Review: Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker

Alexis' arm, in a corduroy jacket, holds a copy of Forestborn on top of a fence, with a view of woods behind it.


5-star review!

Forestborn follows Rora, a shifter. Though feared by humans, she and her younger brother, Helos, live under the protection of King Gerar, as Rora spies for him. But when Prince Finley, Rora’s best friend, falls ill with a spreading magical illness, she’s tasked by the king to find the cure. Together with Prince Weslyn, Finley’s older brother, and Helos, Rora treks through dangerous woods in search of stardust. 

I loved this book! Rora is an amazing main character; sometimes protagonists can feel a little one-dimensional, but Rora is anything but. I loved her backstory, motivations, and character arc. Helon and Weslyn are also great, well-rounded characters, and I loved the dynamic between the three of them.

Becker’s writing is lovely, and I loved how the setting, despite being magical, feels grounded. I loved the quest plotline, the subplots, and the magic system. Not only was the pacing great throughout the entire story, but the ending set up a lot for the sequel, which I can’t wait to read!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Borne by Jeff VandeerMeer

Anna: New favorite book alert! Dystopian is one of my favorite genres, and I’m trying to read more sci-fi. Borne had the perfect amount of both! Verdict: 5 stars

In an apocalyptic city, a corporation called the The Company that has poisoned and polluted the world. Strange creatures roam the remaining landscape: Mutant humans, Company proxies, and most noticeably, the Company’s biotech experiment gone wrong, a giant flying bear called Mord that terrorizes the City and its survivors. 

Rachel and Wick live in a dilapidated apartment building, spending hours every day fortifying their home to stay alive. One day while she’s out scavenging, Rachel finds a sea-anemone like creature that she takes home. She names it Borne.

Sounds crazy, right? It is. Borne is adorable, but at the start of the book his nature and purpose is unknown. Wick is suspicious that Borne may be more deadly than he appears. Rachel begins to care for Borne like a mother would a child, except he grows in size and intelligence faster than any human. Rachel and Borne’s relationship is sincere, heartbreaking, and unable to define. This book had me thinking a lot about what it means to be good. There’s also an overall question of if we can control or nature or not, or if we’re predestined to be what we’re made to be.

Borne is the most creative and quirky book I’ve read in a long time! It was so original and I loved the three central characters, especially Borne. What I found most impressive is its ability to be light and laugh-out loud funny despite its dark setting.

Click below to learn more about Borne!

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June Reads

Anna: It’s officially key lime pie season! Here are just a couple books I read in June– I don’t have a whole stack to show this month because a lot of my copies were due back to the library, but here’s my full wrap up: 

4 stars:

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

My Sister, the Serial by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Columbine by Dave Cullen

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close 


3 stars:

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

No Exit by Taylor Adams

What did you read this month? I’ve had a great weekend so far lounging and reading by the pool, which I plan on doing more of this afternoon! 


A chill Saturday morning read

Anna: I’m so excited for this chill weekend! Have you read My Sister, the Serial Killer? My library hold FINALLY came in, and I’m really enjoying the to-the-point writing style and intriguing story/mystery so far! I love stories about sisters, even murderous ones!

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I hope you have fun (or chill!)  weekend plans?

Review: Swamplandia by Karen Russell

This book was on my TBR for a while, and it was one of the many that I picked up in the $1 section of The Strand when I lived in New York. Unfortunately, Swamplandia and I didn’t get along.

While I was intrigued by the Swamplandia theme park as a character, I felt like the whole thing was a big metaphor for mental health that I didn’t understand. There are some parts I did like, like the quirky and flawed Bigtree family and its members, who are all very different from each other. Kiwi’s perspective was my favorite, and by far the most interesting.

I also didn’t like the way Russel handled some aspects of this book…Native American appropriation, anyone? I found much of the plot confusing but also kind of pointless, particularly what happened to Ava in the woods. And can someone please tell me what the red seth represented? Womanhood?!

Ultimately, I felt this is something I feel I didn’t understand and didn’t care to figure out.

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VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books

Review: The fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Recently I was in the mood for some fantasy, and this did the trick! I loved this atmospheric book!

Warning: this book is really confusing at first. It’s hard to explain even after reading it. It plops you right into this strange world and runs with it, and it took me a couple hundred pages to really feel like I had any sort of grasp of what was going on. You don’t know how the different perspectives relate. Enough people warned me of this that I knew I had to keep going, and it was Jemisin’s power of characterization–specifically the fact that I both empathized with and was so frustrated with Essun–that hooked me from the start.

The Fifth Season has a little bit of everything–badass women, love triangles that don’t suck, violence, great worldbuilding, and a prevailing theme of overcoming otherness. This is a book that flips typical elements of epic fantasy on its head–namely its general lack of black, female, and queer characters–all of which have ample representation in The Fifth Season. Specifically, in The Stillness, the people with the power have dark skin and Essun repeatedly feels self-conscious about her lighter, silky hair. The Fifth Season also successful utilizes multiple perspective and different points of view, including the second person, something I never would have thought possible.

This book is fantastically unique and I’d highly recommend it. I’m looking forward to reading the second book in The Broken Earth Series!

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VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books


Review: We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

“What if I don’t give a shit about the world?”

“I’d say that’s pretty fucking sad.”


“Because the world is so beautiful.”  

We are the Ants is a difficult book to explain and to “place”. This is technically “science fiction”, and I say technically because it blends reality and fantasy. I love that it defies genres! The reader is left to wonder what is real and what is not. I’d warn potential readers not to the read the book jacket copy, because I want them to enjoy the mystery and surprise.

Trigger warnings for self harm, sexual assault, and suicide. This is a BIG part of the book so please don’t read this if that’s something too close to home.

I felt such a connection to the characters, particularly the narrator and protagonist, Henry, a teenage boy who is faced with a big decision: should he save the world or allow it to be destroyed? When we meet him, he’s overcome with grief over losing his boyfriend.  I was so invested in his story as he comes to terms with his grief and mental instability and battles many forms of bullying and harassment. Henry’s grief and mental health manifests itself in a totally original way that I thought worked so well.

This is also just “angsty” enough to be believable but not shallow or stereotypical in any way, a problem I sometimes have “drama” in YA. We are the Ants depicts horrific reality of mental health. This book doesn’t shy away from critically examining the demands our society has on teenagers. The amazing part is that Hutchinson explores all these themes through the unique lens of alien abduction and the impending apocalypse.

We are the Ants is one of the best YA novels I’ve read in awhile! I highly recommend it!

VERDICT: 5 books!


Review: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor is the first installment in a series about Morrigan Crow, who was born on Eventine, the unluckiest day. Morrigan is cursed to die on midnight of her eleventh birthday. Morrigan is blamed for every misfortune in the town, and she’s kept at arm’s length from everyone, including her family. Before the clock can strike midnight on Eventide, she’s swept away to a magical land called Nevermoor by an equally magical man, Jupiter North. Jupiter prepares Morrigan to compete in four trials that, if she’s successful, will grant her entrance into the legendary Wundrous Society.  

Before reading this, I’d heard Nevermoor compared to Harry Potter, and this is true in a lot of ways (although let’s be honest, nothing can ever truly compare). Nevermoor feels like a mix of The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Goblet of Fire, because of Morrigan’s introduction to magic at age 11, and the trials being like a less deadly Triwizard Tournament. The magic system is difficult to summarize. It feels more eclectic than The Wizarding World. I’ve also heard Nevermoor called a mix of Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland, which I’d call accurate. We also know that there is going to be a special magic school down the line. Jupiter is also a very Dumbledore-y character, as her mentor, and someone who is obviously keeping secrets from Harry. I mean, Morrigan.

Moving on from Harry Potter!

Townsend is a great writer. Nevermoor is fantastically and colorfully written. It’s clever, hilarious, and by far the most creative fantasy I’ve read in a long time. It has great worldbuilding, but still leaves much more to be explored in later books.

I love Morrigan as a character, which is one of the reasons Nevermoor is so compulsively readable. Before Nevermoor, she has never known love. She has been shamed and ostracized by her family for her entire life. She just wants a place to belong. As I mentioned before, It did get a little annoying that Jupiter keeps her in the dark for so much of the book (ahem, Dumbledore) but I understand why that this needs to happen plot-wise. The villains are sufficiently creepy and well-developed, as are the quirky host of characters in the Hotel, and Morrigan’s two close friends, Hawthorne and Jack.

Despite the fact that it’s middle grade, Nevermoor tackles dark themes, such as abuse and death. There’s also a lot of commentary for adults that I never would have picked up on as a kid, such as the discussion of illegal immigration. There’s a scene on page 428 when the Wunderground is experiencing technical difficulties that mirror the MTA subway delay announcements so much that they had me cracking up.

Most importantly, Nevermoor is filled with memorable magic and a story that I can’t wait to keep reading! My one concern is that it’s going to be difficult for the following books in the series to live up to the standard of book number one!

VERDICT: 4.5 out of 5 books

Review: Sugar Run by Mesha Maren

This review is spoiler-free and from both of us!

There is a dog in this book, so that’s our excuse for featuring a very confused Indy in this.


I’m thankful I had the opportunity to hear Mesha Maren discuss her book, because I feel like I really understood her vision. In Sugar Run, Jodi, the main character, is just released from prison, where she served eighteen years. She enters into a relationship with a young mother named Miranda, and their lives become tangled together. It’s a story of hope and hopelessness.

I love Maren’s lyrical writing style. Her writing has such a hard realness to it. She writes lush descriptions as she paints life in West Virginia. As Maren discussed in her talk, her book is hard to categorize. It’s a noir, crime, Southern Literature, and LGBTQ novel. But this is one of the great things about it: it’s a collage of genres, and it works.

This is a dark book that deals with vices to the max. It deals with crime, murder, sex, and lots of drugs. All of the characters are flawed, and make really bad decisions, yet I cared about them. The first half of the book is more character driven, while the second half is more plot heavy. The chapters alternate between the present (written in past tense) and the past (written in present tense) which I thought worked really well.

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books



Like Alexis, I’m so happy we had the opportunity to meet Maren at the Fountain Bookstore here in Richmond. Hearing an author discuss her book and writing process always enriches my understanding of it as a reader. The way Maren described her characters before I’d read about them made me more invested as a reader.

Maren’s writing is exactly what I love about literary fiction, even though, as Alexis said, this is a blend of genres. It is so dark and violent, but it is beautifully and breathtakingly written and full of nature imagery. The characters are well drawn out and real.

The violence in the lives of all the characters contrast so starkly with Jodi’s obsession with the rural landscape of her homeland. Her love of West Virginia mirrors themes of stability and nostalgia in Jodi’s life. It also offers commentary on the ways humans inflict violence on the earth, as the horrors of fracking is something frequently discussed.

The ending of books is something I’m constantly disappointed by, and, happily, this was not the case with Sugar Run! I thought the conclusion of both the interwoven timelines is so well done, and, most importantly, believable. Maren’s pacing is perfection.

During her talk, Maren touched a bit on the book she’s writing next, and you can bet I’ll be picking that up when that comes out!

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books

Review: Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden


I’m excited to share my first 5 star read of the year! T Kira Madden’s memoir is a heartbreaking and beautiful account of growing up in Boca Raton—or Rat’s Mouth— of Florida. It’s so raw and emotional, and not to mention lyrically written, that it’s both hard to read yet impossible to put down. My inability to stop reading, despite the contestant pretense of bleak topics, is something I love about Madden’s writing. She truly has a talent in making the bad beautiful in her writing without diminishing the severity and impact of the bad.

This book comes with a trigger warning for just about everything. A lot of this book deals with drug abuse, alcohol abuse, physical abuse, child pornography and sexual abuse, and basically every kind of abuse you can think of.

Something I really like about this memoir is the cyclical nature of it, which is something I find quite annoying in some memoirs, but that isn’t the case here. Madden never “harps” on certain details or asks the reader to feel bad for her in any way. It is her blunt and rich writing that earned my sympathy and trust.

Something else that stood out to me is Madden’s tremendous ability to forgive, especially in the case of her family and her parents. This lack of anger and blame, despite the difficulties she has experienced, is what has resonated with me the most since finishing this memoir.

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls will be published March 5, 2019 in the U.S. I can’t wait for more people to read this!

VERDICT: 5 out of 5 books