ARC Review – Gwen & Art Are Not in Love

Gwen & Art Are Not in Love publication info: Author - Lex Croucher, Pub Date - November 28, 2023, Print Length - 416 pages, Read Dates - November 19, 2023 to November 22, 2023

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher. I fell in love with the cover when perusing NetGalley almost a year ago, and I’m super excited to finally have read the book. I also obsessively read everything Arthurian-related I can get my hands on. So, I couldn’t pass this one up. It will be released in the U.S. tomorrow, November 28, 2023. Although, I saw it out early on the shelves of my local Barnes & Noble last week.

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ARC Review – Two Twisted Crowns

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing one of my most anticipated fall releases, Two Twisted Crowns by Rachel Gillig. Last year’s One Dark Window was an unexpected favorite of mine. You can find all my thoughts about it in my review. What did I think of the conclusion to the duology? Read on to find out!

In the dark, spellbinding sequel to  One Dark Window , Elspeth must confront the weight of her actions as she and Ravyn embark on a perilous quest to save the kingdom—perfect for readers of Hannah Whitten’s For the Wolf and  Alexis Henderson’s The Year of the Witching.

Gripped by a tyrant king and in the thrall of dark magic, the kingdom is in peril. Elspeth and Ravyn have gathered most of the twelve Providence Cards, but the last—and most important—one remains to be the Twin Alders. If they’re going to find the card before Solstice and set free the kingdom, they will need to journey through the dangerous mist-cloaked forest. The only one who can lead them through is the monster that shares Elspeth’s head: the Nightmare.

And he’s not eager to share any longer.

***Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing a copy of Two Twisted Crowns. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience. WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ONE DARK WINDOW.***

Two Twisted Crowns had some massive shoes to fill because of how much I loved One Dark Window. My expectations were sky high, and this conclusion to the duology met them. It had everything I loved about the first book, such as the card magic, lush writing, and the gloomy forest, but also had a distinct vibe that set it apart in some ways from the first half of the story. It is definitely not a standalone, though. So, it is imperative to read One Dark Window first.

The main thing that set Two Twisted Crowns apart from its predecessor was its distinct lack of Elspeth for a lot of the book. The Nightmare was now in control of her body. One of the things I loved most about the first book was the dynamic and banter between the Nightmare and Elspeth, which was missing from most of this story. The love story between Ravyn and Elspeth also came to somewhat of a halt since she was no longer in control of her body. Some readers may not like this change, but I was fine with it because of everything else going on in the story.

Two Twisted Crowns largely focused on Elm and Ravyn, with Elm’s story being intertwined with Ione’s. The plot was split between the two, with Ravyn going into the forest to track down the elusive Twin Alders card in order to save his brother and bring back Elspeth. Whereas, Elm had to stay behind in the castle and deal with the aftermath of his brother’s grave injuries, which foisted more royal responsibility on his shoulders. I was riveted by the plot of Ravyn’s quest, but I became much more emotionally attached to Elm’s struggles to overcome the trauma of his past and build a happier future for himself and the kingdom.

The main romance in Two Twisted Crowns did surprise me a bit because I didn’t expect the two characters to get together. At times, it did feel like their development as a couple was included because the brakes had been thrown on the relationship between Ravyn and Elspeth. However, I did like Elm and Ione together and found the progression of their romance and emotional connection to be believable. They had some great moments and brought the best out in each other, which I always love. They both had to come to terms with the horror Hauth (seriously, fuck that guy) wrought upon them, and I liked getting to learn more about Ione through Elm’s eyes along the way.

Two Twisted Crowns explored the importance of balance and the power in putting aside revenge to break long-standing, destructive cycles. It also hammered home the point that nothing of value comes for free and illustrated how a constant lust for ‘more’ can consume someone’s life to the point of devastation. Most interestingly, though, the story examined how trauma can change some people into monsters and others into great leaders filled with empathy.

The world-building in Two Twisted Crowns provided so much knowledge about the history of the kingdom and its magic. I loved getting to know the Nightmare better and understanding his motivations on a more personal level. I still really liked the magic system, and everything came together in this story in ways that made all the mysteries make sense.

Overall, Two Twisted Crowns wrapped up this story really well and cemented this duology as one of my favorites. I cannot recommend it enough for anyone who enjoys gloomy fantasy with a side of romance. The covers of both books really do a fantastic job of representing the vibe of the duology. So, if the cover speaks to you, definitely pick these books up. All things considered, I rate this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Have you read Two Twisted Crowns (or One Dark Window)? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments.

ARC Review – Charming Young Man

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing Charming Young Man by Eliot Schrefer. I knew nothing about this book before requesting it on NetGalley. One of Schrefer’s previous books, The Darkness Outside Us, was one of my favorite books of 2021. So, I just knew I had to read this one regardless of what it was about.

From New York Times bestselling author Eliot Schrefer comes an exuberant YA historical coming-of-age novel about a rising star French pianist, navigating his way into high society as he explores his sexuality. Perfect for fans of Last Night at the Telegraph Club and The Gentleman’s Gide to Vice and Virtue.

They say Léon Delafosse will be France’s next great pianist. But despite his being the youngest student ever accepted into the prestigious Paris Conservatory, there’s no way an impoverished musician can make his way in 1890s Paris without an outside patron.

Young gossip columnist Marcel Proust takes Léon under his wing, and the boys game their way through an extravagant new world. When the larger-than-life Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fézensac offers his patronage, Léon’s dreams are made real. But the closer he gets to becoming France’s next great thing, the further he strays from his old country life he shared with his family and his best friend Félix . . . a boy he might love.

With each choice Léon makes, he must navigate a fine line between two worlds—or risk losing them both.

***Thank you to Katherine Tegen Books for providing a copy of Charming Young Man via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I expected to love Charming Young Man because I’ve enjoyed Schrefer’s previous work. However, I never expected to adore it quite this much. This was a beautiful, queer coming-of-age story set amidst the backdrop of 1890s France. Unsurprisingly, the writing was beautiful, and I was transported alongside LĂ©on to the glamorous high society scene of Paris with its fabulous salons and glamorous parties.

While Charming Young Man had an interesting plot about LĂ©on’s attempt to secure a place as a renowned pianist, the focus was largely on his struggle with coming to terms with his sexuality and figuring out where he belonged. LĂ©on was awkward, shy, and battling shame about his interest in other men. His journey was an emotional one, and I truly felt like I knew him by the end of the story. I especially loved the scenes of him playing the piano because of how he equated each piece with a memory or a feeling, which allowed the reader to experience the soul of the music and some of LĂ©on’s inner world. The writing of those moments was superb.

LĂ©on had several relationships/situationships in Charming Young Man, but I definitely wouldn’t classify this book as a romance. As he navigated Paris society, he attracted the attention of people who wanted to take advantage of his talent for their own gain, but they also helped him better understand his attraction toward men. For example, his interactions with Marcel Proust and Count Robert de Montesquiou-FĂ©zensac helped him understand that his sexuality was a valid part of his identity rather than just a perverted behavior to be excised at all costs. Their depictions left me super fascinated by these people, and I have already picked up a book written by Proust, which I’m excited to read.

Despite not being a romance per se, Charming Young Man did have a central relationship that I absolutely loved. LĂ©on had such a beautiful thing with his best friend FĂ©lix. Their relationship was such an easy one, and I felt the depth of their connection despite them only having a couple of scenes together. The author accomplished this by interspersing letters between the two throughout the text, along with making FĂ©lix a staple of LĂ©on’s thoughts about home. The entire time, I wanted them to end up together, even though it seemed like that would only be possible if LĂ©on gave up his dream.

Charming Young Man explored so many different themes. In particular, it examined the intersection of class and sexuality during this time period. LĂ©on’s experience was starkly different from the other men in Paris. The upper classes had the freedom to explore artistic and sexual pursuits that the poor, rural people did not, at least not without risking everything in the process. LĂ©on struggled to maintain a place and often had to do things outside of his comfort zone to ‘make it,’ even though all he wanted was to focus on his music. I also appreciated how the story highlighted individuals who flouted the gender norms of the time. However, they were also largely afforded that privilege due to their class.

Overall, Charming Young Man was another fantastic novel by Eliot Schrefer. If you enjoy historical fiction that centers queer people and their experiences, this is a book you don’t want to miss. I particularly loved that the story was inspired by the author’s reaction to a painting of the real life LĂ©on. I now really hope to see the portrait in person myself one day. Therefore, I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.