Review: Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross

A Kindle rests on a white marble table. A white pumpkin is to its left. A package of pumpkin chai tea sits to its right. A lit Sweater Weather candle sits above it.

Alexis:

I adored Divine Rivals...and yes, it did emotionally destroy me.

Divine Rivals is an upper YA/NA historical fantasy novel that follows two main characters. Iris Winnow is a new journalist at a newspaper called the Oath Gazette. Roman Kitt is her rival—a fellow journalist who is competing against her for a promotion as a columnist. 

But after centuries of sleep, the gods are warring again, and Iris’ own brother, Forest, has joined the armed forces of one of the gods. Iris, who is worried sick about him, writes him letters. But Iris doesn’t know where her brother is. All she knows is that her letters magically disappear when she slips them underneath her wardrobe door. 

What she also doesn’t know is that Roman is the one receiving them, and then he begins anonymously answering her letters. 

THIS BOOK. I’ve always loved Ross’ writing style. I’ve read both A River Enchanted and Dreams Lie Beneath and enjoyed both of them, but Divine Rivals hits differently; I connected with the characters on another level. 

This book is a masterpiece. I love Ross’ lyrical, beautiful, and emotional writing. The book is so atmospheric, and layered with tension that you can feel on every page.

I adore both Iris and Roman. They have so much chemistry, and I love their banter and rivalry. 

Divine Rivals reads like a fantasy version of a World War I/World War II story. Ross writes about the horrors of war in such an effective way. The story is about grief, both Iris’ and Roman’s. It’s about being trapped in a life where you can’t make your own decisions. It’s about loneliness and connection. It’s about finding love, but also about the messiness of loving your flawed family. It’s about the power of writing and letters. Throw some mythology about the world’s gods in the mix and you have this perfect book.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Divine Rivals comes out on April 4, 2023.

Of course that means I have to wait even longer for the sequel. Please pray for my impatient reading brain. (Cliffhangers should be illegal.)

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Wednesday Books for the e-ARC!

Review: The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

Alexis:

The Bone Shard Emperor is the sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter, one of my favorite reads from earlier this year. 

Like the first book, it follows 5 POVs: Lin, Jovis, Phalue, Ranami, and Sand/Nisong. Jovis is still my favorite, as well as his talking, bonded otter-like creature named Mephi. But I felt like I got to know Lin’s character better, as well.

I love how Stewart began to reveal more of the world’s history, as well as the mystery surrounding Mephi and some other characters. 

Also like the first book, this was a 5-star read for me. However, I don’t think it was quite as well done as the first. Phalue and Ranami get even less page time in the book, so I found myself not caring about their characters as much as I wanted to. 

But my biggest critique is that there was also a romantic storyline that, while had potential and made sense from a logical viewpoint, didn’t quite work for me. The characters just didn’t have any chemistry on the page.

Despite moving at a slow pace, I love Stewart’s writing, and I love her worldbuilding, and I never felt bored; I was always drawn into the story. 

However, I especially loved the last quarter of the book. A lot of interesting developments are happening, and based on the great ending, I’m excited to see where the third and final book takes the story!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Anna’s Top 10 Books of 2020

2020 was a year for the books (ha). This year, I read a total of 84 books. I’ve heard many other readers say that living through a pandemic has helped one thing-their reading life. I read the same amount of books annually that I normally do, but being forced to stay home for the majority of the year helped me focus on reading a little more slowly and perhaps a little more intentionally.

A year in reading: Like usual, the majority of the books that I read were literary fiction by women authors. Like in 2019, I read a mixture of audiobooks and physical books. I’ve significantly trimmed down my physical TBR, and I’ve gotten in the habit of selling or donating all books I rate under 4 stars. I didn’t read nearly as much fantasy as I normally do, and I liked even less of what I read in the genre. I re-read some old favorites, like Princess Academy (still amazing) and the Harry Potter books (I re-read the entire series before J.K. Rowling and her Trans-bashing). I was lucky enough to land on Algonquin’s mailing list, and I reviewed their most popular book of the year, His Only Wife. I also rediscovered a love for middle grade fiction. I continued fostering my love for contemporary Irish literary fiction in Exciting Times, Marlena, and Tana French’s newest, The Searchers. Perhaps most surprisingly, a thriller even made it onto my favorites list for the year, something I never thought possible!

  1. Writers & Lovers by Lily King
A classic tale of a struggling writer trying to make it big. Complete with a love triangle, commentary on the love/hate relationship with an artist and their craft, and the overall theme of reaching for your dreams no matter what, I loved everything about this book. And it has a happy ending! Great for writers and dreamers.

2. Long Bright River by Liz Moore

I’m not a huge reader of thrillers, but this book broke my heart. Fast-paced yet character-driven, this is a book about duty and sisterly love. Tigger warnings for sexual violence and drug abuse.

3. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

A modern Great Gatsby. If you’re looking a richly written and seductive book about the extravagance and of the New York upper class, told by an outsider, this is the book for you.

4. Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

My favorite middle grade book of the year. This spooky first in a series is all about friendship, grief, and finding your way. It’s a lot scarier than I expected, too! Its sequel, Dead Voices, is just as good, and I can’t wait for book three to come out later this year!

5. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House is one of the few fantasy novels I read this year. Watch out fans of Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology: this is not YA! Besides the unique and bloody magic system, the coolest thing about this world is that it reimagines Yale’s secret societies as deadly magic groups who are up to no good.

6. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

I’m years late to this party. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is just as good as everyone promised. This is the ultimate coming out book that paved the way for LGBTQ+ YA fiction as we know it now (stories about queer teens, not stories centered purely around coming out).

7. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Another book that I should have read years ago. Just Mercy brings to light mainstream systems of abuse and oppression in the American prison system, specifically in regards to the amount of African Americans wrongly convicted of the death penalty in the South. If you haven’t read this yet, you need to.

8. Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolf

This is a wonderful coming-of-age novel about a young girl who stands up to the town bully, starting a chain reaction of sinister events in her small, rural town. Trigger warnings for death and physical abuse. This was dark!

9. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Marchad

My favorite memoir of the year. Machado chronicles her abusive relationship with her girlfriend. In the Dream House is told through lyrical and imaginative fragments, and Machado also includes commentary on the lack of research available on abuse in same sex relationships.

10. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donaghue

I love Emma Donoghue’s writing, and this new 2020 release didn’t disappoint. A deadly flu breaks out in Ireland during World War 2. I love dystopian literature, and a global pandemic didn’t stop me from reading The Pull of The Stars. The book follows a few devastating days in the life of a labor and delivery nurse who battles to save the lives of sick mothers and their babies. Don’t read this is you’re squeamish about birth!

My 2021 reading goals are to:

Read more books from diverse perspectives. As I mentioned, I read a lot of women authors. Some of my favorite reads from this year featured LGBTQ+ authors. This coming year, I’d love to read books by more people of color as well as more translated works.

Read more nonfiction besides memoir. Will I ever read as much nonfiction as I read fiction? Probably not. But I want to make an effort to reach nonfiction that expands my worldview and knowledge in valuable ways as Just Mercy did this year for me.

Read more classics that I actually enjoy. For me, this means Victorian novels. I’m still making my way through the only one I started this year, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. There are books in this category that, embarrassingly, I’ve never read, including Wuthering Heights or any Dickens.

Here’s to a year of healing, another great year of reading!

My Re-Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Alexis:

I’m loving my re-read of the Harry Potter series! I’d forgotten just how intricate the world is, and it’s been a welcome break from the current 94 degree weather outside. Whew!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban remains one of my favorite in the series. (I may also be a little biased because it’s my absolute favorite movie adaptation in the series. I still swear that if Alfonso Cuarón had directed all of the movies with John William’s scores, they would’ve all been *chef’s kiss*).

The Golden Trio’s characterization continues to deepen, and we learn more information about Harry’s parents.

Lupin is one of my favorite characters, and I loved being introduced to him. We also get introduced to Sirius and his relationship with Lupin, Wormtail, and Harry. And the way the plot unfurls throughout the book is just perfect.

Harry Potter gif

 

My Summer Re-Read of Harry Potter

Alexis:

Before Coronavirus and JK Rowling’s (yet another) transphobic comment, I planned on re-reading the Harry Potter series this summer. My goal was to browse used bookstores to finish my own collection of the series. But now, I’m going to be reading my family’s copies, as well as my own copies of the 5th and 7th books. 

I finished re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and it was so much fun! I haven’t read the entire series in such a long time; it’s definitely been over 10 years.

The first book is chock-full of subtext and foreshadowing. Harry learns at the end of the first book, from Quirrell, no less, that the reason Snapes hates him is because he and James went to school together, and James saved his life. There’s even a paragraph at the end where Harry muses that it seems like Dumbledore wanted him to face Voldemort. I enjoyed re-experiencing all of the plot points and the side characters that the movie missed. But that being said, it was also nice to be reminded that the first movie took so many direct quotes from the book.

Even characters that come into play later, like Sirius and Lavender Brown, are mentioned in this book.

I loved immersing myself in the Wizarding World again, and I’m looking forward to re-reading the rest of the series!

ϟ 9¾

#tbt- Kindred by Octavia Butler

Alexis:

In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to take some time to talk about an important writer.

Last year, I read Kindred by Octavia Butler, the pioneer of African-American women science fiction writers.

Kindred deals with a smorgasbord of hard topics: slavery, racism, rape, and death. Butler utilizes time travel in order to explore the ancestors of Dana, the main character, who were slaves in the American South. The result is a harrowing read that explores the horrors of slavery and the interconnection of past and present.

If you’re looking for a good read to finish out the month of February, check it out!

 

Reflecting on 2018: Our Favorite Books of the Year!

Happy New Year’s Day! On the first official day of 2019, we reflect back on our 2018 year of reading. We read so much this year; Anna read 85 books and Alexis read 46.

Alexis's Top 10

Alexis: Here’s the list of my top 10 reads of 2018!

1) The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
2) Tin Man
3) A Face Like Glass
4) Crooked Kingdom
5) Six of Crows
6) Educated
7) Station Eleven
8) Kindred
9) Circe
10) The House of Broken Angels

Anna's Top 10

Anna: Excuse my lopsided stack; we had to run out and take this in the pouring rain!

1. Sing Unburied Sing
2. The Heart’s Invisible Furies (not pictured)
3. Educated
4. History of Wolves
5. Conversations With Friends
6. Marlena
7. Idaho
8. Red Clocks
9. Circe
10. Fates and Furies

What were some of your top reads? We would love to know!