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.

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