Review: Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn

Alexis holds a copy of Bloodmarked over a pile of fallen autumn leaves and her black Chelsea boots.

Alexis:

I’m not kidding when I say I sat down and devoured Bloodmarked in one day.

Bloodmarked, book two in the Legendborn Cycle, was one of my most anticipated sequels, and let’s just say if you’re worried about middle-book-syndrome/sequel syndrome, don’t be!

So much happens in this book that I already feel like I need to re-read it. The plot really thickens.

I loved learning more about Bree. I loved learning more about her root and her ancestors. I loved getting to know the secondary characters even more. I especially enjoyed getting to know Sel and Alice better. A decent number of new characters are also introduced, but Deonn does such a good job of balancing everyone out that no character feels flat.

Bloodmarked also dives into important themes such as racism, white privilege, and identity. This is such a well-fleshed out series so far, and I can’t wait to see where Deonn takes it next.

Overall, there’s not much else I can say about this book without spoilers! If you still haven’t picked up Legendborn and you’d be into a King Arthur retelling (or even if you’re just looking for a great and multi-layered YA fantasy read), I recommend picking it up.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrotra

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the dove rests on a white and gray marble table next to a Harvest Festival fall candle.

Alexis:

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove follows Katyani, a bodyguard who has had a forbidden soul bond with the Queen of Chandela since she was a child. Along with the two princes of Chandela, Kayani is ordered to travel to a monastic school—the gurukul of the famous Acharya Mahavir—in the middle of a forest that’s crawling with monsters. It’s both at the school and her return home that leave Katyani reckoning with everything she’s ever known. 

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove is an upper YA fantasy inspired by medieval India. I enjoyed the setting, especially the monster-ridden forest (since, as you all know, I’m a sucker for a creepy forest). The story has political intrigue, a slow-burn romance, and plenty of monster hunting.

I especially liked Mehrotra’s writing style and the humor she sprinkles into the story. I found Katyani to be an enjoyable main character; she’s definitely the female version of a himbo, but had a great character arc. There are a lot of layers and reveals in this adventure story that kept me wanting to keep reading.

Some of the characters, especially Daksh, Acharya Mahavir’s son, could have been a lot more fleshed out. Daksh and Katyani’s relationship also felt too underdeveloped considering it takes up a decent chunk of the story. Some character motivations seemed a little too easy, as well, which made me hesitant to give this book a full 5-star rating. However, I really enjoyed this story and definitely recommend it if you’re looking for an action-packed, adventurous story with Indian mythology. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐💫

Review: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

Alexis wears a pirate Halloween costume and holds a copy of The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy in front of fall foliage.

Alexis:

Happy belated Halloween!

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy was the perfect read to finish out October.

Hart is a demigod who’s a marshal for a wild land called Tanria. Mercy is an undertaker for her dad’s funeral home, Birdsall & Son, where Hart sometimes drops off bodies he finds in Tanria. But the two, who take their jobs too seriously sometimes, hate each other. But then Hart, who has been lonely for years, pens a letter to “A Friend,” it ends up in Mercy’s hands. When she anonymously responds, the two strike up a tentative friendship. 

I just had so much fun reading this book. It has fun fantasy elements like animal mailmen who used to be the messengers to gods and zombie-like creatures, yet the story also feels very contemporary. 

I don’t have anything negative to say about this book. Sure, the romance between Hart and Mercy happens a little suddenly, but there is a build up through the letter writing, which is an aspect I realized I’m loving in novels lately. I loved learning more about the characters’ backstories, and I especially loved Mercy’s relationship with her family. 

If you’re looking for a book that’s pure, weird fun but also has a macabre sense of humor that doesn’t shy away from the brutality of death, then this is for you.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

The Sunbearer Trials rests on a marble table next to a white stuffed pumpkin and two candles.

Alexis:

The Sunbearer Trials follows Teo, a 17-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of Quetzal, goddess of birds.

This book is described as Percy Jackson meets The Hunger Games, and that’s the perfect description. 

Synopsis from Goodreads: 

As each new decade begins, the Sun’s power must be replenished so that Sol can keep traveling along the sky and keep the evil Obsidian gods at bay. Ten semidioses between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are selected by Sol himself as the most worthy to compete in The Sunbearer Trials. The winner carries light and life to all the temples of Reino del Sol, but the loser has the greatest honor of all—they will be sacrificed to Sol, their body used to fuel the Sun Stones that will protect the people of Reino del Sol for the next ten years.

In The Sunbearer Trials, I really enjoyed Thomas’ trademark voicy characters and fun writing style. The story is nice and fast-paced, and everyone’s outfits and superpowers sound so cool. I also like how this Mexican-inspired fantasy world is very diverse and inclusive, and how Teo’s wings play a role in the story and his trans identity.

While this was a fun read, there are some aspects that keep me from rating this higher.

For one, I never feel like the stakes are high enough. I mean, sure, one of the contenders will be sacrificed at the end, but the trials themselves don’t feel big enough to me. The games in The Hunger Games are thrilling to read because the stakes are so high, but in The Sunbearer Trials, Teo doesn’t even want to be there, much less take them very seriously. His motivation is to just…get through the trials so he can go back home. His lack of motivation plus the lack of high stakes meant I skimmed certain sections of the trials.

At times, this story feels more like Percy Jackson, aka middle grade. Now, I’m aware that I’m saying this as an adult reader who mostly reads YA, so maybe younger readers will feel differently. However, Teo is 17-years-old, and oftentimes, I thought he sounds like he should be closer to 14. Keep in mind reading is a personal experience and everyone interprets and reads things differently, but that’s how I perceived the character while reading this book. 

My last point is that the blurb makes it sound like this is going to be a high fantasy story, so imagine my surprise when the characters have phones and are watching TV. While I definitely think more fantasy worlds need modern technology and this is a cool aspect, moments of it took me out of the story. The world has its own version of Instagram and TikTok, and there’s also a reference to furries (what is up with books mentioning furries?? I read another one earlier this year that did the same thing).

That being said, the ending cranked up the stakes, which is exactly what I wanted! This is only the first book in a series, and the series definitely has a lot of potential. I’m interested in getting to know the large cast of characters better and to see what happens next. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐

Review: Book of Night by Holly Black

Book of Night rests on a coffee shop table next to a Starbucks cup and a pumpkin

Alexis:

On a whim, I picked up Book of Night from the library. I haven’t read a Black book (unless you count The Spiderwick Chronicles when I was a kid) and I’ve heard conflicting reviews of Book of Night

Which I now understand.

The first half of this book is slow. The worldbuilding is minimal, there are too many chapters that take place in the past, and the world itself suffers from what I call adult fantasy book syndrome—the world is cold and dreary, depressing and dark. For example, Ninth House has adult fantasy book syndrome, meaning everything about it is unnecessarily dark. While Book of Night isn’t quite as dark, it still has a criminal main character, lots of references to drugs and alcohol, kidnappings and murder, self harm, trauma, etc.

Which makes me wonder…why can’t we have an adult fantasy book that is both dark yet fun? 

That being said, the second half of this book takes a turn. The inciting incident doesn’t happen until around page 50 or 60, and then the plot gets rolling. I became more intrigued by the plot and the characters, especially as the world’s shadow magic and manipulation was explored a little more. There was also a plot twist that worked really well for me.

The beginning of the book is 2 stars, and the latter half 4, making this a 3 star read overall. (Or crescent moons, if you will).

VERDICT: 🌙🌙🌙/5

Review: The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell

Alexis holds a fall kombucha bottle next to a library copy of The Vanished Queen.

Alexis:

The Vanished Queen is an adult fantasy that starts off with a bang. The prologue delves into a theft: a slightly drunk Anza breaks into a locked room in a library to steal a journal. 

The Vanished Queen follows three different POVs. Anza is an archer and a part of the resistance. After the king put her father to death and she found the missing queen’s journal, Anza is dead set on fighting against the cruel and tyrannical king, Karolje. 

Prince Esvar is the younger son of Karolje and Mirantha, the vanished queen who is presumed dead. He hates his father’s regime and is desperate to find a way to defy him.  

And the third POV is Mirantha, the vanished queen herself. Her story is set in the past, leading up to her disappearance.

To be honest, I considered DNFing this about 100 pages in. The plot was very slow, and despite the synopsis mentioning that Anza and Esvar end up working together, that doesn’t even happen until the halfway point of the book.

But after that, the plot picks up. Schemes and planning happen. The political intrigue thickens and the stakes grow higher. In the beginning, a lot of the characters feel flat, but once the plot picks up, they come to life a little more and I became fully invested in the story. Karolje was such a terrible king and soulless person that I was ready to see him be brought down.

What I liked about this book:

-High stakes

-Mirantha’s chapters

-Themes of love and justice

-Esvar gives me Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender vibes/Dorian from Throne of Glass vibes 

-Bisexuality rep: Anza is bisexual 

-High fantasy world without magic  

What I didn’t like as much:

-I often felt like the characters were being held at a distance; I wanted to be more in their heads

-Slow pacing 

The first half of this book is three stars and the latter half is higher.

VERDICT: 👑👑👑👑/5

Trigger warnings:
Death, including hangings, mentions of suicice, rape, violence/blood, torture, coded anti-semitism, domestic abuse, forced abortion 

Review: Kingdom of the Feared by Kerri Maniscalco

Alexis holds Kingdom of the Feared in front of a bookshelf

Alexis:

Kingdom of the Feared was the perfect way to kick off October. ⁣

It’s the third and final book in the Kingdom of the Wicked trilogy, which follows Emilia, a witch in late 1800s Sicily who accidentally binds herself to one of the wicked princes of Hell who calls himself Wrath. 

⁣The thing I appreciated the most in Kingdom of the Feared was the plot. While I really enjoyed the first two books, they were a little lacking in plot, but made up for it in atmosphere. But in this third book, the plot ramped up a lot. Maniscalco added plot twist after plot twist while answering a lot of lingering questions and mysteries. Plus, the overall atmosphere/vibes were still as good. 

⁣Yet…the second book, Kingdom of the Cursed is definitely my favorite of the trilogy. ⁣

Kingdom of the Feared had one particular trope that I really don’t like. Sure it was resolved, in a way, by the end, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. 

Another point worth mentioning is that this book was a little too spicy and repetitive at times. I found myself thinking, We get it! They’re wicked and they’re attracted to each other. And while Emilia’s character arc was good, I found myself wanting more from Wrath’s character. 

This, plus the trope issue, knocked my rating down a star.

Note: This book is definitely a new adult/adult book. While the first book in the series could be classified as YA, the series in its entirety is an adult series and should NOT be marketed as YA. 

VERDICT: 💀💀💀💀/5

Alexis’ September Wrap-Up

A stack of books rests on a bookshelf next to a pumpkin candle. A small white pumpkin sits on top of the stack.

Alexis: 

It’s time for my September wrap-up!

⁣I can’t believe it’s almost October, but I’m also so ready for it to be full-blown autumn. I already started diving into my spooky/fall reads.

September was an amazing reading month for me (recovering from surgery will do that to you). I read 10 books and 1 novella.  ⁣

⁣Overall, I had a lot of hits and a few misses. ⁣

📚 The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren—⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood—⭐⭐⁣

📚 Unraveller by Frances Hardinge—⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 Hall of the Hopeless by Haley D. Brown—⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis—⭐⭐⭐💫⁣

📚 The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton—⭐⭐⭐💫⁣

📚 Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen—⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 Defend the Dawn by Brigid Kemmerer—⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna—⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 Stuck with You by Ali Hazelwood—⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

📚 Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross—⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

Have you read any of these? What did you think? I hope October is a great reading month for you all!

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: Defend the Dawn by Brigid Kemmerer

Alexis holds a copy of Defend the Dawn in front of bookshelves in a bookstore.

Alexis: 

Did this book just come out on Tuesday? Yes. Did I binge read it and finish it today? Also yes. 

Defy the Night is one of my favorite books, so it’s safe to say that Defend the Dawn was one of my most anticipated reads. And I’m happy to say it did not disappoint.

Defend the Dawn brings even more political intrigue, plot twists, and morally gray characters. I was constantly second-guessing what I knew about character motivations.⁣

⁣While the middle moves a little slowly, in classic second book fashion, I still really enjoyed it. I love both of the main characters, Tessa and Corrick. I loved reading about their messy emotions and relationship. I also really enjoyed getting to know Corrick’s brother, King Harristan, better, and I love his brotherly relationship with Corrick.

While Defy the Night only has 2 POVs, a third POV is sprinkled into Defend the Dawn. I found that it worked really well for the story, especially since Tessa and Corrick are on a ship for the majority of the book.  ⁣

⁣And then of course, we have the ending. The appropriate reaction is “ahhh!!” It was so action-packed and I loved it, but of course it ended on a cliffhanger. Now I have to wait and see what happens, and I’m an impatient reader!

If you still haven’t picked up this series, it’s a New Adult fantasy series filled with politics, a rebellion, a pandemic, outlaws stealing for the sick, and of course a dash of romance. It’s also low fantasy, so if you want a fantasy without magic, then this is the series for you.

⁣VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣