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! 

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

Review: Daughter of the Drowned Empire by Frankie Diane Mallis

Alexis:

Daughter of the Drowned Empire is a NA fantasy that follows Lyriana, who is third in line to the Seat of Power in Bamaria. She hopes to be a mage after her ceremony, when her magic will be announced and unleashed, but she has a secret—her two older sisters both have illegal magic.⁣

⁣It took me a little while to get into the beginning of this, so I highly recommend checking out the glossary in the back first to get a handle on the worldbuilding. There’s also a love triangle that I was feeling iffy about. But once the plot got rolling, I was hooked!

This was a fun book that ended up being fairly complex. I liked the themes of love, sisterhood, and staying true to yourself. I enjoyed Lyriana’s character arc, and I can’t wait to see where Mallis takes her next.

⁣Overall, the character development was well done and this was a fun read. I can’t wait for the sequel!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 ⁣

Review: Edgewood by Kristen Ciccarelli

Alexis holds a copy of Edgewood- green with a girl wearing a purple dress and holding a dagger- in front of a bookshelf.

Alexis:

Another 5 ⭐ review!

Edgewood is a new adult fantasy that has everything I love in a book: atmospheric writing, creepy woods, and a dynamic love interest. 

There were two really great themes woven throughout this book. The first is music. Emeline, the main character, is a nineteen-year-old singer, trying to tour and get her foot in the door of the music world. I loved how music played a magical role in this book.

The second is memory. Emeline’s grandfather, who she calls Pa, is suffering from dementia. Ciccarelli bases his character on her own grandfather who suffered from dementia, and so she writes Pa with care, and her grief comes through in her writing. The themes of forgetting and remembering play a critical role in the story.

There’s also a Wood King, a city deep in the woods, a curse, and interesting creatures that appear in the story. And I found Hawthorne, the love interest, to be a well-rounded and mysterious yet warmhearted character. 

My only critique is that there were a couple of minor storylines that I think could’ve been explored further. However, I enjoyed this story immensely and definitely recommend it if you’re looking for something atmospheric and full of forest imagery and magical music.

(And it doesn’t hurt that the whole book is beautiful!)

Review: Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier

Alexis holds Year of the Reaper in front of a plant and a solar-powered metal cactus.

Alexis: 5 ⭐ review!

Year of the Reaper follows Cas, a young lord who is finally on his way home after being held as a prisoner for three years and surviving a plague. When someone targets the royal family, Cas finds himself teaming up with Lena, a historian, to find the mysterious assassin. 

I loved this book! Cas is such a great main character. He’s flawed and scarred from his time as a prisoner, and his story deals with him trying to move on from his past. He also spends time reuniting with his older brother, and I enjoyed their relationship. 

There are so many interesting facets to this story. The story is set in a medieval fantasy world that’s based on both the Pacific Islands and the black plague. While it’s a low fantasy world, Cas is now able to see ghosts—which I read as a symbol/physical manifestation of his survival with the deadly plague. 

A majority of the book also deals with not only the aftermath of the plague, but a long war that has finally come to an end.

The characters are well-rounded, and I enjoyed the dynamic between Cas (grump) and Lena (sunshine). There’s also the “who hurt you?” trope, but it was very well done. My only small critique is that I feel like the title doesn’t fit the story that well.

If you’re looking for a fun, multi-faceted YA fantasy/mystery that also deals with some dark themes and trauma, then I recommend picking this one up!

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Anna: What would you do for love?

This is How You Lose the Time War is the most imaginative book I’ve read in a long time. It reminded me why sci-fi  is such an amazing genre that I need to explore more. It also has LGBTQ+ rep!

Summary: Red and Blue are change agents who work for rival time traveling agencies–Blue for the Garden, a vast organic consciousness. Red works for the Agency, a Technotopia. While traveling to different “strands” of history and time to change history, they start to write each other letters and slowly fall in love.

The actual rules and word building in This is How You Lose the Time War is super confusing at first and very slowly revealed to the reader. I didn’t know what was going on for a while, but that’s okay. This book is more about the lyrical writing and the vivid, visceral images of time traveling and Red and Blue’s romance that literally stands the test of time. This is ultimately a “star-crossed” lovers narrative, but it’s not tropey at all. This book takes work to get through, but it’s rewarding and worth it.

I also think it’s so cool that this book was co-written! As a writer, I can’t imagine creating such a complex world and story in the first place, but also doing it so seamlessly with another writer.

Verdict: 4 stars