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: 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.

Alexis:

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: Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Alexis holds a hardcover copy of Wild Beauty in one hand while standing in front of a fence and a forest.

Alexis:

Happy Friday, everyone! This week felt like it flew by.

I’ve just been consuming books lately, so I’m a little backed up on book reviews. But it’s time to talk about Wild Beauty.

I’ve been meaning to read McLemore’s books for a while now; she’s known for her magical realism books and her lyrical writing. And one of the best aspects of this book is her lush, lyrical writing. I love the way she describes the flowers and the gardens of La Pradera. I love magical realism, and reading this book often felt like reading a dream.

The plot: The Nomeolvides women are not like other women. They can create flowers with only their hands—but they’re also cursed. They can’t leave their magical garden estate of La Pradera without getting sick. And on top of that, if they fall in love too deeply, their loves disappear into thin air. But then a boy named Fel appears at La Pradera one day. And Estrella, one of the Nomeolvides girls, tries to help him figure out who he is and where he came from. 

I liked the bixeual representation, and the collection of girls was fun to read about, even if they tended to blend together. I do wish I got to know Estrella’s character even more; Fel was definitely the standout character to me, and the only one who felt like he had a real backstory and motivation. 

As much as I enjoyed McLemore’s writing and imagery, this book was very, very slow moving. And I don’t mind slow-moving, character-driven books. However, oftentimes, this book didn’t read like a book. I’m not sure what it felt like most of the time; maybe a long-form narrative poem? 

Besides the chapters from Fel’s POV, this book has no plot until the last quarter or so. And what surprised me was that the plot was amazing. It was so interesting, and made so much sense in the context of the book, that I found myself a little annoyed. Why didn’t McLemore weave this plot in earlier instead of describing flowers or the girls dancing and conversing for the hundredth time? The ending was powerful, and the way the plot unraveled was wonderful. I just wish it was present in more of the book. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

Alexis:

“The forest sticks to me.”

Happy day after Christmas, everyone! If you celebrate, I hope you had a wonderful day despite this very strange year.

Now, I’m always down for a story with a spooky forest.

Winterwood follows Nora, a seventeen-year-old girl who comes from a long line of Walkers: women with witch-like powers who live next to the creepy Wicker Woods. Nora finds a lost boy named Oliver alive in the woods despite a massive snowstorm, and works to unravel the mystery of how he survived. 

Things I liked:

I love Ernshaw’s writing. It’s lyrical and enchanting, reminding me of a dark fairy tale. It perfectly fits the lovely, cold, and haunted aesthetic of this book.

I loved the setting. Nora’s house sounds homey and witchy, and I enjoyed the descriptions of it, alongside the forest, from Nora’s perspective. 

Things I didn’t like as much:

Besides Nora, I never felt like I got far enough below surface level with the other characters, and sometimes I couldn’t pin down motivations. Usually, I love dual perspectives, but I felt like Oliver’s perspective didn’t reveal enough about him for me, and his amnesia didn’t help.

I loved the magic, but I wanted it to be talked about/explained even more. I never really understood how it worked, even with the many pages dedicated to the Walker ancestors.

While I loved Ernshaw’s writing, it was too repetitive sometimes. Even though it fits the nature of this story (by the end), and I usually love repetition, I think it was utilized just a little too much.

Lastly, I guessed one of the main plot reveals very, very early on, and it’s already a slow-moving story. On top of that, the book’s conclusion felt a bit like a cop-out.

Despite that, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I sped through it. I love Earnshaw’s writing, and I look forward to reading her future books, where hopefully the plot and characters will be a little more refined.

VERDICT: 🌲🌲🌲/5

Review: The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Alexis:

The Bone Houses is a historical fantasy novel, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite subgenres. It’s set in medieval Wales, and follows two main characters: Ryn, a gravedigger, and Ellis, a mapmaker.

Due to remnants of lost magic, the dead are rising in the forest neighboring Ryn’s small village of Colbren. She and Ellis, each for their own reasons, team together on a journey to eradicate the undead, known as bone houses.

I loved every page of this book. It was dark and gritty and full of death, but the characters were a joy to read, and the dialogue was great. I love dark books that take small scenes, small moments, to let the characters relax, enjoy themselves, and crack jokes.

This story is about home, family, and loss. I loved learning the stories and Welsh-inspired folklore of the world. I loved that Ryn’s sister’s pet goat became a main character; I’m a sucker for an animal sidekick!

Lately, it’s been a little rare for me to find two characters that I’ve enjoyed reading about and rooting for, but this book was it. And I haven’t read a lot of books lately with a cringeless romance, either. I appreciated the slow-burn romance in this book, and the fact that the characters actually took the time to become close friends first. It was a subplot, and it didn’t get in the way of the main story. It didn’t feel forced in the least!

And, finally, I loved that this story was well-written. Lloyd-Jones’ prose feels almost effortless to read, while also being lush and evocative.

“She was half a wild creature that loved a graveyard, the first taste of misty night air, and the heft of a shovel. She knew how things died. And in her darkest moments, she feared she did not know how to live.”

VERDICT: ☠️☠️☠️☠️☠️/5

Review: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Nov 13 The Child Seekers

Anna’s review: Read 11/12/18

In The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld, Naomi, a private investigator, specializes in finding lost children. She returns to the snowy landscape of her home state of Oregon to take on the case of a young girl, Madison, who went missing in the forest where her family went to find a Christmas tree. But as Naomi learns what happened to Madison, the events of her own traumatic past begin to come to light.

I’m conflicted by this. There were so many beautiful and harrowing parts of this book. Obviously it deals with difficult themes like abduction, pedophilia, rape, and death, which were all handled respectfully by the author. Denfeld herself is a licensed investigator, and you can tell she knows what she’s writing about.

The biggest problem I had with this book is the huge discrepancy in the quality of writing. Half of the writing style was beautiful and lyrical, especially the scenes from the point of view of the snow girl. I found this sections horrifying but masterfully written. You could feel the coldness creeping into your bones, as well as the desperateness of the child’s situation.

The other half was written so differently that it didn’t even feel like I was reading the same book! For example, there is a line on page 72 that reads, “Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she soon would be hungry.” There are other lines like this that are so jarring that I kept noticing them as I read and this impacted my overall opinion of it.

I found the romance between Jerome and Naomi particularly cringey. Their dialogue was cheesy, and Jerome’s character is as flat as a pancake. This is where I felt the most distracted by the different writing style, since the rest was so dark.

The other problem I had is Baby Danforth case that Naomi randomly takes on in the middle of the book. Though I know, realistically, a investigator would probably be working on multiple cases at a time, I found this whole case horribly distracting. The only reason I can think to include this is to show that Naomi’s searches can end badly.

Then there’s the characterization of Naomi herself. Naomi is also a “snow child.” She was abducted as a young child and, as a coping mechanism, she has repressed the memories of the traumatic events. As a result, Naomi is reserved and often cold. She left the safety of her foster home, the only place she felt love, because of her fear of closeness and intimacy. Throughout the course of finding out what happened to Madison, Naomi finally remembers the events of her own abduction. I understand that Naomi’s acceptance of Jerome’s love represents part of her healing, but I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if the romance hadn’t been included at all. There’s also Ranger Dave, who fell in love with Naomi within days of meeting her, which I found completely random.

Something I really enjoyed was the aspect of fairytale retelling, especially the ones that turned childhood innocence on its head. This dark play with cruelty and innocence is one of the biggest successes of this book. Snowy rural settings are typically my favorite books settings, and The Child Finder was satisfyingly atmospheric.

Ulitmately, I was disappointed by this. I loved the parts with the snow child but was disappointed by some of the rest. This had so many great reviews that I expected to love it. I just can’t look past the discrepancies in the writing and the cheesy romance.

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books

Alexis: Read 9/2/18

I read this book a couple months ago. I had read one of Denfeld’s books before, The Enchanted, which I had a hard time getting through, but which ended up stuck in my mind. I prepared myself for a dark read with The Child Finder and dug in.

Denfeld’s writing style and descriptions struck me. I even took the time to write down a quote: “Like a leaf that drank from the morning dew, you didn’t question the morning sunrise or the sweet taste on your mouth. You just drank.” Denfeld’s descriptions always surprised me, whether from her word choice or from the contrasting, stilted way she delivered them.

While, like Anna, I found some of her sentences to be a bit off, ultimately the writing style served the purpose of the book. Denfeld was descriptive where she needed to be and off-putting when she needed to be. Three of the main characters deal with life-altering issues, and the writing style reflects their troubled thoughts and feelings.

I agree that Naomi and Jerome’s adult relationship feels forced; however, their relationship as children made sense. But was the distance felt between the two adult characters because of Naomi’s isolationist behavior, or was it because Denfeld’s characterization didn’t step up to the plate?

The chapters from Madison’s point of view, when she’s being held hostage, are brilliant, and I agree with Anna that Denfeld obviously knows what she’s talking about. The realism of the kidnapping, mixed with the almost dream-like quality of the snow child, left an impact on me.

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books