Review: The Quiet Stillness of Empty Houses by L.V. Russell

A Kindle rests on a blue Kindle pillow that a moon and star pattern. On the left is a Sweater Weather candle. On the right is a notepad that says "Read."

Alexis:

If you’re into gothic books that are similar to Jane Eyre, then add The Quiet Stillness of Empty Houses to your TBR. 

When Theodora becomes a governess for a little girl in a quiet mansion, she realizes the house and its mysterious lord, Cassius, are full of secrets. 

What I liked:

  • The atmosphere

Russell’s words drip with atmosphere! Her writing is lyrical and paints such a vivid picture of the multiple decaying houses in this book. Speaking of which…

  • Creepy mansions

The settings almost feel like characters themselves. Theodora’s house, where she lives with her grandmother, is an ancient being falling apart around them. And Broken Oak Manor, where she works, feels like a slumbering giant. 

  • Ghosts! (Enough said.)
  • Secrets

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that Theodora tries to uncover.

  • Theme of grief

Even though Theodora’s father died when she was young, his death plays a pivotal role in Theodora’s character arc. 

  • A great plot twist 

What I didn’t like as much:

  • Slow-paced

While I generally enjoy slow-paced and character-driven novels, the middle of this book dragged in places.

  • The romance 

The romance was just okay for me, and I felt like it could have been developed more!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 

Pub date: May 15, 2023 ⁣

⁣Thanks to BookSirens, Quill & Crow Publishing House, and author L.V. Russell for sending me an ARC for review!

Review: A Song of Salvation by Alechia Dow

A Kindle with A Song of Salvation rests on a gray blanket next to a READ notepad, a white hat with a puff ball, and a dilute calico cat

Alexis:

A Song of Salvation is my first Alechia Dow read, and umm, wow! I’m going to have to check out her other books!

A Song of Salvation is a YA space opera. It has two primary POVs. The first is Zaira, the last of her species known as nightweavers…oh, and she’s also the reincarnation of a god named Indigo. The second is Wesley, an empath and a smuggler who loves ditching school to fly his ship. When Zaira and Wesley’s fates collide, alongside a celebrity podcaster named Rubin Rima, the fate of the universe rests in their hands as they vow to help Zaira defeat the god of destruction named Ozvios and the tyrannical Ilori Emperor. 

This is such an adventurous and heartfelt read. The worldbuilding is honestly phenomenal. All of the different planets and species are so well fleshed out.

I love how it feels like a classic YA read, as all of the characters have tragic backstories and a lot of angst, but it also tackles colonization, genocide, and war. On top of the main theme of handling and embracing your emotions, this book focuses on love, togetherness, family and friendship, fate, and justice. 

A Song of Salvation has a found family, romance, including a gay romance, and plenty of song magic and space travel! It even has a cute octopus-like alien named Blobby. It was a fun, fast-paced story with lovable characters and a hard-hitting heart and soul. 

I know Dow’s other two books take place in the same universe and probably ease the reader into the world(s) more, so I’m looking forward to checking those out.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to Inkyard Press and Netgalley for providing me an ARC for review!

Pub Date: July 11, 2023

Review: Kill Your Darlings by L.E. Harper

A Kindle ARC of Kill Your Darlings rests on a white marble table next to a Santa hat and a book notes notebook

Alexis: 

If you’re looking for Inkheart meets Inception, then Kill Your Darlings is for you. 

Inkheart was my absolute favorite book as I kid, so you know I had to request Kill Your Darlings on Netgalley!

The story immediately jumps into the action. Author Kyla thinks she’s dreaming at first. After all, she’s in Solera—the world she created in her fantasy series. But soon, she realizes that she’s stuck in Solera, who is in the middle of a war against the evil villian, and Kyla has to figure out how to save both herself and her favorite characters.

This book depicts the struggle of mental health, specifically with depression. It’s the main theme and the main abstract obstacle that Kyla must overcome. Kyla’s struggles, which Harper explains stem very closely from her own, give this book such a raw and emotional edge. I really felt for Kyla as she struggles with her very dark thoughts and depression in order to learn her self worth.

Harper’s wordbuilding is amazing. Solera is the perfect mix of a fantasy and sci-fi world. It has a healthy mix of dragons, magic, battles, and a slew of magical creatures. Since Kyla is the author, we also get a great insight to how the world and its dark and light magic works. 

Without giving anything way, I thought all of the parallels between Earth and Solera were done well. I like how we get asexual representation with Kyla’s character. And I love Kyla’s relationship with a dragon named Cendrion. 

I did think the romantic subplot felt a little forced, especially considering the age gap. However, I think it accomplished what Harper needed it to do for the story. Besides that, my only main critique is that I wanted even more at the end of this story. There were some open-ended questions and interactions that I itched to see while I was reading. However, I understand why Harper ended the book this way, especially considering the frame of the novel (which is within the frame of the novel about Soltera…hence the Inception aspect!). Even without a more beefy ending, this book packed a punch!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

TWs: Depictions of mental illness including depression, anxiety, suicide and suicidal ideation, and self-harm

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

A Kindle copy of Spice Road sits on a bookshelf next to a tea tumbler and a box of tea samplers.

Alexis:

Dune meets An Ember in the Ashes

Spice Road is a YA fantasy that follows Imani, a Shield warrior with an affinity for iron. When she discovers her supposedly dead brother is actually alive, she ventures outside of her homeland, the hidden desert city of Qalia, to bring him home. Outside the city limits, she discovers a world that she never knew existed, and grapples with her worldview, herself, her understanding of her brother, and the group she travels with. 

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding. Ibrahim does a great job describing the lush world. I love her use of sensory imagery, especially smell. It brings the world to life.

I love the tea magic! The people of Qalia access their affinity through drinking misra, a tea that allows them to access their magic. The first line of the book is, “We will fight, but first we will have tea.” Which is awesome.

I also really enjoyed the themes that Ibrahim presents. One of the main themes is truth and honesty, as Imani deals with the many lies she’s been told over the years. Another main theme is colonialism, which comes into play in the latter half of the book. I also appreciated the emphasis on family as Imani struggles to handle her rebellious little sister and hold onto hope that her brother is alive and well.

My favorite character is Qayn, a djinni that becomes Imani’s ally. He is the most complex and expressive character of the bunch, and I’m interested to learn more about him and his past!

But unfortunately, I didn’t like Imani’s character. She starts out as very naive and bullheaded…and ends the story being slightly less naive and bullheaded. She tends to be downright mean to anyone who helps her in the slightest and makes a lot of really dumb decisions. It doesn’t help that she’s also known as the Djinni Slayer…but besides obviously slaying a lot of djinni, we don’t really get an insight as to how she got that nickname at the age of seventeen. She also has a very confusing and lackluster enemies-to-lovers romance with a character who accompanies her on her journey. 

I found her to be unlikeable in general, and I had to push through certain chapters because I wasn’t rooting for her the way I should. However, I really loved the tea magic, the Arabian-inspired world, and the mythology aspects of Spice Road. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐ 💫


Special thanks to Delacorte Press for sending me an e-arc for review.

Spice Road is expected to be published on January 24, 2023!

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: Hall of the Hopeless by Haley D. Brown

On a wooden railing, a bottle of mango kombucha rests next to a Kindle in front of green grass

Alexis:

Hall of the Hopeless follows Thea, a Fae who lives with her adopted human family…until they’re abducted by slave traders.

Thea’s search for her family leads her to Gar, an assassin who tells Thea that her family’s abductor is Hrokr, the cold and cruel Lord of the northern Hall. Gar has plans both to liberate Hrokr’s slaves—and destroy his entire kingdom.

But Thea is harboring a secret that could change everything: she is Thea Starsea, the missing Heir of the fallen Hall of Aphaedia.

The story starts off with a bang! Right away, we learn Thea’s backstory and motivation. The beginning is action-packed and heart wrenching, and I really felt for Thea. Moments of the story and Thea’s character gave me Throne of Glass vibes, which I was here for.

I found her to be a great and balanced main character. Yes, she’s a fighter and a badass, but Brown doesn’t shy away from revealing her feelings, innermost fears, anxiety, and rage.

I especially enjoyed reading Brown’s fighting scenes. And the ending! Prepare for plot twists. I’m definitely looking forward to finding out what happens next and to learn even more about the secondary characters and their motivations. 

Thanks so much to Haley D. Brown for sending me an e-ARC for review.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Expected publication date: December 1, 2022

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: Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone

Alexis:

Well, I had this review ready to go over a week ago. I never got around to posting it, and then, unfortunately, I just got out of the hospital yesterday. The only good thing about being in the hospital was that I got to read 4 books, but I’m glad to be out and doing well.

Now, onto the review!

Thank you so much to Fierce Reads and NetGalley for sending me a digital arc of Lakesedge!

If you’re into dark YA fantasies, atmospheric books, lyrical writing, and dark themes, you might be into this book. It often gave me Jane Eyre vibes with a sprinkle of A Sorcery of Thorns thrown in. I’ve seen it described as a gothic book, and while I wouldn’t describe it as gothic, per say, it does have a creepy, haunted estate ruled by a morally grey man. 

Violeta lives with her abusive, overly-religious adopted mother along with her little brother, Arien. Arien has magic; he can make shadows. But his shadows are unpredictable, and they come out when he sleeps. When Rowan Sylvanan comes to their village to collect the tithe, he sees Arien’s shadows. He comes to collect Arien, but Violeta refuses to let him, her last surviving family member, leave without him. When they arrive at Lakesedge, Rowan’s estate, not only does she have to deal with the prickly Rowan and a cursed lake, but the Lord Under…the lord of the underworld himself.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Clipstone’s writing style completely sucked me in. Her details are dark and creepy, and her writing has a dreamy, atmospheric quality to it. Clipstone describes magic in a clear and beautiful way, and I thought the religion in Lakesedge was written well. Even though the story itself was slower paced, I found myself speeding through it because I wanted to know what the heck was going on. 

Rowan was my favorite character. I liked Arien, too, although I hope his character, and some of the others, are more well-rounded in the sequel. 

The biggest thing keeping this from being a five-star review is Violeta’s character. In the beginning of the book, she was naive and annoying, to be honest. While she got a little better as the book went on, she still wasn’t my favorite character. Because of this, I had a little bit of a hard time rooting for the romance. On top of that, while I’m happy to say that there is LGBTQ rep, it felt like it was a little thrown in at the last minute; but once again, I have high hopes for the sequel, where I hope everything will become more fleshed out! I’m here for the spooky vibes, magic, and romance. 

TW: Self harm/mutilation, abuse/parental abuse, death, blood, drowning imagery 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

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!