Reviews in a Minute: Mid-September Stories

And now, some books from mid-September!

It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi
The Lost Girls: A Vampire Revenge Story by Sonia Hartl
To Break a Covenant by Alison Ames
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer


Reviews in a Minute: Mid-September Stories It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi
Published by Quill Tree Books on September 14, 2021
Pages: 432
Format:eARC
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Two exes must revisit their past after their siblings start dating in this rom-com perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon and Morgan Matson.

After Kiran Noorani's mom died, Kiran vowed to keep her dad and sister, Amira, close--to keep her family together. But when Amira announces that she's dating someone, Kiran's world is turned upside down.

Deen Malik is thrilled that his brother, Faisal, has found a great girlfriend. Maybe a new love will give Faisal a new lease on life, and Deen can stop feeling guilty for the reason that Faisal needs a do-over in the first place.

When the families meet, Deen and Kiran find themselves face to face. Again. Three years ago--before Amira and Faisal met--Kiran and Deen dated in secret. Until Deen ghosted Kiran.

And now, after discovering hints of Faisal's shady past, Kiran will stop at nothing to find answers. Deen just wants his brother to be happy--and he'll do whatever it takes to keep Kiran from reaching the truth. Though the chemistry between Kiran and Deen is undeniable, can either of them take down their walls?

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In case you missed her incredible debut, let me assure you, Farah Naz Rishi is an author you need on your radar. This sophomore offering is quite different from her first outing, but all the best parts remain constant. I shall tell you what some of my favorite things about this book are, so you can read it too!

  • The focus on family is huge. I mean, at its core, this story centers around family. Not just in the plot of main character Kiran’s sister’s wedding, but in the exploration of Kiran’s familial relationships. Not only is her family a focus, co-narrator Deen’s as well. And even better, the representation of family dynamics isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. No, it shows some of the darker sides of families, including instances when maybe trying to maintain those relationships is not the most healthy choice. (But no worries, there are also some really heartwarming instances too!)
  • None of the characters were perfect, but their arcs made complete sense. Look, there were times that I wanted to positively throttle Kiran. She acted childish at times, and made some incredibly bad choices. But that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book, in fact, it was the opposite! Because the characters were so well-developed and relatable, you could understand why Kiran would make some of the choices she made, even while shaking your head at her. And since they were all good people at the core (except for Deen and Faisal’s parents who could kindly go float themselves), I could not help but fall in love with the entire lot of them!
  • I had all the emotions. If we’re being totally candid, I cried in the first chapter. The first chapter! But it wasn’t all sadness, not by a long shot! I laughed, I cried (again), I swooned. The book was just emotionally provocative, which I love.
  • Loved all the incredible cultural bits, especially the wedding traditions! I loved learning all the good (and sometimes the less good, especially in the case of Deen and Faisal’s parents’ expectations) desi customs, and I think the wedding plot lended itself perfectly to exploring even more.
  • So I usually hate the “lie of omission” trope, but here it at least made sense! I say this because if you are like me and you hate this trope, I promise it’s handled really well in this story. And even though, like I mentioned before, you’ll want to shake Kiran, you’ll totally get why she and her co-characters have a bit of a rough time with communication.
  • Online friends! As you’ll read, Kiran has a great online gaming community that she can turn to when she needs support. I love the normalization that online friends are simply friends.

Bottom Line: Another hit for Farah Naz Rishi, as she heads onto my auto-buy-author list.



Reviews in a Minute: Mid-September Stories The Lost Girls: A Vampire Revenge Story by Sonia Hartl
Published by Page Street Kids on September 14, 2021
Pages: 256
Format:ARC
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review

Getting over Your Vampire Ex is as Easy as Killing Him and Stealing His Girlfriend

Holly Liddell has been stuck with crimped hair since 1987 when she agreed to let her boyfriend, Elton, turn her into a vampire. But when he ditches her at a gas station a few decades into their eternity together, she realizes that being young forever actually means working graveyard shifts at Taco Bell, sleeping in seedy motels, and being supernaturally compelled to follow your ex from town to town—at least until Holly meets Elton’s other exes.

It seems that Holly isn’t the only girl Elton seduced into this wretched existence. He turned Ida in 1921, then Rose in 1954, and he abandoned them both before Holly was even born. Now Rose and Ida want to kill him before he can trick another girl into eternal adolescence, and they’ll need Holly’s help to do it. And once Holly starts falling for Elton’s vulnerable new conquest, Parker, she’ll do anything to save her.

To kill Elton for good, Holly and her friends will have to dig up their pasts, rob a bank, and reconcile with the people they’ve hurt in their search for eternal love. And to win the girl, Holly will have to convince Parker that she’s more than just Elton’s crazy ex—even though she is trying to kill him.

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Speaking of authors I adore, two Sonia Hartl books in one year!? The reading gods are smiling upon us, friends. This was such a fun one, too. Vampiric young women, trapped in the teen years (sometimes with terrible hairdos) all because some jerk vampire boy manipulated them for his own ego. Yeah, how pissed would you be? Well, same goes for our main character Holly.

She’s sick of working at Taco Bell because sixteen year olds can’t exactly find Fortune 500 jobs. She’s sick of having to move whenever the mood strikes her maker. And she’s definitely sick of the idea that this will be her forever. So when Elton leads her back to their hometown, she’s none too tickled. Even less so when she meets his ex-girlfriends/fellow victims. But they convince her that maybe they should just take down Elton once and for all, and Holly can agree with that! When she finds out that his next intended victim is a girl at her former high school, she is off to investigate. Obviously, she didn’t expect to be so fond of his next conquest-to-be, but she finds herself caring a lot about whether Parker falls victim to Elton. So, she and her new vamp besties throw their plan into high gear.

The thing I love about this story is that all the girls are antiheroes, let’s be real. While they’re victims, no question, they also do a lot of messed up stuff. They’re vampires, after all! But they’re not villains, despite their propensity to slay folks for food. I love that moral gray area, and this book excels at it. Is it technically bad to kill Elton when he kind of deserves it, and they can protect someone else? I love those questions, and this book has tons of them.

I also loved the commentary on found family. The victims Elton chose had little-to-no family left to mourn them. Most had absent parents, and had never felt truly like part of something bigger than themselves. So when the girls have an opportunity to find their own family within each other, my heart soared.

And frankly, at the end of the day, this book was just plain fun and entertaining!

Bottom Line: Fun, full of gray morality and found family, definitely a win!


Reviews in a Minute: Mid-September Stories To Break a Covenant by Alison Ames
Published by Page Street Kids on September 21, 2021
Pages: 320
Format:ARC
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review

Debut voice Alison Ames delivers with a chilling, feminist thriller, perfect for fans of Wilder Girls and Sawkill Girls.

Moon Basin has been haunted for as long as anyone can remember. It started when an explosion in the mine killed sixteen people. The disaster made it impossible to live in town, with underground fires spewing ash into the sky. But life in New Basin is just as fraught. The ex-mining town relies on its haunted reputation to bring in tourists, but there’s more truth to the rumors than most are willing to admit, and the mine still has a hold on everyone who lives there.

Clem and Nina form a perfect loop—best friends forever, and perhaps something more. Their circle opens up for a strange girl named Lisey with a knack for training crows, and Piper, whose father is fascinated with the mine in a way that’s anything but ordinary. The people of New Basin start experiencing strange phenomena—sleepwalking, night terrors, voices that only they can hear. And no matter how many vans of ghost hunters roll through, nobody can get to the bottom of what’s really going on. Which is why the girls decide to enter the mine themselves.

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To Break a Covenant had some really great parts, and then a few things that I had some trouble with, but was definitely a mostly positive experience! Let’s break it down!

What I Liked:

  • Loved the friendships. Clem and Nina and Lisey are great friends, and maybe Clem wants to be a little more than friends with Nina, but shh. Anyway, they’ve been a bestie group for eons, but when Parker is new to town, they welcome her too. I love that, frankly. Like, they’re just decent people who want to be kind to someone new. How refreshing! Even if a mine is trying to kill them. I loved how they stuck by each other, even when things were more than precarious.
  • It’s like Centralia, but with people! True story, I always wanted to write a book based on Centralia. Heck, maybe I will, don’t steal my ideas guys. But this definitely had that sort of vibe, which I enjoyed!
  • Speaking of the vibe, it was definitely on point. The author did a great job making the whole town feel eerie and just “off” in general. And look, I would not go down in the mine. I just would not. But when Piper’s father is involved, I do kind of understand why the girls chose to risk it. But yeah, Moon Basin is a weird place and you just sense it is a weird place, from the start.
  • The snippets from the paranormal shows were a fun addition. I love stories that add that little something extra into the mix, and in this case, it worked wonderfully. Bringing in outsiders’ opinions was great, and kind of broke up the story a bit.

What I Didn’t:

  • I just didn’t buy the whole demonic mine bit, honestly. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, for whatever reason. Maybe that is on me, who knows. But it did lessen my enjoyment a bit, because I just didn’t understand why or how a mine could like, drag folks across the country and such. ?
  • Where the heck is this? I think it mentioned the East Coast, but the way the heat was described, it felt very… Arizona to me. I needed more details, I guess?

Bottom Line: Definitely atmospheric with a huge emphasis on friendships.


Reviews in a Minute: Mid-September Stories Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Series: Iron Widow #1
Published by Penguin Teen on September 21, 2021
Pages: 400
Format:eARC
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn't matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it's to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister's death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

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CW, from the author’s note: “Please be aware that this book contains scenes of violence and abuse, suicide ideation, discussion and references to sexual assault (though no on-page depictions), alcohol addiction, and torture.”

Iron Widow is a dark, exciting, and thrilling book that I found myself quite enthralled with. I had one issue with the book, which I will go into, but for the most part, it was a big win!

What I Loved:

“Be their nightmare, Wu Zetian.”

  • The characters were phenomenal. I adored Zetian from the start, no question. I felt so much for her, and the awful options she was left with solely because she was female. She has some feels for Yizhi, her only real friend, and it’s clear he has some for her. And he begs her to stay but look, she’s got a patriarchy to destroy. Then she meets Shimin, who she thinks is going to be terrifying but who really has been through just as much awfulness as she has. And then… Yizhi shows up to the party, and we got to hang out with all of them, yay!
  • Speaking of, they all like to hang out with each other too. I don’t think I have ever read a book that included polyamory, so that was a fun new experience! I liked how they all had to work through their complicated feelings about sex and relationships and each other. It was really well done.

“This world can make monsters out of anyone.”

  • This is a brutal, brutal world, and the stakes were always sky high. I genuinely feared for each character at every turn, because wow things are rough here! And when two of the three are constantly engaging in battles with alien forces, and no one on their own side has their back… yeah, it’s a recipe for bad stuff!
  • It is so exciting! I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, wondering what would be around the corner. And it did not disappoint. I was shocked by a lot of the twists, especially toward the end, and I loved that.

My One Issue:

  • The worldbuilding potential is there, but I am kind of confused by certain aspects. I am hoping that the sequel will go further in depth into the world, but I just did not understand all of what was happening in terms of the war and the qi and such. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around how this piloting business worked at all, and also, why it was a thing. But I will give it the benefit of the doubt, in hopes that the next book makes it clearer.

Bottom Line: So exciting and dark, with amazing characters and a lot of twists, I certainly cannot wait for the sequel!


Reviews in a Minute: Mid-September Stories Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer
Series: Defy the Night #1
Published by Bloomsbury YA on September 14, 2021
Pages: 496
Format:ARC
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review

From New York Times bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer comes a blockbuster fantasy series about a kingdom divided by corruption, the prince desperately holding it together, and the girl who will risk everything to bring it crashing down.

The kingdom of Kandala is on the brink of disaster. Rifts between sectors have only worsened since a sickness began ravaging the land, and within the Royal Palace, the king holds a tenuous peace with a ruthless hand.

King Harristan was thrust into power after his parents' shocking assassination, leaving the younger Prince Corrick to take on the brutal role of the King's Justice. The brothers have learned to react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion--it's the only way to maintain order when the sickness can strike anywhere, and the only known cure, an elixir made from delicate Moonflower petals, is severely limited.

Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most--but it's still not enough.

As rumors spread that the cure no longer works and sparks of rebellion begin to flare, a particularly cruel act from the King's Justice makes Tessa desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds upon her arrival makes her wonder if it's even possible to fix Kandala without destroying it first.

Set in a richly imaginative world with striking similarities to our own, Brigid Kemmerer's captivating new series is about those with power and those without . . . and what happens when someone is brave enough to imagine a new future.

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Usually, big books scare me. And this is a big one! Nearly 500 pages, but they flew by. I found myself quite engrossed with Defy the Night, frankly. I loved the idea of the plague, because well, look around. Tessa is a very likable character, especially since she is trying so earnestly to help others. When her closest friend and fellow helper Wes is killed… well look, after all she’s been through, I wouldn’t have blamed Tessa if she just cried forever and the book ended there. But it doesn’t, happily for us.

I don’t want to say too much, for fear of spoilers, so I am going to keep this rather short. The royal leaders seem brutal, but perhaps not everything is as black and white as they appear. Again, I am a million percent here for gray morality, which this book excels at. Tessa has to make a lot of tough choices, as do the other characters we meet. I ended up really enjoying all the characters, especially because they were so well developed. All of their actions made sense in context- even the most vile acts were often done to ensure the safety of their people.

Were some of the twists predictable? Yes, which was my only qualm with the book. And even so, it didn’t really lessen my enjoyment of it. I was quite immersed in this world, where people are doing pretty much anything they can to simply survive, no matter the cost. And when you have a lot of people vying for a very finite resource… well, you can imagine that things are going to get intense.

Bottom Line: Fell in love with this book, and with Tessa and her mission to save people. Definitely need the sequel!

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

Posted September 18, 2021 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in In a Minute, Review / 10 Comments


10 responses to “Reviews in a Minute: Mid-September Stories

  1. I also loved It All Comes Back to You. I was surprised, because it was not rom-com I was expecting. Still, like you said, emotional, family focused, and packed with great characters — all big draws for me

  2. You’re the second person I’ve seen talking about It All Comes Back to You and it does sound good. I hate the lie of omission trope but it is good to hear that it was handled well. I want to check it out.

    The Lost Girls sounds awesome! It sounds like it delivers the exact story you expect from reading the summary and I definitely want to check it out.

    I’ve seen Defy the Night all over the place, I mean, it is Brigid Kemmerer so that doesn’t surprise me. I am also daunted by long books but it sounds like I need this in my life and I won’t regret it.

  3. Vampires stuck as teens sounds so fun. I’m definitely adding that one.

    Iron Widow has me super curious. alien mecha…!! And the whole piloting thing has me thinking of that Sylvain Neuvel series… kinda… I might need to just try this.

    Defy the Night… I confess I haven’t tried this author yet, but IDK this sounds pretty good.

  4. I got to read an early copy of TO BREAK A COVENANT and it really creeped me out LOL! This is why I hardly read horror!!! I’m also really excited about IRON WIDOW, IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU, and DEFY THE NIGHT!!! They all sound so good!!!

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