2 star, YA

ARC Review: A Disaster in Three Acts by Kelsey Rodkey

Fans of Elise Bryant and Rachel Lynn Solomon will swoon for Last Chance Books author Kelsey Rodkey’s next romance, packed with snark, banter, and inconvenient crushes.

Saine Sinclair knows a little something about what makes a story worth telling.

Your childhood best friend refuses to kiss you during a pre-adolescent game of spin the bottle? Terrible, zero stars, would not replay that scene again. The same ex-friend becomes your new best friend’s ex? Strangely compelling, unexpected twist, worth a hate-watch. That same guy–why is he always around?–turns out to be your last shot at getting into the documentary filmmaking program of your dreams?

Saine hates to admit it, but she’d watch that movie.

There’s something about Holden that makes her feel like she’s the one in front of the camera–like he can see every uncomfortable truth she’s buried below the surface. Saine knows how her story’s supposed to go. So why does every moment with Holden seem intent on changing the ending?

**A Disaster in Three Acts comes out July 5, 2022**

Thank you Edelweiss and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

Aptly named, the storyline followed its title as it really was a disaster in three acts at times. I wonder if Kelsey Rodkey is an author that works for me because this is her second book and the second time I struggled to love it. I’ll try to list out the reasons why A Disaster in Three Acts didn’t work for me personally.

The protagonist is always key when it comes to a book. Maybe it isn’t as much for others, but I strongly believe even a great story can be awful if you really don’t like the narrator/protagonist you’re stuck with. Saine, pronounced “sane” as in the second syllable of “in-sane” – which the book clarifies and not just what I’m telling you, is a mess. Honestly. I love character arcs where they face growth through the mistakes they make but she’s just not someone to be sympathetic for.

She’s so selfish. I hated seeing how she put her documentary “story” and how she wanted to craft the excitement for her tale by twisting or manipulating events that may not be quite be the truth. She was right in the sense that this strays from documentary to realistic TV realm. And we all know how “truthful” reality TV is, don’t we?

Her documentary subject is Holden, her childhood best friend and former crush. I love that romance trope. Trust me, I really wanted to enjoy it. But when she practically self sabotages growing feelings and places her documentary film over the very real guy she’s filming, I’m no longer Team Saine. Holden deserves better and it sucked to see how much she went behind his back and even her new best friend who formerly dated Holden.

The pacing wasn’t great either. The main premise for the book and the documentary she’s filming was about a competition Holden had entered to win a grand prize. I thought the competition would definitely last longer and be a larger focal point but that was sadly not the case. It ended maybe not even halfway through the book so we’re left with the ability to go off script in Saine’s creative process. Hence the lovely plot ensuing surrounding her less than honorable filming tactics.

If I didn’t enjoy Saine as a character or the potential romance with Holden, there’s really not much more room to love anything else. Her group of friends are somewhat featured as Corinne, her new best friend, definitely adds to this weird love trope. Is it a girl’s code to never date your best friend’s ex? Does it count if you were technically friends with them first and had a HUGE crush once upon a time? Either way, that was a little entertaining but hardly sustainable for a full length book. They had their friendship problems and I’m glad the book took time to discuss it without only pitting one girl against the other.

The only thing that was really interesting and unique about the story was the mini plot dive into grief and how it’s handled (or not handled). Saine’s grandmother passed away prior to the start of the book but her impact on Saine’s creativity, love of documentaries and art are very much present. I liked that it was subtly explored as I’m sure people grieve differently and communicating such grief, especially between the remaining family members, is so important.

But, I’m sure that’s not what everyone came to this book for, so please take what you will from this review. It may just be me, but honestly, I’m not sure Saine’s a very likable protagonist in general. Flawed, yes. The intriguing morally gray? No. So perhaps you’ll like it, but perhaps you also may not.

Overall Recommendation:

A Disaster in Three Acts at least lived up to its name because Saine as a protagonist was truly disastrous. The plot wasn’t compelling with the documentary she was filming and her whole relationship with Holden was more selfish than romantic. There’s not a whole lot left to love but perhaps a more sympathetic reader will find more joy in its pages. At least for me, this was a no.

2 star, NA

Review: Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Series: Blood and Ash #2

A Betrayal…

Everything Poppy has ever believed in is a lie, including the man she was falling in love with. Thrust among those who see her as a symbol of a monstrous kingdom, she barely knows who she is without the veil of the Maiden. But what she does know is that nothing is as dangerous to her as him. The Dark One. The Prince of Atlantia. He wants her to fight him, and that’s one order she’s more than happy to obey. He may have taken her, but he will never have her.

A Choice…

Casteel Da’Neer is known by many names and many faces. His lies are as seductive as his touch. His truths as sensual as his bite. Poppy knows better than to trust him. He needs her alive, healthy, and whole to achieve his goals. But he’s the only way for her to get what she wants—to find her brother Ian and see for herself if he has become a soulless Ascended. Working with Casteel instead of against him presents its own risks. He still tempts her with every breath, offering up all she’s ever wanted. Casteel has plans for her. Ones that could expose her to unimaginable pleasure and unfathomable pain. Plans that will force her to look beyond everything she thought she knew about herself—about him. Plans that could bind their lives together in unexpected ways that neither kingdom is prepared for. And she’s far too reckless, too hungry, to resist the temptation.

A Secret…

But unrest has grown in Atlantia as they await the return of their Prince. Whispers of war have become stronger, and Poppy is at the very heart of it all. The King wants to use her to send a message. The Descenters want her dead. The wolven are growing more unpredictable. And as her abilities to feel pain and emotion begin to grow and strengthen, the Atlantians start to fear her. Dark secrets are at play, ones steeped in the blood-drenched sins of two kingdoms that would do anything to keep the truth hidden. But when the earth begins to shake, and the skies start to bleed, it may already be too late.

I don’t understand why everyone loves this series, but Kingdom of Flesh and Fire was even harder to get through than its predecessor.

For such a long book, it’s entirely focused on Poppy’s feelings for Hawke, aka The Dark One aka Casteel, the enemy she was told about all her sheltered life. I get it, she’s been betrayed and she’s literally given him everything about herself. Of course there’s ramifications to deal with in the aftermath of what happened. BUT, this book spends TOO much time on this compared to growing the new lore of the Atlantians.

I have nothing against romance but this long book can be summarized with travel from Poppy’s home in Masadonia out east wherever the Atlantians are taking her, and her conflicting feelings for Casteel. Travel + romantic angst for 500+ pages is NOT a fantasy book. I don’t mind either, but it just was not interesting!

There were little tidbits signalling more about Poppy’s “Chosen One” status. While I don’t usually have a big problem with this trope, it’s just emphasized so much how she’s this precious gem that both sides of the conflict want that it starts getting tiresome. Why is she so important? We don’t get any answers here, and only until the very end of the book does it get interesting with this element of the story.

I’m keeping this review short because I honestly don’t have much more to say. It felt like a filler story wherein Poppy and Casteel deal with their “feelings” and Casteel’s people do not like her because they didn’t expect these feelings to be real. Poppy develops more powers – because of course a Chosen One has to be powerful in ways that is like no other – and we don’t get any answers so hold onto your hats for book 3! Just…I’m tired, friends. Yet I will probably still read the next one just to finally get some answers for my own morbid curiosity.

Overall Recommendation:

Apparently I’m a sucker for punishment because Kingdom of Flesh and Fire was barely a fantasy story with hardly much action or lore being added in a valuable manner. It could’ve been way shorter for the amount of non-action happening. The focus is on the romantic angst and conflict between Poppy and her dark prince, Casteel. If that’s what you’re looking for, then by all means, go ahead. Otherwise, this completely suffers from Middle Book Syndrome and I would recommend almost skipping most of it until the last 10 chapters or so before it actually gets somewhere. Will I be present for book 3? Didn’t I mention I’m a sucker for punishment already?

2 star, YA

Review: Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey

Don’t you just love the smell of old books in the morning?

Madeline Moore does. Books & Moore, the musty bookstore her family has owned for generations, is where she feels most herself. Nothing is going to stop her from coming back after college to take over the store from her beloved aunt.

Nothing, that is—until a chain bookstore called Prologue opens across the street and threatens to shut them down.

Madeline sets out to demolish the competition, but Jasper, the guy who works over at Prologue, seems intent on ruining her life. Not only is he taking her customers, he has the unbelievable audacity to be… extremely cute.

But that doesn’t matter. Jasper is the enemy and he will be destroyed. After all—all’s fair in love and (book) wars.

I’m a sucker for books about bookstores, and this definitely drew me into Last Chance Books. And as the title suggests, this story is all about saving an indie bookstore from closing when a larger chain store moves across the street from them.

Okay, full disclosure, while I absolutely ADORE indie stores (I get all the best secondhand books from such wonderful places where I literally can spend a whole afternoon among its stacks), I have also been an employee of such large chain bookstores. I can see the place for both types of stores, so this won’t be a review that bashes large chain bookstores (sorry).

With this premise, it automatically sets up an enemies to lovers story when indie store employee, Madeline, does everything to keep her beloved family store Books & Moore afloat. Jasper Tanaka, aka the absolute enemy, had to be terminated at any cost.

And I do mean literally at ANY cost.

It’s one of the things I felt the book took too far. Her pranks weren’t always harmless. Whether that meant almost physical harm to a Prologue employee or slightly shady dealings to keep profit from going their way, Madeline’s obsessive behaviour wasn’t endearing in any way. I understand her want to keep the store going when it seemed like everyone else, even her boss and aunt, were willing to give it up and throw in the towel. It just wasn’t a lovely thing to read about constantly.

I know typically people love enemies to lovers, but I’m a lot pickier when it comes to this trope and not just any book with it will win over my heart. However, I will say this romance didn’t really have anything special in it to make them memorable even for those of you who love anything with this trope. Jasper was definitely the nicer of the two, but that’s not hard when the other one was constantly thinking of ways to sabotage the rival business.

What I will say I did like, even in a minor way, was the character growth and family focus. As Books & Moore is a family business, we spent a lot of time with Madeline’s family which consisted of her aunt, half-brother, half-brother’s dad, and her estranged mother now coming back into all of their lives. First thing, I really enjoyed seeing such a unique family dynamic. I loved the portrayal of a good single father figure who also ended up adopting Madeline into his love and care even though she wasn’t his by blood.

But the focus was on their relationship with Madeline’s mom. She was always given the impression of being flighty and selfish, dropping her kids with her sister to take care of all these years so she could pursue her own acting career across the country. Having to deal with her rare and temporary presence in their lives was an interesting root issue to dig into and explore.

At the heart of this, Last Chance Books was still about saving an indie store and sharing the love of books with people. As a former bookseller (and even as a reviewer), that is something I stand by and I love to see in stories. How it was executed wasn’t the best, but I wouldn’t write off this book completely just because I wasn’t excited by it at all. I read half of this as an ebook and the other half as an audiobook. I definitely feel the audiobook helped make it come more alive for me (and probably why I finished through some of Madeline’s less-than-stellar inner monologue). It has potential, and I will still be checking out more from Kelsey Rodkey in the future.

Overall Recommendation:

Last Chance Books delivered on the family dysfunction piece as the Moore family (or rather, mainly Madeline) fought to keep the family bookstore afloat. But where the plot was supposed to be interesting when a rival large chain bookstore is fighting them on profits, it fell flat. Madeline was too intense in her rivalry against rival bookstore employee, Jasper, and regularly took things a bit far for just a rivalry. While there was character development, most strongly in Madeline, it made getting through the middle parts rather difficult. Overall, I always love a book that talks about bookstores and the beauty of reading (and its loyal communities), and this definitely has that in spades but its execution could’ve been better. With a lackluster enemies to lovers romance and a slow pace throughout the middle, the parts I liked couldn’t quite carry it through for my expectations.