Review: Crumbs by Danie Stirling

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In a very special town, there’s an even more unusual bakery with a selection of baked treats hand-crafted to help your dreams come true. For Ray, a quiet young woman with special powers of her own, the order is always the same: a hot tea with a delicious side of romance.
When Ray meets Laurie, the kind barista who aspires to be a professional musician, she gets a real taste of love for the first time. But even with a spark of magic, romance isn’t so simple. Both Ray and Laurie are chasing their own dreams and even when Ray starts to see the future, she can’t predict her fate with Laurie.

Thank you to Harper Insider for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

As soon as I saw this book, I knew I wanted to pick it up. It just seemed so perfect for autumn – a cozy romance with a bakery and magic. And it definitely didn’t let me down.

I loved the artwork and would have loved to have read this in colour, but as I read an ARC copy, the printing was only in black and white. I obviously won’t be taking this into account with this review, but I would love to see the finished copy as the artwork was gorgeous.

The story was super sweet and I liked seeing both of our main characters have their own storylines and individuality. There did seem like quite a heavy focus on Ray’s job, which I didn’t mind but did make the story feel a little disjointed at times and left the world-building feeling slightly muddled.

However, I only have slight complaints and overall this was a super-sweet story and I adored the relationship and friendship group. The baking element was so lovely and heartwarming but didn’t take as much of a central pillar in the story as I expected.

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Horror Hotel by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren

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When the YouTube-famous Ghost Gang—Chrissy, Chase, Emma, and Kiki—visit a haunted LA hotel notorious for tragedy to secretly film after dark, they expect it to be just like their previous paranormal huntings. Spooky enough to attract subscribers—and ultimately harmless.
But when they stumble upon something unexpected in the former room of a gruesome serial killer, they quickly realize that they’re in over their heads.
Sometimes, it’s the dead who need our help—and the living we should fear.

I spotted this one earlier in the year at Forbidden Planet, and decided to pick it up for spooky season. The cover drew me in, the concept gripped me and I liked the idea of a shorter read (this one clocks in at just over 200 pages).

The best part of this book was that it was a quick and entertaining read, but I sadly don’t feel like it achieved much more than that. I got through it very quickly and read most of it in one sitting, and I did like the concept and wanted to read on.

It’s nice to have someone who knows you that well 

However, I do feel like several aspects of this book let it down. It’s not often I comment on the writing, but this one did feel like a debut, especially at the start. The writing seemed quite underdeveloped to me. The characters were also all pretty unlikable and didn’t feel like they had distinct personalities.

Although I didn’t try to guess who the killer was, it was the most obvious choice for a murderer and didn’t have any kind of shock factor. There was a lot of gruesome parts and gore, but I also didn’t find this as creepy as I wanted or expected to.

and still wants to see your face every day.

Overall, this was definitely fun and entertaining and I enjoyed the ride enough to keep turning the pages, which is why I’m still going to give it 3 out of 5 stars. But if you’re looking for anything more than entertaining and fast paced, you might want to give this one a miss.

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Fireborn (#1) by Aisling Fowler

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Ember is full of monsters.
Twelve gave up her name and identity to train in the art of hunting them–so she says. The truth is much more deadly: she trains to take revenge on those who took her family from her.
But when Twelve’s new home is attacked, she’ll find herself on an unexpected journey, where her hidden past is inescapably intertwined with her destiny–and the very fate of her world.

I don’t often drift towards middle grade but I couldn’t resist the pull of Fireborn, a beautiful adventure story following a heroine known as Twelve and her squirrel companion.

I listened to the vast majority of this book as an audiobook and really enjoyed the narration, although I do think this can be a little difficult to follow due to the flashbacks, which are italicised in the physical print. The plot was fast paced and full of adventure, and felt like a true quest story at heart which I loved.

The world was rich and vibrant with a great cast of characters who felt like a real found family – they had their disagreements and difficulties, but it just made them feel more like brothers and sisters to me.

I did personally follow the first half of the book much easier than the second half, but that could also be me becoming distracted while listening and struggling to follow. I picked up the physical book for the last 50ish pages, which I found easier to follow and stumbled across some beautiful illustrations too.

If I hadn’t been hindered by my personal difficulty with following a chunk of this book, I honestly think this would have easily been a 4 star read for me. However, if I do rate it as a personal experience, it feels more like a 3.5 star. But it was still a super enjoyable middle grade adventure story!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: A Vow So Bold and Deadly (#3) by Brigid Kemmerer

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Emberfall is crumbling fast, torn between those who believe Rhen is the rightful prince and those who are eager to begin a new era under Grey, the true heir. Grey has agreed to wait two months before attacking Emberfall, and in that time, Rhen has turned away from everyone—even Harper, as she desperately tries to help him find a path to peace.
Fight the battle, save the kingdom.
Meanwhile, Lia Mara struggles to rule Syhl Shallow with a gentler hand than her mother. But after enjoying decades of peace once magic was driven out of their lands, some of her subjects are angry Lia Mara has an enchanted prince and a magical scraver by her side. As Grey’s deadline draws nearer, Lia Mara questions if she can be the queen her country needs.
As the two kingdoms come closer to conflict, loyalties are tested, love is threatened, and a dangerous enemy returns, in this stunning conclusion to bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly is the conclusion of the Cursebreakers series, a fantasy story loosely reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. This series has been really enjoyable so far, and I’m glad to finally be able to say I’ve finished reading it. I was also glad to find out there will be more books set in this series, in the Forging Silver Into Stars series set in the same world.

I definitely enjoyed this final book more than the second one, A Heart So Fierce and Broken. We had more of an equal balance of POV between characters, which I really enjoyed. It was great to see more chapters following Harper and Rhen, which I did miss in the second book.

I know trust is not something you win once, 

I once again really enjoyed the writing and the world-building, which gives these books a real comforting feel and is reminiscent of many YA fantasy books. I actually really enjoy this – this whole series feels unique while still feeling familiar.

I did enjoy the romance in this book, but I also felt like there was a slight lack of character development. This could be a risk of having (at least) four POV, and not being able to focus too much on specific characters.

but is instead something you must earn over and over again.

Overall, this one was entertaining but didn’t blow me away. At the end of this series, I definitely liked A Curse So Dark and Lonely the most and neither the second or the third book has quite lived up to the feeling I had from re-reading the first one. But I have enjoyed all of these books, and found them very easy to read.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Nothing More to Tell by Karen M McManus

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True crime can leave a false trail.
Four years ago, Brynn left Saint Ambrose School following the shocking murder of her favourite teacher. The case was never solved, but she’s sure that the three kids who found Mr. Larkin’s body know more than they’re telling, especially her ex-best friend Tripp Talbot. He’s definitely hiding something.
When Brynn gets an internship working on a popular true-crime show, she decides to investigate what really happened that day in the woods. But the further she dives into the past, the more secrets she finds.
Four years ago someone got away with murder. Now it’s time to uncover the truth . . .

Thank you to Penguin for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve been reading Karen M McManus’ books for a long time, and I always forget quite how much I enjoy them, until a new one comes along and surprises me. Nothing More to Tell is her newest release, and I always marvel at how she makes each book feel so unique. Being YA thrillers, they naturally all follow similar plots and groups of characters, but each of her books has something different about it. This book is set in a private school, and I really liked the premise and atmosphere.

I listened to the audiobook of this one for most of the book, and I felt like it was done really well. This book is told in alternate viewpoints of two characters, and I liked following both of them a lot. With around 80 pages left, I decided to pick up the physical version, and although I was only planning on reading a little bit physically and going back to the audiobook, I found myself not being able to put it down until it was finished.

The world would be a better place if more people knew when to stop talking. Everyone says too much, all the time.

This book kept me gripped until the very end, and I honestly did not guess where this one was going at all. I wouldn’t say this is my favourite Karen M McManus book so far, but it did feel like the most intricate. There was so many twists and turns, and every time I thought we were coming to a conclusion, something else happened to change that. We don’t find out who the killer actually is until the last 10 pages, and that really kept me hooked!

Although the characters weren’t my favourite, I did like them a lot and they felt very 3 dimensional. I also really liked how they had reconnected as friends after a number of years. Neither of the main characters were perfect, but that’s what made them feel real. I find the balance of liking characters when they are all suspects hard to find, but this one was done well.

Ask them a simple question, and they’ll give you their entire life story. No one cares! Just say yes or no.

This was brilliant, and it made me so happy to be reading something by Karen M McManus again. If you’re looking for something fast paced, entertaining, easy to read and honestly unputdownable, look no further than McManus. Especially this newest release!

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Any Way the Wind Blows (#3) by Rainbow Rowell

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In Any Way the Wind Blows, Simon and Baz and Penelope and Agatha have to decide how to move forward.
For Simon, that means deciding whether he still wants to be part of the World of Mages — and if he doesn’t, what does that mean for his relationship with Baz? Meanwhile Baz is bouncing between two family crises and not finding any time to talk to anyone about his newfound vampire knowledge. Penelope would love to help, but she’s smuggled an American Normal into London, and now she isn’t sure what to do with him. And Agatha? Well, Agatha Wellbelove has had enough.
Any Way the Wind Blows takes the gang back to England, back to Watford, and back to their families for their longest and most emotionally wrenching adventure yet.
This book is a finale. It tells secrets and answers questions and lays ghosts to rest.

It’s been a while since I read the first (and second!) book in this series, but I was excited to dive back in and I didn’t find myself too confused by the story. I listened to this one as an audiobook, which I enjoyed and made this 500+ page book quite a lot less daunting. My only complaint is I feel like it would have gained quite a lot by being a full-cast audio (or even just by having a couple of narrators).

When I read the first book, I absolutely fell in love with it. Many years later, this series didn’t quite live up to my hopes, but I did still enjoy this one. It felt quite comforting, and I found I liked Baz and Simon’s romance almost as much as I used to. I did find this one a little more risque than I expected for a teen book, though!

What a ridiculous creature. Happy that I put butter on his sandwich. 

I’ve always quite enjoyed the characters, and the found family element of this book. Even though the narration could have done with a full cast, I did really like the multiple Points of View, and I didn’t feel like any detracted from the story.

My biggest, and really only major criticism about this book is I felt like it was lacking in a clear plot. Although I could see where the story was going, it almost felt like there was a lot of smaller elements to the book rather than a big plot point. These books have always felt quite high stakes and high action, and this one just let me down slightly in that aspect.

 As if I wouldn’t make the world spin backwards if I thought he’d like it better that way.

Overall, I did really enjoy this one, though, and I’m glad I read it. There’s a lot to love about this series, especially SImon and Baz!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Some Girls Do by Jennifer Dugan

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Morgan, an elite track athlete, is forced to transfer high schools late in her senior year after it turns out being queer is against her private Catholic school’s code of conduct. There, she meets Ruby, who has two hobbies: tinkering with her baby blue 1970 Ford Torino and competing in local beauty pageants, the latter to live out the dreams of her overbearing mother. The two are drawn to each other and can’t deny their growing feelings. But while Morgan–out and proud, and determined to have a fresh start–doesn’t want to have to keep their budding relationship a secret, Ruby isn’t ready to come out yet. With each girl on a different path toward living her truth, can they go the distance together?

I’ve wanted to read a Jennifer Dugan book for a while – I’ve heard so many good things about her books, especially Hot Dog Girl. I saw a collection of her hardbacks for sale at YALC, and couldn’t help but snap them up! I picked up Verona Comics, Melt With You, and Some Girls Do, which was the first one I decided to read.

I liked the idea of this book – with two distinct female characters. I was really excited to read about Ruby, a girl who both competes in beauty pageants and also loves mechanics. As a runner myself, I was also looking forward to reading about Morgan, a track athlete.

She shakes her head. “Because Tyler is a boy,” she says softly. Resigned. 

This book was super easy to read and I read most of it in less than a day. There was some tougher subjects tackled, including homophobia and abuse. The biggest issue I had with this book was that I didn’t find myself relating to either of the main characters. They both had a lot of issues and at times I felt like they were messing each other around quite a lot.

There was definitely some growth throughout the book, and I did enjoy the amount of side-plots which added extra layers to the story. The amount of interests both girls had did make them quite 3 dimensional, and I liked reading about Ruby’s love for cars and Morgan’s love for running.

“And girls aren’t supposed to like other girls.”
“Well some girls do,” I say.

Overall, this one was an enjoyable read, but definitely wasn’t perfect by any means. I would have liked a little more depth to the story, and the characters to be a little more likeable.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

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Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes.
Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.
And Sam picks up the phone.
In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.

I don’t often pick up books that I see as ‘TikTok books’, but the synopsis of this one (along with the beautiful hardback design and that cover) drew me in and I knew I wanted to pick it up. I actually read this one as an audiobook, and I really enjoyed the narration.

I was drawn in from the very start – this is such a sad but beautiful story following Julie after the death of her boyfriend, Sam. I was unsure where this book would go or how it would conclude, but I knew I’d enjoy the magical realism elements and some of the concept reminded me of Your Name, one of my favourite films.

Letting go isn’t about forgetting. 

The writing was definitely my favourite element of the book, which was poetic and beautiful. The group of friends was another part I loved, including Julie’s friendship with Oliver, which was a really joyous platonic relationship to read about. I found Julie’s grieving process believable (although obviously different due to her connection with Sam), and I liked reading about how she re-built a connection with Sam’s family.

This book does leave you with questions – but it’s a short, sweet and quite well formed. There was a few scenes towards the end, however, that I felt were slightly unneeded, including an argument between Julie and Sam.

It’s balancing moving forward with life, and looking back from time to time, remembering the people in it.

Overall, I did really enjoy reading this one even though it wasn’t quite perfect. Perhaps it would have made me more emotional if I’d have read the physical version, but I also didn’t cry, although I had tears in my eyes at the end of the book.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: A Heart So Fierce and Broken (#2) by Brigid Kemmerer

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Find the heir, win the crown.
The curse is finally broken, but Prince Rhen of Emberfall faces darker troubles still. Rumors circulate that he is not the true heir and that forbidden magic has been unleashed in Emberfall. Although Rhen has Harper by his side, his guardsman Grey is missing, leaving more questions than answers.
Win the crown, save the kingdom.
Rumored to be the heir, Grey has been on the run since he destroyed Lilith. He has no desire to challenge Rhen–until Karis Luran once again threatens to take Emberfall by force. Her own daughter Lia Mara sees the flaws in her mother’s violent plan, but can she convince Grey to stand against Rhen, even for the good of Emberfall?
The heart-pounding, compulsively readable saga continues as loyalties are tested and new love blooms in a kingdom on the brink of war.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed re-reading A Curse So Dark and Lonely and I knew it was finally time to continue with the series (sorry it took me so long, Bloomsbury!). This one was yet again super easy to dive into and I immediately fell in love with the writing style, which is so easy to follow.

We are introduced to new characters in this sequel, which I was a little hesitant about and definitely did impact my enjoyment of the book. I really loved the main characters of Grey, Harper and Rhen from the first book, so to see new people in this one did throw me a bit.

“I am crying because you are a prince,”

However, I did find myself really enjoying Lia Mara’s chapters, and she became a great female protagonist in the absence of Harper. I also really enjoyed seeing some of the side-characters from the first book become more prominent in this one, including Harper’s brother and his boyfriend.

The biggest let down for me was the lack of focus on Rhen and Harper, and I honestly felt like Rhen was really left on the back burner. His character seemed pretty unrecognisable and went from being someone I really liked reading about to being almost non-existent and when he was mentioned, pretty unlikable. I’m hoping the final book in the series focuses more on Rhen, and he has a redemption arc from this point!

I say softly. “And I…” I let out a breath. “I am not a princess.”

The writing is definitely the best part of this series for me, and I loved the descriptions of the world. Although I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first book, I’m still looking forward to continuing with the series in A Vow So Bold and Deadly.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Book Haul #1 | Recent books I’ve received from publishers

Hi all and welcome to a new segment of the blog! I used to take part in Stacking the Shelves, wrapping up the books I received and bought during the week on the weekends, but I’ve decided to start a new series where I share book hauls whenever I choose to.

For the first issue of this series, I’m thanking a few publishers that have provided me with some wonderful advanced copies of books I’m super excited for in the next few months!

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On the outskirts of Tokyo, in a neighbourhood crossed by a commuter railway, local cats weave their way through the lives and homes of their owners as they navigate difficult times.
A cat named Chobi sends silent messages of courage to a young woman, willing her to end a faltering relationship; a gifted artist fatally misunderstands her boss’s enthusiasm for her paintings; a manga fan shuts herself away after the traumatic death of her friend, while her cat Cookie hatches a plan to persuade her outside; a woman who has dedicated her life to a distant husband learns a lesson in independence from her cat.
Against the urban backdrop of humming trains and private woes, SHE AND HER CAT explores the gentle magic of the everyday. Populated by both the friendly and the feral, it reveals – with heartstopping clarity and warmth – how even in our darkest moments, community and connection may lead us to a happier place.

Firstly, Penguin sent me a copy of Makoto Shinkai’s newest release, She and Her Cat, which is based on Shinkai’s first animated work from 1999. I’m a big fan of Shinkai’s more recent work (especially Your Name), so you can only imagine how excited I was to receive this!

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Four years ago, Brynn left Saint Ambrose School following the shocking murder of her favourite teacher. The case was never solved, but she’s sure that the three kids who found Mr. Larkin’s body know more than they’re telling, especially her ex-best friend Tripp Talbot. He’s definitely hiding something.
When Brynn gets an internship working on a popular true-crime show, she decides to investigate what really happened that day in the woods. But the further she dives into the past, the more secrets she finds.
Four years ago someone got away with murder. Now it’s time to uncover the truth . . .

Also from Penguin, I received a copy of Nothing More to Tell, which is Karen M McManus’s latest release! She’s definitely the queen of YA thrillers and this is the only book by her I haven’t read yet.

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Three months after Fang Fest, Mina’s settling into her new life.
Despite the teething problems in her relationship with Jared, she has her sister back, new friends and a part-time job to die for.
Over Halloween, Mina and the gang have planned a spooky week of Gothic restaurants, horror movies, ghostly tours, creepy carnivals and a costume ball.
But the fun doesn’t last. Mina is on work experience with Detective Cafferty while the police are investigating a savage masked killer and a rise in suspicious ‘animal attacks’.
During her own investigations, Mina discovers a mysterious group of slayers, who are battling to control the rogue vampires.
The threats circle closer as Mina spends her days with the police and nights with the slayers.
Will she and her friends survive Halloween without being staked, stabbed or bitten?

The lovely people at Uclan publishing sent me a copy of Mina and the Slayers, the sequel to Mina and the Undead, which I read recently and really enjoyed! I’m hoping to dive into this one soon and continue the series.

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Lari Ramires has always known this to be true. In Olinda, Brazil, her family’s bakery, Salt, has been at war with the Molinas’ bakery across the street, Sugar, for generations. But Lari’s world turns upside down when her beloved grandmother passes away. On top of that, a big supermarket chain has moved to town, forcing many of the small businesses to close.
Determined to protect her home, Lari does the unthinkable—she works together with Pedro Molina to save both of their bakeries. Lari realizes she might not know Pedro as well as she thought—and she maybe even likes what she learns—but the question remains: Can a Ramires and a Molina truly trust one another?

The lovely El at Harper Insider (a section of Harper Collins for Waterstones booksellers), sent me a parcel of proofs, including this one. I’m a keen baker and this one sounds so good – I always love books that focus on food!

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Alice Sun has always felt invisible at her elite Beijing international boarding school, where she’s the only scholarship student among China’s most rich and influential teens. But then she starts uncontrollably turning invisible—actually invisible.
When her parents drop the news that they can no longer afford her tuition, even with the scholarship, Alice hatches a plan to monetize her strange new power—she’ll discover the scandalous secrets her classmates want to know, for a price.
But as the tasks escalate from petty scandals to actual crimes, Alice must decide if it’s worth losing her conscience—or even her life.

I’ve been seeing this one around a lot so I was super excited to receive my own copy – how beautiful is that cover as well?!

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Kelly Quindlen meets Casey McQuiston in this sapphic Jewish twist on the classic Christmas enemies-to-lovers rom-com, as college freshman Shani’s internship is interrupted by a whirlwind winter fling.
It all starts when Shani runs into May. Like, literally. With her mom’s Subaru.
Attempted vehicular manslaughter was not part of Shani’s plan. She was supposed to be focusing on her monthlong paleoichthyology internship. She was going to spend all her time thinking about dead fish and not at all about how she was unceremoniously dumped days before winter break.
It could be going better.
But when a dog-walking gig puts her back in May’s path, the fossils she’s meant to be diligently studying are pushed to the side—along with the breakup.
Then they’re snowed in together on Christmas Eve. As things start to feel more serious, though, Shani’s hurt over her ex-girlfriend’s rejection comes rushing back. Is she ready to try a committed relationship again, or is she okay with this just being a passing winter fling?

I love a cozy Christmas romance, and I always like having one on hand for winter. This one looks so cute, and I love the cover!

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Falling for a superhero is dangerous. You have to trust that they’ll catch you.
Astrid isn’t a superhero, not like the ones she sees on the news, but she has something she thinks of as a small superpower: she has a perfect sense of time. And she’s not going to waste a single second.
Her plan for college is clear—friends, classes, and extracurriculars all carefully selected to get her into medical school.
Until Max Martin, a nerdy boy from her high school, crashes back into her life. Things with Max were never simple, and he doesn’t keep to her schedule. He disappears in the middle of dates and cancels at the last minute with stupid excuses.
When a supervillain breaks into her bedroom one night, Astrid has to face the facts: her boyfriend, Max Martin, is a superhero. Double-majoring as a premed was hard, but now Astrid will have to balance a double life. This wasn’t part of her plan.

Lastly from Harper, I’ve also been seeing this one all over social media and it looks so cool! I love the cover, the title, and the concept sounds pretty cool too.

Goodreads | Bookshop.org

Not every love is meant to be.
After Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, betrays her, Evangeline Fox swears she’ll never trust him again. Now that she’s discovered her own magic, Evangeline believes she can use it to restore the chance at happily ever after that Jacks stole away.
But when a new terrifying curse is revealed, Evangeline finds herself entering into a tenuous partnership with the Prince of Hearts again. Only this time, the rules have changed. Jacks isn’t the only force Evangeline needs to be wary of. In fact, he might be the only one she can trust, despite her desire to despise him.
Instead of a love spell wreaking havoc on Evangeline’s life, a murderous spell has been cast. To break it, Evangeline and Jacks will have to do battle with old friends, new foes, and a magic that plays with heads and hearts. Evangeline has always trusted her heart, but this time she’s not sure she can. . . .

I forgot to take a picture of this final book in the stack, but it definitely deserves a mention because I was so, so excited to receive a proof copy and I never expected to get one! You can see in the picture below how excited I was.

I love Stephanie Garber’s writing and Caraval is one of my favourite books. I really loved the first in this spin-off series when it came out last year, and I can’t wait to continue!

That’s all the books I’ve received from publishers in the past few weeks – thank you so much everyone! What did you buy or receive recently?

-Beth

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