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: 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

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: For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

A library copy of For the Wolf sits on a deck flanked by a sunflower and a Sweater Weather candle, along with some fall leaves.

Alexis:

For the Wolf has a lot in common with Lakesedge:

✔️A self-sacrificing man who is seen as a monster to the outside world, but who is only trying to control the environment around him—the environment that is also a part of him

✔️ A run-down estate/castle surrounded by dark, creepy woods

✔️ A slow-paced story of a strong woman attempting to learn how to control her magic

Which of course means that I loved it! I’m always, always a sucker for an atmospheric read with lyrical writing and creepy woods. And this book has so many depictions of dark woods come alive with earthy magic.

Although For the Wolf is being marketed as YA fantasy for some reason, I would describe it as a new adult, romantic fantasy, as Red, the main character, and her twin sister, Neve, are twenty-years-old. 

Red is the Second Daughter of the Queen of Valleydan, which means that she must be sacrificed to the Wolf of the Wilderwood. She’s been told all her life that the Wolf is a monster who is keeping the world’s captured gods from returning. But when she finally meets the Wolf, a man named Eammon, she realizes that what she’s been told is a lie. Meanwhile, stuck as the Princess, Neve, the First Daughter, is doing everything in her power to get Red back from the Wolf, even if it means upending her own world.

As much as I loved this book, I will admit some flaws I noticed while I was reading. While Lakesedge’s magic and worldbuilding is clear, For the Wolf’s worldbuilding is a little hazy. I enjoy slow-paced books, but a lot of answers about the magic system came a little late. We also get short chapters, called Interludes, from Neve’s perspective. And I’ll be honest: I wasn’t really interested in her chapters. However, based on the ending, I think her POV will work well in the sequel. 

While the romance is very similar to that in Lakesedge, I do think it was more fleshed-out and better written in For the Wolf. 

All in all, if you liked similar books, such as Uprooted and The Wolf and the Woodsman, then you might enjoy this one, too!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

TW: Self harm for magic use (cutting), blood and mild gore, parental death, religious abuse 

Review: Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

A hand holds a library hardcover copy of Ariadne over a gray blanket. A stack of books, including Circe and Percy Jackson, sits behind it.

Alexis:

It’s disappointing when you don’t end up liking a book you were looking forward to.

I love myth retellings, especially Greek myths. As someone of Greek heritage myself, I find it fascinating that my ancestors wove such intricate, and often brutal, tales about the world around them, and I’ve loved learning about Greek myths ever since my Percy Jackson days and my Latin classes! 

I almost DNFed this book 50 pages in, but decided to stick with it. Ariadne follows, you guessed it, Ariadne. In Greek mythology, and in this book, Ariadne is the Princess of Crete. Hero Theseus arrives in Crete after offering himself up to be sacrificed in place of a child to go through King Minos’ labyrinth, and face the Minotaur, a half-bull, half-human creature. For Ariadne, she falls in love with Theseus at first sight, and she devises a plan to help him make it safely through the maze.

The book is mostly from Ariadne’s POV, but also features the point of view of Phaedra, Ariadne’s little sister. However, the dual POVs did not work for me. The voices were too similar, and while I liked Phaedra’s storyline at first, it quickly did a nose dive. I felt like both she and Ariadne didn’t have good character development.

Despite being in first person, I didn’t feel like I got to know Ariadne as much as I wanted to. And honestly, though not too slow-paced, the story bored me. I felt like it kept leading up to something, to a big event, but it never did. 

And the ending. Oof. Saint definitely went the Greek tragedy route, without modernizing this story, telling a different version, or fleshing it out enough. Unfortunately, I don’t think this book added anything to Ariadne or Phaedra’s voices or stories.

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: ⭐⭐⭐