Review: Kingdom of the Feared by Kerri Maniscalco

Alexis holds Kingdom of the Feared in front of a bookshelf

Alexis:

Kingdom of the Feared was the perfect way to kick off October. ⁣

It’s the third and final book in the Kingdom of the Wicked trilogy, which follows Emilia, a witch in late 1800s Sicily who accidentally binds herself to one of the wicked princes of Hell who calls himself Wrath. 

⁣The thing I appreciated the most in Kingdom of the Feared was the plot. While I really enjoyed the first two books, they were a little lacking in plot, but made up for it in atmosphere. But in this third book, the plot ramped up a lot. Maniscalco added plot twist after plot twist while answering a lot of lingering questions and mysteries. Plus, the overall atmosphere/vibes were still as good. 

⁣Yet…the second book, Kingdom of the Cursed is definitely my favorite of the trilogy. ⁣

Kingdom of the Feared had one particular trope that I really don’t like. Sure it was resolved, in a way, by the end, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. 

Another point worth mentioning is that this book was a little too spicy and repetitive at times. I found myself thinking, We get it! They’re wicked and they’re attracted to each other. And while Emilia’s character arc was good, I found myself wanting more from Wrath’s character. 

This, plus the trope issue, knocked my rating down a star.

Note: This book is definitely a new adult/adult book. While the first book in the series could be classified as YA, the series in its entirety is an adult series and should NOT be marketed as YA. 

VERDICT: 💀💀💀💀/5

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: A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross

Alexis holds A River Enchanted in front of a bookshelf. She's wearing a rust red cardigan.

Alexis: 

A River Enchanted was the last book I read in February. It’s a Scottish inspired folktale fantasy with a historical fantasy type feel. The story is set on the magical island of Cadence, which is divided in half by two feuding clans, and where spirits rule the isle. 

The story follows multiple POVs: Jack, a harp player who is called back to Cadence after 10 years of studying music on the mainland; Adaira, the Heiress of the East; Sidra, a healer, and her husband Torin, the chief of the guard.

The aspect of this book that I love the most is the writing. Ross’ writing is lush and lyrical. This book is very atmospheric, and the island itself seems to live and breathe on the page like its own character. I also enjoyed the emphasis on music through Jack’s harp. 

I also really enjoyed getting to know the characters and all of their relationships to each other. Sidra and Torin really stood out to me, especially Sidra. I loved her character, and I felt like I understood her and got into her head and heart more than the other characters.

While I liked Jack and Adaira, I felt like they, and their relationship, paled in comparison to Sidra and Torin. 

This is a very slow-moving book, and thankfully I like slow-moving stories. It really takes its time building everything up—especially the mystery of girls on the island going missing.

It’s worth noting that this book was pitched as House of Earth and Blood meets The Witch’s Heart. While I haven’t read the latter, House of Earth and Blood is a strange comparison title. Literally the only thing these two books have in common is fae, but they’re called spirits in A River Enchanted and are very different from Maas’ fae. 

My biggest critique of this book is that I wasn’t a fan of the melodramatic ending. This could have been a five star book if it had ended differently.

This is a beautifully written story, and if you like historical fantasy with lush, almost cozy fantasy vibes (and a gorgeous book cover) then you might like this one!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas

A copy of House of Sky and Breath lays on a gray blanket, with House of Blood and Earth above it, next to an Aquarius candle.

Alexis:

SPOILER FREE REVIEW 

The first book in the Crescent City series, House of Earth and Blood, is my all-time favorite Sarah J. Maas book. I know my initial review of it on here was a little bit critical, but I’ve re-read it multiple times now, and it gets better every time, and just hits me right in the feels!

I know the book world was hyped about the release of the sequel, House of Sky and Breath, but you can bet I was hyped about it, too!

What I didn’t like so much: 

I think House of Sky and Breath suffers a little bit from second book syndrome in that I can tell everything in this book is setting up big events to happen in the next one. 

One of the sex scenes had some information that 100% should have been left out, because it took me out of the scene and was frankly unnecessary and unsexy. 

While HOEAB focuses primarily on the two main characters, Bryce and Hunt, HOSAB bounces around more between the side characters. Maas focuses especially on Ruhn, Bryce’s brother; Tharion, a mer; and Ithan, Connor’s little brother. 

The multiple POVs bogged the story down. I found myself not caring about Tharion’s POV at all (sorry, Tharion). And I missed the focus being on Bryce and Hunt.

Now, on to the rest!

What I liked:

While I did enjoy Ithan’s POV, the only secondary character I really connected with was Ruhn! He’s such a good character, and I’m excited to see how he progresses in the next book, too. I also really enjoyed the funny scenes in this book.

Also, as Maas teased, THE ENDING. She tied so many details and plot points together, it was actually insane. I had to zone out for a while in shock after finishing this book. I haven’t slept well in a week, and it’s all because of this book! 

But that’s all I can say about that without spoiling anything. 

Who knows, maybe when I re-read this one, I’ll have a different opinion. But for now, the first ¾ of the story was about 3.5 stars, and the last ¼ of the story was 5 stars.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Alexis’ Top 10 Books of 2021

Alexis:

I say this every year, but I can’t believe this year is already over!

Thanks to graduating from grad school and staying inside because of the pandemic, I read a total of 82 books this year, an all-time record for me.

In no particular order, here are my top 10 reads of 2021.

Forestborn ⁣by Elayne Audrey Becker
Kingdom of the Cursed ⁣by Kerri Maniscalco
The Wolf and The Woodsman ⁣by Ava Reid
Defy the Night ⁣by Brigid Kemmerer
The Bone Shard Daughter ⁣by Andrea Stewart
The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart⁣
Under the Whispering Door ⁣by TJ Klune
For the Wolf ⁣by Hannah F. Whitten
Legendborn ⁣by Tracy Deonn
The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

I have some really great books lined up for 2022. There are so many new books coming out that look amazing, but I have some older series on my tbr list, too.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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

Real Talk & a Half-Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Alexis:

Do you think DNFing is talked about enough in the book/literary world? Or do you think it’s perceived as being too negative a topic?

I don’t DNF books often. I only do if I A) really can’t stand the writing style/topic or B) if I lose interest in the story. But I always strive to be as honest as I can when it comes to my reviews. When I read a book, I can’t ignore the fact that I have a creative writing background, so things that some readers can get over/don’t think are a big deal, I often can’t ignore.

All that being said, since I really enjoyed The Ten Thousand Doors of January, I was looking forward to reading Harrow’s new book.

Unfortunately, finishing this book just feels like a chore. I got halfway through, and I found myself not caring about what happens to the main characters.

The Once and Future Witches follows three estranged sisters in the 1890s in a city called New Salem, the City Without Sin, after the original Salem burned down. The sisters join the suffragette movement and attempt to bring back the lost magic of witches. 

While I admire that this book focuses on sisterhood, magic and fairy tales, and the advancement of women, I was never sucked into the story. Despite all three sisters having interesting backstories, they don’t feel well-rounded on the page, and for some reason, I only found myself caring a little about Beatrice/Bella’s character, but not enough about the others to continue reading. 

I don’t mind a slower pace in books; in fact, The Ten Thousand Doors of January has a fairly slow pace. But The Once and Future Witches feels insufferably slow to me. While I love Harrow’s imagery, the writing in this book feels repetitive. The plot seems to move in circles rather than in a line. And important information was revealed later rather than earlier. 

This is a historical fantasy book, set in the 1890’s, as I mentioned previously. But the book is in present tense, despite the beginning being in past tense…? The present tense just doesn’t fit, and I think it was a strange choice. 

And finally, there are some uncomfortable moments for me when it comes to race. Obviously, in 1890’s America, race was a huge issue. I know that “colored” was the term used back then, so why do I feel uncomfortable reading it every time? Maybe because this is a historical fantasy book, which automatically means it’s set in an alternative timeline/alternate history (like New Salem).

Juniper, one of the sisters, curses like a sailor, which again, doesn’t seem to fit in the story. But I’m sure women cursed in the past, right? Oh, definitely. But I know for a fact that “hot damn” was not around during that time period. Most of the curses she spews sound extremely modern, and it takes me out of the story. So if Juniper can swear in a modern way, why couldn’t “colored women” simply be changed to black women? And the fact that Harrow described a Sioux woman as a “clay-colored woman” only made me feel even more uncomfortable. One of the sisters, Beatrice, is heavily involved with a character named Cleo, a black woman, and clearly she is all for equality, but it still doesn’t erase the smaller, uncomfortable details. 

Have you read this one? Do you agree or disagree with me? Maybe other readers will have a different experience; books are up for interpretation, after all.

Review: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

Anna: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan has major Lord of the Rings and The Name of the Wind vibes. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a new high fantasy series to lose yourself in!

Set in an atmospheric Middle Earth-esque world, Rand lives with his father on a farm in the Two Rivers, a village deep in the woods and far from anything. When an Ades Sedei, a female wizard-like being who can harness the One Power, visits the village during their spring festival, the villagers fear rumors of darkness stirring is true. At the same time, a strange cloaked figures haunt Rand. When dark creatures attack the village, and Rand and his friends are forced to flee, launching them on an epic 800-page adventure. 

Faced paced, full of strong female characters and an epic story of good versus evil, I really enjoyed immersing myself in this world and this story. I’m not sure if I have the stamina to read the next 13 Wheel of Time books, but I’d definitely try another, especially with the show in the works!

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VERDICT: 4 books