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: Defend the Dawn by Brigid Kemmerer

Alexis holds a copy of Defend the Dawn in front of bookshelves in a bookstore.

Alexis: 

Did this book just come out on Tuesday? Yes. Did I binge read it and finish it today? Also yes. 

Defy the Night is one of my favorite books, so it’s safe to say that Defend the Dawn was one of my most anticipated reads. And I’m happy to say it did not disappoint.

Defend the Dawn brings even more political intrigue, plot twists, and morally gray characters. I was constantly second-guessing what I knew about character motivations.⁣

⁣While the middle moves a little slowly, in classic second book fashion, I still really enjoyed it. I love both of the main characters, Tessa and Corrick. I loved reading about their messy emotions and relationship. I also really enjoyed getting to know Corrick’s brother, King Harristan, better, and I love his brotherly relationship with Corrick.

While Defy the Night only has 2 POVs, a third POV is sprinkled into Defend the Dawn. I found that it worked really well for the story, especially since Tessa and Corrick are on a ship for the majority of the book.  ⁣

⁣And then of course, we have the ending. The appropriate reaction is “ahhh!!” It was so action-packed and I loved it, but of course it ended on a cliffhanger. Now I have to wait and see what happens, and I’m an impatient reader!

If you still haven’t picked up this series, it’s a New Adult fantasy series filled with politics, a rebellion, a pandemic, outlaws stealing for the sick, and of course a dash of romance. It’s also low fantasy, so if you want a fantasy without magic, then this is the series for you.

⁣VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

Review: The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis

The Lights of Prague sits on a gray blanket next to a small white pumpkin and a dilute calico cat.

Alexis:

The Lights of Prague is a historical fantasy set in (you guessed it) Prague in the mid 1800s, right after gas lamps are introduced to the city. ⁣

⁣It follows Domek, a lamplighter who also fights monsters—like the pijavice (vampires)—and Ora, a wealthy, badass, and secretive widow.

⁣This book has a will-o’-the-wisp, monster hunting, philosophical musings, alchemy, and beautiful descriptions of Prague. ⁣

While I liked Domek’s character in the beginning, Ora quickly became my favorite. She had an interesting backstory and was flawed and well-rounded. 

⁣My only con was that the plot felt slow moving, which meant I found myself leisurely reading this instead of my usual binge-reading. Despite the high stakes, I didn’t feel like the plot had quite enough urgency. Because of this, I liked this book, but I wasn’t as obsessed with it as I had hoped.

I still enjoyed it overall, and if you’re looking for a historical fantasy with vampires, then check it out; it’s the perfect read to ease into fall.

VERDICT: 🧛🧛🧛.5/5

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: Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro

Alexis holds a library copy of Ordinary Monsters in front of green grass and a stretch of white flowers.

Alexis:

Ordinary Monsters is Charles Dickens meets X-Men.

This massive book (at 672 pages) is set in Victorian England, as well as Scotland, Tokyo, Mississippi, and other places, in the late 1880s. It follows magical children called talents who can manipulate flesh in different ways. It’s the job of a woman detective named Alice Quike and a man named Frank Coulton to find the children and bring them to Cairndale, an institute in Scotland–before the kids are caught by the man of smoke who’s hunting them. 

This book is crazy. There are many, many POVs, including Alice, Frank, and a slew of children including two main characters, kids named Marlowe and Charlie. 

The beginning of this book details the beginning of all of the kids’ lives. The kids all have something in common: they’re orphans. And most of them have struggled to survive and have faced discrimination and cruelty. 

On top of the many perspectives, the book also bounces back and forth between timelines.

The historical fiction aspect of the story is written extremely well. I could picture the sooty, grimy streets of London and the other cities. The characters also all speak distinctively; Miro does utilize dialects for several. Even though I’m not usually a fan of that, it does fit very well with the Dickenson feel of the book. The settings and time period also fit well with the depressing and dark nature of the story.

I’m honestly not sure how to rate this book. I did really enjoy the writing style, and despite the massive amount of POVs, I was interested in every character. The fight and action scenes were also written well. I loved Marlowe and Charlie’s characters the most.

Yet, I felt like the backstories could have been cut in half and I would’ve understood them just as well. Despite the copious amount of worldbuilding and character building, I was still a little confused about several aspects. Character motivations were muddled or often revealed late in the story (which was on purpose, sure, but sometimes didn’t work well for me). There was also a trope in the epilogue that I’m not a fan of.

That being said, if you like sweeping historical fantasies, I still think it’s worth a read! There were so many good scenes and the characters are all well-rounded.

Review: Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

A kindle with Nettle & Bone lies on top of a notebook on a table beside a laptop and a Starbucks cup.

Alexis:

I have nothing bad to say about Nettle & Bone. This unique book follows Marra, a princess who has become a sort-of nun. After her older sister marries a cruel prince, Marra is determined to find a way to free her from her marriage–by planning to kill the prince.

Marra finds herself completing three impossible tasks: build a dog of bones; sew a cloak of nettles; capture moonlight in a jar. 

Marra sets off on her journey alongside a gravewitch and her demon chicken, a fairy godmother, and a disgraced ex-knight in order to save her sister.

While I wasn’t sure what was happening in the beginning of this book, which opens on Marra in a land of cannibals building a bone dog from a pit of bones, I loved this wild ride of a book.

It deals with a slew of dark themes (if regicide, abuse, and cannibals weren’t enough of a hint). It’s very much a dark, warped fairytale, and I loved it! Marra is socially awkward and isn’t sure how to respond in a lot of situations, and I loved her character. The whole cast of characters is quirky and hilarious.

There were some absolute gems when it came to lines in this book. For example:

“This won’t do,” said the dust-wife, the third or fourth day. “Your sister will have died of old age before we reach her, and I’ll be so bent over from sleeping on the ground that I’ll be cursing your prince’s kneecaps.”

“It’s a fool’s errand and we’ll probably all die,” said the dust-wife. “Oh, well then,” said Fenris. “I always enjoy those.”

An elderly woman, older than Agnes, went by. She was bent double under the weight of a basket and she went up the stairs twice as fast as either of them. Marra didn’t know if that was inspiring or depressing.

Nettle & Bone is for you if you want a dark fairytale and unique standalone read. (Did I mention there’s a bone dog and a demon chicken?)

VERDICT: 5 ⭐

TW: domestic/spousal abuse, both mental and physical; necromancy, the undead, and desecration of graves and bones; cannibalism; miscarriage and child loss; violence, injury and death; forcible tooth removal

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: The Genesis Wars by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Alexis holds The Genesis Wars in front of an abstract painting and yellow pillows.

Alexis:

The Genesis Wars is the sequel to The Infinity Courts, a YA sci-fi fantasy. The Infinity Courts was one of my favorite books of 2021, so I’ve been waiting to read the second one!

For context, the series follows a girl named Nami who was murdered. After she dies, she finds herself in the afterlife, which is called Infinity. There, she finds out that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife, made herself queen, and is enslaving humans. But when Nami finds a group of rebels, she works to take down Ophelia.

The Genesis Wars starts off a little slow. That being said, I’ve always loved Bowman’s writing style, and the beginning sets up even more worldbuilding that’s full of vivid imagery while building up Nami’s character.

The second half of the book is all action, and it contrasts with the first half well! I loved getting to know the world of Infinity even more. I loved the character arcs, and I loved the two plot twists near the end. I especially loved the jaguar named Nix.

The only problem is…now I have to wait for the next book in the series! 

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! 

Anna’s April Wrap Up

I read some truly great books in April! I don’t have a negative thing to say about any of them.

If I Had Your Face-Follows the interconnected lives of four women. Largely about the impossible beauty standards of women, especially in Korean culture.

Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders– The story of two women and lovers who were murdered and the fight for justice around their deaths. A scary realization that even our national parks aren’t a safe place to be a woman.

Sea of Tranquility – Emily St.John Mandel’s newest book is just as amazing as everyone is saying it is. You won’t know what’s truly going on until the end, and I loved the touch of scifi. 

Audiobooks:

A Far Wilder Magic– Cozy magic with just enough small town politics and romance. My second Alison Saft book of the year. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.

The Push– the best thriller I’ve read this year. This will make you terrified to be a parent.