Spellbreaker by Charlie N. Holmberg (2020)
Elsie Camden lives in a Victorian England where people must pay to use magic and cast spells, but the ability to break spells is a gift only some are born with. Elsie is a spellbreaker, but as she is unregistered, technically the work she does is illegal. One day she is caught by a magic user, and she strikes a deal with the mysterious (and handsome) stranger. I always enjoy Holmberg's stories; she creates unique and interesting magical systems that merge well with their settings. The magical system in this book really highlights the class differences of the Victorian era. I liked Elsie's character; she believes she's using her spellbreaking abilities to help the common people. The plot was a mix of a historical fantasy and a cozy mystery. There were some unexpected twists and turns that took the story in some interesting directions, and it sets up the second book of the duology nicely. 4 stars
Layla by Colleen Hoover (2020)
This is not going to be an easy review to write; I've been ruminating on my feelings for a couple days and I still don't have a firm grip on how I feel about this book! For Leeds and Layla, it's love at first sight, until an attack leaves Layla with a traumatic brain injury. To help her recover, Leeds takes her back to the B&B where they first met, but while working on their relationship, Leeds meets Willow, and he's torn between the two women. I think it's common knowledge by this point that this book is a paranormal romance, but I don't want to say too much more than that because it really is better to go in as blind as possible. Hoover's writing is great, as always, but I couldn't help but really dislike Leeds; he makes so many questionable choices! The story definitely held some surprises, too - each time I thought I knew what was going on, Hoover threw a wrench into it. But - I can't decide if this book was totally brilliant or totally cheesy! I do feel like the ending came on really fast and would have liked a little more closure. 3.5 stars
The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett (2020)
In the 1930s, a young woman searches for her adventurer/historian father, with the help of her former beau, after he disappears while searching for a mystical ring that formally belonged to Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula. This book is basically the YA/lite version of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, and since that's one of my favorite books, I was both excited and nervous to read this story. The Lady Rogue is a quick-moving historical fantasy, as Theodora and Huck search Romania for her father and dive into the history of the region. It had a lot of spunk and humor, which made the sometimes dark topics more palatable. Although I understood the unresolved feelings Theo and Huck had for each other, I thought the story relied too much on their romance. It just felt unnecessary in a story that was so heavily focused on danger and adventure. Not every YA book has to have romance! Can we focus instead on how intelligent Theo is? The ending was super rushed, but maybe we'll get to see these characters on another adventure! 3.5 stars
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