Review: Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro

Alexis holds a library copy of Ordinary Monsters in front of green grass and a stretch of white flowers.

Alexis:

Ordinary Monsters is Charles Dickens meets X-Men.

This massive book (at 672 pages) is set in Victorian England, as well as Scotland, Tokyo, Mississippi, and other places, in the late 1880s. It follows magical children called talents who can manipulate flesh in different ways. It’s the job of a woman detective named Alice Quike and a man named Frank Coulton to find the children and bring them to Cairndale, an institute in Scotland–before the kids are caught by the man of smoke who’s hunting them. 

This book is crazy. There are many, many POVs, including Alice, Frank, and a slew of children including two main characters, kids named Marlowe and Charlie. 

The beginning of this book details the beginning of all of the kids’ lives. The kids all have something in common: they’re orphans. And most of them have struggled to survive and have faced discrimination and cruelty. 

On top of the many perspectives, the book also bounces back and forth between timelines.

The historical fiction aspect of the story is written extremely well. I could picture the sooty, grimy streets of London and the other cities. The characters also all speak distinctively; Miro does utilize dialects for several. Even though I’m not usually a fan of that, it does fit very well with the Dickenson feel of the book. The settings and time period also fit well with the depressing and dark nature of the story.

I’m honestly not sure how to rate this book. I did really enjoy the writing style, and despite the massive amount of POVs, I was interested in every character. The fight and action scenes were also written well. I loved Marlowe and Charlie’s characters the most.

Yet, I felt like the backstories could have been cut in half and I would’ve understood them just as well. Despite the copious amount of worldbuilding and character building, I was still a little confused about several aspects. Character motivations were muddled or often revealed late in the story (which was on purpose, sure, but sometimes didn’t work well for me). There was also a trope in the epilogue that I’m not a fan of.

That being said, if you like sweeping historical fantasies, I still think it’s worth a read! There were so many good scenes and the characters are all well-rounded.

Review: The Stellar Snow Job by Marie Howalt

A Starbucks cup with a London Fog latte rests on a black bookshelf next to a Kindle with The Stellar Snow Job on its screen.

Alexis: 

Happy National Book Lovers Day, everyone!

It’s no secret that I love books and that I’ve been getting more into sci-fi and space stories.

If you’re looking for a sci-fi novella set in space, I’ve got you covered.

The Stellar Snow Job follows Eddie, a pilot of her spaceship called the Colibri, and Richard, a private investigator, as they start a new job. It also follows Alannah, a travel writer. ⁣

⁣I loved the characters, and though the story had its darker moments, this is a fun, adventurous, and humorous story.

In between the POVs of Eddie, Richard, and Alannah, we also have snippets from Alannah’s travel writing. I loved these sections; I felt like they solidified the world even more and added commentary on humanity, a theme that was woven throughout the story. 

I was so impressed by the worldbuilding. In 158 pages, I felt like I knew the world better than some full-fledged novels I’ve read. I enjoyed getting to know the characters, especially Eddie, and there’s also queer rep and rep of an auditory processing disorder. ⁣

⁣Thank you so much to Marie Howalt for sending me an e-ARC in exchange for a review.

Look out for The Stellar Snow Job, out on August 27th 2022!

VERDICT: 5 ⭐s

Review: Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

A kindle with Nettle & Bone lies on top of a notebook on a table beside a laptop and a Starbucks cup.

Alexis:

I have nothing bad to say about Nettle & Bone. This unique book follows Marra, a princess who has become a sort-of nun. After her older sister marries a cruel prince, Marra is determined to find a way to free her from her marriage–by planning to kill the prince.

Marra finds herself completing three impossible tasks: build a dog of bones; sew a cloak of nettles; capture moonlight in a jar. 

Marra sets off on her journey alongside a gravewitch and her demon chicken, a fairy godmother, and a disgraced ex-knight in order to save her sister.

While I wasn’t sure what was happening in the beginning of this book, which opens on Marra in a land of cannibals building a bone dog from a pit of bones, I loved this wild ride of a book.

It deals with a slew of dark themes (if regicide, abuse, and cannibals weren’t enough of a hint). It’s very much a dark, warped fairytale, and I loved it! Marra is socially awkward and isn’t sure how to respond in a lot of situations, and I loved her character. The whole cast of characters is quirky and hilarious.

There were some absolute gems when it came to lines in this book. For example:

“This won’t do,” said the dust-wife, the third or fourth day. “Your sister will have died of old age before we reach her, and I’ll be so bent over from sleeping on the ground that I’ll be cursing your prince’s kneecaps.”

“It’s a fool’s errand and we’ll probably all die,” said the dust-wife. “Oh, well then,” said Fenris. “I always enjoy those.”

An elderly woman, older than Agnes, went by. She was bent double under the weight of a basket and she went up the stairs twice as fast as either of them. Marra didn’t know if that was inspiring or depressing.

Nettle & Bone is for you if you want a dark fairytale and unique standalone read. (Did I mention there’s a bone dog and a demon chicken?)

VERDICT: 5 ⭐

TW: domestic/spousal abuse, both mental and physical; necromancy, the undead, and desecration of graves and bones; cannibalism; miscarriage and child loss; violence, injury and death; forcible tooth removal

Review: Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik

Alexis, wearing a checkered yellow shirt, holds up a Kindle with Hunt the Stars in front of a black bookshelf.

Alexis:

Yes, it’s true; I was in the mood for sci-fi!

Hunt the Stars follows Octavia, or Tavi, a bounty hunter on her ship, Starlight’s Shadow. When she’s approached by Torran Fletcher–a Valoff, or member of an enemy alien race–for a job that pays extremely well, Tavi can’t say no for the sake of her crew. Together with Torran and his crew, Tavi and her crew hunt for Torran’s missing treasure, only to find herself part of a bigger plot. 

There were a lot of things I liked about this book and some things…not so much.

To start off, I appreciated Mihalik’s worldbuilding. The first half of this book was pretty slow, but it allowed me to get to know the world, its technology, and its characters well. The author does a great job of highlighting the differences between humans and Valoffs, and the majority of this book focuses on the two races learning to accept each other.

I also enjoyed learning the backstories of and learning what keeps Tavi and her crew going. There’s a cute alien cat named Luna that appears quite often, too! And I was pleasantly surprised by a plot twist. 

As for the rest, well, there’s your classic enemies to lovers storyline. Overall, there were some cute romantic scenes, but I just didn’t feel the tension or attraction that Tavi kept mentioning she felt. I think it had to do with the writing style, which is more tell-y over show-y and feels a little juvenile, despite the fact that all the characters are in their upper twenties and into their thirties. 

As I mentioned earlier, the main plot doesn’t really begin until halfway through the story, and part of me didn’t mind and part of me was like “when is the bounty hunting going to happen?”

I ended up enjoying elements of story but I was left feeling like something was missing. Either way, I’m glad that I’m getting more into space operas/sci-fi stories.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐/5 

Review: Wildbound by Elayne Audrey Becker

An e-ARC of Wildbound on a Kindle sits on top of the spine of Foresborn in front of a green forest. A bottle of Topo Chico sits on its left.

Alexis: 

Wildbound is a fantastic sequel and ending to the Forestborn duology. A huge thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley for providing me an e-ARC!

The Forestborn duology follows Rora, a shifter who lives in Alemara, a land that once had magic but no longer does. When her best friend and the youngest prince, Finley, grows sick with a magical illness called the Fallow Throes, she’s tasked by the king to travel to find stardust to cure Finley, alongside Weslyn, the older prince, and her brother, Helos.

While Forestborn only followed Rora’s POV, Wildbound has dual POVs and follows Helos, her brother, as well. This worked exceptionally well for the story, and I found that the dual storylines upped the tension. I also got to know and understand not only Helos’ character better, but Finley’s, too. I actually ended up loving Helos’ POV just as much as Rora’s. 

Wildbound is action packed. We follow a war in Helos’ storyline and a spying adventure in Rora’s. While there are quiet moments to breathe, I didn’t want to put this book down.

Like Forestborn, Becker’s writing is lovely and full of forest and nature imagery. The characters are well-rounded, loveable, and so easy to root for! The worldbuilding and political intrigue are fantastic. Wildbound also delves into some very dark themes–not only prejudice but genocide, torture, and PTSD. Becker explores the themes of love and belonging with just the right amount of romance, including an m/m romance. 

I highly recommend picking up this duology if you haven’t already–Wildbound solidified it as one of my favorites.

Review: The Genesis Wars by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Alexis holds The Genesis Wars in front of an abstract painting and yellow pillows.

Alexis:

The Genesis Wars is the sequel to The Infinity Courts, a YA sci-fi fantasy. The Infinity Courts was one of my favorite books of 2021, so I’ve been waiting to read the second one!

For context, the series follows a girl named Nami who was murdered. After she dies, she finds herself in the afterlife, which is called Infinity. There, she finds out that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife, made herself queen, and is enslaving humans. But when Nami finds a group of rebels, she works to take down Ophelia.

The Genesis Wars starts off a little slow. That being said, I’ve always loved Bowman’s writing style, and the beginning sets up even more worldbuilding that’s full of vivid imagery while building up Nami’s character.

The second half of the book is all action, and it contrasts with the first half well! I loved getting to know the world of Infinity even more. I loved the character arcs, and I loved the two plot twists near the end. I especially loved the jaguar named Nix.

The only problem is…now I have to wait for the next book in the series! 

Book Recs for Pride Month

Alexis sits in a coffee shop holding an iced London Fog latte.

Alexis:

Let’s talk Pride Month!

I put together a list of books that you might not know feature LGBTQA
characters.

  • Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko: Ace
  • Legendborn by Tracy Deonn: Nonbinary, pansexual, and gay
  • The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart:
    Sapphic
  • The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid: Sapphic
  • Forestborn by Elayne Becker: m/m romance

And of course, my favorite LGBTQA-centered reads that I always recommend are

  • Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
  • Tin Man by Sarah Winman
  • Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters
  • Under the Whispering Door and
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
  • We Are Okay by Nina Lacour

Happy reading!

 

Review: Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray

Beast of Prey stands on a deck railing next to a bottle of Peach Joe Tea in front of a forest.

Alexis:

5 ⭐ review!

It’s no secret that I love stories with creepy woods, so I was happy to find that Beasts of Prey features a creepy jungle.

There are so many layers to this book. The worldbuilding is interesting and intricate, the characters are bright and distinctive on the page, and Gray’s writing style is really doing it for me.

Beasts of Prey is a Pan-African fantasy inspired by lore, animals, language, and even historical figures from many different African nations, as Gray explains in her author’s note. Gray also explores forced diaspora. You can really feel her love and devotion to the world and the story that she’s created, and it gives the book that extra layer that makes the world come alive.

Beasts of Prey does have some classic YA tropes, but I loved the main characters and the central themes of finding yourself and overcoming past trauma. The story follows two main characters: Koffi, an indentured beastkeeper of the Night Zoo, and Ekon, a trainee for a band of religious warriors called the Sons of Six. When Koffi accidentally unleashes magic she didn’t know she had, called the splendor, it gets her in trouble with the owner of the Night Zoo. She finds herself teaming up with Ekon, who is trying to prove himelf worthy of being a warrior, in order to track down a monster called the Shetani.

The book follows one other POV from a girl named Adiah, and I enjoyed puzzling out how she connects with the rest of the story.

The inner editor in me loves that Gray also included an annotation of her first chapter in the back of the book—I loved seeing her writing and editing process.

This is a great beginning to the series, and I recommend it if you’re looking for a story with multiple POVs, great characters, monsters, magic, and a creepy jungle! 

Review: Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders by Kathryn Miles

Anna: Calling all feminists, outdoorsy people, and true crime readers. I know I’ve already posted about this book several times on the feed, but that’s because you should read it! 

Author Kathryn Miles, a hiker and journalist, investigates the 1996 murders of Julianne “Julie” Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans. Julie and Lollie were seasoned hikers who were backpacking along the AT when they were found murdered in their sleeping bags. Miles tells Julie and Lollie’s story and advocates for bringing their killer to justice. First, she has to find him. She also exposes a plethora of corruption in the investigation, from convicting the wrong suspect to outing Julie and Lollie as gay to the world and to their families. And the conclusion that Miles comes to in the end about what really happened is truly haunting. 

Miles does a good job of centering this on Julie and Lollie’s story instead of sensationalizing the crime, which can be a big problem in the true crime genre. She also extensively interviewed those close to Julie and Lollie and is dedicated to telling both their stories. By the end, I felt as if I’d lost two close friends. 

This book hits close to home in so many ways. Shenandoah is a local national park, where I hike frequently (although I’m nowhere near as outdoorsy as Julie and Lollie were). I’ve never been concerned for my safety there, even when hiking with just one other woman. I don’t think I’ll feel the same way next time I visit.

Julie and Lollie felt safe in the woods. We expect our Natural Parks to be a sanctuary. But the truth is that nowhere is safe, especially for women.

Verdict: 4.5/5 stars

Anna’s April Wrap Up

I read some truly great books in April! I don’t have a negative thing to say about any of them.

If I Had Your Face-Follows the interconnected lives of four women. Largely about the impossible beauty standards of women, especially in Korean culture.

Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders– The story of two women and lovers who were murdered and the fight for justice around their deaths. A scary realization that even our national parks aren’t a safe place to be a woman.

Sea of Tranquility – Emily St.John Mandel’s newest book is just as amazing as everyone is saying it is. You won’t know what’s truly going on until the end, and I loved the touch of scifi. 

Audiobooks:

A Far Wilder Magic– Cozy magic with just enough small town politics and romance. My second Alison Saft book of the year. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.

The Push– the best thriller I’ve read this year. This will make you terrified to be a parent.