Review: This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede

A Kindle rests on a marble table next to a Nintento Switch with Animal Crossing, surrounded by cactus/succulent votive candles

Alexis: Are you looking to add more fantasy romance reads to your 2022 tbr?

Synopsis:

In This Vicious Grace, Alessa is the Finestra, chosen by the Gods to ward off the coming apocalypse. But she needs a magical partner, and unfortunately for everyone, she keeps accidentally killing everyone she touches. When she survives an assassination attempt, she hires a street fighter named Dante as her bodyguard, who ends up helping her in ways she never imagined. 

Review:

This was such a fun book! The banter and the chemistry between Alessa and Dante was great. Dante is your classic broody love interest. And I loved reading about Alessa figuring out how to control her powers.

I especially enjoyed Alessa’s character arc. The story focuses on Alessa growing as a person as she overcomes loneliness and self-doubt. It’s a character-driven story, which I love, but just be aware going into it that it’s not plot heavy until the end. Because of this, the main plot didn’t feel as high-stakes as it could have.

If you’re looking for a book with the vibes of Kingdom of the Wicked and From Blood and Ash, then I definitely recommend it!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

PUB DAY: June 28, 2022

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press/Wednesday Books for my e-ARC!

Review: Lightbringer by Claire Legrand

Alexis:

It’s official—I’ve been destroyed by this series. This book gave me my first book hangover in a good while.

Legrand went ham in this last book. Like in Kingsbane, the characters go through so much trauma in Lightbringer. 

The first half was a little slow. Rielle was insufferable. And I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. Yet…I was so caught up in the story.  I loved the plot twists!

If you’re looking to read a fantasy trilogy with flawed and morally gray characters, time travel, angels, powerfully magical women, elemental magic, and super high stakes, then this is the series for you.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

TW: Blood, depression, gore, grief, murder, self-harm, suicidal ideation, torture, violence, and war

Review: Furyborn and Kingsbane by Claire Legrand

The spines of Furyborn and Kingsbane rest on a windowsill next to a white curtain and a candle.

Alexis:

Furyborn, and the rest of The Empirium Trilogy, has been on my tbr list for a while now, and when I found Furyborn in a used bookstore, I grabbed it!

To be honest, it took me a while to get into the worldbuilding. I had to read the first half of this book carefully in order to understand the world and the characters.

Furyborn has two timelines—1000 years apart. Two queens, the Sun Queen and the Blood Queen, are prophesied to either break or save the world. Rielle can perform all seven kinds of elemental magic, and enters a series of trials to prove that she is the Sun Queen. 1000 years later, Eliana is an assassin just trying to keep her family alive in the Undying Empire when she runs into a rebel named Simon who needs her help.

Like I said, once I got to the halfway point, I loved this book. It’s both action packed yet slow paced. The first chapter/prologue offers a glimpse of what happens in the end, and I found that it upped the tension and anticipation for me while I read. 

While I wasn’t a huge fan of Rielle’s character, I found Eliana to be interesting and flawed. And Simon was by far my favorite character; I can’t wait to learn more about him in the next book.

My one main critique is that this book was originally marketed as YA and—it’s not. It’s definitely adult, with adult themes and sex scenes. I would categorize it as New Adult, which I desperately hope will eventually be a more solidified genre. 

If you’re looking to dive into a new trilogy full of action, powerful and flawed women, angels and elemental magic, and dual timelines, then you might like this.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

As for Kingsbane, where to begin!

The plot thickens. Legrand throws her characters into everything imaginable; anything bad that can happen does.

It’s hard to say anything else about this book without giving major spoilers, but I both hated and loved reading it, and the ending almost had me throwing it against the wall.

Despite feeling terrible for all of the characters, this book was just so intense and dark, and I loved it. That being said, I’m not a fan of how Legrand writes her sex scenes, and I think there were several in here that were unnecessary. 

But Kingsbane stuck with me, and I’m still waiting to read the third and final book in the trilogy to see what happens!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

Review: Assembly by Natasha Brown

Assembly is a sharp, vignette-style novella that follows a young, black, and unnamed protagonist who is disillusioned by her life. On the surface, she is living the dream: she’s making good money at her job at a bank, she recently bought her own apartment, and she’s in a relationship. But underneath, she feels like she’s performing in every aspect of her life. She’s also hiding a dark secret.

If you like slow, literary, and character-driven stories with commentary on race, class, and the corporate world, you should think about picking up Assembly. It really feels like the unraveling of life that’s perfect on the surface. In my opinion it was a little too short and I wanted to learn more about the protagonist, but it will make you think about a lot of societal issues and evaluate your own life and choices.

I’d love recommendations for other culturally relevant, slim fiction like this one!

Review: The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova

A hardcover copy stands on a bookshelf next to a tea tumbler and a candle.

Alexis:

If you’re looking for a magical realism story that blends an Ecuadorian version of Encanto with certain aspects of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, then this is the book for you!

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a family saga. It has two separate timelines. One timeline follows Orquídea, the grandmother and matriarch of the Montoya family, who immigrated to the United States. The other follows her grandchildren, specifically Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly. 

The first half is very slow moving, taking its time to introduce the setting, a small town called Four Rivers, and its characters. Córdova’s writing is beautiful and lush, and strange at times. Her voice is perfect for magical realism.

At its core, despite being a family saga, this book is a mystery. What happened to Orquídea when she was younger that made her so mysterious? Where did her magic come from? 

This is not a book to be binged. It’s a book to take in slowly. You have to take time to take everything in and appreciate the weird magical moments, like magical flowers growing from bodies, ghosts, a river monster, and an old zombie rooster named Gabo that keeps coming back to life. 

My main critique is that while I like slow-moving stories, it took me a while to get invested in the characters, and there was also a character death towards the end that I think could’ve been handled better.

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is both hilarious and tragic, and I especially enjoyed getting to know Marimar and Rey. If you like family sagas and magical realism, then I think you’ll like this one. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 /5 

Review: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Anna: Fun fact, I took this picture with my husband’s phone because I lost mine playing with my dog in the snow and then found it a week later (and somehow it still works)!

Small Things Like These is a short, satisfying novella about doing the right thing. This was the perfect book to read in the snow- it’s set in the days leading up to Christmas in a small town in Ireland. Bill Furlong is a coal merchant, and he’s hardworking, respected, and essential to the town. He loves his wife and five daughters and is proud of the life he’s built for him. But when delivering coal, he discovers a dark secret hidden in the town’s covenant and his whole worldview is challenged.  

This book is about how difficult it can be to make one small decision that you know to be the right one when everyone around you encourages you to ignore it. It’s about the hypocrisy of people who call themselves Christians yet do horrible things, and about the Catholic church’s complete control over a community.

Maybe this book is a little predictable, but it’ll give you exactly what you want from it.

Review: Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn

A copy of Among Thieves rests on a gray blanket next to a candle and a dilute calico cat.

Alexis:

Among Thieves was actually the last book I read in 2021!

It’s a heist novel set in a dark, gritty world. We follow many POVs, but all of the characters are working for Callum Clem, the leader of the Saints gang. In this world, there are magical people called Adepts who are brainwashed and owned as slaves by the people in power.

There were many aspects of this book that I loved. Kuhn’s writing, and writing style, is great. She writes great descriptions, and she describes people especially well. Each time we meet a new character, we get a very Dickensen description, so that we not only know what the character physically looks like, but we get a sense of what each person is actually like, as well. 

The banter is fun and quick. The magic system is interesting and feels different from other magic systems. 

But there were a couple of things that kept me from being fully invested in the story.

  1. Cursing is realistic in adult fantasies like these, but I often felt like Kuhn could have been a little more choosy about where she inserted swear words, and it would’ve made more of an impact. Instead, the amount of cursing tended to pull me out of the story.
  2. The worldbuilding was thrown at you. I had a hard time getting through the first 100 pages because my brain was trying to play catch up, all while reading from multiple new POVs.
  3. And finally…I wanted a map. I know this is a small thing, but a map definitely would’ve helped me imagine the world a little better.

Overall, this was a fun read. I think if you like heist novels like Six of Crows but are looking for an adult version with a full cast of characters, then you might like this.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐.5 /5 

Review: Bewilderness by Karen Tucker

Anna: Starting 2022 strong! I loved this book.

Irene and her best friend, Luce, live in a small town in North Carolina. They work as servers and have been sober for nearly a year. But that night, something happens with Luce’s boyfriend, Wilky, that sends them spiraling back into using. The narrative is structured by a dual timeline, so we get to go back see their entire journey with addiction from the start, including the big breaking point that made them first became sober.

Bewilderness is a dark story about substance abuse, addiction, and the cycles of addiction. On the surface this is an important, cautionary tale: addiction kills. But at its core it’s about the complex friendship between Irene and Luce, and how their relationship changes and is tested over the years. And the writing is beautiful. Bewilderness is perfectly paced, it’s heartbreaking, and I couldn’t put it down. If you liked Marlena by Julie Buntin, I think you should check this one out. 

I also learned so much about addiction, the path to sobriety, and just how hard it is to stay clean. I encourage you to check out Karen Tucker’s website and read some of her interviews to learn more.

Trigger warnings: Addiction & drug use 

Review: Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer

A pink gloved hand holds up the bright green cover of Into the Heartless Wood in front of a snowy backyard and fenceline.

Alexis:

I finished my first book of the year on the first snow day!

Into the Heartless Wood follows Owen, a 17-year-old burgeoning astronomer who lives with his father and baby sister. They live by the edge of the woods, where a witch and her tree siren daughters, who lure humans to their deaths, live…and where Owen lost his own mother. 

But when the witch’s youngest siren daughter, who calls herself Seren, finds herself saving Owen’s life instead of ending it, their lives become intertwined. 

Everyone knows I’m a sucker for a book that focuses on creepy woods. And this book had all of the elements I was looking for: atmospheric vibes, lyrical writing, and dual POVs.

The story is both beautiful and brutal. Happy and sorrowful. The ending was tragic, yet I loved it! It’s slow-paced, and the writing is dreamy and full of beautiful forest imagery. Seren’s POV is written in verse, and I thought it worked really well for her character.

My only main critique is that I wish Owen and Seren had a bit more chemistry on the page. It’s also worth noting that even though I tend to gravitate towards slower-paced novels, the main plot didn’t appear until halfway through.

Despite this, I really enjoyed this one, and it was the perfect read for a snow day paired with a mug of hot chocolate.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

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.