Thoughts on THE ARCHIVIST

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this fine Wednesday? It’s the last one of the month, so you know what that means. Book review time! I decided to try something a little different. It’s kind of dark fantasy meets mystery/thriller. It was a last minute pick from the “read now” selection because I forgot to request something earlier. But it sounded like something I would enjoy. The Archivist by V.S. Nelson was released yesterday (the 28th) from Matador Books. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Nice cover.

The Archivist follows Sun as she tries to free her and her sister Laure from an abusive father figure. To do this, she enlists the help of a young man simply known as the Archivist. He has special abilities that allow him to save the essence of people who are dying among other things he hasn’t discovered yet. Unfortunately, the trio end up in the snare of someone who lures him in by stealing the essences of suicidal teenage girls.

The story started out really strong. The pacing was tight and the plot was interesting, but when the climax showed up and there were only like 15 pages left, my heart sank. There was no way to wrap up all the loose ends for a strong finish in that limited of a space. But I kept reading. Only to be proven right. There’s zero satisfaction at the end, but it doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger where you know a second book is coming. It’s just a let down. I know… not every story gets a happy ending. I’m fine with that. But even the unhappy endings need to feel satisfying, like an appropriate stopping point has been reached. This one just felt like it didn’t really know where it was going, so everything kind of fell apart. I’m hoping for some kind of follow up (maybe a short story or novella) to wrap things up, but I doubt it’ll happen.

Nope.

The characters were great. Sun was strong and caring despite everything she had been through. Laure needed more page time, especially for her big reveal. It wasn’t as woven into the story as it should’ve been, so it feels like it comes from nowhere. Plus, I liked her more than Sun and wanted to get to know her better. But my favorite was the Archivist. Poor dude doesn’t even get a name. And he was never really taught how to be a normal human being. Instead, he’s basically a freak that people avoid because they don’t understand him. And he’s mostly okay with that. The rest of the characters were a little flat. There were too many of them in a relatively short book. And so many weren’t even introduced until later. There was no room to flesh them out.

There was a dual POV in this book. It switched between the Archivist and Sun each chapter. But the narrative voice didn’t actually change much between them. Everything read as detached and matter-of-fact. It was an interesting choice since most thrillers tend to have an excitable, compelling voice that drags the reader forward. Personally, I liked the tone of this book. It was different, but it fit the Archivist’s personality. Sun’s sections could have been a bit more lively and desperate to match her personality though.

Most thrillers are go go go, but not this one.

The writing was good. Everything flowed really well up until the last two chapters, when everything kind of imploded. It was a pretty quick read actually.

Ultimately, I liked The Archivist, but I felt it could’ve used some work, especially around the ending. It just needed some fleshing out. If there’s a follow up, I’ll probably check it out, but I don’t think I’ll actively go looking for other books by Nelson.

starstarstarstar outlinestar outline

Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. If it sounds like something you would love, pick it up. But otherwise, you’re not missing much.

Thoughts on BURIED IN A GOOD BOOK

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? Things here are quiet. SSDD if you know what I mean. But it’s the last Wednesday of May, so you know what that means. Book review time! This month, I decided to stick with something I’m used to, something on the predictable side. So, I went with the first book in a new cozy mystery series. Buried in a Good Book by Tamara Berry was released yesterday (the 24th) from Poisoned Pen Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Cute cover and mostly relevant to the story, except the canoe.

Buried in a Good Book follows Tess, who’s fresh off a divorce, as she drags her teenage daughter Gertie into the woods for a much needed escape. Unfortunately, when they arrive at the cabin Tess inherited from her grandfather, a strange set of circumstances unearths a body. Being a mystery writer, Tess leaps at the chance to help solve a real life murder while avoiding her looming deadline and messy personal life. Plus, small town life seems to be helping her daughter cope with her absentee father a bit. What could go wrong?

Where to start? The plot was fairly standard, but with an annoying writer constantly comparing everything to her books. The hot sheriff is exactly like her detective, at least looks-wise. There’s a new bestie who encourages all of the shenanigans. The sullen teenage daughter who’s too smart for her own good is a rare addition to cozies, but not unheard of. The only problem with the plot is that the cast of characters is so small that you know right away the baddie is either going to be a peripheral character who doesn’t get much page time or the dreaded random character who comes from nowhere. There’s really only one person it could be, so I mostly kept reading for character development.

Speaking of characters, I really liked most of them, which made the book worth reading. Yes, Tess is annoying as fuck with her “Detective Gonzales would do it this way…” crap, but as a mother and human being in general, she’s pretty okay. She’s navigating being newly single and realizing that she has no one in her life besides the ex and her daughter. And making friends as an adult is HARD. It’s all very relatable. Gertie is adorable. Sheriff Boyd is grumpy, but lovable. Nicki is a little flat, but that’s because she’s trying to be something she isn’t. Hopefully her character will have some room to grow in the next book.

I admit, there were some really weird red herrings that made me mutter “wtf?” to myself a few times. The Bigfoot thing, I was down with. It was strange, but whatever. I liked it. A lot of Tess’s theories on things were just plain nuts, though. It kind of slowed down the pacing towards the end. But once things came back around to relatively believable scenarios, things sped up again.

The writing was actually wonderful. It was quirky and sarcastic and pulled me along without becoming too much. There was some over the top stuff, but it wasn’t enough to make me want to quit reading. Roll my eyes, yes. Stop reading? Nah. Mostly, it was a fun and quick read.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Buried in a Good Book. I’ll definitely grab the next book in the series when it comes out. The writing style and characters make it worth a second chance at least.

starstarstarstarstar outline

Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. If cozy mysteries are your thing, definitely check it out. It’s pretty short and fun, so yeah. I recommend it.

Thoughts on THE FERVOR

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? It’s the last Wednesday of April. Can you believe it? That means it’s book review time! This month, I tried something a little different. I’m not usually into historical stuff, but I wanted a little horror, so I requested an ARC of The Fervor by Alma Katsu. It was released on April 26th from Putnam. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

The cover is okay, but feels a little meh to me.

The Fervor follows a handful of people including Meiko and Aiko, a mother and daughter stuck in one of the internment camps in the U.S. during World War II; Archie, a preacher who lost his wife when a mysterious balloon exploded during a trip to the mountains; and Fran, a reporter following a story despite numerous warnings against doing so. A strange illness spreads in the internment camp before flowing over into the nearby towns. Throw in visions of demons and strange spiders to spice things up. It’s all just strange enough that our protagonists decide they need to figure out what’s going on.

Multiple POVs are used until they all eventually converge into one. It takes a lot for me to get into stories that are structured like this because I usually hate at least one of the characters. This time it was Archie. And Fran didn’t exactly grasp my attention either. So, I found myself wanting to skip their sections. But I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why people use this method. I even understand it in this particular book. But, for me, it breaks up the tension in a way that slows the story down too much. I wasn’t able to get into a flow where I wanted to keep reading beyond what I needed to read in order to finish in time. On the other hand, I also never dreaded picking it back up the next day, so it wasn’t like it was bad. Just slow.

I enjoyed the mixture of Japanese mythology with the horrors of WWII. The blending of historical fiction with a subtle layer of supernatural horror was excellent. I confess that I’m not a big history fan, so I don’t know much about WWII beyond the basics. In other words, this book is my first experience with the Fu-Go (fire balloons) that Japan sent to America. They are weirdly fascinating. And the way the book used them to further the supernatural elements of the story was great. I love it when books teach me odd things.

The real horror of the story is, of course, people. The way hate and fear spreads so quickly with just a tiny push. The illness that causes paranoia and irritation that eventually becomes hostility and outright rage. It serves as a magnification of what was already going on at the time. And how people will use that fear and hate to further their own whims. It’s awful. People are awful. Yet, somehow the story ends on a hopeful note with people willing to do what’s right. I didn’t actually believe the ending, but maybe that’s because I’m a bit cynical. But the hope is still there regardless of how I feel.

The writing itself was strong. Everything flowed and made for a nice read. Like I said, it was just slow. That’s not bad. It helped focus me on what was happening more than if I had flown through it.

Ultimately, I liked The Fervor. I’m pretty sure I have a couple of Katsu’s other books on my TBR list and I’ll keep them there because her writing is worth another look.

starstarstarstarstar outline

Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. It was slow, but enjoyable. If you’re into historical fiction with a twist, I recommend giving it a shot.

Thoughts on CHEDDAR OFF DEAD

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this week? Allergies are kicking my ass, but otherwise things are okay. I’ve been on a music kick. It’s about the only thing I can focus on with my sinuses throbbing. But enough complaining (maybe). It’s the last Wednesday of the month! That means it’s book review time. I went back to the safety of a cozy mystery this month. Cheddar Off Dead is the first in Korina Moss’s Cheese Shop mystery series. It was released yesterday (the 29th) by St. Martin’s Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s do the thing!

Cute cover and pretty relevant to the story.

Cheddar Off Dead follows Willa Bauer, cheesemonger and owner of Yarrow Glen’s newest shop, Curds and Whey. A cheese shop. She’s new to town and inexperienced when it comes to putting down roots and making lasting friendships. It doesn’t help that a well-known (and severely disliked) critic is murdered outside her shop with a custom cheese knife she had planned to give out at an event. Not trusting the detective, Willa feels compelled to clear her name before any lasting damage can be done to her reputation. The problem? Her investigation means potentially alienating the handful of people she’s started bonding with, including the attractive mead maker across the street.

Let’s start with the plot. Instead of our heroine returning home after a bad breakup, she decides to start over in a new town. There’s still a bad breakup, but it’s unclear how recent it was. A lot of her past is unclear timeline-wise. Anyway, her newness doesn’t stop Willa from finding the best friend who encourages her shenanigans. There are two potential love interests. Future love triangles? Probably, but I doubt it’ll be the fun kind. Of course there’s an overprotective detective. Plenty of red herrings. I admit I didn’t catch onto the murderer until later, mostly because we don’t learn anything about them until pretty much everyone else is ruled out. I honestly felt a little cheated by that, but this isn’t the first cozy to do it that way. I’m just glad it wasn’t a random person who only got mentioned once. They’re there throughout the book, just not really expanded on until super late. So, standard cozy fare with a couple of little twists.

The pacing was off. The first third was beyond slow. Like, if I had been reading it for fun, I probably would’ve given up after three chapters. It was that slow. But it picked up after a while. I think when the cheese talk finally ran its course, everything smoothed out. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning about cheese, but when it’s not even interesting facts, it gets boring. But less is more. The first third of the novel was like cheese info dumps. Later on, there was still a bunch of cheese talk, but it was spread out in a way that felt natural.

Most of the characters were likeable. Willa occasionally annoyed me, but that’s just because she’s a busybody. That’s why most cozy mystery heroines annoy me. Otherwise, she was fine. I preferred Baz, Archie, and Mrs. Schultz. I would’ve loved to learn more about them. Detective Heath was a little flat, but he has potential. Same with Roman. Honestly, I can’t believe I’m saying this because I love cheese, but there could’ve been a bigger focus on character development and less on cheese.

The writing was fine. Like I said, the pacing was off and the characters were flat. But the actual words were fine. Nothing memorable. I finished it about a week ago and am already forgetting most of it. Ah well.

Ultimately, I was just meh about Cheddar Off Dead. If I come across the next book, I’ll pick it up to see if it’s any better, but I doubt I’ll actively look for it.

starstarstarstar outlinestar outline

Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. Two and a half, really. If you’re super into cheese and enjoy average cozies, pick it up. But you’re not missing anything if you don’t.

Thoughts on THE CICADA TREE

Howdy, howdy! I hope everyone is doing okay as February comes to a close. It’s been a strange month where each day bleeds into the next without warning, but at the same time, it feels like the month is dragging. No idea why. Anyway, it’s book review time. I stepped outside my comfort zone a little bit this time with an historical fiction book. The Cicada Tree by Robert Gwaltney was released yesterday (the 22nd) from Moonshine Cove Publishing. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it.

Nice cover.

The Cicada Tree follows Analeise Newell, an 11-year-old who is trying to navigate life in 1956 Georgia. Emotions run high as she struggles to figure out how everything she loves fits together: her friendship with Etta Mae, her crush on Abel Darlington, and her newfound obsession with the Mayfields. As Analeise digs into her obsession, she finds more darkness than she bargains for in that Mayfield shine she’s so attracted to. It’s all set against the backdrop of summer in Georgia when the whine of the cicadas can either lull you to sleep or drive you crazy.

I’ll be honest, this book wasn’t for me. I’m all for southern gothic and blending supernatural into regular fiction, but something about this book kept me from getting into it. I think it’s because the ages of the characters just didn’t feel right. Analeise and the rest of the kids all seemed more like teenagers than 11-year-olds. I’d go as young as 14, but honestly I kept thinking they were closer to 16 or so. Yes, I realize that younger kids can be stupidly vicious too, but the vocabulary and most of the actions just felt older. There were a few scenes where I thought “okay, these are younger kids,” but they were few and far between.

The fact that the book was written in first person from Analeise’s perspective didn’t help with the age issue. If we’re that close to a character, I expect the narrative voice to fit the age of the character, but it didn’t. Maybe the story is being told from grown-Analeise’s perspective. If that’s the case, fine. But there was nothing to suggest that in the book. At least not the version I had access to. I saw somewhere that the final version is supposed to have an epilogue, so maybe it becomes clearer in there.

Actually, an epilogue would be really helpful because the ending left things super vague and not even in a “create your own ending” kind of way. It was completely unsatisfying. Like, I might look for it at my library just to see if anything is cleared up in the final version. I’m not tempted enough to buy it, but I’ll definitely check the library system for it.

The writing itself was a little purple for me. It wasn’t bad by any means, just a tad overly descriptive for my tastes. And I normally talk about the characters, but I had zero sympathy for any of them, except maybe Abel. He was an okay kid. Etta Mae was too angelic. Everyone else was too selfish for me to get behind.

Ultimately, I wasn’t a fan of The Cicada Tree. Maybe I’ll like it a little better if I see the epilogue, but I doubt it. There was too much I didn’t care for. If I come across something else by Gwaltney, I’d look at it because the writing was okay, but I won’t be searching for anything.

starstarstar outlinestar outlinestar outline

Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. If you’re into southern gothic and are interested in the premise, give it a shot. If not, you’re not missing anything.

Thoughts on BRIGHT RUINED THINGS

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this bright and beautiful day? I know you’re all probably giving me a weird look because it’s not the last Wednesday of the month, but somehow I ended up with two books to review this time. It happens. This one was actually due out last year, but got pushed back, so yeah. An extra review! Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe is heavily influenced (but I wouldn’t call it a retelling) by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was released February 15th from Wednesday Books (an imprint of St. Martin’s Press). As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Nice cover.

Bright Ruined Things follows Mae, an orphan who has spent her entire life on the Prosper’s island, as she struggles to find her place in the world. Not being a true part of the family, she has no claim to the island once she comes of age. But all she’s ever wanted was to belong. And to learn magic. However, the Prospers hide dark secrets that Mae isn’t counting on. What happens when she begins to unravel the lies? Is all of the beauty and wealth worth it? Mae will have to decide for herself.

So, this is a YA (young adult) fantasy. There’s magic and death and betrayal and secrets and love and all of that good stuff. It sounded fun, but I didn’t have high hopes for it going in. It started a little slow, but the momentum picked up a lot after the first few chapters and I ended up really enjoying it. A lot of it was predictable, but there were enough twists to keep me entertained. I had the basics of the plot figured out early on, but I wasn’t entirely sure of the “how” of everything, so that helped keep my interest going.

Mostly though, I loved the characters. I was team Ivo from the get-go. Screw everyone else. I’d read an entire book just about him. Mae was interesting and relatable until she decided to go rogue and stab everyone in the back. I get it as a plot device, but it felt forced and out of character for her. Coco and Miles were both great in their own ways even though they acted like dipshits for a while. But it was in character for them and they grew into decent people, so I forgave them. And I know I shouldn’t say it, but I actually liked Alasdair. He was a complete and utter douchenozzle, but he owned it. Never tried to be something he wasn’t. I appreciate that.

Really, my only complaint with this story was the very end. I don’t care for vague endings unless I know a second book is coming. Is he there? Isn’t he? It’s all up to the reader’s imagination! Ooo… no. If I wanted to write an ending to someone’s story, I’d go finish one of the three I’m currently working on. Just let me know if the dude gets the ending he deserves. But that’s just me. Some people like that vague maybe/maybe not stuff. I’m just hoping it’s bait for a second book.

The writing itself was nice. Things flowed pretty well and all of the pertinent information felt like it was spread out naturally in the story. At least I don’t recall any huge infodumps, so that’s always good. It ended up being a quick and fun read.

Ultimately, Bright Ruined Things was great. I had way more fun with it than I was expecting to, anyway. If there’s a follow up, I’ll definitely pick it up. And if I come across Cohoe’s other work, I’ll be sure to take a peek.

starstarstarstarstar outline

Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. Definitely recommend picking it up if you’re into YA fantasy. Even if you’re not, it’s still worth a look.

Thoughts on UP TO NO GOUDA

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this week? Everything here has been okay. I interacted with real people (eye doctor appointment) on Monday, so despite the fact that everyone was masked and not hacking up a lung (I don’t think anyone even sneezed), I’m going to be anxious for a couple of weeks. But I digress. It’s book review time! I wanted something comforting and a little cheesy this month, so I went with the first book in Linda Reilly’s new cozy series. The book is called Up to No Gouda and was released on the 25th from Poisoned Pen Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s do this!

Cute cover that relates to the story.

Up to No Gouda follows Carly Hale as she works to fulfill her lifelong dream of owning a grilled cheese restaurant. She’s a widow who has moved back to her home town to make her dream come true. And it’s working! At least until the town bully buys the building where her restaurant is located and refuses to renew her lease. With only a little time left, Carly has no idea what to do. Then, the bully is found murdered by the dumpster of the parking lot behind the restaurant. Of course, Carly can’t rest until she finds out what happened to him and what the future holds for her restaurant.

So, plotwise, this is standard cozy fare. Dude gets murdered, main character finds an excuse to investigate even though it doesn’t really concern her, and everyone encourages her except the killer and the cops, but even the cops don’t discourage her much. There were a couple of twists that I missed because I didn’t really pay attention to the set up. I didn’t even remember the robberies thing until it became relevant, and even then I had to go back and see what they were talking about. My bad. But I knew who the killer was just from one detail super early on that seemed out of character. I’m pretty sure I was supposed to glance over the detail and see it later as foreshadowing, but it felt super awkward and stood out. I never even doubted it when pretty much everyone else was considered a suspect except the actual killer. I think it was supposed to be an aha moment, but it wasn’t. It was just kind of obvious.

The characters are all adorable. I’m a fan of Grant and Gina. They were my favorites. Actually, Havarti was my favorite, but I figure everyone is tired of me gushing over fictional dogs. Most of the characters are a little flat, but can be fleshed out in later books. The love interest seems completely random. First, Carly acts suspicious of him for some unknown reason, then the next chapter she might have feelings for him. It is confusing. Speaking of Carly, she’s interesting and fun, but a bit too sentimental for me. I understand the whole focus on the dead husband thing, but it goes a little overboard and doesn’t exactly move the plot forward, so I mostly skimmed those sections. And that makes me sound like a horrible person. Oops.

The writing is okay. It flows well and makes for a pretty quick read. My only issue with that is the cutesy sayings. One or two is charming and fun, but like five every couple of pages is annoying. Holy jumping grasshoppers… or whatever. People don’t talk like that. Not all the time. So, please. Chill with the eye twitch inducing cuteness.

Ultimately, I thought Up to No Gouda was okay. Not bad, not great. If I see the next one, I’ll grab it and give the series a second chance. But it’s not going on my must-read list.

starstarstarstar outlinestar outline

Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. If you’re super into cozy mysteries and like cheesy goodness, pick up a copy. If not, I would give it a miss.

Thoughts on FLYING ANGELS

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing today? Tomorrow is Thanksgiving over here, so happy Turkey Day/Friendsgiving/whatever to those who celebrate and happy Thursday to those who don’t! But today it’s book review time. I wanted to step outside my comfort zone this month, but I wanted something safe. Something that was bound to be decent at least. So, I went with Danielle Steel’s new book, Flying Angels. It was released on November 23rd from Delacorte Press (an imprint of Random House). As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for allowing me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. So, let’s do the thing.

Not a bad cover.

Flying Angels follows a group of young women who end up becoming nurses in the Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron during World War II. They come from all walks of life and have encountered various struggles along the way, but in the war, they’re all the same. They’re just nurses trying to keep the young men from the frontlines and themselves alive. Death doesn’t discriminate. They all have to learn that one way or another.

So, I thought I was safe with a Danielle Steel novel. She’s a prolific writer with fans all over the world. She must be good, right? There must be a reason she’s so popular, right? Even if the genre isn’t my usual cup of tea, at least the writing must be passable, right? Wrong. I was wrong on all counts. And the sad part is, I probably really would’ve liked the book if it didn’t read like an outline of a story. I know it’s hard to balance showing and telling, but this book was ninety percent telling. Personally, I hate that. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but I’m not a fan. You can tell me a hundred times how selfless and wonderful a person is, but if you don’t show me, I just don’t care.

Me to every single character.

Speaking of selfless and wonderful, no one in this entire book had flaws except inconsequential rich people. They were just there to show how much better their daughters were than them. I mean, we’re told the characters grow and are changed by the end, but how? They were perfect to begin with, so they had nothing to learn. Even the deaths of family and friends can’t make these people bitter or angry. It’s friggin’ annoying. Like, I know they aren’t real people in the first place, but I at least want characters who have human qualities.

Also, I despise third person omniscient POVs. They’re rarely done well and the narrator hops around people’s thoughts and feelings until everything becomes muddled. It’s especially confusing when most of the characters are she/her. Learn to use names or at least change paragraphs when you’re hopping around people’s heads. I know this is just a pet peeve of mine. Some people really like this POV. I’d rather be closer to the main characters.

Every time a random thought showed up that had nothing to do with one of the main characters.

Aside from everything else I hated about this book, the writing was repetitive and bland. In the first twenty pages, the same five tidbits were repeated at least fifty times each. It could’ve been edited down to three pages and still conveyed the exact same message. Better yet, there could’ve been a few scenes showing me these things instead of just telling me. But enough ranting.

Ultimately, I hated Flying Angels. I loved the premise, but the execution was horrible. If I never read another Danielle Steel book in my life, I won’t care. Maybe her other books are better. Maybe this was an anomaly. Don’t know and don’t care. People like her. I’m just not one of them.

starstar outlinestar outlinestar outlinestar outline

Overall, I gave it 1 out of 5 stars. Mostly because you can’t give zero star ratings on most websites. If you are a fan, by all means read it. Enjoy what you enjoy. If you’re not already a fan, maybe try something else by her first.

Thoughts on THE CHRISTMAS DRESS

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing today? Not much going on here. We got our Covid boosters on Thursday. Had some aches and pain the next day, but nothing some aspirin didn’t take care of. So, we’re good to sit in the house and avoid people for another six months! Anyway, it’s the last Wednesday of the month, which means it’s book review time. This month, I decided to step completely outside of my comfort zone and into potential Hallmark Christmas movie territory. I wanted something happy and annoyingly cutesy, so I requested The Christmas Dress by Courtney Cole. It was released yesterday (October 26th) from William Morrow Paperbacks (an imprint of HarperCollins). As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Cute cover.

The Christmas Dress follows Meg Julliard who returns to her Chicago home after her father’s death. She leaves behind a bad ex as well as a budding fashion career in NYC to take care of a 1920s era apartment building filled with elderly residents and so many things that need to be fixed. With very little money and no idea what she’s doing, Meg thinks things are impossible. But with a little help from the residents, the hunky handyman, and a smidge of luck, things just might turn around.

Sounds sickeningly sweet, doesn’t it? It is. It has everything you could ask for in a Hallmark holiday movie. Quirky best friends and random new friends, manly dudes to lust after and fall in love with, and so much drama that you know will work out perfectly. Plotwise, there are plenty of twists and turns, but none of them are unexpected. Awkward moment with the ex witnessed by the new beau? Right on cue. Drama from the new beau’s manipulative ex? Ditto! I can honestly say I’ve only read like three books in this particular genre in my life and they all have the same basic plot points. That’s not bad. It’s a really popular structure. It just leaves little to be said that hasn’t already been said.

The characters are all sweet and endearing, except for the two exes. As it should be. Personally, I thought Meg was over the top dramatic, especially when it comes to Logan’s ex. Who in their right mind would decide to break up with their new boyfriend without even listening to his thoughts on drama that he had no idea was coming? And she puts her decision on him because she repeatedly says that he’s such a good guy that he’ll end up doing the “right thing” despite the fact that he’s flat out said he’s not going back to the ex for any reason. Meg’s whole value system is stuck in the 1920s along with the apartment building. It’s creepy. And she flat out refuses to listen to people who actually have experience with the manipulating so and so, which causes more drama. She only chills when her bestie does some light cyber stalking and says the bitch is crazy. That is so weird to me. Luckily, everyone else in this book is relatively sane.

As far as the writing goes, it flowed nicely and made for a quick read. There were some things that made me raise an eyebrow, but I have a feeling they’re pretty standard for the genre. Like, every time Logan shows up, Meg’s ovaries tingle. I don’t know what that means. I understand it’s code for him making her horny, but my ovaries have never been the bits that tingle. It’s an hilarious phrase to run across, though.

Ultimately, The Christmas Dress was exactly what I wanted it to be. Nothing more, nothing less. It was fun and corny and predictable. I won’t be looking for another one like it for a while.

starstarstarstarstar outline

Overall, I gave it 4 out of five stars. Like I said, it was exactly what I wanted, but it didn’t offer anything new either. If Hallmark holiday movies are your thing, it’s definitely worth a read.

Thoughts on THE ORPHAN WITCH

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this week? It’s the last Wednesday of September, so you all know what that means. It’s book review time. This month, I wanted something more fantasy than anything. Just something a little different than all of the cozies I’ve been reading lately. I thought that might help me get excited about reading again. My search brought me to The Orphan Witch by Paige Crutcher. It was released yesterday (the 28th) from St. Martin Press’s Griffin imprint. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

A nice cover.

The Orphan Witch follows Persephone May as she drifts through life trying to find her place in the world and a family to share it with. Bad luck seems to follow her around until she’s invited to spend some time on Wile Isle, then everything goes from bad to worse. There’s a curse only she can break, people who keep attacking her for no reason, and lots of betrayal and deception. But throw in a hot librarian and maybe things aren’t so bad.

Sounds fun, right? It could be, but it’s not. The plot is far too convoluted. It honestly feels like an early draft where even the author is just going along and trying to figure out what’s happening. The beginning is slow and sparse on important details. Everything is crammed into the last half of the book, which makes it super muddled. And for an island that doesn’t let people come to it during certain times of the year, it sure seems to make a lot of exceptions. If the rules of the magic system are so easily ignored, it destroys all my faith in the system to begin with, which makes the loopholes Persephone and her cohorts exploit more annoying than exciting. There was a lot of potential for this story, but the execution was lacking.

I mean… it’s not a lie.

The characters were okay. Persephone was too naive a lot of the time. And her background could’ve been explored and utilized better, but she was an okay protagonist. Hyacinth was ridiculously manipulative and selfish, but it was (poorly) explained away as her being under someone else’s influence despite the fact that she was a horrible person all along. Moira, Ellison, and Ariel all had potential to be really interesting, but were largely undeveloped. They felt like afterthoughts, brought in to move the plot along. And Dorian could’ve used a lot more fleshing out.

You can probably guess how I feel about the pacing. Ugh. Aside from the beginning being slow and the end being rushed, there were so many spots that were just infodumps. Instead of spreading the background throughout the story naturally, there are huge sections of it unceremoniously scattered everywhere. I almost didn’t get past the first chapter because of it. But I pressed on.

The writing itself was average at best and subpar at other times. Mostly, the dialogue was the cringe-y bit. It was so stilted and a lot unnecessary things were said that were strictly for the benefit of the reader. I can’t think of a specific example from this book, but I mean like when characters are talking about someone the main character knows, but the speaker goes into ridiculous detail about great aunt Muriel with the glasses and saggy jowls or whatever. People don’t talk that way. It’s annoying. Just say “Aunt Muriel died,” then do a descriptive paragraph. Not everything belongs in dialogue.

Ultimately, The Orphan Witch didn’t live up to its potential. Luckily, it works just fine as a standalone, so I don’t even have to entertain the idea of sequels. It just wasn’t for me.

starstarstar outlinestar outlinestar outline

Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. Well, one and a half, really. One star because it got published (which is hard to do and means someone liked it) and half of one because it had potential. If you’re interested in it, you might like it. If it just seems meh to you, you’re not missing anything by skipping it.