So thrilled to talk to y’all about these three books! I have a lot of thoughts and opinions, most of which I couldn’t figure out how to put into words so I apologize in advance if these reviews are more exclamation points than text. When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole has hit the New York Times Bestseller’s List and I am so thrilled for Alyssa and also so thrilled to tell you this book deserves all the accolades. Although I received an ARC from William Morrow via Netgalley (and Edelweiss, I think), I honestly waited for my physical copy and the audiobook because I’m a scaredy cat. Well Played by Jen DeLuca comes out on September 22nd and I was delighted (and shocked) to receive an advanced copy from Berkley via Netgalley. I loved Well Met last year and was very excited for this follow up. It didn’t live up to the promise of Well Met for me, but I have preordered a copy for my shelves anyway. And finally, we have Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade!!! First of all, this cover is everything to me. April truly looks curvy on the cover. I mean, her butt has a ridge in it. You can see that she’s got a tummy! Her arms aren’t thin!! Thank you, Avon, for this gorgeous gift of a cover, honestly. Secondly, thanks to Avon for the advanced copy of one of my most anticipated books! It’s out on October 6th and I can’t wait for my physical copy to arrive! I was also able to use each of these books for squares on the #FallIntoRomBingo board so look forward to seeing the terrible graphics I made. (The captions will contain the alt text because when I say terrible graphics, I unfortunately mean it.)
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
I love that at 13% into this book I said, “Kim is the worst,” because wowzers did we go on a journey.
To contextualize this review, I am a white woman who rarely reads thrillers, but loves Alyssa Cole. I haven’t seen Rear Window so I can’t speak to that part of the Get Out x Rear Window comparison, but the Get Out threads in here are very clear. This book definitely feels like it’s in conversation with Get Out and I really liked both the movie and this book.
This book is about Sydney who is putting together a historical tour of her neighborhood motivated, at least partially, out of spite that the Black people who built New York and made her neighborhood what it is keep getting erased from the narrative. Incidentally, the brownstone tour also erased the bad deeds of the Important White People who lived there too. Anyway, so Sydney is working to put together this tour while massive gentrification is starting to happen. My freshman year of college my university started this Clean Up Sunnyside initiative (or something, it had a slogan) and it was unrecognizable by senior year. This is moving at a pace even quicker than that. Literally, one day there’s a corner store bodega with a cat and the next day there’s a place that might as well be Whole Foods. It’s confusing and overwhelming and also, is something happening?? That’s the vibe of this book.
Meanwhile, Theo is a white dude living with his ex girlfriend in the brownstone they bought together. Kim keeps talking about “them” and “those people” with a Michelle Obama portrait in her living room. -_- Her white fragility pops out constantly and Theo’s just bumbling along not quite getting it. He winds up volunteering to help Sydney with the tour and y’all, there’s so much history in this book. That was one of my favorite aspects of the book because I think Alyssa Cole does a great job weaving it into the story and never overwhelming you. (It does however make you very ready to believe a lot of conspiracy theories. Are they conspiracy theories if they’re true?)
A romance develops between Sydney and Theo, but this book is DEFINITELY not a romance. Theo is not a romantic lead. Alyssa even said in her Instagram Live with Katrina Jackson (which you should totally watch) that Theo is not a romance hero because if he was this book would be a romance. She also said that messy people deserve love too and like, thank you, Alyssa, bless you. Please never leave us.
One of the best parts of this book for me is truly the community aspect. I think that community is so vitally important and it’s really hard to come by sometimes as an adult and to trust when you’ve found it. Sydney grew up in this neighborhood, but she left when she got married, and now that she’s back, she doesn’t quite seem to know how to lean on other people. But the other people care about her anyway and I love that.
In terms of whether or not this book is scary, my answer for you as the biggest scaredy cat is not helpful. The scariest part of this for me is knowing how much of this could happen today, right now, and how we would dismiss it because it sounds too out there. Parts of this book made me think about what’s been going on in Portland and that is a large part of what made me anxious. That said, the end especially gets really creepy.
I feel like I could keep talking about this book, but this review feels really long already. So, just know, I think this book is really great and thought provoking and I have a whole lot of other feelings about it.
Well Played by Jen DeLuca
My thoughts on this book are sort of all over the place. I liked parts of it a lot and parts of this book just didn’t work so well for me. I remain excited about April and Mitch’s book though so at least I didn’t become uninterested in the series. Anyway, let’s review what this book is about:
Stacey has been a part of the local Faire since she was in high school and despite her one time dream of pursuing fashion merchandising in NYC, she’s stayed in her small town for good reasons, but she also feels very trapped. During the Faire summers, she’s been hooking up with a guy in a band, Dex. Dex is the type that has a woman in every town though so it’s not serious. But for some reason Stacey drunk facebook messages him like she’s trying to make it more than what it is. They wind up having these really great conversations, but it’s pretttty obvious, Stacey’s not corresponding with Dex.
So, the conflict is well set up because we’ve got a clear case of catfishing happening. There’s also a years worth of time to kill and correspondence to handle so this catfishing situation takes up literally half the book. Meanwhile, when it hits Fall, Stacey starts this challenge with her friends to guess how many pumpkin spice lattes she’ll have throughout the season and inexplicably the number FOURTEEN is deemed a lot. That’s like one a week!! I was outraged, tbh.
Anyway, I don’t want to spoil anything beyond that, just wanted to set your expectations since this is a one-perspective romance. Ultimately, though, I just felt like the way these conflicts were handled were… weird. It seemed like Stacey would get so upset (deservedly) and then it was like a balloon would be pricked and she’s good again. So. I kind of struggled with that. I also really felt like Stacey’s ARC needed to be something… different? The way the end worked out just didn’t work for me at all, but that doesn’t mean it won’t for you. It’s also really challenging to talk about this book without spoilers.
But now that I’ve told you the things I didn’t like, let’s talk about what I did like. I think Stacey is a really relatable heroine in her late 20s. She’s 27 and a little too addicted to her phone and social media. She seems all of her friends getting married or having kids and she wants that for herself, but feels like it’s not going to happen. She’s working a job she doesn’t like, but doesn’t know how to get what she does want. She’s also a little self-conscious at times because she’s plus size (which is another issue of mine because the Stacey on the cover of this dang book is NOT plus size). Her cat is precious in every way. She joined two book clubs, one with depressing books and one that’s more fun. I really like Stacey and April and Mitch and Emily and Simon. I just don’t know that our hero actually made sense for her because I really don’t feel like he ever did anything to make up for his mistakes and Stacey kept chasing him. Imo. So. YMMV but I hope if you pick it up, you enjoy it!
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Spoiler Alert follows a geologist heroine (!!) who is very active (secretively) in the Gods of the Gates (think GoT but with Greek gods and goddesses) fandom and on her last day of her current job, April Whittier posts a picture of her cosplay on Twitter. Marcus Caster-Rupp is one of the lead actors in the show and he sees the tweet and the nasty comments about April’s body. One thing leads to another and he asks her out. Meanwhile, April and Marcus know each other as their online personas, but Marcus HAS to keep his a secret because he could be sued for contract infringement(???) or something if it comes out that he’s writing fanfiction that is wildly critical of the show. I don’t really want to tell you any additional plot points because I don’t want to spoil them, but basically, Marcus has a lot of depth that he keeps hidden and relies on his pretty face to help him dodge uncomfortable questions from reporters. April is really only interested in the real him and not the him he presents to the public.
I had some anxiety surrounding the secret about knowing one another online because it’s a long while before that comes out. But, in the meantime, the dates April and Marcus go on? The way he falls in love with her and tells her how beautiful she is? The way they relax into a relationship so easily? It’s absolute perfection. And then!! There’s on page boundary setting that I actually used in my real life!! A concept! This book has so much and I think Marcus is such a gem.
Also, the cast of Gods of the Gate are great and I’m obsessed with Alex and can’t wait for his book! Not to mention the great group of people April gets to know at her new office. And also, job transitions later in one’s life!!! I mean, truly, the joy this book brought me is just wild. Even when I was anxious about the secret, I just kept reminding myself that Olivia Dade has always taken care of her characters and readers and that was certainly true here.
And there you have it! Have you read any of these? Are you participating in #FallIntoRomBingo? Also, if you live in the United States, have you double checked your voter’s registration and requested a mail in ballot if you don’t feel comfortable voting in person? Here’s a website with directions for all of that if you’re unsure.