Book Reviews

    Book Review: The Frame-Up by Gwenda Bond

    The thing about Gwenda Bond is that she’ll take your favorite microgenre or trope, mix some magic in, and give you a whole new story to enjoy. Which is exactly what she does with The Frame-Up. She takes an art heist story and adds in magic powers that make people good at their roles: mastermind, hacker, and more.

    But Gwenda’s website tagline for a while was “High Concept with Heart,” and even more than the magic, the heart is what really makes The Frame-Up shine. This is a story about a daughter dealing with the fallout of betraying her mother and learning how to be right with herself whether or not her mother ever forgives her.

    Here’s the publisher’s description:

    A magically gifted con artist must gather her estranged mother’s old crew for a once-in-a-lifetime heist, from the author of Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds.

    Dani Poissant is the daughter and former accomplice of the world’s most famous art thief, as well as being an expert forger in her own right. The secret to their success? A little thing called magic, kept rigorously secret from the non-magical world. Dani’s mother possesses the power of persuasion, able to bend people to her will, whereas Dani has the ability to make any forgery she undertakes feel like the genuine article.

    At seventeen, concerned about the corrupting influence of her mother’s shadowy partner, Archer, Dani impulsively sold her mother out to the FBI—an act she has always regretted. Ten years later, Archer seeks her out, asking her to steal a particular painting for him, since her mother’s still in jail. In return, he will reconcile her with her mother and reunite her with her mother’s old gang—including her former best friend, Mia, and Elliott, the love of her life.

    The problem is, it’s a nearly impossible job—even with the magical talents of the people she once considered family backing her up. The painting is in the never-before-viewed private collection of deceased billionaire William Hackworth—otherwise known as the Fortress of Art. It’s a job that needs a year to plan, and Dani has just over one week. Worse, she’s not exactly gotten a warm welcome from her former colleagues—especially not from Elliott, who has grown from a weedy teen to a smoking-hot adult. And then there is the biggest puzzle of all: why Archer wants her to steal a portrait of himself, which clearly dates from the 1890s, instead of the much more valuable works by Vermeer or Rothko. Who is her mother’s partner, really, and what does he want?

    What I loved

    The art, honestly. Great descriptions of art and art periods. Dani is a character with a clear love and respect for the art she forges. The heist crew vibes: everybody’s got their role and while Dani is working with her mom’s estranged team, there is still love there between herself and Mia and Elliott, the two other members of the team close to her age. The intense interiority: always seeing inside Dani’s heart, her desire for her mother’s approval, her regret about her past actions. Most of all, Dani’s sweet dog Sunflower.

    What I need to warn you about

    Not much here, except there are some really garbage parents and their adult kids are dealing with the repercussions of having been raised by such rotten people.

    What I wanted more of

    I mean, I would read a lot more heists with this crew, so… Sequels?

    Who should read this

    People who like fantasy set in our world. People who like heists and secrets. People who like paintings. People who like reading about fancy rich folks. People who like reading about Kentucky. People who like border collies.

    Book: The Frame-Up
    Author: Gwenda Bond
    Publisher: Del Rey
    Publication Date: February 13, 2024
    Pages: 352
    Age Range: Adult
    Source of Book: ARC via NetGalley

    A colorful book cover for “The Frame-Up” by Gwenda Bond, featuring illustrations of a man holding a framed artwork, a woman stealing a painting, and an observing dog. The title and the author’s name are written in large red and white letters. There is also a quote from Holly Black praising the book.

    📚 Book Review: NOT YOUR AVERAGE HOT GUY and THE DATE FROM HELL by Gwenda Bond

    If you make a purchase through a link in this post, I may earn a commission.

    Book covers for NOT YOUR AVERAGE HOT GUY and THE DATE FROM HELL by Gwenda Bond

    Do you wish Dan Brown books were sexy and full of pop culture references? Do you like your religious artifact stories with comedy and kissing? Have I got the books for you!

    Gwenda Bond’s books are always The Most Fun and her madcap fantasy romance duology is no exception.


    Callie is a recentish college grad with no particular direction in life but a great love of books, learning, and creepy religious lore. She also works at her mom’s escape room. When Callie designs an immersive culty room and puts a book in it that is ACTUALLY an arcane artifact, cultists come to claim it and try to use it to release a demon on earth to bring about the end times. But instead they summon Luke, the super sexy prince of Hell. Wackiness ensues as Callie and Luke must team up to find the Holy Lance (that’s the Spear of Destiny for you The Librarian fans) and keep it from the cultists (who don’t actually know that Luke isn’t the demon they were trying to summon). To do so, they travel through painful demon magic, bopping around the world in a way that would make an Indiana Jones map look like Charlie Kelly’s conspiracy board:

    Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in front of a conspiracy board covered in documents and yarn. Text reads ‘Is the Holy Lance here? Or is it here?’

    Because you know how romance works, you know that they figure it out and get a Happy For Now. It’s important that it’s a HFN because a Happily Ever After wouldn’t leave room for the sequel:


    Callie and Luke are happily dating now and they have an amazing date planned. But they also have a bit of a revolution planned: Callie wants to petition Lucifer to reconsider the damnation of people like Agnes, a 12-year-old girl who really probably should not have been sent to hell and certainly isn’t an adult by modern standards. Lucifer agrees to a meeting — on the day Callie and Luke are scheduled to have their big date. Which also happens to be the same day Callie is supposed to be helping her mom with a big escape room event to raise the money to make repairs after the mess she and Luke got into in NOT YOUR AVERAGE HOT GUY. Lucifer says that Callie and Luke have 72 hours to prove that they can redeem someone who deserves to be released from hell. The person he chooses is Sean, a lost-Hemsworth-brother-type/international art thief who oh, by the way, is a Grail seeker. More wacky hijinks ensue, more traveling by map, and more Arthuriana than you can shake Excalibur at. (Excalibur isn’t in the book to my recollection, by the way.) I briefly found myself thinking for a moment, “How wild is all this Arthuriana just happening in Callie’s real life?” before remembering that OH YEAH HER BOYFRIEND IS THE PRINCE OF HELL.

    Because it’s a romance, it ends with a tidy Happily Ever After (leaving Gwenda free to work on other romances like MR. & MRS. WITCH). Callie figures a lot of stuff out, so does Luke, and they get to be together, yay. (And if you consider that a spoiler, romance probably isn’t the genre for you.)

    What I loved

    So many things! But here’s a partial list:

    • The meticulous attention to detail with respect to all the mystical artifacts
    • Callie’s supreme nerdiness
    • Detailed Escape Room stuff
    • Pop culture references aplenty (Wondering if you share Callie’s opinion on Season 4 of Veronica Mars? Read THE DATE FROM HELL to find out!)
    • The love that radiates from Luke whenever Callie Callies all over the place - seriously, I haven’t read this much warmth in a romance novel since I don’t know when (because warmth is different than heat)
    • Lilith. I just love her, okay?
    • Porsoth, a polite Owl Pig Demon who is a bit stuffy but can get scary when necessary
    • The affection Callie has from her mom, her brother Jared, and her bff Mag (who uses they/them pronouns and nobody ever makes it a thing)
    • What Gwenda does with Arthur and Guinevere, can’t say more or it’ll spoil you but big ONCE AND FUTURE graphic novel vibes

    I can’t think of them all. If this isn’t a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is: My whole family is going through a rough time right now and it makes it hard for me to immerse myself in a book. I would often read a chunk of THE DATE FROM HELL and then step away from it for a few days, but I ALWAYS CAME BACK. There are a lot of non-mandatory things I’m abandoning in life right now, but this book kept me returning.

    What I need to warn you about

    I really can’t think of much. I guess if you don’t like people being playful in stories about holy artifacts maybe skip these?

    What I wanted more of

    I can’t think of anything here either. Everything was exactly what it needed to be.

    Who should read this

    People who like Indiana Jones AND Sabrina (the Harrison Ford version). People who don’t know what to do with themselves and want to see somebody who also doesn’t know what to do with themself succeed at stuff. People who want a romance that is hot but not explicit. People who wished their were more badasses who were badass for reasons other than their ability to engage in combat (Callie is a badass and no one will convince me otherwise). People who need more fun in their lives.

    Highly recommend.

    Book: Not Your Average Hot Guy
    Author: Gwenda Bond
    Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
    Publication Date: October 5, 2021
    Pages: 320
    Age Range: Adult
    Source of Book: Library Book

    Book: The Date from Hell
    Author: Gwenda Bond
    Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
    Publication Date: April 5, 2022
    Pages: 336
    Age Range: Adult
    Source of Book: ARC via NetGalley

    Book Review: Pop Classics Buffy the Vampire Slayer 📚

    Most people who know me know that the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my favorite things. It has been the dominant pop culture text in my life for almost 20 years, so of course my husband bought our son the BtVS picture book for his second birthday.

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer picture book cover

    We read it for the first time a few nights ago, and, y’all, this is done so lovingly, I almost cried. If you love BtVS and you like picture books, pick this one up.

    The plot is simple. This is, let’s say, an AU where Buffy lived in Sunnydale when she was in elementary school. Don’t think about canon too hard. The writers of the show didn’t, so we probably shouldn’t, either. Sixteen year old Buffy introduces herself at the beginning, then sends us in a flashback to when she was eight years old and afraid of the dark, because OF COURSE there is a monster in her closet.

    And you know how BtVS is all about literalizing tropes, so… She’s not wrong. She recruits Willow, Xander, and Giles to help her with the problem, and of course through the power of friendship it all works out.

    But where the whole thing shines is the little touches in the illustration. Each time I read it, I find a new BtVS easter egg. I don’t want to spoil too much, so here are just a couple examples.

    Below, I’ve noted a few special  Sunnydale locations in the front endpapers in yellow.

    Front endpapers

    Next, a few things worth noticing in Buffy’s room, this time in blue:

    Buffy's room

    And this is just the beginning. Each page has tons of this stuff, and the book’s climax has the best references of all.

    Right before the climax, though, we get this page:

    Together we stepped into the darkness.

    And really, isn’t stepping into the darkness together what BtVS is all about?


    Non-Fiction Monday: How to Be a Budget Fashionista by Kathryn Finney 📚

     I know that Non-Fiction Monday is supposed to focus on non-fiction for kids, but I don’t read much of that and I still wanted to get in on the party.  So here we are.

    How to Be a Budget Fashionista is a guide by Kathryn Finney, founder of  The book is divided into three sections, labeled as “Steps."

    Step 1: Know Your Budget.  In this section, Kathryn provides advice for fashionistas who maybe have been letting their money get away from them.  This section is essentially a mini-lesson in personal finance, and could benefit even those who do not want to become fashionistas.

    Step 2: Know Your Style.  Every fashionista has a distinctive style, but these can be grouped into certain types.  Most people have more than one style.  In this step, you take a quiz and create a look book to determine what your style is.  Then, Kathryn supplies a list of designers and stores that fit your style.  PLEASE NOTE: Designers are not budget-friendly most of the time, so it might be best to look at these designers and use their work for inspiration, rather than plan to actually buy their designs.  (My style is mostly Romantic, with secondary styles of Conservative and Urban Trekker.)

    Step 3: Know Your Bargains.  In the third part of the book, Kathryn discusses how to find bargains in department stores, online, from designer outlets, and more.  One review on Amazon pointed out that Kathryn’s idea of a bargain sometimes does not seem like a bargain at all: $50 for a blouse, $90 for a skirt.  While these aren’t bargains I can afford, if you look at the percent markdown from their original prices, the items she cites are true bargains.  Worrying about the specifics, however, isn’t what the book is about anyway.  Even if your clothing budget is such that you have no choice but to buy all of your clothing in thrift stores, there is advice here for you.

    In addition to fashion and shopping advice, How to Be a Budget Fashionista includes ideas on how to supplement your income, how to arrange a clothing swap with friends, and how to make several beauty products from things you have lying around the house.

    If you are looking to learn how to put an outfit together, this is not the book for you.  (That would be The Lucky Shopping Manual.)  But if you already know how to do that and just need some help doing it cheaper, you should check this book out.

    Book: How to Be A Budget Fashionista [affiliate link]
    Author: Kathryn Finney
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    Original Publication Date: May 30, 2006
    Pages: 240
    Source of Book: Purchased from Amazon

    Out of the Madhouse

    …yesterday my life’s like, “Uh oh, pop quiz.” Today it’s “rain of toads.”

    Thus spoke Xander Harris in part two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s pilot episode, “The Harvest.”  Even in its later seasons, Buffy didn’t have the special effects budget to create an on-screen rain of toads.  The advantage to books is you aren’t limited by those sorts of budget constraints.  In Out of the Madhouse, Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder bring the rain of toads, along with all the trolls, sea monsters, skyquakes, and nasty Cordelia-chasing demons you could ever hope for.  What’s that, you say?  Trouble in Sunnydale?  Must be Tuesday.  The difference is, this time, it’s all happening at once.  Also?  Giles is out of town.  It turns out there’s an interdimensional mansion in Boston that’s been keeping these monsters at bay, but now its caretaker, the “Gatekeeper,” is ailing and his magic is weakening.  Buffy, Xander, Cordelia and Giles head to Boston to put a stop to the monster leak, while Willow, Oz, and Angel hold down the fort against an invasion of evil monks who are out to get Buffy.  (Note: I said evil monks not evil monkeys.)

    Like any tie-in, Out of the Madhouse suffers from the fact that you can’t kill off major characters.  What you can do, however, is injure them severely, and in every fight scene in Out of the Madhouse I expected someone - usually Cordelia - to end up in the hospital.  Out of the Madhouse has a structure somewhat like a multi-episode arc; you’ve got the main problem of new scary monsters, plus signs that the Watcher’s Council might be sketchy, subplots involving outside forces looking to hurt Buffy, and some new recurring characters who are quite likeable.  The dialogue is strong, though not Whedon-quality, and except for the wild special effects that would be necessary to pull it off and the unlikely requirement of on location filming in Boston, I completely believed that this was a story I might see on the show itself.  Add in a surprise ending and you’ve got a recipe for fun and nostalgia.  (Plus, Golden and Holder manage to avoid the Ethan Rayne trap!)

    I’d recommend Out of the Madhouse to any Buffy fan looking for stories to tide them over between issues of the comic book or to take them back to the good old days.

    Book: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Gatekeeper Trilogy, Book One: Out of the Madhouse
    Author: Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder
    Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment
    Original Publication Date: 1999
    Pages: 384
    Age Range: Young Adult
    Source of Book: Library