Monday, August 30, 2021

Book Review: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

Title: The Family Upstairs
Author: Lisa Jewell
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Publisher: Atria Books 
Pages: 340
Add to Goodreads

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

The can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.


After Libby Jones turned twenty-five years old, she went home from work to discover a letter waiting for her. This wasn’t just any letter; it was the letter that would tell her where she came from. As an adoptee, this letter was gold to her. The contents of the letter not only gave her the names of her birth parents, but it also informed her that she was the sole inheritor of the mansion her birth family used to live in. However, Libby wasn’t the only one waiting for her to turn twenty-five. 

Throughout this book, we are given the story of the past and the present through the points of view of Libby, Lucy, and Henry. Both Lucy and Henry grew up in the mansion at 16 Cheyne Walk, where Libby was found in her crib as an infant while three dead bodies lay downstairs. Libby and Lucy’s stories are both told in the present tense and Henry point of view tells us the story of the past.

Libby can’t open the door to her future until she closes the door to her past, so while Henry is telling us the past, Libby is in the present investigating what really happened at 16 Cheyne Walk. Why was she left in her crib happily cooing? What happened with and to the three dead people found on the floor? What happened to the children who reportedly lived in the house? Why didn’t any of the other children claim the house when they turned twenty-five?

This book was a 4-star read for me. The story was amazing and the build up to the ending of the story was a page-turner. However, there were just too many times that I was so confused I had to ask myself, “what the heck did I just read?” This confusion mostly happened when I read Lucy or Henry’s chapters. Also, the book is called “The Family Upstairs,” but there is no family upstairs. I was picturing a Flowers in the Attic type book sans the horripilation my arms suffered from the incest shudders. I was picturing a family being trapped in the attic or something, but no. Instead, there are people who slowly move into the mansion and take over it; they were an invasive species.

Also, the book was filled with family dysfunction and none of the issues it caused in Lucy and Henry was resolved by the end of the book. That was kind of a let down because they had no growth which I always look for at the end of a book, especially one like this.



Monday, August 23, 2021

ARC Review: Kingdom of the Cursed by Kerri Maniscalco

Title: Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Publication Date: October 5, 2021
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Pages: 448
Add to Goodreads
Review for book 1

One sister.

Two sinful princes.

Infinite deception with a side of revenge…Welcome to Hell.

After selling her soul to become Queen of the Wicked, Emilia travels to the Seven Circles with the enigmatic Prince of Wrath, where she’s introduced to a seductive world of vice.

She vows to do whatever it takes to avenge her beloved sister, Vittoria...even if that means accepting the hand of the Prince of Pride, the king of demons.

The first rule in the court of the Wicked? Trust no one. With back-stabbing princes, luxurious palaces, mysterious party invitations, and conflicting clues about who really killed her twin, Emilia finds herself more alone than ever before. Can she even trust Wrath, her one-time ally in the mortal world...or is he keeping dangerous secrets about his true nature?

Emilia will be tested in every way as she seeks a series of magical objects that will unlock the clues of her past and the answers she craves...


Hold onto your butts! Unpopular opinion incoming. Kingdom of the Wicked was one of my absolute favorite reads of 2020. I was obsessed and had to acquire every edition I could find. Needless to say, I was SO excited to get access to an ARC of Kingdom of the Cursed and jumped in as soon as my brain would allow (mood reading sucks). Based on other reviews I expected a lot of spice and, coming off of a spicy book binge, I was definitely here for it. 

Kingdom of the Cursed picks up immediately after book one with Emilia traveling to the Seven Circles with Wrath. Upon arriving at his palace she begins to search for clues about her sister's murder while resisting the sinful influence of the realm. Honestly, the plot of this book is a bit all over the place and a little confusing at times.  

Kingdom of the Wicked set up a mystery that I was eager to figure out. There are multiple new mysteries on top of the ones that are ongoing from that book and, where book one had a clear focus and goal, this one tried to do too much at once. Emilia seemed to jump around constantly to new theories, mysteries, and plans and I struggled to understand what she was even trying to do. There were some interesting reveals in the last 10%, but I wish there had been more clear plot earlier on. 

Truly though, I'm just here for the romance between Wrath and Emilia. This book has been marketed as New Adult (or at least the word of mouth has implied that it is) and the spice was really not what I expected. While there are certainly spicy scenes, Kerri's way of writing sexuality has always been off to me and it's no different here. Emilia constantly talks about how empowered and sexual she is, but there is always a sense of shame surrounding sex in this world. This was also an aspect of Kerri's previous series that made me uncomfortable.

Mild spoilers to further my thoughts about the weird handling of sexuality:
Two things in particular really make me question what Kerri's feelings towards sex before marriage are: First, the actual act of sex between Wrath and Emilia has massive, life changing consequences. Second, when Emilia actually sees other people having sex, it's at a party thrown by one of the princes and is written as one of many sinful indulgences put on display by Gluttony.

The world itself is fascinating. We only visit three of the Seven Circles, but each one is unique and well written. The brothers Emilia meets are a bit one dimensional and perfectly fit their sins, but I did really enjoy Pride and Envy. All that said, I wish that Kerri spent significantly less time on her descriptions. I frequently found myself skimming multi-page long descriptions of rooms, clothes, gardens, etc. I understand world building, but her overly descriptive style is not for me. 

I definitely plan to continue with book three because the end of this one does feel like it's leading to something better. In the meantime, I think this series will be moving off my favorites shelf. 



Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday #305: Favorite reading spots


Today's Topic: 
Favorite Places to Read

Happy Tuesday! This week I have to admit that I won't have a top ten, but a top few. I just don't care to read in that many places!

MY BED

My number one place to read is in my bed at night before going to sleep. I do this every night (almost) without fail. I brush my teeth, do my skincare, grab a heating pad because I'm falling apart, and lay down to read for an hour or two.


MY HOME LIBRARY

Number two is my home library, which I've gone out of my way to make extra cozy over the years. I love to curl up on my couch with a dog to read the afternoon away. If only I got to do it more often!


COLUMBIA HARBOR HOUSE


I guess this one is a bit unusual, but I found that one particular spot in Columbia Harbor House in the Magic Kingdom is an amazing place to read. This small dining room is a bridge over a Liberty Square walkway and the tiny tables by the window are perfect to read and people watch.


TOP SECRET LIBRARY ROOM


The photo is horrible, but I had to throw in this old favorite. I went to UNC from 2013-2015 and my absolute favorite spot on campus was this tucked away room in the library. No one went to this room so I went there when I had long breaks to read or study. 


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Weekly Recap: 7/25 - 8/14


HAPPENINGS OFF THE BLOG

Hi, everyone! It's been a couple weeks since I've done a recap and it's even being posted late in the day. I swear, I am GOING to get back on track at some point. The past two weeks have been a bit of a mess and sometimes I think I just have to catch a break at some point with these dogs. 

Bella's crate training has officially ended. Between her new separation anxiety and possible dementia, her vet said it was time to call that quits. No anxiety drug we've given her so far has even touched it so next week we're trying a new quick acting medication combined with leaving her out in my office. Fingers crossed that she doesn't completely flip out! 

Thursday night Luna suddenly started acting like something was very wrong. Friday morning we took her to the vet and found out she has injured her lower back, probably by jumping off the couch. It's a common injury in weenie dogs, but poor girl is on strict crate rest for four weeks and is high as a kite. 😅

I did finally get some reading done, thank goodness, even if it was just webtoons and spicy books. Something is better than nothing! I have access to so many amazing YA ARCs right now and not much desire to read them. Big oof. 


NEW BOOKS THIS WEEK

    


THIS WEEK I READ
 
   


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Book review of Jay's Gay Agenda
The topic was cover buys for Top Ten Tuesday


UPCOMING REVIEWS

 


I'm linking up to Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post!
Friday, August 13, 2021

Book Review: Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Title: Red, White & Royal Blue
Author: Casey McQuiston
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 421
Add to Goodreads


First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations. The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?


Red, White & Royal Blue is a humorous story about America’s First Son, Alex, falling for the Prince of Wales, Henry. After the ruination of a wedding cake at a royal wedding, Henry and Alex were forced by their respective heads of family, heads of state, and PR teams to be “best friends” in public. A schedule of public events they’d attend together was devised by their teams and they were forced to play ball. Predictably, their fake, Instagram-worthy friendship becomes real somewhere along the way; and then this real friendship turns into a real relationship. While it’s easier for the First Son to be in a same-sex relationship, it is much more difficult for the Prince of Wales to be in a relationship of his choosing. This is a coming-of-age story full of laughter, heartbreak, friendship, love, and self-discovery and I loved every second of it.

This was a five star read for me. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about it. This book does get pretty steamy, but it’s not YA so unlike Jay’s Gay Agenda, it didn’t make me uncomfortable because of my age. I’m extremely disappointed to admit that this was only the second same-sex relationship romance novel I’ve ever read, seconded to She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen a few months ago. I’m privileged enough to have never had to struggle with my sexual identity, but so many people do and that’s why stories like Alex’s are important. It’s important for LGBTQ+ people to see themselves represented in the literary world and I can’t wait to see what LGBTQ+ romance novel is coming out next.





Tuesday, August 10, 2021

ARC Review: The Bastard's Betrayal by Katee Robert

Title: The Bastard's Betrayal (Scandalous Scions #1)
Author: Katee Robert
Publication Date: September 13, 2021
Publisher: Trinkets and Tales LLC
Add to Goodreads
Purchase: Amazon


//I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review//
She thought it was love.

Rose Romanov is a mafia princess, and everything that entails. Violently over-protective parents. A giant extended family, all ready to kill anyone who looks at her wrong. Learning to run a business that isn’t exactly on the right side of the law. So, naturally, when she meets a nice guy who isn’t in the life, she falls hard… Right up until the she discovers her new boyfriend isn’t a civilian at all.

But he betrayed her.

When Dante Verducci was sent on an undercover mission to evaluate the Romanov family for weakness, he never expected to have an instant connection with their unlikely heir. There’s something fierce and feral about Rose that calls to him. They’re alike, even if they’re both lying to each other during the months they date. Before he could figure out a new plan, Rose finds out who he really is, dumps him, and immediately enters an engagement with the heir of a rival family. Yeah, no, that’s not going to work for Dante.

Now he’ll do anything to reclaim her. Even go to war.


Katee Robert has been one of my favorite authors for the past year or so, having officially won me over with her Wicked Villains series. I read and loved Neon Gods earlier this year and knew that I would probably love anything she published, so I was eager to read The Bastard's Betrayal when it was announced! This was my first mafia romance, but reading one by a favorite author seemed a great way to break myself in!

Rose Romanov is the MC of this story and the heir to the Romanov family empire. When she discovers that her boyfriend is actually a member of a rival family, she takes decisive action against him, but he doesn't take the hint and kidnaps her instead. She is such an absolute badass, pulling no punches and holding her own from page one. I really liked that Katee discussed the challenges that came with a female heir in a male dominated world. 

This series picks up thirty years after The O'Malleys, but you don't need to have read that one to enjoy Rose's story according to the author. I did feel that there were a ton of references I missed, though, so I definitely do want to go back and see how Rose's parents ended up together! 

Something I noticed rather quickly is that this book is much more plot and romance heavy than the Wicked Villains series, which (let's be honest) is mostly focused on the spice. I LOVED watching Dante chase Rose and seeing her annoyance turn to something else. Although they know each other in the beginning, this is still a slow burn romance. The Bastard's Betrayal is essentially a lovers to enemies to lovers romance and I enjoyed it so, so much! 

I will say that I did find the politics of this world a bit tedious at times. There were so many mafia families and so much talk of a war between them that I honestly started to skim over those parts. I'm assuming those are a large part of most mafia romances, and I'm guessing that now that I've been thoroughly introduced to the world the next one will be less info dumpy. 

Even with that minor complaint, I'm excited to continue the series and see what happens next. This book ends with an epilogue that sets up the next romance and it definitely sounds dramatic! I loved Rose and Dante's story and I can't wait to read book two of this new series. 



Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Mid-Year Freak Out Tag


Like everything else in my life in 2021, I'm running behind with this year's mid-year freak out! But I'm here and I'm ready to do this! Thankfully, 2021 is going better than last year (how could it not?). I have a new puppy, a vacation planned way out on the horizon, and I'm convinced things will keep getting better from here because they have to. Let's get to the books!


BEST BOOK YOU'VE READ IN 2020


It was a little hard to choose, but For the Wolf definitely takes the cake for best book of 2021 so far! This book had everything and had me totally captivated for weeks after it was over. 


BEST SEQUEL YOU'VE READ IN 2020


I just realized I've barely read any sequels this year, so this one goes to this (extra) spicy Hades, Meg, and Hercules retelling.


NEW RELEASE YOU HAVEN'T READ YET, BUT WANT TO


It's on my shelf and I hope to start it soon! I've been having such a weird reading mood this year, but I can't wait to see how this amazing series ends.


MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASE FOR THE SECOND HALF OF 2020


I'll admit that Finale just didn't do it for me when it wrapped up the Caraval series, but I'm still so excited to see what will happen in this book with Jacks! I have an ARC and I can't wait to dive into it!


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT 


Good grief, this book. Last year this category went to Crescent City and I'm sensing a theme. I just don't think SJM adult books are for me, mostly because I don't think she understands what adult books actually are. According to SJM it's a YA book + sex + cursing.


BIGGEST SURPRISE


I'm new to Webtoons and this was the first one I read. I was shocked at how much I loved it! It put me into a reading slump and I didn't know what to do when I ran out of episodes!


FAVORITE NEW TO YOU OR DEBUT AUTHOR


I am LIVING for spicy books this year and Harley Laroux is one of my new favorites! I did not expect to love this book as much as I did, although I should have since it was recommended by the author of For the Wolf! This is a demon romance horror combination that has me dying for the next in the series!


NEWEST FICTIONAL CRUSH


Hades 😳


NEWEST FAVORITE CHARACTER


I loved Deka so much! I can't wait for book two so I can find out what happens next in her story.


BOOK THAT MADE YOU CRY


Um... I don't really do that, but this one got me right in the feels.


BOOK THAT MADE YOU HAPPY


This comic was just so good! I loved the art, the stories, the characters. It definitely made me smile!


FAVORITE BOOK TO FILM TV ADAPTATION


Shadow and Bone and it isn't even close.


FAVORITE POST YOU'VE DONE THIS YEAR

The one in which I got to talk about aphantasia again!


MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK YOU'VE BOUGHT THIS YEAR


This beautiful edition of The Wolf and the Woodsman from Illumicrate! I'm obsessed with everything about it, especially the reverse dust jacket! Photo is from @fantasyandfolklore on Instagram.


BOOKS YOU NEED TO READ BY THE END OF THE YEAR

  

These are three books I can't wait to start!



What was your favorite read so far this year?
What sequel are you excite for?
Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday #304: Cover buys


Today's Topic: 
Covers That Made Want
to Read/Buy the Book

Happy Tuesday! I am an absolute sucker for a gorgeous or creepy book cover and this is evidenced by the books on my shelves. There are so many I've bought and haven't read yet, but these are ten that I bought for the cover and ended up enjoying! 


Stain by A.G. Howard
Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Rosanne A. Brown
Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Book Review: Jay's Gay Agenda by Jason June

Title: Jay's Gay Agenda
Author: Jason June
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 368
Add to Goodreads


There's one thing Jay Collier knows for sure—he's a statistical anomaly as the only out gay kid in his small rural Washington town. While all this friends can't stop talking about their heterosexual hookups and relationships, Jay can only dream of his own firsts, compiling a romance to-do list of all the things he hopes to one day experience—his Gay Agenda.

Then, against all odds, Jay's family moves to Seattle and he starts his senior year at a new high school with a thriving LGBTQIA+ community. For the first time ever, Jay feels like he's found where he truly belongs, where he can flirt with Very Sexy Boys and search for love. But as Jay begins crossing items off his list, he'll soon be torn between his heart and his hormones, his old friends and his new ones...because after all, life and love don't always go according to plan.

From debut novelist Jason June comes a moving and hilarious sex-positive story about the complexities of first loves, first hookups, and first heartbreaks—and how to stay true to yourself while embracing what you never saw coming.


Another great 5 star read! I want to start this review off by saying I am absolutely loving this trend of main characters who are list makers. I’m not a list maker but, I swear, one more good book with list makers and I’m going to become one. There will be a mini spoiler in this review because it’s a complaint I’ve seen in multiple reviews.

Jay’s Gay Agenda is about Jay Collier, a high school student from a very small, rural, suffocating town in Washington. As the only openly gay student at his school, and probably in his entire town, Jay made it to senior year with no first kiss, no first hand hold, and not even a romantic hug. Jay could only dream of a time when he’d be able to have romantic relationships and he kept his dream in list form in his notebook. To Jay’s excitement, he and his family moved to Seattle for his mom’s job. Unfortunately, he had to leave his best friend, but for the first time in his life he wouldn’t be the only openly gay kid around. Jay quickly starts living his best life and crossing things off of his Gay Agenda. Ultimately, Jay gets in over his head dealing with his hormones and his heart and trying to keep his best friend happy while trying to enjoy his new life.

The biggest complaint I’ve seen about Jay’s Gay Agenda is that while Jay was dating one boy, he was sleeping with another. People are calling this cheating but, they seem to be skipping over the fact that Jay was not in an exclusive relationship. Therefore, he was not cheating. Romance as a teenager is complicated. Romance as a teenager at 17/18 when you’ve never even held someone’s hand is arduous. People may argue that Jay should have told his love interest, Albert, that he was sleeping with someone else while they were going on nonexclusive dates, but that was not information he was obligated to share. Albert was not entitled to that information because again, they were not exclusively dating. I also saw a complaint that Jay’s narration is “teenagey”. *Insert HUGE eyeroll here because Jay is a TEENAGER*

My personal complaint, that isn’t really a complaint, about this book is the semi-explicit sex scenes. This is only a complaint because I’m personally far too old (26) to explicitly read about teenagers having sex. I try to keep all of my smut in adult books.

Other than that, I thought this book was amazing. It was funny, it was insightful, and the characters were very flawed. In short, it was an authentic coming-of-age story and I can’t wait to see what Jason June puts out next!