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Book Review: Ivy and Ash by B.A. Lovejoy

Hi All!

This week I picked up the first book in the new The University of the Unseen series by B.A. Lovejoy, “Ivy and Ash”. I’ve found myself reading a lot of magic- and paranormal-related stories lately, so this one definitely piqued my interest from the series title alone. Add to that the fact that after reading the Alice: Pick a Card series by Lovejoy I’m completely in love with her writing and will henceforth pick up anything she writes, this sounded like a win-win! Thus, I obviously jumped on this review copy the moment Booksirens and B.A. Lovejoy sent me an email saying it was ready for my greedy little hands.

So how did it rate? Let’s find out with this quick review!

Genre:  Fantasy, Romance, New Adult

Publication Date: May 19, 2023

Booksirens Blurb:

Long ago, the infamous Knox Brothers created a university, one of such renown that few outside of wizarding society’s elite would ever walk through its gates—The University of the Unseen.

But that was then, and this is now, and I, Ana Nilsen, the daughter of a mere factory worker have been accepted into the sophomore class, working underneath the cantankerous Dr. Jones, aiding in his research regarding the limitations of a human soul.

Or at least, that’s what I expected to be doing, until a series of letters threatening my very existence began to appear—letters that I fear may be tied to an attack on George Sacks—a fellow student who seems to know too much for his own good, and the horrific crimes of Simon Petrov, my predecessor.

Now, if I want any hope of finding out who’s sending them, I have to turn to Rowan Avarelle—my competitor and the son of my master’s archrival, the closest that Knox University has to royalty. A man who I am, by all accounts, meant to hate, and yet cannot seem to stay away from.

But Rowan has secrets of his own, and the University of the Unseen is far from what it seems. Especially with rumors of a secret society as old as the university itself that is willing to do anything to ensure the success of its members…

What I liked about the book:

1. Lovejoy’s writing is always so pretty and neat. The description she gives to everything as well as the personality that flows through her writing is ultimately what keeps me coming back for more!

2. Lovejoy’s feminism is still on point! One of the things I loved so much about the Alice: Pick a Card series was how much Lovejoy pointed out society’s, still many, faults in the area of equality. Whether it be Wonderland, a magical university, or just the everyday world, B.A. expertly highlights the small things women still get told on “how to present themselves” and what a “lady should do”, while also having her FMCs tear down those walls with snide remarks and a large metaphorical middle finger. Because of this, her FMCs are always fiery and intelligent, which I can’t get enough of!

3. She writes mysterious boys with beautiful smirks well! I’m not usually into blonde guys, but somehow I am now, also, in love with Rowan Avarelle, despite his many mysteries and flaws. I wish I could say more, but let’s just say, the butterflies are always in full effect when reading chapters with Lovejoy’s MMCs.

What could have been better:

1. While I liked both MCs on their own, I ultimately did not feel the connection the author tried to illustrate. I felt there was not enough background into their growing friendship to illicit the feelings they did/could share for each other. Ultimately, they were lacking a connection for me, which is super unfortunate given they are obviously going to be love interests throughout this whole series.

2. For the first book in a story, it was lacking in the history and worldbuilding I would have liked to see. For the first book, this is your chance to establish all about the world, the characters, the background that we’ll need going forward, however, I felt like this was a pretty normal college story that just happened to have a bit of magic. Not exactly what I was looking for with this one, but still fine.

3. Overall, there were a lot of times where I wasn’t really sure what was happening. While I’m sure this book is setting up a lot for future books, the first book in a new series should envelope you in intrigue and give you just enough to keep you wanting to progress in the series. Honestly, if this wasn’t B.A. Lovejoy, I probably wouldn’t continue. But I have faith that she will get us there!

Final Thoughts:

Not what I was looking for exactly, but I will continue with the series.

Final Rating: 

3 stars

Thank you to Booksirens, and B.A. Lovejoy for the copy of this book. The review expressed above is honest and my own.   

Book Review: Ink Blood Sister Scribe by Emma Törzs

Hi All!

I hope everyone’s weekend went well!

This weekend I read Ink Blood Sister Scribe by Emma Törzs. This incredibly lush story of family secrets, magic, and a group of misfit heroes has surpassed all other reads so far this year for me! Do yourselves a favor and check it out when it releases next week on May 30!

Want to know what makes this book so special? Here are my opinions!

Genre:  Fantasy

Publication Date: May 30, 2023

NetGalley Blurb:

In this spellbinding debut novel, two estranged half-sisters tasked with guarding their family’s library of magical books must work together to unravel a deadly secret at the heart of their collection—a tale of familial loyalty and betrayal, and the pursuit of magic and power.

For generations, the Kalotay family has guarded a collection of ancient and rare books. Books that let a person walk through walls or manipulate the elements—books of magic that half-sisters Joanna and Esther have been raised to revere and protect.

All magic comes with a price, though, and for years the sisters have been separated. Esther has fled to a remote base in Antarctica to escape the fate that killed her own mother, and Joanna’s isolated herself in their family home in Vermont, devoting her life to the study of these cherished volumes. But after their father dies suddenly while reading a book Joanna has never seen before, the sisters must reunite to preserve their family legacy. In the process, they’ll uncover a world of magic far bigger and more dangerous than they ever imagined, and all the secrets their parents kept hidden; secrets that span centuries, continents, and even other libraries . . .

In the great tradition of Ninth House, The Magicians, and Practical Magic, this is a suspenseful and richly atmospheric novel that draws readers into a vast world filled with mystery and magic, romance, and intrigue—and marks the debut of an extraordinary new voice in speculative fiction. 

What I liked about the book:

1. Let’s first discuss the writing, which was perfect! Not only was the world building of the magic system super freaking interesting (which we’ll get to in a bit), but the grammar, spelling, and overall flow of this book was unequivocally flawless. This is not something that I mark an author down for unless it is excessive and leads to a large flow problem for the story, but this is DEFINITELY something I give points for when done well!

This story was written in third person POV, for three main characters: Joanna, Esther, and Nicholas. While I am not usually a fan of third person POV as I feel it is not as personal and intimate as stories told in first person, Emma convinced me that it can be done right with this book! I had no feelings of missing a character’s feelings or wanting to know more of what they were thinking, because Emma was able to expertly weave a third person POV story that felt like first person POV. Maybe I don’t hate third person POV after all!  

The flow of the story was fantastic. Information was provided and clarified at the right pace to be mysterious but not daunting. I’m still not able to figure out how Emma did it, but essentially, I knew I was missing details while reading, but I also didn’t obsess over it because I had a bone-deep trust that Emma would get us there. Where and how this trust was developed I do not know, but somewhere within this story it happened and Emma did not disappoint.

2. Getting back to the system of magic, I was completely in awe of the idea and really dug it. I loved that there was definitely a yin-yang concept to it in that the people who wrote spells couldn’t wield them and the people who could practice magic couldn’t write spells; you had to have both for the whole system to work or it would cease to exist.

The methodology behind it all was wildly fascinating to me. The way that spells were written was unique and creative, but I was especially charmed with a book only having so many uses before it faded. This just made so much sense given how the books were written! I can’t say more about that, but trust me, it’s fantastic!

Finally, the background written around scribes and magic as well as all the artefacts found in the library totally fed into my lust for history! I loved the more immediate history we got detailing the FMC’s families before they were born, but also the history we got from generations before that. It made me think, “Did this type of thing actually exist?!?!” This was just like when I watched Jurassic Park for the first time and thought “THIS COULD TOTALLY HAPPEN!”.

3. I liked all three main characters and felt they definitely had their own voices as I read. They were all underdogs in their own ways and I love that! Usually we get one, but we got three here!

Joanna (little sister and magic wielder) was the quintessential goodie good who did everything she was told to without many questions, stayed dutiful and loyal to her family, and ultimately was a prisoner in her own life of solitude. I loved watching her step out of her comfort zone, forge relationships with new people, and ultimately learn to do something she thought she never could.

Esther (big sister and non-magic wielder) was the dictionary definition of the wild child, runaway. Never staying in the same place for too long and never establishing roots until one day everything changed, forcing her to go back to basics, find her way home, and simultaneously find her place in the magical world.    

Nicholas (the lone, living scribe) was the sheltered but well-off “chosen one”. Left as the only scribe in the world, Nicholas was treated as no more than a machine for his…abilities, but otherwise was given anything and everything he could possibly want, including one super cute sidekick Pomeranian! Watching him develop relationships with several people and overcome his personal hurdles like a BOSS was so satisfying.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Collins, Nicholas’s hilarious bodyguard, who was really like the fourth MC. Collins’s love for the female Pomeranian, Sir Kiwi(!), his hilarious bickering back-and-forth with Nicholas, and his intelligence despite being sidelined as the brawn in their equation, made him easily my favorite character in the entire story.

4. Finally, this book did a great job tying everything together. From small things in the beginning of the book that later became significant, to the tattooed quote that followed Esther throughout the entire story, there were so many “AHA!” moments in this one that I loved.

What could have been better:

1. I wish we had gotten a bit more romance! I’m a romance junkie, and the description saying “this is a suspenseful and richly atmospheric novel that draws readers into a vast world filled with mystery and magic, romance, and intrigue” tells me there is going to be some grand romance. However, I felt the book was missing this piece with both FMCs. Don’t get me wrong, there was romance for sure, both of which I was all for, but there just wasn’t enough there for me.

Final Thoughts:

Such a beautifully written story with a unique take on magic, sisterhood, and unlikely heroes.

Final Rating: 

4.5 eye-opening stars!

About the Author:

EMMA TÖRZS is a writer, teacher, and occasional translator based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her fiction has been honored with an NEA fellowship in prose, a World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction, and an O. Henry Prize. Her stories have been published in journals such as Ploughshares, Uncanny Magazine, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and American Short Fiction. She received her MFA from the University of Montana, Missoula, and is an enthusiastic member of the Clarion West class of 2017.

Check out Emma’s social media at the links below.

Goodreads | Website

While you’re at it, let’s be antisocial together!

Goodreads | Instagram | Gmail

Thank you to NetGalley, William Morrow, and Emma Törzs for the advanced copy of this book. The review expressed above is honest and my own.

Revelations (Belle Morte, #2) by Bella Higgin

Hi All!

I hope everyone’s week is off to a lovely start!

This past week I read the second installment in the Belle Morte series Revelations by Bella Higgin.

After getting an ARC of book 1 last year, I was super excited to return to the world that has lived rent free in my head for the last 400+ days. I normally have a very bad habit of forgetting information and losing interest in series if I don’t read them one book after another. HOWEVER, Belle Morte has proven to be an exception to this rule. I cannot tell you how many times in the last year I have stalked Bella Higgin’s Instagram and Goodreads profiles trying to get more information on book 2.

For all intents and purposes, this series has sank it’s fangs into me in the most delicious little love bite ever and I’m not letting it let go!

First things first, check out my review of book 1 here: Belle Morte

Now let’s get to my book 2 review!

Genre:  Romance, New Adult, Paranormal

Publication Date: May 9, 2023

Quote that sums up the book: “The walls of Belle Morte were supposed to keep intruders out. I never imagined they’d keep traitors in.”

Goodreads Blurb:

Truth comes at a cost.

Ever since Renie Mayfield survived the merciless attack on Belle Morte that killed donors and vampires alike, she is forever changed. Now a vampire, the agonizing transformation of her body and mind is rivaled only by uncovering the horrific truth about her sister, June, who has escaped the mansion in her rabid form, adding even more chaos to Renie’s reality.

As the vampire responsible for Renie’s change, and now her distress, Edmond Dantes remains in his own desperate place. He’s confined in the secret cells of Belle Morte, awaiting the arrival of the council and the subsequent punishment for his actions. Edmond questions if what he did was right and deeply regrets what has become of his home.

Desperate to free Edmond, find June, and bring justice to whoever is behind the recent violence, Renie is out for blood in more ways than one. The smell of corruption is embedded in the walls of Belle More, but behind the walls are even more secrets that may lead to the truth and to justice.

What I liked about the book:

1. Vampire murder mystery full of political intrigue, secret passageways(!), the banding together of unlikely friends, and la petite mort we so desperately craved!

2. I loved and appreciated that the author gave us callbacks of events in book 1. I for sure didn’t remember some of the details, and Bella had our backs with reminding us of important details.

3. I loved watching the mutual respect grow between Ysanne and Renie. Getting to see from Renie’s point of view, we got insight into her internal thoughts on things, and saw her grow to truly understand Ysanne. This line for me, really sold that:

If Ysanne had been anyone else, I’d have comforted her, but I knew her well enough now to understand that was not what she wanted. To Ysanne, grief and comfort were things to be shown in private, not in front of everyone else.

Similarly, seeing Ysanne open up to Renie (in her own ways), was tragically beautiful. She was so broken in this book (for several, really good reasons) that she really opened up to those in her circle and we got to see that hidden side to her I KNEW existed.   

Given they are both strong, smart women, I loved watching them work together instead of against one another!

4. I loved that Roux and Jason still played such a large part in these series, and are now the only humans around going forward, besides maybe Nikki, who I LOVED!

5. The characters remained strong!

Edmond I felt was a stronger character in this one. Perhaps it was too long ago that I read book 1, but I felt he was more in touch with his soldier past in this book and I loved seeing this side of him. In fact, his battles side by side with Ludovic were some of my favorite scenes in the whole book!

Ysanne I for sure have a crush on. She is a Boss Babe and I would die for her!

Jason was hilarious and served as the comic relief in this actiony installment.

Roux was solving riddles like a world-class sleuth.  

Ludovic was even more badass than book 1 (didn’t know that was possible!) and I definitely didn’t miss those lingering glances at Roux. I swear to the Gods, if they don’t end up together I’m going to have a FIT!!!

Nikki was a new character who was fantastic! She was smart as a whip and fearless even in the face of potential death. I really hope she continues to be in this series and we see more of her!

6. I started a list of quotes and scenes I loved and quickly realized they are all Edmond! ALL OF THEM! Check these out and see why Edmond has me googling sweet men with French accents.

“I swore to myself that I’d never love again,” he said, and Renie stiffened. “I told myself that it wasn’t worth the pain,” he continued. “But…” Leaning forward, he rested his forehead against hers. […] “It was worth it. It’s always worth it. I didn’t want to fall in love with you, but you stole my heart and I don’t want it back.”


Loving someone was giving them your heart – when someone hurt Renie, they hurt Edmond too. He feared for her more than he feared for himself, and that fear was an icy wave that crashed into him, making him feel like all his vampire strength had been stripped away.

What use was superior strength when he couldn’t use it to protect the woman he loved?


Edmond: “How are you feeling?”

Renie: “Calmer. I’m still processing everything that’s happened, and I’m still not okay, but I’m not going to fall apart.”

Edmond: “If you do fall, I’ll always catch you.”

Renie: “I know.”


“I have lived a very long time, and I’ve loved a number of women, but you, ma chérie – you undo me.”


7. That cover is Gorg-town! Super pretty!

What could have been better:

1. Similar to my thoughts on book 1, it was dual POV, but Renie’s sections were in first person, while Edmond’s were in third person, and I disliked it strongly! I really wanted this story in first person dual POV, or if once Renie became a vampire her POV to shift to third person like Edmond’s. If this was a style choice by the writer to have all vampires be third person POV, I could have actually gotten behind this in a really big way, but that didn’t happen so I’m left with eye twitches of frustration.

2. Renie was kind of annoying in this book. I did like how every time she started getting annoying, though, she did call herself out. I appreciated her ability to self-regulate her attitude and trains of thought, but it was still a little annoying to go through the process with her.

3. There simply was not enough build up into the Roux and Ludovic relationship I MUST HAVE in the next book! I will legit cry if this doesn’t happen

Final Rating: 

4 Ludovic-can-bite-me-any-day stars

Thank you to Rachel Wu at Wattpad WEBTOON Book Group and Bella Higgin for the advanced copy of this book! The thoughts and opinions expressed above are voluntary and my own.

Want to check out what else Bella is working on? Hop on over to her social media accounts using the below.

Goodreads | Instagram 

While you’re at it, let’s be antisocial together!

Goodreads | Instagram | Gmail

Priest by Sierra Simone

Hi All!

This past week I read Priest by Sierra Simone. I’ve been spammed with recommendations for this book from various Facebook groups and Instagram friends, so the time had finally come to indulge in what some have described as “the spiciest book I’ve ever read” 😈

Did this one light my fire? Let’s find out!

Genre:  Adult, Taboo Romance

Publication Date: June 18, 2015

Goodreads Blurb:

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.***

What I liked about the book:

1. I love taboo romances! I don’t know if this is my own love for older men, my boss-in-the-streets-sub-in-the-sheets way of life, or something entirely different, but if I’m going to live vicariously through the lives of those on the page, I want it to be dirty and “wrong” and raw. This definitely hit all those buttons!  

2. There was a lot of sex (which I’ll talk about later). The talking during the encounters and the true dominant acts really were fantastic. I love a well-placed s|u+ or wh0re 🔥🥵🥰

What could have been better:

1. Ok, let’s address the elephant in the room…I’m not sure what this says about me, but this is definitely not the spiciest book I’ve read. I had a lot of high hopes around this one given the spice-meter reading my smut groups on Facebook listed it as, but ultimately, it wasn’t as good as I hoped; I’ve had read spicier.

2. While I sympathized with him at first, all the internal struggles and indecision on Tyler’s point got annoying very fast. I understand, he had a hard choice to make, but I did not read this book for drama. I read it for the smut, and since that didn’t deliver, I didn’t want to have to read the bullshit monologues about self-righteousness either.

3. This book is a fantastic reason why I don’t like first person single point of view. While we got to explore the innerworkings of Tyler’s mind (more than I would like in some cases), we didn’t get any real insight into Poppy other than she was the forbidden fruit that led him astray. We were told all about her history, her education, and her decisions in life, but otherwise, there was no real character development for her in my opinion. While the story tried so hard to show Tyler as a feminist dom, by not letting us see Poppy’s POV, I feel this did more harm than good and really did ultimately just equate her to an object. I feel if we would have had even just a few chapters from Poppy’s POV, I would have felt like she was more of a person and less of a means to an end. And that bullshit epilogue does NOT count.

4. There was a lot of sex, but very little talking. I don’t like that. I don’t like reading sexual scenes where all the dude is doing is thinking. That is not going to get me there, love.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, not what I was expecting. I had higher hopes for this one.

Final Rating: 2 stars

Like what you read? Let’s be antisocial together!

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Alice in the Joker’s Last Laugh (Alice: Pick a Card, #5)

Hi All!

I hope everyone’s week is going well!

This week I read the last book in the Alice: Pick a Card Series, “Alice in the Joker’s Last Laugh”. Like usual, I laughed, I cried, and I wanted more Kaeden Hart!

This journey through Wonderland with Alice has been such a fun and wild ride! I’ve been so fortunate to be gifted with review copies of each book in the series, and it’s quite bittersweet to me that it’s finally come to an end.

Please note, given this is book 5 in the series, I won’t be giving away any spoilers and will be keeping my review fairly vague. Hopefully this inspires you to check out the series even more!

Before we get started, here are the links to my reviews for the first four books in the series:

Book 1: Alice in the Land of Clovers

Book 2: Alice in the City of Diamonds

Book 3: Alice in the Palace of Spades

Book 4: Alice in the Prison of Hearts

And without further ado, let’s find out who got the last laugh in the series finale!

Genre:  Fantasy, Romance, New Adult, Fairy Tale Retelling

Publication Date: December 12, 2022

Booksirens Blurb:

Once upon a time, there was a girl in a magical world who longed to go home…

That girl was me.

I thought going home would solve all of my problems, but I was proven wrong when I was forced through the Jabberwock’s looking glass against my will. Trapped in Oxford, I was made to watch as the one I loved and everything I knew turned to stone.

But I was never one to stay where I belong, nor listen to others’ warnings, so I returned, only to be thrown into a world of disarray.

Chess is threatening war, the Kingdom of Hearts has been drained of color, and the one true heir to the throne of Cards is missing. At the same time, the man behind it all, my husband, sits gloating with a title that was never meant to be his, surrounded by a parade of Alice look-alikes. The secrets he holds could lead to Wonderland’s damnation…

But in the end, it is I who holds all the cards.

What I liked about the book:

1. After all the speculation of book 4 and B.A. Lovejoy being taken aback by reader’s enthusiasm over Kaeden Hart, I was quite happy with this ending. I won’t say much more than that, but I will leave you with this: everything and everyone ended where it was supposed to.

2. I loved how much of Alice in the real world we got to see, and just how much Wonderland has impacted her. For someone who was adamant about going home, she really didn’t fit in when she got there.

I also loved how TERRIBLE Peter was. I was legit worried about her fancying him in book 1, and I’m glad the author rid him of all redeeming characteristics finally.

3. I liked how the author left the ending up for spinoffs/returns to Wonderland. I’m really hopeful that we will get to see other stories in Wonderland, featuring different main characters, but with potential pop ins from our original favorites.

4.  Let’s talk about those covers. I don’t feel I’ve appreciated them enough in my past reviews, but these covers are the things of book hoarders’ dreams. They are pretty, they have the style down pat while throwing in enough details specific to the book the cover is referencing, and they are just plain intriguing. These are the types of books you buy for the cover so your bookshelf looks gorgeous.

5. Like the past books, I loved the political events that took place and those that we still haven’t seen finished by the end of the book. Further evidence that we need spinoffs! I also really enjoyed getting more insight into the history of Wonderland. The history has been so artfully crafted throughout this series and it’s quite well done.

6. In typical B.A. Lovejoy fashion, there were several lines I LOVED:

“I was fairly certain that if I had stopped thinking, then everything would have been easier. Stupid people were very often the happiest of people…To be stupid was truly a gift, one which I wished most vehemently that I could receive. Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to be stupid.”

“My grandmother had been a housewife, my mother too, and my sister was a housewife; and if they had their way, I would be a housewife as well…Which was why Wonderland was so captivating, because I had been more there. A clock repairer, an almost-dragon slayer, a noble, and a prisoner. That was far more lives than a woman could have expected to live in England.”

Not really a tough choice for me either…

“But I liked Reginald better, because he was far softer than Cornelius, and far kinder; one should never underestimate the appeal of a quiet man.”

Like mother like daughter???

“The echoing realization that for every action and inaction, for every choice that I had blindly made and for every decision that I had blindly rushed into, there was a cost, even if it not my cost to pay.”

And this was the moment that Alice finally grew up!

“ ‘I am a delight,’ I proclaimed, knowing that I very well was not.”

This is basically me every day of my life 🤷🏼‍♀️

What could have been better:

1. My biggest gripe in this book, and really all of them looking back, is it seems like the author wrote a whole story and then decided where to break it up into chunks.

The good part of this is it’s cohesive as hell. It picks up right where it left off in the previous book and it really sucks you back in quickly.

The bad part of this is it doesn’t work well if you don’t toss the reader bones back to the previous books. There were several times I had to go read my highlights from the previous four books just to understand what the hell was going on or what people were referring to. For such a long series, I would have appreciated more throwbacks/nods to things previously established in prior books so I didn’t have to do this.

2. Alice’s mother had a much bigger role in Wonderland than we originally anticipated, and I’m sad we didn’t get to learn more about it. I felt we were really teased with her backstory and then it never got fleshed out.


Final Thoughts:

This was a good end to a great series.

Final Rating: 4 stars

Thank you to Booksirens and B.A. Lovejoy for the opportunity to read this book. The opinions expressed above are my own, honest opinions.

Liked this review and want more of my rantings? Let’s connect!

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Nocturne by Alyssa Wees

Hi All!

Hope your week is going well!

This week I opened up Nocturne by Alyssa Wees, a gift granted to me by the publishers Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine and Del Rey via NetGalley. I know absolutely nothing about ballerina-ing (that’s a word right?), but I loved the summary of this book so I decided to wish for it.

My wish was granted and I received a free copy of the book. The review below is reflective of my honest and voluntary opinions.

Genre:  Fantasy

Publication Date: February 21, 2023

NetGalley Blurb:

In this haunting, evocative fantasy set in 1930s Chicago, a talented ballerina finds herself torn between her dreams and her desires when she’s pursued by a secretive patron who may be more than he seems.

“An enchanting and lyrical fever dream bursting with dazzling prose and dark romance, Nocturne enthralled me.”—Erin A. Craig, New York Times bestselling author of House of Salt and Sorrows

Growing up in Chicago’s Little Sicily in the years following the Great War, Grace Dragotta has always wanted to be a ballerina, ever since she first peered through the windows of the Near North Ballet company. So when Grace is orphaned, she chooses the ballet as her home, imagining herself forever ensconced in a transcendent world of light and beauty so different from her poor, immigrant upbringing.

Years later, with the Great Depression in full swing, Grace has become the company’s new prima ballerina—though achieving her long-held dream is not the triumph she once envisioned. Time and familiarity have tarnished that shining vision, and her new position means the loss of her best friend in the world. Then she attracts the attention of the enigmatic Master La Rosa as her personal patron and realizes the world is not as small or constricted as she had come to fear.

Who is her mysterious patron, and what does he want from her? As Grace begins to unlock the Master’s secrets, she discovers that there is beauty in darkness as well as light, finds that true friendship cannot be broken by time or distance, and realizes there may be another way entirely to achieve the transcendence she has always sought.

What I liked about the book:

1. That cover is gorgeous. Something about it is breathtakingly haunting and so avant-garde that I knew I was hooked after seeing it.

2. Overall, I liked the idea behind this story. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this definitely had a mythological feel to it, which I was absolutely crazy for! I love stories within stories and the worldbuilding that goes into fantasy-laden stories is usually so interesting to me. This was no exception.

3. Overall, I did enjoy the lyrical writing style the author employed. There were A LOT of descriptors used on the simplest of things. If done right, I absolutely love this approach. To me, it’s why I love Orwell and Bradbury: taking a simple thought or topic and strangling words out of it until you feel every word connecting you to the story; as though every word breathes fresh energy into you. However, if done wrong, it just feels exhausting.

I see a lot of reviews for this book with this as a critique. To me, I did not mind, and even enjoyed, the writing style. What I did not enjoy was waiting so long to understand where those beautiful words were taking me (see item 1 in the “What could have been better” section).  

What could have been better:

1. What at times was reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, The Phantom of the Opera, and Hades and Persephone, somehow managed to feel uneventful. I was waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen, for some big reveal to come, for the other ballet slipper to drop, and it didn’t really do it for me when it did. Instead of being a large *BANG!* of excitement, the “reveal” was a slow *fizzzzzzzle*. It was pretty easy to figure out early on what it was going to be, but then it wasn’t really satisfactorily done in my opinion.

On top of this, I felt like the main story didn’t really take off until about 55-60% of the way through the book. I swore when we were this deep into the story and she had just started meeting the other MCs, that this was going to be a duology. So, of course, I stopped reading and scoured Goodreads and the author’s website to see when the next book was going to come out. End result: this isn’t a duology, it just wasn’t set up well. With all the fluff in the front of the book and the meat of the book not really happening until the last half, it was hard to become attached to any of the characters or the plot.  

2. My biggest gripe was the character development. Bottom-line, there wasn’t any for 2 of the 3 main characters. For a book praised as a “dark romance” and a “lush gothic romance that will dance you dizzy”, I found exactly zero romance in this thing, which makes sense when you realize the author only expands on one character for the entire book.

Furthermore, I did not feel a connection to the main character, Grace. She wasn’t annoyingly perfect or relatedly flawed; she wasn’t over the top silly or fiery fierce. She just was, which I found a bit boring for a main character that acted as really the sole character for such a large amount of the book.

3. As much as I loved the mythological feel, I didn’t feel like we got enough backstory into it. I would much rather have focused on the deal between the brothers and who they were as characters, than read over and over again how this chick wanted to jump out of a window.

Final Rating: 2.5 stars

The Curious Life of Ada Baker by Karen Hamilton-Viall

Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, New Adult, Mystery/Thriller, Paranormal

Publication Date: September 27, 2022

Rating: 4 curious stars!

NetGalley Blurb:

‘Ada Baker was a psychic. She was the seventh daughter of two parents who were both seventh children. And she had been gifted with some extraordinary powers.’

Ada Baker is a gifted psychic, who shares her home with three very bored ghosts. Spending their days roaming around Ada’s house offers little amusement, and so the three of them convince Ada to help them investigate the mysterious death of local beauty Mary Watts, who is found naked and strangled in her bathtub. This begins a series of exciting adventures for Ada, as she draws on her unique skills to help solve this heinous crime. Along the way, she must convince a skeptical detective of her aptitude for channeling the abilities of the dead, avoid the unwanted attentions of a sinister stalker, and try to enlist the help of a squadron of ghostly spitfire pilots to save her own life.

Can the dead really bring justice for Mary and help save the living too? Will Ada solve the mystery of her murder? Or will Ada’s curiosity lead to her own demise, causing her to end up as a ghost herself?


The Curious Life of Ada Baker is the first book in what is sure to be a smashing series of paranormal crime novels about the titular psychic. Ada is a relatively normal woman, except for the whole living with ghosts and allowing them to use her body thing…it’s not what it sounds like!

With the help of her ghostly friends, a skeptical detective, and a hermit librarian who possesses paranormal skills of his own, Ada Baker is on the hunt for a killer in this “supernatural cozy crime novel.”  

Perfect for fans of dry British humor and the Riley Thorn series by Lucy Score!

What I liked about the book:

1. I can’t say that I’ve read a book where a human could not only hear and see the dead, but could also channel the abilities they had in life too, but I found this super interesting! For example, one of Ada’s ghostly roommates, Mrs. E, was a cook when she was alive, so Ada could simply let her in her body and Mrs. E could cook a five-course meal using Ada’s body to prepare it. I loved this concept and was sure some bad ghost was going to take control of Ada at some point.

2. I loved that the ghosts had different abilities. For example, most ghosts could not touch or move things, but some, who were called poltergeists, did have that ability. I loved watching Dennis hone this ability of his and help Inspector Jolly learn as well! Their ghost friendship around this was just the sweetest thing to me.

3. All of the main characters were fantastic.

Ada – I liked how Ada really owned her interesting abilities, wasn’t afraid to claim them even in front of skeptical people, and she really was just a normal woman. Ada could have come across as a real weirdo, but she came across as someone you would definitely want to be friends with, which was great.

I especially loved Ada and her roommates! They really had the feel of a true family, even though Ada was the only living one. I totally saw Mrs. E as the mom with her prim ways and always wanting to cook a decent meal, Dennis as the dad with his advice and always wanting to watch his Old Western television marathons, and Rose as the spunky sister who always wanted to be involved in whatever Ada was doing. I also loved how Ada always set them a place for tea or dinner, despite them not being able to consume, just so they felt included. This was one hell of a found family and I loved it!

Matlock was my second choice for Ada, after Jian Lee, her Kung Fu classmate. After I quickly realized that Jian was not going to be a large part of this story and we were then introduced to Matlock, I fell madly in love with the idea of her with Matlock. Matlock and Ada were complete opposites in personality, but they had a lot in common with their backstories and their view on the world. When it came down to it, they were both caring people who liked to help others and who would take a bullet for those they love. I can’t wait to see these two come together, because why wouldn’t they!?!?!?  

Inspector Jolly was so confident and trustworthy that as soon as he said Matlock was a good person, I instantly believed him. Inspector Jolly was definitely one of the good ones in life and I laughed so hard when he came up with the ghost police force. Of course a career inspector like himself couldn’t just give it up, even in death!

Neville, Neville, Neville. I totally thought you were going to be involved with the murder because you were jealous of anyone else who showed affection towards Ada, you also had paranormal abilities, and you wanted to be right by Ada’s side solving the mystery. Because of this, I didn’t really give you the time of day, despite you being as awkward (read: adorable!) as the most famous Neville, Neville Longbottom. I guess you were alright after all. I kinda want you to end up with Astrid Starlight, the owner of the crystal/energy reading shop who was introduced and helped Ada at the very end of the story. I want to see more of her and I think you would be adorable together as the awkward dude and sunshine lady.  

William Kent was the right amount of creepy that you wanted to know just what the hell his deal was! He was interesting and totally gave me the unsettling feelings similar to Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. I want to know more, but at the same time I don’t…

4. I liked how the story wasn’t simply a murder mystery. Even when the mystery of who murdered Mary was closed, there were still so many things the author can, and likely will, expand on. We still need to know who killed Inspector Jolly and what the hell William Kent is doing!!!

5. I liked how there is no way in a million years you could have seen coming who the killer was.

I wildly oscillated at first between this being aggravating and fantastic, but I have made up my mind that it was great. I liked not being able to solve this one…but just this one.

6. Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It wasn’t that Ada didn’t believe in God, it was only that she’d never felt the need to go to a special place to speak to him.”

– Couldn’t agree more, sis.

“All it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.”

– So true!

“I bought you some chocolate bars. I’ve heard hospital food is pretty bad.” Neville certainly knew the way to a girls heart.

What could have been better:

1. I didn’t like any of the side characters really, they all fell a bit flat. I’m not sure if it’s because I was on the hunt for the murderer so I trusted none of them, or if they really were very dull, but I couldn’t really get to a good place with any of them. The good news is, we will probably not have to deal with them going forward!

2. I didn’t love all the love interests floating around and Ada going heels-to-Jesus with, in my opinion, the wrong guy. He totally had a creepy Jeff Goldblum feel to him (which I will never forgive as I love Jeff Goldblum) and I hated it.

Special thank you to NetGalley, Cranthorpe Millner Publishers, and Karen Hamilton-Viall for the opportunity to read this book for free. I am voluntarily leaving my honest review.

Follow along with Karen through her next adventures with Ada:

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Bad Girl Reputation by Elle Kennedy

Genre: NA Contemporary Romance

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

My Rating: 4 bad boys > good boys stars (I don’t make the rules!)

Quote that sums up the book:“What happens when the party girl and the bad boy grow up?”

NetGalley Blurb:
When former bad girl Genevieve West returns home for her mother’s funeral, she’s prepared to keep her distance from her ex-boyfriend, Evan Hartley. Their history is rife with turbulence. And passion. A heck of a lot of passion…which she’s trying desperately to forget.

But it’s impossible not to run into Evan in the small coastal town where they once ran wild. And the moment she sees her gorgeous ex again, it’s clear to Gen that Evan is still as unruly, sexy, and irresistible as ever. This time around, however, she’s resolved to walk a new path. No more partying. No more foolish mistakes. Her plan is to temporarily remain in town to help her father run his business, but the second he finds somebody else, she’s out of there.

Evan has other ideas. He knows they can be good together, but he just has to convince Genevieve of that, even if it means turning over a new leaf himself. But can a bad reputation ever truly be shed? Do second chances really work? Genevieve and Evan are about to find out.

Oooook, I was a bad girl…I requested this ARC thinking it would take months to be accepted (also thinking I didn’t have a shot in hell of being accepted) and then I sat on it for almost a month. Why, you may ask? Well, I just wasn’t ready to have my heart fully ripped out (not in the good way) by Elle Kennedy after the taste “Good Girl Complex” left in my mouth.

If you read my review of “Good Girl Complex” in March, you know that I was not a huge fan of it, and I am a huge Elle Kennedy fan. I was super disappointed and almost DNF’d…it was bad. I gave it a 3 and honestly kicked my own ass for that for a good month. It was not a 3. It will never be a 3. I hated everyone but Evan, and I really hated the MMCs.

What I liked about the book:
1. I legitimately liked the main characters in this one. Gen was on a self-reflective, transformative path the whole book, and I love watching characters go through transformations.

I loved that this book made it very clear that Gen was changing for herself and not for Evan or anyone else. She changed for her own well-being which is

I also loved that Evan supported her growth through her transition and definitely helped her to keep perspective on what things made her her versus what things made her destructive to herself. I loved that she didn’t lose her feist or her spirit, she really just grew up.

Speaking of transformations, Evan had one too! He was already the bad boy, ooey gooey goodness that I love, but then he totally put some of his more destructive habits behind him for the sake of winning his childhood sweetheart back and getting out of his bad boy funk. He was able to enrich the lives of the elderly, the youth, and his own family by the steps he made to put his own destructive habits behind him. I also appreciated how he realized drinking was a problem for him, but he also didn’t want to just quit entirely. He wanted to be able to do things in moderation rather than go all out, i.e. have a beer at poker night instead of going on a bender. For someone like myself, that seems like a much more sustainable long-term solution than going completely straight-edge. To each their own, but I liked this approach especially compared to Gen’s straight-edge approach.

2. To me, childhood sweethearts is one of the best tropes out there, and this one was done right. I really felt the connection they had having grown up together and having seen each other through a bunch of shit. This solidified my rooting for them from the beginning. There came a point in the book where I was worried we weren’t going to get the HEA, and I was ready to judge this book hardcore with a 2-star rating. FORTUNATELY, we got our HEA!

3. I had already fallen for Evan in Good Girl Complex, but this line had me sliding all the way home for this man:

“I do,” he says. “Want a big family, I mean. I’d even be the stay-at-home dad. Do all the diapers and make lunches and all that.”

As a financially independent, mom of one with a crazy-ass work schedule, the fastest way to my heart is saying you’re not only willing, but are comfortable enough in your masculinity, to be a stay-at-home dad. Add in a guy with the moves of a playboy and the trademark Hartley smirk, and I’ll be your sugar mama any day of the week.

What didn’t do it for me:
1. While book 1 of the Avalon Bay series had really mixed messages about cheating, this book had the terrible plot of using a nice guy for your own selfish needs. Gen knew she didn’t really like Harrison, and she had no sexual attraction to him, yet she kept stringing him along. This was especially bad when she was basically jumping out of bed with Evan every night to get into Harrison’s car the next morning. Harrison deserved better.

2. I’m honestly scratching my head a bit thinking about if there is going to be another book in the series. Seems like there may be something in the works for Alana + Wyatt + Tate. However, I don’t like these characters enough to deal with their drama. I may read a Heidi + Jay book, just because that’s opposites attract for sure and that could be fun!

Special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for my honest feedback.

Until There Was You by G. Colgrove

Genre: New Adult, Romance

Publication Date: February 15, 2022

Rating: 4 stars!

Goodreads Blurb:
Fairytales have led us to believe that somewhere out there is a prince charming waiting to sweep us off our feet. A strong and handsome man who swoops in and is ready, willing, and able to save you from whatever it is you need to be rescued from. It’ll be love at first sight, and together the two of you will live happily ever after. What a crock!

Regan Doyle, who stopped believing in fairytales a long time ago, has only ever had one real goal in life: Get the hell out of South Boston. After graduating high school, she is more focused than ever, and nothing will get in her way, until him.

Jeremy Stone is focused on his own goals: Proving to his father that he’s ready to take over the family business. Then he meets Regan. She is just the distraction he doesn’t need.

Will Regan and Jeremy get their happily ever after, or will fate step in and destroy what little bit of happiness they’ve built?

What I liked about the book:
1. I am always super skeptical when the main characters get together really soon in a story. It makes me feel like, “Ok, now what?”. HOWEVER, this story was done right! We see how quickly Regan and Jeremy fall for one another and then we get to see the ups and downs of a real relationship. Yeah, there are things called work and family that cause us to not be around each other 24 hours a day in a little bubble of happiness. Yes, sometimes our significant others develop drinking problems or other coping mechanisms. But it’s how we work through that after the meet cutes and “Happily Ever Afters” that makes or breaks a couple. Loved watching them through it all!

2. I loved how the dynamic between them never felt like there was an age gap. Regan never really felt 19 to me, which makes sense given everything in life she’s been through. And I loved that Jeremy never used her age against her. As a woman with quite a few age gap relationships in her past, where I was at times the more mature one in the relationship, I loved this!

3. For getting this book from my friends at Smuthood Reviews, I was not disappointed. Jeremy is so bossy…and I loved every minute of it.

4. There were a lot of lines where I deeply connected with Regan, and then there were some that were just plain fun:

“The idea that a person will continue to carry everything good and bad that they did from life to life made me come to a realization. First, karma must not have an expiration date. And second, I must have been pretty fucked up in the past to deserve the cards life had dealt me this time.”– As a firm believer in karma, I’ve definitely uttered this word for word before.

“Taking the book out of my pocket, I open it and see red. A five-dollar tip for an almost ninety-dollar bill. Even ten percent would’ve been nine dollars. ‘Cheap assholes’”– I did not laugh at all your terrible jokes for the last hour to make less than it cost me to park tonight…for real people, tip your servers!!!

“I have to remind myself that he isn’t the prince I dreamed of as a little girl. This is reality and I’m responsible for protecting and saving myself.”

“He can play dress-up with you all he wants as long as I’m the one who gets to fuck it up after.” – Umm, yes please! What’s that quote? “Find a man who ruins your lipstick not your mascara.”

“My mouth might be able to downplay my feelings for him- but my vajayjay…she’s a traitorous bitch.”– I mean…who hasn’t been there?? Trust me, if I could control the part of me that can’t say no to the jock/bro-type…

5. I really love sappy epilogues years in the future, and G. Colgrove did a great job with this.

What didn’t do it for me:
1. While the male cover model looks like Chris Evans (which is a definite plus for me!), the female cover model looks like Amber Heard…and I just can’t right now.

2. I hate when one character breaks up with another “for their own good”. LET THEM DECIDE WHAT’S GOOD FOR THEM! YOU DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING!

3. I wanted to know more about Shane’s and Bri’s baby!! As a sappy mom, I need to know when babies are born and who they look like!!! You can’t dangle a baby in front of me and then never deliver!

I received a copy of this book from Smuthood Reviews and G.Colgrove in exchange for my honest review.

Nonverbal by Raina Ash

Genre: New Adult, Romance

Publication Date: April 8, 2022

Rating: 4 no-words-needed stars!

Favorite Quote: “Can we discuss this like the two rational people who we’re not?”

BookSirens Blurb:
Love is more than words. But can love be trusted?

Paige yearns for one thing and one thing only: to connect with someone fully and completely. But physical barriers make that wish seem impossible. Thanks to a shattered home life, she also doesn’t know how to trust. Especially those she loves.

When Paige moves in with her best friend desperate for a new life, she isn’t expecting a spark with her friend’s brother, Brody. He’s gigantic and protective and makes her feel something she hasn’t felt in a very long time: safe. Can she trust him to stay when he learns her secrets?

Brody is trying to keep his relationship with Paige platonic, but he can’t get the troubled woman out of his mind. There’s just something about her. Maybe it’s her sense of humor. Maybe it’s her fierce determination. Or maybe it’s the way she makes him question his entire stance on relationships. But his sister, Amber, warns him to stay away, and he needs to listen. For everyone’s sake.

As Paige struggles to navigate her tumultuous emotions, words fail her. How can she understand her heart when her past left her damaged?

And what if revealing the truth means losing Brody forever?

An intense, beautiful, and inspiring new adult romance about learning to trust love and breaking free of the past—perfect for fans of Colleen Hoover, Talia Hibbert, and Helen Hoang.

Nonverbal is the first book in the Love Beyond Words series. If you enjoy strong, protective heroes, bubbly and compassionate neurodiverse heroines, and friends who are ride or die, you’ll fall in love with Brody, Paige, and Amber.

This is an Own Voices book and contains graphic scenes and sensitive subject matter.

What I liked about the book:
1. I absolutely loved that Paige was nonverbal autistic. I loved even more that the author showed how freaking smart, resourceful, and empathetic she was, as these are traits frequently thought of as not being associated with autistic individuals.

2. I loved that there is not a single character in this book who is not dealing with something. This book is chalked full of super rich and emotionally complex characters who you just want to hug one right after the other.

Amber has legit demons that she chases with any relief she can get, Brody has straight up trust issues, and Paige has essentially been brainwashed her whole life as to what love and a relationship are. I am honestly so happy these three found each other. This is the found family stuff I love!

3. I’m totally calling the next book is Miguel and Amber! Love spin off potential and they have to be end game right??? I mean, he’s a total love addict while she is addicted to literally everything else, and he paid for her rehab as a “favor” to his best friend / her brother…If that doesn’t say soul mates in a romance series, I don’t know what does!

4. I love watching a “player” fall to his knees in love, especially for the “nerd girl”. It’s such a fun trope and I can’t help but love it every damn time.

What didn’t do it for me:
1. I did not love the commentary from her stepdad. It felt pretty out of place at points and unrealistic. Whatever, we’re not supposed to like him anyways, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

2. As an extremely sex-positive person (I mean, you’ve read my blog right??), I was a little wide-eyed over how much of the book was about sex and chasing the elusive big “O”. I appreciated the way the book handled porn and her watching it, but I could have dealt with a little less of her mind focusing on nothing but sex. It took away a bit of the romantic tone I was looking for at the beginning.

I received a copy of this ARC from BookSirens and the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Check it out if you like strong MCs, guys that fall first, and found family!