Review: Daughter of the Drowned Empire by Frankie Diane Mallis

Alexis:

Daughter of the Drowned Empire is a NA fantasy that follows Lyriana, who is third in line to the Seat of Power in Bamaria. She hopes to be a mage after her ceremony, when her magic will be announced and unleashed, but she has a secret—her two older sisters both have illegal magic.⁣

⁣It took me a little while to get into the beginning of this, so I highly recommend checking out the glossary in the back first to get a handle on the worldbuilding. There’s also a love triangle that I was feeling iffy about. But once the plot got rolling, I was hooked!

This was a fun book that ended up being fairly complex. I liked the themes of love, sisterhood, and staying true to yourself. I enjoyed Lyriana’s character arc, and I can’t wait to see where Mallis takes her next.

⁣Overall, the character development was well done and this was a fun read. I can’t wait for the sequel!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 ⁣

Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Alexis holds a library copy of A Conjuring of Light above a deck and wire table.

Alexis: I finished the Shades of Magic series!

Actually, I finished A Conjuring of Light, the third book. But Schwab announced recently that she plans on writing more books in the series!

I think this one was my favorite. All of the plot points came together in the end, and the pace picked up. I loved how all of the characters we met throughout the series finally got together.

I think the minor POVs could have been cut out, as I found myself skimming them.

However, I liked how Kell and Lila’s characters turned out, especially. Lila felt a lot less of a pick me girl than the previous two books, thankfully.

I really enjoyed reading this one, and I’m glad I finally read this book-world favorite.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova

A hardcover copy stands on a bookshelf next to a tea tumbler and a candle.

Alexis:

If you’re looking for a magical realism story that blends an Ecuadorian version of Encanto with certain aspects of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, then this is the book for you!

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a family saga. It has two separate timelines. One timeline follows Orquídea, the grandmother and matriarch of the Montoya family, who immigrated to the United States. The other follows her grandchildren, specifically Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly. 

The first half is very slow moving, taking its time to introduce the setting, a small town called Four Rivers, and its characters. Córdova’s writing is beautiful and lush, and strange at times. Her voice is perfect for magical realism.

At its core, despite being a family saga, this book is a mystery. What happened to Orquídea when she was younger that made her so mysterious? Where did her magic come from? 

This is not a book to be binged. It’s a book to take in slowly. You have to take time to take everything in and appreciate the weird magical moments, like magical flowers growing from bodies, ghosts, a river monster, and an old zombie rooster named Gabo that keeps coming back to life. 

My main critique is that while I like slow-moving stories, it took me a while to get invested in the characters, and there was also a character death towards the end that I think could’ve been handled better.

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is both hilarious and tragic, and I especially enjoyed getting to know Marimar and Rey. If you like family sagas and magical realism, then I think you’ll like this one. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 /5 

Review: Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone

Alexis:

Well, I had this review ready to go over a week ago. I never got around to posting it, and then, unfortunately, I just got out of the hospital yesterday. The only good thing about being in the hospital was that I got to read 4 books, but I’m glad to be out and doing well.

Now, onto the review!

Thank you so much to Fierce Reads and NetGalley for sending me a digital arc of Lakesedge!

If you’re into dark YA fantasies, atmospheric books, lyrical writing, and dark themes, you might be into this book. It often gave me Jane Eyre vibes with a sprinkle of A Sorcery of Thorns thrown in. I’ve seen it described as a gothic book, and while I wouldn’t describe it as gothic, per say, it does have a creepy, haunted estate ruled by a morally grey man. 

Violeta lives with her abusive, overly-religious adopted mother along with her little brother, Arien. Arien has magic; he can make shadows. But his shadows are unpredictable, and they come out when he sleeps. When Rowan Sylvanan comes to their village to collect the tithe, he sees Arien’s shadows. He comes to collect Arien, but Violeta refuses to let him, her last surviving family member, leave without him. When they arrive at Lakesedge, Rowan’s estate, not only does she have to deal with the prickly Rowan and a cursed lake, but the Lord Under…the lord of the underworld himself.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Clipstone’s writing style completely sucked me in. Her details are dark and creepy, and her writing has a dreamy, atmospheric quality to it. Clipstone describes magic in a clear and beautiful way, and I thought the religion in Lakesedge was written well. Even though the story itself was slower paced, I found myself speeding through it because I wanted to know what the heck was going on. 

Rowan was my favorite character. I liked Arien, too, although I hope his character, and some of the others, are more well-rounded in the sequel. 

The biggest thing keeping this from being a five-star review is Violeta’s character. In the beginning of the book, she was naive and annoying, to be honest. While she got a little better as the book went on, she still wasn’t my favorite character. Because of this, I had a little bit of a hard time rooting for the romance. On top of that, while I’m happy to say that there is LGBTQ rep, it felt like it was a little thrown in at the last minute; but once again, I have high hopes for the sequel, where I hope everything will become more fleshed out! I’m here for the spooky vibes, magic, and romance. 

TW: Self harm/mutilation, abuse/parental abuse, death, blood, drowning imagery 

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

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: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Alexis:

Cemetery Boys follows Yadriel, a trans teenager trying to gain acceptance from his family. His family are brujos, a group of magical Latinos who can summon ghosts and help them pass on to the afterlife. When Yadriel’s cousin, Miguel, dies, Yadriel tries to prove he’s a real brujo by summoning his ghost, but he accidentally summons Julian, a fellow schoolmate, instead.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The characters and dialogue are Thomas’ greatest writing strength. I loved getting to know Yadriel and his family, and the energetic characters of Maritza (Yadriel’s cousin) and Julian were so much fun to read. It’s hard to find stories with fully fleshed out characters, but I loved Cemetery Boys’ main characters.

The overall story gives me Coco and Gods of Jade and Shadow vibes. I enjoyed reading about the history, magic, and culture of the brujos, as well as the Día de Muertos. The themes of family, acceptance, and love shine on the page.

That being said, the pacing was a little slow, and the climax felt rushed in comparison; most of the plot was thrown into the last couple of chapters, and the action scenes aren’t quite punchy enough. Since I prefer character-driven stories, this didn’t affect my overall rating. However, it’s something to keep in mind if you prefer plot-driven stories over slow-burn and character-driven stories.

It’s also worth noting that while Maritza plays an important role in the book, the women are literally told in the beginning to stay home and cook. Yadriel makes it clear that he does not approve of this; however, the healing and cooking role of the women characters does not change throughout the book. So while the story focuses on breaking gender roles/stereotypes, I found it a little odd that Yadriel breaks stereotypes, but Maritza and the other women are still forced to be stuck in their traditional roles.

But bottom line, this was a fun, lively, and heartwarming read. If you’re looking for snarky characters, trans and LGBTQ representation, with a heavy dash of magic and ghosts, then I recommend picking this up!

VERDICT: 👻👻👻👻.5

Review: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Alexis:

Raybearer is an impressive novel. The worldbuilding, based off of West African folklore, is intricate, and I often had to re-read sections about the world’s history because it was so detailed. But Ifueko went above and beyond when it came to shaping her world, and even if I couldn’t always keep up, it made the world very real.

There’s political intrigue, romance, magical creatures (including fairies), a found-family, and family drama. 

The writing was great, I loved the main characters (and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better in the sequel, since this first book was a little more plot/world-driven than character-driven) and I enjoyed being swept into this magical world. 

I only have two small critiques, one being that I didn’t get to know some of the characters well enough, and the pacing was a little slow in the beginning. However, this book reads like an epic, and the beginning starts out when Tarisai is a child, so I guess that is to be expected, and once it picked up its pace, I didn’t care!

Even though I’m not usually as much of a fan of high fantasy as compared to contemporary fantasy, I was pleasantly surprised with the dense, intricate world Ifueko crafted, and the plot unfolded in ways I never would have predicted. I love books that surprise me, and this book surprised me in all the right ways.

I found this to be a unique and engaging read, and if you’re looking for your next well-drawn, diverse YA fantasy, then I recommend it!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Alexis:

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book. There’s no such thing as a perfect book, but there were definitely some major things that made me almost not enjoy this book. (Disclaimer: Historically, I haven’t been a fan of dark academia).  

What I wasn’t a huge fan of:

  1. The first 200 pages are basically a giant info dump. I had absolutely no idea what the heck I was reading for a long time, and while I kept charging through, this will definitely turn off a lot of readers right off the bat. In Bardugo’s past books, her worldbuilding usually improves in book two of her series. But Ninth House has alternating timelines, which doesn’t make the beginning any less confusing. A lot of important worldbuilding information wasn’t explained until late into the book, which made this book a bit of a chore to get through.
  2. The plot is fairly slow moving. Because of the info dump beginning, there is a lot of narration and flashbacks. This gets in the way of the actual plot, which picked up around page 300.
  3. I generally enjoy reading dark books, but Ninth House almost verges on being too dark. Basically anything bad that can happen happens. Alex, the main character, had a hard past, but it’s almost too hard, if that makes sense. There’s a lot of violence that happens that’s almost unnecessary; it feels like violence for the sake of violence, as if Bardugo is trying to prove that she can write an adult book.

But the saving graces were:

  1. Darlington. And from what I’ve heard from other people who have read the book, we’re in agreement! He is definitely the shining character; his backstory resonated with me more than Alex’s. He has a great personality, and a charisma that bounces off of the page. And in a book full of morally grey characters, his character was welcoming. 
  2. Bardugo’s actual writing is great. Her dialogue is always on-point. Her characterization is great. Her descriptions are lush and flow well. She’s clearly a smart writer, and her knowledge of Yale really shapes this book. 
  3. The ending. The ending was the best part of the book, and it made me want to read the rest of the series. I have high hopes for the second book! 

If you like dark academia, intense magic systems, and morally gray characters, then give this one a shot! Pro tip: There’s a small index in the back of the book that I recommend checking out before you start reading. If I knew it was there, the beginning definitely would’ve made a little more sense!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐.5 /5

Trigger warnings: Pretty much everything: violence, gore, rape, murder, sexual assault, drug use. If you don’t like dark books, then I don’t recommend this book. 

Review: Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Alexis:

This is my third five star review in a row. This is so rare for me! Clearly, I did a good job choosing books from the library.

I found Race the Sands to be a complex book, full of politics and magic.

In Becar, everyone is reincarnated based on how you act in your current life. The lowest of the low are reincarnated as kehoks, savage monsters. Tamra is a kehok trainer, trying to save up enough money to fund her daughter’s education. And Raia is a seventeen year old trying to make her own life by becoming a kehok rider. She ends up riding a black, metal lion kehok, and together, Tamra and Raia work hard to win the Races.

Overall, I loved the characters, especially Tamra. This book felt unique from other young adult fantasy books that I’ve read lately.

Durst manages to balance several POV’s very well. I’m not normally a fan of books with more than two different perspectives, but it worked well for this world.

I enjoyed reading about the races, and all of the different kind of kehoks. I enjoyed reading about the augurs, the almost monk-like figures who read other people’s auras to determine how they will be reincarnated. I also enjoyed reading from Dar, the emperor-to-be’s, perspective.

There were only two small apects that I wasn’t a huge fan of, but they didn’t deter me from enjoying the book. The first is that one of the main mystery plot points in the beginning of the book is extremely predictable. Thankfully, the plot got more complicated as the book went on. The second is that a lot of the minor characters felt pretty one dimensional and had similar voices, but because they were the minor characters, it didn’t bother me too much.

While this book is still YA, it felt more adult to me than the average YA fantasy, especially since it features the POV of several adult characters.

If you’re looking for a book with great worldbuilding, strong female characters, racing monsters, and politics, then I recommend giving this one a try.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐