Reviews in a Minute: Summer Stuffs

These books are late July/early August releases! Look, I have many to offer! Adult, YA, all the genres! Stuff for everyone!

Fresh by Margot Wood
Small Favors by Erin A. Craig
Heartbreak for Hire by Sonia Hartl
Swallow by Sam Schill

Mercury Boys by Chandra Prasad
The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould


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*TW via author’s website: Fresh depicts: drinking, drug use, profanity, sex, and one scene with sexual assault.

I have mentioned this before, but I love books about the college transition. Frankly, I find them wildly important (any coming-of-age transition, not just college) and so underrepresented, which is odd, considering that pretty much all of us have or will have gone through the post-high school transition to some thing or another! Anyway, Fresh was a really fun take on the first year experience, and was quite charming!

Elliott feels so refreshingly real, and I loved her from the start. She and I are very different people, but I absolutely connected with her from the start. She is funny, charming, and flawed, and I loved every bit of her. The author did a tremendous job not just showing us who Elliott is, but fleshing out her relationships as well. I loved watching her meet her new friends, wondering where those relationships were going to go, etc. Not only that, there is a huge focus on family! Elliott doesn’t just run off to college and forget her family; no, she is homesick, and misses them, even while having fun, and I love that this dichotomy was highlighted.

I also loved that the author fully explored Elliott’s emotions. Like yes, she was excited about college, but also scared, and apprehensive, and stressed. Her emotions ran the gamut, and it felt so realistic and authentic. She also grows so much during her freshman year, and I found that to be a great message.

Speaking of great messages, the book was wholly sex positive, but also was super clear that being sex positive includes not wanting to have sex being okay too. Everyone’s comfort levels were respected, and that was the representation I was here for. I also thought it was great that Elliott had to explore not only her sexuality, but why she was so averse to relationships.

Also, it was just plain funny at times! I love well-placed humor, and this book had it! It also had some heavy moments, but the balance was pretty much spot on.

Bottom Line: Fun and heartwarming while still handling some tough topics, Fresh (and Elliott!) shines.



Reviews in a Minute: Summer Stuffs Small Favors by Erin A. Craig
Published by Delacorte Press on July 27, 2021
Pages: 480
Format:eARC
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Ellerie Downing lives in the quiet town of Amity Falls in the Blackspire Mountain range--five narrow peaks stretching into the sky like a grasping hand, bordered by a nearly impenetrable forest from which the early townsfolk fought off the devils in the woods. To this day, visitors are few and rare. But when a supply party goes missing, some worry that the monsters that once stalked the region have returned.

As fall turns to winter, more strange activities plague the town. They point to a tribe of devilish and mystical creatures who promise to fulfill the residents' deepest desires, however grand and impossible, for just a small favor. But their true intentions are much more sinister, and Ellerie finds herself in a race against time before all of Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves go up in flames.

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In my ridiculous mind, this book was about a cult, à la The Village. View Spoiler » It was definitely giving me great vibes of creepiness and isolation in the woods, which is a great start to any novel that is supposed to be mysterious, so I enjoyed it from the start.

In Ellerie’s once seemingly idyllic town, strange events start to occur. At first, they can be chalked up to a feud between neighbors, scorned lovers, and what have you. But as time goes on, it’s clear that there is more at play. When a medical emergency makes her parents unavailable to hold down the fort, it falls on Ellerie (and mostly useless twin brother Samuel) to keep everyone alive through the harsh winter. Of course, this becomes even harder when the townspeople begin to turn on each other, and Ellerie finds herself caught in the middle of several groups’ squabbles.

I really liked Ellerie, and loved how she stepped up when her crappy brother wouldn’t. She cares deeply for her sisters, but she also wants to see the town be safe, which I liked. I also liked love interest Whitaker, even if I didn’t really trust him through a large chunk of the book. He seemed at least like a decent guy at his core, and like he actually did care about Ellerie. (In fairness, I think their relationship could have been fleshed out a bit more, but it was still good.)

As I mentioned, the atmosphere for the story was wholly on point. The author did a phenomenal job of making the stakes feel very high, and the whole town felt thick with wrongness. It was spot on, and made me so excited to learn what was the cause of the town’s struggles. I also heavily rooted for Ellerie and her family, because they were incredibly likable, and I wanted them to make it!

My one qualm with the story was that the ending felt… rushed perhaps? Too open? I am not entirely sure, but I didn’t feel wholly satisfied. Like, the story does wrap up, so don’t think you’ll just be left completely hanging, but I did want more, especially after a strong start.

Bottom Line: So creepy and atmospheric, it’s a great sophomore offering from Erin A. Craig, and I cannot wait for whatever she does next!


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Heartbreak For Hire has a very fun premise, and is a quick and entertaining read! Let me break down what worked for me and what did not.

What I Liked:

  • It’s a cute, feel-good story about reclaiming control of your life. I mean, who doesn’t appreciate that!? Brinkley has been wallowing and stagnant for a long time. Her job has allowed her some financial freedom, but when men are introduced into the workplace, Brinkley and her coworkers feel betrayed, and like their safe space is no longer safe. Really, this is a good thing, because goodness, something has to get Brinkley out of her rut!
  • The premise itself is quite fresh! Basically, Brinkley’s company ruins the lives of life ruiners. Seems good, right? (And yes, we all know that things won’t go as planned hah.) Her boss is kind of gross, IMO, and I was always cheering for Brinkley and her coworkers to tell her where she could go. She was quite manipulative, but I suppose that is par for the course when the occupation is literal manipulation.
  • Definitely liked Mark. He seemed pretty level-headed and down to earth, and kind of a great match for Brinkley, who needed some of that in her life.
  • Complex mother-daughter relationship. It is also high key toxic, don’t get me wrong! But let’s face it, some parent-child relationships are toxic, and I liked that the book showed Brinkley navigating that! Her mother isn’t evil or anything, she’s just really misguided, and kind of taking her own mistakes and dreams out on Brinkley.

What I Didn’t:

  • I had a hard time connecting with Brinkley, which would be my qualm with this one. Like, she did grow on me a bit as the story went on, but I didn’t completely like her? Or connect to her in any way, I suppose. It wasn’t even that I disliked her, don’t misunderstand! I just felt mostly apathy toward her.

Bottom Line: Perfect and unique rom-com material, feel-good and uplifting, just wanted to like Brinkley a little more.


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Whew, this book was… something. Look, I assumed going in that it was going to be campy and not the sort of book I should take too seriously. Which is fine! I am down for just plain fun sometimes! The problem was, for me, it crossed the line from “entertaining” to “problematic” in a damn hurry, which I cannot really get on board with. That, and there were a lot of things that just didn’t make sense. But we’ll get to that.

When I read the premise of the book, it sounded like it could be kind of fun, in what I assumed was a way for the bullied girl to take back her agency. That isn’t exactly how it works, however. I was morbidly fascinated enough to keep reading, which I guess is a quasi-positive? I was almost desperately hoping it would have some redemptive qualities, but I really wasn’t able to find any. So I am just going to tell you why it was so rough for me, via bullet points I jotted down while reading.

  • So, we’re really going there with the fat shaming, eh? And it is problematic in two ways, really. The first is obvious, in that Mildred is teased for her weight. And even Mildred’s mom fat shames her, which, at the start of the book was something I could kind of sympathize with (my dad loved to police my food intake, so I was definitely feeling for her!)  But then. THEN. Mildred forgoes any kind of food with nutritional value, noms donuts around the clock, and like.. girl, you gonna get scurvy in a minute. Even then, I was mad at Mom. And frankly, that the book needed to make donuts the villainous food that all fat people must eat and cannot possibly help themselves from shoving into their bodies by the dozen, which pretty heavily infuriated me. But… Mildred literally cannot walk up the (few) steps at school without gasping for air. And she needs a special desk. And then I am kind of wondering if it is fat shaming as much as Mrs. Mildred’s actual concern for her daughter’s health? Because if you can’t even catch your breath as a teen doing a very basic stroll, things aren’t going great.  Which leads me to my biggest issue….
  • Why is mental health and a damn pediatrician visit never mentioned!? Clearly shaming is not the answer. Not by a long shot. Nor is food policing. But it’s incredibly obvious that Mildred has some serious mental health issues going on, and likely some serious physical issues as well! But instead, let’s… make her go on a diet and let her be bullied at school? It’s absurd!
  • Speaking of which, I get that kids can be cruel, but this book is seriously over here trying to make me believe that every. single. person. in Mildred’s school not only ignores her, but hates her to the point of cruelty? That they all make comments? That everyone is mean to her? Even when she is not around, all they can think about is how unappealing she is? Nope nope do not buy. Frankly, I cannot imagine thinking so much about any human being, positively or negatively. Sounds exhausting.
  • Not only that, the freaking school employees basically tell her to keep on being bullied. Like, unless this is actual 1927 (see below), no school staff would say anything of the sort, because hello, lawsuits.
  • Okay this is probably a petty gripe, but why is everyone named like this is the Class of 1927? You gonna name your kid Mildred, then wonder why bullies have come a-knocking? And okay, maybe it is a family name, sure! But why is everyone else in Mildred’s life named after all my grandma’s besties? It was confusing, and a little weird.
  • I didn’t actually care about anyone, even Mildred. Like, I felt bad for her in the way I would feel bad for any human being who was clearly depressed, had severe self-esteem issues, probably some kind of medical problem, and relentless bullying. But otherwise? Mildred was wildly unlikable, and didn’t really have any kind of qualities that redeemed her, outside of pity. Which then kind of made me feel bad because wow, shouldn’t I feel drawn to this poor girl? Well, Idk what that says about me, but I was not. So when things started getting dicey, I could not have possibly cared less if folks were murdered. Die, don’t die, it’s all the same to me.
  • Suuuper convenient Parent-in-YA Syndrome. For those who don’t recall, PIYAS is when parents nonsensically disappear because the plot could not continue unless they absurdly vanished into thin air. Mildred’s parents are apparently huge fans of this trope, because they nope out of the picture just in time for Mildred to get into Shenanigans™. Look, I don’t know about you, but my parents would have never left me alone for weeks on end as a teen. And I was a responsible, mostly well-adjusted teen. Mildred can’t even take care of herself in the most basic of ways! In fact, is this even legal? In addition to the pediatrician and psychiatrist calls, I’mma need a quick Childline call too.

And then, things get weirder. As you can read from the synopsis (being careful not to venture near spoiler territory), the book takes a turn for the gory. There are entire side-plots that get introduced that have no business being bothered with, especially considering this book is less than 300 pages. Trying to add entire new groups of people was… ambitious, and it didn’t work out.

View Spoiler »

Bottom Line: Ooof.

Welcome to my first half star review! It gets the half because of my morbid fascination to continue, I guess? Technically, I had given it a one star, but then got so mad writing about the donut bit that I took a half away. ?


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Mercury Boys was such a hugely anticipated book for me, and as it turns out, I have such a huge case of mixed feelings going on here that I hardly know where to begin! I guess we should begin, as always, with the positives! Interestingly enough, I found the positives to be very positive, but the downsides to be equally important.

What I Liked:

  • You ever find yourself down an absurd, old-timey Wikipedia rabbit hole? I do it all the time. And of all my rabbit holes, one of the most fascinating has to be daguerreotypesThere is something about them so completely haunting, but at the same time, communal. Like yes, the world was wholly different back then, but then you see these people who, in photograph, look so relatable. Anyway, I find the whole history of daguerreotypes and early photography mind-bogglingly fascinating, so to have a whole book based on the premise was pretty awesome.
  • Going to various places in time via the girls’ dreams was fabulous! I mean, come on! We got to go to the Civil War for goodness sake! We even got to take some journeys to other countries in addition to the various time periods.
  • I really liked the focus on family and friendship. This is extra good because any “romance” was squicky at best. Lila was such an awesome friend to Saskia, and frankly, Saskia should listen to Lila more often, and not the other way around. Saskia and her dad are reeling after her mom’s affair, and trying to start over. Her dad, he tries, and he tries hard. But it’s a lot, suddenly becoming a single parent. So what I am saying here is, I love Mr. Saskia and Lila, and everyone else can exit stage left.
  • There were a lot of really great emotional moments. I was gutted by Saskia’s journey to take a daguerreotype of a deceased child, and Adrienne hanging out in Civil War medical tents was eye opening. Also, the girls’ real life struggles were really moving too. Saskia was having such a rough go, trying to navigate her mother’s nonsense, helping her father, trying to fit in, etc. Lila is going through her own stuff, which would be spoilery to mention I think, but again, it was moving. And also, Mr. Saskia has a pretty great arc, if small.

What I Didn’t:

  • The aforementioned squickiness. Look, I can understand having a quasi-crush on a long-dead inventor. I guess? I mean look, I don’t regularly catch feels from the deceased, but you do you, girl! The problem was, apart from his living status (in that he was not), he was significantly older than Saskia, married with a myriad of children, and therefore it seemed rather predatory, even if nothing particularly predatory happened? Does this make sense? I guess it’s akin to a teen hanging out with a teacher, where like, the teacher isn’t technically doing anything illegal, but it sits right with literally no one. I looked it up, because of course I did, and in this picture that Saskia snuggles with, he was 30. So, at the very least, homie is close to twice her age. Just saying.
  • The toxicity of the club. Why the heck did Saskia stick with Paige and her sister?! Look. I get that we make terrible choices in our youth. And I can even understand Saskia falling in with Paige to begin with, as the new girl at school, with only Lila in her life, etc etc. But how is there no crossed line that will act as enough of a wake up call? I am being vague as not to spoil, but wow. Lila at least can see that certain things are just not okay, but Saskia just went with it, and I now have a lot of questions about her reasoning in general.Also, it was honestly pretty toxic of Saskia herself to pressure Lila into taking the daguerreotypes in the first place. Like… you do not care about your friend’s future because… you’re fascinated by a dead fellow? Okay ?
  • Saskia was high key showing many symptoms of depression but it wasn’t spoken about. I mean, she wanted to stay in bed all the time, she was making terribly inappropriate life choices, and seemingly was fine with risking her own (and her friends’) hides more than once because she was so desperate to cling to Cornelius. That… isn’t rational behavior at all, and red flags were going up for me. I feel like that could have been an awesome thing to acknowledge and show her working toward dealing with, but alas.

Bottom Line: While I had some mixed feelings, I cannot deny that Mercury Boys was an inventive and unique story that I quite enjoyed reading!


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*TW, provided via the author: Some of the thematic material in The Dead and the Dark involves child death and endangerment, violence including strangulation and drowning, homophobia and homophobic slurs. For a more detailed description of sensitive content please visit gouldbooks.com/books/tdatd

The Dead and the Dark was pretty fabulous, in more ways than one, so I am going to tell you about them!

  • I was so pleasantly surprised by the character development and relationship development, especially for a mystery/paranormal book! Logan and her family have been going through some upheaval for some time, and the story delves so deep into their family dynamics. I also loved how we even got some insight into her fathers’ relationship, too! It made me feel like her fathers were actual characters, not caricatures.We also see wonderful development of Logan herself, and Ashley, who is so much more multifaceted than we initially think. At first, we think these young women will never be able to even stand in the same room as each other, but the more we get to know them both, the more we see how genuine each is- and so do they. It’s also really interesting to see Ashley’s relationships within her small town. The dynamics of Snakebite are so different, especially to Logan who has been all over the country.
  • Because of how well done the characters were, the stakes felt so high. When you actually like the characters in a murdery book, you get really emotional when they die and such.
  • The writing was so good! You know when the author just makes you feel stuff, based on just how beautifully they write? Yeah, that happened here. Not only that, but the author absolutely nailed the atmosphere. This is impressive for any book, let alone a debut!
  • Huge focus on diversity and overcoming hatefulness. love how the author wove these important messages into the story! All the characters had to contend with some kind of hate being thrust upon them, in some cases more than one instance, and the author brilliantly illustrated how Snakebite’s bigotry was harmful to everyone in the town.
  • Kept me guessing throughout. A few times I thought I knew. But I had no idea. These are my favorite kinds of books!
  • There were some bananas twists and a plot that moved at a great pace. It was such a great combination of character development and plot that I never felt overwhelmed, nor did I feel bored. And when certain things were revealed, I was pretty blown away!

Bottom Line: A book that nails both character development and being thrilling, a rare feat indeed!

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

Posted July 28, 2021 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in In a Minute, Review / 14 Comments


14 responses to “Reviews in a Minute: Summer Stuffs

  1. This is the good, the bad, and the ugly. Quite a mix bag of feelings. I have only read Hartl’s book. It started out with 5-star potential but lost a start by the end. Still good, 4/5. I loved Mark, and I was glad Brinkley made some strides in her relationship with her mother. I think I was able to connect with Brinkley and the huge impact the toxic people in her life had on her. She was scarred by these people, and I was happy she had her co-workers in H4H and Mark to help her see herself more clearly.

  2. Ooh I want to read The Dead and the Dark so I’m glad you liked it!!! And I also have Fresh to read so I should get onto that ?? I was curious about Small Favours too! I read the author’s debut and it wasn’t creepy enough for me ? but, still want to try this!!

  3. Ooh I love this round up. Really interesting mix of books. This is the second good Fresh review I’ve read. I hadn’t heard of the book before but it sounds…Fresh. (I’ll see myself out lol)

    Eek for Swallow. The synopsis sounded interesting. And the Dead and the Dark was on my radar.

    Karen @For What It’s Worth

  4. I love love love life transition phase stories too, so ‘Fresh’ sounds like it’s right up my alley. I even feel like I might even relate a lot with Elliot already? Haha! Honestly, just reading the blurb of ‘Small Favors’ sounds creepy and atmospheric so I can’t wait to read that one myself! I agree that ‘Heartbreak for Fire’ has a pretty unique and interesting premise, and I feel like that’s great for a rom-com since plots can be pretty repetitive sometimes. And OMG ‘Swallow’ just sounds so problematic! Yikes! ‘Mercury Boys’ and ‘The Dead and the Dark’ were both on my list of anticipated releases but I sort of gave up on ‘Mercury Boys’ because of the meh reviews.
    Thanks for the great reviews, Shannon!

  5. Elley also reviewed Small Favors and poses it as a Rumplestiltskin retelling, so I’m all for checking that out.

    Swallow sounds so terrible, but I’m high-key amused by this 1/2 star rating. 😀

    And YES I loved The Dead and The Dark! The atmosphere of the lake, too….just stuck with me even after I finished it. Brilliant.

    Now I’m worried about Mercury Boys. I was hoping for some cool historical stuff, but unless a toxic relationship is acknowledged as toxic within the text….yeah, that’s not great.

  6. I’ve been wanting to read Fresh for a while now since it’s really reminding me of Summer Skin with the college experience and sex positivity. Also it sounds really genuine?? Like it didn’t portray this idyllic college experience. I’ve also heard a lot amazing things about Small Favors, especially its atmosphere and slow descent to madness. I’m really intrigued!

  7. I had to give in and buy a physical copy of Fresh because the e-galley didn’t work for me with the way it had the footnotes at the end of each chapter. It’s not easy to flip back and forth between pages in a digital copy like a physical copy. But I was intrigued enough to want to still read it, so I bought it. Small Favors has a beautiful cover and sounds good, so glad to hear you liked it. Swallow, huh, sounds like one to pass on for sure. Thanks for the info on that. And great reviews!
    Lisa Loves Literature

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