Reviews in a Minute: It’s Winter Books!

So these were all supposed to come out in January, but one was pushed back, so now they have not a thing in common, not one single thing.

We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen
The Wild by Owen Laukkanen
The Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Reviews in a Minute: It’s Winter Books! We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen
Published by Mira Books on January 26, 2021
Pages: 384
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Edelweiss

An extraordinary and emotional adventure about unlikely friends and the power of choosing who you want to be.

Jamie woke up in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to his identity, but with the ability to read and erase other people’s memories—a power he uses to hold up banks to buy coffee, cat food and books.

Zoe is also searching for her past, and using her abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And she’ll occasionally put on a cool suit and beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.

When the archrivals meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize the only way to reveal their hidden pasts might be through each other. As they uncover an ongoing threat, suddenly much more is at stake than their fragile friendship. With countless people at risk, Zoe and Jamie will have to recognize that sometimes being a hero starts with trusting someone else—and yourself.


When superheroes (or supervillains, perhaps) are borne of ordinary folks, things can get interesting. Especially when the aforementioned folks cannot remember a thing about who they were pre-superhero. Nor do they really want to be superheroes. It’s a whole thing. There is, of course, much more to the story than we initially know (or even expect).

Jamie and Zoe are intriguing characters from the start, because they know as much about themselves as the reader does, which is to say, not much. As such, we get to know them only as they get to know themselves, which is a really unique perspective. Without giving too much away, there is a reason behind their power, and a reason why they remember nothing of their lives before. As these secrets unfold, the duo will have to confront not only their present adversaries, but their own pasts as well.

While there was plenty of adventure, there was also a very human element to the story, and a lot of thought provoking topics, which is always something that Mike Chen excels at.

Bottom Line: Reluctant superheroes have to unravel their own backstories to be the heroes they really are, and it’s more daunting than anything they’ve done before.

Reviews in a Minute: It’s Winter Books! The Wild by Owen Laukkanen
Published by Underlined on January 26, 2021
Pages: 368
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

With an instantly compelling protagonist who finds herself fighting for her life in the wilderness using her wits and resilience, THE WILD is a suspenseful original paperback page-turner with nonstop action and a heroine readers won't soon forget.


Dawn isn't a bad person--she's just made some bad choices: wrong guy, wrong friends, wrong everything. But she wasn't expecting her parents to pay a boatload of money to ship her off to OUT OF THE WILD, a wilderness boot camp with a bunch of other messed up kids to learn important "life lessons." It's true that Dawn and the other cubs will learn a lot--but it's not what any of them expect. Because what happens in the woods isn't what their parents planned. Sometimes plans go very wrong. And this is one of those times. Suddenly Dawn is more scared than she's ever been in her life. And you will be too.


This book was wildly entertaining (pun not intended, but I am keeping it), and nearly impossible to put down. We meet Dawn, and Dawn is a mess of a person. She makes basically all the worst life choices every chance she gets. Her judgement is trash, frankly. So, Dawn’s mom and stepdad decide she needs to go to this boot camp in the woods for “bad” kids. Dawn, for her part, is pissed. I didn’t blame her, because I’d be pretty salty if I had to hang out in the woods with a bunch of strangers (who may or may not be actual criminals, in some cases) for an indeterminate amount of time.

The book is written in such a unique and fun style, it hooked me almost immediately. The author basically breaks the fourth wall, in a very humorous way, and I loved that. It gives the book a bit of levity that it would otherwise lack, considering the heavy subject matter. Because things are indeed heavy. Dawn has been through hell, with the death of her father, and her turning to drugs and a really inappropriate, unhealthy, and illegal relationship with a much older (and awful) man. And now she’s at this camp, and you know shenanigans are afoot.

The campers and the counselors set out for some rough experiences in the woods. Things will turn ugly, obviously. And we’ll get to see whether Dawn has really learned anything from her experiences. It’s harrowing, Dawn’s wilderness adventure, and I shan’t say anything else other than I was hooked until the end.

Bottom Line: A definite page turner with a unique style, I was immersed in this story from start to finish.

Reviews in a Minute: It’s Winter Books! Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha
Series: The Mechanists #1
Published by Erewhon on February 2, 2021
Pages: 384
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

A rare, searing portrayal of the future of climate change in South Asia. A streetrat turned revolutionary and the disillusioned hacker son of a politician try to take down a ruthlessly technocratic government that sacrifices its poorest citizens to build its utopia.

The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.

Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government, which is run by a merciless computer algorithm that dictates every citizen’s fate. She’s a smuggler with the best robotic arm and cybernetic enhancements the slums can offer, and her cargo includes the most vulnerable of the city’s abandoned children.
When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury. From armed guardians kidnapping children to massive robots flattening the slums, to a pandemic that threatens to sweep through the city like wildfire, Ashiva and Riz-Ali will have to put aside their differences in order to fight the system and save the communities they love from destruction.


Rise of the Red Hand is a thought provoking start to a new series. I quite liked some components, while a few others left me wanting a bit more. Let’s break it down!

What I Loved:

  • The world was both incredibly complex and utterly believable. I mean, it was awful, don’t get me wrong. The rich got richer and the poor… well, they would just exterminate them if they got in the way. Truly, it’s the selfish rhetoric that we’re all intimately familiar with run amok. I also loved how the author was able to include so many wonderful references to South Asian culture, it really made the setting feel very authentic!
  • I absolutely rooted for the characters at every turn. Obviously, the way they are being treated is total trash, and I wanted them to overcome their oppressors. I wanted them to get to live, you know? They’re all flawed (some more than others) but they have good intentions, and they do show growth throughout the story, which I definitely appreciated.
  • The plot, when it picked up, was compelling. Look, we all want the oppressive regime overthrown, yeah? Well, I guess unless you are part of said oppressive regime, but I digress. The stakes are very high, not just for the characters the book focuses on, but for all of their people. Not only is the government trying to harm them, but environmental and biological factors come into play as well, turning their intended revolution into an absolute necessity.

What I Didn’t:

  • Oh, the info-dumping. This is my biggest complaint with the book, really. Because it had two negative effects here: One, the actual dumping of said info, during which I had a very hard time concentrating, which led to me not retaining bits that I needed to retain to understand what was happening.  It was sort of a snowball effect- I’d start to mentally check out during the info dumps, but then I’d miss key parts of the world or characters or story which made me confused, which led to a lack of focus for the next one.Two, it made the pacing feel very off, and very slow at times. Which again, led to me losing the ability to focus on reading it. The book does pick up quite a bit in the second half, but the first half was a bit of a slog, frankly.
  • Kind of insta-lovey. I don’t generally dig insta-love, and for Ashiva, it felt even more out of character for her to be head over heels for Riz-Ali, someone she doesn’t know, that quickly. And I am not saying that the two couldn’t grow to be in love, it just seemed way too quick, and I didn’t really feel it.
  • I preface this by acknowledging that it is an advanced copy, and hopefully will be fixed up but… just way too many errors were happening. Like, whole chunks that didn’t make sense, instances where someone would say something that negated a thing that happened in the chapter before, etc. And I genuinely couldn’t tell which I was supposed to believe at that point. Errors happen, especially in an advanced copy, but when it occurs to the point where it takes me out of a story, I feel obliged to mention it.

Bottom Line: A wonderfully complex world with characters to cheer for, it would have been helped by a bit more even pace and less info-dumping.

Reviews in a Minute: It’s Winter Books! The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Published by Berkley on January 26, 2021
Pages: 352
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Public radio co-hosts navigate mixed signals in Rachel Lynn Solomon's sparkling romantic comedy debut.

Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can't imagine working anywhere else. But lately it's been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who's fresh off a journalism master's program and convinced he knows everything about public radio.

When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it's this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it's not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts.

As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers.


This book was, as all books by Rachel Lynn Solomon tend to be, fabulous. I will fully admit that this is my first foray into adult romance. And I’d probably never taken the leap had one of my all-time favorite authors not have written it. But she did, so I did, and here we are. I think what I loved the most about the book is how much I related to Shay. Her thoughts echoed so many of my own thoughts while trying to navigate adulthood. (To be fair, Shay is doing a way better job, but alas.) No exaggeration, reading through my Kindle notes, I left at least 10 comments of “yes, this!” and “me too!” and “Amen to that!”, because I just related so, so hard to Shay.

The public radio aspect was so fun, too. I had no idea what to expect going in, and by the end I was like “wow I wish my voice wasn’t that of a nasally frog, I want to do that job!” Shay’s (Rachel’s, really) idea for a radio show about exes giving love advice is perfect, too. Because you know it will provide for a comedy of errors, considering that she and her cohost were never actually together. Speaking of, I loved Dominic with every fiber of my being. Perhaps not at first- at first, I probably felt a bit like Shay did about him. But as he grows on Shay, he grows on the reader.

While the book is a romance (and an excellent one at that), there are so many other elements worth mentioning. First, Shay must navigate her adult mother-daughter relationship, which has always been a bit strained, all while her mother is remarrying a decade after her father’s death. Shay also must cope with her father being gone, which is obviously an impossible ask. And as her best friend begins to make some big life changes, Shay finds herself feeling stagnant while everyone else undergoes these huge transitions.

Her feelings of loneliness, not just in regard to being single, but in life, hit hard for me. But the ultimate message that we can change our course, that things can be better, were wonderful to read, and helped me to feel a bit hopeful (while still maintaining a healthy dose of pessimism, don’t misunderstand).

Bottom Line: I fell in love with Shay and Dominic, and I’ve zero doubt that you will, too.

Have you read any of these books? Plan to? Let us chat about them!  

Posted January 27, 2021 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in In a Minute, Review / 14 Comments


14 responses to “Reviews in a Minute: It’s Winter Books!

  1. I think you made me aware of Mike Chen and now anything by him I need to read. The superhero premise for whatever reason doesn’t even appeal to me that much, but it’s Chen and the time travel story he wrote RULED. The Wild sounds awesome too. Wilderness boot camp? Yes please. I’m sure that goes swimmingly. Adding both of these bad boys.

    • Honestly, I think that is probably why I didn’t like it *quite* as much as his previous two, the superhero thing doesn’t really appeal to me either, but like you said, it was Mike Chen so I had to! Have you read A Beginning at the End? It’s beyond fabulous. The Wild was FUN and a very quick read, I definitely think you’d enjoy both of them!

  2. SQUEEEE! How good was The Ex Talk? Aww, you closing paragraph there brought back all the feels to me. I am so in love with RLS’s rom-coms. I hope she has many more in her.

  3. Beth W

    I hear universally great things about The Ex Talk, so I can’t wait to check it out. We Can Be Heroes also sounds lovely.
    The Wild sounds really close to Wild Bird, which has a very similar premise. Maybe it’s a popular premise? I’m glad the author used humor to balance the expected bad (and I’m guessing unexpected bad) that happens when you throw a bunch of kids in a man v wild fight for their lives.

    • YESSS you should definitely read them both, frankly. I need to read the premise for Wild Bird, I’d not heard of that I don’t think! Okay so I read your review, and the INITIAL premise is very similar, yes. But whereas Wild Bird seems to really focus on the healing aspect (and now I want to read it ha), The Wild goes…. well, frankly it goes straight of the rails. So similar premise, VERY different execution, from what I gather!

  4. I definitely want to read The Ex Talk. I’ve seen a lot of great reviews, and it sounds so fun! Love the talk radio aspect. I have We Could Be Heroes on my wish list so I’m happy to see you enjoyed that one overall too.


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