[Book Review] Priest

Book Cover of PRIEST

Title: Priest
Author: Sierra Simone
Genre: contemporary romance; erotica; new adult
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) There are many rules a priest can’t break. 
A priest cannot marry. A priest cannot abandon his flock. A priest cannot forsake his God.

I’ve always been good at following rules. 
Until she came. 
My name is Tyler Anselm Bell. I’m twenty-nine years old. Six months ago, I broke my vow of celibacy on the altar of my own church, and God help me, I would do it again. 
I am a priest and this is my confession.

***Priest is a standalone, full-length novel with an HEA.  For mature audiences only.***

Review: 3/5 stars

** spoiler alert ** 

It was okay. I picked it up because it was (over)hyped on Twitter. I don’t regret it, necessarily, but it was just okay.

The storytelling and character development didn’t do it for me. There’s a small town parish, and then we meet the MCs and then the sex begins. And then there’s backstory. And then the drama. And then it ends with a sexy HEA. Idk. It fell into the smut too quickly (gasp) and it didn’t build up to any real conflict or character development to make it mean something.

But it seemingly TRIED to. So it wasn’t just smut for smuts sake.

Tyler’s character was very impulsive and for someone who had this higher calling, he was very “act first, beg forgiveness second” — like that was how it worked. Maybe it does? Idk. It didn’t do it for me. He’s so relatable and so hot and so manly and so godly. If he’s all these things he’s none of these things, and it’s proven false immediately.

Poppy had so much potential. She could have been this amazing character but instead she is just kind of meh. We’re told she is Ivy League. We’re told she did charity work. We’re told she did CPA work. We’re told she likes good sex. She doesn’t ever really grow as a character and she doesn’t ever unfold as a character. She just is. And then martyrs herself (sort of) for a man. BS.

I liked Millie. She was cool.

[Book Review] The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

Book Cover of BORN ON THE WATER

Title: The 1619 Project: Born on the Water
Author: Nikole Hannah-Jones & Renée Watson
Illustrator: Nikkolas Smith
Genre: children’s picture book; poetry; history; social justice
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The 1619 Project’s lyrical picture book in verse chronicles the consequences of slavery and the history of Black resistance in the United States, thoughtfully rendered by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Newbery honor-winning author Renée Watson.

A young student receives a family tree assignment in school, but she can only trace back three generations. Grandma gathers the whole family, and the student learns that 400 years ago, in 1619, their ancestors were stolen and brought to America by white slave traders. But before that, they had a home, a land, a language. She learns how the people said to be born on the water survived. 

Review: 5/5 stars

Hannah-Jones and Watson craft a beautiful and poetic historical narrative that allows young children to recognize and learn about a horrific practice in a way that helps them process and learn from a place of power instead of trauma. The authors, as well as illustrator Smith, craft this beautiful, powerful, honest story about the United States that forces everyone who reads it to pause and take a second look at their own histories.

I remember those family tree assignments well. I hated them, but for a very different reason. For this narrative to be crafted around that assignment is a testament to power in and of itself. For the families of the enslaved, their histories in this country are only traceable for so far back, if at all. The way the grandmother tells this story of a proud legacy of survival and resistance.

I really appreciated the differentiation of the “immigration story.” It was so well stated, beautiful and poignant, but also easy to grasp for kids.

This is one of those essential children’s books.

[Book Review] A Spell of Rowans

Book Cover for A SPELL OF ROWANS

Title: A Spell of Rowans
Author: Byrd Nash
Genre: fiction; fantasy; paranormal mystery; contemporary romance;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Raised by a narcissistic mother, the Rowan children’s magical talents were twisted to fit her needs. When Rachel dies, her children must confront the past to have a future.

Rachel Rowan could sniff out secrets and her antique shop, Rosemary Thyme, was a front to torment the residents of Grimsby. When she dies, her children are faced with the deadly fallout of blackmail, murder, and magic.

Victoria, whose empathic talent knows everyone’s hidden feelings; Philippa, whose glamour can bewitch; and Liam, the brother who touches objects to reveal their secrets, all find themselves in danger.

When her autistic brother is arrested, Vic needs to discover the truth to set him free.

A successful art restorer in the big city, Vic’s made a career of ignoring her past and hiding her strange powers. But with Rachel’s death, she must gamble away her secrets to face down forces determined to destroy her and her siblings.

And that hometown boy she dumped way back? He’s in Grimsby, and knows the truth about her.

Review: 5/5 stars

Content warnings: childhood abuse, neglect, violence, and trauma; rehashed childhood trauma as an adult; assault; attempted rape.

Nash has created one of my favorite books of 2021. This book is an exciting magical mystery that could easily be turned into the next Netflix series. I enjoyed the characters, the sibling dynamic, and the plot development from page 1 all the way until the end. Even the short epilogue was great!

The Rowan family story is told through a first person perspective, so we get Vic, the middle daughter’s account of the goings on after her mother’s death— but there’s so much more to it than an old woman dying.

Death is only the beginning of this entire plot line. It just gets better as mysteries are unraveled and new characters are introduced. Vic as two siblings, Pip and Liam, who are also trying to survive after their mother’s legacy. Enter Hunter, a big city lawyer, and Reed, an FBI agent / Vic’s high school boyfriend and then things get interesting.

There always seems to be a few characters that can’t get past an old grudge, like a decade’s old grudge right? Well, that’s Reed’s dad— the town’s old chief of police.

Everyone knows everyone, but no one knows anyone’s truth, and that’s what makes this book so, so good. There’s mystery, murder, betrayal, love, and intrigue until the very end.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

[Book Review] The Best We Could Do

Book Cover for THE BEST WE COULD DO

Title: The Best We Could Do
Author: Thi Bui
Genre: graphic novel; autobiography; memoir; history; oral history
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Best We Could Do, the debut graphic novel memoir by Thi Bui, is an intimate look at one family’s journey from their war-torn home in Vietnam to their new lives in America. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent — the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through.

With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home. The Best We Could Do brings to life her journey of understanding and provides inspiration to all who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.

Review: 4/5 stars

Bui’s graphic novel is “one that will break your heart and heal it.” I went into this book not quite sure what to expect, but I was blown away by the art, the style, and the story. Bui does not pull any punches. Her first chapter is called “Labor” and she details out the process and immediately creates these strong familial bonds in her writing and art. Each panel expresses so much, and because she uses just one color to accent – it fills each page with intensity and clarity.

This book reads more like a love letter to the self and to family than it does anything else, in my opinion. She, upon having her first child, realizes that she has created something monumental. This act then allows her to process, or go through the process, of memory work. By looking back on her own memories, and asking her parents about those, it’s almost as if she’s trying to figure out a way to forgive so that she can be whole for her son.

I loved enjoying this book for many reasons, but one of the major ones was that she sought to listen for understanding when recording her parents’ stories. Her experience growing up was vastly different than theirs, but she, in listening, learned why her parents made the choices they made, and acted as they did. It’s not written in a way that excuses anything, it just is. And that’s beautiful.

[Book Review] Unsteady

Book Cover for Unsteady

Title: Unsteady
Author: Nicole Northwood
Genre: romance; novella; contemporary
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) When Lincoln’s ex-girlfriend attacks him outside of the bar where he works, he doesn’t expect the confrontation to be thwarted by a baseball bat-wielding nursing student from the Collège de Saint Laurent.

As Molly Catherine takes Lincoln to her apartment and treats his injuries, a surprise New Year’s Eve storm sets in and turns the city of Duchamp into a blanket of snow and ice. Downed tree branches and power lines cut off electricity, and in the dark of the long night, MC and Lincoln quickly connect both emotionally and physically. When the power finally comes back on and the plows begin to dig out the city, MC and Lincoln are left to decide what will melt first: the snow, or their instant connection.

Review: 3/5 stars

Content Warning: physical partner abuse (the ex).

This was cute! A super quick 50 page read with two likable main characters. I don’t typically read romance novels with first person point of view, and even more rare – alternating firsts point of view. That said, I think Northwood created two characters that create a sweet, albeit fast, relationship.

While reading, I was looking for something a little deeper to grasp onto with both of their characters. Lincoln has more backstory than MC gets, but I was still hoping for a little more. There were quite a few things attached to both their characters that went past trope and landed into cliche territory. There’s 100% a place for cliche in romance (I mean that in a great way), but some of the expected pieces in romance, in my opinion, just did’t get fully developed.

There was a crazy ex, cheating, a bartender, a will they-won’t they, a love at first sight line, a “are they even into me?”, a “you can’t go out in that storm”, a text breakup, and drunken (maybe not) a one night stand. I absolutely love these tropes but in only 50 pages, they didn’t get a whole lot of page time.

There was also repetition in the little details – “cranberry” is one that comes to mind immediately. “Gin” is another. There were a lot of reminders that both MCs liked gin, and that Lincoln smelled like the cranberry juice from the bar – where he made cranberry vodkas all night.

All that said, I honestly really enjoyed the slice of life style of a novella. The intimacy is sweet and nervous and full of cute banter. The hookup felt authentic, and it was just a fun read all the way around.

I received a free copy of this book from the author and am provided an honest review.

[Book Review] Cemetery Boys

Book Cover for Cemetery Boys

Title: Cemetery Boys
Author: Aiden Thomas
Genre: ya fantasy; paranormal romance; brujos; ghosts; LGBT
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave. 

Review: 5/5 stars

I loved this book! Thomas creates some really sweet characters in Yadriel and Julian. I loved the dynamic they had together so much. I love Yadriel and his quest to prove himself to his family. I love that Lady Death recognizes Yadriel and shows his family what’s what.

The character development for the three main characters (Yadriel, Maritza, and Julian) is really well done. I think Maritza’s personality is so clutch in a story like this. She doesn’t take anyone’s crap, loves her friends fiercely, and wants to do everything she can to be supportive. The BFF dynamic is on point in this story.

This adventure-mystery is so fast-paced and exciting. The murder, the intrigue, and the love story all develop so quickly, but in a way that seems so right. You’ll probably cry if you’re anything like me, but it will make you smile so hard too.

[Book Review] Nimona

Book Cover of NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson

Title: Nimona
Author: Noelle Stevenson
Genre: graphic novel; fantasy; LGBT; found family; humor; adventure
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The graphic novel debut from rising star Noelle Stevenson, based on her beloved and critically acclaimed web comic, which Slate awarded its Cartoonist Studio Prize, calling it “a deadpan epic.”

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Review: 4 stars

I loved the humor and the humanity in this graphic novel. Mimosa and Blackheart are the ultimate dynamic duo that everyone needs to read about. In the end, this is just a great story. End stop.

I loved the characterizations, the pacing, the flashbacks. I wanted a little bit more of the Nimona backstory, and a little more depth from the Institution— but honestly— would 100% recommend this story so much.

[Book Review] Drama Queen

Book Cover of “Drama Queen” by Jill Westwood

Title: Drama Queen (Nasty Woman #3) read as a standalone
Author: Jill Westwoord
Genre: Contemporary romance; Humor;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Catriona McBryde laughs too loudly, has never met a stranger, and enjoys making men blush.

With her unrestrained behavior—which includes rolling in the hay with many of the single men in her town—Cat might not seem like the ideal tour guide for British actress Dame Violet Ramsey, but no one knows Foster’s Creek better than she does.

When Violet’s sexy bodyguard Kiran Madan doubts Cat’s ability to be discrete and trustworthy, she sets to charming the pants off of him, but he proves to be the type of guy she hasn’t encountered recently.

It’s not only her body he desires. Kiran wants Cat’s heart.

* plus-sized heroine
* small town romance
* sisterhood / female friendships
* brooding bodyguard
* Halloween hijinks

Review: 3/5 stars

I enjoyed this book a lot! If you’re looking for a speaks her mind, gets what she wants, plus sized romantic heroine— Catriona is for you. And honestly, who wouldn’t want to live her story here? Her favorite actress comes to her small town and asks her to be her tour guide.

Yes please.

And she comes with a hot body guard?

X 2 yes please.

Kiran Madan is a good opposite lead to Catriona. Where Catriona says everything she’s thinking, Kiran is reserved. A real stuffed shirt at first. Cat is more of a Lorelei Gilmore in Star’s Hollow, witty, funny, and able to keep up with whatever the occasion calls for. Kiran is completely out of his element and worried about everything.

The lead actress character, Violet, is fun. She’s proper British, but also has an unexpected wild streak. Kiran has his hands full and Cat helps keep him company while hilarious antics ensue.

One thing I didn’t really get was the lack of secondary character development. Some relationships just disappeared. Or didn’t get any resolution. Cat has this major animosity for her best friend’s husband that she brings up constantly, but there is no big blow out, no coming together, no nothing. They just don’t solve anything. Both of Cat’s sisters make love connections, but you never hear about either after the plot point passes. So too with her cousin. Once his purpose has passed, we never hear anything more. I’d like more development in this.

The side characters build the main character’s personality for me and make the world more real, and when there’s not any real reasonable resolution or mention for so many characters, it’s a big thing I think about.

Overall, I liked it, and I like seeing plus size girls getting HEAs!

I received an advanced review copy of this book for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

[Book Review] The House in the Cerulean Sea

Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea
Author: TJ Klune
Genre: LGBT; fiction; fantasy/magic; romance; contemporary; found family
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Review: 5 Stars (spoilers)

I truly enjoyed this one, as evidenced by the 5 star review. For me, I think this is because of the found family aspects of the book. The main lead, Linus, isn’t the main character of his own story for the first 30 years or so of his life. He’s just kind of letting life pass him by. I like that about this book. He’s normal, average, an every man. There’s nothing exciting about Linus Baker. He’s written as a perfectly ordinary man doing nothing but his routine every single day. He is in a day-in-day-out job that he seemingly does because he enjoys it until he’s thrust into something new. It isn’t until then that he becomes the main character in his own story.

There are these brilliantly funny passages of dialogue where he is so deadpan and other people around him are just like, “Oh, you’re serious?” and he’s just kind of like, “What else would I be?” It’s written so well that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. All of this happens before the REAL story actually begins. Before he gets to the titular house in the cerulean sea.

From there, your heart will melt right along with Linus Baker’s as you meet the children, and the man who runs the orphanage, Arthur. It gives off a little Miss Peregrin’s, a little X-Men, but really, it’s all it’s own because the children just want to be children, and Arthur just wants them to be free. It’s really all sweet and so so cute.

About 100 pages in, Linus joins the rest of the crew for their first dinner together and I swear to you, the banter back and forth between the children (there are 6 of them) is so funny I couldn’t stop giggling when I read it.

(CW: character with unhealthy body image, dieting)

Linus is described as rather round in the middle, and previously in the book, this has been a major concern for him. At this first dinner with the children, he doesn’t attempt to eat more than a salad, and the kids all have something to say, but they don’t make a joke of him being round, instead, they’re quite encouraging, and then the conversation shifts in about 5 more directions in rapid succession, as children tend to do.

(CW: child abuse)

The lessons of this book are quite profound. One of the children is a victim of a lot of abuse in previous orphanages, and is very easily scared. As such, he’s the last to warm up to Linus Baker (newcomer). Linus is patient and regularly tells him that it’s okay to be scared and to hide away, as long as he know to come back out again. That’s pretty cool advice for everyone. Don’t get so scared that we shut ourselves out of the world.

At one point, the group encounters bigots who don’t like magical people. Linus (nonmagical, totally ordinary, right?) reminds one of the children, “Hate is loud, but I think you’ll learn it’s because it’s only a few people shouting, desperate to be heart. You might not ever be able to change their minds, but so long as you remember you’re not alone, you will overcome” (Klune 276).

When I read that, I immediately took a picture of that page so that I could remember it myself, because damn right, hate IS loud, but so many people lead with love, and I have to remember that.

Each one of the children is written so uniquely. They all have something special and individualized. There’s no laziness in the writing there at all. A gnome, a wyvern, something they can’t explain that wants to be a bellhop, a forest sprite, a shape shifter, and the anti-christ. They’re all perfectly hilarious and full of different personalities, desires, and worries. They all have a different background and Linus throws out the RULES AND REGULATIONS for each and every one of them.

The man in charge of all of them cares for each of them like a father, cares for the island they live on, and has this air of mystery about him that intrigues and frustrates Linus to no end. All of the above makes him, again, throw out the RULES AND REGULATIONS. This slow burn romance is so cute because they’re both so dumb about it. The island is owned by Zoe Whitechapel, a forest sprite (it’s her territory) who even says something to the effect of “Men are idiots” – girl, same.

This book has originality, beautiful scene descriptions, sweet and heart-warming character interactions, and a slow burn romance that doesn’t have any kind of triangle or romance drama.

I highly recommend this book!

[Book Review] Between Wild & Ruin

Between Wild & Ruin book cover

Title: Between Wild & Ruin

Author: Jennifer G. Edelson

Genre: YA; paranormal; mystery; fantasy; romance; mythology

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Seventeen-year-old Ruby Brooks has never had a boyfriend. After moving to small-town La Luna, New Mexico following her mother’s untimely death, boys aren’t even on her radar. Ruby just wants to forget the last horrible year and blend in. But when she discovers an ancient pueblo ruin in the forest behind her house, and meets Ezra, a bitter recluse whose once-perfect face was destroyed in an accident he won’t talk about; Angel, La Luna’s handsome sheriff’s deputy, and Leo, a stranger who only appears near the ruin, Ruby finds herself teetering between love, mystery, and other worlds. What happened to Ezra’s face? And why is she so attracted to the one boy in town everyone despises? As Ruby unravels her own connections to both Ezra and the pueblo ruin, she’ll learn surfaces are deceiving. Especially in the heart of New Mexico, where spirits and legends aren’t always just campfire stories.

Review: 3 Stars

I enjoyed this book quite a bit! I loved the mythology and mystery behind the plot and how it unraveled over time. I thought the author did a great job keeping the main plot points a secret until just the right moment. There was a fine line between providing just the right amount of detail to keep me reading to see what would happen next.

I liked the way Ruby explained her motivations over the course of the book. She didn’t seem to grow much, so I’m hoping to see more development here in boom 2, but the way she seemed to see things differently from the rest of La Luna was unique. It was a little Bella Swan vibes, but overall, I enjoyed the “I see beneath the surface” stuff.

There were points where I thought her character went a little too far with the anti-vanity plot line, almost to the point where it got into fetishization with Ezra’s facial scarring, and that weirded me out. Almost like she had a point to prove. (Kind of like, “I don’t care about looks SO much that I’m not sure I like you if you don’t have a scar” if you understand what I’m saying.)

That said, all characters are flawed in this novel (in all novels in some way?) from the aunt to the side character friends. But overall, they’re developed just enough to make them relatively relatable in some way.

Angel vs Ezra vs Leo is a plot device I generally just do not like, and it’s no different here. Ruby doesn’t handle the multiple crushes well, and it still somehow turns out okay? In what world??? Anyway; lucky girl I guess!

All of the interpersonal stuff aside, I truly enjoyed reading about the Ancients, the True of Heart, and the Watchers, and would definitely read book 2 in order to learn more.

I got an ARC of this from BookSirens for an honest review.