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: Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik

Alexis, wearing a checkered yellow shirt, holds up a Kindle with Hunt the Stars in front of a black bookshelf.

Alexis:

Yes, it’s true; I was in the mood for sci-fi!

Hunt the Stars follows Octavia, or Tavi, a bounty hunter on her ship, Starlight’s Shadow. When she’s approached by Torran Fletcher–a Valoff, or member of an enemy alien race–for a job that pays extremely well, Tavi can’t say no for the sake of her crew. Together with Torran and his crew, Tavi and her crew hunt for Torran’s missing treasure, only to find herself part of a bigger plot. 

There were a lot of things I liked about this book and some things…not so much.

To start off, I appreciated Mihalik’s worldbuilding. The first half of this book was pretty slow, but it allowed me to get to know the world, its technology, and its characters well. The author does a great job of highlighting the differences between humans and Valoffs, and the majority of this book focuses on the two races learning to accept each other.

I also enjoyed learning the backstories of and learning what keeps Tavi and her crew going. There’s a cute alien cat named Luna that appears quite often, too! And I was pleasantly surprised by a plot twist. 

As for the rest, well, there’s your classic enemies to lovers storyline. Overall, there were some cute romantic scenes, but I just didn’t feel the tension or attraction that Tavi kept mentioning she felt. I think it had to do with the writing style, which is more tell-y over show-y and feels a little juvenile, despite the fact that all the characters are in their upper twenties and into their thirties. 

As I mentioned earlier, the main plot doesn’t really begin until halfway through the story, and part of me didn’t mind and part of me was like “when is the bounty hunting going to happen?”

I ended up enjoying elements of story but I was left feeling like something was missing. Either way, I’m glad that I’m getting more into space operas/sci-fi stories.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐/5 

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: Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko

A copy of Redemptor lies on top of a book journal. Both are lying on an autumn colored scarf on a gray blanket.

Alexis: 

As I’m sure you all already know, Raybearer was one of my favorite books of 2020. I found the worldbuilding, the prose, the characters, and the plot to be unique, beautifully written, profound, and impressive, especially for a debut novel.

So obviously, I’ve been looking forward to Redemptor; I even reread Raybearer in preparation. 

I can’t imagine writing a sequel to such a celebrated first book, especially when under deadline. And I’ll go ahead and say I really did enjoy Redemptor, and it’s a solid four-star read from me. However, it just wasn’t what I expected, and the story didn’t rope me in as tightly as the first book.

Without spoiling anything, I was looking forward to getting to know the cast of characters better. For some background, Tarisai, the main character, is part of a group of twelve people anointed to Dayo, the prince. They’re bonded together forever as a found family of sorts through Dayo’s ray, which also allows them to speak telepathically to each other.

In Raybearer, we obviously don’t get to spend a lot of time with more than a handful of the anointed siblings. Even though I loved all of the characters we did get to know, I knew there was room to learn more about Tarisai’s relationships with the rest of them. 

However, instead, we get a whole new cast of characters thrown at us. Even though I half-expected this from the way the plot was set up at the ending of the first book, it was a little disappointing to me. I loved the first cast of characters so much that it was hard for me to care about the new ones. I’m glad we got to know Kirah, one of Tar’s anointed sisters, more. But Sanjeet and Woo In, two of my favorite characters, didn’t appear nearly enough in this sequel, and I really felt their absence (especially since there was this weird sort-of love triangle but not really thing happening for part of the book?).

Despite that, the plot felt a little slow moving in the first half. Thankfully, the second half was awesome and had a great ending!

I love that we got to hear from Dayo more, and his asexual representation was great. I loved Tar’s journey to the Underworld, even if it felt short compared to the rest of the book. I loved, as usual, Ifueko’s worldbuilding. 

I think what I’m saying is this: I enjoyed this book. Just don’t go into it with extra lofty expectations.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez

A library copy of Life's Too Short rests on a table in a coffee shop next to a gray notebook with a pen laying on top. Alexis' hand holds a cup of black iced tea next to the book.

Alexis:

Last year, my most surprising read was The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez. While I like a good romance every once in a while, I don’t usually read rom-coms. So when I heard that Life’s Too Short was coming out, I knew I had to read it. 

What’s cool is that these two books are part of a series, so there are recurring characters that make appearances. 

In Life’s Too Short, we follow Adrian, a lonely lawyer, and Vanessa, a travel YouTuber who unexpectedly becomes the caretaker of her half sister’s baby. I really enjoyed the dual POVs, and as with The Happy Ever After Playlist, Jimenez’s writing sparks on the page, especially her funny and snappy dialogue. 

I also appreciate that Jimenez tackles big themes and problems. Rom-coms often only focus on romance and comedy, but Adrian struggles with his estranged dad and a phobia, and Vanessa struggles with a dysfunctional family and ALS, which runs in her family and killed her sister. They feel like real people with real problems.

As much as I enjoyed this one, as well as the slow-burn romance, it’s very structurally similar to The Happy Ever After Playlist. However, unlike the previous book, I found myself guessing the ending of Life’s Too Short, and I also found it cheesy. On top of that, the book seemed to focus a lot on Vanessa and her relationship with her dad and her family, which is great and all, except that I found myself not really caring about her family members as characters. Instead, I kept finding myself wanting Jimenez to focus more on Adrian and Vanessa. It also felt like Grace, the baby, only made an appearance in the beginning of the book.

And finally, I guess because Vanessa is a YouTuber, some of the language in this book feels very internet-culturey. It tended to take me out of the story, especially because Jimenez kept repeating “Aaaand” and drawing out words unnecessarily. 

Overall, this was still a fun read. But The Happy Ever After Playlist is my favorite so far!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐

Alexis’ Top 10 Books of 2020

Alexis:

Happy New Year, everyone!

I reached my goal of reading 50 books in 2020, and then I actually surpassed it by reading 51.

My top 10 books won’t be a surprise; I’ve reviewed most of them here already. However, I will include a short blurb about each one as a refresher.

Without further ado, here are my top 10 books of 2020, in no particular order!

  1. Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas

Maas is a guilty pleasure of mine. Her books have a way of wholly drawing you into her worlds, and this one was no different. Crescent City is a new adult, brash urban fantasy that follows Bryce, a half-fae. She teams together with Hunt, a fallen angel, to solve the mystery of her best friend’s murder. Craziness and romance ensue. 

  1. Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Hardinge is one of my favorite writers; she always kills it! Deeplight is a slowburn YA fantasy with deaf representation that centers around toxic friendships. It has a large dose of monstrous sea gods. It’s an imaginative, dark, and wonderfully written book. 

  1. Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

While categorized as YA, I found that this West-African inspired fantasy book leaned more towards adult. I loved the writing, the intricate worldbuilding, and the plot. The plot itself is hard to explain; you’ll have to pick it up!

  1. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

While this historical fantasy starts out slow and a bit confusing, it morphs into a lyrical story about family and belonging. It’s full of other dimensions, and, you guessed it, doors. 

  1. House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

This retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is dark and gothic. The story focuses on sisterhood and death/murder, with a fun dose of dancing at balls to balance it all out. 

  1. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This is a coming-of-age story and a retelling of the Greek myth of Achilles and Patroclus. It follows the romantic relationship of the two characters up until the Trojan War. Miller’s writing is fantastic, and she’s a Greek mythology genius.

  1. Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Race the Sands follows two women in the desert world of Becar, where you can ride monstrous creatures called kehoks, who are reincarnated from the worst of the worst people in a past life. The story focuses on reincarnation, determination, and carving your own path in the world, and I found it to be a refreshing fantasy read.

  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

This is whimsical and heartwarming, a great change of pace for adult fantasy. It follows Linus, a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, who is given an assignment to inspect an island full of magical children classified as dangerous. 

  1. The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

This YA, Welsh inspired historical fantasy follows Ryn, a gravedigger who begins to notice that the dead are rising, and teams together with a boy named Ellis. It’s a classic journey story with great characters and an enjoyable plot. I loved the fresh take on zombies, or “bone houses.” 

  1. The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez 

Finally, a contemporary romance book somehow made it onto my list! I enjoyed this book far more than I anticipated. I loved the funny, snappy dialogue, the characters, and the romance. The focus on music, and the inclusion of the playlist, only added to the story. 

Honorary re-read favorites: The Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo 

I read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom in 2018, and though I immediately classified them as some of my favorite books, I had forgotten a lot of the plot. I absolutely loved re-reading them in 2020! They’re Bardugo’s best works, in my opinion, with an intricate world and plot, and very well-drawn characters that you’ll be rooting for from the beginning (even the morally grey ones).

My 2021 reading goal is to branch out a little more outside of YA fantasy. My classes will help with this, of course (I can’t believe I’ll finish my last semester in 2021!) I also currently have Kindle Unlimited, and I’m excited to dive into some thrillers and historical fiction!

Our Favorite Books of 2019

Happy New Year’s Eve! And what a year it’s been! Anna’s highlights were starting work full time, getting married, and adopting her dog! Alexis started her MFA program, got a short story accepted for publication, and adopted her cat! 

Here are some of our favorite books of 2019:

Anna:

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Normal People by Sally Rooney

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

The Witch Elm by Tana French

In the Woods by Tana French

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab 

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

 

Alexis:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi 

The Wildlands by Abby Geni 

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

The Book of Dreams by Nina George

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister 

Grim Lovelies by Meghan Shepherd

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

Gods of Jade & Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Florida by Lauren Groff

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

 

Here’s to a great 2020!