Review: Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Alexis:

Since I’m unfortunately recovering from lung surgery, I decided that continuing with my rom com binge and sticking to more lighthearted reads might be a good idea. 

I read The Love Hypothesis earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised. The writing was easy and accessible and the story was funny and heartwarming. 

Needless to say, I picked up Love on the Brain. And I have to admit…I’m a little baffled.

Was this fun to read? Yes. Like its predecessor, Love on the Brain contains so much interesting science talk (as well as a focus on neuroscience) and you can tell Hazelwood knows what she’s talking about. 

That being said, I got major déjà vu when reading this book. I kept thinking, “Have I read this before?” There were so, so many scenes, moments, and plot points that were almost the exact same as The Love Hypothesis. 

Now: yes, I am aware that both books started out as Reylo fanfic (but I like to keep an open mind!). So I knew there would be some similarities. However, both of the main characters, Bee and Levi, were nearly carbon copies of the main characters in The Love Hypothesis, except Bee somehow managed to be a more unhinged version of Olive. 

At least I liked Levi’s character. But there was also a plot point at the end that was honestly so ridiculous that it made the story unredeemable for me. 

Final thoughts: It started off as a fun read, but I wasn’t able to enjoy or get sucked into the story because it was just a worse version of The Love Hypothesis.

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: This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi

Alexis holds This Woven Kingdom in a coffee shop next to her laptop and wooden chairs.

Alexis:

Happy Sunday, everyone! I’ve been enjoying reading and writing in coffee shops lately. I’ve always loved their atmospheres (and plus having some good green tea and a peach danish always helps, too).

I just finished reading This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi. Mafi’s writing is absolutely beautiful and atmospheric. Just on a writing level, this book was a joy to read. I absolutely loved her descriptions of the landscape and the world. It was so vibrant and lovely on the page, and it made her worldbuilding of the Persian mythology inspired world great.

This Woven Kingdom has two POVs: Alizeh, the long lost princess of the Jinn kingdom, who became a servant to hide after the murder of her parents, and Kamran, the crowned prince. I thought Mafi’s characterization of both main characters was great, but I especially enjoyed Alizeh’s chapters. 

All that being said, this is a very slow moving book, and if you haven’t picked up on it yet, I love slow moving books. But while the worldbuilding and characters are so well-established, barely anything happens in this book, and it’s over 500 pages long! Besides what happens in the end, the only main plot point is some insta-love. 

Overall, this book felt like one long set up for the next one in the series, but I’m interested to see what happens in the next one.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐.75 

Review: Dance of Thieves Duology

The spines of the Dance of Thieves duology perches on a windowsill next to a Sweater Weather wood-wick candle, and a small pot of cat grass.

Alexis:

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson had been on my tbr for years, and I finally said, You know what? I should get it from the library. 

I had no idea this book would focus so heavily on the romance, but I didn’t mind it. The story follows Kazi, a solider of the queen’s, and Jase, the leader of the Ballenger family, an influential family that rules a kingdom that the queen doesn’t recognize. 

Let me start out by saying that Pearson’s writing is great; the writing itself is 5 ⭐s. She has the perfect writing style for a fantasy book like this one, and I really enjoyed it. I also really love dual POVs, and I think it worked well for the story. 

I simultaneously loved this book and thought it was just okay. I sped through the first half (despite never having read Pearson’s other series, where Dance of Thieves takes place, and struggling a bit with the worldbuilding). 

But this book has a lot of long sections that drag. The writing and world feel like adult fantasy, but this is definitely a YA book, because we have some almost-insta-love, enemies to lovers, and teenage angst. 

I think the parts that just felt okay to me were the constant backs and forths. This is basically an enemies to lovers, and then lovers to enemies, and then back to enemies to lovers book. There was a lot of miscommunication, which I’m starting to dread in romance-heavy books. And to think it was the miscommunication plotlines, as well as all the extraneous worldbuilding details, that bogged down the story. 

That being said, I enjoyed it as a whole, and I’m hoping I’ll like the second one even more! 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐/5 

Vow of Thieves:

What a sequel! This book makes up for the slow plot in Dance of Thieves. While the book is still long, there’s so much more action. The stakes are super high. Kazi and Jase are separated for the majority of the book, which adds to the longing and stakes of the book.

I enjoyed getting to know all of the side characters more.

There are a couple aspects that kept this from being a 5-star read, however. While I liked that Kazi and Jase were separated, as I think it helped with character growth, I think it went on just a little too long. I waited like 300 pages just for them to be together again, and considering the first book was mostly insta-love, I didn’t really get to see them grow together as a couple. 

On top of that, there was one “plot twist” that kept being hinted at, but it was very obvious from the get-go what it was. And it also dragged on for almost 300 pages. 

Despite that, I flew through this book, and overall, I enjoyed it!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: Kingdom of the Cursed by Kerri Maniscalco

Alexis, wearing a black jumpsuit, stands in front of a fence, holding a hardcover copy of Kingdom of the Cursed.

Alexis:

I knew this series would be New Adult! I kept hearing other readers call Kingdom of the Wicked YA, and I was confused because I definitely thought it was NA. But this one…it definitely has steamy scenes and adult themes. 

What I didn’t know was that this wasn’t a duology…but a trilogy, I believe. So now I have to wait for a third book?!

I liked this one much more than the first one! Both Emilio and Wrath had great character arcs. Emilia is still a little naive; however, I found her character development was much better, and I enjoyed reading from her perspective. I also enjoyed learning more about Wrath, his identity, and his role.

I liked the plot more than the first book, too. There was one main plot point that I guessed, but also two great plot twists! Even Maniscalco’s writing and imagery are better in this sequel, even more atmospheric than the first, and I devoured this book while reading it. 

While this was a five-star read for me, there was one scene that made me uncomfortable to read, and it takes a lot to make me feel uncomfortable when I’m reading. It involved a strange questionable consent/mind control scene, and while yes, it did technically make sense with the plot, and yes, this book is full of morally grey characters, I think it could have easily been avoided, and the point would’ve still come across.

This book is not for the faint of heart, and deals with some heavy themes; the point of the story is Emilia going down the path of vengeance and accepting her anger and sexuality.

If you’re looking for a good series to read this October, with plenty of sexual tension/romance, dark fantasy elements, and themes of vengeance and love, then you might like this!

VERDICT: 💀💀💀💀💀

TW: Blood, gore, violence, murder, sexual themes, mind control/questionable consent

Review: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

A Kindle copy of Sorcery of Thorns is being pulled out of a black bookshelf, with a candle resting behind it.

Alexis:

Sorcery of Thorns is one of those books that I had no interest in reading. Why? For some reason, I got it into my head that I wouldn’t like Rogerson’s writing style. But when I saw that the e-book was available through my library, I thought, Why not?

The beginning was a little slow, and it took me a while to get into it. But this story really is a love letter to books, and I love the way Rogerson describes the beautiful libraries. I love how the books are alive, sometimes lovely and sometimes gruesome. I love how Elisabeth, the main character, can talk to the books. 

The characters in this story really shine. Nathaniel is a sorcerer who Elisabeth stumbles upon (actually, she nearly kills him when she accidentally topples an entire bookshelf). His dialogue is hilarious, and his character is so well-rounded and fun to read. His demon/servant, Silas, is an equally great character, as stoic as Nathaniel is snarky; it also helps that he can turn into a cat.

Despite the wonderful characterization, sometimes I wanted to know more of Elisabeth’s internal thoughts, but if you’re looking to read about a tall, bookish, sword-wielding character learning to navigate the world around her, she’s your girl.

This was so close to being a 5 star read. However, the story did go on a little long. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of how Rogerson executed the ending, which felt like a deus ex machina, on top of being rushed in comparison to the rest of the book. However, I loved the characters and I enjoyed reading this so much!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

A library copy of Addie LaRue is being pulled out of a bookshelf, alongside a candle.

Alexis:

Look what I finally got from the library!

I was a little afraid to start Addie LaRue to be honest; it’s been hyped up so much that I was afraid to be disappointed.

However, I really enjoyed reading this book. Schwab’s writing is more poetic and lyrical than in other books I’ve read by her, and it sucked me into the story.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue follows, you guessed it, Addie LaRue. In France in 1714, Addie dreams of escaping her small village, but most of all, she’s desperate to avoid getting married. So she makes a deal with the devil. But the deal goes wrong, and not only is Addie now forgettable, she’s also immortal until she decides to give up her soul. 

While I’m not usually a huge fan of non-linear stories, including Vicious by Schwab herself, I think it actually worked well in this book. We jump back and forth between present time (2014 in this case) and Addie’s past escapades. Overall, this book is a slow-moving character study of Addie, and I enjoyed learning about her unique life. I appreciated the emphasis on art, and loved the overall atmosphere of the story.

There were a couple of things that kept this from being a 5 star read for me, however. While I like slow-moving, character-driven stories, I just couldn’t get over the fact that this book is devoid of basically any plot for the first ¾. And this book is a whopping 442 pages long. Instead, we spend most of the time following Addie as she suffers on the streets of different cities, and focusing on all the different lovers she takes up. 

There’s one sparse chapter about her being part of a war, which I feel like could’ve been a much more interesting part of Addie’s life, not to mention a much more interesting plot, yet we never see how it impacted her. Despite this being a highly character-driven story, I feel like Addie’s character never actually changes or evolves. And I guess that could be the point, couldn’t it? But not changing in 300 years?

It was also a little strange that Addie is alive for 300 years yet never makes it past Europe and the US. That, and the romance part of this book was subpar for me; the romantic interest was just not an interesting character to me. It didn’t help that the grandiose ending felt a little melodramatic.

Keep in mind that I can’t turn off the critical reader part of my brain. I guess getting your MFA and editing novels will do that to you! So even though there were parts of this book that I think could’ve been done differently, I still enjoyed the overall writing and the reading experience, and I think it’s worth a read.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Alexis:

Jade City was unlike any book I’ve ever read; however, it wasn’t really for me. I honestly considered DNFing it 50 pages in, but I’m glad I stuck with it!

Jade City is described as a high fantasy, and that’s not entirely true. Sure, the world is a fantasy world, based on Japan, but the use of jade, which grants the Kekonese people superhero-like powers, is really the only fantasy element. The rest of the book has a gritty, almost noir feel. The best way to describe this book is The Godfather mixed with martial arts movies.

The writing style is cool, almost business-like, but it flows well. The worldbuilding is intense, and this book as a whole is very dense, so much so that it sometimes felt like a chore to read it. That being said, I did really enjoy certain parts of this book, and Lee is clearly a master worldbuilder. 

My main critique is that I never became super invested in the characters. I enjoyed reading Shae and Anden’s perspectives the most, yet they never really shone on the page. The third person POV was too distant, and it didn’t help that each chapter was from the perspective of a new character, and there were a myriad of characters in this book. 

If you’re specifically looking for a book that’s majority fueding mobsters, with a small dash of fantasy and political intrigue, then go for it. But unfortunately, it wasn’t my kind of read.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐.5 /5