Review: Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Alexis:

Since I’m unfortunately recovering from lung surgery, I decided that continuing with my rom com binge and sticking to more lighthearted reads might be a good idea. 

I read The Love Hypothesis earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised. The writing was easy and accessible and the story was funny and heartwarming. 

Needless to say, I picked up Love on the Brain. And I have to admit…I’m a little baffled.

Was this fun to read? Yes. Like its predecessor, Love on the Brain contains so much interesting science talk (as well as a focus on neuroscience) and you can tell Hazelwood knows what she’s talking about. 

That being said, I got major déjà vu when reading this book. I kept thinking, “Have I read this before?” There were so, so many scenes, moments, and plot points that were almost the exact same as The Love Hypothesis. 

Now: yes, I am aware that both books started out as Reylo fanfic (but I like to keep an open mind!). So I knew there would be some similarities. However, both of the main characters, Bee and Levi, were nearly carbon copies of the main characters in The Love Hypothesis, except Bee somehow managed to be a more unhinged version of Olive. 

At least I liked Levi’s character. But there was also a plot point at the end that was honestly so ridiculous that it made the story unredeemable for me. 

Final thoughts: It started off as a fun read, but I wasn’t able to enjoy or get sucked into the story because it was just a worse version of The Love Hypothesis.

Review: Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren

A hand holds a yellow can of mango Bubbly sparkling water next to a Kindle, which rests on both a gray blanket and a black and whtie blanket.

Alexis:

I recently read The Unhoneymooners, which is undoubtedly the most popular of Christina Lauren’s books. And I really enjoyed it. It was the perfect beach read, and there were definitely a lot of actual laugh-out-loud moments.

So I decided to pick up Love and Other Words. And it’s definitely my favorite of the writing duo known as Christina and Lauren.

The story follows two different timelines. In modern day, Macy is a busy pediatrics resident stuck in a routine relationship. Back when she’s thirteen, Macy is struggling to deal with her mom’s recent death when she strikes a friendship with bookish Elliot. Eventually, their relationship becomes more. But in the present timeline, Macy has been estranged from Elliot for a decade, and when she unexpectedly runs into him, she has to face both him and her past.

The alternating timelines work really well for the story. Macy and Elliot’s characters already have a lot of tension between them, but the timelines and the mystery of what happened to their relationship ups the tension even more.

Part of why I loved this book was the past timeline. Reading about their growing friendship feels so realistic, sweet, and sometimes awkward, but true to their characters and to life. Their shared love of books and words makes for a solid foundation and a fun story to read.

As for the modern timeline, both Macy and Elliot are absolute messes, and it was both fun and heartbreaking to read. 

I only have two critiques, and one is relatively small. As a Greek American, I was excited to read about Elliot Petropoulos. I loved reading about his family’s dynamic, but I thought there was a missed chance to explore his Greek identity, even if it was just a little bit. His family didn’t even have spanakopita or baklava when they hosted Thanksgiving! There was a mention of peeling potatoes that I thought might have been a nod to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but I kept waiting for him or his family members to make a joke about being Greek.  

The other is the reveal/plot twist at the end, which was definitely an…interesting choice. The ending really needed to be expanded on in order to give both Elliot and Macy more time to unpack what happened and really deal with their trauma, especially Elliot.  

That being said, this story about childhood sweethearts made me feel all the feels. I found myself wholly engrossed in the writing and in Macy and Elliot’s story and relationship.

VERDICT: 5⭐s

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Anna: What would you do for love?

This is How You Lose the Time War is the most imaginative book I’ve read in a long time. It reminded me why sci-fi  is such an amazing genre that I need to explore more. It also has LGBTQ+ rep!

Summary: Red and Blue are change agents who work for rival time traveling agencies–Blue for the Garden, a vast organic consciousness. Red works for the Agency, a Technotopia. While traveling to different “strands” of history and time to change history, they start to write each other letters and slowly fall in love.

The actual rules and word building in This is How You Lose the Time War is super confusing at first and very slowly revealed to the reader. I didn’t know what was going on for a while, but that’s okay. This book is more about the lyrical writing and the vivid, visceral images of time traveling and Red and Blue’s romance that literally stands the test of time. This is ultimately a “star-crossed” lovers narrative, but it’s not tropey at all. This book takes work to get through, but it’s rewarding and worth it.

I also think it’s so cool that this book was co-written! As a writer, I can’t imagine creating such a complex world and story in the first place, but also doing it so seamlessly with another writer.

Verdict: 4 stars

Review: Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

A hardcover copy of Defy the Night lays on tops of an orange, pumpkin printed blanket and a gray blanket. Alexis' hand holds an iced pumpkin black tea, while her dilute calico cat sniffs it. A purple candle rests behind the book.

Alexis:

Defy the Night is a classic upper YA fantasy, complete with political intrigue/court politics, a sickness ravishing a world, and a brewing rebellion. And romance, of course. 

I loved the dual POVs. The story follows Tessa, an apothecary who makes elixirs by night to give to the sick poor, and Corrick, the prince and the King’s Justice. I enjoyed reading from both of their perspectives, and I liked how their voices actually sounded distinguishable.

I loved how Kemmerer explores the brotherhood between Corrick and Harristan. And the romance is written well and doesn’t feel forced.

All that being said, the world itself feels pretty generic and doesn’t stand out from any other YA fantasy. There were some easy to guess plot twists. However, I still enjoyed the plot. The pacing is great and never too slow, the characters are engaging, and Kemmerer’s writing style feels immediate in a way that sucks you in.

I’m looking forward to the sequel to this one, too!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

A library copy of For the Wolf sits on a deck flanked by a sunflower and a Sweater Weather candle, along with some fall leaves.

Alexis:

For the Wolf has a lot in common with Lakesedge:

✔️A self-sacrificing man who is seen as a monster to the outside world, but who is only trying to control the environment around him—the environment that is also a part of him

✔️ A run-down estate/castle surrounded by dark, creepy woods

✔️ A slow-paced story of a strong woman attempting to learn how to control her magic

Which of course means that I loved it! I’m always, always a sucker for an atmospheric read with lyrical writing and creepy woods. And this book has so many depictions of dark woods come alive with earthy magic.

Although For the Wolf is being marketed as YA fantasy for some reason, I would describe it as a new adult, romantic fantasy, as Red, the main character, and her twin sister, Neve, are twenty-years-old. 

Red is the Second Daughter of the Queen of Valleydan, which means that she must be sacrificed to the Wolf of the Wilderwood. She’s been told all her life that the Wolf is a monster who is keeping the world’s captured gods from returning. But when she finally meets the Wolf, a man named Eammon, she realizes that what she’s been told is a lie. Meanwhile, stuck as the Princess, Neve, the First Daughter, is doing everything in her power to get Red back from the Wolf, even if it means upending her own world.

As much as I loved this book, I will admit some flaws I noticed while I was reading. While Lakesedge’s magic and worldbuilding is clear, For the Wolf’s worldbuilding is a little hazy. I enjoy slow-paced books, but a lot of answers about the magic system came a little late. We also get short chapters, called Interludes, from Neve’s perspective. And I’ll be honest: I wasn’t really interested in her chapters. However, based on the ending, I think her POV will work well in the sequel. 

While the romance is very similar to that in Lakesedge, I do think it was more fleshed-out and better written in For the Wolf. 

All in all, if you liked similar books, such as Uprooted and The Wolf and the Woodsman, then you might enjoy this one, too!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

TW: Self harm for magic use (cutting), blood and mild gore, parental death, religious abuse 

Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

A library copy of Addie LaRue is being pulled out of a bookshelf, alongside a candle.

Alexis:

Look what I finally got from the library!

I was a little afraid to start Addie LaRue to be honest; it’s been hyped up so much that I was afraid to be disappointed.

However, I really enjoyed reading this book. Schwab’s writing is more poetic and lyrical than in other books I’ve read by her, and it sucked me into the story.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue follows, you guessed it, Addie LaRue. In France in 1714, Addie dreams of escaping her small village, but most of all, she’s desperate to avoid getting married. So she makes a deal with the devil. But the deal goes wrong, and not only is Addie now forgettable, she’s also immortal until she decides to give up her soul. 

While I’m not usually a huge fan of non-linear stories, including Vicious by Schwab herself, I think it actually worked well in this book. We jump back and forth between present time (2014 in this case) and Addie’s past escapades. Overall, this book is a slow-moving character study of Addie, and I enjoyed learning about her unique life. I appreciated the emphasis on art, and loved the overall atmosphere of the story.

There were a couple of things that kept this from being a 5 star read for me, however. While I like slow-moving, character-driven stories, I just couldn’t get over the fact that this book is devoid of basically any plot for the first ¾. And this book is a whopping 442 pages long. Instead, we spend most of the time following Addie as she suffers on the streets of different cities, and focusing on all the different lovers she takes up. 

There’s one sparse chapter about her being part of a war, which I feel like could’ve been a much more interesting part of Addie’s life, not to mention a much more interesting plot, yet we never see how it impacted her. Despite this being a highly character-driven story, I feel like Addie’s character never actually changes or evolves. And I guess that could be the point, couldn’t it? But not changing in 300 years?

It was also a little strange that Addie is alive for 300 years yet never makes it past Europe and the US. That, and the romance part of this book was subpar for me; the romantic interest was just not an interesting character to me. It didn’t help that the grandiose ending felt a little melodramatic.

Keep in mind that I can’t turn off the critical reader part of my brain. I guess getting your MFA and editing novels will do that to you! So even though there were parts of this book that I think could’ve been done differently, I still enjoyed the overall writing and the reading experience, and I think it’s worth a read.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas

A Kindle version of A Court of Silver Flames is being held up in front of a money tree, which is in a gray cat planter.

Alexis:

I was finally able to read this book after getting it from the library on my Kindle! And good timing too; unfortunately, I’ve been fighting a sinus infection, so I barely moved from the couch while I read this book.

A Court of Silver Flames is the fourth installment in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. This book is from Feyre’s sister’s, Nesta, point-of-view, and follows her as she hits rock bottom and tries to come to terms with her new life, and come to terms with her feelings for Cassian.

I loved parts of this book and wasn’t a fan of other parts. The actual plot that makes brief appearances? Great! Nesta’s hard, uphill battle to heal and come to peace with herself and her family and those around her? Also great! Nesta forming strong, supportive friendships with other women? Amazing! Nesta learning how to fight with Cassian as her teacher? Awesome!

And I might be in the minority in this, but there was just too much sex in this book. I knew that was going to be the case going into it (as the word had been going around the Bookstagram grapevine) but I found myself just flipping through the sex scenes. They just kept happening, in abundance and a wild amount of detail! I’m not a prude by any means, but it absolutely could’ve been pared down and the point still gotten across; it got very repetitive.  

It probably doesn’t help that Nesta was never my favorite character. However, this book did make me feel for her and understand her journey and her trauma. Maas always excels at that. But Nesta’s POV made Feyre and Rhysand not look great, honestly, and it was sometimes weird to read about this cast of characters from Nesta’s negative POV. 

While I enjoyed the book overall, even after skipping through the sex scenes, I still can’t help but compare it to Crescent City: A House of Earth and Blood. It deals with similar themes, but it’s Maas’ best work, in my opinion, and it’s significantly less racey, and A Court of Silver Flames almost felt like a shadow copy of that story.

Like I said, I still enjoyed the book overall, and I think it’s worth a read if you’ve been closely following ACOTAR. But just be aware of what you’re going into if you read it!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐.5

Review: The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

Alexis:

I don’t usually read romance books, but I’ve had so much intense reading for class lately that I needed a fun book to read as a distraction!

The Spanish Love Deception follows Catalina, a Spanish woman living in NYC. Her sister is getting married back home in Spain, and Lina promised to bring her boyfriend as her date to the wedding. The only problem: she doesn’t have a boyfriend. But her coworker, Aaron, convinces her to take him along, and pretend to be her boyfriend.

What I liked:

The dialogue was fun, snappy, and playful. Lina and Aaron are foils to each other in many ways; Lina is loud and talkative, and Aaron is serious and quiet. Their relationship is fun to read about, and I enjoyed the dynamic between them, as well as Lina’s dynamic with her family.

The romance takes a while to happen (definitely a slow burn) but it was written well (it does get steamy!)

What I didn’t like:

The book went on a little long. I definitely think 100-200 pages could’ve easily been condensed or cut out. Because of this, the writing, including Lina’s internal narrative, often feels repetitive. We see Aaron’s description literally every chapter; I got a little tired of reading about his blue/ocean eyes and huge/bulky physique.

That being said, if you’re looking for a fun romance, specifically enemies to lovers, an office romance, and the fake dating trope, consider picking this one up.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐

Review: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Alexis:

How do I begin?

So, to no one’s surprise, I read this book in one night. I’m living for the dark, witchy aesthetic of this book! It’s set in 1800s Sicily, Italy. Historical fantasy is one of my favorite subgenres of fantasy, so I was pumped to read this one.

Kingdom of the Wicked follows Emilia, a witch who grew up hearing horror stories from her grandmother about the princes of Hell and dark magic alike. When her twin sister, Vittoria, dies a gruesome death, Emilia teams together with Wrath, one of the princes of Hell, in order to avenge her sister’s death. 

Emilia’s family works in a restaurant, and I loved reading about the food that she and her family cooks. It’s a great way to ground the story, since it’s otherwise heavy on fantasy elements, and it made me hungry!

The beginning was a little bit slow, but I liked how it built up the story. I think Maniscalco did a great job with the setting, and I really enjoyed following Emilia as she runs around the city trying to figure everything out. I also enjoyed the chemistry and bickering between Emilia and Wrath, as well as their tumultuous enemies to lovers kind of relationship. 

As for the genre, I felt like Kingdom of the Wicked bounced back and forth between YA and NA. Emilia, the main character, is 18. Sometimes, I really liked her character, and I felt like she was a good balance between a strong female character and a realistic, grieving character. Other times, however, she was very naive and made some dumb decisions, so if you’re not into naive characters, this might not be the book for you. However, I liked learning how the princes of Hell worked alongside Emilia as she tried to figure out what she’s been thrown into. 

Besides that, while I enjoyed the plot overall, there were some confusing bits. I found myself re-reading the ending because it was fairly vague, which might be the point, considering its leading into the next book. Either way, I’m looking forward to the sequel!  

Overall, if you’re into witchy vibes, historical fantasy, and morally gray characters, then give this one a try!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

Alexis:

The Happy Ever After Playlist was another beach read chosen by my mom. When she finished reading it, she handed it to me and said, “Wow, I actually really liked that one!”

For fun, I looked it up on Goodreads, only to find out that it’s actually a sequel. But at the end of the book, Jimenez said that she wrote this one first. Regardless, I don’t think you need to read the first one at all to enjoy this one!

This was such a fun read. Under each chapter title is a song to go with the aesthetic of the chapter. I was so excited to find a number of some of my favorite songs included in the playlists. I ended up listening to most of the songs on Spotify when I started each chapter. Turns out, there’s an actual playlist for this book, so I definitely recommend checking it out!

Sloan’s fiance died two years ago, and on the anniversary of his death, she almost runs over a dog named Tucker. She takes the dog in and learns that his owner is a musician currently on tour in Australia. The chapters alternate in POV between Sloan and Jason as they get to know each other and fall in love pretty quickly.

This is pretty much everything you could want in a rom-com: dogs, drama, flirting, chemistry, music, and complete with some classic rom-com tropes later down the road.

The dialogue was hilarious, the chemistry between Sloan and Jason was certainly there, and I loved the whole playlist idea. The second half was a little more dramatic than I usually like, but I enjoyed reading this book until the end.

VERDICT: 📚📚📚📚📚