Review: Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella Is DeadCinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cinderella Is Dead is set in a stark-Fantasy world, 200-years after the legendary Cinderella’s happily ever after with Prince Charming.

We follow 16-year old, Sophia, who on the eve of her first Ball, can think only of how she wants to be with her girlfriend, Erin, forever after, not with some man, or boy, she doesn’t even know.

Even though it’s risky, Sophia pleads with Erin to run away with her. Erin refuses. In their society it is treacherous to be different; to want something different for their lives. Erin is scared to be caught, to put herself and her family at risk.

Within the kingdom, all young ladies of a certain age are required to attend the King’s Annual Ball, where they are paraded around in the hopes of being selected to be a man’s wife. They are given a limited number of chances. If not selected, it’s sort of unclear what becomes of them, but many forfeited girls are never heard from again.

The girls are chosen for completely superficial reasons, so it’s important to look your best; to be seen, but not heard.

On the night of their Ball, one of Sophia and Erin’s friends isn’t as prepared as she should be. The King reacts harshly and the poor girl’s fate is sealed.

After witnessing the King’s cruelty, and the citizens impotence in the face of such evil, Sophia can’t stand it anymore. She makes up her mind that she needs to get away. Feeling she has no other option, refusing to bow to these ridiculous traditions, Sophia runs.

Now a wanted criminal, on her own for the first time, outside the grip of the kingdom, Sophia begins to learn more about the kingdom’s history and finds that the lore the society is based upon is nothing but a bag of lies.

Together with her new friend, Constance, Sophia vows to return to the kingdom and dismantle the hurtful, unfair and savage system. It may not be easy though, as the King’s power stems for a formidable and unusual place.

While this started strong for me, with an intriguing premise and set-up, the further I got into the story, the more it lost my interest.

By the end, I was ready to move on. I still think this is a solid idea and build-up, however the final execution just didn’t match my tastes.

As the story opens, I was intrigued by the system and I still find that interesting. I also like how Bayron framed the society around the legend of Cinderella. It was a clever plot device for setting the stage for some serious examination of a patriarchal society.

I also really enjoyed and appreciated how well the dystopian tone blended with the fantastical backdrop. That was nicely done.

I think where this started to lose me was the melodramatic interactions between Sophia and Constance. I didn’t like Constance at all. I was disturbed at how quickly Sophia shoved aside her once-proclaimed super powerful feelings for Erin the second she met Constance.

That didn’t feel genuine. It kind of turned me off to both characters. I also didn’t vibe with how quickly and easily the girls seemed to be able to overpower, or influence, others. This was especially evident in the final scenes, although I don’t want to say too much here because, spoilers.

Overall, I think this was creative and had a very solid set-up. The ideas explored were interesting and I loved the use of the actual fairy tale to set up the basis for the functioning of this system.

Even though the execution of this didn’t quite blow me away, I am still definitely looking forward to reading more from this author!!

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Review: Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen

Lavender HouseLavender House by Lev AC Rosen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in 1952-San Francisco, Lavender House follows disgraced former-police officer, Evander ‘Andy’ Mills. Andy was recently fired from the SFPD after being caught in a compromising position during a raid on a gay bar.

Without steady work and shamed by former acquaintances, Andy is floundering, so when he is approached by an older woman named Pearl with a proposition, he readily accepts.

Pearl needs an experienced investigator to look into the death of her wife, soap magnate, Irene Lamontaine. Even though Irene’s death appears to be an accident, Pearl has her doubts. She needs the truth.

Thus, she invites Andy to their estate, Lavender House, to look into the incident. It seems like a simple, yet interesting assignment, and may be exactly what Andy needs to get his life back on track.

Arriving at Lavender House, Andy discovers something he has never experienced before. A safe haven filled with a found-family of Queer people.

Andy is astounded by how comfortable everyone is with just being themselves. There is no need to hide, no risk of hateful repercussions. How could any violence come to this place?

Before long, as Andy gets to know the individuals living within the gated estate, he begins to think that maybe Pearl is onto something after all. Perhaps Irene did fall at the hands of another, but was it a stranger, or someone the women consider family?

Lavender House was such a delightful change of pace for me. I’m not quite sure I have ever read a Queer Historical Murder Mystery before, but I sure would like more!!

I absolutely adored the setting and tone of this novel. Rosen brought a real film noir quality to it, which fit so perfectly with a 1950s-detective story, enhanced even more by the wonderful narration from Vikas Adam.

The themes and topics explored within were handled so tactfully and blended perfectly with the overall mystery. I liked how neither aspect was heavy-handed; they each contributed evenly to the overall course of the story.

I enjoyed all of the characters and loved the idea of this safe space set amidst a very unsafe world.

My one slight critique would be that the mystery felt almost too simple. The linear narrative and minimalist investigation left me wanting more. I do understand that there is something to be said for sticking to the basics and nailing what you do. I do get that.

I just feel like Rosen definitely has the talent to push this even further.

It sort of felt like driving a performance car on the highway. It’s comfortable and enjoyable, but you definitely miss the exciting twists and turns of a back-country road.

I just wish this could have been built out a little more. However, with this being said, can we talk about this ending!? This has to be the start of a series, right?

I mean, there could not have been a more perfect set-up for the continuation of this story. I really hope it happens, because I feel like there is a big need in the market for this type of story.

I would absolutely, 100%, no doubt in my mind, pick up the next book if there ever is one. I feel like I have so much to learn about Andy and I would love to tag along with him as he solves more mysteries!!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Forge Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. I will be keeping my fingers crossed that I get to see more of Andy Mills!

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Review: Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner

Mistakes Were MadeMistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Following her divorce, Erin Bennett feels like she and her ex-husband are in a competition for their daughter, Parker’s, attention. So, when Family Weekend rolls around at Parker’s college, Erin and her ex decide to split the nights.

On a night when Parker is having dinner with her Dad, Erin heads to an off-campus bar by herself. She’s looking for nothing more than a cold drink.

For Cassie Klein, Family Weekend is the perfect time to avoid campus like the plague. All those happy families, gross.

Thus, she decides to hit up an off-campus bar as a means of escape. She’s not looking for anything, but when she spots a beautiful woman sitting alone at the bar, she offers to buy her a drink.

Little did Cassie know that harmless gesture was going to lead to the most enticing one night stand of her life.

The next morning, Cassie’s friend Parker convinces her to go to breakfast with her to meet her Mom. She’s not super pumped about it, but Cassie tags along anyway.

Imagine her surprise when she walks into the restaurant and discovers Parker’s Mom is her steamy hook-up from the night before.

Erin is equally taken aback when her daughter walks in with the sexy girl from the night before. Erin had no idea Cassie was a college student, let alone a friend of her daughters.

Both women cover it up well, but their mutual attraction burns through every moment they are together. More unsettling than this though, is the fact that they can’t stop thinking about one another when they’re apart.

Cassie and Erin cannot stay apart. It’s like it’s against the laws of physics. They are drawn together like opposite poles of a magnet. Having no choice, they begin sneaking around.

It’s risky as heck, but it’s more than just great sex. Although neither wants to admit it at first, it’s complicated, they grow to really care for each other, but how the heck are they going to make this work? Is it even possible?

Meryl Wilsner’s debut novel, Something to Talk About was the first F/F romance published by Berkley. I was so stoked about it for months, but at the end, it left me underwhelmed.

I enjoyed the writing and the characters, but the pace was quite slow and it was lacking the steam I was looking for. Y’all, at 5% into Mistakes Were Made we had steam; a lot of it.

The pace of this one was night and day compared to that first book. I feel like Wilsner listened, because man oh man, did they deliver with this story.

The characters were still fantastic, there were some serious issues being explored, but the forbidden romance trope brought the fun. There were moments that I was a little uncomfortable for Parker, but at the end of the day, they are all adults and I liked how Wilsner wrapped it up.

Overall, I found this one to be highly entertaining. A huge success of a sophomore novel. I am definitely looking forward to more from Wilsner in the future.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. This is a perfect example of why I never give up on an author after only one book.

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Review: Bright We Burn (The Conqueror’s Saga #3) by Kiersten White

Bright We Burn (The Conqueror's Saga #3)Bright We Burn by Kiersten White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bright We Burn is the third and final book in Kiersten White’s sweeping YA-series, The Conqueror’s Saga.

I bought this entire trilogy back in 2018 and she has stood quietly, yet beautifully, on my shelves, unread, for all these years. I picked up the first book on a whim, And I Darken, last month when I started my TBR-Haul Project.

The goal of this self-created project is simply to get me to read some of the backlist titles that I own. And I Darken was the first book of the project and I’m so glad it was.

I had such a successful reading experience with that book and consequently binged the rest of the series.

I found the world White created over the course of this series completely immersive. I was transported to the Ottoman Empire era and I found it to be such a refreshing, captivating, mysterious, yet brutal, setting.

The characters, particularly our main characters Lada, Radu and Mehmed, were each so fleshed out and distinct. Over the course of the series I became so attached to them and invested in their lives. I was like a helicopter mom circling them; especially Lada.

Lada was my favorite character. I loved her strength and determination. I felt like White wrote her really well. It was easy to understand her motivations and as hard as she was, you could tell that it was because she was essentially traumatized from her childhood.

She pushed everyone away, only keeping her country in her heart, that way no one could break it. I felt for her. Additionally, she’s a complete and total badass.

After returning to her home country, Lada uses a thousand stakes to send a message to her rivals. This one would never go down without a fight.

Radu grew so much in this one as well. It took a lot to get him to this place, but I think he finally is able to gain some sort of peace, or at least understanding, in his life that was satisfying to see.

He was a sweet baby bird that I want to protect throughout this beginning of this series. In this book, it didn’t feel as much like that. He really came into his own and although not a perfect situation, we love to see the growth.

Overall, White sent me on a tremendous journey with these characters. I seriously haven’t been this emotional at the close of a series in a long, long time. We’re talking actually tears, folks.

Kiersten White has destroyed me. I may never fully recover.

I’ve now read 9-books from this author and I’ll tell you, she’s a heavy hitter in my book.

I will continue to pick up anything she writes and I recommend you do too!

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Review: I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston

I Kissed Shara WheelerI Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

After being unexpectedly kissed by her only rival for valedictorian, Alabama High School Senior, Chloe Green’s life begins to unravel.

Shara Wheeler, the kissing bandit, then disappears, leaving nothing but a series of cryptic clues in her wake.

Chloe isn’t the only student being dragged along on this unconventional scavenger hunt. She’s also not the only person Shara Wheeler kissed.

Joining Chloe on this misadventure are Shara’s long-time boyfriend, hunky football player, Smith, as well as Shara’s bad boy neighbor, Rory, who has been crushing on the girl next door for years.

After the trio discovers the game includes them all, they put whatever petty grudges they may hold aside and begin to work together.

It’s a wild ride. Shara must have been planning this for months. It’s intricate and over-the-top.

Chloe becomes so obsessed with getting to the truth that she ends up neglecting her other relationships; her best friends that have been there for her all throughout high school. Will Chloe be able to mend those fences by graduation?

This novel is Casey McQuiston’s first foray into the YA space. Obviously, not a challenge for her; absolutely seamless. She kept her signature, lovable, heart-warming, sweet, sentimental, funny style all whilst keeping it relatable and applicable to a younger audience.

As for me, I’m all for snarky, funny, chaotic self-discovery, so I Kissed Shara Wheeler was a great fit for my tastes!!

I loved getting to know all of these characters. They were each well developed and had their own challenges that they were working through. Throughout it all, watching their interactions unfold was a lot of fun.

Chloe grows and learns so much about herself just through the process of trying to figure out Shara’s game. Chloe starts to recognize some blind spots she may have had over the course of her high school tenure.

Overall, this was a delightful read. It’s fun, smart and explores some important topics. It’s clear McQuiston delivers no matter what age group she is writing for.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me copies to read and review. I am already highly anticipating whatever McQuiston comes up with next!!

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Review: Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin

ManhuntManhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Holy Splatterpunk, this was good!!
Caution: Don’t read whilst eating…

Honestly, I don’t even know how to begin going about reviewing this book. While it technically fits into genres that I have read, it’s like nothing else.

Manhunt is like being punched in the face repeatedly and enjoying it. Maybe even asking for more…

This is like an unrated version of The Walking Dead, but with trans and other queer main characters.

Basically this story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has turned the entire male population into horrifying creatures; like walkers.

We follow two best friends, Beth and Fran, trans women, trying to survive in New England. They are manhunters. For reasons I won’t go into here, they kill the infected men and harvest certain parts of them.

Any time they are out hunting they are in terrible danger. This entire setting is incredibly risky. There are not just the infected men they have to deal with, but also bands of TERFs scouting certain areas, as well as other general apocalypse survivors.

Everything and everyone poses a risk.

Over the course of the first part of the story, Fran and Beth join up with a trans man named, Robbie, and their long-time friend, a fertility doctor named, Indi.

Basically, as you can imagine, living situations in this world are highly unstable. We follow our quad as they move from one place to another, trying to find a safe situation for themselves. It ain’t easy and a lot of blood, guts and various other bodily fluids get shed along the way.

Y’all, wow. I haven’t read something this bloody, gorey, toe-curling, gag-inducing, addicting, erotic and uncomfortable, well…ever.

I love how Felker-Martin never lets up. It’s not a super gore-filled scene followed by 50-pages of nonsense. It is balls to the wall, pardon the pun, the entire way through.

The post-apocalyptic setting was so well done. I loved the idea behind the virus, how it struck men and how society tried to rearrange itself after. That was very creative.

Additionally, the characters were well done. I wish I had gotten to know each of them a little bit more, but I understand you can only make stories so long. The important bits were all here.

Towards the end, it did get chaotic for me. The perspectives were shifting so rapidly, it was sometimes hard to follow. In particular, as the final showdown approached, a few times I lost track of whose perspective I was reading from.

Overall, this was such an addicting story. Holy smokes. I feel like I need to take a recovery day to get over it. It’s violent, erotic, thought-provoking, visceral…did I mention erotic?

Proceed with caution, but also, don’t. It’s a ride worth being a little uncomfortable for. You can eat again after it’s over.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Nightfire, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I cannot wait to see what Gretchen Felker-Martin dishes up next!!

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Review: Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

Razorblade TearsRazorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Ike Randolph’s son, Isiah, is brutally murdered, Ike isn’t just heart-broken. He’s also filled with regrets.

When Isiah came out to him, Ike handled it poorly and never ended up fully accepting Isiah’s relationship with his husband, Derek.

Derek’s father, Buddy Lee, struggled with his son’s sexuality also and knows all too well the regrets Ike is experiencing.

Although Ike and Buddy Lee have never really associated, Buddy Lee seeks Ike out after their son’s murders. He wants to get to the bottom of it and thinks that Ike will be able to help him.

Besides their son’s relationship and subsequent deaths, Ike and Buddy Lee have something else in common. They’re both ex-cons. A fact that put additional strain on their relationships with their boys.

Initially, Ike is offended that Buddy Lee has come to him in such a way. He feels like Buddy Lee wants to use him on his mission of revenge, but then something happens that Ike can’t ignore. He won’t see his son’s memory scandalized in such a way.

After that, the two men pair up and an investigation of epic proportions ensues.

Ike and Buddy Lee are like the lovable odd couple in every buddy cop movie, except that they’re ex-cons. Which personally, I just think added to their depth of character and likability.

Neither one of them is perfect. They’ve both made a lot of mistakes and done many things they aren’t proud of. They’re open about that though and I appreciated that about them.

The conversations between the two men, as they got to know one another, were quite moving to read. They had frank discussions involving race and sexuality that really packed a punch, but in a natural way. It never felt overdone, or in your face.

I feel like Cosby did an incredible job of incorporating such social commentary seamlessly into the narrative.

I grew so attached to these characters over the course of the story; not just Ike and Buddy Lee, but side characters such as Ike’s wife and a woman named, Tangerine.

As I raced towards the conclusion, I knew this one would break my heart and it did, but in a good way. That doesn’t really make sense, does it?

I think if you read this, it will become clear. At it’s heart a story of revenge, this is also a story of hope, personal growth, change and possibly even redemption.

I grew to love these two men, flawed though they were. Cosby’s writing is captivating from the very start. This was expertly-crafted for maximum impact. If you don’t have this on your TBR yet…

I had the pleasure of Buddy Reading this one with my fabulous niece, Alyssa. We had some great discussions throughout.

I would definitely recommend this one for Book Club, Buddy Reads, or even a solo venture. In summation:

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Review: If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich

If This Gets OutIf This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

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Ruben, Zach, Angel and Jon are all members of the American boy band, Saturday.

This fabulous foursome is currently riding sky-high on the wings of their world-wide popularity, but their lives are not as carefree as they first appear.

The boys are fiercely controlled by their management company, pigeon-holing them into preordained personas that they are heavily pushed not to stray from.

Particularly struggling with this is Ruben, who is gay. He has been asking management to let him come out to their fans, but he is continually told that it isn’t the right time.

Ruben feels stifled, like he is unable to be his true self in any public way. This fact is beginning to weigh heavily on him.

On a European tour, Ruben and Zach begin to grow closer as Ruben confides to Zach how he has been feeling. Zach, for his part, discovers he is having feelings for Ruben that he has never experienced before; at least not that he has admitted to himself.

As their friendship evolves into romance, they decide that they want to be able to live openly, not just with their friends and family, but with everyone; particularly with their fans.

It becomes clear this will never be acceptable to their management. What are they to do? They can’t let down their best friends, Jon and Angel, sacrifices need to be made to be in a group, but how much is too much?

I really enjoyed my time reading If This Gets Out. I became so attached to these characters. The boys were all well-fleshed out and lovable in their own unique ways.

While this story is sticky sweet, it also explores a lot of challenging topics. I thought the authors beautifully blended the light-hearted aspects with the serious. It really is a well-rounded Contemporary.

I love stories featuring music, or musicians, so I had a feeling this one would work for me, but I was truly impressed with how deeply I came to care for these guys.

I will say, it did feel a little long to me, but in the end, that is a minor complaint compared to all the goodness I received within these pages.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

I think this is a top-notch story and look forward to reading more from both of these authors. Also, if they could work together again, that would be so fantastic. Clearly, a great partnership!!!

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Review: Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

Summer SonsSummer Sons by Lee Mandelo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andrew and Eddie were best friends, closer than brothers. Their level of attachment to one another went above and beyond what you would even expect of the closest of friends.

When Eddie left Andrew behind to begin his graduate studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, it was unsurprisingly a tough transition. At least from Andrew’s perspective.

Six months later, just before Andrew was getting ready to join Eddie in Nashville, Andrew receives news that Eddie has died, an apparent suicide.

Now Andrew has inherited Eddie’s house in Nashville, complete with a roommate he doesn’t know, or necessarily want. Andrew is also left with the haunting suspicion that Eddie’s death isn’t as cut and dry as the authorities are making it out to be.

As Andrew begins to settle into the Nashville house, becoming involved in Eddie’s University studies and his friend group, he learns there was a whole side to Eddie he didn’t know.

Street racing, hot boys, late nights, hard drugs, ominious topics of study and dark family secrets; Andrew doesn’t understand how all of this could have been going on with Eddie without him knowing it.

The deeper he gets into Eddie’s secrets, the more out of control he feels. Not helping matters is the strange presence haunting him, wanting to possess him.

Summer Sons is a Queer Southern Gothic story incoporating a cut-throat academic setting with the dangerous and exciting world of street racing. With this description in mind, this should have been a great fit for my tastes.

I did get some of the Southern Gothic vibes I was hoping for, as well as a desirable level of angst and grief. I also got a touch of academic atmosphere. Unfortunately, I also got bored and confused.

I did end up listening to the audiobook, which I actually feel is the only way I was able to get through it. I may have given up otherwise.

The narrator was fantastic. I loved how he had the accent to fit the story; that’s always a plus for me. I definitely recommend if you are interested in checking this one out, that you give the audiobook a go.

Overall, I think this just wasn’t the story for me. The writing is strong, and I can get behind the ideas that set the foundation of the story, the execution just fell flat for me.

I know a lot of Readers are going to absolutely adore this story, however, you can tell that already by the reviews!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

I am glad I gave this one a shot and look forward to seeing what else Mandelo comes up with in the future.

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Review: The Sisters of Reckoning (The Good Luck Girls #3) by Charlotte Nicole Davis

The Sisters of Reckoning (The Good Luck Girls, #2)The Sisters of Reckoning by Charlotte Nicole Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Sisters of Reckoning is the sequel to Charlotte Nicole Davis’s 2019-release, The Good Luck Girls; it’s one I have been very highly anticipating.

Truly a powerful follow-up, I felt like Davis’s writing really blossomed within these pages!

Set in the fictional world of Arketta, the action takes place close to a year after the conclusion of the first book. Please note, as this is the second book, there may be some mild spoilers within this review.

Proceed with caution.

After successfully fleeing their Welcome House, Aster remained in Arketta and has become a Lady Ghost, while her fellow Green Creek girls have now settled themselves in the country of Ferron, across the border.

With her work as a Lady Ghost, Aster continues to assist Good Luck girls to escape from their various Welcome Houses; but the progress is slow.

When Aster hears that her enemy, the despicable landmaster Jerrod McClennon, is planning to open a brand new Welcome House, as well as lower the age nationwide that girl’s will experience their Lucky Night to 13, she knows she has to do something.

It is no longer good enough to try to save one girl at a time. Aster wants to free all dustbloods from the the landmasters who oppress, abuse and degrade them.

She plans to hit them where it hurts; their money sources. Gathering up the old crew, as well as some bold new allies, Aster leads a movement, known as The Reckoners, who are willing to fight for a new system for Arketta.

Sacrifices will need to be made and the fight may be long and bloody, but Aster and friends, feel like they have nothing left to lose. They are tired, they’re frustrated, but they are not weak and they will not rest until they get the justice they deserve.

Y’all this is an impactful story. Davis did a great job of expanding and building on the groundwork that she laid in the first book.

There is a ton of thoughtful social commentary woven throughout the narrative; it’s not subtle and I appreciated that. The issues Aster and the other Good Luck Girls are dealing with are not unique to them; they’re systemic and Aster realizes they must tear down the system in order to build a new one where dustbloods can be free.

I loved watching Aster grow in confidence and leadership ability. She was still suffering from PTSD related to her time in the Welcome House and that was handled beautifully as well.

My only slight criticism would be somewhere in the middle, it began to feel a little drawn out. The pace decreased a bit and some of the circumstances felt repetitive, but overall, this is an incredible continuation to this story and I loved the ending!

If you haven’t picked up The Good Luck Girls yet, you really should. It would be the perfect time to binge the two back-to-back!! I personally would love to see more from Davis in this world.

A hearty thank you to the publisher, Tor Teen, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. Davis is so talented and I definitely plan to pick up anything she writes!!!

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