Just Like That Blog Tour

Hello and welcome!
Today I’m bringing you my review for Just Like That as part of the blog tour.

I was provided a review copy by the publisher via Netgalley but my opinions are my own.

About the book:


Summer Hemlock never meant to come back to 
Omen, Massachusetts.

But with his mother in need of help, Summer has no choice but to return to his hometown, take
up a teaching residency at the Albin Academy boarding school—and work directly under the man who made his teenage years miserable.

Professor Fox Iseya
Forbidding, aloof, commanding: psychology instructor Iseya is a cipher who’s always fascinated and intimidated shy, anxious Summer. But that fascination turns into something more when the older man challenges Summer to be brave. What starts as a daily game to reward Summer with a kiss for every obstacle overcome turns passionate, and a professional relationship turns quickly personal.
Yet Iseya’s walls of grief may be too high for someone like Summer to climb…until Summer’s infectious warmth shows Fox everything he’s been missing in life.
Now both men must be brave enough to trust each other, to take that leap.
To find the love they’ve always needed…
Just like that.
In Just Like That, critically acclaimed author Cole McCade introduces us to Albin Academy: a private boys’ school where some of the world’s richest families send their problem children to learn discipline and maturity, out of the public eye.

My review:

I first heard about and read Cole McCade’s books after Cockygate, and while I’ve still only read His Cocky Valet and His Cocky Cellist, I thoroughly enjoyed them both. After now loving this book, I know I have to get myself together and read the rest.

I didn’t actually mean to start reading this book when I did, having been a little apprehensive about the whole “man who made his teenage years miserable” thing, but I had nothing to worry about. And once I started this book, it was impossible to start.

From beginning to end this was a perfect, tension-filled, engaging book. I cannot rave enough about the tension, both sexual and not. It was absolutely immaculate and every so often, I’d have to set the book down so I could process and deal with it.

I also really loved the way this book was about grief and living. I hadn’t expected it, and I don’t want to say too much, but just like the rest of it, it was very well written.

All in all, Just Like That was an incredible book and I’m so excited to read the next book set at Albin Academy.

About the author

Cole McCade is a New Orleans-born Southern boy without the Southern accent, currently
residing somewhere in Seattle. He spends his days as a suit-and-tie corporate consultant and business writer, and his nights writing contemporary romance and erotica that flirts with the edge of taboo—when he’s not being tackled by two hyperactive cats.
He also writes genre-bending science fiction and fantasy tinged with a touch of horror and flavored by the influences of his multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual background as Xen. He wavers between calling himself bisexual, calling himself queer, and trying to figure out where “demi” fits into the whole mess—but no matter what word he uses he’s a staunch advocate of LGBTQIA and POC representation and visibility in genre fiction. And while he spends more time than is healthy hiding in his writing cave instead of hanging around social media, you can generally find him in these usual haunts:
Website & Blog
Facebook Fan Page

Buy Links
Barnes & Noble
Apple Books
Google Play


Mid Year Book Freak Out Tag

I’m notoriously bad at actually doing this, but despite a bunch of setbacks with WordPress (I’d like to fight), I did manage to actually complete this, this year. So let’s dive in! This tag was created by Ely and Chami.

Best Book You’ve Read So Far

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune


Spoiler alert: this isn’t the only time this will show up in this post, but I can’t not put this on here. It’s the perfect, heartwarming, atmospheric book I needed this year, and I’m already looking forward to rereading.

Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far

Queen of Volts by Amanda Foody


I don’t want to get into spoilers, but this was truly a great conclusion. It didn’t let me down at all, and also a character was dealing with diminished hearing in one ear, and as someone who’s also been dealing with that this year, it was incredible to read.

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To

The Archer at Dawn by Swati Teerdhala


I absolutely loved The Tiger at Midnight, but for some reason I still haven’t read this. Hopefully I will get to it soon.

Most Anticipated Release(s) For The Second Half Of The Year

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong


This is a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, and I’ve been so excited for this book ever since I heard that description. And now early reviews have been coming out, and everyone is loving it so I desperately hope I do too.

The Burning God by R. F. Kuang


An eagerly anticipated finale, I’ve got a hunch this book will rip my heart out but I’m ready for it to do so.

A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha


I was already excited for this book, but then I read the excerpt that dropped with the cover reveal here and,,,, yeah

Biggest Disappointment

Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee


I think what makes this even more disappointing is that for me, I know exactly why this didn’t work, and I just think it would have been a better book if those changes had been made. You can check out my review here.

Biggest Surprise

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson


I didn’t have any expectations going into this book, so when I picked it up and found myself flying through it, thanks to Tiffany D. Jackson’s incredible writing and the micro cliffhangers at the ends of chapters, I was in awe. This is an incredible book, and I highly highly recommend picking it up when it comes out in September.

Favourite New Author (Debut or New to You)

Melissa Bashardoust


In addition to Girl, Serpent, Thorn I finally read Girls Made of Snow and Glass this year, and loved both so much. Melissa Bashardoust writes beautifully, and I can’t wait to read what she writes next.

Newest Fictional Crush

Kuvira from The Legend of Korra


Sexy lady villain, need I say more

Newest Favourite Character

Linus Baker

He is the protagonist of The House in the Cerulean Sea, and I love him so much. Really any and all of the characters in that book can go here.

Book That Made You Cry

Loveless by Alice Oseman


Admittedly, I went into this book with low expectations. Thankfully, I did really like it. Additionally it did a thing that was incredible and wonderful and made me so happy I cried. Read it when it comes out soon!

Book That Made You Happy

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune

Yes, this book again. But really, I can’t answer with any other book. This book is truly so heartwarming and made me so happy.

Favourite Book to Movie Adaptation You’ve Seen This Year

Little Women

Granted, I couldn’t think of any others I’ve watched this year, but Little Women really was incredible. I loved the choices made in adapting it, and it made me cry.

Favourite Review You’ve Written This Year


Speaking of Little Women, I wrote a pre-review for Jo & Laurie because I’m personally offended they’d publish this bs before a book with a queer Jo. Additionally, the way the original synopsis was phrased was really gross. You can find that review here.

Most Beautiful Book(s) You’ve Bought This Year

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

I read this book last year as an ARC, but it came out while I was in Prague. I’m a huge fan of the UK cover, which is even more beautiful than this image shows, so when I went to London I bought it.

All the Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle


It’s the same story with this book. It was incredible, and when I saw what the UK cover looked like, I knew i had to buy it.

What Books Do You Need To Read By The End Of The Year?

Literally every single book in ARC Purgatory, but Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, Vampires Never Get Old edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. Parker, Kind of a Big Deal by Shannon Hale, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, and The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix. The last three books are by some of my favourite authors for a long time, and then I keep hearing about Gideon the Ninth, and if you know me, you know I love vampires.

How has your reading been going so far in this time of pandemic?
I hope you and yours are doing well and you’re staying safe.
Until next time,

Foul is Fair Blog Tour – Review

Hi! Today I’m pleased to bring you a review for one of my favourite books I read in 2019, as part of the blog tour leading up to its release.

Foul is Fair_Cover

Hannah Capin’s Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

Jade and her friends Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.


Going into this book, I was incredibly excited because contemporary Macbeth with a girl getting revenge against the boys who raped her, and thus I was also a little worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Fortunately, it lived up to them and more than exceeded them.

Jade was the ideal protagonist for this story, and I’m obsessed with her. I know a lot of people might have issues with this story, as it’s a revenge fantasy, but I think we have so many male revenge fantasies, where the only role of women is to serve as plot fodder. It’s incredible to have one for us.

One of my favourite parts of this book is the incredible way Hannah Capin translates and elevates Macbeth to fit into the story. It’s done with absolute perfection, and I cannot imagine any way it could have been accomplished better.

I do recommend checking out the content warnings for this book, but I think they’re in the front of the book (they at least were in the earc), and that’s excellent.

So if you’re looking for an elevated feminist retelling of Macbeth, look no further and pick up Foul is Fair. I personally can’t wait to get my hands a hold of a copy.


Hannah Capin

About the author:
Hannah Capin is the author of Foul is Fair and The Dead Queens Club, a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or pulling marathon gossip sessions with her girl squad. She lives in Tidewater, Virginia.

Tamora Pierce Readalong


I’m so excited to announce that my friends, Sakina and Mackenzie, and I are hosting a Tamora Pierce Readalong this year.

I’ve been a huge fan of Tamora Pierce’s books since I was a child, and I became friends with Sakina specifically because she posted a very informative wonderful blogpost about How to Read Tamora Pierce. You can find that here. And Mackenzie also made one which you can find here!

Also you really should just check out their individual blog posts on the readalong because theirs are better! Here’s Sakina’s and here’s Mackenzie’s.

So how is this going to work?

We’re starting with her books set in the Tortall world, mostly because those books are a lot easier to find than the Emelan ones.

Instead of putting a time frame for each book, we decided to go by series, as you can see in this excel spreadsheet. We’re reading in publishing order, starting with Song of the Lioness on January 20th.


If you don’t yet own Song of the Lioness, Mackenzie is hosting two giveaways for a bindup of the first two books, open internationally where book depository ships. You can find them on her Instagram and Twitter.

While we’re at it, here’s my Instagram and Twitter, and here’s Sakina’s Instagram and Twitter.

How will we discuss it?

We’ll be using #TPReadalong on Instagram and Twitter, so definitely use that and tag us in your posts if you want to discuss. We all love these books so much and are eager to talk more about them with new and returning fans.


If you have any questions, you can leave them below or @ us on social media. I’m so excited for this reread.


– Lady Knight Gretal of Goldenlake

F/F Books I Read in 2019

No one asked for this, but I decided to deliver it. Just a (not so) short list of the f/f books I read this past year. I hope you enjoy!


My Fake Canadian Wife by M. Hollis

  • 3.5 stars
  • While I enjoyed this a lot, I wish it were longer
  • representation: Brazilian lesbian mc, pansexual li


Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins

  • 4 stars
  • all the tropy sapphic goodness and geology puns
  • representation: bisexual mc, lesbian li


These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

  • 4.5 stars
  • murder, magic, and queerness. what more could you want?
  • representation: lesbian mc, bisexual li


Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

  • 2.5 stars
  • ugh. Lou was so annoying and also I hated the romance
  • representation: bisexual mc


King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

  • 4.5 stars
  • So I hate the m/f ship that seems to be developing, but the f/f one has all my uwus.
  • representation: fat bi mc


Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju

  • 3.5 stars
  • the first chapter of this book was terrible, but after that I really enjoyed it
  • Sri Lankan mixed lesbian mc, Japanese-American li


Wilder Girls by Rory Power

  • 4.5 stars
  • just a whole ride. I love it
  • representation: queer mcs, mc with one eye


The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

  • 4 stars
  • so good and different
  • El Salvadoran gay mc, depressed li


Heavy Vinyl: Riot on the Radio

  • 4 stars
  • I don’t love music but this was pretty fun
  • lesbian mc, two f/f couples, Black mc


The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

  • 4 stars
  • so good but so terrifying
  • representation: sapphic mc


The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

  • 4 stars
  • I loved the beginning more than the end, but overall pretty great
  • representation: unspecified queer mcs


Tarnished are the Stars by Rosiee Thor

  • 4 stars
  • It’s sci-fi but I still enjoyed it a lot
  • representation: lesbian mc, queer mc, aroace mc


Going Off Script by Jen Wilde

  • 4.5 stars
  • I love it. Gays fight straight washing; a novel
  • representation: anxious gay mc, Indian-American li


Rated by Melissa Grey

  • 3 stars
  • only one straight couple and neat world building but come on do we really need more one dimensional stereotypical antagonistic cheerleaders?
  • representation: Black mc, bi mc, queer Latinx mc, queer Japanese-American mc with disordered eating,


Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

  • 4 stars
  • I really liked the gladiatii aspect
  • representation: bi mc


The Love Song of Sawyer Bell by Avon Gale

  • 3 stars
  • again, I just don’t really care for music. also there was way too much jealousy in this for me
  • representation: lesbian mc, bi mc


The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

  • 4.5 stars
  • I really loved this and need book 2
  • Black mc (probably queer), important f/f side couple


Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

  • 4.5 stars
  • so good ugh
  • representation: queer Malaysian mc, Asian setting


The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

  • 5 stars
  • this was just incredible. you can see the Twelfth Night influence, and I’m just obsessed
  • representation: queer mc, queer li, mental illness


Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan

  • 3.5 stars
  • this felt like a bridge book and there were too many actions scenes for my liking
  • representation: queer Malaysian mc, Asian setting


Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki, Illustrated by Rosemary Valero O’Connell

  • 4 stars
  • Laura Dean really sucks
  • representation: Asian lesbian mc


Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry

  • 3 stars
  • ugh this book annoyed me. short and underdeveloped
  • representation: lesbian mc


The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum

  • 4 stars
  • I was confused at times, but this was so good. K. Ancrum is an incredible writer
  • representation: queer mc, queer Black biracial li


Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff

  • 3 stars
  • this was so disappointing and annoying
  • representation: bisexual mc


Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

  • 5 stars
  • I just really want the sequel y’all
  • representation: bisexual mc, autistic lesbian li


What Kind of Girl by Alyssa Sheinmel

  • 3.5 stars
  • discussion of dating abuse. I really enjoyed how it was written
  • representation: queer biracial Mexican mc with anxiety and OCD, Black li


The Rise of Kyoshi by F. C. Yee

  • 4.5 stars
  • It’s an ATLA novel, how could I not love this
  • representation: bisexual Asian mc


All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

  • 4 stars
  • glorious and feminist. I just really loved this
  • representation: lesbian mc


The Athena Protocol by Shamim Sarif

  • 3.5 stars
  • queer spy book!!
  • representation: queer mc


We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding

  • 3 stars
  • I just wanted more, couldn’t connect
  • representation: bisexual mc


Look by Zan Romanoff

  • 2.5 stars
  • really couldn’t connect and felt the story started in a weird place
  • representation: bisexual Jewish mc


On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

  • 4 stars
  • sometimes I was confused because they did look a little similar
  • representation: queer mc


This is How you Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

  • 3 stars
  • so not my genre or a writing style that I enjoy
  • representation: it’s f/f


Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

  • 4 stars
  • so cute but also made me quite anxious
  • representation: bisexual mc


Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen

  • 4.5 stars
  • I had the best time reading this. they really felt like teens
  • representation: lesbian mc


Belle Révolte by Linsey Miller

  • 4 stars
  • didn’t love it as much as Mask of Shadows but still so good
  • representation: biromantic asexual mc


This is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi

  • 3.5 stars
  • I wanted a different f/f relationship than I was given but what’s new
  • representation: Mexican mc, Lebanese-Arabic Muslim mc, mcs with depression and anxiety, queer mc


A Town Called Noelle by M. K. Hardy

  • 4 stars
  • Hallmark can choke, but this book is wonderful, the perfect tropy f/f Christmas book
  • representation: gay mc, queer mc


We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

  • 4.5 stars
  • ugh still so good on reread
  • representation: queer Latinx mcs


We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia

  • 4.5 stars
  • comparing sex with a woman to a baptism? so iconic
  • representation: queer Latinx mcs


Mangos and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera

  • 3.5 stars
  • I wish there were more baking
  • representation: Dominican lesbian mcs


Blood Countess by Lana Popović

  • 4 stars
  • if you’re looking for a fucked up f/f book, this is it
  • representation: lesbian mc, bisexual li


Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

  • 3 stars
  • yeah this book was not my cup of tea. the main character was so slow to realize things, and the romance developed way too quickly
  • representation: Black lesbian mc, Black lesbian li


The Gay Girl’s Guide to Ruining Prom by Siera Maley

  • 4 stars
  • a great high school lesbian romance
  • representation: lesbian mc, lesbian li

What f/f books did you read this year? What f/f books do you recommend?

Five Star Reads in Five Words 2019

Two of my friends were doing this (@aforestofbooks and @midsummernightsread) and they dragged me into doing this, so here we are. I opted not to include rereads, so these are just the 5 star reads I read for the first time in 2019.

Red, White & Royal Blue


squeal worthy romance; history, huh?

Wilder Girls


wild, queer, trippy, body horror

King of Fools


shaking things up, such pain

The Dragon Republic


oh wow that ending though

Technically, You Started It


so well done and Fun

I Wanna Be Where You Are


Cutest and ballet without eds

The Last True Poets of the Sea


Twelfth Night inspired, I cried

The Black Veins

tbv book cover

Found family, the Best banter

The Rise of Kyoshi


Kyoshi gets a girlfriend, YAY

Foul is Fair


Macbeth, revenge,  boys fucking suck

Late to the Party


solidarity, queer, they’re real teens!

The Electric Heir


excuse you, I’m in pain

Today Tonight Tomorrow


I miss Washington and rain

Crown of Feathers


Tamora Pierce vibes, phoenix riders!


What books did you give 5 stars to in 2019? Let me know in the comments, and I hope you have a great day.

Worst Books of the Year

I actually wasn’t going to do this post, but then I remembered just how much I hated a book and decided I needed to talk about it, so here we are.


We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

The more I think about this book, the more I annoyed I get. It had so much potential, but ultimately fell flat. I can think of only one tiny moment I actually enjoyed, and it was at the beginning of the book and not plot relevant. I think one of my biggest issues with this book is how it attempts to do the found family trope but fails so hard. They don’t even all meet until super far into the book, and I have no idea why they feel strongly about each other. Additionally, this book doesn’t really have a plot which seems as if it should be character driven, but since all the characters are one note, that doesn’t really work. So yeah, did not enjoy this one.


Bloodleaf by Crystal Ren Smith

It’s no secret that I hated this book. I wrote a very long rant review of it that you can find here, so I’m not really going to get into it. Check out my review if you want to know just why I hated it so much.


The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett

This book didn’t elicit as strong of feelings from me as the rest of the books on this list, but it did bore me a whole lot. Also The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is used as a comp title, and I personally think you maybe shouldn’t use it as one if there are zero queer characters in your book. And lastly, the fact that the main character was So Upset and whatever about the fact that she was distantly related to Vlad the Impaler? Please why. It’s absurd and makes no sense. I’ve really enjoyed Jenn Bennett’s contemporaries, so I think maybe she should stick to that genre.


The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams

This book along with the next two books I talked about in a post you can find here, but to be brief, this book didn’t work for me because of how antiquated it felt from the references to the stereotypical villianization of cheerleaders. I do not recommend.


American Royals by Katharine McGee

This was just so bad. All the characters were despicable, the plot was derivative. Also what happened with slavery and Native Americans was really glossed over/not at all mentioned, and given that it’s about if the USA had a monarchy, I feel like maybe that should have been discussed.

One of Us is Next FINAL cover.indd

One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus

I had a miserable time reading this, I couldn’t tell any of the characters apart, and it was just all bad. Also, what teenager doesn’t know what endgame means??


Greythorne by Crystal Ren Smith

This is disappointing because through most of the book, it was actually exceeding my expectations. There were more living female characters and my favourite character aka the one female character who survived the first book and wasn’t the mc nor a baby was revealed to be queer. But then the author killed her off and that’s total bs. I’m still upset.


Ruthless Gods by Emily A. Duncan

aka just how many times can Malachiasz be referred to as a boy in one book

Granted, this is the ARC, but the word boy is used 189 times. As I read this book, it became very apparent that it was being used in reference to Malachiasz an awful lot. So I decided to count. He is referred to as a boy 133 times. I want to scream. It’s blatant propaganda to make him seem like a better person and I hate it so much.

Also Serefin’s romance had no buildup and was annoying.



Anyways, thanks for reading. I hope you had a great 2019, and here’s to a fantastic 2020.

Snarky Mini Reviews of Books I Should have DNFed

I’ve read several books this year that were a drain on my energy, but I don’t have enough to say about them to make a full on rant review like I did for Bloodleaf. Here are those reviews 🙂


American Royals by Katharine McGee

I went into American Royals hoping it would be better than the author’s first book, The Thousandth Floor, but honestly it might have been worse. Probably the only thing it has going for it over that one is the one non straight main character doesn’t die at the end of the book, but it’s only because there isn’t one. Don’t worry though; Katherine McGee still loves to make marginalized people have great falls (one of the few people of color in this book is a Japanese girl who is in a coma). There were zero characters I was rooting for, and the plot was utterly predictable and derivative. I don’t recommend it.


The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams

The Babysitters Coven had a promising description and cover, but wow did its insides fail to live up to both of those. The author was inspired by The Babysitters Club, and you can definitely see that in the way the book doesn’t seem to be for the modern teen in the year 2019. There are numerous ancient references that feel out of place. Additionally this book thinks it’s feminist and yet reduces the cheerleaders down to stereotypes who get into a physical fight with our main characters over a guy. All in all, this book doesn’t fit up to the 2019 standard, and I don’t recommend it to anyone except I guess people with nostalgia for The Babysitters Club. Maybe.


Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

Jennifer Dugan’s debut novel, Hot Dog Girl, is a fun romantic comedy set in an amusement park following a girl in a hot dog costume. It really would be the perfect sapphic romcom if only the author hadn’t chosen the wrong ship. There is an excellent set up for one ship, from the tagline of the book to their relationship at the start of the book, but the author chooses the simpler, more boring friends to lovers ship. Some people will like this book and this ship. Unfortunately I am not one of them.

One of Us is Next FINAL cover.indd

One of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus

While not outright problematic like the revenge suicide disguised as a murder mystery story that is One of Us is Lying, One of Us is Next is still terrible. From the three first person point of views that are impossible to distinguish to how incredibly boring this mystery/thriller is to the fact that we are supposed to believe a teenager in the year 2020 doesn’t know the meaning of endgame, it is all horrible. Karen M. McManus’ third novel, and it is just as terrible and boring as the first two. I do not recommend her books at all.


Thanks for reading! I hope you’re having a great day and have been reading better books this year than I have 🙂

The Black Veins Blog Tour – Review and Discussion

Hello y’all!

I am so excited to bring this review to you today. I was so honored to be chosen for this blog tour, and I loved this book SO much. Huge thank you to CW @ The Quiet Pond for organizing this blog tour. You can check out her post here.

I received an early copy from the author for review. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Black Veins

tbv book cover

In a world where magic thrives in secret city corners, a group of magicians embark on a road trip—and it’s the “no-love-interest”, found family adventure you’ve been searching for.

Sixteen-year-old Blythe is one of seven Guardians: magicians powerful enough to cause worldwide panic with a snap of their fingers. But Blythe spends her days pouring latte art at her family’s coffee shop, so why should she care about having apocalyptic abilities?

She’s given a reason when magician anarchists crash into said coffee shop and kidnap her family.

Heartbroken but determined, Blythe knows she can’t save them alone. A war is brewing between two magician governments and tensions are too high. So, she packs up her family’s bright yellow Volkswagen, puts on a playlist, and embarks on a road trip across the United States to enlist the help of six strangers whose abilities are unparalleled—the other Guardians.

My review:

I finished The Black Veins just a few days ago and already I want to reread it; it’s that good. So yes, it absolutely gets 5/5 stars from me, and it’s on my favorites shelf.

Now there’s a lot to love about this book, but the thing I love most about this book is all the characters. I have a history of struggling with books with many main, or even named, characters because I struggle to keep them all straight, but I had zero problems with this book whatsoever. The way Ashia introduces them all and writes them all is so good. Each character has such a distinct personality, and I love them.

Tying into the characters, another thing this book has that is done so well is the found family trope. I love the dynamic the Guardians have as a whole, but what really sells a good found family is all the different individual dynamics as well, and they were all there and wonderful.

All in all, The Black Veins is one of the most fun and banter filled books I’ve read in a very long time, and I am so excited that today it is out in the world so you can finally read and experience it for yourself. Ashia Monet is an absolutely incredible author, and I can’t wait to read more from them.

No Romantic Arc

If you follow me on the internet, you probably are aware I have many feelings about romantic arcs in books (usually about how unnecessary and annoying they are), so I was very excited to read this book that doesn’t have one. I think it’s part of why I enjoyed this book so much. Not only was it just not there, but I didn’t have to be worried/have my guard up about some poorly written romance coming in and ruining the beautiful platonic dynamics going on.

There are so many books with romantic relationships out there, and I was talking to a friend the other day, and it was incredibly hard to think of any other fantasy books without them. It feels like a necessity, which can feel super alienating for aromantic people and/or people who don’t want anything to do with romance. Also, this is YA. This idea that every single young adult is getting into a relationship and is going to stay in it forever is seriously flawed, no matter whether they want one or not.

I love queer romantic arcs as much as the next person, but a romance isn’t a necessity for a book or a character to be queer, and Ashia really captures that in The Black Veins.

About the Author

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Ashia Monet is a speculative fiction author whose work almost always includes found families, diverse ensemble casts, the power of friendship, and equal parts humor and drama. Some of her favorite things are The Adventure Zone, Ariana Grande, and the color pink. You can follow her on Twitter @ashiamonet and Instagram @ashiawrites.

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Why Malyen Oretsev is Toxic and No Good for Alina

This has been coming for a while. In January, I reread the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and wow was I shocked by the degree to which Mal is manipulative, toxic, and generally no good. So for Valentine’s Day, to celebrate the After trailer that dropped, I posted something just briefly showcasing all the ways Mal is similar to Hardin Scott and so many other toxic new adult love interests (you can find that here). I didn’t go super in depth though, and every time I see praise for Mal show up in my twitter feed, my anger for him and my need to make this post grows. And here we finally are; let’s get into why Malyen Oretsev is super toxic and no good for Alina. Be warned, this will get into spoiler territory.

Also, because my roommate says I just hate Mal because I’m super biased, yes, yes I am. Is it possible to review a book without letting our experiences shape our views of certain things in a book? No, I don’t think so, and reading is a subjective experience, that we all agree on.

So let’s get into it. Also please accept my apologies for how this is kind of an inconsistent mess.

Shadow and Bone

In which we meet our dear orphans

We start this book learning that Mal and Alina are basically all each other has. They were raised together from super young because they’re both orphans. Nothing about this is bad, but the fact that they are essentially each other’s only family and yet people ship them with such fervency squicks me out. It’s not technically incest, but…

*insert Buzzfeed Unsolved gif about any time you have to say it’s not incest technically, it’s not great*

Yeah. Even if I had nothing against childhood friends to lovers, I’d still question this because they aren’t just childhood friends; they’re each other’s only family.

Apparently that’s a part of the reason some people ship them though? Which, you do you, I guess, but I thought we just had a conversation about incest shipping.

That doesn’t dig into Mal’s toxicity though; it’s just a reason why the two of them becoming lovers makes me uncomfortable as a person who isn’t a fan of shipping incest.

And honestly has anyone married their childhood best friend? I don’t think it’s super common; it’s just a trope that came up out of amatonormativity  and heteronormativity because of course if a guy and a girl are friends at any point in their lives, it has to turn romantic.


Near the end of this book, Mal gives a big speech. It’s definitely meant to be romantic, but uh, I don’t find it to be at all.

So he’s apologizing for a bunch of stuff he did (what he said in the Little Palace, “everything else”), and we get into this whole passage (pages 297-298).

I squeezed his hand. “I knew we didn’t have much chance of finding the stag.”

“No,” he said, looking away from me. “No, not for that. I … When I came after you, I thought I was doing it because you saved my life, because I owed you something.”

My heart gave a little twist. The idea that Mal had come after me to pay off some kind of imagined debt was more painful than I’d expected. “And now?”

“Now I don’t know what to think. I just know everything is different.”

My heart gave another miserable twist. “I know,” I whispered.

“Do you? That night at the palace when I saw you on that stage with him, you looked so happy. Like you belonged with him. I can’t get that picture out of my head.”

“I was happy,” I admitted. “In that moment, I was happy. I’m not like you, Mal. I never really fit in the way that you did. I never really belonged anywhere.”

“You belonged with me,” he said quietly.

Okay, so we’re not even to the main part I wanted to discuss, but this exchange, although not terrible as one conversation, is one additional example of how Mal apparently doesn’t want to see Alina happy unless it’s with him, and especially not if it’s with another guy. And also that he thinks she belongs with him. Which yes. They spent ten years as each other’s only family. That makes sense. We know that’s not quite how he means it though, especially in the context of this scene.

“No, Mal. Not really. Not for a long time.”

He looked at me then, and his eyes were deep blue in the twilight. “Did you miss me, Alina? Did you miss me when you were gone?”

“Every day,” I said honestly.

Another brief comment: he doesn’t address the reason why she didn’t feel like she belonged with him (I assume that he kept flirting with and hooking up with other girls. Which from a friendship/family standpoint, would be annoying that your only friend is now abandoning you for girls he hasn’t known that long at all. From the romantic standpoint… I don’t even know what to say. Please decide are you family or are you lovers because this both makes me uncomfortable).

“I missed you every hour. And you know what the worst part was? It caught me completely by surprise. I’d catch myself walking around to find you, not for any reason, just out of habit, because I’d seen something that I wanted to tell you about or because I wanted to hear your voice. And then I’d realize that you weren’t there anymore, and every time, every single time, it was like having the wind knocked out of me.

I have no issue with this part of his speech. It’s even compelling for their friendship because wow if Mal and Alina weren’t both harboring romantic feelings for each other, I would be down for their friendship (because the romantic feelings is what makes Mal behave toxically).

“I’ve risked my life for you. I’ve walked half the length of Ravka for you, and I’d do it again and again and again just to be with you, just to starve with you and freeze with you and hear you complain about hard cheese every day. So don’t tell me we don’t belong together,” he said fiercely. He was very close now, and my heart was suddenly hammering in my chest. “I’m sorry it took me so long to see you, Alina. But I see you now.”

He lowered his head, and I felt his lips on mine. The world seemed to go silent and all I knew was the feel of his hand in mine as he drew me closer, and the warm press of his mouth.

So. Let’s get into this because I have a lot of feelings about it. Mal gives this whole long speech about how he’s in love with her whatever, listing everything he did for her, and how much he loves her. This is all fine. But then he says, “So don’t tell me we don’t belong together.”

Oof. I get it, he’s responding to her response to him saying she belonged with him. The thing is though, this still isn’t addressing why she didn’t feel like she belonged with him. He’s just assuming that she wants him, and proclaiming that he did all these things for her, so they belong together. And now he sees her, now he wants to be with her, no matter if now she feels differently. It may well be that she loves him and wants to be with him, but he doesn’t give her a chance to talk or enthusiastically say yes. He just says all this and then kisses her.

For the sake of transparency, none of Alina’s love interests in this series are great at asking for consent before they kiss her. Just because other people aren’t good at something though, doesn’t give someone else a free pass.

On page 331, Mal is actually kind of decent. In a rare move, he acknowledges his jealous asshattery and also says that if anything happened between Alina and the Darkling, it doesn’t matter to him––which like good. Yes. She wasn’t your girlfriend. You don’t get to be a pighead about what she does with other guys. He even acknowledges this fact too. I’m not going to get too into this, but I did want to acknowledge that yes, Mal does not in fact suck, every single moment he is on the page.

On page 351 though, our lovely controlling Malyen is back. He buys her clothes, fine, good. And then he says this:

“I never want to see you in black again.”

Uh. Okay.

On one level, I get it. The Grisha are big on their colors and stuff, and black was the Darkling’s color, but on another, it is just a color. You’re really expecting her to not ever wear black again? Dude. And if Alina brought it up, that would be a whole other thing because it’s her trauma and stuff, but for him to bring it up and say it with the expectation that she just agree and not argue. Yikes.


Oh wow, the last sentence of this book really harkens back to my first issue with this pairing.

They are orphans again, with no true home but each other and whatever life they can make together on the other side of the sea.

No true home but each other. For ten years. Yeah, that’s super healthy and not at all borderline incestuous.

Siege and Storm

In which Mal is violent and possessive

Pages 152-155. Let’s set the stage.

Nikolai, Mal, and Alina are all sitting around a table in a tent. Nikolai proposes a political marriage between him and Alina. At this point he hasn’t said anything more than that he can give her the chance to change Ravka and bring her people hope by helping him unite the First and Second Armies by becoming his Queen.

And what does Malyen do? He shoves the table aside and slams Nikolai against a tent post.

It’s a political marriage, and this is how he reacts? And let’s get this straight, it’s not for any perceived infringement on Alina’s honor; it’s because he doesn’t want any other man remotely close to Alina.

Sturmhond straightened the sleeves of his uniform. “I’m not proposing a love match, you heartsick oaf, just a political alliance. If you’d stop and think for a minute, you’d see it makes good sense for the country.”

Mal let out a harsh bark of laughter. “You mean it makes good sense for you.”

“Can’t both things be true? I’ve served in the military. I understand warfare, and I understand weaponry. I know the First Army will follow me. I may be second in line, but I have a blood right to the throne.”

Mal jabbed his finger in Sturmhond’s face. “You don’t have a right to her.”

He is unreasonably angry at this proposal that is nothing but political at this point. Nikolai hasn’t even made any jabs about heirs yet. And this conversation is happening without Alina. She told them both to chill (specifically Nikolai to sheathe the weapon he got out when Mal threw him against a tent post and Mal to stand down) and Nikolai tucks away his knife and explains calmly with no jibes, but Mal has his fists still clenched and is most definitely not standing down. He’s upset about Alina not being wholly his, as she has been for the past ten years even when he was also off with other women.

Mal doesn’t have a right to decide things for Alina. And yet as this discussion continues, he does. Alina barely says anything; it’s a confrontation between a pretty calm and mostly restrained Nikolai and angry Mal, even when Nikolai is being accommodating and saying that he could stay in the palace, be the captain of her guard, still be with her.

Sturmhond gave a dismissive wave. “I’m a depraved monster, I know. Just think about what I’m saying for a moment.”

“I don’t need to think about it,” Mal shouted. “And neither does she. It isn’t going to happen.”

Mal has not once consulted Alina regarding this. He just decides this for himself and decides it for her. This isn’t the first time we see Mal just assuming things for Alina, let me remind you. There was the time when he assumed it was okay to kiss her, that she still felt the same way about him, that he assumes she’ll just be okay with not wearing black because he said so.

So Alina does say she won’t marry Nikolai, and then she says she will return to Os Alta with him. (She steels herself when she says this because she knows Mal will react poorly because she knows that he doesn’t want her anywhere near any other guys, and sure maybe Nikolai is flirty, but they haven’t known him for very long, and Alina has made zero indications that she is into him at this point. Absolutely none.)

Alina asks for the Second Army and both protest, but while Nikolai’s concerns are more about whether she is qualified for the position, Mal says “No,” and “It’s too dangerous. It would be like painting a target on your back.” Again he’s trying to make a decision for her. As one isolated incident this would be fine, he’s just trying to keep her safe, watch out for her, but it’s not an isolated train of events, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen him try and do this, and it won’t be the last.

Pages 158 and 159. Interestingly, as Alina is talking about finding the third amplifier, Mal questions Alina’s assumption that it was what they both wanted. So I guess only he can assume what the both of them want because when Alina does it, it’s bad.

We also see Mal’s insecurity regarding Alina’s power showing itself:

You wanted to wear the second amplifier. You have it. You want to go to Os Alta? Fine, we’ll go. You say you need the firebird. I’ll find a way to get it for you. But when all this is over, Alina, I wonder if you’ll still want me.

And then he leaves before she can assure him that yes of course she will, thereby manipulating her and making her feel terrible for having ambitions and trying to do stuff for Ravka.

I’m trying not to do too much comparison between the Darkling, Nikolai, and Mal, but I think this is just worth noting. From Nikolai on page 251.

“I’m ambitious, Alina. I’m driven. But I hope . . . I hope I still know the difference between right and wrong.” He hesitated. “I offered you freedoms and I meant it. If tomorrow you decided to run back to Novyi Zem with Mal, I’d put you on a ship and let the sea take you.” He held my gaze, his hazel eyes steady. “But I’d be sorry to see you go.”

I like this for many reasons. First, he’s really thinking about his actions and stuff, words like hope meaning that he’s not 100 percent sure which makes me trust him more because he knows to be wary of the possibility of him taking things too far. Second, he would put her on a ship to travel and be with Mal. That’s way more than we would ever get from the uncompromising Malyen Oretsev. Third, he’d be sorry to see her go. He doesn’t say anything more than that. It’s a simple comment about his feelings that doesn’t  intrude or assume much.

Pages 327-329.

The pages before this also ooze with Mal’s insecurities about being normal and not powerful, and just being upset that Alina has greater worries than him, that her whole world doesn’t revolve around him like his does her.

“You chose this. You have a purpose. I don’t even know what I’m doing here anymore.”

“Don’t say that.” I swung my legs off the bed and stood. “We do have a purpose. We came here for Ravka. We––”

“No, Alina. You came here for Ravka. For the firebird. To lead the Second Army.” He tapped the sun over his heart. “I came here for you. You’re my flag. You’re my nation. But that doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Do you realize tis is the first time we’ve really been alone in weeks?”

Again we get Mal not letting Alina decide/assume things for the pair of them. And we get Mal being insecure and we get Mal proclaiming how much he loves her. It just really doesn’t seem healthy to me, and it also feels like a manipulation tactic.

Mal took a single tentative step toward me. Then he closed the space between us in two long strides. One hand slid around my waist, the other cupped my face. Gently, he tilted my mouth up to his.

“Come back to me,” he said softly. He drew me to him, but as his lips met mine, something flickered in the corner of my eye.

The darkling was standing behind Mal. I stiffened.

Mal pulled back. “What?” he said.

“Nothing. I just . . .” I trailed off. I didn’t know what to say.

The Darkling was still there. “Tell him you see me when he takes you in his arms,” he said.

I squeezed my eyes shut.

Mal dropped his hands and stepped away from me, his fingers curling into fists. “I guess that’s all I needed to know.”

Brief aside: Mal is curling his fingers into fists, yet again. This really seems to happen a lot, and the fact that this is happening because she stiffened when he kissed her… Yikes


“You should have stopped me. All the time I was standing there, going on like a fool. If you didn’t want me, you should have just said so.”

“Don’t feel too bad, tracker,” said the Darkling. “All men can be made fools.”

“That’s not it––” I protested.

“Is it Nikolai?”

“What? No!”

“Another otkazat’sya, Alina?” the Darkling mocked.

So Mal immediately decides that the reason Alina must be stiffening when he kisses her is another man and refuses to listen to her when she tries to explain. And once he decides that it is because of Nikolai, he continues to talk over her.

Mal shook his head in disgust. “I let him push me away. The meetings, the council sessions, the dinners. I let him edge me out. Just waiting, hoping that you’d miss me enough to tell them all to go to hell.”

Because the only way she can be with him is if she tells everyone to go to hell? Why can’t she have friends and you, Mal?

I swallowed, trying to block out the vision of the Darkling’s cold smile.

“Mal, the Darkling––”

“I don’t want to hear about the Darkling anymore! Or Ravka or the amplifiers or any of it.” He slashed his hand through the air. “I’m done.” He turned on his heel and strode toward the door.

“Wait!” I rushed after him and reached for his arm.

He turned around so fast, I almost careened into him. “Don’t, Alina.”

“You don’t understand––” I said.

“You flinched. Tell me you didn’t.”

“It wasn’t because of you!”

Mal laughed harshly. “I know you haven’t had much experience. But I’ve kissed enough girls to know what that means. Don’t worry. It won’t happen again.”

The words hit me like a slap. He slammed the door behind him.

He controls all the conversation, and he controls all the conversation about what her flinching means, refusing to let her explain. And then he leaves, refusing to let her say anything else.

It’s disturbing that he just takes this flinch and runs with it, deciding the reasons for it without once letting Alina explain she hesitates to respond to his initial “what?”

He leaves Alina feeling terribly and also like all the problems in their relationship are on her. She is crying, and she’s wanting to make this right.

Mal’s reaction is more concerning.

Everytime Alina tries to talk to him, you know, because she feels that this is all her fault just because Mal wouldn’t let her explain (I don’t know how that works), Mal walks away from her. He also drinks more, and he sports bruises and cuts as if he’d been in a brawl. Mal’s reaction when he is upset with the dissolution of their relationship because he decided what Alina’s flinching when he kissed her meant and refused to listen to her, is to get drunk and violent.

Maybe it’s not directed at her, but it’s still not good.

And he also kisses Zoya. And only after he sees that Alina has witnessed this does he finally talk to her. He says Alina, stop. He wants the chance to explain it, even though he didn’t give Alina that chance.

He throws the flinching in Alina’s face again.

Pages 364-366:

“At least she doesn’t flinch when I touch her,” he spat. “You don’t want me, so why do you care if she does?”

Despite her trying her best to tell him that’s not what it meant, he insists he knows best I guess and that she doesn’t want him. So Alina responds with “I don’t,” and also crying because at this point she’s still worn down and hurting over this whole thing.

She’s willing to do almost anything to be with him. She’ll compromise even though he won’t because he is stubborn and unwilling to listen.

“Saints,” he swore. “I wish we’d never come here.”

“Then let’s leave,” I said wildly. I knew I wasn’t making any sense, but I didn’t much care. “Let’s run away, tonight, and forget we ever saw this place.”

He let out a bitter bark of laughter. “Do you know how much I want the? To be with you without rank or walls or anything between us? Just to be common again together?” He shook his head. “But you won’t do it, Alina.”

“I will,” I said, tears spilling over my cheeks.

“Don’t kid yourself. You’d just find a way back.”

“I don’t know how to fix this,” I said desperately.

Why is it on her to fix this? She didn’t mess this up. Sure she flinched, but it’s on Mal for not listening to her and just deciding what that meant.

“You can’t fix it!” He shouted. “This is the way it is. Did it ever occur to you that maybe you were meant to be a queen and I’m not meant to be anything at all?”

He’s shouting at her while she’s crying. Also his insecurity is present again. Over the next page we get more of his insecurity, and then Alina says she can’t just be Alina again, and Mal says he wants her back.

“I can’t go back!” I screamed, not caring who heard me. “Even if you take away this collar and the sea whip’s scales, you can’t carve this power out of me.”

“And what if I could? Would you let it go? Would you give it up?”


This is all interesting because Mal doesn’t really seem interested in Alina in a romantic way until the Darkling shows up and wants her, and yet now he wants her back to the way she was.

And also he wants her to be something other than what she now is, and she won’t give that up, and he doesn’t want to compromise on that, to listen to what she wants. And though that image of carving is something she brought up, he’s like yes. Violence.

Ruin and Rising

In which Mal doesn’t do anything blatantly egregious, but he gets the girl he’s been nothing but toxic to in the past two books.

And now we’re to the last book. Everything that happened in the previous two books could have been fine if not for the ending this book gives us. Let’s get into what this ending is.

So we’re on page 23 and nothing really has happened yet, but we do get Alina feeling bad about the fact that she’s not normal because she knows Mal won’t have her as she is, and soon he’ll find a new girl. YAY.

I should note that right now it does seem like Mal is actually accepting who she is and who she’ll have to be and that she should marry Nikolai.

Alright so he is accepting who she’ll have to be, but because it’s hard for him, he’s not talking to her. Which like yes, understandable, but given his history of manipulation it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, especially since he says that’s the reason why (page 90).

Here is the infamous back tattoo: I am become a blade.

We get more of Alina being friendly, maybe even wanting him, and him shutting it down. He’s made his decision, that she will be Nikolai’s queen, without listening to her (again) so there will be nothing between him. Everything is on his terms (page 114).

I know I said I wasn’t trying to compare the men in Alina’s life, and that’s still true, but I just wanted to point out this quote from when Alina is talking to Nikolai (page 133):

I’d missed him. The way he talked. The way he attacked a problem. The way he brought hope with him wherever he went. For the first time in months, I felt the knot in my chest ease.

It’s that last part especially that is noteworthy. She’s had a knot in her chest for months, and Mal, obviously, has only been making it worse, and then there’s Nikolai and he makes her feel better, this doesn’t have to be in a romantic way at all. It’s just something that’s there.

Just a few pages later on page 140, Mal is actually a decent guy and deigns to allow Alina and Nikolai to eat dinner alone together. I hate that this is something we have to draw attention to because it just shows maybe right now he doesn’t treat her like a possession but earlier he did.

I felt a little pang, remembering the lonely days at Keramzin before Mal had arrived, the older orphans who’d had little interest in another scrawny refugee.

Page 144. This just serves as additional evidence that Alina really had nothing until Mal showed up. YAY INCEST.

Page 166. Mal and Alina are having a conversation. It doesn’t seem terrible at first but then Mal says some things.

“I wasn’t afraid of you, Alina. I was afraid of losing you. The girl you were becoming didn’t need me anymore, but she’s who you were always meant to be.”

Mal wants her to be powerless and to need him/that he’s afraid if she doesn’t have to rely on him she’ll leave him. Now I don’t know a whole lot about romance, but this feels really wrong to me. A relationship does not have to be made of a girl who needs a guy. I just don’t like it.

Page 227. Alina comes to think that she is very very distantly related to the Darkling and she feels sick and “like I needed a scalding bath.”

And like sure yes. But also how are you not okay with this but then you are chill with getting busy with your adopted brother, Mal?

The Darkling is like 500 years old, and if we say there’s 20 years in between generations, that would make them 25th cousins if they were related. I’m no incest shipper, but I have zero problems with 25th cousins being a thing.

Page 290. It’s brought up that the Darkling and Nikolai want Alina for her power. It is not brought up that Mal wants her without her power. He appears to be okay with it, but being okay with it isn’t the same as embracing it when the last thing he actually said on the matter was that he’d like to cut it out of her.

“You are all I’ve ever wanted,” he said. “You are the whole of my heart.”

Page 362. Mal says this right before they have sex. I just… They’re all each other has, and have been forever. That isn’t a good thing. But I know I’ve said that many a time, so I’ll not say any more.

This whole book, Mal appears to have made his peace with Alina’s powers and also her marrying Nikolai. But at the end of it all Alina loses her powers and stays mostly alone with Mal, giving him what he wanted. Maybe he did change, maybe he was actually okay with her powers, but we don’t really see that. Sure he tells her to kill him for the third amplifier, but that more seems to fall into the whole duty and honor thing this book has going on (the whole reason why Mal is encouraging her to marry Nikolai and be queen and whatever) In the end, Mal doesn’t ever have to change. Alina does.


There you go. That’s why I think Mal is toxic and no good for Alina (or any other girl. Come on dude). Please let me know what you think in the comments, and thank you so much for reading; it means a lot.