ARC Review: Work For It by Talia Hibbert // the author’s first M/M romance doesn’t disappoint, and nobody is surprised

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the author for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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“He’s burning me down to the bone. They’ll find the scar of him on my remains.”

In this village, I’m an outcast: Griffin Everett, the scowling giant who prefers plants to people. Then I meet Keynes, a stranger from the city who’s everything I’m not: sharp-tongued, sophisticated, beautiful. Free. For a few precious moments in a dark alleyway, he’s also mine, hot and sweet under the stars… until he crushes me like dirt beneath his designer boot.

When the prettiest man I’ve ever hated shows up at my job the next day, I’m not sure if I want to strangle him or drag him into bed. Actually—I think I want both. But Keynes isn’t here for the likes of me: he makes that painfully clear. With everyone else at work, he’s all gorgeous, glittering charm—but when I get too close, he turns vicious.

And yet, I can’t stay away. Because there’s something about this ice king that sets me on fire, a secret vulnerability that makes my chest ache. I’ll do whatever it takes to sneak past his walls and see the real man again.

The last thing I expect is for that man to ruin me.

Work for It is 80,000 words of hot, angst-filled, M/M romance featuring a cynical city boy, a gruff, soft-hearted farmer, and a guaranteed happy-ever-after. No cheating, no cliff-hangers, just love. (Eventually.)

Release date: September 3rd

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★★★★

Talia Hibbert quickly became one of my go-to romance authors for M/F romance last year, so I was very curious to see her write her first M/M romance. I had this feeling of calm about it that only comes with trusting an author without fear that your expectations will be disappointed, and in fact they weren’t.

The first thing that I noticed is how unique each main character is. Talia Hibbert doesn’t shy away from taking some risks in her choice of characters either, which here was especially evident in Griffin, a queer gentle giant that most people would at first glance describe as, frankly, a little ugly. Seeing how not only Olu’s first impression of him changes, but also how Griffin eventually finds himself good looking, was one of the highlights of the novel for me (among so, so many).

I’m so impressed by how many things were packed into this book. There’s class difference (handled, in my opinion, so well), small village culture, various aspects of mental health, friendship and family, and of course the romance itself, which I loved and I don’t really want to spoil for anyone. Despite some of these themes being a little on the heavy side, this is mostly a light-hearted and steamy romance that can be read very quickly.

As it happened with the other two novels I read from the author, the “drama moment” was a little overdramatic for my tastes, but even if there was miscommunication it was very understandable and not too frustrating, because you could see where the characters were coming from. It was by the end very satisfying and it reminded me that I need to read the first two books in this series (whose characters make cameos here — but the book stands perfectly on its own too).

TWs (taken from the author’s review): depression, anxiety, references to past sexual trauma and forced outing, references to a parent who died by suicide

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ARC Mini-Review: The Avant-Guards by Carly Usdin & Noah Hayes // F/F basketball comic? F/F basketball comic!

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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When Charlie transfers to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics, she struggles to find her feet, but winds up exactly where she belongs…in the school’s (terrible) basketball team.

As a transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics, former sports star Charlie is struggling to find her classes, her dorm, and her place amongst a student body full of artists who seem to know exactly where they’re going. When the school’s barely-a-basketball-team unexpectedly attempts to recruit her, Charlie’s adamant that she’s left that life behind…until she’s won over by the charming team captain, Liv, and the ragtag crew she’s managed to assemble. And while Charlie may have left cut-throat competition in in the dust, sinking these hoops may be exactly what she needs to see the person she truly wants to be.

From Carly Usdin (Heavy Vinyl) and artist Noah Hayes (Wet Hot American Summer, Goldie Vance) comes an ensemble comedy series that understands that it’s the person you are off the court that matters most.

Release date: September 3rd

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★★★★✩

This was a nice comic about a newly formed and diverse basketball team with a cute developing f/f romance. I really like the art and it made the story easy and relaxing to follow. There’s also not a lot of basketball talk and the focus is more on the characters and friendships, at least so far, which I personally really liked (confession: I kind of…don’t like basketball lmao).

If I have the chance I’m going to read the next volume whenever it comes out and if you like light-hearted queer comics that display a variety of genders, races and sexualities (and if you like sport comics) this is definitely something you need to check out!

ARC Review: The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore // or: sometimes a family can be an assassin, her girlfriend, an annoying magical nerd and three dead camels

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Second in K. A. Doore’s high fantasy adventure series the Chronicles of Ghadid, a determined assassin travels to the heart of the Empire in pursuit of a powerful mark, for fans of Robin Hobb, Sarah J. Maas, and S. A. Chakraborty

Thana has a huge reputation to live up to as daughter of the Serpent, who rules over Ghadid’s secret clan of assassins. Opportunity to prove herself arrives when Thana accepts her first contract on Heru, a dangerous foreign diplomat with the ability to bind a person’s soul under his control.

She may be in over her head, especially when Heru is targeted by a rival sorcerer who sends hordes of the undead to attack them both. When Heru flees, Thana has no choice than to pursue him across the sands to the Empire that intends to capture Ghadid inside its iron grip.

A stranger in a strange city, Thana’s only ally is Mo, a healer who may be too noble for her own good. Meanwhile, otherworldly and political dangers lurk around every corner, and even more sinister plans are uncovered which could lead to worldwide devastation. Can Thana rise to the challenge—even if it means facing off against an ancient evil?

Release date: November 12th

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★★★.75✩

This book is the second in The Chronicles of Ghadid series and while it follows different main characters than The Perfect Assassin, you shouldn’t jump directly into this one if you haven’t read that first, because you will miss important information and context that makes this world so interesting.

And speaking of the world, after reading TPA I knew I loved it, but this second book solidified my appreciation for it (and it made me realize that it’s perfectly possible to get attached to a fictional city, and oh how I am attached to Ghadid).

While TPA was more focused on the city, giving a cozy introductions to the world and its rules, The Impossible Contract expands our horizon and shows us what’s beyond Ghadid, bringing us to the sands below and to the Empire’s capital. I loved seeing the different rules and customs, I loved the different stakes that this book’s characters faced, and the fact that magic played a much bigger role than in book one. It’s also simultaneously rather darker than TPA and funnier, and a little more hopeful. Also, camels. 🐪

TIC follows Thana, Amastan’s cousin, who has a contract to kill Heru, the Empress’s en-marabi (sort of a necromancer) and a man whose work many people consider blasphemous. When she doesn’t succeed on her first try, she finds that there’s so much more going on, and the stakes are higher than she could have ever imagined. Also it doesn’t hurt that her healer is really cute. What follows is a rather action-packed adventure among zombies, guuls, sand, magic, sand, and more sand. And have I mentioned camels? 🐪

Thana, Mo and Heru are one of the best and most fun travelling trio I’ve ever met in fiction. Heru is exactly the type of character I can’t help falling in love with, with his deadpan, accidental humor. He’s a first class nerd, a Ravenclaw who does everything he does for the sake of expanding the horizons of knowledge. Someone please keep him away from camels.

Thana is a wonderful MC. She wants to prove herself not just as the daughter of a famous assassin, she wants to built her own name and to do so she ends up having to cross the desert with unlikely allies. My heart ached for and with her more than once, and I just wanted her to get her happy ending.

Mo is the other side of the nerd coin, she and Heru have very different principles but rely on similar strengths. Usually it’s the MC that has to see their beliefs challenged during their character arc, but here Mo takes on that role and it works so well. I love her (and so does Thana).

I’m sure I could say much more (and come up with more camel jokes), but I’ll finish by saying that this was such a joyful experience for me, and this series is so much fun to read and to talk about with my friends who’ve also read it. Even though I’ve already read the ARC I think I will listen to the audiobook when it comes out because that’s how I read TPA and it was so nice.

So, if you’re looking for a well-crafted world, a cute f/f romance set in a scary desert, well-rounded characters and an adventure that’s above all fun, definitely get your hands on this book. And don’t forget to read The Perfect Assassinfirst for soft gay ace assassins and murder mysteries.

TWs: blood, gore, blood magic, violence, slavery, vomiting, injury, magical healing, animal deaths, eye horror, minor character deaths, zombies, mind control

ARC Review: Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé // or: if you’re looking for hope, you’re in the wrong place

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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The Blair Witch Project meets Imaginary Girls in this story of codependent sisterhood, the struggle to claim one’s own space, and the power of secrets

Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. Moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over.

In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones.

Then Deirdre disappears.

And when something awful comes scratching at Skye’s window in the middle of the night, claiming she’s the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

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★★★✩✩

This was my first book by Amelinda Bérubé, so I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t read much horror anymore and I haven’t read a lot of YA horror at all, so I feel like I had contrasting expectations from the end of this book, and it’s hard to say whether they’ve been met or not. But let’s start with the rest of the book before I talk about the ending.

I would describe this as Sadie meets Never-Contented Things(and those are both novels I loved). The quest of the missing sister, the uncaring parents and the overall failure of adults to be there for teens paired well with the creepy forest atmosphere, and it was at times almost terrifying. If I were someone who rates different points of a book to do a mathematical avg, I would definitely be giving the atmosphere a solid five stars.

I have a harder time judging the characters. My first instinct is to mark them as stereotypes, but that’s not exactly right. They’re more archetypes of teens, and a lot of them are terrible (more on this later). If I were to say something about any of them, is how the love interest is a soft boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and since the stereotypical YA love interest is the asshole, brooding type, I more than appreciate this. Whether this book was kind to him, or to any of its character for that matter, is something I doubt, and I’ll let everyone draw their own conclusions.

While I enjoyed most of this book and it was definitely going to be at least a full 4 stars, the ending left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s not, per se, a bad ending. I feel like it’s not the plot itself that let me down, but the message that was sent, or at least the message I understood. And here comes what I mentioned before: horror doesn’t have to be hopeful, but YA does. What does, then, YA horror need to achieve? Is it okay to stick to the genre’s message without taking into account the target group? Is it okay to do the opposite? Is there a way to achieve both?

I feel like strictly speaking, the ending tried to be both hopeful and hopeless, which probably wasn’t easy to do. But inevitably when there’s both hope and not-hope, the negative will always override the positive, like mixing a lot of light paint and a little dark one will inevitably result in a dark color. And here there was so much more dark than light. When I say dark I don’t mean tragic. Perhaps that’s what throws me off, it’s so dark because it isn’t tragic. Tragic we can handle, we can get closure. Here, I’m not sure we get closure of any kind. In a way, this is where this book diverges from my Sadie comparison: Sadie is tragic and it has very good reasons to be that. This book had every chance to be hopeful or at the very least tragic, but it wasn’t either.

Terrible teens exist, and there are often reasons why they’re terrible, and all of us are or were terrible as teens in our own way. And we need to see that we’re not alone. But to see that and accept that in a narrative that’s so, ultimately, hopeless, without seeing a sliver of light other than “you’re not alone in being terrible, you’re surrounded by other terrible people too”, is frankly a little disappointing and defies at least part of this novel’s genre. That’s, at least, how I felt about it.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book. If you need hope in your life, if you can handle a dark story as long as there’s light at the end, I would say maybe avoid it. If you don’t care and want to read a creepy novel, give it a try.

TWs: animal deaths, violence, missing girl, blood, gore

ARC Mini-Review: How to be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Everyone on campus knows Remy Cameron. He’s the out-and-gay, super-likable guy that people admire for his confidence. The only person who may not know Remy that well is Remy himself. So when he is assigned to write an essay describing himself, he goes on a journey to reconcile the labels that people have attached to him, and get to know the real Remy Cameron.

Release date: September 10th

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★★★.75✩✩

This book follows Remy, an out and proud gay teen, in his quest to find out who he is. I feel like the question “who am I really?” is something that everybody has asked themselves before, and this can be especially hard to answer when you are a marginalized person and you need to understand how your marginalizations intersect.

Personally I felt like the writing improved from the author’s debut and the book’s themes were also stronger. It was still a little awkward at times but I could overlook that in favor of the characters and the themes.

Overall I feel like this is an important book for all teens and I would highly recommend it if “who am I?” has ever crossed your mind.

TWs (taken from the end of the book): discussions of racism, homophobia, past minor characters’ death, and alcoholism, as well as depictions of homophobic bullying, and a scene involving brief sexual harassment/racial fetishism

Review: Failed Future (Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles #3) by Elise Kova

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the author for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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When worlds collide, and things are rarely what they seem, there may be no one Vi can trust.

Having forsaken her crown for a chance to save her family, and the world, Vi Solaris washes up on the shores of Meru. She’s wounded and barely alive. But Vi’s fight for survival is only just beginning.

As a princess in a foreign land, everyone is after her.

The pirate queen Adela wants to sell her to the evil elfin’ra. The Twilight King wants to use her to settle an old score. And, perhaps most dangerous, is the scheming Lord of the Faithful who sees her as an opportunity to further consolidate his power.

The only path for Vi is forward. But she doesn’t yet know if she’s running toward salvation… or a brutal end to everything she loves.

Vi’s journey continues with even more betrayal, romance, magic, and a twist you never saw coming that leaves readers begging for the next book. 

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★★★✩

Third books in long series are always a turning point and this one was as well, in more ways than one.

In the first half of the book there was a lot I liked. Kova’s ability to introduce new characters and make them interesting right off the bat is something that works really well at the beginning of new series or, in this case, when our main character is somewhere new and has to make new connections.

However, the rest of the book was a little boring to me despite the fact that it was rather fast paced, or maybe that’s why, since I enjoy a bit more focus on characters and relationships. But I might have honestly just not been in the mood for this, because I was also bored with Vi and Taavin’s relationship since it took more page time than the prequels. I did enjoy some moments of course and I was able to focus on the final 20 pages more than I did for the second half of the book.

And that brings me to the ending (no worries, no spoilers from me). I think what Kova did in this book is very brave and I’ll be able to fully process what happened in this book when I read the next, but it’s certainly taken a turn I’d have never seen coming. I’m still not entirely sure what it all means for the rest of the series and for our view of Air Awakens, but I’m very curious to see what will happen next.

Speaking of Air Awakens, I truly believe that while it’s not necessary to read it for the first two books of this series, there will be a lot of connections that are lost if you haven’t read the original series. Especially going into the next books, I fully recommend catching up with the first series if you haven’t done so already.

ARC Review: The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Rinn has grown up with the Tea Dragons that inhabit their village, but stumbling across a real dragon turns out to be a different matter entirely! Aedhan is a young dragon who was appointed to protect the village but fell asleep in the forest eighty years ago. With the aid of Rinn’s adventuring uncle Erik and his partner Hesekiel, they investigate the mystery of his enchanted sleep, but Rinn’s real challenge is to help Aedhan come to terms with feeling that he cannot get back the time he has lost.

Release date: September 17th

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★★★★

What an utterly delightful story, and what a gift to the world is Katie O’Neill!

The Tea Dragon Festival is a companion-prequel to The Tea Dragon Society and it follows Rinn (they/them), who is an aspiring cook, and a Dragon (not a small tea dragon!) who’s been asleep for too long. We also see a young Erik and Hesekiel in their bounty hunters days and they’re just as cute as you might imagine if you’ve read TTDS. There’s also a side character who uses Sign Language and the whole village has learned SL because of her and it’s like, no big deal to them and it was so endearing to see.

As always the author has created a rich and inclusive world that radiates the positivity we so desperately need sometimes with escapism nowadays. This is both great for a younger audience and for everyone else who’s just looking to read a wonderful diverse story and look at seriously cute art. I can’t recommend it enough!