Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | Christmas in Rose Bend by Naima Simone


I received an early copy of this book from Harlequin in exchange for an honest review.

Nessa and her teenaged sister Ivy arrive in Rose Bend without an ounce of Christmas spirit and plenty of surliness. Nessa was still reeling from both the death of her mother and her deathbed confession eight months earlier when the father she shares with Ivy also passes away, leaving Nessa custody of Ivy and sending them off to spend Christmas in Rose Bend. Neither of the sisters know what they’re supposed to find in Rose Bend or what they’re meant to do there but the small town folks that live there have no such uncertainties- Rose Bend is the epitome of Christmas and the folks that live there are determined to take Nessa and Ivy into their fold and imbue them with the sense of love and family they dearly need if its the last thing they ever do. While Ivy connects with a group of kids her own age Nessa attempts to avoid any human interaction. Unfortunately for her, Wolf Dennison has other plans and the connection between them is electric and immediate. Nessa, used to being abandoned by all the people she’s ever cared about, is intent on keeping things platonic with Wolf while she suffers in silence under a heavy burden she must bear on her own. But some things are too big to be controlled and even Nessa’s stubbornness will crack in the face of Wolf and his loving family. 

Christmas in Rose Bend perfectly encapsulates everything Christmas. The small-town feels and festive holiday celebrations happening throughout this entire story were exactly what I was hoping for when I started this book. This is the second installment in a series which I didn’t know when I agreed to participate in the blog tour but decided to stay the course and finish it anyway since I had already agreed to do so. Luckily, I discovered pretty quickly that this story could be read as a standalone. There are hints of the major events that happened in book one and I suspect reading the first book prior to this one would add a level of enjoyment to the reading experience but its not at all necessary.

In time the characters grew on me even if I was a little put off by the unfriendly demeanors of the sisters in the beginning. This part of the story arc was necessary for character growth and I completely understand that. On the flip side I really enjoyed Wolf and his big affectionate family- I also loved that this story was set at the Inn they owned and lived in; it added a layer of warmth and coziness that the book dearly needed in the beginning. I do have to admit that I wish Wolfgang wasn’t portrayed quite so perfectly. I enjoy flaws in my characters; it makes them more genuine and believable. Other than that I thought the dynamic between the family, friends and townspeople was well done and I appreciated the fact that a biracial relationship was front and center in this novel- something I wish we could see a lot more of in all genres. Additionally, I’d like to point out that the author did a fantastic job capturing that atmosphere so unique to small towns including all the drama that often comes with it. That simply cannot be helped in a place where everyone knows their neighbor and Nessa gets a taste of that when faced with Wolf’s ex-fiancé. Fortunately, the love and kindness often seen in places like this trumps the negative, making it the perfect setting for a holiday romance.

One of the best parts of this story was seeing Nessa and Ivy learn to be more patient and honest with each other and watching their relationship thrive because of it. It was heartwarming to see them both break down their carefully built walls in order to let the magic of the holiday season surround them after so long drowning in grief. This novel also had one of the most satisfying endings I’ve read in a while. I loved everything about it and had a big ole smile on my face the whole time. I can’t really pinpoint exactly what it was about the conclusion of this book that made me so happy but I think a lot of the reason is owed to the fact that so much of this story was weighed down by illness, loss, grief and abandonment that it was a relief when the weight was finally lifted. The other part is most likely because I was a living vicariously through the characters- I can think of nothing better than a small town covered in snow for the Christmas season and being surrounded by friends, family and people who genuinely care about you. Both Nessa and Ivy started this journey feeling like they had no one in the world and came out the other side part of a lovely family. What’s not to like about that?

View all my reviews


About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Naima Simone’s love of romance was first stirred by Johanna Lindsey and Nora Roberts years ago. Well not that many. She is only eighteen…ish. Published since 2009, she spends her days writing sizzling romances with heart, a touch of humor and snark. She is wife to Superman- or his non-Kryptonian equivalent- and mother to the most awesome kids ever. They live in perfect, sometimes domestically-challenged bliss in the southern U.S.

Find Naima on social media:

Author Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | The Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan


Christy sends her daughter, Holly, ahead on their Christmas trip to Lapland with her best friend, Alix, so she can stay behind for a few days and support her husband, Seb, through an unexpected hardship. Little does Alix know, Seb’s best friend, Zac, is also accompanying her and she isn’t pleased about it, especially after their last heated encounter. To top it all off, the reason for Christy’s trip to Lapland was to reconnect with her estranged Aunt Robyn and learn the reason for the separation once and for all. Truths will be exposed and hopefully the magical setting of the Northern Lights, majestic pines and glistening snow will be enough to see them all through.

I really, really enjoyed this novel. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the reasons I liked this book is the setting. I can’t think of a more magical, Christmas atmosphere than Lapland. Add in Aunt Robyn’s winter getaway with a beautiful lodge and romantic cabins and the setting is elevated even more. There is snow-shoeing, sled dogs, visiting Santa, seeing the Northern Lights… It was just wonderful. By the time I was done Lapland was added to my own personal bucket list.

The characters are dynamic and interesting. I loved watching Alix and Zack break down the walls between them and finally face the things that are getting in the way of any budding relationship they may have had over the years. Alix is very witty and I found myself laughing out loud at her antics. Christy and Seb have been married for five years but are just now accepting the truth that they don’t know each other as well as they thought and they use their much needed alone time acquainting themselves with each other. Robyn has been waiting and hoping for the moment she might be able to reconnect with her niece that she hasn’t seen since she was three years old. She’s desperate to make amends and her husband Eric is there to support her in all things. Each character brought something new to the story and I was never bored while reading.

The Christmas Escape opened on Christy facing some things she was having trouble dealing with, leading me to believe the book would be a bit darker than I had expected but this simply wasn’t the case. This ended up being such a lovely, heartwarming story that I never wanted to put it down. If this book doesn’t put you in the Christmas spirit than nothing will. Central to the plot of the book is Christy and Alix’s lifelong friendship and their very special bond with one another. But even that will be put to the test in this story of family, friendships and discovery.

View all my reviews

About the Author

USA Today Bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction. Her trademark humor and warmth have gained her fans across the globe and three RITA Awards from the Romance Writers of America. Sarah lives in London, England, where the rain frequently keeps her trapped in her office.

Find her on social media:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Author Website

Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | Meet Me in London by Georgia Toffolo


Meet Me in London is the first installment in the Meet Me series. This book follows Victoria, an independent clothing designer, teacher, and bartender, and Oliver, a billionaire department store owner. The two of them bump into each other on the street- literally- leading to Oliver giving Victoria a sneak peak of the new department store and haberdashery prior to opening. One thing leads to another and before you know it the two of them have a deal that includes Oliver doing a runway show for Victoria’s students and Victoria playing the part of Oliver’s fiancé to appease his parents. But what happens when playacting becomes reality and one of you is keeping secrets?

My favorite element of this story was definitely the atmosphere- London during the holiday season, including a big beautiful department store with all the trappings- I wanted to crawl into this story and stay forever for the holiday vibes alone. There is something about the holiday season that makes everything feel a bit more magical than any other time of the year and this story was no exception. 

I really enjoyed the characters- I found Oliver to be humble and sweet even giving his very wealthy upbringing and life. Victoria is smart and independent with a great group of girlfriends that she can both lean on and celebrate with whenever she needs to. Due to a horrific tragedy that they all endured together as teenagers they have a very special bond; no one else can understand what they went through like they can. I could personally relate to the main character in this way, having suffered a similar hardship when I was a teenager. And while I have a more personal understanding due to this I still had a hard time believing this thing had such an impact on their lives, so many years later, that it would dictate where the characters would live, the things they would do, and create an unbreakable bond between them- even with them all living in various places across the globe. 

The romance between Victoria and Oliver was cute. I didn’t really feel the chemistry that I’ve felt in the past when reading great romance books but I liked their relationship and the discussions that it brought to the table. Both characters were facing hardships in their lives, one the serious illness of a parent and the other a burdening secret. As far as the secret went, I didn’t get it. I wasn’t really convinced that this particular secret could be the catalyst keeping two people completely in love apart. I don’t really care for the miscommunication trope but I do appreciate the importance of the topic and the understanding and acceptance that Oliver showed in the end. 

If you’re looking for a romance to read during the holiday season I’d definitely recommend this one. It’s a quick read with that cozy atmosphere most of us look for this time of year and it has a feel-good ending we can all get behind. I personally wouldn’t recommend the audiobook. The author narrates it herself and while she has a lovely voice she doesn’t have the talent of a voice actress- to differentiate emotion and change the voice between characters. I found it hard to determine which character was speaking and when dialogue became monologue. 

Trigger Warnings: Chronic Illness, Car Accident, Death/Injury of a friend, and Infertility.


About the Author

Georgia Toffolo is a broadcaster and TV personality. She has been a film favorite with the public right from the start of her TV debut, Made in Chelsea, all the way to winning over the hearts of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in 2018.

Georgia turned her eye to fashion and has curated two sell-out collections with fashion retailer Shein. An ambassador for many British brands, both large and small, Georgia has also collaborated with Dyson, Baileys, Emma Bridgewater, Great British Racing, Foreo and Malibu amongst many more.

Most recently, Georgia has dived into the world of fiction by publishing her debut novel Meet Me in London with publishing house Mills and Boon. This is the first of an original series of four books following a group of lifelong friends and bringing personal anecdotes to life with humor and charm.

You can find Georgia Toffolo on social media:

Author Website | Facebook | Twitter | Tik Tok | Instagram | Goodreads


Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson


➳ I was gifted an early copy of this book by Mira and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

When reading a synopsis of a book each of us have buzz words or themes that jump out and indicate this will probably be a book you really enjoy. This book had a few of those for me, some I didn’t discover until I started reading, so let me share those with you here:

➳ adventure/road trip
➳ old man/grandfatherly character
➳ found family
➳ character-driven 
➳ humor

With a list like this there should be no doubt whatsoever as to why I loved this story. Norman is a lovely little boy with severe psoriasis who didn’t have many friends and definitely never had a best friend. That is until Jax came along. Jax managed to alienate every child in his class with his over-the-top behavior and potty mouth. So when he met Norman he knew he was likely his last chance at making a best friend and luckily Norman thought Jax was the best thing to happen to his class. 

They were “The Bloody Rolls-bloody-Royce of bloody best friends,” as Jax so eloquently put it.

Jax and Norman were 12 years old and had been fast friends for six years until a terrible tragedy struck and Jax died, leaving Norman with a gaping hole in his world that he didn’t know how to fill. Out of desperation to lift Norman’s spirits his mother, Sadie, blurts out that she would take Norman to the Fringe, a comedy festival that Norman and Jax had always dreamed of performing at. And even though they weren’t planning to go for 3 more years Norman jumps on the opportunity to honor is friend by living their dream; even if Norman was the not-funny one. 

Sadie, at a loss as to how she can possibly get her son a spot at the Fringe and also help him find his father, the second thing on his newly minted five-year plan list, she vents to her elderly friend, Leonard, about it who then decides he’s going to help Sadie and Norman make this dream come true one way or another. Sadie is worried that her son doesn’t have what it takes to get on the stage so Leonard arranges for Norman to perform at several open mic nights in various cities on their way to Edinburgh. But it turns out that Norman, Leonard, and Sadie learn a lot more than how to perfect a comedy show on this adventure full of hijinks, laughter, tears, and facing your fears.

“Hold on to your hat, Norman, old man! You’re going to the Fringe, Baby!”

As I listed above some of my favorite things in books are old men and adventures and character-driven stories and this book hits the nail on all three heads and doesn’t miss. Leonard is the perfect grandfatherly character with his wise advice, steady demeanor, and determination. Not to mention that he’s just adorable- especially how he worships his lovely wife, Iris. He is exactly the type of friend Sadie needs in her life and on this trip. While Sadie loves her son more than life itself she is also a realistic and relatable mother. She isn’t perfect, stiff, and coiffed. She has flaws, makes mistakes, and tends to be a bit unorganized. She’s a person that all mothers can see themselves in even if they don’t want to admit it. And while we’re on the subject of realistic characters, Norman fits the bill perfectly. So many books and movies for adults present us with a carbon copy child that rarely acts like the way a real child would but that isn’t the case with Norman at all. He’s so well-written he practically stands up off the page. Characters are definitely one of Julietta Henderson’s many strengths. She really seems to understand the human condition. Along the way we meet many other characters, both fun and some not so much, but Leonard, Sadie, and Norman are the stars of the show.

This story had me smiling so big nearly the whole time and when I wasn’t smiling it’s because I was outright laughing… and sometimes crying. Another thing this author does exceptionally well is balancing tragedy with humor. Our characters are each dealing with their own set of hardships, some of them together and others alone, but they always manage to have a good time and laugh through the tears. Jax may have passed but he’s just as present in this story as if he was still right there beside this family. Both Sadie and Norman really loved Jax and deal with their grief in their own ways but one thing they have in common is thinking fondly on his crazy hijinks and using his outrageous advice and ideas to keep them going. I just love Jax and how full of life he was… so full of life that even after he was gone he still blinded both the characters and readers with his presence. 

Among everything else done well in this book I also thought the pacing was perfect. Just enough action to keep the momentum going until it rolls to a graceful stop at the end. This is a story of friendship, love, hope, and self discovery among a million other things. It may not have you on the edge of your seat and it may not be a literary masterpiece, But what it is is better than all that. It’s facing your fears and coming out the other side stronger. It’s accepting who you are and learning to love that person. It’s finding a place where you can think about the people you’ve loved and lost and smile instead of cry. It’s a story about a boy and his best friend and the people that love them.

I also want to mention that I was able to listen to a large portion of this on audio and I highly recommend it. The narrator does the three main characters voices beautifully and with aplomb. The nuances she added while reading, especially the funny parts, really elevated the reading experience. This story is great no matter how you consume it but if you like audiobooks you should add this one to your list!

Content Warnings: suicide (off page), death of a friend, death of a parent, bullying, grief, illness. 


About the Author

I was brought up in a book-loving family in the rainforests of North Queensland and I’ve been writing professionally for more than 25 years.

My work has appeared in books and publications in the US, UK and Australia. The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman is my first novel.

I divide my life between my home town of Melbourne, the UK and wherever else I can find winter!

Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison

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Thank you to Netgalley and Mira for an ARC of this title. All opinions are my own.

Her Dark Lies takes place on the beautiful Isle Isola, Italy, where the Compton family owns an extensive villa. This is also where Claire will marry the love of her life, Jack Compton, and take her place in the very wealthy and prestigious family. Claire isn’t the first woman to wed the handsome Jack but the details surrounding the death of his first wife ten years earlier are a taboo subject with the Comptons-until they reach the island and suspicious things begin happening, leaving them no choice but to share the truth with Claire. What they don’t know is that Claire has some secrets of her own. 

“How romantic, how very gothic and creepy, and how very Compton to choose an island surrounded by sea monsters and exhausted birds to call their own.”

This is the first thriller to truly entertain and stump me in a long time. There are so many different aspects that I really liked about this book. First being the isolated island setting during severe storms that made leaving the island impossible. Not to mention that the hulking villa perched on the cliffs practically served as its own character with all its twists, turns, and surprises. There are a wealth of characters from the bride and groom and their families to the security and staff and they’re all fair game in this sordid tale of cat and mouse. 

“I have taken so many lives. The first time was the hardest. It gets easier after that.”

I knew who the antagonist was pretty early on but it’s not really meant to be a secret. What the reader is trying to discover is the HOW rather than the who and the fact that you never know who you can trust just adds another layer of suspense to the book. The chapters alternate between a few points of view, one being from the antagonist themselves who isn’t explicitly named but the information you’re given makes it clear that this person is in the villa and watching everything that’s going on and you are left trying to figure out how they are able to maneuver and know so many details without being seen. It’s a very clever storytelling device. 

“Our silences grew from two bent trees into a forest that provided shelter and safety.”

Some suspension of belief is necessary to make the ending and some other outcomes believable- but it was easy enough for me to do so. I was really hoping for a big AHA! moment but it never came resulting in the loss of a star. I felt that so much more could have been done to make the ending more twisty and shocking. As a whole I really enjoyed trying to guess what was happening and discovering the stories behind some of the juicier bits as they were slowly revealed. There was also a grandfather and two dogs in this book and those are two things I always enjoy in my stories. 

I recommend this book to anyone who likes a darker, more gothic mystery thriller with a large cast of characters, multiple points of view, and isolated settings. 

trigger warnings: Drug use (off page), domestic abuse, talk of suicide, loss of a loved one, grief.

All quotes used in this review were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change.


About the Author

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 25 novels, and the EMMY® award winning co-host of the literary TV show A WORD ON WORDS. With millions of books in print, her work has won critical acclaim, prestigious awards, and has been published in 28 countries. Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens. Visit JT at FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for more insight into her wicked imagination.

Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers


Thank you to Netgalley & Park Row Books for an advanced copy of this title. The following opinions are my own.

“I know who I am, but who are you? I woke up during the sunrise, and your hair and your skin and the freckles on your nose glowed like gold. Honey-gold. I think you are my wife, and I will call you Honey Girl.”

And so begins the sapphic romance between Grace Porter and Yuki Yamamoto; two lonely souls who found each other in the desert. Grace and her two roommates and best friends, Ximena and Agnes, are on a mini vacation in Las Vegas to celebrate Grace’s PhD in Astronomy. On their last night in the city Grace meets a girl with rose-pink cheeks and pitch-black hair. When she wakes up the following morning in her Las Vegas hotel room she finds a photo, a business card, and a note on the bed next to her. These are the only items she has connecting her to the woman she drunk-married the night before. She doesn’t remember her name but she can’t forget how the beautiful girl made her feel. With only these memento’s and snippets of a champagne-bubble dream, Grace and her girlfriends get on a plane and fly back to Portland, Oregon, where Grace must once again face her stark reality. The only thing Grace knows for certain is that she doesn’t want to give up her wife, whoever she is, or the connection they inexplicably have.

I’ll admit that this book started out on a bit of a bumpy course for me. The story felt a little disjointed and the prose didn’t seem to flow well. Dialogue didn’t smoothly segue into thought. Unfortunately when I read a book that starts out this way I have a hard time deciphering whether it’s the book or just me. I also felt the pacing was a little off with the first 40% of the book following Grace and her friends from day to day and then in the second half there were quite a few time jumps. This was necessary for the progression of the story but the book would have benefitted from a more consistent timeline. All in all these are pretty minor infractions. Where the book really shines is in the characters and their growth throughout the story. 

Grace’s mother lives in Southbury, Florida where Grace grew up among the trees in their orange grove. Grace’s father, the Colonel, took Grace and moved to Portland when she was quite young. Growing up in an unfamiliar city with only her father and lovely stepmother, Sharone, Grace slowly built her own family- an eclectic group of colorful humans that love and support one another above all else. Her two roommates, Agnes, the girl with claws and sharp teeth, and Ximena, the Spanish goddess who is the glue that holds them together, lean on one another and pick each other up when they need it. 

Grace works at the Tea House owned by the lovely Indian family that has adopted Grace as their own. Meera is the calm and supportive sister-figure, while Raj plays the role of big brother and protector. Baba Vihaan, their father, lovingly embraces Grace as if she is his own. Later, we meet Yuki, the gorgeous Japanese storyteller that Grace married in the desert along with her 3 roommates. Sani, the Native American MMA fighter, Dhorian, the dark-skinned resident doctor, and Fletcher, the silly and loving school teacher. 

The diversity in both ethnicity and sexuality make this a decadent and vibrant story. Different cultures and beliefs are touched upon throughout the book in subtle ways. Biracialism is front and center; Grace is half black and half white. The struggles she faces in both her life and her career are heartbreaking and appalling. Intersectionality also plays a big role in this book. The Colonel is both black and disabled; he lost a portion of his leg in the war. Grace is not only biracial but suffers with mental illness as well. And she isn’t the only one. Agnes is thriving with Ximena and Grace but she’s still battling with her illnesses. 

“I am here, says the darkness inside Grace. I am listening.”

Both Grace and Raj are buckling under the weight of their father’s expectations but in very different ways. While the Colonel is extremely strict and refuses to give an inch, Baba Vihaan is loving and warm but their culture demands the eldest son take over the family business when the patriarch dies whether Raj wants that life or not. 

When Grace decides to take some time for herself after eleven grueling years of non-stop education and job rejections that are based on her race and sexuality rather than her above board and absolutely stellar resume, she does so against the wishes of her very strict father. For the first time in her life she is making a decision for herself rather than someone else. Little does she know that flying to NYC and getting to know her wife will become the catalyst she needs to finally face her fears, confront the people that have hurt her, and begin the arduous task of freeing herself from many self-inflicted burdens. 

Grace is a brilliant astronomer, vastly knowledgable, and has the degrees and doctorate to prove it but when it comes to knowing her inner-self, the things she needs to make her happy, she is woefully inept. Following along on her journey of self-discovery is both heartbreaking and inspiring; I have a feeling her story will resonate with many people of color, especially women. These beautiful humans can read this story and feel seen. Whether the reader is black, biracial, Indian, Spanish, Japanese, Native American, disabled, Buddhist, lesbian, bi, gay, or straight- this story is a love letter to you. That being said I highly recommend reading an own-voices review; a review from someone who has shared the experiences of our main character. I suggest the following reviews for your perusal: Mina Reads & Ahtiya (BookinitWithAhtiya).

If you’re someone who loves diversity, strong female leads, found-family, or self-discovery in your stories than look no further. Morgan Rogers did a phenomenal job representing so many marginalized people. This is a novel that I read with google open on my phone to search all the new things I discovered while reading, whether it was about culture, food, or ethnicity. This is an absolute feast of a book!


You can also find me here:  bookstagram | twitter

The quotes used in this review were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication.


About the Author

Morgan Rogers is a queer black millennial. She writes books for queer girls looking for their place in the world. She lives in Maryland and has a Shih Tzu named Nico and a cat named Grace that she would love to write into a story one day. Honey Girl is her debut novel.

Blog Posts, Blog Tours

Blog Tour | Pretending by Holly Bourne

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“I hate men” seems to be a well-worn phrase used by many heterosexual women. The work it takes when looking for a romantic partner, from dating to dolling yourself up, just to be let down yet again in the end, becomes a tiring exercise that eventually convinces a lot of women that there are no good men left. Add a previous sexual assault to the mix and the idea of finding a good man becomes even harder to believe.

Holly Bourne’s Pretending follows April, a sexual assault victim and charity worker, who’s been desperately searching for the man of her dreams but finds that all the men she meets are completely predictable, eventually scattering her hopes and breaking her heart. Until she decides she’s done being the vulnerable, nice girl and brings “Gretel”, her alter-ego, to life.


Please enjoy an excerpt from Pretending by Holly Bourne:

I hate men.

There, I’ve said it. I know you’re not supposed to say it. We all pretend we don’t hate them; we all tell ourselves we don’t hate them. But I’m calling it. I’m standing here on this soapbox, and I’m saying it.

I. Hate. Men.

I mean, think about it. They’re just awful. I hate how selfish they are. How they take up so much space, assuming it’s always theirs to take. How they spread out their legs on public transport, like their balls need regular airing to stop them developing damp. I hate how they basically scent mark anywhere they enter to make it work for them. Putting on the music they want to listen to the moment they arrive at any house party, and always taking the nicest chair. How they touch your stuff instead of just looking; even tweak the furniture arrangement to make it most comfortable for them. All without asking first—never asking first.

I hate how they think their interests are more important than yours—even though twice a week all most of them do is watch a bunch of strangers kick a circle around a piece of lawn and sulk if the circle doesn’t go in the right place. And how bored they look if you ever try to introduce them to a film, a band, or even a freaking YouTube clip, before you’ve even pressed Play.

I hate their endless arrogance. I hate how they interrupt you and then apologize for it but carry on talking anyway. How they ask you a question but then check your answer afterward. I hate how they can never do one piece of housework without telling you about it. I hate how they literally cannot handle being driven in a car by a woman, even if they’re terrible drivers themselves. I hate how they all think they’re fucking incredible at grilling meat on barbecues. The sun comes out and man must light fire and not let woman anywhere near the meat. Dumping blackened bits of chicken onto our plates along with the whiff of a burp from their beer breath, acting all caveman, like we’re supposed to find it cute that we may now get salmonella and that we’re going to have to do all the washing up.

I hate how I’m quite scared of them. I hate the collective noise of them when they’re in a big group. The tribal wahey-ing, like they all swap their IQs for extra testosterone when they swarm together. How, if you’re sitting alone on an empty train, they always come and deliberately sit next to you en masse, and talk extra loudly about macho nonsense, apparently to impress you. I hate the way they look at you when you walk past—automatically judging your screwability the moment they see you. Telling you to smile if you dare look anything other than delighted about living with stuff like this constantly fucking happening to you. 

I hate how hard they are to love. How many of them actually, truly, think the way to your heart is sending you a selfie of them tugging themselves, hairy ball sack very much still in shot. I hate how they have sex. How they shove their fingers into you, thinking it’s going to achieve anything. Jabbing their unwashed hands into your dry vagina, prodding about like they’re checking for prostate cancer, then wondering why you now have BV and you still haven’t come. Have none of them read a sex manual? Seriously? None of them? And I hate how they hate you a little just after they’ve finished. How even the nice ones lie there with cold eyes, pretending to cuddle, but clearly desperate to get as far away from you as possible.

I hate how it’s never equal. How they expect you to do all the emotional labor and then get upset when you’re the more stressed-out one. I hate how they never understand you, no matter how hard they try, although, let’s be honest here, they never actually try that hard. And I hate how you’re always exhausting yourself trying to explain even the most basic of your rational emotional responses to their bored face.

I hate how every single last one of them has issues with their father.

And do you know what I hate most of all?

That despite this, despite all this disdain, I still fancy men. And I still want them to fancy me, to want me, to love me. I hate myself for how much I want them. Why do I still fancy men so much? What’s wrong with me? Why are they all so broken? Am I broken for still wanting to be with one, even after everything? I should be alone. That’s the only healthy way to be. BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE. I hate men, that’s the problem. GOD I HATE THEM SO MUCH—they’re so entitled and broken and lazy and wrong and…and…

Hang on…

My phone.

HE MESSAGED BACK!!!

WITH A KISS ON THE END!

Never mind.

Forget I said anything. It’s all good.

Excerpted from Pretending by Holly Bourne, Copyright © 2020 by Holly Bourne. Published by MIRA Books. 


About the Author

Holly Bourne is a bestselling and critically acclaimed UK-based YA and Adult Fiction author and is an Ambassador for Women’s Aid. Inspired by her work with young people, and her own experiences of everyday sexism, Holly is a passionate mental health advocate and proud feminist. In 2019, she was an Author of the Day at the London Book Fair, and was named by Elle Magazine’s weekly podcast as one of “Six Female Authors Changing the Conversation in 2019”. Pretending is her US debut.

Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | Mayhem by Estelle Laure

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At night when I’m holding on to my mother because she’s trying to get away from you so she can have a few hours of peace, I think about ways you might die. I’d love to stab you, to pull your dreamy blue eyes from your head. I’d love to hear you scream, too see you beg for your life and then take it from you anyway. You’re a plague and pestilence, and the way you carry your manliness likes it’s a permission slip from God to act like you rule everything and everyone in your path, like you can do whatever you want-well, I think the guillotine is a good option. I’d love to watch your head roll across the grass.


Mayhem and her mother, Roxy, find themselves back in Santa Maria, California, after Mayhem’s abusive stepfather takes things too far. After the death of Mayhem’s father, Lucas, many years before, Roxy packed her daughter in her car and left Santa Maria, her twin, and her mother, with no intentions of ever looking back. Until now. It’s quite clear to Mayhem that there is more to this town, old house, and family, than meets the eye and she is determined to uncover the legacy her mother ran from all those years ago and to finally take her own place in in the Brayburn family. 

A diary exists in which the Brayburn women have added their own stories and experiences in the hopes that it would help the next generation own their power while also staying true to themselves. Mayhem finds this diary and the reader learns alongside her about the magic in her family. Throughout the book we are given glimpses into this diary and learn quite a bit about where the Brayburn Legacy originated and why. The magic of the Brayburn women was ultimately born of powerlessness. Starting with the rape of Mayhem’s great-great-grandmother, the brayburn magic manifests in the water found in a cave near their home. While the water loves Brayburn blood and the strength of the magic varies for each person, it is not required that you be a Brayburn to consume the water and adopt the power from it. Although, it is said that if you’re not a Brayburn the water will eventually drive you mad. 

Drink the water.

Find true love.

Embrace your fate.

Protect Santa Maria and you protect yourself.

And never, ever tell another about the spring. 

We are none of us invincible. We are all of us made of flesh and bone.

It is for us alone to carry.

I am fascinated by this concept. Estelle Laure created this interesting magic system set in a contemporary world where women who are so often powerless are given this unimaginable power and they use it to fight the injustices visited upon them. Over the years it becomes the duty of the Brayburn’s to protect their town and the people within it are grateful and show their thanks by leaving gifts at their home. Laced within this story there is also a serial killer on the loose and the constant threat of Lyle returning to take Roxy back to their old life. Meanwhile, Mayhem is learning where she fits into the family and is starving for details of her past, especially of her father, but her mother is self-medicating leaving Mayhem to learn what she can from her Aunt Elle and her aunt’s adoptive kids. Roxy and Mayhem’s relationship irked me at times. So many situations arose that I wish had been dealt with differently by both of them and I also wasn’t sure what relevance the author was attempting to portray by having Mayhem call her mother by her given name. This detail created a divide between mother and daughter that I didn’t think was realistic considering that the two of them only ever had one another for love and protection and I’m not convinced that a relationship cultivated in that type pf environment would leave room for such a thing between them. I don’t consider this a fault of the story; I love that this book leaves so much room for interpretation from the reader and this is just one small example of that. At the conclusion of the story I found Roxy and Mayhem’s relationship and the moments they experienced to be pretty accurate of what a mother/teen might experience. 

There is so much to unpack from this story. Mayhem is not for the feint of heart. It deals with many heavy topics and while there is an underlying theme of hope, it’s still very much a dark tale. There are a lot of contradicting personalities, especially from the group of kids that Mayhem meets when she first arrives in Santa Maria. I found Neve to be especially abrasive and didn’t care for her character much. Here is a book about women taking their power back and yet no one ever challenges Neve or her behavior in a meaningful way and I felt this contradicted the purpose of the story. I also would have liked if Elle was a stronger character. This story would have benefitted from a strong matriarchal presence and Elle had so much potential to fill that roll but then sort of fell flat when faced with any sort of challenge. Most of the characters are really fleshed out and I was able to connect with them as the story progressed but for some reason I didn’t have that same connection with Kidd. I kind of felt that her character was unnecessary and sometimes annoying. All in all these are small criticisms that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book in any substantial way. 

I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Summer of Salt, The Wicked Deep, and Sawkill Girls. Mayhem is set in the 1980’s but definitely has that seaside, magical feel with an underlying theme of darkness, similar to the settings of the titles I’ve listed above. Also make sure to be aware of extensive trigger warnings (taken from Estelle Laure’s website): 

➽Rape: the Brayburn family’s backstory centers around the matriarch’s rape and explores the ensuing generational trauma and its effects on the women within its lineage. The rape is on page but is not graphically depicted. 

➽Suicide: a suicide takes place off page.

➽Drug use: there is one scene in which multiple adolescents take hallucinogenic mushrooms. There is much use of pills and alcohol by one of the adults in the story as a coping mechanism for chronic pain and trauma. 

➽Serial kidnapping and murder: part of the story centers around an active serial kidnapper and killer. There is also murder depicted throughout, sometimes on the page and sometimes off, including the murder of two of the children’s parents, which takes place in dialogue and is not explicitly on the page. 

➽Child abuse: central to the story is a depiction of violence experienced by a child.

➽Domestic violence, intimidation, and emotional abuse: also central to the story is long-term domestic violence and its attendant cycle. This is mostly off stage, however there are several scenes of emotional manipulation and intimidation, and one scene that contains stalking and breaking and entering and a physical altercation. 

✦ The quotes used in this review were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication.✦ 


About the Author

Estelle Laure (pronounced lore/lor) is the author of critically-acclaimed books for young people. She is best known for her novel, This Raging Light, which has been translated into twelve languages. She has five forthcoming young adult novels, including Disney’s City of Villains series (book one fall 2021) and Mayhem (July 14, 2020) with Wednesday Books/St. Martin’s. She is also very pleased to be fulfilling a dream by stepping into the world of picture books, the first of which will be out with HarperKids in 2021. In addition to writing her own stories, Estelle is an editorial consultant, writing coach, and educator.

Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | This Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf

ARC provided by Park Row and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

25 years ago Maggie’s best friend Eve Knox was brutally beaten and left to die in the local caves that run under the small town that they live in. Worse yet, it was Eve’s unusual little sister, Nola, and Maggie herself, that found her. Police Chief Kennedy, Maggie’s dad, did everything he could to find Eve’s killer but the case eventually went cold with no arrests made.

Now 25 years later a new piece of evidence has been found and Maggie is the detective on the case. She is determined to see if new technology can pick up anything they missed all those years ago so that she can put her friend to rest at last. Everyone involved closely in this case has a different idea of who did what and they all have more than just Eve in common. They all have secrets too, some uglier than others. 

Reading this book was like watching a drama unfold before my eyes. Even though this book didn’t have any really seriously shocking twists it was still gripping and I really had no idea which one of them was the killer. It helped that all the people in this book were twisted in their own way and could easily have been the culprit. Maggie didn’t have much personality but I only really noticed that in the beginning when there wasn’t a whole lot to focus on. Eve’s sister Nola is as weird as weird gets. The neighbors are creepers. Eve’s ex boyfriend is a jerk. And they all have secrets that are slowly uncovered as the story unfolds. 

Throughout the book we are following Maggie in current day and also flashing back to the few days before, and of, Eve’s murder. My favorite aspect of this was following from Eve’s POV during these flashbacks as we got closer and closer to her time of death. We are also following Nola in both the current story and flashbacks. So, as we’re reading the book we are also slowly following Eve up to the fateful moment of her death and I thought this part was extremely well done. It kept me right on the edge of my seat the entire time, especially knowing that we would eventually see her death through her eyes, rather than be told what happened from an outside party. This really enhanced the book in my opinion.

I also really loved the very accurate dementia representation in this book. Maggie’s father has dementia and therefore can remember things quite clearly from years ago but has a very bad short-term memory. This added another layer of suspense to the story because he was the original detective on the case and you get the idea that he might know something that he’s keeping close to his chest but on the other hand you can’t trust anything he says due to the dementia. This was a great aspect to throw into the story for a little added mystery. It also shows the hardships that families dealing with dementia deal with and how truly devastating this disease can be for them. This aspect of the book touched close to my heart as I am deeply familiar with the disease and can therefore judge its authenticity in this book and I found it to be really well done and realistic.

For me what made this book a real gem wasn’t the shocking reveals but the unfolding of the story and drama involved. Even though I wasn’t shocked to find out who the killer was I still really enjoyed the journey to that moment. What really made me drop a star from my rating of this book was the fact that some things had to work a bit too perfectly for some important scenes to pan out and it really pulled me out of the story. There was also an element of the book that was never revealed. This element wasn’t a massive part of the book but it was present enough that I wanted to discover the truth and was disappointed when it was never explained in the end. I also would have liked to know more about Nola and what she was up to. It’s alluded to, of course, but I really wanted more where she was concerned. 

Luckily, I can happily recommend this book to all the mystery and suspense lovers out there. I really enjoyed my time reading this but just beware of some potential triggers: loss of a parent, loss of a friend, loss of a sibling, domestic abuse (both mental & physical), hoarding, assault, rape, miscarriage, animal dissection, murder (described from the victims POV as she died).


About the Author

Heather Gudenkauf is the Edgar Award nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and Not A Sound.

Heather was born in Wagner, South Dakota, the youngest of six children. At one month of age, her family returned to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota where her father was employed as a guidance counselor and her mother as a school nurse. At the age of three, her family moved to Iowa, where she grew up. Having been born with a profound unilateral hearing loss (there were many evenings when Heather and her father made a trip to the bus barn to look around the school bus for her hearing aids that she often conveniently would forget on the seat beside her), Heather tended to use books as a retreat, would climb into the toy box that her father’s students from Rosebud made for the family with a pillow, blanket, and flashlight, close the lid, and escape the world around her. Heather became a voracious reader and the seed of becoming a writer was planted.

Heather Gudenkauf graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages and continues to work in education as a Title I Reading Coordinator.

Heather lives in Iowa with her family and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading and hiking. She is currently working on her next novel.

Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin

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ARC provided by Wednesday Books and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Foul is Fair is a brutal retelling of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, Macbeth. In this take of the story, main character Jade, and her three closest friends, Mads, Jenny, and Summer, crash a St. Andrews Prep party to celebrate Jade’s sweet sixteen. These four girls are the ruling circle among their peers and are practically untouchable. Every other girl either hates them or wants to be them. Until the night of her sixteenth birthday when St. Andrews Prep golden boys choose Jade as their next victim.

Over the next several weeks Jade and her coven plan her vengeance against every single person who played a part that fateful night. Jade enters St. Andrews Prep as a student and quickly climbs the social hierarchy using Mack, an all-around good boy whose ambition will be used against him.

This time, they chose the wrong girl.

Sweet sixteen is when the claws come out.

Whew, where to even start! This book is so unique and Hannah Capin really has a way with words. The writing is so sharp it’ll cut you if you aren’t careful. This story is brutal and bloody. Every girl who has ever been a victim will let out a war cry when reading this book. I loved the protagonist, Jade. She was strength and bravery incarnate. A girl pushed to the ground who refused to stay there and then decides to make her abusers pay. Her friend group, or coven, was one of the best elements of the book. The relationships were portrayed beautifully and realistically; each girl having their own identities and personalities. I particularly loved Mads, Jade’s very best friend. Described as a beautiful dark-skinned warrior and someone who would stop at nothing to defend her friends. I am pretty sure she is a trans girl based on how she was described in the book. It wasn’t explicitly said but it was made pretty clear. I also loved Summer for the simple fact that we share a name and also because she is more a lover than a fighter but can still be counted on to do whatever it takes to help the rest of the coven. Summer is also either a lesbian or bisexual. This was also not explicitly stated but implied. It’s been a long time since I’ve loved a girl friend group as much as I did in this book.

I know better than I’ve ever known anything: every second in my whole life has just been practice for what I’ll do to these boys. This is why I’m alive.

This story is portrayed very dramatically, which is fitting since it is a retelling of a play. Because of this many metaphors are used and the reader has to parse out the true meaning of the words at times. I really enjoyed this part of the story but can easily see how some people wouldn’t care for it. Some suspension of belief is required to fully enjoy this book as well. In the real world many of the things that the characters did would’ve been discovered by police pretty quickly. Another aspect that may require a suspension of belief is the fact that upon meeting Jade, Mack is willing to do and believe anything she tells him. Even though they’ve only known each other for a matter of hours. I think all of this plays into the drama of the story though and I found it easy to accept.

I am deadly. I’m a poisoned blade. I’m all the power he thinks he has and more.

There are trigger warnings galore for this book which I’ll add at the end. When it is said that this story is brutal, make no mistake, it IS. There is a lot of blood and violence happening. There is also poisoning, and stabbing. This is a revenge story after all and it wouldn’t be much of one without these gory elements! If this is something that doesn’t bother you than I’d say definitely give this book a go. This story does deal with very important but sensitive topics. So please be sure to read the trigger warnings before picking this up if you are at all worried about any of the more sensitive aspects of the book.

TW: sexual assault (not depicted), rape culture, violence, an abusive relationship, a suicide attempt, and a brief scene with transphobic bullying.

All quotes used in this review were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Capin is the author of Foul is Fair and The Dead Queens Club, a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or pulling marathon gossip sessions with her girl squad. She lives in Tidewater, Virginia. Find Hannah on twitter @tldaaollf.