Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo

Title: The Familiar
Series: n/a
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Source/Format: Purchased; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy; Historical Fiction
Publisher/Publication Date: Flatiorn Books; April 9, 2024

Synopsis from Goodreads...
From the New York Times bestselling author of Ninth House, Hell Bent, and creator of the Grishaverse series comes a highly anticipated historical fantasy set during the Spanish Golden Age

In a shabby house, on a shabby street, in the new capital of Madrid, Luzia Cotado uses scraps of magic to get through her days of endless toil as a scullion. But when her scheming mistress discovers the lump of a servant cowering in the kitchen is actually hiding a talent for little miracles, she demands Luzia use those gifts to better the family's social position. What begins as simple amusement for the bored nobility takes a perilous turn when Luzia garners the notice of Antonio Pérez, the disgraced secretary to Spain's king. Still reeling from the defeat of his armada, the king is desperate for any advantage in the war against England's heretic queen—and Pérez will stop at nothing to regain the king's favor. Determined to seize this one chance to better her fortunes, Luzia plunges into a world of seers and alchemists, holy men and hucksters, where the line between magic, science, and fraud is never certain. But as her notoriety grows, so does the danger that her Jewish blood will doom her to the Inquisition's wrath. She will have to use every bit of her wit and will to survive—even if that means enlisting the help of Guillén Santangel, an embittered immortal familiar whose own secrets could prove deadly for them both.

It’s no secret: I love a good standalone. And one of my most highly anticipated book releases of the year was Leigh Bargugo’s new historical fantasy novel, The Familiar. Set in Madrid during the “Spanish Golden Age,” this was a story of curses, magic, and ambition; part tragedy and part romance. And I loved every second of it.

Luzia Cotado was ambitious and hungry and wanted more than her life as a scullion: the ability to freely express her intelligence, and most of all comforts and ease unlike what her life had been to that point. While Luzia would admit that her position made her a good actress—able to hide her true self behind a façade—she was kind of resentful toward it. The family she worked for, the Ordõnos, didn’t help with her pessimism, particularly (and especially in the beginning of the novel) Doña Valentina’s habit of taking out her discontent—with her married life and with her social prospects—on the people who worked for her. As the first sentence of chapter one states: “If the bread hadn’t burned, this would be a very different story.” But I’m so glad it wasn’t, because without the circumstances, there would’ve been no story. And without (even the tragic aspects later on) there would’ve been no romance and none of the the interpersonal dramas happening alongside the high stakes schemes. And those were among the most notable highlights of The Familiar.

If you can’t tell, I adored the characters.

Luzia could be witty, but she was also in a situation involving political machinations, which left her as a fish-out-of-water, if not right out trapped and (again) subservient. Some of what occurred was due to her ambition, though. She wanted to win to change her life, regardless of the consequences. Her “little miracles” were dangerous to perform; she lived in a time of strong adherence to religion as well as under the threat of attracting the notice of the Inquisition.

Guillén Santángel was brooding, enigmatic, and dangerous. He was the familiar the title referred to and was compelled to do the bidding of an ambitious, cunning, arrogant, and cruel man. He and Luzia were a little alike, in that they desired freedom from their circumstances.

The question was what had to be given up to achieve those aims.

Valentina was the most surprising for me. I didn’t expect to like her character as much as I did. She was an instigator, but she was also sympathetic. She, like Luzia and Santángel, hungered for more. And a pivotal part of her story was discovering if what she always insisted she wanted would still hold true by the end of The Familiar.

The tournament was fairly standard and involved some intrigue, particularly between the competitors and their patrons. There was genuine talent and fraud mixed together, and alliances were murky and never what they first appeared to be. And with the large personalities of the characters, it made it interesting.  

All in all, The Familiar was everything I was hoping it would be, and it’s easily one of my favorite books of 2024 so far.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Music Monday (289): Billie Eilish, Avant, & Angela Bofill, Lion Babe


  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I'm still listening to Hit Me Hard and Soft, and another one of my favorite songs is: The Diner.

Adri: Lion Babe has been releasing so many house songs and I'm thrilled. This week I'm listening to Better Late Than Never.

Andrea: Hi all! This week I'm listening to You & I by Avant featuring Ke Ke Wyatt and Too Tough by Angela Bofill. Have an amazing week!

What are you listening to this week?

Friday, June 14, 2024

The Manicurist's Daughter by Susan Lieu

Title: The Manicurist's Daughter
Series: n/a
Author: Susan Lieu
Format: Celadon; Paperback ARC
More Details: Memoire
Publisher/ Publication Date: Celadon; March 12 2024

Goodreads    Celadon (Book Page)

Synopsis From Celadon
An emotionally raw memoir about the crumbling of the American Dream and a daughter of refugees who searches for answers after her mother dies during plastic surgery.

Susan Lieu has long been searching for answers. About her family’s past and about her own future. Refugees from the Vietnam War, Susan’s family escaped to California in the 1980s after five failed attempts. Upon arrival, Susan’s mother was their savvy, charismatic North Star, setting up two successful nail salons and orchestrating every success—until Susan was eleven. That year, her mother died from a botched tummy tuck. After the funeral, no one was ever allowed to talk about her or what had happened.

For the next twenty years, Susan navigated a series of cascading questions alone—why did the most perfect person in her life want to change her body? Why would no one tell her about her mother’s life in Vietnam? And how did this surgeon, who preyed on Vietnamese immigrants, go on operating after her mother’s death? Sifting through depositions, tracking down the surgeon’s family, and enlisting the help of spirit channelers, Susan uncovers the painful truth of her mother, herself, and the impossible ideal of beauty.

The Manicurist’s Daughter is much more than a memoir about grief, trauma, and body image. It is a story of fierce determination, strength in shared culture, and finding your place in the world.

I tend to like memoirs anyway, but I really liked The Manicurists Daughter by Susan Lieu. From the prologue (which I later realized was an excellent summary), to the writing that drew me in, I found this memoir to be an enjoyable read.

It's essentially Lieu's journey to get answers about her mother. And I want emphasize journey. For every vague lead, there seemed to be even more questions that needed to be addressed. Intertwined with this was also her process of eventually creating performances inspired by her quest. When she finally did get some answers, and things began falling in place, I could see how and where each chapter's contents connected. This not only led up to her performance of 140 LBS: How Beauty Killed My Mother, but also the memoir's end. Which I might add, ends on a confident, understanding, and hopeful note.  There's probably a lot more I could mention but I think the synopsis does a well enough job showing what The Manicurist's Daughter is all about.

As for the writing, I found myself on the typical rollercoaster of emotions. There were times that were heart wrenching and sad, to happy and joyful. Along with the inclusion of Vietnamese, the descriptions were lively and vivid. Overall, it was a rather nice pace. 

Like I said, I found my read enjoyable and I really liked it. I don't have much to say unfortunately. But that's only because, for me, The Manicurist's Daughter is of those memoirs that you just have to start reading, get into it, and see for yourself.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy of this book from Celadon for this review. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

What Fire Brings by Rachel Howzell Hall

Title: What Fire Brings
Series: n/a
Author: Rachel Howzell Hall
Source/Format: NetGalley; eARC
More Details: Thriller
Publisher/Publication Date: Thomas & Mercer; June 11, 2024

Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble

Synopsis from Goodreads...
A writer’s search for her missing friend becomes a real-life thriller in a twisting novel of suspense by the New York Times bestselling author of These Toxic Things.

Bailey Meadows has just moved into the remote Topanga Canyon home of thriller author Jack Beckham. As his writer-in-residence, she’s supposed to help him once again reach the bestseller list. But she’s not there to write a thriller—she’s there to find Sam Morris, a community leader dedicated to finding missing people, who has disappeared in the canyon surrounding Beckham’s property. The missing woman was last seen in the drought-stricken forest known for wildfires and mountain lions. Each new day, Bailey learns just how dangerous these canyons are—for the other women who have also gone missing here…and for her. Could these missing women be linked to strange events that occurred decades ago at the Beckham estate? As fire season in the canyons approaches, Bailey must race to unravel the truth from fiction before she becomes the next woman lost in the forest.

I’ve read one of Rachel Howzell Hall’s novels before, so I was interested in checking out her latest thriller.

What Fire Brings, the story of Bailey Meadows, who’s investigating the disappearance of a woman at the residence of a thriller writer. It provided a nice starting point, which immediately plunged the character into an unfamiliar setting with people she might or might not be able to trust. With the low to no internet access or phone service, despite being in Topanga Canyon on an expensive estate—not far from L.A.—the setting had an almost isolated atmosphere to it. Not going to lie: it was an interesting set up, especially with how quick the story introduced the players and pointed toward its overarching mystery.

And it was thrilling, for the most part. For me, however, the middle of the story got a little shaky; especially after how much I enjoyed the way Hall set up the circumstances of the mystery and Bailey’s motivation. At times I was frustrated with her, especially where it seemed there wasn’t much progress being made on the disappearance she was supposed to be investigating. And it felt a little like some clues just kind of fell into place or were a little muddled (there was a reason for this, so I’m glad I stuck with the story). That being said, What Fire Brings was highly readable with a couple of big—and very smart—twists toward the final stretch of the book, which made all the pieces click together. Nothing was as it first appeared. And, ultimately, the story was far more sinister, dark, and tragic than I initially suspected.

So despite the few aspects about the book I was lukewarm on, overall what was good about What Fire Brings outweighed the rest. And, ultimately, I liked this thriller.
About the author....
RACHEL HOWZELL HALL l is the critically acclaimed author and Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist for And Now She’s Gone, which was also nominated for the Lefty-, Barry-, Shamus- and Anthony Awards and the Audible Originals bestseller How It Ends. A New York Times bestselling author of The Good Sister with James Patterson, Rachel is an Anthony-, International Thriller Writers- and Lefty Award nominee and the author of They All Fall Down, Land of Shadows, Skies of Ash, Trail of Echoes and City of Saviors in the Detective Elouise Norton series. Her next thriller, These Toxic Things, out in September 2021, recently received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, calling the novel ‘cleverly-plotted’ and ‘a refreshing take on the serial killer theme.’ Rachel is a former member of the board of directors for Mystery Writers of America and has been a featured writer on NPR’s acclaimed Crime in the City series and the National Endowment for the Arts weekly podcast; she has also served as a mentor in Pitch Wars and the Association of Writers Programs. Rachel lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. For more information, visit

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Thomas & Mercer) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, thank you! 

Monday, June 10, 2024

Music Monday (288): Billie Eilish, Yemi Alade


  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I'm currently listening to Billie Eilish's new album, Hit Me Hard and Soft, which I talked about on my most recent What I've Been Listening blog post (Here). One of my favorite songs from it is: Chihiro. The title instantly reminded me of the main character from Spirited Away, but I digress. The song is a really good one, give it a listen!

Andrea: Hi all! This week I'm listening to Tomorrow  by Yemi Alade. Have an amazing week!

What are you listening to this week?

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