Review: Malice by Heather Walter

MaliceMalice by Heather Walter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once upon a time, an evil fairy cursed a line of Princesses to die. The only way to break the curse, true love’s kiss.

You may be thinking you’ve heard this story before, right?

I’d say, not quite like this. in Malice, Heather Walter has put her own darkly creative spin on the beloved tale, Sleeping Beauty.

Alyce is a Dark Grace, living in a house of Beauty Graces since she was just a young girl.

While the wealthy of Briar set appointments with the other Graces to enhance their beauty, they go to Alyce for more sinister potions and tinctures.

Alyce has never fit in with the other girls and is frequently harassed by them; particularly by the beautiful and talented, Rose.

As deplorable as their treatment of her is, Alyce grows used to it. She even comes to accept it, in a way.

That’s why when she crosses paths with the last Princess, Aurora, and Aurora shows her kindness, Alyce isn’t quite sure how to react. Why would the Princess want to be friends with her? It doesn’t make any sense.

In the midst of all of this, Alyce actually stumbles upon, and befriends someone else. Kal, a man magically imprisoned in a tower, who promises to teach her how to harness her powers.

Through her meetings with him, Alyce begins to learn more about her history, potential and the world outside of Briar.

The world Walter created within this story was absolutely immersive. I loved the magic system. Learning about the Graces and their powers, but also the interactions with Fae and the history of Briar.

It’s richly detailed, but in a way that stays engaging. Alyce was a fantastically created character. I felt her every emotion; also extra points for including her kestrel, Callow. Three cheers for animal companions.

I also thought the relationship between Alyce and Aurora was well done. It felt natural. The stakes were really high and it definitely pushed the drama of the story.

I did feel like the end dragged on a bit, but overall, I was so impressed with this. I would definitely recommend Malice for Readers who enjoy the darker side of fairy tales.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Del Rey, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to reading more from Heather Walter!

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Review: 10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston

10 Truths and a Dare10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With 10 Truths and a Dare, Ashely Elston returns the Reader to the loving, yet chaotic, Messina family. You may recall them from Elston’s 2019-release, 10 Blind Dates.

In this installment, we follow Olivia, one of the cousins, at the very end of her Senior year in high school. In fact, there is just a week to go until graduation.

Olivia has always taken school very seriously, so it is no surprise to anyone that she will be graduating second in her class.

As Salutatorian, she will be giving the welcome speech at the graduation ceremony. It’s kind of a big deal.

What does come as a surprise to Olivia, is the email she receives from the school, saying her off-campus PE teacher never filled out the paperwork needed to show she completed her golf class.

Meaning, without that course officially completed, she is a half-credit short of the credits she will need to graduate!

Olivia cannot believe it. There has to be a mistake. Everything she has worked so hard for can all be taken away from her because of golf!?

She needs to get in touch with her PE teacher, Coach Cantu, in order to clear this up. Otherwise, she will never be able to enjoy all the graduation parties she has to attend this week.

After talking with the coach, it’s clear, she needs extra credit and the only way to get it, is by helping him with the 4-day golf tournament occurring that week.

Olivia needs to hide all of this from her parents, who are luckily out of town, but her Mom tracks her like a police dog. She literally has a tracking app on her phone.

Making matters worse, her Mom knows her graduation party schedule and is really excited for it. How can Olivia possibly be in two places at once?

She’s going to have to call in reinforcements. The other members of the Fab Four, her cousins, Charlie and Sophie, as well as their other best friend, Sophie’s boyfriend, Wes, agree to help and get Olivia through the week.

As with 10 Blind Dates, this story is full of wacky hijinks, romance, humor and touching family moments.

I laughed, cried and felt a whole host of emotions in between. I adored the dynamic of the Fab Four. They really go all in to help Olivia through, what turns out to be, the most difficult week of her life.

The narrative is so fast-paced. I completed it in under 24-hours. Once I started, I could not put it down. I had to know the conclusion.

While this story focused more on the Fab Four, and less on the extended family members, I didn’t mind that at all. The other family was still there around the periphery, bringing that classic Messina family chaos that I grew to love in the first book.

I hope Elston writes more books following this family. Could there be a book for Charlie in the works?

I highly recommend this, or any other book by Ashley Elston, actually. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next. Also, be sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of this.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I appreciate the opportunity to provide my thoughts and opinion.

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Review: The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

The Ex TalkThe Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her local public radio station since she graduated from college nearly a decade ago. She enjoys her job and can’t imagine ever working anywhere else.

Dominic Yun is Shay’s newest coworker. He’s fresh out of a Masters Degree program in Journalism at a top school and boy, does he love to tell you about it.

He’s the current hot-shot at the station that all the higher-ups seem to love, but frankly, his very presence drives Shay a little batty.

Sure, he’s good-looking, tall and smells nice, but why does he have to be so darn condescending?

Pitching ideas to try to boost the ratings of their slightly floundering station, Shay presents an idea for a relationship chat show.

The concept is that exs would cohost and explore what went wrong in their relationship, tying in other popular dating topics at the same time. To Shay’s surprise, her boss okays the project with enthusiasm.

The only catch is, he expects Shay and Dominic to co-host. It’s true they’ve never dated, but there is certainly enough animosity flowing between them to convince people that they have.

Neither of them feels good about having to deceive their audience, but they also feel like they don’t have much choice. Ultimately, both Shay and Dominic begrudgingly accept the assignment.

They first need to make up an entire story behind their 3-month dating life, memorize it and stick to it. With that comes the opportunity to get to know each other better.

It’s no secret that I am a fan of Rachel Lynn Solomon’s work.

If I am not mistaken, this book is her debut in the Adult Romance space. I really enjoyed my time with these characters, although I will say they did both seem extremely young.

At times, I could have easily been convinced they were in high school interning at a radio station; except then I would be reminded of the fact they both had completed college and had their own apartments. Then, of course, there’s the steamy bits.

Those were well done. No further clarification required.

It’s true, I enjoyed this so, so much. I loved Shay. I loved Dominic. I loved Shay’s adopted dog. There’s miscommunication, flirting, workplace debacles and soft, romantic moments. It’s just a lot of fun.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

This story gave me all the feels and I look forward to picking up Solomon’s upcoming YA-release, We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This.

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Review: Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan Is Killing ItFinlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It is a hilarious, modern-day Cozy Mystery, that will leave you simultaneously at the edge-of-your-seat and clutching your sides with laughter.

As a start to a series, this story succeeded in making me fall in love with these characters. I cannot wait for more!

Finlay Donovan is a struggling novelist. She is also currently single-moming two small children, as her jerk ex-husband left her for the hot, blonde, real estate agent he had been having an affair with.

Making matters worse, on the morning of a very important meeting with her agent, to discuss her barely existent new novel, Finlay discovers her ex-hubby has also fired their nanny. Without giving her any advanced notice!

Not a great start to the day. As single-moms are known to do, however, Finlay figures it out, all whilst barely holding herself together on the inside.

She makes her meeting with her agent, at a Panera, of all places, and they have a great, albeit slightly stressful discussion about Finlay’s career.

Unbeknownst to Finlay, another patron was listening in on the conversation.

Not understanding they were discussing the plot of Finlay’s floundering novel, this woman now mistakenly believes Finlay to be a successful contract killer.

She then proceeds to try to hire Finlay to kill her husband. He’s a scoundrel, she says; he won’t be missed and she is willing to pay a hefty sum. While Finlay is intrigued, she obviously sees the problems with this plan.

However, somehow, as turns out to be common in Finlay’s life, she ends up in over her head. Before she knows it, she is embroiled in the dark underbelly of her community, where murder abounds.

This novel is fun from the first chapter. You are immediately thrown into the chaos of Finlay’s life and into her hilarious inner musings.

Not long after the Panera incident, Finlay is able to rekindle her relationship with their fabulous nanny, Vero and the two become, quite literally, partners in crime.

The relationship between Finlay and Vero gave me life. They played off each others personalities so well. I loved how they worked together and became like family.

There were great side characters, red herrings, action and drama. It is just pure fun to read; light, funny and full of over-the-top hijinks.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Minotaur Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I really appreciate it!

I cannot wait to see what Finlay and Vero get up to next!

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Review: Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations #1) by B.B. Alston

Amari and the Night BrothersAmari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, yes, yes!!! Middle Grade Fantasy at its best!!!

I love Amari. I love the world. I love the magic system and humbly request at least ten volumes for this series.

Is that too much to ask? I think if you pick it up, you’d agree.

13-year old, Amari Peters, lives with her Mom in the Rosewood housing project. She had an older brother, Quinton, who was smart, fun and brave. He meant a lot to Amari. He was her best friend.

Quinton has gone missing and Amari doesn’t understand why it isn’t a bigger deal. Why isn’t it on the news? Why do the police act like if something happened to him, it was probably because he was up to no good?

Amari knows better. She doesn’t care what they insinuate about him, Quinton is the best person she knows and she is going to find out what happened to him, whether others believe her, or not.

Upon arriving home after an especially trying day, Amari is surprised by a visitor who gives her a clue that may help; the answer to which lies in a briefcase hidden in her missing brother’s closet.

She can’t believe what she finds. The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs? Is this for real?

Quinton has nominated her for a try-out? The prospect is sort of scary, but Amari knows this may be her best, perhaps only chance, of getting to the bottom of her brother’s disappearance. She’s got to go.

Thus begins Amari’s introduction to the hidden supernatural world around her. She also discovers the power within herself.

Under the guise of attending a ‘leadership camp’, Amari is able to stay at the Vanderbilt Hotel with the other Bureau trainees. There she is fully immersed in learning, training and competing. Did you hear that? Learning, training and competing.

It’s a MAGIC SCHOOL trope! I know, it’s called ‘camp’, but it’s a magic school, only one of the best tropes ever created.

The Reader learns along with Amari the ins-and-outs of the world and magic system. The good guys, the bad guys, the history. It’s all beautifully constructed and paced out.

I was totally engrossed in this while reading it. As first books in a series go, this is top notch. It definitely left me wanting more and I can’t wait to see how Amari grows in future books.

If you are looking for that good old-fashioned, kid discovering they are actually part of a magical world, then learns about it, competes within it, and fights evil forces, kind of book, you NEED to pick this up. There’s not even an option.

You can thank me later.

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Review: Go the Distance (A Twisted Tale) by Jen Calonita

Go the Distance (A Twisted Tale: Hercules)Go the Distance by Jen Calonita
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5-stars rounded up**

Picking up directly after the events of the Disney animated movie, Go the Distance follows Megara as she fights for her right to be with Hercules.

After Herc regains his godship, the couple are ready to celebrate. As Hercules is called by his parents to return to Mount Olympus, however, they run into a problem. Zeus quickly points out that Meg cannot go, as she is a mere mortal.

Meg can’t believe it. After everything they have been through, is this how it is going to end?

Hercules is shocked as well and advocates to stay with Meg. He’d rather be with her than have a life of immortality alone.

His parents aren’t going to stand for that though; no way. Hera, seeing how happy Meg makes her son, offers Meg a deal; a way for her to earn her way into a spot on Mount Olympus.

All she has to do is complete a mysterious quest in 10-days. Unfortunately, the quest involves saving her ex-boyfriend’s, new wife’s soul from the Underworld.

Obviously, Meg has some mixed feelings on this, but she agrees nonetheless. We’re talking about eternity with the man she loves here.

Joining her for support is Philoctetes, better known as Phil. The coach to the Gods. If anyone can help Meg work through her quest, it is him. And let’s not forget Pegasus!! He’s along as well, to give Meg a helping hoof.

Meg needs to put her hurt emotions aside, as well as face her nemesis, Hades, again. She escaped his clutches once, could she be so lucky as to do it again?

I really had a fun time reading this story. I love Megara. She’s one of my favorite characters within the Disney universe. She’s smart, she’s snarky and she’s not constantly looking for someone to save her.

I enjoyed the backstory Calonita created for her. The loss of her mother, their relationship, her previous relationship with her ex-boyfriend and even Hades manipulation of her.

I thought the quest was fun. Having Phil and Pegasus along definitely made it more humorous. I loved watching both of them come to accept Meg for who she is.

Overall, I think this is a fun addition to this series. If you are a Megara fan, as I am, you should definitely give this one a shot!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I always look forward to the new releases in the Twisted Tales series!!!

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Review: Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson

Hello, Cruel WorldHello, Cruel World by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Hello, Cruel Heart is an origin story of sorts for one of my favorite villains ever, Cruella de Vil.

The timing for this release is perfect for Cruella fans, as we also have a live action Cruella film releasing at the end of May, starring Emma Stone.

We all know, I just love when a villain gets her time to shine.

In this story, set in 1967-London, we follow a 16-year old, Estella, Cruella’s true name, as she branches out for the first time and tries to find her place in the world.

Orphaned at a young age, Cruella moved herself, and her sweet dog, Buddy, to London, knowing not a soul in the world.

It’s on that first day in the city that she meets Jasper and Horace. The three kids immediately bond while fleeing from the local police.

They’re inseparable from that point forward, doing whatever they need to do to survive. They become family and rely on one another for everything.

In her quiet moments, Estella dreams of becoming a famous fashion designer. She spends a lot of her time sewing and creating. She’s really good at it. She has an eye.

It is partly due to this special talent that she drifts onto the radar of wealthy twins, Magda and Richard, who sweep her into their world as a sort of pet project.

They’re posh, sophisticated and live a carefree lifestyle that Estella can’t even imagine.

She’s blinded by the money and social circle, thinking she can use their friendship as a jumping off point for getting her name, and fashion designs, out in the world.

Before she knows it, it’s all happening. Everything she ever dreamed of. She’s dating a rock star, for goodness sake!

She’s also keeping her alter-ego, Cruella, quietly subdued in the background of her mind.

Everything is going great, until it isn’t.

I had fun with this story. It reads incredibly fast. I read it in about 4-hours. I enjoyed learning about Cruella’s early life and gaining some insight into her motivations as a character. I see you, Cruella. I get it.

Although the story was quick, it did transport me. I was fully engulfed in the world while I was reading it.

With this being said, I did expect a bit more substance. I would have been here for even more detail and background. Especially coming from Maureen Johnson.

If you are a Cruella fan, a villain origin story fan, or even just a Disney fan, I would recommend checking this one out.

It is definitely a great way to get you in the mood for the upcoming movie. I know I will definitely be watching it.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate it very much!

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Review: Make Up Break Up by Lily Menon

Make Up Break UpMake Up Break Up by Lily Menon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Make Up Break Up is Sandhya Menon’s Adult Romance debut; here writing as Lily Menon.

Most people know Sandhya Menon from her cutesy YA Contemporary novels, When Dimple Met Rishi, From Twinkle, with Love and There’s Something About Sweetie.

In this novel, we follow Annika Dev, the creator of a relationship app, Make Up. Even though the app is floundering a bit at the moment, Annika believes she can make her ‘Google translate for failing relationships’ work.

When a rival app, Break Up, created by the admittedly charming, Hudson Craft, moves into the office space next to Make Up, Annika is rattled.

Since their short fling in Las Vegas the previous year, Annika has watched Hudson’s star rise using an idea she feels he stole from her.

He took her Make Up, flipped it on its head, and Break Up was born. Most infuriating of all, he seems to be having an easier time getting his app off the ground than she is.

Now that their offices are next door to one another, they bump into each other all the time. He clearly isn’t as offended by her presence, however, as she is by his.

In fact, he seems to be trying to charm her. Either that, or get under her skin. He’s devious, it’s tough to figure out his intentions, but Annika’s head is swimming because of it.

Making matters worse, the two companies are set to compete against one another at the prestigious EPIC investment pitch contest. Make Up needs to win in order to continue. Annika must put her head down and focus, but Hudson is making that really difficult.

I like stories set in the tech world, so this definitely checked that box. Plus, having women in tech is always nice to see.

The flow of the narrative was smooth and it did have some solid, dramatic moments, as well as some light humor.

With this being said, I was never sold on the romance. Annika and Hudson, I just didn’t buy it. I knew I was supposed to be rooting for them to get together, but I wasn’t. I didn’t feel anything for either of them.

I’m sort of ambivalent about the whole thing. It didn’t really impact me one way, or another.

It also seemed to end rather abruptly, after a long-slow build-up. We finally begin to get some resolution and the credits start to roll. That’s it.

Overall, I think this is a good story, it just wasn’t one that I personally connected with. I am sure a lot of people will, however, and I hope Menon continues expanding into this space.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Griffin, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate it.

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Review: The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

The Nature of Fragile ThingsThe Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

When Sophie Whalen, an Irish immigrant, comes across an ad in a NYC-newspaper of a rich widower in search of a new wife and mother for his young daughter, she doesn’t think twice about it.

She responds and puts herself forth for the position. She’s got nothing to lose.

The widower, Martin Hocking, lives in San Francisco and Sophie wants nothing more than to escape from New York.

After she arrived from Ireland, her circumstances didn’t end up as she expected. She’s been living in an overcrowded, unsanitary tenement building, barely making ends meet.

Upon arrival in San Francisco, Sophie marries Mr. Martin Hocking that very day at the city Courthouse. He then takes her home and introduces her to his 5-year old daughter, Kat.

Kat is a beautiful girl, bright, though quite serious. The young girl has been silent since the loss of her mother.

Sophie is taken with the child from the very start. She can tell sweet Kat is hurting and she vows to do whatever she can to make the child feel safe and loved.

For his part, Martin is very handsome, as well as a good provider, but he is rarely around, traveling frequently for work. Even when he is home, he isn’t affectionate with Sophie, or Kat.

It is on one of these occasions while he is away, that a stranger comes knocking on Sophie’s door and changes everything.

Shocking revelations regarding Martin are revealed immediately prior to the entire city erupting in chaos. The year is 1906, and one of the most powerful earthquakes in history has just hit San Francisco.

While the drama of this novel revolves around an earthquake, it felt like a roller coaster!

The highs, lows, drops and turns that Sophie goes through were intense and emotional. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.

Meissner has such a gift with storytelling. I am always transported while reading her novels and it is hard not to become attached to her characters.

I do not read a lot of Historical Fiction, but I will continue to pick up anything Susan Meissner writes. I loved how she added a real mysterious tone to this novel. It’s intriguing from start to finish; there was never a lull in the pace.

This one didn’t bring me to tears as some of her other novels have, but it was definitely impactful nonetheless. Sophie’s story is one I will remember for a long time to come.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I really appreciate it and look forward to Meissner’s next release!

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Review: Later by Stephen King

LaterLater by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stephen King’s writing is like coming home for me. I absolutely adored Jamie Conklin’s story.

Later is a coming of age tale with a supernatural twist, following a boy, Jamie, and his struggling single mother, Tia.

Jamie first discovered his ability when he was really young. He can see things others can’t and sometimes it can be really scary.

But it is an unchangeable part of himself and he learns the rules of it, as well as how best to live with it.

His mother knows what he can do, but she doesn’t like to talk about it. It scares her too and she urges Jamie to keep it a secret from everybody.

However, when she is backed against a wall, Tia asks Jamie to use his ability to help her. This event exposes Jamie’s gift to Tia’s police officer girlfriend, Liz.

After their relationship sours and the women call it quits, Liz continues to circle Jamie like a shark. She knows what he can do and eventually plans to use him for her own gain; legalities be damned!

Since this is Stephen King, it does go a lot darker than I am making out here, but it’s a short story; one best discovered for yourself.

I loved Jamie so much. The narrative is like you are sitting down with him, having a cup of coffee, or a whiskey, and he is telling you his story. It’s natural, heart-warming, occasionally frightening, funny and whip-smart.

I also really appreciated the depth of Jamie’s relationship with his mother. It was beautifully explored in my opinion. King excels at complicated familial relationships and this is no exception.

He also is a master at writing from the perspective of children and young adults. Great character work overall, but I always love his kid characters.

I absolutely recommend this to anyone who loves a Horror-based coming of age story.

Chef’s kiss for days!!!

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