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: 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: 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: A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft

A Kindle with the cover of A Far Wilder Magic is being held in front of a Christmas present and Christmas tree.

Alexis:

Thanks so much to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press & Wednesday Books for my e-ARC of A Far Wilder Magic!

The story follows two characters: Margaret and Weston. Margaret lives in a small town, where an event called the Halfmoon Hunt is happening soon. The hunt is for the hala, a magical fox. And while Margaret owns a hound named Trouble, she needs an alchemist in order to enter the hunt.

Weston, or Wes, is desperate for an apprenticeship as an alchemist. He travels to Margaret’s town in order to appease Margaret’s mother, a famed alchemist, to become her apprentice. But Margaret’s mother isn’t there, and Wes finds himself joining the hunt with Margaret.

There were so many elements of this book that I loved. Saft’s writing is atmospheric and lovely, with a dash of creepy when describing the woods and the hala’s dark presence. 

The story has dual POVs, which I always love, and it’s character-driven. What I really appreciated about this book is that both Wes and Margaret are flawed characters. They feel very real, and their motivations feel very real, because of this. Wes is boisterous and utterly charming, but he’s also a swaggering womanizer. Margaret, on the other hand, is strong and stubborn, but she’s a recluse due to her absent parents, and is unwilling to let anyone in.

Their personalities are foils of each other—grumpy and sunshine—and I found that it worked well alongside their shared feeling of being outsiders. Both of them struggle against discrimination and ostracization. 

I thought the slow-burn romance was well done. However, I will say I went into this expecting it to be YA, and while it definitely feels like YA, there are a couple of scenes, while not spicy, that do veer more towards NA. It’s just something to keep in mind when going into this or recommending it to teens.

My only critique is that the worldbuilding very closely mirrors our world in the 1920s. The city is a thinly veiled New York. The religions are almost carbon copies of Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. I almost wanted this to be a true historical fantasy set in the 1920s, or the worldbuilding to stray a little farther from the real world. That being said, I think Saft handled the main theme of xenophobia/antsemtisim well.

I really enjoyed this one, and if you like flawed and dynamic characters, character-driven stories, romantic fantasies, and atmospheric reads, then I think you’ll enjoy it!

Pub day: March 8, 2022

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

TW: Antisemitism, animal injury and death, gore, parental neglect, panic attacks, nationalism and xenophobia

Review: Kingdom of the Cursed by Kerri Maniscalco

Alexis, wearing a black jumpsuit, stands in front of a fence, holding a hardcover copy of Kingdom of the Cursed.

Alexis:

I knew this series would be New Adult! I kept hearing other readers call Kingdom of the Wicked YA, and I was confused because I definitely thought it was NA. But this one…it definitely has steamy scenes and adult themes. 

What I didn’t know was that this wasn’t a duology…but a trilogy, I believe. So now I have to wait for a third book?!

I liked this one much more than the first one! Both Emilio and Wrath had great character arcs. Emilia is still a little naive; however, I found her character development was much better, and I enjoyed reading from her perspective. I also enjoyed learning more about Wrath, his identity, and his role.

I liked the plot more than the first book, too. There was one main plot point that I guessed, but also two great plot twists! Even Maniscalco’s writing and imagery are better in this sequel, even more atmospheric than the first, and I devoured this book while reading it. 

While this was a five-star read for me, there was one scene that made me uncomfortable to read, and it takes a lot to make me feel uncomfortable when I’m reading. It involved a strange questionable consent/mind control scene, and while yes, it did technically make sense with the plot, and yes, this book is full of morally grey characters, I think it could have easily been avoided, and the point would’ve still come across.

This book is not for the faint of heart, and deals with some heavy themes; the point of the story is Emilia going down the path of vengeance and accepting her anger and sexuality.

If you’re looking for a good series to read this October, with plenty of sexual tension/romance, dark fantasy elements, and themes of vengeance and love, then you might like this!

VERDICT: 💀💀💀💀💀

TW: Blood, gore, violence, murder, sexual themes, mind control/questionable consent

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: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Alexis:

How do I begin?

So, to no one’s surprise, I read this book in one night. I’m living for the dark, witchy aesthetic of this book! It’s set in 1800s Sicily, Italy. Historical fantasy is one of my favorite subgenres of fantasy, so I was pumped to read this one.

Kingdom of the Wicked follows Emilia, a witch who grew up hearing horror stories from her grandmother about the princes of Hell and dark magic alike. When her twin sister, Vittoria, dies a gruesome death, Emilia teams together with Wrath, one of the princes of Hell, in order to avenge her sister’s death. 

Emilia’s family works in a restaurant, and I loved reading about the food that she and her family cooks. It’s a great way to ground the story, since it’s otherwise heavy on fantasy elements, and it made me hungry!

The beginning was a little bit slow, but I liked how it built up the story. I think Maniscalco did a great job with the setting, and I really enjoyed following Emilia as she runs around the city trying to figure everything out. I also enjoyed the chemistry and bickering between Emilia and Wrath, as well as their tumultuous enemies to lovers kind of relationship. 

As for the genre, I felt like Kingdom of the Wicked bounced back and forth between YA and NA. Emilia, the main character, is 18. Sometimes, I really liked her character, and I felt like she was a good balance between a strong female character and a realistic, grieving character. Other times, however, she was very naive and made some dumb decisions, so if you’re not into naive characters, this might not be the book for you. However, I liked learning how the princes of Hell worked alongside Emilia as she tried to figure out what she’s been thrown into. 

Besides that, while I enjoyed the plot overall, there were some confusing bits. I found myself re-reading the ending because it was fairly vague, which might be the point, considering its leading into the next book. Either way, I’m looking forward to the sequel!  

Overall, if you’re into witchy vibes, historical fantasy, and morally gray characters, then give this one a try!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Alexis’ Top 10 Books of 2020

Alexis:

Happy New Year, everyone!

I reached my goal of reading 50 books in 2020, and then I actually surpassed it by reading 51.

My top 10 books won’t be a surprise; I’ve reviewed most of them here already. However, I will include a short blurb about each one as a refresher.

Without further ado, here are my top 10 books of 2020, in no particular order!

  1. Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas

Maas is a guilty pleasure of mine. Her books have a way of wholly drawing you into her worlds, and this one was no different. Crescent City is a new adult, brash urban fantasy that follows Bryce, a half-fae. She teams together with Hunt, a fallen angel, to solve the mystery of her best friend’s murder. Craziness and romance ensue. 

  1. Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Hardinge is one of my favorite writers; she always kills it! Deeplight is a slowburn YA fantasy with deaf representation that centers around toxic friendships. It has a large dose of monstrous sea gods. It’s an imaginative, dark, and wonderfully written book. 

  1. Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

While categorized as YA, I found that this West-African inspired fantasy book leaned more towards adult. I loved the writing, the intricate worldbuilding, and the plot. The plot itself is hard to explain; you’ll have to pick it up!

  1. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

While this historical fantasy starts out slow and a bit confusing, it morphs into a lyrical story about family and belonging. It’s full of other dimensions, and, you guessed it, doors. 

  1. House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

This retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is dark and gothic. The story focuses on sisterhood and death/murder, with a fun dose of dancing at balls to balance it all out. 

  1. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This is a coming-of-age story and a retelling of the Greek myth of Achilles and Patroclus. It follows the romantic relationship of the two characters up until the Trojan War. Miller’s writing is fantastic, and she’s a Greek mythology genius.

  1. Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Race the Sands follows two women in the desert world of Becar, where you can ride monstrous creatures called kehoks, who are reincarnated from the worst of the worst people in a past life. The story focuses on reincarnation, determination, and carving your own path in the world, and I found it to be a refreshing fantasy read.

  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

This is whimsical and heartwarming, a great change of pace for adult fantasy. It follows Linus, a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, who is given an assignment to inspect an island full of magical children classified as dangerous. 

  1. The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

This YA, Welsh inspired historical fantasy follows Ryn, a gravedigger who begins to notice that the dead are rising, and teams together with a boy named Ellis. It’s a classic journey story with great characters and an enjoyable plot. I loved the fresh take on zombies, or “bone houses.” 

  1. The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez 

Finally, a contemporary romance book somehow made it onto my list! I enjoyed this book far more than I anticipated. I loved the funny, snappy dialogue, the characters, and the romance. The focus on music, and the inclusion of the playlist, only added to the story. 

Honorary re-read favorites: The Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo 

I read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom in 2018, and though I immediately classified them as some of my favorite books, I had forgotten a lot of the plot. I absolutely loved re-reading them in 2020! They’re Bardugo’s best works, in my opinion, with an intricate world and plot, and very well-drawn characters that you’ll be rooting for from the beginning (even the morally grey ones).

My 2021 reading goal is to branch out a little more outside of YA fantasy. My classes will help with this, of course (I can’t believe I’ll finish my last semester in 2021!) I also currently have Kindle Unlimited, and I’m excited to dive into some thrillers and historical fiction!

Review: Mexican Goth by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Alexis:

This is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve read in a while. It reads like a gothic, psychedelic nightmare. Moreno-Garcia’s gross, creepy descriptions shine. High Place is dripping in mold, villainous characters, and ghost-like visions.

What I enjoyed:

The gothic feel of this novel. I love the homage to books like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I love the fairly upfront references to The Yellow Wallpaper.

Moreno-Garcia’s descriptions are wonderful (but in a horror type of way). And she describes everything in masterfully drawn descriptions with high amounts of detail. You’ll have no trouble visualizing High Place or its contents. The descriptions of the mold alone made my allergies want to flare up.

This book touches on a lot of the ideas of the 1950’s, even the unfavorable ones…like eugenics. But I enjoyed the discussions of anthropology and botany.

Francis’ character was definitely my favorite; he grew on me more as the book went along.

What I wasn’t a fan of:

The beginning of this book is so slow. The entire first chapter feels almost unnecessary. The first entire half of the book basically has no plot; it’s just Noemí trying to figure out what the heck is going on at High Place while also trying to comfort her cousin, Catalina. For that reason, I don’t think you can call this book “suspenseful.”

As for Catalina, there are reasons that pop up later as to why we don’t get to know her character that well, but at the same time, I don’t feel like I know her at all. We get Noemí’s perspective on her cousin, but I didn’t even get the notion that she even knows Catalina that well to begin with.

Overall, I wish the plot had been more solidified.

All in all, this book is split pretty much down the middle for me. The first half is slow moving and has a gothic atmosphere, while the second half is faster moving and leans more on horror.

If you want a lushly written, atmospheric, bizarre gothic story with a twist of horror, then this might be the book for you. Just be aware that it unravels slowly, but the descriptions and the twists at the end will stick with you.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Trigger warnings: Rape/sexual assault, violence, murder/death. Mentions of suicide, cannibalism, eugenics, incest, and miscarriage.