Love at First Spite by Anna E. Collins

Love at First Spite by Anna E. Collins

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 52. Published in 2022

Other Possible Prompts: 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover

I think I liked this one while reading, but when I look back I’m far less impressed. Not to mention, the second half just grated on my nerves. Let’s jump into it!

After her fiance of three years cheats on her with their realtor, Dani finally snaps. She calls off the wedding and swears off guys altogether – but it really feels like her ex, Sam, got off scott-free. So, together with her cousin and her new landlady, she conspires to buy the lot next door to his house and build a girls retreat – a “spite house”.

As an interior designer, Dani takes the lead on the project, but she needs an architect. The grumpy and off-putting Wyatt volunteers himself, much to Dani’s chagrin – as the time they’ve worked together at their company has not left warm and fuzzy feelings – but once they start working together, sparks seem to be flying in spite of Dani’s no-man rule. If only her revenge wasn’t getting in the way…

I was really digging this romance through the first half, with lots of tension and quips with the “hate” start to their romance, but then they totally lost me through the second half. It started strong, but then I really saw Dani get needy, and Wyatt get truly horrible at communicating. Neither are terribly attractive features, and as a functioning adult, I couldn’t fall into a romance where these two clearly had some growing up still to do. It (spoiler alert) destroyed their good chemistry, and made me disinterested in their success as a couple. As a whole, I quite enjoyed the novel, but the romance does not carry it start to finish.

In fact, the drama of the house build carries the second half. I rooted for Dani in all aspects except her needy romantic self. Mia and Iris were my favorites, because their sass and wisdom make them great supporting characters, but Dani is pretty solid, too. Wyatt, however, was a no from me. I always want the grumpy ones to be Mr. Darcy types, but he falls flat. I just don’t want the chiseled asshole archetype anymore. No soft and squishy insides here.

The “spite house” itself is an interesting concept…but the antics became a little much for me. It overtakes so much of the novel, but I can’t tell if it’s *supposed* to make me uncomfortable or not. It did. It was too much. Too try-hard. Just a build a gorgeous house, block his view, and be done with it all – why do we have to make your ex so mad?? I’m the queen of boundaries, the queen of let it go – this was very much the opposite of establishing a boundary and letting it go.

I can’t decide if I want to recommend this or not. I think I do. I would read Anna Collins again, but this definitely doesn’t top my favorites. I’m curious to see how a second novel pans out.

A copy of Love at First Spite was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

That’ll about do it. Big “meh” vibes from me as of late. Enjoy the weekend!

The Wedding Crasher by Mia Sosa

The Wedding Crasher by Mia Sosa

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 33. A bilingual character

Other Possible Prompts: 11. A book with less than 2022 Goodreads ratings (for now!), 15. A five-syllable title, 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover, 50. A person of color as the main character, 52. Published in 2022

Again, this was not my favorite, but I think The Wedding Crasher is a huge improvement over The Worst Best Man. People seem to like Mia Sosa’s voice, and I’d have to agree there. She writes a warm hug of a book, that’s for sure.

After witnessing the bride profess her love for another man in a stairwell minutes before the ceremony, Solange stops a complete stranger’s wedding to keep them from a big mistake. Embarrassed and feeling indebted for the inconvenience, she ends up helping the groom, Dean, fake a relationship so that he can help onboard a new lawyer for his firm – and finally make partner.

And as with any fake relationship, somebody has to catch feelings. Unfortunately for Dean and Solange, Dean is committed to his job and his no-emotions romantic plan, and Solange is destined to leave the city at the end of the summer with no strings attached. Can they keep it light and fun while it lasts?

This book started so strong, but really lost me around the middle. It just got a little wild for me, I think, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. There’s a lot going on here, but it’s not a bad story or a bad romance. In fact, the chemistry between Dean and Solange is some of the best I’ve read in a long while. I liked the “forbidden romance” aspect of it, driven by the fact that the pair have polar opposite romantic aspirations, but it did get a bit repetitive after a while – a bit like beating a dead horse.

I really liked Solange’s character. She was sweet and charismatic, smart and giving, and I think she and her family really make this story. She is a magnetic heroine; you can’t peel your eyes away when she’s on the page. She seems like the kind of girl even us super quiet, introverted types will befriend. Solange, combined with her huge Brazilian family, take over the pages and make every character feel like they belong amongst them. The infusion of that culture and family into this novel is a great one.

I didn’t like Dean *as much*, but I understood him at least. That, I guess, is definitely a strength of this book: it’s one of the most realistic romances I’ve read in awhile. Both characters are stubborn and faulty, but if they were real people, I think they would well and truly fall in love. They’re both likeable and I root for them!

I think what it boils down to is a preference thing. This was a huge improvement over The Worst Best Man, I just don’t think it was for me. And that’s totally fine – it may be for you, though, and I will still recommend it to romance readers! And I think I will likely pick up Sosa again, even just one more time.

Big thanks to the publisher for providing an advance readers copy of The Wedding Crasher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I hope you all have the most fabulous week. 🙂

How to Love Your Neighbor by Sophie Sullivan

How to Love Your Neighbor by Sophie Sullivan

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 36. Recommended by a favorite author

Other Possible Prompts: 6. Household object on the cover, 25. A wealthy character, 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover, 52. Published in 2022

Meh. That’s how I’m feeling about this one.

Grace is an interior designer, finally leaving her life of let-downs behind, pulling herself up by her bootstraps, and beginning the renovation of a lifetime on her very own home. Unfortunately, mega rich guy Noah next door won’t stop asking to buy it…to put in a pool, no less.

Looking to begin renovations on his own home, Noah seeks an opportunity with a design magazine to have his own reno featured and help him grow his name in the real estate business around California. Much to his chagrin, they ask Grace to do the designing, because the two have such an electric chemistry…but once the pair start the project, they realize they work well together in more ways than one.

Reading the synopsis you kind of get the impression this will be an enemies-to-lovers romance, but very little of this story fits that trope. I would definitely classify it as a slow burn, though, and those aren’t typically my jam.

However, I really liked the first half of this book: the slow burn and banter from the beginning of this novel sucks you right in. I was really enjoying it, until they actually got together, oddly enough. Sullivan nails the lead in, but their actual romance flops. Flops hard. It bored me and I became more invested in the reno and the family drama than in their picture-perfect romance.

I think it flopped hard because it lost the humor. To me, there’s just something authentic and funny in enemies-to-lovers stories because they’re constantly nitpicking or cracking jokes, and it makes the relationship more natural and real, even if it is strained. When Noah and Grace flip sides of this relationship, it loses its natural tone and takes on a far more forced one through dialogue and action.

Because of this observation, I can’t help but wonder how Ten Rules For Faking It plays out. That one’s been in my NetGalley ARCs for…a while, let’s say. Long enough that she wrote a second book, so. Reading the description now, it sounds like The Ex Talk but with less humor and more nervous energy. But because there’s no hatred, no banter, I can’t help but wonder if that one also falls flat.

I have to say, though, that reading this makes me want to redecorate my house! Bahahaha. The design details and that fun background story element makes the book enjoyable enough. Grace is a likeable character and Noah’s not all that bad either. They’re just boring.

I also have to commend Sullivan’s recognition of family strains. Both Noah and Grace have strained parent relationships from the start of the book, that come to a head by the end. I half expected to read that everyone made up and got over it – but (SPOILER ALERT) I’m really glad I didn’t. Not only does it teach you that some people will truly be there for you, but it also teaches that sometimes blood won’t be, not in the way you need. Plenty of people in my life have strained family relationships, and I’m constantly letting them know that their worth is not determined by this other person, and the decision to keep them in their life is theirs alone, and they owe no explanations. I like that that was represented in a novel, and particularly one about love, because it shows that you don’t need those who hurt you to be happy or successful – even if they are blood relations. You just need your close inner circle.

Overall, though, I don’t think I would recommend this one or pick up Sullivan again. I’m actually positive I’ll be skipping the first one now, too. This was a drag for me to get through and the payoff didn’t do it for me in the second half…so I think I’m all set with Sullivan’s work.

Have a wonderful week, friends!

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 31. Technology themed

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 6. Household object on the cover, 11. A book with less than 2022 Goodreads ratings (for now, anyways!), 23. Author with an x, y, or z in their name, 41. Involves a second chance, 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover, 52. Published in 2022

Ali Hazelwood does it again! And by it, I definitely mean writing a book so good I’m willing to lose my valuable sleep schedule just to finish it. I’ve quickly become an adoring fan of Hazelwood’s and I’m feeling BLESSED that I was given this advance readers copy. BLESSED.

Bee, a neuroscientist, is absolutely floored to be accepted as the lead on a NASA project designed to help astronauts absorb more information when in space. For Bee, this is the ticket out of her crappy, post-grad life under a misogynistic boss… but she soon discovers her co-lead is her arch nemesis, engineer Levi Ward, and things become a whole lot more complicated.

In the years since she met him in grad school, it doesn’t appear Levi has gotten any better or grown to hate her any less. But under the circumstances, they create a shaky truce for all that extra time they’re spending together, and Bee soon discovers she may like Levi a little more than she originally thought.

This book has so, so many of my favorite romance tropes: workplace romance. Enemies to lovers. The mean one falls for the sunshine one. UGH. I’m so obsessed with this whole book and also now Ali Hazelwood, not me most definitely following her every career move…

This book is The Hating Game but STEM and on speed. I cannot convey my love for it enough. You know when you read The Hating Game and then you started reading contemporary romance in droves, forever chasing the high of reading Sally Thorne’s stunning debut in a single night? No?? Well if not, please know this has been my life for like, five years (I honestly thought it was three years, but didn’t want to misquote, so I checked my Goodreads history and yeah…five years. Five years chasing the high of Lucy and Josh. Also have you seen the movie?? LOVED it). I finally found its equal in Love on the Brain, and I am a forever fan of Hazelwood’s now.

I LOVED Bee. Much like my Lucy, Bee was just an introverted, intelligent, but wonderfully quirky gal who absolutely made the story for me. I connected with Bee and her struggles, even not being a science person myself. You don’t have to understand neuroscience to connect with Bee’s passion for her work. Also, her research assistant, Rocío, reminds me completely of my best friend. Their friendship felt so similar to my own that I found myself dying laughing at their bits. Every character in this story is so well fleshed out and felt like someone I know in my own life, which made it so much more fun.

I didn’t immediately love Levi, but you grow to understand him and it puts him in a new light. Honestly, from the start, he does come off like kind of an ass. But he’s supposed to, and Hazelwood’s way of shifting his character into a new space in the story totally works, and I come to love him, too.

There’s also this added element and depth from these two Twitter accounts in the story. Bee runs an account called @WhatWouldMarieDo, referring to Marie Curie, where she commiserates with other women in STEM fields on the sucky parts of being a woman in STEM. Together with an another account named @shmacademics, the two use their thousands of followers to start a movement in the academic world. I loved this part of the storyline, and once you read it, I think you’ll quickly get a feel as to why.

The drama and climax of this story kind of took me by surprise by I TOTALLY loved it! You will not expect the outcome, and maybe you won’t even suspect the problem…but it’s just so juicy.

So, yeah, I’m kind of recommending this all around. Like pick this up immediately. Pre-order this puppy. Cannot tell you enough; currently screaming my love for it from the roof. Like I said, I was *blessed* with this advance readers copy from the publisher through NetGalley, and Love on the Brain will release August 23, 2022…but if you have any chance of getting your hands on it before then, highly recommend doing so. 😉

Have an AWESOME week friends!

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 23. An author with an X, Y, or Z in their name

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 36. Recommended by a favorite author, 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover, 46. A job title in the title, 52. Published in 2022

What a cute one! I was wary about Weather Girl because it sounded too similar to The Ex Talk that I didn’t think it’d be worth the read, but I was wrong. Weather Girl is all its own, and I enjoyed it even more than The Ex Talk. This is Solomon coming into her own.

Weather Girl follows Ari, weather-obsessed twenty-something meteorologist, after her engagement is broken off and she’s finally had enough of her divorced bosses fighting with one another. The tension is so bad, she’s starting to dislike her job – and there’s nothing Ari loves more than rain and her job. Drunk after a holiday party, her and her sports reporter coworker Russell hatch a plan to get their bosses back together.

The more time they spend together scheming, the closer Russell and Ari grow. But Ari, carrying the baggage of depression and being burnt by past relationships, is hesitant despite her comfort with Russell. And Russell, a parent, has a tough time bringing his two worlds together.

I cannot start this review without saying the representation of mental illness in this story, and the conversations around them, are so well done. It’s easy to glamorize things like depression and anxiety through literature, but Solomon’s characters are frank and honest about trauma; and even better, they’re having self-aware and critical conversations to do better for themselves and those around them. Not to just “be better”, but to be kind to ourselves and our reactions to things as people with mental illness. The people in Ari’s life, particularly her brother, warm the heart with their unbridled support, without overstepping.

The romance, also, is a step up from The Ex Talk. I liked her debut, but it was admittedly slow and cooled off. This is much, much better. My hesitation to read her in the future has been whisked away by this one book. It reminded me more of a Jasmine Guillory novel, and I really liked that. Solomon hit that perfect note in tone with this one.

I really liked both Ari and Russell’s characters. Actually, there wasn’t really any characters in this one that I didn’t like! Torrance and Seth, their bosses that start the book as exes, are a little too much at first – but if there’s anything you can take from this book, it’s that people can grow. Even the characters I didn’t love at the beginning come around. They grow. And not just in little ways: there’s therapy involved, medication in some cases, and the journey from A to B is a long one. That sets this one apart in my opinion.

I’m also a sucker for a romance book with a kid in it… I loved Elodie, Russell’s daughter, and the element of depth she added to Russell’s character through their bond was really enjoyable to watch. Kids just soften a story somehow, even if they are in their pre-teen years. Elodie was a glowing supporting character to this story.

So, with all this good stuff, I definitely recommend Weather Girl. I only really gave it 4.5 stars because, like The Ex Talk, it took me a while to get through it for some reason. I got through three-quarters of it in just a couple hours, then proceeded to ignore it for like a week. I couldn’t tell you why, I just didn’t at all feel like picking it back up again.

But go get it!! That last line probably didn’t sell you, haha. But I really did enjoy this one, and I think fans of Jasmine Guillory, or those that enjoyed The Ex Talk, probably will as well.

Have an awesome week!

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 50. A person of color as the main character

Other Possible Prompts: 25. A wealthy character, 36. Recommend by a favorite author, 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover

Hey y’all! My first f/f romance was a delight. Something to Talk About was everything the hype led me to believe it was!

After a photo hits the press of star-turned-screenwriter Jo Jones laughing and smiling with her assistant Emma, the world decides the two are dating. While it couldn’t be further from the truth, Jo’s insistence on not publicly denying the rumors ends up putting them further in the spotlight and pushing them together even more than before.

But the more time they spend together, the more they realize there may be some truth to the rumors. The two like to be around each other…if only the implications of those rumors weren’t so inappropriate and damaging to their careers in Hollywood.

I have to say first and foremost that if you can’t do slow burn romance, this isn’t for you. I saw a lot of negative reviews online saying “nothing was happening in the first 100 pages” and they dnf-ed it, but it’s soooo good if you do like a slow burn. The will they/won’t they of it all was sweet and genuine and kept me interested in the story, and even wanting more long after it ended.

I liked both Jo and Emma a lot. I thought both their characters were super likeable, even when they made questionable decisions when it came to each other. I really rooted for both of them!

I don’t usually like books with the Hollywood scene, but I thought this one, working in the background of it all, was far more enjoyable and still tastefully done. It acknowledged the popularity and paparazzis without making it overwhelmingly about the stars in their eyes, if you will. I liked that an actor wasn’t our main love interest.

Further, they used the Hollywood scene to make some powerful and important points regarding the Me Too movement. The events of this book can be hard to read, but I think the way they are handled is great. Women lead this novel, and this is a great representation of women supporting women, and the power of that. I really loved all the feminist energy written all over this book.

I enjoyed Something to Talk About even more than I thought I would, truly. I’m glad I read it and I’ll be seeking out more of Wilsner’s work in the future. This was a refreshing romance for me and I hope you’ll give it a shot too! Or, let me know what you thought of it!

Have a great week. 🙂

Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 2. Featuring a library or bookstore

Other Possible Prompts: 45. A Book with illustrated people on the cover

I am just FLYING through this year’s challenge! I read Well Matched in literally, a day. I have honestly been most excited to see the April and Mitch story from the town of Willow Creek, so I picked this one up on a snow day with the intent of finishing it in one sitting. And what a good decision that was (even though it fit like, no prompts and I had to swap one read for another to make it fit).

Single mom April is finally nearing the end of her eighteen year sentence: while she adores her daughter, Caitlin, she’s never loved the small town of Willow Creek that she settled them in eighteen years ago. Caitlin’s graduation means she can finally chase her own dreams, starting with selling the house. So she enlists the help of Mitch Malone, Willow Creek gym teacher, coach, and kilted-Ren-Faire-organizer to help her fix it up. In exchange, he asks her to pretend to be his girlfriend in front of his family so they get off his back about settling down.

But much to their surprise, Mitch’s family keeps showing up and forcing their charade, and the more time they spend together fixing up the house, the closer they grow together. April knows it’s all part of the fake girlfriend scheme…but she just might be catching feelings for the sweet and caring Mitch – and that’s not something she’s ready to confront just yet.

This brought me back to what I really enjoyed about Well Met. I didn’t like Well Played as much because neither character was very assertive, and the story was not terribly humorous. But I liked Well Matched a lot better! It was just the right touch of Ren Faire, the added dose of humor, and the perfect friends-to-lovers romance. Not to mention, April and Mitch have been some of my favorite characters from the beginning of Willow Creek’s story. Their dynamic was fun and cute, and their story arc was much improved over Well Played.

And speaking of the story arc: I really liked the “problem” or the climax of Well Matched much better. April has been on her own so long, so closed off from everyone, that it takes Mitch for her to realize this is a choice she’s making and not one she needs to commit to as part of her personality. The pair face struggles of miscommunication and a slow-growing relationship because April is struggling to express those feelings. I thought it was heartfelt and honest, and likely very relatable for readers who have gone through what April did as a young and single mom, giving up her dreams for her kid’s safety and stability.

The only thing that struck me a little odd is that it seems the fault lies almost entirely with April, when it comes to the climax of the romance…and again, not entirely her fault, we all have our things. She was definitely still likeable in spite of her reservations that made her appear cold. Her panic issues, in particular, were so relatable for me and made me like her more, reevaluating her previous appearances in a new light. But you’ll notice throughout the story that there isn’t much blame to lay on Mitch for their “falling apart” (I don’t think this really counts a spoiler…any regular reader of romance knows where it’s going!). He’s a supportive, lighthearted, and funny protagonist with a warmth about him. April felt much more real, but I really liked both of them, and liked diving deeper into their characters, since they’ve been such a big part of the series so far.

Literally every time I read a Jen DeLuca book I want to go to a Renaissance Faire. I have got to try it one of these days, and I’m going all in if I do. Outfits, flower crowns, the whole nine yards. It’s time to get the gals together and do this.

I can’t wait to read Well Traveled! I looked for it on NetGalley and no luck yet…but you’d better believe my eyes are peeled. This renewed my faith in DeLuca’s writing and my interest in the series. I think Caitlin needs a story too! Now that she’s an adult, I think bringing Caitlin back into the folds as a romantic interest, centered around the Faire, would make such an awesome story. I hope that makes book five!

Highly recommend, especially if you loved Well Met! Have an awesome week, peeps!

Heartstopper: Volume 4 by Alice Oseman

Heartstopper: Volume 4 by Alice Oseman

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 26. Has an “Author’s Note”

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 9. A book that sparks joy, 33. A bilingual character, 40. A book with photographs inside (though it’s a stretch!), 43. An author who’s published in more than one genre, 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover, 52. Published in 2022.

EEEEEEE. I know I’ve never actually taken the time to review the Heartstopper series’ books individually, but I hope that my excitement for it has ooozed out when I mention it here and there. I LIVE for the release of these sweet, sweet books.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of picking up Alice Oseman’s darling work, start with Heartstopper Volume One. The internet comics turned graphic novels tell the story of Nick and Charlie, two boys who go from rugby buds to boyfriends and have the most heart-melting romance. Volume four takes us through a journey with Charlie’s mental health, navigating the words I love you, and speaking up for yourself even when words are hard to say.

As I’ve mentioned in previous book lists, the thing I love most about Heartstopper is what a wholesome, feel-good story it always is. It’s real: there are negatives, especially negative people, that hurt Charlie and Nick because of their relationship and their sexuality. But a lot of these representations are just really healthy relationships and positive examples of same-sex couples. I don’t think you see that kind of representation enough in literature, and I hope we see more of it in the coming year. What we read about lgbtq couples shouldn’t always be negative: I think it’s important to show them in a positive, healthy light, too.

I sobbed through much of this book, to be frank. Even in just two colors, I can’t help but tear up over the images of love, family, and even struggle that Oseman always nails in her depictions. Charlie’s struggle with his mental health and eating disorder was gut-wrenching, but it was handled so well within the pages, with true mindfulness that his story is not everyone’s…I cannot sing the praises of this book, and this series, enough. Every story Oseman puts forth hits on an important topic of conversation (coming out, mental health, codependency, homophobia, family relationships) in a way that is met with support and warmth by her characters, but reality and a great message throughout. It’s a talent, and I think it’s a huge part of what makes her work so appealing to such a large group of readers.

To say I squealed with delight upon reading *the* very author’s note in question for this prompt would be an understatement. Heartstopper is being made into a Netflix series! I simply cannot wait to see this play out on screen. The wholesomeness is just going to be too much to take. THRILLED. The cast is adorable.

Heartstopper comes with my highest praise. I know it probably seems exaggerated after such a long string of five star reads this month, but I really love this series and I always have. Check it out if you haven’t already, especially with Valentine’s coming up!

Have a great week (and month – happy February!) friends!

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Hello, friends. May I present to you: your very first Friday bonus review. As I found myself finishing up 2021 with all my reviews scheduled out, but not able to start The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge just yet, I sought to find a place for these *extras*, and thus, you get bonus books for your weekends! I have a lot of bubbling anger about this one so just, strap in, I suppose.

After he hits her car on the way to their mutual friend’s wedding, exes Addie and Dylan end up sharing a Mini – along with Addie’s sister Deb, Dylan’s best friend Marcus, and a tag-along by the name of Rodney. The time spent together unearths some unsettling truths left unsaid, and slowly unveils the true end to Addie and Dylan’s past relationship.

I picked up The Road Trip a few months ago at Gibson’s. I’ve been wanting to try a Beth O’Leary; I know The Flatshare is super popular but I had never gotten around to it, and sometimes I prefer to just pick up their newest and jump in there (since, if they have multiple books, shouldn’t they improve with each one? Apparently not). I tend to dislike British fiction; I find the voices very pretentious and hard to like. But I thought since The Flatshare was widely loved here, maybe that was not the case…again, not so. This is quite possible one of the most pretentious books I’ve ever read – and I’ve read Shakespeare, so.

Never have I disliked so many characters in one book. Dylan, our love interest, is a pathetic wimp. He has no excuse for being so unlikable. A rich poet (I literally could not hate this fact more) cast out by Daddy and thrown around by his “best friend”, I took no pity on him and feel nothing of saying he didn’t deserve Addie. Marcus, I felt much the same. He’s an utter boob. I cannot find it within him to like him or even understand him, even if he did have problems of his own. He’s a gross misogynist and he didn’t deserve a single damn one of these women. Beside Deb and Addie, everyone else in this book is also not my jam. Many of them are rich trust fund kids making nothing of themselves, and not caring an ounce about it…so I can’t find within me an ounce of like for them, either.

I’m not big on second chance stories to begin with, but oh my God, never have I wanted two people not to be together more than I did Addie and Dylan. And apparently I’m not alone: some people loved this book, but many of those who didn’t picked up on the same garbled mess that I did. Oddly enough, some people wanted her to end up with Marcus, but please see my above comments on re: the rich boob with Daddy issues. NEITHER of them deserved her. Only Deb. The “Then” part of their story (The Road Trip not only has both perspectives, but alternates between their previous relationship, and their current predicament – Then and Now) was so cringey, I wouldn’t want a second chance for either of them. I cannot stress enough that I was not rooting for them until the last maybe, fifteen pages? And that’s only because she wrote in these sweet moments between them at the end. You fall into a bit when they’re all gushing over one another – but I still don’t like them together, and wish for them yet another split after these unresolved feelings are, in fact, resolved.

Every time I had to read from Dylan’s perspective, I instantly saw things differently, too. I just genuinely disliked him, and his view of things always tainted my own. With Addie, she was sometimes wistful and whimsical, but in the end I always wanted better for her. She was an actually likable character, like Deb, and even when she did things I didn’t agree with, I 100% saw her side, and felt she had nothing to apologize for in this novel. Dylan was the true boob here (oh, and Marcus too).

Okay, and speaking of Dylan and Marcus?? Every time it was just the two of them, I was picking up some serious A Separate Peace vibes. I’m not sure I’ve ever truly voiced my feelings about A Separate Peace on this blog before, but it is truly one of the most horrible works of fiction my mind has ever had the disprivilege of absorbing. And Dylan and Marcus are pulled straight from Phineas and Gene. There’s even the subtle vibes that they might be in love with each other, which O’Leary brings up through the other characters as well. Given the circumstances of this story, it’s wildly uncomfortable and extremely toxic…just like in A Separate Peace.

But my least favorite part of this novel, far and away, was the sexism, and despicable treatment of women as objects throughout this entire book. From start to finish, women are not respected or treated like actual human beings with feelings and experiences, and those who have them seem to be treated as a novelty (ie. Deb?? who is the best character in this whole damn book?? They act as if knowing what she wants and being unapologetically honest is some unique character trait, making her more masculine). Marcus is the worst culprit of all the sexism, but I think acknowledging that books like The Road Trip set feminism back like ten years is pretty damn important. Please, for the love of God, tell me they don’t actually treat women like this in the UK?! I really should have said my piece on this right from the beginning, because if you read the kind of books I do, this is what will truly be the instant turn off.

I just can’t even. I almost always have more to say when I’ve truly disliked a book than when I’ve loved one, but this just leaves me speechless. This was so profoundly stupid as a love story. If your own relationship looks anything like Dylan and Addie’s, then or now, please just strike it out on your own.

Skip this one! Totally hate it! 2.5 stars for Deb and Addie only! Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 41. Involves a Second Chance

Other Possible Prompts: 2. Featuring a library or bookstore, 5. Chapters have titles, 14. A character with superhuman ability, 37. Set in a rural area

This book!!! Too much fun. I legitimately have not read a fantasy book I enjoyed this much in many, many years. It wasn’t entirely what I was expecting – it was better.

After years away, Emmy Harlow returns to her hometown of Thistle Grove in anticipation of a house competition for the town’s founding family witches – over which she is to preside. But there’s good reason for her being gone so long: one of the other witches, Gareth Blackmoore, left her ten years before and made her feel inconsequential – as the Harlows are considered to be the weaker witches, and do not participate in the tournament that brings strength and prosperity to its crowned family. Emmy left magic behind in exchange for leaving behind a family legacy that followed her around like a storm cloud.

Back in Thistle Grove, Emmy and the other houses – Avramov and Thorn – are teaming up. Having been similarly scorned, her best friend Linden and the mysterious Talia Avermov are working together to put the Blackmoores, and Gareth especially, back in their place. But all that time together seems to be creating some sparks between Emmy and Talia…

There’s a lot going on this book so it is a bit hard to describe for you – but I think part of the action and imagination is what makes it so good. As I said, this is one of the first fantasy books I’ve read in a long, long time – I expected magical realism, but it’s pretty far into a fantasy realm. And I actually loved it! Payback’s a Witch was easily accessible and yet tons of fun. The whimsy and magic of it all was a great ride.

The romance was also adorable! That’s what I actually was reading it for – I honestly didn’t realize it was such an in-depth fantasy, though I live for witches and witchy vibes. And even jumping into a romance, I didn’t know this was queer romance, lol. Somehow I missed that – I don’t tend to read descriptions as much anymore, so I just jumped right into the book. After a few minutes, I actually laughed out loud at my own confusion…”That’s odd, I feel like they’re implying that Talia is the love interest? That’s an odd way to describe her if she isn’t.” Silly me! Really not sure how I missed that but oh my lord, are they cute!

I also loved Emmy and Linden’s friendship. It was sweet and genuine, and riddled with shared history that you could feel through the story. Sometimes I read a romance, and I honestly like the best friends more than I like the couple. Sometimes romance stories can feel disingenuine, but a writer can almost always capture best friends. But Linden and Emmy really compliment the romance and highlight the levels of intimacy differences between Talia and Emmy. Linden and Emmy’s sweet moments of friendship build even better expectations of connection between Talia and Emmy.

The storyline, and the ending, absolutely killed it. I can’t even express to you how much this reignited the vibes I gathered from my middle school, fantasy-reading days (but like, obviously…this one is not meant for middle schoolers!). I also want to note that I listened to this as an audiobook, and the performance and reader was very good. I love, love, loved it!

There’s a sequel coming! I’m told there’s another Witches of Thistle Grove book on the horizon…and I literally cannot wait. This book was just tons of fun. That’s the best way to describe it. Please check it out!!