Review: Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray

Beast of Prey stands on a deck railing next to a bottle of Peach Joe Tea in front of a forest.

Alexis:

5 ⭐ review!

It’s no secret that I love stories with creepy woods, so I was happy to find that Beasts of Prey features a creepy jungle.

There are so many layers to this book. The worldbuilding is interesting and intricate, the characters are bright and distinctive on the page, and Gray’s writing style is really doing it for me.

Beasts of Prey is a Pan-African fantasy inspired by lore, animals, language, and even historical figures from many different African nations, as Gray explains in her author’s note. Gray also explores forced diaspora. You can really feel her love and devotion to the world and the story that she’s created, and it gives the book that extra layer that makes the world come alive.

Beasts of Prey does have some classic YA tropes, but I loved the main characters and the central themes of finding yourself and overcoming past trauma. The story follows two main characters: Koffi, an indentured beastkeeper of the Night Zoo, and Ekon, a trainee for a band of religious warriors called the Sons of Six. When Koffi accidentally unleashes magic she didn’t know she had, called the splendor, it gets her in trouble with the owner of the Night Zoo. She finds herself teaming up with Ekon, who is trying to prove himelf worthy of being a warrior, in order to track down a monster called the Shetani.

The book follows one other POV from a girl named Adiah, and I enjoyed puzzling out how she connects with the rest of the story.

The inner editor in me loves that Gray also included an annotation of her first chapter in the back of the book—I loved seeing her writing and editing process.

This is a great beginning to the series, and I recommend it if you’re looking for a story with multiple POVs, great characters, monsters, magic, and a creepy jungle! 

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: The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

Alexis:

The Bone Shard Emperor is the sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter, one of my favorite reads from earlier this year. 

Like the first book, it follows 5 POVs: Lin, Jovis, Phalue, Ranami, and Sand/Nisong. Jovis is still my favorite, as well as his talking, bonded otter-like creature named Mephi. But I felt like I got to know Lin’s character better, as well.

I love how Stewart began to reveal more of the world’s history, as well as the mystery surrounding Mephi and some other characters. 

Also like the first book, this was a 5-star read for me. However, I don’t think it was quite as well done as the first. Phalue and Ranami get even less page time in the book, so I found myself not caring about their characters as much as I wanted to. 

But my biggest critique is that there was also a romantic storyline that, while had potential and made sense from a logical viewpoint, didn’t quite work for me. The characters just didn’t have any chemistry on the page.

Despite moving at a slow pace, I love Stewart’s writing, and I love her worldbuilding, and I never felt bored; I was always drawn into the story. 

However, I especially loved the last quarter of the book. A lot of interesting developments are happening, and based on the great ending, I’m excited to see where the third and final book takes the story!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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: 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: From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

A Kindle copy of From Blood and Ash rests on a cream-colored blanket next to a white mug with a matcha latte.

Alexis:

Okay, so this book is hot garbage. But it’s enjoyable hot garbage. 

Think a refashioned Twilight; throw in some werewolves and two types of vampire type things. Although, this book honestly has way more plot and worldbuilding than Twilight ever did. 

The first half was a little slow as it set up the world, Poppy’s character, and Poppy’s role in the world. The writing is honestly not great, though it did improve as the story went on (and as I managed to turn off my critical reading brain). But there were just some strange sentence structures and a lot of “telling” over “showing” in the first half, especially.

Plus, there were typos. I don’t know if it was just in the e-book version, but on page 305, for example we have: “Of course, you do.” Why is there a comma after of course?? Later on, we have: “He was an Atlantian, His people…” There were others, too, but I tried not to keep track of them all. After all, that’s not the author’s fault.

There were a lot of plot twists that were obvious from nearly the very beginning of this story, and Armentrout throws in very heavy-handed foreshadowing that doesn’t help. The romance is very Twilight-y in that there’s a power imbalance, and Hawke’s character is morally grey (and at times creepy, hello Edward).

Okay, then why did I say this was an enjoyable read? Because the dialogue is dynamic and snappy. There’s a lot of well-written tension. And once you get past the not-so-subtle foreshadowing, I found the world and the world’s history interesting. Plus, reading about flawed, morally grey characters always intrigues me, and it kept the pages turning. Despite Poppy having some pretty dumb moments, I enjoyed her POV and found her an interesting character, and I was glad that her character knew how to fight. 

My enjoyment while reading this book? Nearly 5 stars! But the writing comes in at about a 2. I’m not sure I want to rate this one overall, but I guess that would fall in at about a 3.5. You can bet I still want to read the series, though! Too bad I have to wait about 7 weeks to read the next book from my library.

Anyway, if you can turn off your critical reader brain and you’re looking for a Twilight meets A Court of Thorns and Roses kind of read, then you might like this.

Review: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

Alexis stands in front of a gate in front of a forest, holding up a paperback copy of The Wolf and the Woosdman

Alexis:

What an amazing debut! When I first heard about this book, I knew I needed to get my hands on it.

It’s based on Hungarian history and Jewish mythology. The story follows Evekie, a so-called wolf-girl who lives in a pagan village in the middle of a forest. Every couple of years, the Holy Order of the Woodsmen come to collect a wolf-girl to bring back to their king, and this year, they come for Evekie. But Evekie soon realizes that the captain is actually the prince Gaspar, who’s trying to keep his bastard, blood-lusting brother from taking the throne and causing genocide. And Gaspar soon realizes that Evekie is not what she seems: she’s the only wolf-girl who’s barren of magic. 

This book has pretty much everything I look for in a story. I’m a sucker for creepy forests, and not only do the woods in this story have dark magic and creepy monsters, but walking trees! The story is rich with stories and a tangle of three different religions. The plot and the religions echo history, and the Yehuli people are a stand-in for the Jewish people, which makes the story all the richer and more meaningful. 

I loved that Evekie is 25; I’m always on the hunt for more new adult stories. I loved the Prince Zuko vibes of Gaspar, and the way their relationship often reminded me of Jon Snow and Ygritte from Game of Thrones

I haven’t even talked about Reid’s writing yet! Her prose is absolutely gorgeous and lyrical. Even when she’s writing about dismemberment and blood (which happens quite often, as the plot of this book is brutal) her writing is still beautiful. The way she carves images and the landscape on the page is *chef’s kiss*. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

TW: Self mutilation, abuse/child abuse, animal harm/death, murder, war, coded-antisemitism, genocide and ethnic cleansing, amputation

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: The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

Alexis holds a paperback copy of The Bone Maker in front of the beach: sand and a wave crashing on shore.

Alexis:

Despite copious amounts of rain, our beach trip ended up being a successful reading trip! While The Bone Maker isn’t the usual kind of beach read, I’m always in the mood for a spooky read.

The Bone Maker follows Kreya, a hermit living in a tower with no one for company but her constructs, little creatures and dolls she created from pieces of bone. Oh, and her dead husband, Jentt, who she raises from the dead as often as she can.

Twenty-five years ago, Kreya and her group of heroes risked their lives to defeat the bone maker Eklor—a corrupt magician who created an inhuman army using animal bones. The heroes reunite to help Kreya on her journey.

The story is primarily told from Kreya’s POV, though we dive into each of the character’s heads at one point or another. I thought the world was super interesting. There are bone makers, who created constructs from bones; bone wizards, who create talismans with powers (think playing an action card in a card game); and bone readers, who predict the future by reading bones. The characters’ successful backstory was great fuel for the plot, and I almost wish I could read a prologue book!

While I liked the plot, I really enjoyed getting to know the cast of characters. This book has the perfect balance of darkness (lots of bones, dead people, war, and death) and lightness (witty dialogue, funny characters). I love when I can find an adult fantasy that also has humor and great dialogue. But what kept this book from being 5 stars is that I wanted to get to know the characters even more! That, and the plot didn’t feel as urgent as it probably should have. 

If you’re looking for a fun book with necromancy, defeating evil, and a journey with loveable characters, then I think you’ll enjoy this.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5