Review: The Guncle by Steven Rowley

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: The Guncle
Author: Steven Rowley
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Steven Rowley
Length: 11 hrs 23 mins (326 pages)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Penguin Audio
Release Date: May 25, 2021
Source: Library
Content Warnings: grief, death, death of parent, addiction, car accident, drug abuse, alcohol, sexual assault, homophobia, cancer

SYNOPSIS

Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is honestly a bit out of his league.

So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick’s brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of “Guncle Rules” ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting—even if temporary—isn’t solved with treats and jokes, Patrick’s eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you’re unfailingly human.

MY THOUGHTS

The Guncle is a book about grief, but it brings so much joy and healing. Patrick, a reclusive actor with a stalled career, finds himself the unexpected guardian of his niece and nephew after their mother passes away and Patrick’s brother enters rehab to cope with addiction and grief. This book is obviously heavy, but it is also incredibly sweet, heartwarming, emotional, and hilarious. I love the way this book approaches grief, family, love, and the lifelong process of finding yourself.

The audiobook narrated by the author was wonderful, and I highly recommend that format!

ARC Review: Love Times Infinity by Lane Clarke

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Love Times Infinity
Author: Lane Clarke
Genre: Contemporary
Audience: Young Adult
Format: eARC
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Poppy
Release Date: July 26, 2022
Source: author via Netgalley
Recommended for fans of: Nicola Yoon, Elizabeth Acevedo
Content Warnings: depictions of anxiety and depression, discussions of sexual assault, discussions of abortion, alcohol use, discussions of alcoholism, parental abandonment, grandparent death (backstory, off page)

SYNOPSIS

The swoon of Nicola Yoon meets the emotional punch of Elizabeth Acevedo in this breakout debut novel that answers big questions about identity, family, and love.

High school junior Michie is struggling to define who she is for her scholarship essays, her big shot at making it into Brown as a first-generation college student. The prompts would be hard for anyone, but Michie’s been estranged from her mother since she was seven and her concept of family has long felt murky.

Enter new kid and basketball superstar Derek de la Rosa. He is very cute, very talented, and very much has his eye on Michie, no matter how invisible she believes herself to be.


When Michie’s mother unexpectedly reaches out to make amends, and with her scholarship deadlines looming, Michie must choose whether to reopen old wounds or close the door on her past. And as she spends more time with Derek, she’ll have to decide how much of her heart she is willing to share. Because while Michie may not know who she is, she’s starting to realize who she wants to become, if only she can take a chance on Derek, on herself, and on her future.

MY THOUGHTS

I don’t read much YA contemporary fiction anymore, but Love Times Infinity is a sweet and heartfelt coming of age story that doesn’t shy away from heavy topics facing teens.

Abortion is discussed a lot in this book because the main character Michie’s mom gave birth to her after being sexually assaulted; even though she made the choice to keep the pregnancy, she struggled with the consequences that choice (the keyword here is *choice*). Michie’s knowledge of how she came to be and her relationship with her mother severely impact her self-worth and mental health, and this plot line is inspired by the author’s own experiences. I appreciate that this book addresses the issue of abortion in a nuanced way that does not push an agenda. Different characters may feel differently about it, but the book is not anti-choice or anti-abortion. If you want to know more about the author’s personal views, she published an article on the topic for Time after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

While Michie’s relationship with her mother is estranged, she has an amazing support system of people who love her: her grandmother is the best single parent she could ask for, JoJo is an incredible friend, Derek is such a patient cinnamon roll love interest, and all of her friends and therapist from group.

I loved the sweet and clean romance. I cheered for Michie as she learned to embrace her identity and show the world her potential. I laughed at Michie’s snark and savage pop culture references, although I think some of the references appeal more to readers my age than current teens. Some subplots felt a bit disconnected from the rest of the story, and the ending wrapped up so quickly (I wanted to actually read Michie’s college essay!), but I was always fully invested in this emotional story. I am very impressed with this debut and look forward to reading whatever Lane Clarke writes next.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the gifted eARC.

Review: The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: The Lost Dreamer
Author: Lizz Huerta
Series: The Lost Dreamer Duology #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Elisa Melendez, Inés del Castillo
Length: 10 hrs 52 mins
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); Macmillan Audio
Release Date: February 28, 2022
Source: Libro.fm influencer program
Recommended for fans of: Raybearer, Gods of Jade and Shadow
Content Warnings: emotional abuse, pregnancy, child abuse, animal cruelty, animal death, kidnapping, death, child death, gaslighting

SYNOPSIS

A lush, immersive debut fantasy about a group of women whose way of life is threatened by a new king; a fierce celebration of community, sisterhood, and finding our power.

Indir is a Dreamer, descended from a long line of seers; able to see beyond reality, she carries the rare gift of Dreaming truth. But when the beloved king dies, his son has no respect for this time-honored tradition. King Alcan wants an opportunity to bring the Dreamers to a permanent end―an opportunity Indir will give him if he discovers the two secrets she is struggling to keep. As violent change shakes Indir’s world to its core, she is forced to make an impossible choice: fight for her home or fight to survive.

Saya is a seer, but not a Dreamer―she has never been formally trained. Her mother exploits her daughter’s gift, passing it off as her own as they travel from village to village, never staying in one place too long. Almost as if they’re running from something. Almost as if they’re being hunted. When Saya loses the necklace she’s worn since birth, she discovers that seeing isn’t her only gift―and begins to suspect that everything she knows about her life has been a carefully-constructed lie. As she comes to distrust the only family she’s ever known, Saya will do what she’s never done before, go where she’s never been, and risk it all in the search of answers.

With a detailed, supernaturally-charged setting and topical themes of patriarchal power and female strength, Lizz Huerta’s The Lost Dreamer brings an ancient world to life, mirroring the challenges of our modern one.

MY THOUGHTS

The Lost Dreamer is a Mesoamerican-inspired YA fantasy told in dual POV, following Indir, a Dreamer or seer whose home and traditions are threatened by the rise of a new king, and Saya, a traveler and untrained seer whose mother exploits her and her gifts. Both storylines are compelling yet seemingly unrelated; I had a few theories, but I didn’t fully understand why they were both POVs were necessary until the end of the book.

The writing is lush and dreamy, vividly bringing to life the world, its magic, its customs, its mythology, and its characters, reminding me of books like Raybearer and Gods of Jade and Shadow. The plot developed slowly, and I wished for a little more action throughout the book. I may have listened to the audiobook too quickly and missed some of the subtleties of the story; I sometimes struggled to keep up with side characters and their relationships to the narrators.

I really like the way this book depicted and explored themes of home and family, juxtaposing Indir’s and Saya’s experiences. I was fascinated with the Dreamers, their prophecies and visions, and their relationship with spirits. While the beginning and middle were a bit slow, the ending made me very excited to see how everything gets resolved in book 2 of this duology.

Review: Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Winter’s Heart
Author: Robert Jordan
Series: The Wheel of Time #9
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Kate Reading, Michael Kramer
Length: 24 hours (780 pages)
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: January 7, 2002
Source: Library
Content Warnings: death, murder, slavery, sexual assault, sexual content, confinement, suicidal thoughts, torture

SYNOPSIS

Rand is on the run with Min, and in Cairhein, Cadsuane is trying to figure out where he is headed. Rand’s destination is, in fact, one she has never considered.

Mazrim Taim, leader of the Black Tower, is revealed to be a liar. But what is he up to?

Faile, with the Aiel Maidens, Bain and Chiad, and her companions, Queen Alliandre and Morgase, is prisoner of Savanna’s sept.

Perrin is desperately searching for Faile. With Elyas Machera, Berelain, the Prophet and a very mixed “army” of disparate forces, he is moving through country rife with bandits and roving Seanchan. The Forsaken are ever more present, and united, and the man called Slayer stalks Tel’aran’rhiod and the wolfdream.

In Ebou Dar, the Seanchan princess known as Daughter of the Nine Moons arrives–and Mat, who had been recuperating in the Tarasin Palace, is introduced to her. Will the marriage that has been foretold come about?

There are neither beginnings or endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it is a beginning….

MY THOUGHTS

After a couple of very slow and meandering books in the series, this book was…weird. It definitely took some weird and unexpected turns, but at least it had some interesting storylines throughout. I wish Robert Jordan would’ve avoided writing romance altogether, but he made his choices.

This book finally answered some very important questions I’ve had since very early in the series, even since book 1. The ending was mind blowing and made me very excited to continue the series!

Review: A Twist of the Blade by S.M. Gaither

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: A Twist of the Blade
Author: S.M. Gaither
Series: Shadows and Crowns #2
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: New Adult
Format: ebook
Length: 548 pages
Publisher: independent
Release Date: January 28, 2021
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Recommended for fans of: The Song of the Marked, Throne of Glass
Content Warnings: death, violence, panic attacks

SYNOPSIS

Mercenary. Survivor. Queen.

Who is Casia Greythorne?

Still reeling from an unimaginable loss and the revelation of an identity she isn’t sure she wants to embrace, Casia has one plan: Try to control something. Something like the strange magic awakening inside of her. Mastering that magic will take her and her friends on a quest through cursed lands, into the dwellings of old gods, and deep into a southern empire filled with deadly foes and unlikely allies.

Meanwhile, the foundations of the Kethran Empire continue to crumble. The king-emperor clings to his crown with increasingly bloodied hands. Monsters and soldiers alike stalk Casia’s every step, determined not to let her return to claim a throne that is rightfully hers. Still, the greatest threat to her possible rule may not lie in the king-emperor, but in a former captain of his army—a man that she came dangerously close to falling in love with.

Elander Revenmar thought he knew who he was. He had a mission, a plan, a god he was content to serve. Then came Casia. A woman as mysterious as she is dangerous. One he should have stayed away from, and whose life he never should have saved.

Because salvation always comes with a cost.

And some debts can only be paid for in blood.

MY THOUGHTS

I am getting very invested in this series! The magic system in this world is so cool, and I understand it much better now than I did reading book one. There were more deities, more monsters, and more explorations that contributed to a fast-paced adventure with EPIC fights and battle scenes.This series also has a great cast of characters: badass FMC, found family, meddling gods, fallen gods, evil siblings, enemies and allies. Everything just works so well together!

And let’s not forget THE ROMANCE! Casia and Elander move beyond the enemies stage of their forbidden love, and their banter and mutual pining are all I’ve ever wanted. This book has the perfect amount of steam, with one spicy chapter. And my favorite twist on the forbidden love trope is revealed!

Beware the cliffhanger ending!!! It will cause you to feel pain, and possibly scream or throw your book. But isn’t that why we read, to get attached to characters and worlds and feel something? I don’t know how I haven’t started book 3 yet.

Review: I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆
Title: I Kissed Shara Wheeler
Author: Casey McQuiston
Genre: Contemporary
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook Listening Copy
Narrator: Natalie Naudus
Length: 9 hrs 24 mins (356 pages)
Publisher: Macmillan Audio; Wednesday Books
Release Date: May 2, 2022
Source: Libro.fm
Content Warnings: homophobia, religious bigotry, racism

SYNOPSIS

From the New York Times bestselling author of One Last Stop and Red, White & Royal Blue comes a debut YA romantic comedy about chasing down what you want, only to find what you need…

Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—more to Shara, too.

Fierce, funny, and frank, Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler is about breaking the rules, getting messy, and finding love in unexpected places.

MY THOUGHTS

I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I did not like this book. It was not all bad. It kind of felt like a mash up of John Green books, particularly Paper Towns. I loved the side characters and their side plots (especially Chloe’s theater friends), and the overall queer love was amazing, especially against the setting of a Southern small town that emphasizes traditional religious values.

However, I thought Chloe and Shara were both unbearable characters. Chloe was constantly blowing off her friends to obsess over finding the clues Shara left behind in her manipulative runaway stunt. Their dynamic was extremely toxic, and I didn’t see enough character growth on either side until too close to the end of the book for me to ever root for their relationship.

I almost DNF this book because Chloe was such an insufferable main character, but I was curious enough about Shara’s whereabouts (which turned out to be anticlimactic) and invested enough in the side characters to finish. It was worth sticking with the book for the graduation plot line toward the end. The audiobook narration was well done, and I definitely would not have finished this book if I read it physically.

I’m thinking that Red, White, and Royal Blue may have been a fluke, and otherwise Casey McQuiston books are not for me. I felt similarly about One Last Stop where I loved the side characters and their found family dynamic but did not care too much for the main couple. I really wanted to love this one, but it just wasn’t for me.

Review: Heartstopper Volume Four by Alice Oseman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Heartstopper: Volume Four
Author: Alice Oseman
Series: Heartstopper #4
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Graphix
Release Date: May 6, 2021
Source: Personal collection
Content Warnings: eating disorder, self harm, mental illness, homophobia

SYNOPSIS

Charlie didn’t think Nick could ever like him back, but now they’re officially boyfriends. Charlie’s beginning to feel ready to say those three little words: I love you.

Nick’s been feeling the same, but he’s got a lot on his mind – not least coming out to his dad, and the fact that Charlie might have an eating disorder.

As summer turns to autumn and a new school year begins, Charlie and Nick are about to learn a lot about what love means.

MY THOUGHTS

This series has my whole heart. This volume addresses heavier topics and depicts some dark struggles with mental illness. Despite the difficulties life throws at them, Charlie and Nick’s relationship remains sweet and supportive. This series is so pure and wholesome, and even though this volume is darker than previous books, it is still a beacon of light and hope and love with incredible representation.

Review: A Dance with the Fae Prince by Elise Kova

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: A Dance with the Fae Prince
Author: Elise Kova
Series: Married to Magic #2
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: New Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Elizabeth Evans
Length: 12 hrs 57 mins (344 pages)
Publisher: Silver Wing Press
Audio Release Date: June 21, 2022
Print Release Date: August 19, 2021
Source: Author
Recommended for fans of: Cinderella retellings, fae fantasy, happily ever afters
Content Warnings: death of parent, child abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, body horror, animal death, gaslighting, violence

SYNOPSIS

She knew her hand in marriage would be sold. She had no idea a fae prince was the buyer.

Katria swore she’d never fall in love. She’s seen what “love” means through the cruelty of her family. So when she’s married off to the mysterious Lord Fenwood for a handsome price, all Katria wants is a better life than the one she’s leaving. Feelings are off the table.

But her new husband makes not falling in love difficult.

As their attraction begins to grow, so too do the oddities within her new life: strange rules, screams in the night, and attacks by fae that Katria never thought were real. When she witnesses a ritual not meant for human eyes, Katria finds herself spirited away to the land of Midscape.

Surviving the fae wilds as a human is hard enough. Katria must survive as a human who accidently pilfered the magic of ancient kings – magic a bloodthirsty king is ready to kill her for in order to keep his stolen throne – and her new husband is the rightful heir in hiding.

The power to save the fae is in her hands. But who will save her from a love she vowed never to feel?

A Dance with the Fae Prince is a complete, stand-alone novel, inspired by the tales of Psyche and Eros, as well as Cinderella, with a “happily ever after” ending. It’s perfect for fantasy romance fans looking for just the right amount of steam and their next slow-burn and swoon-worthy couple.

MY THOUGHTS

Elise Kova does it again! This is much lighter than her other series, but I loved this arranged marriage retelling of Cinderella with hints of the myth of Psyche and Eros. While it is the second book in the Married to Magic series and there are a few references to A Deal with the Elf King, each book is written as a standalone and can be read in any order. I preferred this book!

I simply adored all the characters and the found family aspect, I swooned over Katria and Davien’s unconventional slow burn romance, and I was awed by the magic and beauty of Midscape.

Considering this is a retelling with a promised happily ever after, the story was a bit predictable. However, that did not lessen my enjoyment at all. The writing, world building, conflict, and character growth kept me fully invested through to the end, and the ending gave me those five star feelings!

The newly released audiobook is narrated by Elizabeth Evans, whom listeners may recognize from the Crescent City and Throne of Glass audiobooks. I binged this audiobook at a time when I could barely pick up a physical book, and it was perfectly enjoyable and just what I needed.

I received and reviewed this audiobook from the author. This did not impact my honest review and all thoughts are my own.

ARC Review: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Historical Fiction / Sci-Fi
Audience: Adult
Format: ALC/eARC
Length: 11 hr 40 min (320 pages)
Narrator: Gisela Chípe
Publisher: Del Rey; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: July 19, 2022
Source: publisher
Content Warnings: violence, racism, alcoholism, physical abuse, sexual violence, suicidal thoughts, death of parent

SYNOPSIS

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a dreamy reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico.

Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction.

For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey.

MY THOUGHTS

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a reimagining of H.G. Wells’s sci-fi horror classic, The Island of Dr. Moreau, set on a secluded estate in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula during the Caste War. The descriptive, atmospheric writing brings the lush landscape to life and grounds the fantastical aspects of the story against a historical background, infusing the story with the cultural, social, political, and racial conflicts of the time.

I admire Silvia Moreno-Garcia because all of her books are so different each other, sharing only her illustrative writing style and settings in Mexico, but otherwise exploring vastly different genres, characters, time periods, and literary influences. However, considering the grotesque nature of the source material, I expected this book to lean into the macabre of Mexican Gothic or the magic of Gods of Jade and Shadow, but it did neither. This book is more of a coming-of-age character study or a period piece with a slow pace and unsurprising twists. I didn’t find Carlota or Montgomery to be particularly compelling characters, and I was not a fan of their relationship.

I don’t think the story lived up to the potential of a Dr. Moreau retelling. This reads more like historical fiction than science fiction. You do not need to have read the original to read this book. I appreciate the author’s note at the end that explains the history of the political conflicts featured in this book. This book was not what I expected, but it is a beautiful piece of writing.

Thank you to the publisher for the complimentary audiobook and eARC.

Review: Heartstopper Volume Three by Alice Oseman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: Heartstopper: Volume Three
Author: Alice Oseman
Series: Heartstopper #3
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Graphix
Release Date: February 6, 2020
Source: Personal collection
Content Warnings: eating disorder, homophobia, self harm, bullying, biphobia

SYNOPSIS

Charlie didn’t think Nick could ever like him back, but now they’re officially boyfriends. Nick has even found the courage to come out to his mom.

But coming out isn’t something that happens just once, and Nick and Charlie try to figure out when to tell their friends that they’re dating. Not being out to their classmates gets even harder during a school trip to Paris. As Nick and Charlie’s feelings get more serious, they’ll need each other more than ever.

MY THOUGHTS

Nick and Charlie are just the best. I love seeing their relationship develop to deeper levels. Even when they are awkward and shy, they support each other 100 percent. The Paris setting was wonderful, and I enjoyed how this story developed the side characters as well.

This volume also addresses some heavier topics like anxiety, depression, disordered eating, estranged parents, and excessive teen partying & drinking. While characters face more difficult personal struggles in this book, they all have incredible support systems to help them through.

I didn’t love this installment quiiiiiiiite as much as others in this series, but it still clearly exceeds four stars!

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