Alexis’ Favorite Series

A stack of fantasy series rests on a gray blanket next to a gray notebook.

Alexis:

What are some of your favorite series? ⁣

I’m generally very picky about the books I buy, so you know I love all of these! ⁣And for those of you who have stuck around for a while, you won’t be surprised by my choices. 

  • The Raybearer duology
    • This is a fantastic YA fantasy series that’s inspired by West-African mythology. If you’re usually into adult fantasy but want to delve into YA fantasy, this is a great place to start. It has a complex magic system and worldbuilding and a dynamic main character. 
  • The Forestborn duology
    • Are you tired of me talking about the Forestborn duology yet? This duology has the perfect mix of great characters, adventure, shapeshifting, romance, and politics. 
  • The Legendborn Cycle
    • This YA contemporary fantasy series has hard-hitting themes and a crazy amount of action and worldbuilding. It’s such a fun yet emotional series. Even if you’re not into King Arthur retellings, you should pick it up.
  • The Defy the Night series
    • Defy the Night is pure fun. It has a plague, enemies-to-lovers (that’s technically enemies-to-lovers to friends-to-lovers and back again) and plenty of court politics.
  • The Drowning Empire series
    • This adult fantasy series has multiple POVs, an animal sidekick, bone magic, a heavy dose of mysteries, a revolution, and (you guessed it) drowning islands. If you’re looking for a unique read, I haven’t read anything else quite like it.

Some series not included in the picture include the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, which has enough hype without me talking it up even more, the Six of Crows duology, and the YA sci-fi series The Infinity Courts.

I hope you all have had a great reading month so far. It feels like January has been crawling by!


Alexis’ 2023 Hopefuls

Alexis:

Happy new year from me and my new book cart! The top shelf is my physical TBR (will I ever get to it?) And the bottom is shelf overflow. ⁣

I’m currently reading an ARC of A Song of Salvation by Alechia Dow, as one of my goals for this year is to delve into more sci-fi/space operas.

Here’s a long list of books I would love to get to at some point in 2023.⁣

  • Know My Name by Chanel Miller
  • The Little Village of Book Lovers by Nina George
  • Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans
  • Empire of Exiles by Erin M Evans
  • The Ashfire King by Chelsea Abdullah 
  • Song of Silver, Flame Like Night by Amélie Wen Zhao
  • Threads That Bind by Kika Hatzopoulou
  • Never a Hero by Vanessa Len
  • The Bone Shard War by Andrea Stewart 
  • The Foxglove King by Hannah Whitten
  • A Fire Endless by Rebecca Ross
  • The City of Dusk by Tara Sim
  • When In Rome by Sarah Adams 
  • Seven Faceless Saints by M.K. Lobb 
  • A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid
  • Two Twisted Crowns by Rachel Gillig

I also saw that there’s some interesting discourse going around in the book community (I mean when is there not?). Apparently, some readers think it’s a red flag when someone mostly reads new books.

I’ve always enjoyed reading newer releases. As a writer myself, I love supporting authors during and after their book launches, because some day, I hope that will be me! I’m also all for reading what you like and what you want, as long as it isn’t hurting anybody.

What do you think? Do you feel the same as I do?

Happy reading!





Anna’s Yearly Wrap-Up: Best Books Of 2022

Anna: It’s that time of year again! 

Reading Stats

In 2022, I read a total of 69 books. My top three genres were literary, mystery, and contemporary, although not as many mysteries made it to my top books this year. I read 93 percent fiction and 7 percent nonfiction. Oops— one of my reading goals for 2022 was to read more nonfiction. Maybe next year!

Reading Tracking App

This year, I stopped using Goodreads and switched over completely to The StoryGraph to track my reading. Why? Goodreads is owned by Amazon and The StoryGraph is independently owned. I also just prefer it— The StoryGraph is more user-friendly, you can actually select the correct edition you’re reading, there are trigger warnings and each book is tagged by its mood, pacing, and genre. I also like that you can tag the books you own and digitally line up your TBR. 

Reading Journal

Instead of using my main bullet journal, this year I tried chronicling my reading in a separate reading bullet journal. I found it pretty tedious and stopped about halfway through the year. Even though I find that journaling helps me remember and process a book better, I need to stop writing so much of the summary or I get too burned out to actually journal. Luckily my in-laws got me a templated reading journal for Christmas, which I’m going to try using this year. 

So without further ado, let’s talk about the best books that I read this year! I’m not attempting to rank these; I loved them all.

Fiction

The Push by Ashely Audrain

I could not stop reading The Push and it haunts me to this day. This is a fast-paced yet deeply character-driven thriller about a mother who is convinced her daughter is evil, but no one else believes her. It’s about how terrifying parenthood is and how you might not have as much control over your child as you think.

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

I was hesitant to read this since I did not enjoy the only other book I’d read by Emma Straub, The Vacationers. But I loved This Time Tomorrow! It centers on a father/daughter relationship and how that changes as we age. It’s also about being happy where you are in life while recognizing that it’s okay to feel nostalgic for the past.  It also involves time travel! I can’t wait to reread this one.

Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel 

This coming-of-age book has a lot going on—some themes include mental health, sexuality, and our obsession with true crime. It follows Zoe, a struggling college student who becomes involved in a dangerous scheme when she and her study abroad roommate move into the apartment of a famous mystery writer. It’s a little slow in places but has so many elements I love that I couldn’t stop reading.

Bewilderness by Karen Tucker

This was one of the first books I read in 2022, and it continues to stick with me. It’s literary fiction about two friends living with drug addiction. Tucker writes about the heartbreaking cycle of addiction in a way that humanizes it without glorifying it. The writing is beautiful, I loved the friendship between the two main characters, and the ending still gets me. 

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

After reading (and loving) the Monk & Robot series by Becky Chambers, I was excited to jump into this sci-fi series. This first book was so fun and featured a diverse, lovable cast of characters that travel space together in a rag-tag ship called the Wayfarer. I’m looking forward to continuing the series! 

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

It’s hard to write about mental health in a fresh, new and meaningful way, but Meg Mason does it. Martha’s mental illness is never named in Sorrow and Bliss. We just know it’s a very stigmatized disease. I loved the role of family in this book, and that a large part of Martha’s journey is about accepting their love and support.

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Modern Irish fiction is among my favorite, and this slim, “quiet” novel packs a punch. I read this one in early January, and it’s the perfect book to read around Christmas time. It makes you question what you would actually do when confronted with someone in need around what is supposed to be the happiest and most giving time of the year.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel 

I’ve loved every Emily St. John Mandel book I’ve read, and this one is no exception. It’s almost impossible to describe what Sea of Tranquility is about, but it follows different characters across different timelines and worlds. Slowly their stories start to weave together. I loved the sci-fi and dystopian elements of this one as well!

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell 

This was one of my most anticipated new releases of the year, and it did not disappoint! No one writes historical fiction like Maggie O’Farrell. This retelling of the life of the duchess Lucrezia de Medici is set in Renaissance, Italy. We know from the beginning that Lucrezia is killed early in her marriage by her husband. The Marriage Portrait is beautifully written, full of tension, and I loved the direction it went. 

Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft

I don’t read much YA any more, but I picked up this one and liked it so much that I also read Allison Saft’s other book, A Far Wilder Magic, this year. I preferred this one, which follows Wren, a young healer who visits a gothic, crumbling mansion to figure out its dark secret. It also has a romance plot, which I actually enjoyed (I’m not huge on romance in my reading these days). The way the relations between the different kingdoms are written in this one is really well done.  

Nonfiction

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

Kathryn Miles explores the life and death of Julie Williams and Lollie Winnans, avid hikers who were murdered while camping in Shenandoah National Park. As a woman and frequent hiker of Shenandoah, I was intrigued—and terrified—by what Miles has to say about how the places we consider the most peaceful are not actually safe, especially if you’re a woman. 

My Body by Emily Ratajowski 

I knew nothing about model Emily Ratajowski before reading her memoir. Now, I respect her. Her essays recognize that Emily uses her body as currency and that it’s made her wealthy. Yet she challenges the perception that a woman can’t be sexy, intelligent, and call herself a feminist and a writer all at once.

Here’s to another great year of reading in 2023!

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!

 

Anna’s Favorite Books of 2021

It’s that time of year again! That time when we start thinking about everything we read in the past year—what we loved, hated, and everything in between. This year, I revolutionized my reading by keeping a reading journal within my bullet journal. I kept notes there on each book I read. I found that this helped me internalize each book, think critically about the plot and writing style, and more clearly remember the books I read throughout the year. 

Looking back on my reading in 2021, here’s what I found:

My top genres were mystery and thriller, which I’ve never read much of before this year. Many of my favorite books of the year fall into this genre, including my favorite series of the year, Tana French’s The Dublin Murder Squad and Anthony Horowitz’s Susan Ryeland’s series. In contrast, I also read some really bad thrillers and came to the conclusion I prefer crime/murder mysteries over physiological thrillers. We’ll see if this genre sticks!

I didn’t read much nonfiction at all, coming in with one essay collection, Disability Visibility, and just one memoir, Flesh and Blood by N. West Moss. I love memoirs, especially, so that’s something I want to read more of again in 2022!

Let’s get to the best books I read this year, by genre but in no particular order:

Literary Fiction

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

Summary: In a world divided by a coup, climate disaster rages. The Rain Heron follows different characters as they try to survive as well as the appearance of a mythical rain hero. 

Dystopian; environmental; climate control; lyrical; magical realism 

If you like: Abby Geni & books like Severance 

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Summary: Silvie’s dad is an Ancient Britain/Iron Age enthusiast. He forces his family to spend 2 weeks a year living in the woods with an Archeology class and professor. This year, things change.

Favorite Quote: “Without a house, it occurred to me, it is much harder to restrict a women’s movement. Harder for a man to restrain a woman.” – page 59 

This coming-of-age novel manages to have a conversation about misogyny and abuse in so little pages. 

Content Warnings: Physical & Emotional Abuse 

 

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh 

Summary: Three sisters grow up on an isolated island with their father and mother. They’ve been told the outside world isn’t safe, and they are made to perform horrible experiments on each other. When men arrive from the outside world, they realize their parents might not be telling the truth.

Content Warnings: Sexual, Emotional & Physical Abuse

If you like: The Handmaid’s Tale

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Summary: This is a fictionalized account of William Shakespeare’s family and the death of his son, Hamnet, during the Black Plague.

Warning: This book will make you cry. I loved the magical element and creative liberties O’Farrell took with Shakespeare’s history. 

Content Warnings: Death; Grief

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Summary: Lifelong friends and penpals Eileen and Alice live very different lives. One is a wealthy, successful author post-mental health collapse and the other has been stuck in the same job for years. When they finally decide to visit each other, tensions mount. 

Don’t come at me, Sally Rooney haters. No one writes characters, dialogue, and life like Sally Rooney. This is a beautiful novel about mental health, fame, and how friendships change over time.

Thriller & Mystery 

The Likeness by Tana French

Summary: When a woman named Lexie is found dead, Detective Cassie Maddox, who looks just like her, goes undercover as Lexie.

This is my favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad books so far and has dark academia elements.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Summary: Drawing Master Walter Hartright teaches art at an estate and becomes intrigued by a crime and the mysterious presence of a woman in white. 

This massive book is surprisingly readable and reminded me of my love for Victiorian fiction. 

Like all Victorian fiction, there are themes of madness, surveillance, and lack of women’s agency in society. 

Northern Spy by Flynn Berry

Summary: Tessa’s word unravels when she finds out her sister is a member of the IRA. 

This is a twisty novel about family, loyalty, and lies that helped contextualize the conflict in Ireland for me.

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

Summary: Carly drops out of college and travels to the haunted town of Fell, New York to investigate the disappearance of her Aunt Viv 20 years earlier.

There are some really terrifying ghost scenes in this, but this is ultimately one of the most heartwarming thrillers I’ve ever read.

Content Warnings: Sexual abuse

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Summary: A woman, Cecily, disappears from Branlow Hall and the answer is hidden in a book by the late mystery writer Alan Conway. The family asks his ex-editor, Susan Ryeland, to find Cecily. 

This book-within-a-book may be even better than the first book in this series! The plotting and double mystery is so cleverly written. 

Young Adult

Yolk by Mary H.W. Choi

Summary: Jayne moves from Texas to New York for college and to flee from her first generation Korean parents. There she reunites with her older sister, June, who reveals she has cancer.

This is one of the most intense and emotional books I’ve ever read. Unlike other tear-jerker YA books that deal with cancer very badly, Yolk treats it with respect. 

Content Warnings: Cancer; Eating Disorders

The Valley and the Flood by Rebecca Mahoney

Summary: Following the death of her best friend, Rose struggles with PTSD. One day, trying to escape her grief, she ends up in a strange town that she can’t leave. 

Warning: You won’t have a clue what’s going on for the first 100 pages or so, but this book is so creative, emotional, and interesting that you’ll want to keep reading. It’s all one big metaphor for PTSD. 

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Summary: In a futuristic world destroyed by climate change, Kasey searches for her lost sister, Cee. 

This book asks big questions about science and humanity, such as, if we don’t act to save the world now, when will we? And, when will we hold big polluters responsible? But at the center of all this is the complicated relationship between two sisters. 

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

Summary: A group of kids try to survive a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by flu flies. 

I loved everything about this book. It’s about sacrifice, found family, hope, survival, and it had a huge twist that blew my mind.

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danworth

Summary: Dual timelines one-hundred years apart follow creepy happenings and strange deaths at The Brookhants School for Girls. 

Admittedly this book could have been a lot shorter, but this sapphic mystery includes some of the best characterization I’ve ever read in YA.

The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters

Summary: When Natasha’s sister Rochelle disappears, she turns to the witchy girl, Della, who lives by the woods where she went missing.

Set in rural Tennessee, this is a really atmospheric and original fantasy/mystery with LGBTQ+ rep.

Fantasy 

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Summary: A fantasy based on Pre-Columbian American mythology. 

This is a complex, perfectly paced fantasy that follows multiple characters. One of the biggest problems I usually have with fantasy as an adult is the length, and this book didn’t lag for one second. Black Sun ended on a huge cliffhanger, and I can’t wait for the sequel. 

Middle Grade

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus

Summary: When orphaned siblings Anna, Edmund, and William are forced to leave London during World War II, they make a pact to find a new family in the countryside. Instead, they’re placed with several horrible families. Their only solace: the library . 

If you liked: The War that Saved My Life

I binged this cozy middle grade treasure in one sitting. This is a great story about found family, the tenacity of children, and how books can save lives. 

Happy reading! I’m excited to see what 2022 brings and hope that everyone has a great year, reading wise and otherwise.

Alexis’ Top 10 Books of 2021

Alexis:

I say this every year, but I can’t believe this year is already over!

Thanks to graduating from grad school and staying inside because of the pandemic, I read a total of 82 books this year, an all-time record for me.

In no particular order, here are my top 10 reads of 2021.

Forestborn ⁣by Elayne Audrey Becker
Kingdom of the Cursed ⁣by Kerri Maniscalco
The Wolf and The Woodsman ⁣by Ava Reid
Defy the Night ⁣by Brigid Kemmerer
The Bone Shard Daughter ⁣by Andrea Stewart
The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart⁣
Under the Whispering Door ⁣by TJ Klune
For the Wolf ⁣by Hannah F. Whitten
Legendborn ⁣by Tracy Deonn
The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

I have some really great books lined up for 2022. There are so many new books coming out that look amazing, but I have some older series on my tbr list, too.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Giveaway-Win an ARC of Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko!

A paperback ARC of Redemptor is being held in front of a gray blanket. Bea, a dilute calico cat, sniffs the corner of the cover.

Alexis:

Hi, everyone! I’m grateful that I received an ARC of Redemptor, the sequel to Raybearer. And I was given an extra copy to pass on to someone else!

Raybearer was one of my favorite reads of 2020, and I’m looking forward to reading Redemptor. Its publication date will be August 17th.

🎉TO ENTER :

-Head over to our Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/takestwotobookreview/

-Follow our account
-Like and save the giveaway post
-Tag a friend or two in the comments and tell me one of your favorite reads from this year so far!

🎉RULES:
-US only (This giveaway isn’t affiliated with the publisher, so it’s me covering shipping costs)
-Must be 18 or older
-Must be a public account
-Giveaway ends August 9th at 6 pm EST

Good luck, and happy Saturday!

DNF: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

A Kindle cover of Girl, Serpent, Thorn, is held up in front of a Good Morning mug and a small pot of yellow flowers.

Alexis:

The goods news: I’m officially done with grad school! I don’t graduate until next week, but I finished classes, my comprehensive exams, and turned in my thesis! I feel like I’ve been in school forever, so it’s a bit strange but exciting at the same time.

The not-so-great news: I had to DNF Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust. It’s been on my TBR for a long time, so I was excited to pick it up. It’s a Persian retelling of Sleeping Beauty, which sounds right up my alley.

This is not a bad book by any means. However, I just don’t think it’s for me.

The pacing was rather slow, which I don’t mind as long as I enjoy the characters. But I got 50% through the book and realized I didn’t care as much about the characters as I should. The writing style also wasn’t my favorite, and I had a hard time visualizing the world and a lot of what was going on. The actual plot was interesting, but I kept having to put this one down, and I decided it was best to DNF.

Maybe I’ll try picking up a physical copy sometime, and see if that helps move things along!

Anna’s January Wrap Up

Between continuing to distance from others and the wintery weather, my reading was a major comfort and escape this month. I’m also happy with the diverse genres and authors I was able to read this month. I read two nonfiction books (one memoir and one cookbook), and two books by Indigenous authors, both of which work in favor of my 2021 reading goals. Here’s what I read: 

The Woman in White: Started off the year with an atmospheric, satisfying classic mystery. 

Elatsoe: Spooky magical YA by an Indigenious author. My only criticism is that this read VERY young to me. 

Moon of the Crusted Snow: actually a literary dystopian as promised (unlike Migrations) Written by an Indigenous author.

Migrations: The low point of my reading month. Do not recommend this one. Read my review.

Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking: This made-to-be-read cookbook changes the food game! Check out my review.   

After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search (audiobook; not pictured); A heartbreaking memoir about the author’s mother’s murder. Also a criticism of the explorative nature of true crime as a genre. 

Alexis’ Top 10 Books of 2020

Alexis:

Happy New Year, everyone!

I reached my goal of reading 50 books in 2020, and then I actually surpassed it by reading 51.

My top 10 books won’t be a surprise; I’ve reviewed most of them here already. However, I will include a short blurb about each one as a refresher.

Without further ado, here are my top 10 books of 2020, in no particular order!

  1. Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas

Maas is a guilty pleasure of mine. Her books have a way of wholly drawing you into her worlds, and this one was no different. Crescent City is a new adult, brash urban fantasy that follows Bryce, a half-fae. She teams together with Hunt, a fallen angel, to solve the mystery of her best friend’s murder. Craziness and romance ensue. 

  1. Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Hardinge is one of my favorite writers; she always kills it! Deeplight is a slowburn YA fantasy with deaf representation that centers around toxic friendships. It has a large dose of monstrous sea gods. It’s an imaginative, dark, and wonderfully written book. 

  1. Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

While categorized as YA, I found that this West-African inspired fantasy book leaned more towards adult. I loved the writing, the intricate worldbuilding, and the plot. The plot itself is hard to explain; you’ll have to pick it up!

  1. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

While this historical fantasy starts out slow and a bit confusing, it morphs into a lyrical story about family and belonging. It’s full of other dimensions, and, you guessed it, doors. 

  1. House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

This retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is dark and gothic. The story focuses on sisterhood and death/murder, with a fun dose of dancing at balls to balance it all out. 

  1. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This is a coming-of-age story and a retelling of the Greek myth of Achilles and Patroclus. It follows the romantic relationship of the two characters up until the Trojan War. Miller’s writing is fantastic, and she’s a Greek mythology genius.

  1. Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Race the Sands follows two women in the desert world of Becar, where you can ride monstrous creatures called kehoks, who are reincarnated from the worst of the worst people in a past life. The story focuses on reincarnation, determination, and carving your own path in the world, and I found it to be a refreshing fantasy read.

  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

This is whimsical and heartwarming, a great change of pace for adult fantasy. It follows Linus, a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, who is given an assignment to inspect an island full of magical children classified as dangerous. 

  1. The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

This YA, Welsh inspired historical fantasy follows Ryn, a gravedigger who begins to notice that the dead are rising, and teams together with a boy named Ellis. It’s a classic journey story with great characters and an enjoyable plot. I loved the fresh take on zombies, or “bone houses.” 

  1. The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez 

Finally, a contemporary romance book somehow made it onto my list! I enjoyed this book far more than I anticipated. I loved the funny, snappy dialogue, the characters, and the romance. The focus on music, and the inclusion of the playlist, only added to the story. 

Honorary re-read favorites: The Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo 

I read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom in 2018, and though I immediately classified them as some of my favorite books, I had forgotten a lot of the plot. I absolutely loved re-reading them in 2020! They’re Bardugo’s best works, in my opinion, with an intricate world and plot, and very well-drawn characters that you’ll be rooting for from the beginning (even the morally grey ones).

My 2021 reading goal is to branch out a little more outside of YA fantasy. My classes will help with this, of course (I can’t believe I’ll finish my last semester in 2021!) I also currently have Kindle Unlimited, and I’m excited to dive into some thrillers and historical fiction!