Review: Squared Away by Annabeth Albert

I was sent this book as an advanced copy for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 
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Summary: In the wake of tragedy, SEAL Mark Whitley rushed stateside to act as guardian to his sister’s three young children. But a conflicting will could give custody to someone else—someone Mark remembers as a too young, too hot, wild party boy. Even after six years, Mark can’t shake the memory of his close encounter with Isaiah James, or face up to what it says about his own sexuality.

Isaiah’s totally over the crush that made him proposition Mark all those years ago. In fact, he’s done with crushing on the wrong men altogether. For now, he’s throwing himself into proving he’s the best person to care for his cousin’s kids. But there’s no denying there’s something sexy about a big, tough military man with a baby in his arms.

As the legal details get sorted out, their long-buried attraction resurfaces, leading to intimate evenings after the kids are tucked in. A forever future is within reach for all of them, if only Mark can find the courage he needs to trust Isaiah with his secrets—and his heart.

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book review - pink

★★★★.5

Okay so don’t mind me while I SQUEAL because this book made me feel all kinds of feels. I was weirdly in the mood for an M/M romance where one of the guys has to raise a kid on his own, but get this: BOTH guys are raising THREE KIDS. Together.

I don’t think I could’ve asked for more from this trope. This had everything I wanted: cute domestic scenes, funny shenanigans, one of the guys who’s clueless about kids at the beginning and the other one who’s already a pro at it. It was also very emotional because of the circumstances in which Isaiah and Mark come to take care of the kids, since their parents died. I think the portrayal of grief (especially from Mark’s part) was realistic enough without making the book darker than it needed to be.

The romance itself was so, so good and soft. I can’t think of another word for it and y’all are gonna have to take it from my cold, dead hands. SOFT SOFT SOFT. While there is some lack of communication when it comes to the legal situation with the kids, the communication between Isaiah and Mark is great in their relationship. I don’t really want to spoil anything about it but it’s too cute and I’m still squealing.

Talking about the representation, Isaiah is biracial, just like the kids are, but it’s sort of a blink-and-you-miss-it thing. Isaiah is also gay and Mark is grey-ace or demisexual (he isn’t sure of the exact label, but he is ace-spec). I don’t want to go into the specifics of what I think of Mark’s asexuality and how it was handled, but I want to say that a thing I found a bit weird was how there didn’t seem to be a distinction between sexual and romantic orientation. Mark talks about sexual attraction and romantic crushes as if they’re one and the same, and while they might be for some people, I think the two are very different things. In any case, there’s never any talk of aromanticism or being on the aro spectrum as well as the ace one. Other than this, it was great to see that Isaiah was understanding and respectful of Mark’s sexuality and knew enough about asexuality without Mark having to explain the ABC of it, which is sometimes the case with m/m romances where one character is ace.

I 100% recommend this book if you’re a fan of the trope with kids, if you want to a super soft romance between two guys grieving and if you’re looking for ace rep.

TW for homophobia, death of loved ones, mentions of drunk driving, mentions of alcoholism, war injuries, grief.

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ARC Review: Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

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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Summary: Josh Chester loves being a Hollywood bad boy, coasting on his good looks, his parties, his parents’ wealth, and the occasional modeling gig. But his laid-back lifestyle is about to change. To help out his best friend, Liam, he joins his hit teen TV show, Daylight Falls … opposite Vanessa Park, the one actor immune to his charms. (Not that he’s trying to charm her, of course.) Meanwhile, his drama-queen mother blackmails him into a new family reality TV show, with Josh in the starring role. Now that he’s in the spotlight—on everyone’s terms but his own—Josh has to decide whether a life as a superstar is the one he really wants.

Vanessa Park has always been certain about her path as an actor, despite her parents’ disapproval. But with all her relationships currently in upheaval, she’s painfully uncertain about everything else. When she meets her new career handler, Brianna, Van is relieved to have found someone she can rely on, now that her BFF, Ally, is at college across the country. But as feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship, Van’s life reaches a whole new level of confusing. And she’ll have to choose between the one thing she’s always loved … and the person she never imagined she could.

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book review - pink

★★★★.5

This is a book that surprised me because of its unique format: the two POVs aren’t the MC and the love interest, but two MCs who happen to be (somewhat) friends.

Vanessa is a Korean-American actress and the protagonist of a TV show. All of her moves are monitored by the media and regulated by her publicist Jade. When Jade’s daughter Brianna gets close to Vanessa things get confusing for Vanessa, who’s always thought she was straight.

Josh is the son of an actress who’s down on her luck and wants him to be on a reality show about her family, something Josh reluctantly has to do unless he wants his Malibu house to be taken away from him.

I started out not really liking Vanessa and almost hating Josh, but I knew I’d end up loving both of them, and I have to say that even when Josh was at his worst I got attached pretty much right away and I wanted to keep reading and get that sweet character development.

There’s three main aspects to this novel:

• Vanessa’s story: her life as a Hollywood star, how this affects her relationships, and what it means to be a Korean-American actress and what it might mean for her career when you add “gay” to the equation. I loved Vanessa’s whole arc from denial to questioning to finally accepting her attraction to a girl and to being okay with coming out publicly. I also loved the romance between her and Brianna, it was very cute and the chemistry and communication between them was great.

• Josh’s story: his (non-)relationship with his family, his wild parties, the not really knowing what to do with his life or even who to be. I think Josh’s development was amazing especially considering there’s no romance for him in this book. Usually one way to show a character’s growth is to give them a partner and show how they are with them, how they become better people. With Josh, he does this on his own and with the help of his friends, and I think that’s a nice and important message that should be in more YAs.

• Vanessa and Josh’s friendship: in an alternate universe, Vanessa and Josh have a beautiful enemies-to-friends-to-lovers arc. Here, they get a beautiful enemies-to-friends arc that was incredible and rare to see. I love how they had to forcibly spend time together at first but then because of different circumstances they spent more time together, mostly helping each other out, and from that a feeling of friendship bloomed. This was one of the few books where it’s clear that friendship is a feeling before it becomes a type of relationship between two people, and although it kind of served Josh’s character arc the way a romantic relationship would have, I feel like it was much more than that and it’s just as important as the actual romance that happens within the book.

Overall I’m so happy with this book. I don’t really care for Hollywood and celebrity stuff so sometimes at the beginning I was a little bored with it, but that never made me want to stop reading. All I can say is: come for the f/f romance, stay for the beautiful variety of relationships and themes portrayed here.

ARC Review: Odd One Out by Nic Stone

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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Summary:

Courtney “Coop” Cooper
Dumped. Again. And normally I wouldn’t mind. But right now, my best friend and source of solace, Jupiter Sanchez, is ignoring me to text some girl.

Rae Evelyn Chin
I assumed “new girl” would be synonymous with “pariah,” but Jupiter and Courtney make me feel like I’m right where I belong. I also want to kiss him. And her. Which is . . . perplexing.

Jupiter Charity-Sanchez
The only thing worse than losing the girl you love to a boy is losing her to your boy. That means losing him, too. I have to make a move. . . .

One story.
Three sides.
No easy answers.

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book review - pink

★★★✩

It was messy but I feel like the message it was trying to give is very important. I just didn’t love the execution.

This is a book about how complicated it is to navigate personhood, relationships, past trauma, identity, social pressure, and basically everything else you might find yourself having to deal with in addition to your daily life as a teen. Books like this are the reason I, in my mid twenties, love reading YA. Because sometimes this “typically teenage” struggle doesn’t stop, or (some of it) is delayed until later, and seeing things through the eye of a teen can be both refreshing and healing.

We get three point of views in this book, not in alternating chapters but in three blocks. I wasn’t sure about this choice at the beginning but it ended up being both the best and worst thing about the book.

🐣 Courtney “Coop” Cooper – Black teen in love with his best friend, deals with past trauma and loss, intends to keep a promise he made as a kid even though it seems impossible that the conditions will ever be right for that to happen.

🐣 Rae Evelyn Chin – biracial Irish/Korean new girl at school, people-pleaser, abandonment issues, not as straight as she thought.

🐣 Jupiter Charity-Sanchez – Black out and proud lesbian, adopted daughter of two dads, caught between new and old friendship, number one fan of Queen.

First off, I thought that the POVs served their part of the storywell, they also were distinct enough and didn’t feel like an excuse to reveal things that the previous POV character didn’t know. But as things got messy (more on this later), I couldn’t help but feel that, a) I liked each POV less than the previous one; b) things had to be told instead of shown, and I couldn’t detect character agency for the previous characters.

Every main non-POV character felt like a plot device that served the current POV character. It was as if only because the focus had shifted on someone else, the other two’s ambitions and personalities were forgotten.

By the third and last POV, having previously been in the head of the other two POV characters, I couldn’t recognize their actions as their own and they felt only driven by what Jupiter wanted, and worst of all, most of it was just for the sake of drama. Now look, I know everyone makes bad choices and I’m not against that at all. I feel like I need to point this out because I’m aware that there’s a tendency to be less forgiving of POC characters as opposed to white ones when they do shitty things. But their actions, combined with the fact that the only POV I was reading from at that point wasn’t giving me any reason to sympathize with any of them, made it really hard to enjoy reading the last third of the book, as opposed to the first one which made me laugh and love Courtney so much.

It’s kind of hard to explain myself without spoilering anything so I’ll leave it that: this book got messier and messier and if you’re easily frustrated it could affect your enjoyment by a pretty big factor

A list of things I didn’t like paired with things I did like:

• I think having two questioning queer people in one YA book is amazing. The questioning queerness was the strongest point of this book and the reason despite all of its flaws this is a three star for me.

○ While it’s great to have different people question and explore their sexuality in different ways, some of the surrounding queerness (in side characters) was sometimes something that didn’t sit well with me. For example, a lesbian girl says she doesn’t mess with bisexual girls who have “touched the D” or something like that. This is something that might be called out later but not right away and I didn’t see the point of this. Another example of something that was personally a bit hurtful to see was the assumption from Jupiter’s part that every girl who wanted to “experiment” with her was actually straight. For being so openly against heteronormativity, she sure assumed that straight is the norm.

• The talk about labels came late but it was powerful and important enough to somewhat fix that ending for me. Labels can change and it can be scary to change them or to go without for a bit, regardless of your experiences with your previous labels.

○ This might be me overthinking things, but at some point I felt like a correlation was made between being attracted to one specific gender through attraction to their genitalia, and even discovering said attraction because of uhh…having seen their genitals. This felt cisnormative and I think too much focus was put on body parts.

• All books need as many Queen references as this one.

○ This is not exactly a thing I didn’t like (at least until some point) but I need to point out that this is a love triangle, and not the best one I’ve read, but it’s a love triangle among queer teens of color, which is something that I’m glad got its own spot in YA.

So overall, would I recommend this book? It depends on what you’re looking for and your tastes (who would have thought?!), and I hope my review gave you an idea whether you might like this or not.

ARC Review: A Hidden Hope by Laura Ambrose // a cute f/f romance between former critique partners turned enemies

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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Summary: Natalie and El used to be writing critique partners, sharing their work chapter by chapter. Falling in love off-page was like the next part of the story. But after a huge falling out, three years have passed in bitter silence.

When they both appear at a science fiction convention in London, Natalie, a struggling writer, wants nothing to do with El, the hot debut novelist who sold her book at auction under a male pseudonym. But over the weekend, ignoring each other–and their attraction–proves impossible, not least because they have several panels together. Can El hope to atone for the mistakes of their past, and is Natalie willing to let hope fly?

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book review - pink

★★★★✩

This was a fun f/f romance about former critique partners turned lovers turned enemies turned lovers again (basically one of my favorite romantic tropes ever).

Natalie and El meet again at a book convention in London, three years after their falling out that never got a closure, and they have the chance to fix the past between one panel and another.

It was a fun dip into the author/publishing world (I know we bookworms are always curious about that) and I really liked both main characters. They’re definitely flawed and that’s what made them interesting, but most importantly they both acknowledged what was and what wasn’t working in their relationship and in themselves and tried to work through it. This is a novella so it all had to be done pretty quickly, but the pace worked for me.

You can get the free prequel A Frozen Night if you sign up for the author’s newsletter. I’d recommend maybe reading it after the novella instead of before, but it doesn’t really matter.

If you like f/f romance and a setting that’s intriguing to us bookworms (or if you’re an author yourself) I definitely recommend picking this book up!

TWs: mention of death of a parent, grief

Release Blitz: Pisces Hooks Taurus (Signs of Love #4) by Anyta Sunday

Publisher: Anyta Sunday (self published)

Release Date (Print & Ebook): October 16, 2018

Length (Print & Ebook): 69000 words / 285 pages

Order now

Check out my review (spoiler: I gave it 5/5 stars)

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Book synopsis:

It’s a time for searching, and a time for finding, Pisces: keep casting your line and you will hook what you’re looking for.

Zane has it all planned out: land the perfect Meet Cute, fall in love, and live happily ever after.

Should be simple enough if he put his mind to it. A little creativity and some thinking outside of the box, and voila, he’d be married to the woman of his dreams.

It would be perfect.

And it would be before his visa ran out.

But why are his feelings running wild now that the pressure’s on? Why is his picture-perfect plan turning into a muddled mess of morphed metaphors he can’t make sense of anymore?

Just as well he’s met an English professor to help. And even though their first meet is anything but cute, this down-to-earth teacher may just be the realist Zane needs to ground him and give him a shot at love after all.

Don’t cast your line too wide, Pisces. Your perfect catch may already have bitten.

~ – ~ – ~

Pisces Hooks Taurus (Signs of Love #4) is an MM opposites-attract romantic comedy featuring an unapologetic romantic and a broken realist.

More wit, banter and bad puns – and even more heart-stopping slow burn!

Can be read as a standalone.

Tropes: friends-to-lovers, slow burn, will-they-or-won’t-they

Genre: New Adult, light-hearted contemporary gay romance

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Excerpt:

“What is that?”

Beckett’s mum and guests had left, and Beckett had brought Zane and his worldly belongings into an exposed-beam attic with a chain-pull light.

Zane set his box and suitcase against a slanted wall. The small, empty space contained a tiny window, a chest of drawers, and a low futon. Dust spokes glittered under the swaying light.

Beckett pointed at Zane’s box, one brow arched.

Zane laid the bearskin rug on the floor and straightened out the kinks. Beckett gaped at the bear poised as if to eat his ankle.

“I thought it was romantic,” Zane said with a sigh. He rested back on his heels, soft fur against his knees. “Now I’m kinda stuck with the beast.”

“Tough cross to bear.”

Zane grinned. “What’s with the word-wittage, anyway?”

“Word-wittage. Nice alliteration. I like playing with words.” Beckett sidestepped the bear and gestured around the attic. “The wooden slats are creaky, the bathroom is back down the ladder. My sister is returning from Europe Thursday, staying here until she finds her own place. The couch is too small for you, so . . . .”

“I’m totally cool to bunk with you.”

Beckett swept a hand through his hair, gaze darting toward the bed, the window. “There’ll be no bunking.”

Understood. He had a few days to find another accommodation—or convince Beckett that bunking could be fun.

Zane pulled his drawing tablet and stylus from their cushioned compartment. “Did you want to head to Chiffon with your friends? Whatever Chiffon is.”

“It’s a bar where we professors drink pinot noir and pontificate on the pleasures of punning.”

“Um . . . .”

“It’s a pretentious penis party.”

Zane turned around, armed with the supplies he needed to finish—or fix—the comic. “Sounds like a . . . picnic?”

The corners of Beckett’s mouth pulled up. Zane dropped the electronics to the bed and crossed over to the professor.

He tapped a finger against the wine stain at the side of Beckett’s blazer lapel. “Proof that you snorted your wine while we texted? I’ll have it dry-cleaned, if you’d like?”

“It’s not your fault. I’ll sort it out. Use it as an excuse to buy another one.”

Zane caught a whiff of Beckett’s clean scent with a subtle spicing of aftershave. Blue eyes met his, curious and hesitant.

A fat, black spider bungee-jumped from the beam above them and dangled in Zane’s face. He dropped the fingers that had lingered on Beckett’s chest and scrambled to the wall.

“Does a big, strapping man like you need me to remove the tiny bastard?”

“That’s a big, strapping yes.”

A few precise movements later, Beckett trapped the hairy beast in his hands. Insane yet heroic.

The bed squealed as Beckett kneeled on it. Zane crawled next to him, opened the window, and beat a quick retreat as Beckett set the spider free. “The sheets are freshly changed, and you can help yourself to breakfast.”

Fresh bed and breakfast? Lovely. But Zane was more concerned about suicidal spiders. He studied the ceiling with a shudder. “Do you think there are more?”

The window clapped shut, sealing off the cool breeze. “Would you feel better sleeping with my cat?”

Zane’s attention pivoted to Beckett’s hands fitting the lock. Long-fingered, deft, sure. “I’d feel better sleeping with you.”

Beckett let out a strangled sound, swung off the bed, and zipped to the ladder. “Good night, Zane,” he said, and dropped out of sight.

Zane called after him. “Fine, I’ll take the cat.”

Pisces Hooks Taurus 2

About Anyta Sunday:

HEART-STOPPING SLOW BURN

A bit about me: I’m a big, BIG fan of slow-burn romances. I love to read and write stories with characters who slowly fall in love.

Some of my favorite tropes to read and write are: Enemies to Lovers, Friends to Lovers, Clueless Guys, Bisexual, Pansexual, Demisexual, Oblivious MCs, Everyone (Else) Can See It, Slow Burn, Love Has No Boundaries.

I write a variety of stories, Contemporary MM Romances with a good dollop of angst, Contemporary lighthearted MM Romances, and even a splash of fantasy.

My books have been translated into German, Italian, French, and Thai.

Connect with Anyta:

Author website: http://www.anytasunday.com/

Author newsletter signup: http://www.anytasunday.com/newsletter-free-e-book/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anytasundaybooks

Twitter: https://twitter.com/anytasunday

Instagram: https://instagram.com/anytasunday

Giveaway: Win an e-book set of 3 Signs of Love books: Leo Loves Aries, Scorpio Hates Virgo, and Gemini Keeps Capricorn or a reader’s choice of back catalog e-book by Anyta Sunday

 

ARC Review: Pisces Hooks Taurus by Anyta Sunday // one of the funniest opposite attract romantic comedies I’ve read

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

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Summary:

It’s a time for searching, and a time for finding, Pisces: keep casting your line and you will hook what you’re looking for.

Zane has it all planned out: land the perfect Meet Cute, fall in love, and live happily ever after.
Should be simple enough if he put his mind to it. A little creativity and some thinking outside of the box, and voila, he’d be married to the woman of his dreams.
It would be perfect.
And it would be before his visa ran out.

But why are his feelings running wild now that the pressure’s on? Why is his picture-perfect plan turning into a muddled mess of morphed metaphors he can’t make sense of anymore?

Just as well he’s met an English professor to help. And even though their first meet is anything but cute, this down-to-earth teacher may just be the realist Zane needs to ground him and give him a shot at love after all.

Don’t cast your line too wide, Pisces. Your perfect catch may already have bitten.

~ – ~ – ~

Pisces Hooks Taurus (Signs of Love #4) is an MM opposites-attract romantic comedy featuring an unapologetic romantic and a broken realist.
More wit, banter and bad puns – and even more heart-stopping slow burn!
Can be read as a standalone.

Release date: October, 16th

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book review - pink

★★★★

Pisces Hooks Taurus is a book you can’t help falling in love with.

The story is about Zane who’s from New Zealand and is due to leave the US in a month unless he marries an US citizen, which he fully intends to do. Except he’s convinced he will marry for love and that will be it. When he’s kicked out of his shared flat he manages to secure himself a place to stay until the end of the month thanks to his brother, and his roommate is Beckett, a professor who’s basically Zane’s opposite.

Zane and Beckett’s relationship starts as hilariously cute and it keeps making you laugh and going aww throughout the book. I mean, I’ve read a lot of Anyta Sunday’s books by now and they never fail to make me laugh so this is really no surprise. I just can’t get over the feeling of careless joy while reading this. It made me feel like Zane, naïve and sweet and caring, and as someone who is much more similar to Beckett, that meant so much to me because I was able to enjoy things in an easy way, without overthinking and second-guessing everything.

I also liked that Zane is just…an average person. He’s not the (conventionally) smartest, he dropped out of high school, he’s very naïve but is willing to learn and put himself out there, and I love that Beckett helps making him feel like he can achieve what he wants despite what society tells him.

Zane is a comic artist and I really liked this aspect because it gave the book a subplot about art and creativity that was interesting to see. He initially works for a writer (as in he only illustrates what the artist tells him to, and anything he adds to the comic by himself is kind of frowned upon by the writer, who basically leaves him no artistic freedom) and later toys with the idea of creating his own comic. I loved that he didn’t magically come up with an amazing outline for his own comic but Beckett, who teaches creative writing, helped him see all the things he could improve and gently showed him towards the right direction without taking his creativity away.

As for Beckett’s character development, I loved it so much. He’s divorced and has given up illusions about love and marriage, so that was interesting to see because it was yet another aspect in which he and Zane were polar opposites.

As for the relationship itself, I loved how low on conflict it was. Yes, there is some conflict because of external causes but mostly it’s driven by Zane not recognizing his own feelings and stuff. I mean, this book is hilarious but also slow burn as fuck.

Other things worth mentioning is that there’s a little bit of an age gap (Zane is 23, Beckett is 30) and that Zane is demisexual (although the word isn’t actually used in canon, which I wish it was, but I suppose he isn’t aware of it – however, the author said she wrote him as demi and I definitely read him that way and ownvoices reviewers did too).

The book is the fourth in the Signs of Love series but it can definitely be read as a standalone. However I do recommend reading the rest of the series either before or after you read this one. There were some adorable cameos from the previous books (Jamie and Theo!!!) as well as from the Love Letters series (seriously go read that series too!), which was super surprising and filled me with so much joy.

Preorder and read this book, you won’t regret it.

ARC Review: Thrall by Avon Gale & Roan Parrish

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

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Summary: Dating Sucks & Love Bites 

Happy couple Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra have begun to garner national attention for their quirky New Orleans true-crime podcast, Shadowcast. When Lucy’s brother Harker disappears while researching the popular new dating app Thrall, they’re thrown into a real-life mystery. Aided by their social media expert, Arthur, and Harker’s professor, Van Helsing, they follow the trail, hoping to find Harker before it’s too late.

When their investigation crosses the path of a possible serial killer, the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur. And as they race against the app’s countdown clock, so does the line between friendship and love. What starts as a flirtatious rivalry between computer-savvy Arthur and techno-averse Van Helsing becomes much more, and Mina and Lucy’s relationship is tested in the fires of social media.

As they get down to the wire, the group discovers that nothing on their screens is as it seems—including their enemy.

A modern retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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book review - pink

★.5

Thrall is a novel that tries to be many things. Modern Dracula retelling, queer romance(s), thriller, mystery, all told in an unique format. Some things worked better than others, but while the attempt at being a multi-genre novel was certainly admirable, it didn’t completely succeed at it.

First off, I liked the main characters. Lucy is a bisexual Black woman and co-host of Shadowcast, a true-crime podcast. She’s also the sister of Harker, who goes presumably missing at the beginning of the novel. Mina is the second co-host of Shadowcast and Lucy’s girlfriend. Arthur is their social media manager and is later instructed to keep in touch with Van Helsing, Harker’s anthropology professor, in order to find out anything relevant that might give them a clue about Harker’s disappearance. Van Helsing (VH) is an older character (I don’t think it was specified how old is he really is, I imagined him around 45 or 50 year old, while Arthur is 28) and is new to technology and chats, which was both fun and a little repetitive to see.

I found the beginning of the book rather slow, pacing-wise. This was kind of counterbalanced by the fact that the book is entirely told in chat logs, emails, podcast transcripts, tweets, etc., which made it easier and faster to read. Other times the pacing was faster, but overall I can’t say that it was consistent. It mainly depended on how much page time was given to the romance(s) at any given point, because the plot basically paused a few times to allow for the romance to develop instead of organically integrating the romance in the plot, if that makes sense.

The main relationship was between Arthur (bi) and VH (gay). Despite the pacing issues I just mentioned, I found their romance interesting even though I don’t care much for that age gap, and I liked the way the authors managed to use the format to their advantage. I think it wasn’t easy but it definitely worked well for me as a romance.

Something I loved is how this wasn’t purely about a M/M romance but also about an (established) F/F one. Although it wasn’t given as much page time as the M/M one, it had a few both cute and steamy moments. Not only seeing that on page, but also thinking about all the people who exclusively read M/M and imagining how mad they’re gonna be about the F/F sex scenes? Oh, that is truly priceless.

Err, anyway.

I actually want to talk about the bi rep and give a little warning that some might find Arthur’s history to be the slutty bi stereotype. I wasn’t bothered by it because whenever his history was mentioned it was always heavily implied that it’s his character and insecurities that made him act the way he did, so there was never an in-text correlation between his bi-ness and that. There was another scene that actually did bother me and it was the sex scene between Lucy and Mina where Mina (who is a lesbian) is basically writing a story from Lucy’s POV and at the beginning it focuses a lot on male gaze. They’re in a club and Lucy’s dancing with a guy and then Mina steps in and they dance and she keeps mentioning how none of those guys will have her and then they go to a bathroom where they know they’ll be heard (by the men outside) if they have sex. It made me feel icky because it added a male gaze even though there was absolutely no need for it, and I didn’t like how that seemed to have some sort of correlation with Lucy being bisexual. The scene turned out great and hot but I can’t shake the feeling of wrongness at the beginning where there was too much talk of men for it to feel safe to read as a queer woman.

Moving on, I usually love things that defy a genre or are multiple genres at once. With this novel, I feel like that could’ve worked much better with some more consistency in the way the narrative worked. It was mostly fine, hence the 3 stars, but there were a few things I really couldn’t let myself care about.

First of all, since a lot of the book takes place in chat format, I hated when they were talking about the actual plot and like, being scared about the things that were happening and then they were flirting with heavy innuendos in the next message. That made me roll my eyes so hard and it happened too often. If you’re scared for your life or your brother’s life or whatever, I don’t think you feel like thinking about sex in the next line. It was just too much.

Then, I know I haven’t talked much about the actual plot because it’s best to actually read it but I found the ending very anticlimactic and not really like it fit the rest of the novel. It kind of… changed the whole genre of the novel? Or maybe not really, but look, there’s not much else I can say without spoiling things. Just, the ending actually made me drop the rating from 4 to 3 stars, and the more I think about it the more plot holes I find that just don’t make any sense.

To add another point, since this is marketed as a modern retelling of Dracula: I’ve read Dracula probably like… 10 years ago and I don’t remember anything about it, but there was still very little Dracula-y about it if you look at it from the perspective of the legacy that Bram Stoker left to the literary world. I really don’t want to drop spoilers but let’s just say that there are no actual vampires in Thrall, and the bridge that was used to further connect it to Dracula was ridiculous in my opinion.

I’ve talked about the format but let me reiterate that I thought it was brilliant and cleverly used and probably the only way it was sort of a retelling of Dracula. I hope to see more novels told like this in the future, in any genre, because it’s a lot of fun.

As you can see from my review, there were things that worked and didn’t work for me. I have to 100% admit that if this hadn’t had a lot of queer rep I would probably have given it an even lower rating. Overall I would recommend it if you’re curious about reading a very queer romance/mystery with a format you probably haven’t seen used before (at least for this type of book).