Snapshot (ARC) Review: Diamond City by Francesca Flores

Title: Diamond City
Author: Francesca Flores
Series: Diamond City, #2
Pages: 400
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: January 28th 2020

**This review is based on the bound manuscript of the novel received through a giveaway from the author, which does not influence my review**

      “Good things don’t happen to girls who come from nothing…unless they risk everything.
      Fierce and ambitious, Aina Solís as sharp as her blade and as mysterious as the blood magic she protects. After the murder of her parents, Aina takes a job as an assassin to survive and finds a new family in those like her: the unwanted and forgotten.
      Her boss is brutal and cold, with a questionable sense of morality, but he provides a place for people with nowhere else to go. And makes sure they stay there.
      DIAMOND CITY: built by magic, ruled by tyrants, and in desperate need of saving. It is a world full of dark forces and hidden agendas, old rivalries and lethal new enemies.
To claim a future for herself in a world that doesn’t want her to survive, Aina will have to win a game of murder and conspiracy—and risk losing everything.
Full of action, romance and dark magic, book one of Francesca Flores’ breathtaking fantasy duology will leave readers eager for more!”

  • Aina Solís – Aina was left orphaned at a young age, but grew up under the tutelage of one of her city’s most notorious gang leaders, the Blood King. She has risen through the ranks as a skilled assassin, but has high hopes of one day being his equal. Her personal arc has her working out her complicated feelings for boss/mentor, reevaluating her worldview when it comes to the classes, and prioritizing her own needs over any potential romance.
  • World-building – I really like the world Francesca Flores has built. It addresses classism, includes immigration, and deals with religious persecution in a really interesting setting. Kosin underwent a civil war years ago and many people, including Aina, lost their family. When the war ended, the lower class became even more powerless as the upper class, known as Steels, profited heavily from industrialization, but left places like the Stacks, overpoliced and subject to the laws of its gangs. There is also a magical element to the story involving diamonds, blood magic, and the worship of two goddesses known as the Mothers which I found really interesting.
  • Teo – Aina isn’t the type of person who makes friends easily, but she found a kindred spirit in the mercenary Teo. He’s charming and though he lacks Aina’s efficiency, is still a very skilled killer. He, like Aina, has been forced into the life as a mercenary because people like them do not get the same opportunities as Steels. He’s driven by the love he has for his mother, whom he is desperate to provide medicine for. His friendship with Aina was my favorite in the novel. There’s is mutual respect and both are more vulnerable with the other than they are with other people.
  • Ryuu – Ryuu is first introduced as a spoiled, out of touch upper class Steel, but he has a lot more layers. Unlike those in power, he does not have the same kind of disdain for those who worship the Mothers. He is more likely to help than to turn someone over for practicing their religion. His tenuous alliance with Aina opens both of their eyes to each other’s circumstances and they discover they have more in common than either initially believed.
  • Too many potential love interests – I honestly didn’t know where to invest myself in emotionally when it came to all of Aina’s potential love interests. I wish the author had chosen one or even two, but there were three characters that Aina expressed interest in at one time or another. While I don’t fault a girl for being interested in multiple parties, it felt more like the author couldn’t decide who she wanted readers to root for. I will say that I did like how open Aina is in the end and how she wants to prioritize herself first.
  • Stilted writing – Sometimes with debuts you come across some awkwardly worded dialogue or prose. For the most part this doesn’t bother me as I understand new writers are still finding their writing style. This is a bound manuscript review so these awkward instances may have been edited, but it definitely had me pausing and reflecting on how strange certain things were worded while reading.


Francesca Flores delivers a solid fantasy debut with Diamond City. With an impressive setting and an interesting set of characters, I will be keeping my eye out for the sequel.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)

ARC Review: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Title: Tweet Cute
Author: Emma Lord
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: January 21st 2020
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.
      Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.
    Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.
      All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.
      As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.”

swirl (2)

Emma Lord’s Tweet Cute is just as delightful as its title implies. Pepper Evans is drowning under the weight of school work, her swim captain responsibilities, and pressure from her mother to help with Big League Burger’s Twitter account, their once-small family business. Pepper’s only solace has been her correspondence with “Wolf” a classmate she’s been messaging on an anonymous app for students at her prep school. Unbeknownst to anyone, Jack is the creator of said app and is Pepper’s mysterious penpal, a fact that he himself doesn’t even know. When Big League Burger tweets about a new sandwich that’s way too similar to one that’s been on Jack’s family’s deli menu for years, a Twitter war starts between the two company accounts. When Pepper and Jack end up striking up an unlikely friendship in real life, it’s only a matter of time before truth about their online personas comes out.

Pepper is the very definition of an overachiever. She’s spent the last few years of her life trying to fit into this new world her mother brought her to after the company’s franchise expansion. Her father is still back in Nashville, running the first Big League Burger. Her home life hasn’t been the best; though her parents had an amicable divorce, her older sister, who is off at college, has a rocky relationship with their mom. Pepper has always played peacemaker between the two and as a result hasn’t been able to stand up to her mother herself because she is afraid of ruining their relationship. She’s never developed any lasting relationships in this new place because she’s always felt out of place and fitting in in a superficial kind of way felt easier than finding out where she actually belonged.

Jack has always been the guy who goofs around too much, the guy who doesn’t have a lot of ambition. The truth is he’s been living in his twin’s shadow for so long, it’s always seemed easier to embrace the narrative than counteract it. Even his parents seem to believe that Ethan is meant for bigger and better things. On the other hand, Jack is already stuck behind the family’s deli counter, making him the perfect person to stay behind and take over when the time comes. Jack’s been keeping his passion for app development a secret because why reveal this side of himself when everyone has already made up their minds about who he is? One of the bright spots in his life is his relationship with his grandma, who started Girl Cheesing. She is one of the only people he can really open up to and one that sees him for who he is and not just a less impressive version of his twin.

I love how organic Jack and Pepper’s friendship developed in this one. They are very different people and at first glance, you can’t see how the two would work but they do. Jack breaks through that very small bubble Pepper has made for herself and Pepper is one of the few people that not only sees Jack for who he is, but sees through all the things he’s pretending to be. The storyline, while familiar, never felt like it was too predictable. I expected to get to know both characters more through their online interactions, but was happy to see that the novel focused more on how their relationship developed in real life. I love when contemporaries give us multiple POVs and even more when it’s well done. Tweet Cute‘s dual POV is well-done. The author does a wonderful job of dividing chapters and giving both characters their own worlds and hang ups that it didn’t feel like it was more Pepper or Jack’s story. They each had their own journeys that just happened to converge. Both perspectives and characters were equally engaging and I loved that both had their own lessons to learn apart from each other.

Emma Lord’s Tweet Cute is an adorable, sweet, satisfying contemporary with characters with undeniable likeability and chemistry.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

ARC Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Dark and Deepest Red
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: January 14th 2020
**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

TW: contains a slur for Romani people

      “Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.
      Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.
      With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.”

swirl (2)

Anna-Marie McLemore’s latest novel, Dark and Deepest Red, is equal parts magical and horrifying as the novel shifts between two timelines where young women are caught in a never-ending dance, unable to stop. In 1518 Strasbourg, France, a fever takes hold of the residents. First it is a small group of women, fallen under a spell that compels them to dance. As the frenzy continues, some of these women begin to dance themselves to death. With each passing day, more are brought under the spell, losing themselves while their families become desperate for a cure. Lala and her aunt have done their best to blend into this small town, have hoped they have hidden their Romani heritage deep enough in order to escape persecution. But as the townspeople grow more desperate to put a stop to the sickness and find someone to blame, suspicions turn to those who’ve never quite fit in.

Five centuries later, “the glimmer” has once again fallen over the town of Briar Meadows. This strange phenomenon overcomes the town every year, bringing about both innocuous and life-changing magic. This year pairs of red shoes begin turning up, casting a kind of love magic on their wearers. For Rosella Oliva, donning these red shoes has unforeseen consequences. They take hold of her, refusing to let go, forcing her dance and putting her life in danger. The only person who might help is Emil, a boy who has done his best to tuck away the parts of himself that others in his town once whispered about. He’s closed himself off from his own history, like the story of his ancestors once being blamed for a dancing plague. But in order to help Rosella, Emil will have to reach across centuries to find the truth of what happen to those before him.

Dark and Deepest Red explores various marginalized identities and how these have influence the way characters move about the world. McLemore’s stories are always unapologetically brown and queer and this one is no exception. McLemore has a knack for forcing their characters to see beyond the surface, to splay themselves open and prod all those little things they keep hidden from the world. Much like the dancing plague, these characters have been forced into a kind of dance where they must deny a part of themselves. I loved how McLemore uses these biases and turns them on their head, allowing their characters to turn powerlessness into a moments of cunning and strength. The story is a reminder than even one small act of defiance can have a ripple effect, how one small act may not be small at all, but may have ramifications that transcend time.

Plenty of parallels can be drawn from the two timelines in Dark and Deepest Red. Lala has learned to make herself more gadjo, non-Romani, tucking parts of herself away and folding herself into the circle of young women in town who are looked upon with envy rather than suspicion. Her aunt and her have explained away their brown skin with rumors of Italian nobility. Their proximity to whiteness has become their only defense against the prejudice shown to their people throughout the region. But there is always danger in their very existence, as it is for the trans boy they took in years ago. Alifair’s almost mysterious appearance from the woods has never been fully explained, but Lala and her aunt made him family when he had none. Lala knows that while loving Alifair may always have been inevitable, her love for him might also be his downfall. Scenes between these two range from beautiful to heartbreaking and I’m always in awe of McLemore’s ability to write love stories that both devastate and uplift.

Rosella, like Lala, has discovered that in order to keep the people of Briar Meadows from treating her family as less than (at least more than they already do), she has to make herself more like the girls around her. She may not be able to hide her brown skin, but she can dress like them and talk like them. The only other person who ever understood what it was like to be othered in this town was Emil, but that was years ago when they were both children and understood their place in the world a little less. For Emil, keeping himself from his people’s history has been a way for him to protect himself. Rosella has always been a reminder of the things he was only beginning to realize as a child, that the town he called home was only ever going to look down at his family and their culture if he shared too much. I loved that their story isn’t just about each other, but about who they are individually in relation to their ethnic identities.

Anna-Marie McLemore’s Dark and Deepest Red fused magic and terror into an enthralling tale that will leave you breathless with its piercing truths.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

(5/5)

ARC (Snapshot) Review: Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

Title: Woven in Moonlight
Author: Isabel Ibañez
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Release Date: January 7th 2020

**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

      A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history.
      Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.
      When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.
      She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.”

  • Magical system – Ximena’s magic is tied to the moon and the Illustrians magic all reflect this. There is a character who can read the stars and Ximena weaves moonlight into her tapestries. It’s a very beautiful and almost delicate kind of magic.
  • Unlearning harmful prejudices – I do have some criticism when it comes to how this is done in Woven in Moonlight, but I did appreciate the concept of people belonging to certain oppressive groups having to reevaluate their worldview.
  • Ximena and Catalina – Though we only get small glimpses into their relationship before Ximena is whisked away, I loved how close these two were. They grew up as each other’s families and even though you sense tension, at least from Ximena’s side, you can tell how much they care about the other.
  • Rich cultures – It was interesting to see the Llascans from an outside perspective and even though Ximena remains bias for much of the narrative, it was hard not to be pulled in by the vibrancy of their world.
  • Ximena’s POV – I struggled with the narrative for one reason in particular. The story from a privileged person’s POV, learning to confront their prejudices and realizing a marginalized group of people actually have value is one I’ve grown tired of. I question the novel being told only from Ximena’s perspective when there was another character whose story had more value. This would have been a very different read for me if we got a different POV to balance out Ximena’s prejudice. I was really disappointed that Ximena’s views really didn’t feel challenged on paper enough until the latter half of the novel and that readers as a result are forced to center her views for so long.
  • Characterization – Unfortunately I didn’t feel like many of these characters were fully formed. Ximena, for example, was introduced as the Condesa’s decoy who struggles to find an identity outside of this performance she’s been doing for years. This could have also been a book about identity, but instead of being a running theme, it’s merely a cursory observation made at the beginning and never revisited again.


Isabel Ibañez’s Woven in Moonlight, while having a really unique magical system, falls short when it comes to its commentary on colonization.

★ ★
(2/5)