4 star, adult

Review: The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Public radio co-hosts navigate mixed signals in Rachel Lynn Solomon’s sparkling romantic comedy debut.

Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can’t imagine working anywhere else. But lately it’s been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who’s fresh off a journalism master’s program and convinced he knows everything about public radio.

When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it’s this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it’s not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts.

As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers.



The Ex Talk is a fun and heartwarming story about storytelling and connecting with one another. The premise follows two rival coworkers at a radio station, Shay and Dominic, who are told to host a new radio show about exes giving out relationship advice. First of all, do we trust the advice coming from people who have broken up? But then again, if this was a real podcast, I’d probably be one of the first to check it out, let’s be honest.

This enemies-to-lovers trope was super well done. It’s one of the tropes I enjoy reading about, but I find some books have too much bitterness in the initial relationship that I don’t feel the blooming love, or they were practically like friends from the start. It isn’t the case here. Shay and Dominic are very different people. She’s content with her place in life while he’s ambitiously shooting up the ladder as fast as he can, potentially stepping on a couple of toes in the process. I liked that their differences were honestly explored so that their attraction and eventual deeper feelings made sense. Otherwise, it would just be lust, wouldn’t it?

The pacing was a little slow going at first, but I learned a lot about being on the other side of public radio from these parts. We also have other focuses in this story, including Shay’s feelings about her mom remarrying after the loss of her dad a decade ago. I liked that we got so much insight into why radio was so important to her, and the ongoing struggle holding onto the one thing she shared with her dad.

Some interesting things that stuck to me from other books in the romance genre was:

A) Dominic was Korean and I loved that it’s such a nonchalant thing thrown in there. I don’t see nearly enough Asian male romantic leads who are not written by Asian authors. Plus, a bit of the Korean American culture is present when Dominic introduces his favourite Korean restaurant foods to Shay.

B) Shay is about 6 years older than Dominic, a fact that is constantly highlighted. While some people may think this is no big deal and the emphasis Shay made in her own mind about being with someone younger may seem annoying, I kind of get it, especially for people in their 20s with different milestone markers that you hit in the decade. I’m in my 20s and I empathize with what Shay is feeling. Dominic had just graduated from his masters while she had been working for several years now. Maybe he seemed a little young in that sense because he was just starting out.

It’s not quite the norm as much as older men dating women a lot younger than them or in different life stages. But that makes me like this change more because it’s not always seen, and it helps normalize this for hopefully future generations.

C) The show snippets between chapters were some of my favourites. I don’t read enough romances to know if this is absolutely unique, but I really enjoyed the transcripts for some of their episodes and fan reviews of the show. It created a little bubble of fun and airiness as a breath of fresh air even when the emotion of the story intensified.

I also liked the way Solomon went about concluding this story. It wasn’t super neat with a bow on top. There were messy feelings, real life decisions and an understanding that we may not always have it together or know where life is leading, but that’s okay. The romance felt real even with the issues that came up (um, lying to everyone on your show?). This book is definitely cute AND heartwarming, a nice dive into relationships and what makes or breaks them.

Overall Recommendations:

The Ex Talk has a fun premise about fake exes pretending to be exes to host a relationship show. As that description depicts, it’s a mix of laughter and intensity, especially when real feelings chase these rival coworkers where feelings should not exist. The pacing was steady and the emotions just ramp up as you cheer for Shay and Dominic for their show’s success but more importantly for their happiness that may only be found in each other. I liked this more than I initially thought, and it definitely left warm feelings in my heart long after the book was closed.

3 star, buddy review, YA

Buddy Review: Set Fire to the Gods by Sara Raasch and Kristen Simmons

Ash is descended from a long line of gladiators, and she knows the brutal nature of war firsthand. But after her mother dies in an arena, she vows to avenge her by overthrowing her fire god, whose temper has stripped her country of its resources.

Madoc grew up fighting on the streets to pay his family’s taxes. But he hides a dangerous secret: he doesn’t have the earth god’s powers like his opponents. His elemental gift is something else—something that hasn’t been seen in centuries.

When an attempted revenge plot goes dangerously wrong, Ash inadvertently throws the fire and earth gods into a conflict that can only be settled by deadly, lavish gladiator games. The fights put Madoc in Ash’s path, and she realizes that his powers are the weapon her rebellion needs—but Madoc won’t jeopardize his family, regardless of how intrigued he is by the beautiful warrior.

But when the gods force Madoc’s hand, he and Ash uncover an ancient war that will threaten more than one immortal—it will unravel the world.



Welcome back to another installment of buddy reads between Fives and Andge at Down the Rabbit Hole!

This time, we ventured into a YA fantasy together, the first book in its duology. While this is nothing out of the ordinary to myself, Andge, my partner and friend, Fives, brings a pair of new eyes to YA fantasies with different expectations and insights than I may have.

Without further ado, here are our thoughts and discussions about this book!

Plot elements

Andge: I always think a good book is made up of a good foundation which can be found in its plot. Particularly important for fantasies in my opinion is its word building. Here, I found myself rather intrigued. There are 6 gods, children of the Mother Goddess who has been dead for centuries, and each god’s children may potentially inherit the ability associated with their elemental nature, known as energeia. I loved this uniqueness, especially because the elements aren’t relegated to just simple fire, water, air and earth. There is also animal and plant energeia which I’ve never seen elsewhere.

I only had two problems with how Raasch and Simmons crafted this world. First, it was an info dump in the beginning which may leave you scrambling to understand all the names of the places, gods and what their energeia can do. Second, even worse than the first, is that this story wastes so much of the world building. We only follow Deimans (the Earth people) and Kulans (the Fire people) with only brief mentions of the other people and places. I wish the authors could’ve done more here with its potential because I think relegating everyone and everything else to book 2 will probably not allow much time or exploration.

Fives: I definitely have to agree with Andge here. Even as only an occasional reader of YA fantasies, I did recognize that elements beyond the base four was something special. This made me immediately look forwards to seeing the plant and animal gods, and how their powers might manifest beyond the “normal” manipulation of the elements. To my surprise and great disappointment, neither of these clans really show up! The main characters are from earth and fire, so we get plenty of world building from these two peoples (two POVs as well). But we are left almost completely in the dark when it came to the other four gods.

I personally enjoy world building, and don’t mind too much if it can be complicated and rather laborious to be explained. However, the way it was written here really set me up to expect so much more. The little tidbits of the earth and fire people really got my excited to meet the rest of the clans. It is unfortunate that there is a beautiful trajectory of the world and how it could be built and explained, but then for me it just falls short when it doesn’t come up to my expectation. I do really like what I see and admire the uniqueness of the concept, but do wish I could have seen more of this wonderfully intriguing world.

Pacing

Andge: With the info dump at the beginning I mentioned came a sluggish start. It may discourage some people from continuing because the real gladiator arena fighting between the Deimans and Kulans take a while to come. I understand the need for setting up the story but it always makes me antsy when we know so much of what WILL happen from the synopsis but it doesn’t occur until way later in the book. The pace definitely picks up by the halfway mark, with an element of intrigue entering into the midst as we wonder about a potential conspiracy among the gods and a surprising gift one of the protagonists has.

Fives: Again, I have to agree with Andge on the pacing – definitely slow. While understandable for world-building (and even though I don’t personally mind too much), the high number of names and terms to get acquainted with is a bit daunting for sure. I loved the whole concept and really wanted to see where it could lead, but the beginning wasn’t able to hook me much. I felt that the middle was quite exciting and driving, but the ending fell a bit short for me. Overall I did not have a hard time reading this book, and I enjoyed it, but there were definitely clear sections where I felt excited to read more, and parts where I was wondering when the next thing would happen.

Characters

Andge: Last but not least, this story ultimately follows Madoc (a Deiman) and Ash (a Kulan) in alternating POVs as they find themselves on the path towards becoming gladiators and fighting for their respective gods in the arena. I liked them, which is always a plus (it is terrible to have to stick with a protagonist you can’t stand), but I didn’t feel anything too special about any of them. Ash is hurt and brimming with vengeance for her mother’s death, a trait that I can sympathize. Madoc, on the other hand, yearns to find his place and be recognized, with the additional protective streak for his found family. But beyond this, I didn’t see anything special in either one of them.

Any secondary characters were not completely two-dimensional, but I found myself wanting to see more of them. For example, Ash’s entourage of Kulan fighters seem brave and equally tired of fighting their god’s wars, but we don’t spend enough time with them. Or Madoc’s adoptive brother and sister who seem to just be more plot elements than real people I care about. I’m not sure if it’s just me being jaded.

Fives: The story follows Madoc and Ash who each have something to fight for as they risk their lives for their goal. Beyond being relatable, and having a complex background to earn sympathy, there isn’t really that much making them more special of a character – although not necessarily a bad thing. Beyond their tragic pasts or their unfortunate circumstances, the authors do not really make it a point to milk these connections and really draw me in. They mention many times, or allude to many things that are quite sad or haunting, but don’t really use it to evoke emotions more than the surface level expected ones.

I definitely agree with Andge that the secondary characters were much more foil in nature – I am not entirely sure if we were supposed to feel sorry for them or be invested in their story, but they definitely felt like a means to an end for the main characters, and it really felt like no one else in the story mattered but them (main character syndrome?). But if you like books all about the main characters, then this is for you!


Have you read this one before or have it on your TBR? We are always delighted to hear your thoughts!

Until next time, friends.

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

The rules are simple:

  • Each Tuesday, Jana assigns a new topic. Create your own Top Ten list that fits that topic – putting your unique spin on it if you want.
  • Everyone is welcome to join but please link back to The Artsy Reader Girl in your own Top Ten Tuesday post.
  • Add your name to the Linky widget on that day’s post so that everyone can check out other blogger’s lists.
  • Or if you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment.

Good morning everyone! It’s Tuesday once again, and we’re back at it with another fun list of books. And this week, we are literally talking about books that are F.U.N.!

I have to warn you, I don’t really read books that make me laugh (it says something about me that I love crime shows and read mostly action packed fantasies or thrillers right?).

So here is what I could gather across the years of books that have characters who are whimsical and unique voices that have at least cracked a giant smile on my face. Let me know if any of these have made you laugh in the comments below!

1. Can You Keep a Secret? By Sophie Kinsella

I love the relatability and fun voices of Sophie’s characters, but Emma cracks the top when she tells a LITERAL stranger all her darkest secrets on the plane when she thought they were going to die due to turbulence. I mean, I don’t wanna laugh at people’s distress but the whole situation really bites her later on and that’s definitely a little amusing.

2. My Lady Jane by Jodi Meadows, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton

The first of its kind, Hand, Ashton and Meadows (otherwise known as the Lady Janies) have mixed real historical stories with the craziest tales from their imaginations, normally with a big touch of magic thrown in. One can’t help but laugh as we journey with this first Jane, Lady Jane Grey of England, through the antics the Lady Janies have thrown at her. Oh, and the fact that the love interest is part-man, part-horse. Take a bite out of that one hmm?

3. The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park

I have mentioned this book in another TTT list recently but zombies + escape room job + survival in the wilderness makes for a fun combo regardless of what else is thrown into it. Although not as funny, the female protagonist, Kate, has a huge thing against Adam Levine that makes me wonder what Maroon 5 ever did to her (or the author?).

4. Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Maybe not ha ha kind of funny, but this story was delightful in its premise, pushing the protagonist to get out of her comfort zone as she follows the list her best friend left behind when she disappeared. I mean, skinny dipping, anyone? Totally a set up for something fun. Cue the Kelly Clarkson music!

5. Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Also featured on another recent TTT, it’s not only super adorable but also funny! The antics between these initial store owning competitors get real hilarious when it crosses into the Twitter-sphere. Their arguments (flirtations?!) online get to the point that fans of both stores start shipping them together! I got a lot of laughs between sighs of cuteness out of this one.

6. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

You may be scratching your heads about this one. Yes, the premise is about corporations X’ing one another (LITERALLY), a plague unleashed on a spaceship with thousands aboard and no way off, and an AI hell-bent on wiping out the population. BUT the AI and its (his?) attitude and overall body (tone?) language was hilarious and I couldn’t help but laugh at its “diabolical” planning and conversations with the characters at times.

7. Chaotic Good by Whitney

Dungeons & Dragons fans would love this one because it’s 100% a huge part of the story. Besides the crafty tales/adventures the characters go off on (in D&D of course), the cosplay efforts our girl Cameron goes through to pretend she’s a boy to fit into a comic book store group was funny and over-the-top in all the best ways, and I absolutely adored it!

8. Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

A great read during the holidays, this most recent tale of a certain spunky shopaholic who just doesn’t know when to stop buying stuff is as fun as the first book she starred in. I don’t know about you, but I laugh the hardest at the emails Becky sends because I can’t imagine anyone ever having the guts to do so (including trying to get membership in an all-men’s club for a suitcase they’re raffling!).

9. Geekerella by Ashley Poston

I love a Cinderella re-telling, but get your geeky hats on because this one was a fun ride (in a food truck called the Magic Pumpkin). Think Prince Charming, Cinderella and Comic Con with a huge dash of cosplaying and all-around good humour antics and that is what Geekerella is about.

10. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

She’s a queen of comedic acting and it’s no wonder her own biography is written in the same style I’ve come to expect from Anna Kendrick. I loved this story and the weird but funny experiences that has brought her to the stardom she eventually found in Pitch Perfect. Her voice is as snarky and hilarious as if she was reading it to me. (And it would’ve been even better if I had listened to the audiobook because she would be actually reading it to me instead!).


What do you think? Feel like you’re in the mood to have a few laughs and only cry because you’re laughing so hard? I hope you find some enjoyment from this selection!

And let me know if you have great suggestions for books that are funny. Clearly I need to broaden my reading selection.

Happy Tuesday, friends!