiction at its absolute best! —Julia Kelly, international bestselling author of The Last Dance of the Debutante

Excerpt

 April 1943

Washington, DC


There was nothing Ava Harper loved more than the smell of old books. The musty scent of aging paper and stale ink took one on a journey through candlelit rooms of manors set amid verdant hills or ancient castles with turrets that stretched up to the vast, unknown heavens. These were tomes once cradled in the spread palms of forefathers, pored over by scholars, devoured by students with a rapacious appetite for learning. In those fragrant, yellowed pages were stories of the past and eternal knowledge.


It was a fortunate thing indeed she was offered a job in the Rare Book Room at the Library of Congress where the archaic aroma of history was forever present.

She strode through the middle of three arches to where the neat rows of tables ran parallel to one another and carefully gathered a stack of rare books in her arms. They were different sizes and weights, their covers worn and pages uneven at the edges, and yet somehow the pile seemed to fit together like the perfect puzzle. Regardless of the patron who left them after having requested far more than was necessary for an afternoon’s perusal.


Their eyes were bigger than their brains. It was what her brother, Daniel, had once proclaimed after Ava groused about the common phenomena—one she herself had been guilty of—when he was home on leave.


Ever since, the phrase ran through her thoughts on each encounter of an abandoned collection. Not that it was the fault of the patron. The philosophical greats of old wouldn’t be able to glean that much information in an afternoon. But she liked the expression regardless and how it always made her recall Daniel’s laughing gaze as he said it.


They’d both inherited their mother’s moss green eyes, though Ava’s never managed to achieve that same sparkle of mirth so characteristic of her older brother.


A glance at her watch confirmed it was almost noon. A knot tightened in her stomach as she recalled her brief chat with Mr. MacLeish earlier that day. A meeting with the Librarian of Congress was no regular occurrence, especially when it was followed by the scrawl of an address on a slip of paper and the promise of a new opportunity that would suit her.


Whatever it was, she doubted it would fit her better than her position in the Rare Book Room. She absorbed lessons from these ancient texts, which she squeezed out at whim to aid patrons unearth sought-after information. What could possibly appeal to her more?


Ava approached the last table at the right and gently closed La Maison Reglée, the worn leather cover smooth as butter beneath her fingertips. The seventeenth century book was one of the many gastronomic texts donated from the Katherine Golden Bitting collection. She had been a marvel of a woman who utilized her knowledge in her roles at the Department of Agriculture and the American Canners Association.


Every book had a story and Ava was their keeper. To leave her place there would be like abandoning children.


Robert floated in on his pretentious cloud and surveyed the room with a critical eye. She clicked off the light lest she be subjected to the sardonic flattening of her coworker’s lips.


He held out his hand for La Maison Reglée, a look of irritation flickering over his face.


“I’ll put it away.” Ava hugged it to her chest. After all, he didn’t even read French. He couldn’t appreciate it as she did.


She returned the tome to its collection, the family reunited once more, and left the opulence of the library. The crisp spring DC air embraced her as she caught the streetcar toward the address printed in the Librarian of Congress’s own hand.


Ava arrived at 2430 E Street, NW ten minutes before her appointment, which turned out to be beneficial considering the hoops she had to jump through to enter. A stern man, whose expression did not alter through their exchange, confronted her at a guardhouse upon entry. Apparently, he had no more understanding of the meeting than she.


Once finally allowed in, she followed a path toward a large white-columned building.


Ava snapped the lid on her overactive imagination lest it get the better of her—which it often did—and forced herself onward. After being led through an open entryway and down a hall, she was left to sit in an office possessing no more than a desk and two hardbacked wooden chairs. They made the seats in the Rare Book Room seem comfortable by comparison. Clearly it was a place made only for interviews.


But for what?


Ava glanced at her watch. Whoever she was supposed to meet was ten minutes late. A pang of regret resonated through her at having left her book sitting on her dresser at home.


She had only recently started Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and was immediately drawn in to the thrill of a young woman swept into an unexpected romance. Ava’s bookmark rested temptingly upon the newly married couple’s entrance to Manderley, the estate in Cornwall.


The door to the office flew open and a man whisked in wearing a gray, efficient Victory suit—single breasted with narrow lapels and absent any cuffs or pocket flaps—fashioned with as little fabric as was possible. He settled behind the desk. “I’m Charles Edmunds, secretary to General William Donovan. You’re Ava Harper?”


The only name familiar of the three was her own. “I am.”


He opened a file, sifted through a few papers, and handed her a stack. “Sign these.”


“What are they?” She skimmed over them and was met with legal jargon.


“Confidentiality agreements.”


“I won’t sign anything I don’t read fully.” She lifted the pile.


The text was drier than the content of some of the more lackluster rare books at the Library of Congress. Regardless, she scoured every word while Mr. Edmunds glared irritably at her, as if he could will her to sign with his eyes. He couldn’t, of course. She waited ten minutes for his arrival; he could wait while she saw what she was getting herself into.


Everything indicated she would not share what was discussed in the room about her potential job opportunity. It was nothing all too damning and so she signed, much to the great, exhaling impatience of Mr. Edmunds.


“You speak German and French.” He peered at her over a pair of black-rimmed glasses, his brown eyes probing.


“My father was something of a linguist. I couldn’t help but pick them up.” A visceral ache stabbed at her chest as a memory flitted through her mind from years ago—her father switching to German in his excitement for an upcoming trip with her mother for their twenty-year anniversary. That trip. The one from which her parents had never returned.


“And you’ve worked with photographing microfilm.” Mr. Edmunds lifted his brows.


A frown of uncertainty tugged at her lips. When she first started at the Library of Congress, her duties had been more in the area of archival than a typical librarian role as she microfilmed a series of old newspapers that time was slowly eroding. “I have, yes.”


“Your government needs you,” he stated in a matter-of-fact manner that broached no argument. “You are invited to join the Office of Strategic Services—the OSS—under the information gathering program called the Interdepartmental Committee for the Acquisition of Foreign Publications.”


Her mind spun around to make sense of what he’d just said, but her mouth flew open to offer its own knee-jerk opinion. “That’s quite the mouthful.”


“IDC for short,” he replied without hesitation or humor. “It’s a covert operation obtaining information from newspapers and texts in neutral territories to help us gather intel on the Nazis.”


“Would I require training?” she asked, unsure how knowing German equipped her to spy on them.


“You have all the training you need as I understand it.”


He began to reassemble the file in front of him. “You would go to Lisbon.”


“In Portugal?”


He paused. “It is the only Lisbon of which I am aware, yes.”


No doubt she would have to get there by plane. A shiver threatened to squeeze down her spine, but she repressed it. “Why am I being recommended for this?”

“Your ability to speak French and German.” Mr. Edmunds held up his forefinger. “You know how to use microfilm.” He ticked off another finger. “Fred Kilgour recommends your keen intellect.” There went another finger.


That was a name she recognized.


She aided Fred the prior year when he was microfilming foreign publications for the Harvard University Library. After the months she’d spent doing as much for the Library of Congress, the process had been easy to share, and he had been a quick learner.


“And you’re pretty.” Mr. Edmunds sat back in his chair, the final point made.

The compliment was as unwarranted in such a setting as it was unwelcome. “What does my appearance have to do with any of this?”


He lifted a shoulder. “Beauties like yourself can get what they want when they want it. Except when you scowl like that.” He nodded his chin up. “You should smile more, Dollface.”


That was about enough.


“I did not graduate top of my class from Pratt and obtain a much sought-after position at the Library of Congress to be called ‘Dollface.’” She pushed up to standing.


“And you’ve got steel in that spine, Miss Harper.” Mr. Edmunds ticked the last finger.


She opened her mouth to retort, but he continued. “We need this information so we best know how to fight the  Krauts. The sooner we have these details, the sooner this war can be over.”


She remained where she stood to listen a little longer. No doubt he knew she would.


“You have a brother,” he went on. “Daniel Harper, staff sergeant of C Company in Second Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division.”


The Airborne Division. Her brother had run toward the fear of airplanes despite her swearing off them.


“That’s correct,” she said tightly. Daniel would never have been in the Army were it not for her. He would be an engineer, the way he’d always wanted.

Mr. Edmunds took off his glasses and met her gaze with his small, naked eyes. “Don’t you want him to come home sooner?”


It was a dirty question meant to slice deep.


And it worked.


The longer the war continued, the greater Daniel’s risk of being killed or wounded. 

She’d done everything she could to offer aid. When the ration was only voluntary, she had complied long before it became law. She gave blood every few months, as soon as she was cleared to do so again. Rather than dance and drink at the Elk Club like her roommates, Ava spent all her spare time in the Production Corps with the Red Cross, repairing uniforms, rolling bandages, and doing whatever was asked of her to help their men abroad.


She even wore red lipstick on a regular basis, springing for the costly tube of Elizabeth Arden’s Victory Red, the civilian counterpart to the Montezuma Red servicewomen were issued. Ruby lips were a derisive biting of the thumb at Hitler’s war on made-up women. And she would do anything to bite her thumb at that tyrant. 


Likely Mr. Edmunds was aware of all this.


“You will be doing genuine work in Lisbon that can help bring your brother and all our boys home.” Mr. Edmunds got to his feet and held out his hand, a salesman with a silver tongue, ready to seal the deal. “Are you in?”

Ava looked at his hand. His fingers were stubby and thick, his nails short and well-manicured.


“I would have to go on an airplane, I’m assuming.”


“You wouldn’t have to jump out.” He winked.


Her greatest fear realized.


But Daniel had done far more for her.


It was a single plane ride to get to Lisbon. One measly takeoff and landing with a lot of airtime in between. The bottoms of her feet tingled, and a nauseous swirl dipped in her belly.


This was by far the least she could do to help him as well as every other US service member. Not just the men, but also the women whose roles were often equally as dangerous.


She lifted her chin, leveling her own stare right back. “Don’t ever call me ‘Dollface’ again.”


“You got it, Miss Harper,” he replied.


She extended her hand toward him and clasped his with a firm grip, the way her father had taught  her. “I’m in.”


He grinned. “Welcome aboard.”






ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Madeline Martin is a New York Times and international bestselling author of historical fiction novels and historical romance. She lives in sunny Florida with her two daughters, two incredibly spoiled cats and a husband so wonderful he's been dubbed Mr. Awesome. She is a die-hard history lover who will happily lose herself in research any day. When she's not writing, researching or 'moming', you can find her spending time with her family at Disney or sneaking a couple spoonfuls of Nutella while laughing over cat videos. She also loves travel, attributing her fascination with history to having spent most of her childhood as an Army brat in Germany.


You can find her on:

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Review: Long Story Short by Serena Kaylor


In Serena Kaylor's sparkling debut, a homeschooled math genius finds herself out of her element at a theater summer camp and learns that life—and love—can’t be lived by the (text)book.


LONG STORY SHORT by SERENA KAYLOR

Series: n/a
Publication date: July 26, 2022
Published by: Wednesday Books
Genre: YA 

 Add on Goodreads


SYNOPSIS

Growing up homeschooled in Berkeley, California, Beatrice Quinn is a statistical genius who has dreamed her whole life of discovering new mathematical challenges at a school like Oxford University. She always thought the hardest part would be getting in, not convincing her parents to let her go. But while math has always made sense to Beatrice, making friends is a problem she hasn’t been able to solve, so her parents are worried about sending her halfway across the world. The compromise: the Connecticut Shakespearean Summer Academy and a detailed list of teenage milestones to check off. She has six weeks to show her parents she can pull off the role of "normal" teenager and won't spend the rest of her life hiding in a library.

Unfortunately, hearts and hormones don't follow any rules, and there is no equation for teenage interactions. When she's adopted by a group of eclectic theater kids, and immediately makes an enemy of the popular—and, annoyingly gorgeous—British son of the camp founders, she realizes that relationships are trickier than calculus. With her future on the line, this girl genius stumbles through illicit parties, double dog dares, and more than your fair share of Shakespeare. But before the final curtain falls, will Beatrice realize that there’s more to life than she can find in the pages of a book?

In this sparkling debut from Serena Kaylor, Long Story Short is a YA rom-com about a homeschooled math genius who finds herself out of her element at a theater summer camp and learns that life—and love—can’t be lived by the (text)book.

Purchase your copy now!
Amazon |  B&N | iBooks


Praise for Long Story Short:

"Charming repartee and plenty of heart make for a delightful debut." --Kirkus Reviews

"With characters you can't help but fall in love with, a vibrant, fun atmosphere and a stunning, tender romance at its center, Long Story Short is the perfect romantic comedy for connoisseurs of hate-to-love, fans of Pride and Prejudice, and readers who love found families. An unmissable debut from a voice to watch in the YA romantic comedy sphere!" ―Sophie Gonzales, author of Perfect on Paper

“I loved this book to pieces. Delightful and charming with the familiar biting wit of a Shakespearean production, Long Story Short was the perfect read. At times I wanted to scream at Beatrice and others, I wanted to give her a big hug (or three) for being so darn relatable. Thankfully, she had a supporting cast to die for in Mia, Nolan, Shelby and *sigh* Nik who lead our heroine gently from behind the curtains to center stage in her own life.” -Erin Hahn, author of You’d Be Mine and Never Saw You Coming


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thirty-something-year-old with a love of all things sparkly, over-dramatic, and pizza-related. Serena writes books about awkward teens, the chaotic world of theater, found families, Shakespeare himself, and a sprinkle of kisses.
You can find her on:
 Website | Goodreads | IG | Twitter 



REVIEW

Long Story Short: A NovelLong Story Short: A Novel by Serena Kaylor
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars



Beatrice Quinn is a handful for her parents to deal with at the age of sixteen. Not because she's going through the normal rebellious stage that other teens her age do. No, it's because she's a mathematical genius who got her high school degree at fourteen and was accepted to Oxford University two years later. Most parents would be ecstatic for their child to get accepted to such a prestigious school at such a young age, but moving out and becoming independent in a foreign country with very little social skills is a bit of a problem. As a homeschooled student, Beatrice focused more on books and intellect. Her personality is very analytical and straightforward, leaving very little room for building close connections with others. She's been completely happy with that-up until now. Now her inability to pick up social cues and form connections with others may prevent her from her dreams in England.

    [...]the entire city of Oxford, 
a place built by this paragon of learning, 
was likely filled with people who were similar to me. 
People who loved books more than people, 
and nobody thought that was weird.

I have a particular weakness for nerdy/socially awkward heroines and Beatrice certainly fit that bill. I think her awkwardness was more than just the lack of social skills. That plays into it, sure, but this is a girl that has probably never felt as if she never fit in anywhere her entire life. Not only was she far ahead of her peers intellectually and academically, she couldn't be more different from both of her parents. As marriage therapists working in Berkley, their world revolves around messy emotions and how to manage them. Beatrice tends to shy away from uncomfortable feelings.

I rolled my eyes for what was 
probably the millionth time 
and once again reminded myself why I’d 
never really fit in here. 
Berkeley, California, 
where even the academia had 
an emotional component to it.
Sometimes I wondered if
I had any emotional components at all.

Now that she's free from her high school obligations she just wants to leave the stifling environment of her parents house and find somewhere that she finally fits in. I would imagine it's incredibly lonely and isolating to not have one single person in the world you can relate to. You really feel for Beatrice's intense desire to move on to the next stage in her life where she can grow intellectually and hopefully truly feel at peace. One thing that bothered me a little was that the emphasis was put on her homeschooling being the major cause of her socializing deficiency. This is a stereotype, not a developmental handicap. You are perfectly able to make friends and have normal teen experiences while doing in-home learning.

Getting approval to attend Oxford comes with conditions. She must attend an acting summer camp where she will be forced to engage with other people her age and practice at a variety of skills including making friends. As an introvert, the thought of being forced to act on stage is absolutely terrifying to her, but she's willing to do anything it takes. Once there, Beatrice bumbles nervously through meeting new people and trying to fit in. It's both endearing and awkward to watch her open herself up to new acquaintences and occasionally embarrass herself. She just brushes herself off and keeps trying. The more she persists, the more empowering the challenges become. Because she can see that even if she fails, it's a learning experience. She's learning how to find her own personal fashion sense as she understands who she is a little bit better. It was very sweet how her new friends helped her navigate through her new experiences with so much patience.

Beatrice clashes with the golden boy of camp immediately. She meets Nik at the welcome party and they immediately make a bad impression on each other. She snipes at him and blames nepotism as the reason he gets all of the leading roles. He makes an unflattering comment on her looks. Enemy status achieved. They spend the majority of the book circling around each other with distrust. There isn't a huge amount of noticeable development in their relationship, though it's not for a lack of trying on his part. He does try to understand her a little better but he's always firmly rebuffed by her. She's pretty much completely clueless recognizing his interest in her which did make me a bit impatient. Even when told by her friends, she brushes it off as nonsense and continues to hang on to her misjudgment of him. I do wish that there could have been a bit more tangible romance between the two of them earlier on, but the Shakespeare quote challenge they did was super cute and original.

Beatrice is pushed out of her comfort zone and beyond during the summer. Although she'll probably never be a social butterfly (and that's perfectly okay) she learned that she is capable of much more than she was giving herself credit for. She was no longer trapped by her routines, she adapted to change better, and she realized that people can't be put in neat and tidy boxes. Although she never could have conceived having anything in common with impulsive, creative theater kids, they still bonded. You can celebrate each other's differences rather than allowing them to separate you. They were just as impressed with her intelligence as she was with their creative sides. By the end of the book you see her mature quite a bit, but more importantly, she didn't have a complete personality
transplant. She was still that quirky girl inside, just with more confidence and strength.

Overall, I really enjoyed this debut author's first book and would definitely read more from her in the future. Her writing style is in the same vein as Emma Lord, so if you enjoyed Tweet Cute or You Have a Match, this could be the perfect book for you.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Review: This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede


Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches. 


THIS VICIOUS GRACE
 by EMILY THIEDE

Series: The Last Finestra #1
Publication date: June 29, 2022
Published by: Wednesday Books
Genre: YA fantasy

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SYNOPSIS

Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.

Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?

Emily Thiede's exciting fantasy debut, This Vicious Grace, will keep readers turning the pages until the devastating conclusion and leave them primed for more! 

Purchase your copy now!
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Praise for This Vicious Grace:

Goodreads, "The 68 Most Anticipated YA Novels of 2022"

Nerd Daily, " Upcoming YA Book Releases to Add to Your TBR" and "24 Debut Releases To Get Your Hands On In 2022"

"This book is incredible! The banter, the romance, the tension! I couldn't get enough!" - Lauren Blackwood, New York Times bestselling author of Within These Wicked Walls

"Filled with witty banter, unlikely friendships, a swoon-worthy romance, and high stakes tension, Emily Thiede creates an immersive fantasy world inspired by the sun-drenched Amalfi coast that will captivate readers until the very last page. Sure to be a favourite for fans of Stephanie Garber, Leigh Bargudo, and Kerri Maniscalco." - Lyndall Clipstone, author of Lakesedge

"A richly imagined world featuring a slow burn, sizzling romance and a conflict that crackles with magic." - Elle Cosimano, award-winning author of Seasons of the Storm

"A remarkably fresh debut, This Vicious Grace is an absolute delight from cover to cover. Its rich, transportive world sparkles on every page, and I was spirited away by Thiede’s beautifully rendered cast. I would follow Alessa and Dante anywhere, and can’t wait for their next adventure." - Ayana Gray, New York Times bestselling author of Beasts of Prey

"From the lush setting to dire stakes and whip-smart banter, This Vicious Grace is romantic, suspenseful, and utterly unforgettable." - Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of the Reign of the Fallen series

"Riveting, passionate, and full of high stakes danger." - Tamora Pierce, #1 New York Times bestselling author

"The perfect blend of humor and heart, This Vicious Grace is a high-stakes romp that brims with deadly magic, sparkling chemistry, and the deep yearning for connection in an alienating world. Prepare to fall head-over-heels with Alessa and Dante!" - Allison Saft, author of Down Comes the Night

"Remixing all the best parts of a dark fantasy and a romantic comedy, This Vicious Grace is a wonderfully fun time from start to finish, with lush, complex worldbuilding, intensely relatable characters, and relationships that are easy to root for." - Hannah Whitten, New York Times bestselling author of For The Wolf

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Thiede is the author of THE LAST FINESTRA (Wednesday Books/MacMillan, summer 2022.) She grew up dreaming of becoming a dragon rider and now writes fantastical tales about magic, mayhem, and characters who flirt with their enemies while the world crumbles.

Born in New Jersey, Emily moved across state lines in high school like a true YA heroine, and now calls Virginia home. When she isn’t writing, you can find her fostering kittens, mentoring, and hosting writer social events.

You can find her on:



REVIEW

This Vicious Grace (The Last Finestra, #1)This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This Vicious Grace is an italian influenced fantasy world where magic gifted people must battle hordes of deadly demon bugs each generation. The Finestra and Fonte team is chosen by the goddess Dea who must marry and partner in the fight to conquer the insects that attack the city. Alessa Paladino is the Finestra and she must choose her partner wisely out of all of the Fonte who have been gifted elemental magic. The right Fonte will enable her to bring out her power and amplify it, the wrong choice will lead to his or her death. At eighteen, she has chosen incorrectly three times and has suffered through the guilt of three funerals. In this situation anyone would feel like a black widow picking off innocent victims rather than the savior of an entire island. Alessa takes it deeply to heart and becomes paralyzed with indecision.

What I noticed right off the bat was that this protagonist isn't your typical strong, confident, kickass female lead that saves the world with one hand tied behind her back. She's a more relatable teen with insecurities and doubts. She's overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy about the savior role that's been thrust upon her. Alessa sees herself as a failure and shrinks away from confrontation when challenged or threatened. I think many more readers could identity with that internal struggle at some point in their life. It gives the story a coming-of-age feel in a fantasy setting. This young woman must learn how to recognize her weaknesses and turn them into strength in a very short, finite time.

The other overwhelming challenge Alessa faces is that the very townspeople she is expected to save start to turn on her. While the chosen Finestra is typically revered and protected at all costs, many start to lose faith in her and want to do her harm. After all, if you can't believe in yourself, how can you expect others to do so? It doesn't help that there is a "priest" sowing seeds of doubt around town. He and his followers are pushing the idea that she should die in order for a better candidate to fill her shoes before it's too late. Even her own family and guards betray her, pushing her feelings of isolation and helplessness to a whole new level.

    She’d never realized quiet had weight to it, 
a pulse that somehow, paradoxically, 
made it difficult to hear anything else.

It was pretty frustrating to see the callousness of these people all around her, who so casually discussed murdering an innocent girl who was desperately trying to help them. They quickly formed a mob mentality and lost all sense of reason because of a silver-tongued con man.

  Blessed. Oh, yes, she was the luckiest 
girl in the world, 
fending off murderers 
on a daily basis for the right 
to live long enough to fight 
a swarm of demons 
slavering to chew on her bones.

When her situation becomes desperate, Alessa turns to a criminally marked, anti-social stranger who fights for money on the wrong side of town. Dante is rough around the edges and prickly, the complete opposite of her in many ways. I think being exposed to his unapologetic personality helps her reach for those qualities within herself. No matter how impersonal and distant he tries to be with her, when he sees the weight she's silently carrying, he begins to soften. It's gradual, but you can see how he grows an attachment against his better judgment. Against all odds, he becomes a confidant, a friend, and someone she finally feels safe with. However, Dante has a dark past and a secret that could bring ruin upon them both if discovered. The subtle romance growing between them is impossible for too many reasons but necessary for one: they make each other feel whole. They are seen for the first time in their life and supported in a way that defines partnership. And yet, it is her duty to marry another when the time comes to fulfill her destiny.

“I can’t change how I feel about you.” 
“It doesn’t matter how we feel. Some things 
aren’t possible.”

This was a unique fantasy world, however it was a little slower paced in the first half than I would have liked. It dragged at times, forcing me to push through sections where I was feeling the urge to set the book down. I'm very glad I did, because the second half picked up. Especially the battle scene at the end which was action-packed and filled with suspense. Obviously there is a bit of a cliffhanger here because this book is part of a duology, but it isn't too painful to handle. Alessa and Dante still have much to do until they can put this fight behind them. A new enemy is coming for them in the next installment that will culminate in the ultimate battle of good vs. evil. I for one am invested to see how it will all go down.

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