Serena’s Review: “A Crown of Ivy and Glass”

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Book: “A Crown of Ivy and Glass” by Claire Legrand

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, May 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the author!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Lady Gemma Ashbourne seemingly has it all. She’s young, gorgeous, and rich. Her family was Anointed by the gods, blessed with incredible abilities. But underneath her glittering façade, Gemma is deeply sad. Years ago, her sister Mara was taken to the Middlemist to guard against treacherous magic. Her mother abandoned the family. Her father and eldest sister, Farrin—embroiled in a deadly blood feud with the mysterious Bask family—often forget Gemma exists.

Worst of all, Gemma is the only Ashbourne to possess no magic. Instead, her body fights it like poison. Constantly ill, aching with loneliness, Gemma craves love and yearns to belong.

Then she meets the devastatingly handsome Talan d’Astier. His family destroyed themselves, seduced by a demon, and Talan, the only survivor, is determined to redeem their honor. Intrigued and enchanted, Gemma proposes a bargain: She’ll help Talan navigate high society if he helps her destroy the Basks. According to popular legend, a demon called The Man With the Three-Eyed Crown is behind the families’ blood feud—slay the demon, end the feud.

But attacks on the Middlemist are increasing. The plot against the Basks quickly spirals out of control. And something immense and terrifying is awakening in Gemma, drawing her inexorably toward Talan and an all-consuming passion that could destroy her—or show her the true strength of her power at last.

Review: First off, thanks so much to Sourcebooks Casablanca for sending me an ARC of this book! I was so excited when I received it in the mail, as it’s been sitting pretty high on my wishlist of books to read in 2023. I wasn’t Legrand’s most ardent fan with her YA trilogy (I found that it began to fall into a few too many YA fantasy tropes for my preference), but there was never any question regarding her overall skill as an author. Her writing always came across as supremely confident and competent. That made me all the more excited to check out her first foray into adult fantasy, especially adult fantasy romance! Let’s dive in!

Gemma has grown up with a very priveleged existence: rich, beautiful, and a member of one of the most powerful families in the land. But, at the same time, Gemma has always felt herself to be on the outside looking in. Not only does she not possess any of the magical talent that her family is known for, and that both of her older sisters excel at in their own ways, but magic actively hurts Gemma, causing her to move through life in a very magical world experiencing constant levels of pain. When Gemma meets Talan, a young man who also feels that he exists outside the strictures of society, she finally begins to see a way forward, teaming up with him to hunt a powerful demon who may be the answer to her struggles with magic. But along the way, she begins to suspect that there is much more going on with Talan and the larger world as a whole.

So, I’ll be honest, I’ve had this post started for a few weeks now and every time I pull it up to actually write my review, I become super intimidated and find excuses to do other things. Mostly this is because I’m still not quite sure how I feel about this book! I have some extremely opposing feelings about almost every part of it. But one thing I think I can confidently start with is one of the things I referred to in my introduction: this author knows how to write. I immediately felt drawn into this world and these characters. As the story progressed, the magic and world itself felt as if it was unrolling before me, presenting more and more insights into the world-building that was on a much more grandiose scale than I had originally thought. Regardless of anything else in this review, the appeal of Legrand’s prose is enough to keep me reading this trilogy going forward.

But where my opinions become more divided is with the characters and the pacing of this story. Let’s start with the pacing and plotting. This book was blurbed as “Bridgerton meets ACOTAR.” Maybe I should have know right from there that I would be conflicted about this book! I mean, I really enjoy Bridgerton and I absolutely loathe ACOTAR. And I can confirm that both of those references feel very on point and accurate to what you’ll get if you pick up this book. I’ll even go as far as to say that the ACOTAR aspects were by no means as frustrating to me as ACOTAR itself. Indeed, I very much liked these parts of the story! No, the problem came in a very unique way. The book almost literally feels as if it has been split down the middle by these two comparisons. The first half is Bridgerton, with fantastical balls, social hierarchies, fancy gowns, and romance. And then, boom! The second half hits and we’re full on ACOTAR with magical barriers and fantasy creatures and magical systems. And, again, I enjoyed this half too! The problem is that, overall, it left the book feeling very disjointed and created a jarring reading experience. I was all down for the regency fantasy, and then it was like a bait and switch to suddenly be dropped down into a much more “traditional” fantasy setting. And due to the fact that much of the plot really takes place in the second half, I was left feeling as if the book could have been edited down quite a bit from the Bridgerton stuff of the beginning, as much as I liked it on its own.

Now, to the characters. First, I think that Legrand did an excellent job of portraying the experiences and life of someone who lives with chronic pain. Gemma is very straight-forward with her struggles while also never becoming self-pitying. She is frustrated with her limitations, while also not belittling herself. I also really like the way this aspect of her character plays out over the entire arc of the book. Unfortunately, that was about all I liked about Gemma. I get that the author was very intentionally writing this character as rather frivolous and selfish; indeed, Gemma herself comments on these aspects of her personality. And I think the book used these traits to also do a great job of diving into self-loathing and self-harm. But over the course of the book, while Gemma does experience growth, I still struggled to really like her or feel invested in her story.

But, here comes the other side of the character issue: I REALLY liked both of her sisters. Honestly, fairly quickly into the book I realized that I was mostly reading on for the glimpses we get of these two and trying to piece together the stories we’ll get from them. I was even more invested into the glimpses of what I can only guess will be the central romance for one of the sisters than I was in Gemma’s own romance. There, too, I struggled with Gemma’s story. Talan felt very one-note when he was first introduced. And then as he went on, he had a few scenes that made him incredibly unlikable. The story does go on to make this a fairly central part of the plot, but it’s hard to recover from on the romance front when the author sets the reader on a path of questioning and disliking the romantic hero from the very start.

So, overall, this was a very mixed bag for me. I think, in the end, I didn’t end up loving this book. But, BUT!, on the other hand, I’m supremely invested in the next book in this series and can’t wait to get my hands on it! Given the nature of my complaints with this book, they all feel of the very specific sort that won’t be a problem in the books going forward. Both sisters seem like much more interesting characters than Gemma. The romantic interest/plot for one of them is already laid out and is incredibly appealing. And I think the world-building is now established enough that we won’t have the same plotting/pacing issue going forward where the tone is unclear between Bridgerton or ACOTAR. So, all of this to say, while I did struggle with this book, I do recommend it for fantasy romance readers based on my faith that the trilogy will turn out to be well worth it as a whole.

Rating 7: A very mixed bag for this book specifically, but I was definitely sold on the concept and anxiously await the next entry in the trilogy!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Crown of Ivy and Glass” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Novels with “Crown” in the Title and Epic High Fantasy/Romance/Mythology in 2023.

Serena’s Review: “Happy Place”

Book: “Happy Place” by Emily Henry

Publishing Info: Berkley, April 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they met in college—they go together like salt and pepper, honey and tea, lobster and rolls. Except, now—for reasons they’re still not discussing—they don’t.

They broke up six months ago. And still haven’t told their best friends.

Which is how they find themselves sharing the largest bedroom at the Maine cottage that has been their friend group’s yearly getaway for the last decade. Their annual respite from the world, where for one vibrant, blue week they leave behind their daily lives; have copious amounts of cheese, wine, and seafood; and soak up the salty coastal air with the people who understand them most.

Only this year, Harriet and Wyn are lying through their teeth while trying not to notice how desperately they still want each other. Because the cottage is for sale and this is the last week they’ll all have together in this place. They can’t stand to break their friends’ hearts, and so they’ll play their parts. Harriet will be the driven surgical resident who never starts a fight, and Wyn will be the laid-back charmer who never lets the cracks show. It’s a flawless plan (if you look at it from a great distance and through a pair of sunscreen-smeared sunglasses). After years of being in love, how hard can it be to fake it for one week…in front of those who know you best?

Review: Like many authors I’ve grown to love, I was first introduced to Emily Henry when we read “Beach Read” for bookclub a year or so ago. It was part of a romance theme we were doing at the time and was a great motivator to read a book and author I probably would never have picked up on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance, but I tend to stick pretty strictly the historical romance lane ala “Bridgerton” and the like. What can I say, Jane Austen really ruined me for other genres of romance. In particular, I’m not often a reader of contemporary stories in any genre, so contemporary romance was waaaaay down there. But boy, yet again am I thankful for bookclub because here I am, the biggest Emily Henry fan you’ll find!

Harriet’s happy place has long been established as not only a location (her friend’s rich dad’s New England beach home) but as the group of friends who have travelled alongside her through the past decade of her life. And part of that group has always been her longtime boyfriend, Wyn. But now, broken up for the past six months, Harriet is unsure whether she can find that happy place again. How can this close group of friends survive the sundering of one of its longest-running romances? Things are made more challenging when Harriet realizes that this will be the last year before their beloved gathering place is sold. Not wanting to ruining what may be the last time they’re all together for a long while, Harriet and Wyn decided to not break the news of their break up until after the trip is over. But keeping up this ruse may prove more difficult than either has expected.

There are a lot of things to love about Henry’s approach to contemporary romance. But I think one of the things I appreciate most is how deftly she manages to use very common, some might say worn to death, romance tropes and breathes new life into them. Here she tackles two tropes in one, fake dating and a second chance love story. In a lot of ways, I think this combination works better than either one does on their own, especially fake dating. I’ve always been a bit of a hard sell on fake dating. The scenarios used to make it a necessary thing always seem very contrived and unbelievable. And then the success of two people, often near strangers, successfully tricking people into believing they are a couple always seemed incredibly unlikely. Not only do these strangers need to fake their way through the awkwardness of physical interactions, but they have to somehow orchestrate the easy comradery and chemistry of a true couple. But, like I say, Henry wisely sidesteps this entire issue by combining it with a second chance love story.

Harriet and Wyn were not only a couple before, they were in a long-term, on the verge of marriage, serious relationship. Add in some unresolved feelings, and it’s easy to see how they could simply flip a switch into faking they’re still together. On top of that, the use of a very close friends group makes a compelling reason for why they would fake their relationship. Not only would a break up upend the boat of a small group of mutual friends, but a few of the friends have expressed reliance on Harriet and Wyn’s solid relationship as proof that long-term love is possible! It’s a perfect storm of circumstances that I think nicely lays the entire table for both of these romance tropes.

Another thing Henry does so well is ground her stories in other struggles and growth for her characters. As the story unfolds, we begin to see what went wrong in Harriet and Wyn’s seemingly perfect relationship. Through a series of flashbacks, we begin to learn that neither has ever been perfectly honest with the other about what they want from life. What’s worse, neither has been honest with themselves. Both are incredibly likable but flawed individuals, and we see how each has been swatting away the necessary work that would have lead them to healthier lives and a healthier relationship. Harriet’s struggles as a people pleaser and Wyn’s inability to place value in himself as he is were all incredibly powerful and well depicted.

And, of course, the romance is lovely. Henry also tends to write romances that read a bit bitter sweet. They end well, because that’s almost required of the genre. But given the way this book is structured, with the flashbacks slowly working their way towards the present, it’s difficult to watch Wyn and Harriet spiral towards the inevitable break-up. Between their own struggles and the challenges we see from some of the other members of this friends group, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a happy book. And yet, it also wasn’t sad. It simply felt very real and honest about the way even the closest relationships, romances and friendships, can be built on unhealthy habits and interactions. The ending was particularly cathartic after all of the build-up. I was also very happy with a few particular turns of events at the end where I think Henry improved on some of her previous character work in conclusions of other books I’ve read by her where I’ve been more frustrated. If you’re a fan of contemporary romance or of Emily Henry, this is definitely a must read!

Rating 9: Heartfelt and poignant, this story tackles not only the lies we tell others but, more importantly, the lies we tell ourselves.

Reader’s Advisory: “Happy Place” is on these Goodreads lists: That One Really Popular Modern Romance Novel Cover Style and 2023 Contemporary Romance Releases.

Serena’s Review: “Wings Once Cursed and Bound”

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Book: “Wings Once Cursed and Bound” by Piper J. Drake

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, April 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description:

My wings unbound, I am the Thai bird princess
The kinnaree
And no matter the cost,
I will be free.

Bennet Andrews represents a secret organization of supernatural beings dedicated to locating and acquiring mythical objects, tucking them safely away where they cannot harm the human race. When he meets Peeraphan Rahttana, it’s too late—she has already stepped into The Red Shoes, trapped by their curse to dance to her death.

But Bennet isn’t the only supernatural looking for deadly artifacts. And when the shoes don’t seem to harm Peeraphan, he realizes that he’ll have to save her from the likes of creatures she never knew existed. Bennett sweeps Peeraphan into a world of myth and power far beyond anything she ever imagined. There, she finds that magic exists in places she never dreamed—including deep within herself.

Review: First of all, thank you so much to the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, for sending me an ARC of this book! I can say that the cover is just as fantastic in person as it seems from the small image above. Very unique and vibrant, just the sort of cover that would make me pause when browsing the aisles of the bookstore. Unfortunately, however, I didn’t enjoy the actual book itself nearly as much.

When a fellow dancer hands Peeraphan a box with beautiful red dancing shoes, she can’t resist their magnetic appeal. Now, however, she finds that these are not in fact ordinary shoes, but slippers that have been cursed to compel their wearer to dance themselves to death. Luckily for Peeraphan, her own magical heritage has given her some level of protection from the shoes themselves. But there are those who are hunting artifacts like these, and they don’t seem to care that the shoes are currently attached to a living woman. Another artifact hunter, a vampire named Bennet, has also been tracking the shoes, but after meeting Peeraphan, he realizes that much more is at stake than a simple recovering mission.

I initially requested this book because of the very intriguing premise of the Thai legend of the kinnaree. Urban fantasy has long been entrapped by the classic monsters like vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc. So I was incredibly excited to see a story focused on a lesser known legend. I also know next to nothing about Thai folklore or the legend of the kinnaree. Unfortunately, I still don’t. I’m not exactly sure what happened here really. I feel like I was sold on this very specific premise, but then I started reading the book and it turned out to be…not that. Our main character, who also goes by Punch (dislike), knows next to nothing about her own abilities. And then as the book goes on, very little is added on to that. Instead, we were once again bogged down with vampires and the typical “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” ilk.

I also never felt like Punch was given much characterization. The shoes show up with in the first few pages, far too quickly for any good character work to have been established prior. And from there, the action quickly sweeps her along, but I’m never given any reason why I should care or be particularly invested in her story. Instead, I was mostly just frustrated from the start! She senses something strange about the shoes right off the bat, and then, of course, just puts them on anyways. It wasn’t a strong start for the character, and the story never seemed to recover from there.

I also didn’t really care for Bennet or the romance as a whole. Again, his character and story felt incredibly familiar, with very little new to say about vampires or any of the other beings we encounter. The love story also felt rushed towards the end, and I couldn’t tell exactly who the audience was for this book. It didn’t feel as if it could commit fully one way or another, reading at certain points as very YA and then at others trying to take on a more gritty, adult tone.

Overall, the entire thing really didn’t work for me. Part of the problem was that I had fairly high expectations going in. I was really excited by the idea of a new urban fantasy story that was pulling from lesser known legends, and then when the book failed to deliver on that, it was hard to latch on to anything else. I think there will be readers who enjoy it, however, especially those who really enjoy urban fantasies as a whole. It just wasn’t for me, sadly.

Rating 6: While it’s an acceptable urban fantasy on the whole, I feel like the primary premise, that of the legendary Thai kinnaree, was a complete let-down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wings Once Cursed and Bound” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Fairytale Retellings in Contemporary Romance.

Kate’s Review: “Lore Olympus: Volume 3”

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Book: “Lore Olympus: Volume 3” by Rachel Smythe

Publishing Info: Del Rey, October 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: All of Olympus–and the Underworld–are talking about the God of the Dead and the sprightly daughter of Demeter. But despite the rumors of their romance, Hades and Persephone have plenty to navigate on their own.

Since coming to Olympus, Persephone has struggled to be the perfect maiden goddess. Her attraction to Hades has only complicated the intense burden of the gods’ expectations. And after Apollo’s assault, Persephone fears she can no longer bury the intense feelings of hurt and love that she’s worked so hard to hide.

As Persephone contemplates her future, Hades struggles with his past, falling back into toxic habits in Minthe’s easy embrace. With all the mounting pressure and expectations–of their family, friends, and enemies–both Hades and Persephone tell themselves to deny their deepest desires, but the pull between them is too tempting, too magnetic. It’s fate.

This full-color edition of Smythe’s original Eisner-nominated webcomic Lore Olympus brings Greek mythology into the modern age in a sharply perceptive and romantic graphic novel.

Review: We are back to my favorite deity filled soap opera/love story “Lore Olympus”, this time diving into the third volume. This story has been taking over our book club as almost everyone has at least started it, and I cannot stop fawning over it because of every single beat it hits that just work for me. And “Volume Three” keeps the streak going, as, once again, I loved this.

Now let’s get into why! THIS IS GOING TO BE LONG! (source)

Both Persephone and Hades have some huge emotional summits they are starting to climb in this volume, and it’s still fairly separate outside of them being at work in the Underworld together. As Persephone has started her first job, Hades is trying to remain professional and emotionally disconnected, and she is trying to find her footing while dealing with a lot of feelings she needs to sort out. We still don’t really know a lot about Persephone’s time in the Mortal Realm before all of this, all we know is that she has been given a scholarship by The Goddesses of Eternal Maidenhood to go study in Olympus so long as she commits to remaining celibate. We finally get to explore how she started this journey in this volume, as we see how she was approached by Hestia, how she got paired up with Artemis as roommates, and how she may be a little hesitant about the whole thing. But then there is something else that is being hinted at. Something about Persephone’s nature, and how there is perhaps something else that she is trying to leave behind, and how Demeter is trying to cover something up. Smythe starts laying out these clues in a more earnest nature this time around, with hints towards a more fiery temperament, hints towards Demeter changing her mind on a dime about Persephone’s place in the mortal realm, and hints about a destiny to be fulfilled. Seeing all of this in tandem with Persephone’s anxieties about fitting in at school, anxieties about working at a strange job, and anxieties about her crush on Hades makes for a VERY compelling character arc, and I just love what Smythe is doing with her.

Hades, too, is dealing with his own inner battles, mostly with trying to avoid Persephone as he feels like his feelings for her are inappropriate and that he’s reading far too much into it. So of course he’s decided to make it official with Minthe, the scheming and manipulative (but also very much hurting and damaged) nymph that works for him and has been is on again, off again girlfriend for a long time. But as Hecate finds more and more reasons to try and push him and Persephone together, he starts to wonder if perhaps he has a connection to her that has been in place even before he saw her at that party. Hades as a guy who is doing his best to not be a creep and doing his best to repress his feelings, because of his fear of hurting her but also because of a hinted at past trauma (if you know the broader mythology you can probably guess it), is a bit refreshing, as it puts a lot of the agency on Persephone, which is a VERY good thing in reimaginings of this tale. He also isn’t left totally off the hook when it comes to how he is probably using Minthe, while also conceding that in some cases BOTH parties can be very, very bad for each other. It all leads to a very heartbreaking sequence for the both of them. Arg, complexity when portraying the character getting in between my ship? How very dare you, Rachel Smythe?!

But the biggest stand out for me this volume was Eros. (There will be mild spoilers here because I need to spoil to talk about why I loved this!) Eros is a figure that happens to be at the center of my second favorite Greek Myth (that of him and Psyche), and while we are getting some hints that we are moving in that direction for his plot, his main function as of now is to be a kick ass and supportive friend to Persephone as she starts to come to terms with her rape by Apollo. I think that it would be an easy out to make Eros a very flamboyant and over the top romance fiend, because Eros, BUT Smythe instead makes him, yes, a bit of a drama llama, but also SO in touch with love and appropriate ways to show love and boundaries. His reaction to Persephone’s reveal was so, so perfect for the character, and it hit me right in the feels. We are also getting a little more insight into his own background and baggage, specifically about Psyche, and how something he did has put Aphrodite into a tenuous position, and it makes him all the more complicated and interesting. I just love the role he’s playing, and very much look forward to seeing his role continue to grow and evolve as the series goes on.

Oh and also there is a lot of interesting Hera stuff here too in that she knows that something happened to Persephone, she thinks she knows that Apollo is involved, and when she tries to investigate further Zeus decides to sweep it all under the rug because PATRIARCHY. I really love what Smythe is doing with Hera too, because again, she could have just been a shrewish wife to Zeus as she seems to be portrayed in the original myths. But in this we get to see why she is so damn frustrated and weary, and it’s because she is having to remain by the side of a man that she doesn’t REALLY like who won’t even give her a modicum of respect, or really any respect to ANY women. I’m always for calling out Zeus, but I especially love it when Hera gets leeway while still being complicated.

So obviously I’m still all about “Lore Olympus” and “Volume Three” is continuing the love. It’s just so well done. I’ve pre-ordered “Volume Four”, so you know that when it comes out this summer I will be back on my fan girl bullshit.

Rating 10: Oh be still my heart, so many feelings this time around. You’re killing me, Greek Gods and Goddesses! In the best, best way.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lore Olympus: Volume 3” is included on the Goodreads lists “Greek Mythology Retellings!”, and “Hades and Persephone”.

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Lore Olympus: Volume 2”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  
Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Lore Olympus: Volume 2” by Rachel Smythe

Publishing Info: Del Rey, July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Persephone was ready to start a new life when she left the mortal realm for Olympus. However, she quickly discovered the dark side of her glamorous new home—from the relatively minor gossip threatening her reputation to a realm-shattering violation of her safety by the conceited Apollo—and she’s struggling to find her footing in the fast-moving realm of the gods. Hades is also off-balance, fighting against his burgeoning feelings for the young goddess of spring while maintaining his lonely rule of the Underworld. As the pair are drawn ever closer, they must untangle the twisted webs of their past and present to build toward a new future.

This full-color edition of Smythe’s original Eisner-nominated webcomic Lore Olympus features a brand-new, exclusive short story, and brings Greek mythology into the modern age in a sharply perceptive and romantic graphic novel.

Review: We are back for more Greek Mythology soapy romantic goodness, everybody! It has been awhile since I have had a full blown content obsession, but “Lore Olympus” has really snagged me but good. Greek myths! Humor! A favorite ship! LOTS OF PATHOS! It all comes together in this series and we are starting to parse out the various complications that are facing Persephone, Hades, and more Greek Gods and Goddesses in “Volume Two”. Our star crossed would be lovers, Persephone and Hades, are trying to find their footing after their chance meeting has set them both a little off kilter, and while that could just be a lot of pining and wallowing in angst, Rachel Smythe takes the opportunity to build up more backstory and more characterization, and it is for the better. “Volume Two” is keeping the series going strong. But yes, there is still some lovely Hades angst, and given that I LOVE to be emotionally wrecked by fiction, I say bring it on.


One of the most rewarding things about “Lore Olympus” is that Smythe is taking her time to set groundwork, characterizations, and background. We start this volume off with Persephone starting her schooling with her scholarship from The Goddesses of Eternal Maidenhood while silently grappling with the sexual assault she endured at the hands of Apollo. She loves being away from her doting mother’s eyes, but given she’s drawn to Hades she is feeling that perhaps joining TGOEM isn’t what she really wants. Meanwhile, Hades is stewing about his feelings for her and trying to keep his distance, and to make matters worse a tabloid has shown innocuous pictures of them and spinning them to seem scandalous, which threatens Persephone’s reputation. Throw in Hera’s suggestion that Persephone take on an internship in the Underworld (as she secretly wants Hades to be happy and thinks that this would help that), and the two would be lovers are being shoved into some fun forced proximity!

But these very common tropes feel fun and new in this story, and it means that we can carefully explore their budding friendship while also exploring them as individuals who are dealing with a lot of baggage on their own. I thought that Smythe is really careful but also powerful when exploring the aftermath of Persephone’s rape, and does a good job of portraying the shame, the fear, and the apprehension, especially since her abuser is inserting himself in her life vis a vis his clueless sister Artemis, whom Persephone is living with. It’s tackled in a way that feels real, but doesn’t feel melodramatic or exploitative. I’m hoping that it stays that way and isn’t used for man pain or anything like that, but I trust Smythe to continue to be mindful. We also have a lot of other facets to Persephone’s growth as she tries to make sense of what she has been told she wants from life, and what she actually wants from life. There have also been hints about some darkness involving her backstory and her nature, which is VERY interesting to say the least…

Okay now we talk about what I loved most in this book. HECATE IS HERE!!! I’ve talked about how Persephone is my favorite Greek deity, and Hades is definitely number two? Well Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, is third. I love Hecate. So I was very interested to see how Smythe depicted her, and I was NOT disappointed, as she is Hades’s COO and number two in command, who calls him out on all his nonsense and bullshit while trying to support him in other ways. She is THE BEST, and also very competent at keeping things in the Underworld running. In this the Underworld is a very necessary, non-evil place that has to be run efficiently, and having Hades and Hecate as co-runners feels very Eric and Pam from “True Blood” (without any of the clichéd longing on her part). It’s also really cool to see the depiction of the Underworld here, as we’ve seen the Mortal Realm as fields and vastness, and Olympus as an upperclass city scape. The Underworld feels a bit more hardboiled with a corporate undertone, and I love seeing how it is run, and how the various workers fit in, like Thanatos, who escorts souls to the Underworld, and Minthe the nymph (who just so happens to be in an on again off again/toxic relationship with Hades and she’s also kind of the worst but also seems pretty damaged so she isn’t just a girl to get in the way, HOW REFRESHING!).

And I’m still in love with the artwork. The designs of all these characters are perfection. I mean LOOK AT MY GIRL HECATE!

Source: Random House Worlds

I’m still obsessed with “Lore Olympus”. There isn’t much else to say, I’m head over heels.

Rating 9: Still loving this. What a fresh, soapy, emotional and sometimes hilarious take on Greek Mythology!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lore Olympus: Volume 2” is included on the Goodreads lists “Greek Mythology Retellings!”, and “Hades and Persephone”.

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Lore Olympus: Volume 1”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  
Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Lore Olympus: Volume 1” by Rachel Smythe

Publishing Info: Del Rey, November 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Experience the propulsive love story of two Greek gods—Hades and Persephone—brought to life with lavish artwork and an irresistible contemporary voice.

Scandalous gossip, wild parties, and forbidden love—witness what the gods do after dark in this stylish and contemporary reimagining of one of mythology’s most well-known stories from creator Rachel Smythe. Featuring a brand-new, exclusive short story, Smythe’s original Eisner-nominated web-comic Lore Olympus brings the Greek Pantheon into the modern age with this sharply perceptive and romantic graphic novel.

Review: It has come up before on this blog, but I absolutely adore the story of Hades and Persephone from Greek Mythology. That said, I am always VERY wary of new and updated takes on this myth, as I am always worried that well meaning creators will take this thousands of years old story and critique it through a modern day lens and decide that it is wholly unacceptable (and to be fair, it’s not like I can blame them because HOO BOY, the optics of it). I am always FAR more interested in adaptations that, instead of making it about grooming, abuse and uneven power dynamics, tap into the very ample potential of a story about a woman discovering her own power and coming into her own on her own terms and with agency… And yeah, it sure doesn’t hurt if there is some steamy romance involved (what can I say, I love a depressive demon nightmare boy and Hades is the originator). So when a Book Club friend asked me if I had heard of “Lore Olympus” and told me what it was, my first question was “okay…. you know my tastes with this story, am I going to like this?” And she said “OH yeah”. So I got “Volume One” from the library, and sat down one night intending to start it. But then I proceeded to finish it and ordered all available volumes to be added to my personal library. Suffice to say, I loved “Lore Olympus: Volume One”.

This is everything I need in a Persephone and Hades story. Everything. (source)

“Lore Olympus” is a long running web comic that takes on the Taking of Persephone with a lot of modern sensibilities, a distinct soap opera attitude, and a slow burn romance between two super different, super complex, and super likable Greek deities. The first is Hades, the sullen and emotionally damaged King of the Underworld. In this Hades is a corporate overlord who lives alone, tolerates his more fun loving brothers Zeus and Poseidon, dotes over his EXTENSIVE dog collection, and buries his past traumas of being a son of Kronos and ALL the baggage that entails. The other is Persephone, the goddess of Spring who has just come into her own, leaving a very sheltered life in the Mortal Realm to be roommates with Artemis on Olympus as she begins her studies and starts a (reluctant) journey to remain a maiden devoted to purity. Through a series of coincidences and the pettiness of other Gods, Hades and Persephone meet, and thus begins a very, very slow burn that brings in not only a VERY lovely romance, but also other well known deities and their nonsense, updated interpretations of various myths, and the start of a story of two people who have a deep, deep connection finding out things about each other as well as themselves. “Volume One” is setting up a lot of the groundwork, introducing us to a huge cast and a lot of settings, and it is done with a lot of heart, a lot of humor, and so many different emotional beats. I loved this start of getting to know both Persephone and Hades, seeing their aspirations and their slowly building friendship and the peeling back of their layers. I love how sad and awkward and brooding Hades is. I love how effervescent and charming and, shall I say, edgy Persephone is. I love that we are getting teasing moments about their characters and what multitudes they contain. I love how Rachel Smythe is being slow and deliberate as she starts to carefully explore the romance that these two will surely have. Because when they interact, it is such a joy.

I also really loved the way that Smythe brings in all sorts of other Greek Mythology players and inserts them into this modernish remix of the lore. You get some fun contemporary interpretations of these characters, like Zeus and Poseidon forcing Hades to attend rowdy brunches with them, or Artemis being a well meaning but condescending roommate, or Eros being a bit of a hot mess romantic (who is dealing with his OWN baggage, with hints to his messy relationship situation with Psyche, YES PLEASE, MY OTHER FAVORITE MYTH). But we also get some darker moments and characterizations, with Smythe turning well known players on their heads and making them more sinister. The most obvious example of this is Apollo, whose Golden Boy reputation hides a personality that oozes with malevolent privilege run amok. But my favorite was Hera, the long suffering wife of Zeus who, in original mythology, is always portrayed as a shrew of sorts. In “Lore Olympus” she definitely has a nasty streak, but you can tell that it is due to a deep unhappiness that she is living with, and not just because of her philandering husband. I really, REALLY love Hera in this series.

And finally, the artwork is very cute. Smythe has this really easy to connect to style, that can shift on a dime from cartoony and quirky humor to absolutely breathtaking imagery. The use of color is phenomenal and I just love how she has designed all of the characters.

We are off to a fantastic start in “Lore Olympus: Volume One”. I look forward to seeing how Hades and Persephone grow as a couple and as individuals.

Rating 10: BE STILL MY HADES/PERSEPHONE LOVING HEART. What a fun, emotional, and slow burn take on one of my favorite Greek Myths of all time.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lore Olympus: Volume One” is included on the Goodreads lists “Greek Mythology Retellings!”, and “Hades and Persephone”.

Serena’s Review: “The Orchid Throne”

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Book: “The Orchid Throne” by Jeffe Kennedy

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: As Queen of the island kingdom of Calanthe, Euthalia will do anything to keep her people free—and her secrets safe—from the mad tyrant who rules the mainland. Guided by a magic ring of her father’s, Lia plays the political game with the cronies the emperor sends to her island. In her heart, she knows that it’s up to her to save herself from her fate as the emperor’s bride. But in her dreams, she sees a man, one with the power to build a better world—a man whose spirit is as strong, and whose passion is as fierce as her own…

Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, has built an army to overthrow the emperor. But he needs the fabled Abiding Ring to succeed. The ring that Euthalia holds so dear to her heart. When the two banished rulers meet face to face, neither can deny the flames of rebellion that flicker in their eyes—nor the fires of desire that draw them together. But in this broken world of shattered kingdoms, can they ever really trust each other? Can their fiery alliance defeat the shadows of evil that threaten to engulf their hearts and souls?

Review: I’ve read a few books by Jeffe Kennedy in the past, though I don’t think I’ve reviewed any of them for the blog? She typically writes fairly light-hearted romantic fantasy, and I’ve enjoyed her books in the past. I’ve seen her recent trilogy pop up on Edelweiss over the last few years and finally decided that now was the time to give her another go!

Decades before, a tyrant discovered a powerful, explosive force that allowed him to conquer all of the small kingdoms and force them into unwilling submission as part of his empire. Ruin and destruction is still remembered by the populous, and one young prince has had to reimagine himself as a warrior rebel while trapped in a slave mine. Slowly, he is now working his way towards his revenge on the emperor who destroyed his land and home. But one kingdom survived: the beautiful island of Calanthe. For its ruler welcomed the conquering empire when he came to their shores and promised his own daughter to be a future bride. Now grown, Euthalia works to maintain the tremulous independence that her father bought her land at the price of her hand. But time is running out and the emperor is coming to collect. Soon enough, a rebel prince and a ruling queen will cross paths, and what comes could change the course of the world.

As I said, it’s been a few years since I’ve read anything from this author. And while I remember liking her books, they were also of the sort that I enjoyed reading in the moment, but then quickly forgot. But either my opinion has shifted in the ensuing years or this trilogy is starting off on a stronger foot than Kennedy’s previous books. I really liked what this book had to offer! Most of all, I liked that while it definitely has a strong romance at its heart, the author wisely spends a significant amount of time firmly establishing her two leads as individuals in their own rights. They each have distinct histories and experience, particularly with how their countries and parents dealt with the cruel emperor who now rules them all. Due to these histories, they each have very different priorities when they meet each other, only grudgingly seeing eye to eye, if at all.

Conri’s story is the more straight-forward and familiar of the two with his arc of tragedy, followed by oppression, followed by revolution and then a single-minded focus on punishing the man who tore down his world as a child. But Euthalia’s story is more complex. Her father’s decision to not fight the conquering emperor lead to much derision and scorn by the other nations that fought him. But now, in the aftermath, Euthalia’s home is the only one that remains even partially independent. As such, Euthalia herself walks a fine line as the only remaining ruler, at once trying to protect her people while also delaying her wedding to the emperor. When Contri arrives on her doorstep, all she sees is bloodshed and ruin. And all Conri sees is a frivolous court ruled by a frivolous queen.

I also really liked the general tone of this story. While this world is one big history of tragedy, the story itself reads as largely light-hearted with a good amount of laugh-out-loud dialogue. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that Kennedy leaves reveals for both late in the book and, in some cases, for the next book entirely. There are mysteries to be still found about Euthalia’s homeland and why her father chose what he did. I have the second book loaded up on my Kindle already, and I’m excited to find out what’s to come. I definitely recommend this book to fans of fantasy romance and those looking for a lighter fantasy novel.

Rating 8: Like the lush magical kingdom at its heart, this book overflows with wonder and hidden power. Sure to please fantasy romance lovers everywhere!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Orchid Throne” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Hidden Gems Across the Genres and Adult Fantasy Romance.

Serena’s Review: “Raven Unveiled”

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Book: “Raven Unveiled” by Grace Draven

Publishing Info: Ace Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Siora has been on the run for longer than she cares to remember, from her past and her gift. Born with the ability to see and speak to ghosts, she has heard their desperate pleas as an otherworldly predator stalks the dead amid the fertile killing fields of the collapsing Krael Empire. The creature’s power and reach are growing with every soul it consumes, but Siora is preoccupied with her own troubles: namely an assassin who has sworn an oath of vengeance against her.

Gharek of Cabast was once the right-hand man of the reviled empress but is now a wanted fugitive. Although his reasons for hunting Siora are viscerally personal, what Gharek can’t anticipate is that when he finally does find her, she will hold the key to saving his world, or what’s left of it. To make good on old debts and protect the vulnerable dead from a malevolent force, Gharek and Siora will both need to make an ally out of an enemy—and trust that will be enough to save each other.

Previously Reviewed: “Phoenix Unbound” and “Dragon Unleashed”

Review: I’ve really enjoyed the, at this point, many books I’ve read by Grace Draven. She has a fairly significant back catalog that I have been slowly working my way through. But it’s also been fun to read her “Fallen Empire” trilogy as it’s been published in real time. So far, I’ve really liked both of the books in this trilogy. We’re introduced to the main characters for this book back in “Dragon Unleashed,” so I was already primed with excitement to get to their story here. Plus, who doesn’t love a good old “enemies to lovers” romance??

Siora had finally felt as if she had a place and the beginnings of a home. But then, in an effort to save lives, including that of her young war, Siora was forced to betray the man who had taken her in. For his part, Gharek is not one to forget and forgive. While he is a wanted man by many for his role as the late queen’s assassin, he is still driven with one goal and one goal only: find the woman who betrayed his, and his daughter’s, trust. But as they race in a game of cat and mouse, Siora and Gharek begin to realize that larger forces are moving in the world and they have to trust one another if they have any hope of overcoming it.

So, shocking take here given everything I already said about this author and this series so far but…yeah, I really enjoyed this one! Ok? Ok, review done? But in all seriousness, it’s always so great to find an author who consistently churns out enjoyable books. I’ve definitely had preferences and favorites, but I’ve never actively disliked a book by Graven. And this trilogy in particular has been very consistent throughout: great individual stories, great characters, great love stories, and an interesting world and history that connects them all.

By the third book in the trilogy, readers should be very familiar with all of these elements, and in a lot of ways it was like returning to a cozy, favorite place. Don’t get me wrong, this world is brutal and cruel. But as a reader, it’s also full of lovely characters and stories, and by the time you get to the third book, you’re on constant look out for returning faces. The fear, then, is that the new characters could be washed out by older characters. But Gharek and Siora definitely hold strong on their own.

I found Siora’s character and her story particularly compelling. Hers is a tale of long experience living on the outside of society. But through these experiences, and the influence of her late father, she has developed a keen sense of right and wrong. So devoted to this path, she follows these instincts even when they work against her own best interest. Indeed, this is what has lead to the situation she finds herself in now: on the run from her late employer, Gharek. For his part, Gharek’s journey is much more introspective. His role and position in the world has been pulled out from beneath him. He’s still a father, but he is barely able to understand how to be that (or any other loving role) without falling back on the destructive tendencies that had made him successful. He loves his daughter more than anything, but then to express this he leaves her behind in pursuit of revenge that she didn’t ask for. This, of course, also is seen in his growing relationship and feelings towards Siora.

The pacing and action of this book does stumble a bit. For one thing, though we get a decent amount of time with Siora and Gharek together, I found myself always wishing for more. Maybe it was the many stages that this relationship needed to go through, but I found that each of these stages could have used a bit more fleshing out. I also stumbled a bit with the “big bad” of this story. In the past two books, the Empress was a very present evil. We saw her repeatedly and her influence on everyone and her kingdom was obvious. But this book opens with her having been dealt with already. And then the evil that we do end up with is of a much more nebulous sort. The danger was unique, the way that Siora’s death powers played into this was cool, but I just found myself lacking real investment in this storyline.

Overall, however, I really liked this book. Siora and Gharek have a lovely romance, and in a lot of ways, it checks off many of my favorite tropes. The actual plotting of this book was probably not my favorite of the three, but it was also by no means bad. I flew through this book in only a few days and highly recommend it to fantasy romance fans (as part of the entire trilogy, of course!)

Rating 8: An excellent conclusion to the trilogy, but I found the love story more compelling than the actual plot of hte book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Raven Unveiled” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Characters Who Hide Their Powers.”

Kate’s Review: “Blackwater”

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Book: “Blackwater” by Jeannette Arroyo & Ren Graham

Publishing Info: Henry Holt & Co. (BYR), July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Tony Price is a popular high school track star and occasional delinquent aching for his dad’s attention and approval. Eli Hirsch is a quiet boy with a chronic autoimmune disorder that has ravaged his health and social life. What happens when these two become unlikely friends (and a whole lot more . . .) in the spooky town of Blackwater, Maine? Werewolf curses, unsavory interactions with the quarterback of the football team, a ghostly fisherman haunting the harbor, and tons of high school drama.

Co-illustrated by Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham, who alternate drawing chapters in their own unique and dynamic styles, Blackwater combines the spookiness of Anya’s Ghost with the irreverent humor of Nimona.

Review: I’m admittedly a bit of a slacker lately when it comes to graphic novels, and I am making a promise to myself that in 2023 I am going to try and do a better job of reading more graphics. But when I saw “Blackwater” by Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham on my Goodreads feed, it caught my eye, and I made sure to get my hands on it for 2022. It has a lot of great things going for it: a horror graphic novel! With POC and queer and trans characters! With a spooky cover right off the bat!

So first, the werewolf stuff. Werewolves aren’t a subgenre I dislike by any means, I just don’t find myself reading or consuming much around this kind of monster (that said, read “Such Sharp Teeth!” by Rachel Harrison!). But I do know when a werewolf story has hamfisted metaphors as opposed to well done ones, and “Blackwater” has a mix of both. For one, this isn’t REALLY werewolves in a traditional sense as it’s more about emotional state than moon phases. Once Tony, one of our protagonists, gets bit, he’s turning into a wolf whenever his feelings get the better of him, usually rage. Which is, frankly, a bit obvious and a little bit of a cheat to say it’s werewolves when it’s not REALLY at the heart of the matter werewolves, mythos wise. But on the flip side, there is a good exploration of grief and loss in this book that does also tie into wolf transformation, but also as it applies to other characters and the hardships they are facing. One protagonist Tony is grieving a broken relationship with his father or a changing friendship with a childhood friend, just as other protagonist Eli is grieving a strained relationship with his mother because of how she responds to his chronic illness. Both of them feel lonely in their own ways, and that fits into the overall metaphor well too. There is also a side story involving Eli’s ability to see ghosts and a ghostly fisherman who has some unfinished business on Earth that I found to be the most effective storyline, but I don’t want to go into why I found it as such as it will be pretty spoiler heavy if I did. But let’s just say that I did find myself crying a bit with this whole plot line.

But here is the aspect that didn’t work for me and I wish it had: the romance between Tony and Eli. I get what the authors were trying to do, having them slowly start to fall for each other after each having preconceived notions about the other, and having them both grow as people in a coming of age tale where their romance is just the icing on the cake. But the issue I had with this was 1) I didn’t feel like I got to know either of them well enough to get super invested, and 2) there is a moment that REALLY derailed it for me, and I need to talk about it a bit so I’m going to do a

So early on in the book, Tony is still pretty chummy with (though admittedly outgrowing) his childhood best friend Biff. Biff is a complete jerk, and he bullies Eli for being weird and solitary and different, and Tony, though he doesn’t approve, feels like he can’t push back against his friend. He doesn’t participate, but he doesn’t stop it either. He also offhandedly mentions to Eli that he has asthma and has to use an inhaler before his track meets. Eli, angry that Tony didn’t stand up for him, takes his inhaler out of his bag and throws it into the woods. Then Tony has an asthma attack during the track meet, to the point an ambulance has to be called. He ends up just fine, but still, that’s pretty serious. And when it does come out that Eli did this, there is anger on Tony’s part, but he is pretty much told that ‘hey, Eli made a mistake, but you should forgive him’ and that is that, and I just…. That didn’t sit well with me. I don’t have asthma so I’m not going to speak for those who do, but I do have memories of my younger sister having to be up at 3am with a nebulizer multiple times a week because of her asthma making it hard for her to breathe, so for this kind of thing to be dismissed as a slip up versus something that is potentially VERY dangerous was hard to swallow. I don’t need Eli to be a villain over it, because yes, people do make mistakes when they are in pain and it can be nuanced! But it made it hard for me to be rooting for them as a couple when Eli did this and then kept it a secret for so long. Add in a vague lack of fleshed out chemistry and it just didn’t justify the romantic reconciliation. If there was more time to give me a relationship chemistry based reason for them to overcome this I could have been more forgiving, probably. I’ve done it before! But I just didn’t see the chemistry or character development for that.

And I do want to mention the artwork, mostly because the two authors, Arroyo and Graham, alternate taking on the illustrations as the story is told. I liked the round robin-esque aspect of this and the way that two creators come together to tell a story through their own aesthetics. It doesn’t really add anything to the story at hand, but it’s a fun idea and I think they executed it well. I also liked their styles overall. They hit the right tone, with scary elements when needed but sweet designs as well.


So when it comes to werewolf themes and romance I thought that “Blackwater” was a bit lackluster, but the deeper themes of grief and loss were well conceived and constructed. Ultimately I’d say it was ‘okay’.

Rating 6: It’s an okay werewolf tale with some decent themes about grief that work, but the romance was so so when I had hoped I’d be more invested. Plus there’s a moment that I thought was pretty unforgivable that’s glossed over.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Blackwater” is included on the Goodreads lists “Trans YA Fiction”, and “BIPOC Boy MC in YA Fantasy/SciFi/Mystery”.

Joint Review: “Rules of Engagement”

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Book: “Rules of Engagement” by Selena Montgomery

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, September 2022

Where Did We Get this Book: ALA!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Dr. Raleigh Foster, an operative for a top-secret intelligence organization, knows that her undercover work has its risks. So she doesn’t hesitate when asked to infiltrate Scimitar, the terrorist group that has stolen lethal environmental technology. But when she’s assigned a partner–brooding, sexy Adam Grayson–to pose as her lover, Raleigh discovers that the most dangerous risk of all…is falling in love.

Adam blames himself for the botched mission that got his best friend killed by Scimitar, and he believes that Raleigh may have contributed to the man’s death. But the closer he works with his alluring partner, the more his suspicions turn to trust–and intense desire. Now, as he and Raleigh untangle a twisted web of secrets and lies, the tension mounts between them…until their masquerade as a couple proves too tempting to resist.

Serena’s Thoughts:

Kate and I nabbed ARCs of this book during a preview panel at ALA. While I don’t typically read this sort of romance novel (I tend to stick within my genres, even with romance and am much more likely to pick up a fantasy or historical romance before a contemporary story), the plot synopsis of this one did stand out to me. Who can not be interested in undercover agents falling in love?

And there were things to enjoy as far as this premise goes. I liked the action scenes and the build up of tension during some of the undercover moments. The story was also written in an approachable, fast-paced manner and I was able to blow through it pretty quickly. I think readers of this sort of romance will likely very much enjoy it.

However, it is also very much of its time (originally published in 2001), and there were far too many times when I became frustrated with the interplay between the main characters, as well as their portrayals as individual characters. The hero, Adam, was probably the biggest issue I had with this book. He was very hot and cold, but not in a sexy way. More like a strangely aggressive obtuse inability to understand that Raleigh was also an under cover agent who would make the decision to keep her own secrets. I was also not a fan of some of the terms that were repeatedly thrown around to describe Raleigh, terms like “childlike,” “vulnerable,” and “fragile.” Ummm…she’s clearly a supremely competent under cover agent, given her success rate and her age. I don’t think “fragile” is the term I’d use to describe this type of person. But, again, much of this just feels more of a different time anything else.

Overall, this book is a bit dated, but I think it will likely still appeal to contemporary romance fans. Especially for romance readers who enjoy political intrigue and under cover operations.

Kate’s Thoughts:

As some one who has been very impressed by and a huge fan of Stacey Abrams, not only for her political maneuvering but also her unabashed geekiness (her perspective on the Buffy/Angel/Spike love triangle is PERFECTION), I was pretty eager to try out her first romance novel when it was presented to us at ALA. And by first I mean this was, as Serena said, a reissue of her debut from 20+ years ago. Even though romance is pretty hit or miss with me, I was more than willing to give this one a go.

And I have to echo a lot of what Serena said. Even though I’m not someone who really enjoys spy stories in general, I liked the espionage shenanigans in “Rules of Engagement”. It felt part Black Ops, part “James Bond”, and I enjoyed seeing Raleigh slip into characters while also balancing her real life, be it dealing with her attraction to Adam, or with her fun best friend Alex. I also mostly liked Raleigh, as her complexity felt real and believable while also fitting into the role of a super spy (who still manages to be SUPER young, but hey, that’s fine!).

But, also like Serena, the biggest downside for this book was the dynamic between Raleigh and Adam. I just didn’t like how he treated her, infantilizing her one moment, raging against her and nearly despising her another moment, then going full on protective star crossed lover ANOTHER moment. Whiplash! Whiplash I say! I agree that it probably worked better twenty years ago, but as a reader today I didn’t find it terribly sexy. And I say this as a person who generally likes enemies to lovers tropes!

It’s fun seeing Stacey Abrams alter ego’s first story in action! I may see if I can find some of her later romances to see how they compare, as “Rules of Engagement” had some pluses, but minuses as well.

Kate’s Rating 6: I liked the espionage stuff and I liked Raleigh for the most part, but the dynamic between her and Adam was not my cup of tea.

Serena’s Rating 6: Not for me, as I disliked the hero and had a negative reaction to some of the descriptions of the heroine as well. But this is also a very subjective opinion and fans of the genre will likely enjoy it!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Rules of Engagement” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Spy Romances.

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