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ARC Review: No Ex Before Marriage by Portia MacIntosh (1/11/22!)

No Ex Before Marriage by Portia MacIntosh
Expected Release Date: January 11, 2022

Recommended: sure
For characters who might make you cackle in delight every now and then, for a plot that flirts with absurdity just enough to make you smile, for a slow wind into more serious territory where you’re there without realizing when it went from silly to somber

It’s not over until someone says ‘I do’…
While her friends join the “Wife Club” one by one, Poppy feels like that part of her life is done and dusted. Already married and divorced she’s not desperate to go through all that again.

But what if her divorce never actually went through…?

After a shock revelation Poppy not only discovers she is still married, but that Zac is about to have his second wedding!

Coming face to face with her (almost) ex-husband after six years apart is never going to be easy. And when Zac panics and tells his new wife-to-be that Poppy is family, things can’t get much worse as she is welcomed with open arms as part of the wedding party!

As the memories flood back, can Poppy really leave the past where it is? And can she watch the first love of her life walk down the aisle to say ‘I do’ once again?

Thoughts

I think the simplest way to sum this up is by saying that if you read the blurb and it makes you smile and think it sounds like something you might enjoy, you probably will. It definitely delivered, even though going into it I was like “how on earth will they explain that this guy introduced her as his cousin when that would be SO stupid of him??” And yet, in the moment, I was totally on board and thinking that the only way out of the situation was to pretend they were cousins. Yep.

This is a romance of course, and I’d say that the romance in it was a definite slow-burn and honestly a little bit secondary to the main issues of the relationships. Since Poppy and Zac have already had a relationship built and even been married, that initial falling in love stuff happened more or less off screen. We get some nostalgia and reminiscing, but no real flashbacks. So if you’re coming into this hoping for steamy or swoon-worthy moments, you’re probably not going to be satisfied. It’s more of an element to the character’s story rather than the singular focus.

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ARC Review: Must Love Books by Shauna Robinson (1/18/22)

Must Love Books by Shauna Robinson
Expected Release Date: January 18, 2022

Recommended: yes!
For an MC who makes truly questionable decisions, for some honest struggles, for a look at the publishing world and whether or not it can make a reader jaded, honestly not much here for the romance

Prepare yourself for a L O N G review because I have so much to share about this book!!! 🥰

Summary

When Nora landed an editorial assistant position at Parsons Press, it was her first step towards The Dream Job. Because, honestly, is there anything dreamier than making books for a living? But after five years of lunch orders, finicky authors, and per my last emails, Nora has come to one grand conclusion: Dream Jobs do not exist.

With her life spiraling and the Parsons staff sinking, Nora gets hit with even worse news. Parsons is cutting her already unlivable salary. Unable to afford her rent and without even the novels she once loved as a comfort, Nora decides to moonlight for a rival publisher to make ends meet…and maybe poach some Parsons authors along the way.

But when Andrew Santos, a bestselling Parsons author no one can afford to lose is thrown into the mix, Nora has to decide where her loyalties lie. Her new Dream Job, ever-optimistic Andrew, or…herself and her future.

Thoughts

I love this book for the intense look at the happiness in career success (and in general) that the main character Nora has. Sure, it’s billed as a romance, but it’s really more like a self-discovery or identity read to me. Nora’s romance shows her how much she’s missing romance in other parts of her lives: career, hobbies, friends. Once one element of her life starts to glow, she realizes how dingy and dull the others are. That more than anything is her motivation to seek change.

If you’ve ever been in a job that made you hate your life, this book will be immensely relatable. So many of the thoughts Nora has sound like they’re pulled directly from my head circa four years ago. And if you currently hate your job, this book might be a breath of air that you can draw inspiration from (or at least live vicariously through).

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Review: The Whale Library by Zidrou

The Whale Library by Zidrou
Verdict: This was very weird and very sad and very beautiful which makes it feel very French (thought the authors are Belgian).

Summary

A poetic fable for grown-ups full of wisdom and beauty, by two Belgian masters of graphic storytelling.

Out on the high seas lives a whale unlike any other, who spends her days reading stories to all who will listen, taken from the vast library hidden in her belly. When the whale bumps into a sea postman’s boat one fateful night, it’s the beginning of an extraordinary friendship. But not every story can have a happy ending…

Thoughts

A great example of why a “picture book” does not equate a children’s book as some people still think. Be aware that this book is graphic. There are entrails and beheadings and genitals (not all in one scene though, thank god). It suited the message focusing on the beauty of life and how death can be so senseless sometimes. Ultimately, I’d say this was a sad book. The end brought a little light back to the story, but it was a rueful hope, filled with knowledge of cruelty and injustice.

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ARC Review: Bad Luck Bridesmaid by Alison Rose Greenberg (1/11)

Bad Luck Bridesmaid by Alison Rose Greenberg
Expected Release Date: January 11, 2022

Recommended: YES
For people who aren’t sure love necessitates marriage, for folks who are working on figuring out what’s important to them (and how to be honest about it), for a romance that handles some issues much bigger than just trying to get with the love interest

Summary

It’s official: Zoey Marks is the cursed bridesmaid that no engagement can survive. Ten years, three empire waist dresses, and ZERO brides have walked down the aisle.

After strike three, Zoey is left wondering if her own ambivalence towards marriage has rubbed off on those she loves. And when her building distrust of matrimony culminates in turning down a proposal from her perfect All-American boyfriend, Rylan Harper III, she and Rylan are both left heartbroken, leaving Zoey to wonder: what is it exactly about tying the knot that makes her want to run in the opposite direction?

Enter Hannah Green: Zoey’s best friend, who announces that she’s marrying a guy she just met (cue eye roll). At a castle. In gorgeous, romantic Ireland, where Rylan will be in attendance, and Zoey will be a bridesmaid. It’ll be fine.

Okay, the woman definition of fine (NOT FINE).

Determined to turn her luck around, Zoey accepts her role and vows to get Hannah down the aisle—all the while praying her best friend’s wedded bliss will allow her to embrace marriage and get Rylan back.

But as the weekend goes on, Zoey is plagued with more questions than answers. Can you be a free spirit, yet still want a certain future? Can you have love and be loved on your terms? And how DO you wrangle a bossy falcon into doing your bidding?

Thoughts:

ALRIGHT. I thought this would be a standard fair romcom. The premise of the bridesmaid whose brides never get married, which then makes her nervous about being in her best friend’s wedding, sounds lighthearted and quirky and overall pretty gentle right? WELL THAT’S NOT THIS BOOK.

Here’s how it differs. First, there’s a whole third of the book dedicated to the main character’s own relationship and life, all the things that shape her and her ideas of love, relationships, and marriage. Next, the lighthearted premise of the Bad Luck Bridesmaid has many more layers and impact than simply being a woman who’s nervous in a silly way. Next, there are truly heavy questions included, like: IS love enough? do spouses need to know everything about each other before they get married? SHOULD they? is it okay to keep some things a secret? how do you truly commit yourself to FOREVER?

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ARC Review: The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan (1/04)

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Release Date: January 4, 2022

Recommended: sure
For a slow character study, for a creepily realistic look at how things can suddenly yet subtly cross the line, for a book that’s like the opposite of The Farm

Summary

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

Thoughts:

This book is somewhat outside my usual preference of magic and action and saving-the-world kinds of issues. Frida is just looking to save her own little world, and maybe that of her daughter’s, Harriet. And yet, despite this being a more literary style, which I usually struggle with, this kept me 100% engaged. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. And I finished it in two days.

The pull of this one is almost voyeuristic, because I watched Frida slowly and undeniably lose herself through her time in the school. Her thoughts are mine to know, and I end up having more insight than even the all-seeing monitors who judge her emotions via endless camera footage. Hearing their diagnoses of some mothers in the program as not having enough love in their hugs, based on the biometric feedback, or that they should be able to physically heal illness with just their motherly love, was so genuinely unsettling to read that I kind of shudder again just thinking about it.

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ARC Review: Fools In Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales by Rebecca Podos & Collected Authors

Fools In Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales by Rebecca Podos
Expected Release Date: December 7, 2021
Verdict: I never like short stories, and the love felt rushed, but a lot of folks will adore this collection

Recommended: for some people
If you like short stories, if you can buy into love stories quickly, if you’re a sucker for those “first confession / first kiss” kind of scenes

Summary

Join fifteen bestselling, award-winning, and up-and-coming authors as they re-imagine some of the most popular tropes in the romance genre.

Fake relationships. Enemies to lovers. Love triangles and best friends, mistaken identities and missed connections. This collection of genre-bending and original stories celebrates how love always finds a way, featuring powerful flora, a superhero and his nemesis, a fantastical sled race through snow-capped mountains, a golf tournament, the wrong ride-share, and even the end of the world. With stories written by Rebecca Barrow, Ashley Herring Blake, Gloria Chao, Mason Deaver, Sara Farizan, Claire Kann, Malinda Lo, Hannah Moskowitz, Natasha Ngan, Rebecca Podos, Lilliam Rivera, Laura Silverman, Amy Spalding, Rebecca Kim Wells, and Julian Winters this collection is sure to sweep you off your feet.

Thoughts

UGH. I’m so sad I’m starting this off with a groan, but… dang. I always struggle with short stories, but I had hoped this would be different. I live for those moments in books where the characters finally come together and admit how they feel, but this collection just didn’t do it for me. If any of my difficulties below resonate with you, then you might want to dodge this one, but I think a lot of folks will treasure this collection.

Issue #1: since they’re all short stories, they all read as insta-love to me because it happened in the course of 10-15 pages. Even in the tropes that necessitate a history (ex. friends to lovers, second chance) it all felt so rushed! I didn’t really know or care about the characters in most of these because I barely knew them. My pleasure at seeing two people find love was muted by the fact that they still felt like strangers.

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ARC Review: Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente (11/9)

Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
Expected release date: November 9, 2021

Recommended: yes, to Ava
For a quick read that ends way creepier than it begins, for a short puzzle that’s brilliant once you know what to look for, for a story I’d describe as “eerie”

Summary

Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.

It’s just that he’s away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.

But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband’s face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can’t quite meet her gaze…

But everything is perfect. Isn’t it?

Thoughts

Hey Ava!

I think you’ll like this one (and it comes out tomorrow!). It’s one of those stories that starts out normal, then gets kind of strange, then subtly creepy, and then smashes headlong into WTF territory when you’re too far in to stop. Since it’s so short, the effect is doubled! And of course the mystery-ish aspect of trying to get a better sense of what exactly is going on in Acadia Gardens will definitely keep you going.

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ARC Review: You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao (11/9)

You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao
Expected Release Date: November 9, 2021
Verdict: I would have DNFd if this weren’t an ARC 😶😬

Recommended: if you think you’re interested
For folks who read the premise and think they’ll like it, for a very singular dive into one person and issue

Summary

Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes.

Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.

And Sam picks up the phone.

In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.

Thoughts:

For such a normal-length book, this felt like it flew by. In this case… that’s not exactly a good thing (or a bad thing). This book sets out to tell the story of Julie’s guilt and grief over Sam’s death, and that’s exactly what it tells. The weird thing is that it’s also the only thing that it tells. This book has a very tight focus on the issue it aims to address. While, again, that’s not a bad thing, it was strange in that it ended up reading more like short story for me since there was only one thread to the plot.

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ARC Review: Lupina Book One: Wax by James Wright

Lupina Book One: Wax by James Wright
Expected Release: November 30, 2021

Recommended: sure
For an intro into a series that promises to give more (next time), for an interesting art concept (that you might have to squint at), for characters well-portrayed even in their silence

Summary

In the coastal town of Kote, recently brought under the yoke of the Addalian Empire, four-year-old Lupa spends her days getting bullied by her older sister and hiding behind her mother’s skirts. But when tragedy strikes, Lupa finds herself alone in a new world… alone until she’s found by the she-wolf, Coras, and sets off on a journey of discovery… and revenge.

Thoughts

I’ve come out of this book feeling like I’m more interested in the next installment. This one was a lot of setup and not much actually happening. I know the summary is all like, “she’s out for revenge with a badass wolf by her side” but that is more of a future thing it seems. Definitely no vengeance here.

I kept going because there were some interesting elements worked into the story and world lore, and the art intrigued me. It’s a little bit of a love / hate with the art though, because there were an unfortunately large amount of scenes where I truly could not decipher what was occurring. It was difficult to distinguish the amount of greys, blacks, and shadows to figure out what the scene was showing, which really took me out of the moment. On the bright side, it made me focus a lot on the art?

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ARC Review: Reasons for Avoiding Friends by Megan Leavell (9/14)

Reasons for Avoiding Friends by Megan Leavell
Verdict: fine for a diversion, nothing that blew me away on it’s own
Expected Release Date: September 14, 2021

Recommended: Sure
For a quick contemporary read, for a female-friendship story, for a look at alcoholism and falling into patterns even when they don’t make you happy and how to break out of it

Summary

Growing up, Gwen and Iris were the best of friends, even if they couldn’t have been more different. Now Gwen is living her hometown dream, or so she reminds herself while juggling endless parenting drama, an unemployed husband, and a neighborhood pyramid scheme. Never mind that at age thirty-nine, her social circle still resembles middle school. Her life is everything she ever wanted it to be, but nothing like she had planned.

Iris was never destined for the ordinary. When she moved to Manhattan, she shed her old life for a better one—but not without a cost. From a distance, Iris’s life couldn’t be more charmed, but no one knows about the cracks in the image she’s worked so hard to cultivate. No one knows the real Iris at all. Except for Gwen. But Iris and Gwen haven’t spoken for years. Until…

When Iris’s past catches up with her, she turns to the one person she could always count on—but she isn’t the only one keeping secrets, and as Gwen scrambles to preserve an illusion of domestic bliss, she finds herself wondering when they went from telling each other everything to sharing nothing. Now, a little wiser, and most certainly a little older, Gwen and Iris discover that the truest of friends accept you just as you are, and that loving yourself is sometimes the best way to find happiness.

Thoughts:

I went for this book because I had been reading a lot of heavy topics and depressing novels, and I wanted a bit of a break. I more or less got it with this, but it did have more serious issues than I expected. One of the main characters is DEFINITELY an alcoholic, and it’s painful to watch the many terrible decisions she makes. And somehow never admits or recognizes. DAMN, GIRL. It’s really not a whole lot easier to watch the other MC live in her sad rut of a life without galvanizing to do anything about it.

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