Review: Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders by Kathryn Miles

Anna: Calling all feminists, outdoorsy people, and true crime readers. I know I’ve already posted about this book several times on the feed, but that’s because you should read it! 

Author Kathryn Miles, a hiker and journalist, investigates the 1996 murders of Julianne “Julie” Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans. Julie and Lollie were seasoned hikers who were backpacking along the AT when they were found murdered in their sleeping bags. Miles tells Julie and Lollie’s story and advocates for bringing their killer to justice. First, she has to find him. She also exposes a plethora of corruption in the investigation, from convicting the wrong suspect to outing Julie and Lollie as gay to the world and to their families. And the conclusion that Miles comes to in the end about what really happened is truly haunting. 

Miles does a good job of centering this on Julie and Lollie’s story instead of sensationalizing the crime, which can be a big problem in the true crime genre. She also extensively interviewed those close to Julie and Lollie and is dedicated to telling both their stories. By the end, I felt as if I’d lost two close friends. 

This book hits close to home in so many ways. Shenandoah is a local national park, where I hike frequently (although I’m nowhere near as outdoorsy as Julie and Lollie were). I’ve never been concerned for my safety there, even when hiking with just one other woman. I don’t think I’ll feel the same way next time I visit.

Julie and Lollie felt safe in the woods. We expect our Natural Parks to be a sanctuary. But the truth is that nowhere is safe, especially for women.

Verdict: 4.5/5 stars

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.

Review: Assembly by Natasha Brown

Assembly is a sharp, vignette-style novella that follows a young, black, and unnamed protagonist who is disillusioned by her life. On the surface, she is living the dream: she’s making good money at her job at a bank, she recently bought her own apartment, and she’s in a relationship. But underneath, she feels like she’s performing in every aspect of her life. She’s also hiding a dark secret.

If you like slow, literary, and character-driven stories with commentary on race, class, and the corporate world, you should think about picking up Assembly. It really feels like the unraveling of life that’s perfect on the surface. In my opinion it was a little too short and I wanted to learn more about the protagonist, but it will make you think about a lot of societal issues and evaluate your own life and choices.

I’d love recommendations for other culturally relevant, slim fiction like this one!

Review: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Anna: Fun fact, I took this picture with my husband’s phone because I lost mine playing with my dog in the snow and then found it a week later (and somehow it still works)!

Small Things Like These is a short, satisfying novella about doing the right thing. This was the perfect book to read in the snow- it’s set in the days leading up to Christmas in a small town in Ireland. Bill Furlong is a coal merchant, and he’s hardworking, respected, and essential to the town. He loves his wife and five daughters and is proud of the life he’s built for him. But when delivering coal, he discovers a dark secret hidden in the town’s covenant and his whole worldview is challenged.  

This book is about how difficult it can be to make one small decision that you know to be the right one when everyone around you encourages you to ignore it. It’s about the hypocrisy of people who call themselves Christians yet do horrible things, and about the Catholic church’s complete control over a community.

Maybe this book is a little predictable, but it’ll give you exactly what you want from it.

Review: Bewilderness by Karen Tucker

Anna: Starting 2022 strong! I loved this book.

Irene and her best friend, Luce, live in a small town in North Carolina. They work as servers and have been sober for nearly a year. But that night, something happens with Luce’s boyfriend, Wilky, that sends them spiraling back into using. The narrative is structured by a dual timeline, so we get to go back see their entire journey with addiction from the start, including the big breaking point that made them first became sober.

Bewilderness is a dark story about substance abuse, addiction, and the cycles of addiction. On the surface this is an important, cautionary tale: addiction kills. But at its core it’s about the complex friendship between Irene and Luce, and how their relationship changes and is tested over the years. And the writing is beautiful. Bewilderness is perfectly paced, it’s heartbreaking, and I couldn’t put it down. If you liked Marlena by Julie Buntin, I think you should check this one out. 

I also learned so much about addiction, the path to sobriety, and just how hard it is to stay clean. I encourage you to check out Karen Tucker’s website and read some of her interviews to learn more.

Trigger warnings: Addiction & drug use 

Review: Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer

A pink gloved hand holds up the bright green cover of Into the Heartless Wood in front of a snowy backyard and fenceline.

Alexis:

I finished my first book of the year on the first snow day!

Into the Heartless Wood follows Owen, a 17-year-old burgeoning astronomer who lives with his father and baby sister. They live by the edge of the woods, where a witch and her tree siren daughters, who lure humans to their deaths, live…and where Owen lost his own mother. 

But when the witch’s youngest siren daughter, who calls herself Seren, finds herself saving Owen’s life instead of ending it, their lives become intertwined. 

Everyone knows I’m a sucker for a book that focuses on creepy woods. And this book had all of the elements I was looking for: atmospheric vibes, lyrical writing, and dual POVs.

The story is both beautiful and brutal. Happy and sorrowful. The ending was tragic, yet I loved it! It’s slow-paced, and the writing is dreamy and full of beautiful forest imagery. Seren’s POV is written in verse, and I thought it worked really well for her character.

My only main critique is that I wish Owen and Seren had a bit more chemistry on the page. It’s also worth noting that even though I tend to gravitate towards slower-paced novels, the main plot didn’t appear until halfway through.

Despite this, I really enjoyed this one, and it was the perfect read for a snow day paired with a mug of hot chocolate.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Alexis’ October Wrap Up

Alexis. wearing a gray sweater, stands in front of a bookshelf while holding a stack of books.

🎃 𝐎𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝗪𝐫𝐚𝐩 𝐔𝐩! 🎃⁣

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

Kingdom of the Cursed ⁣by Kerri Maniscalco

I’ve already written my review, but this second book in the trilogy was passionate and electrifying. It was great to see Emilia’s character arc, and Wrath’s, as well. Is it a perfect book? No. However, this was a thrilling sequel that completely sucked me in!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

Kingdom of the Wicked (re-read) by Kerri Maniscalco ⁣

Vow of Thieves ⁣by Mary E. Pearson

Vow of Thieves is the sequel to the Dance of Thieves duology. I loved the more fast-action plot, as compared to the slow pace of the first book. Overall, I just enjoyed this one much more than the first, despite the fact that Kazi and Jase, the main characters, are separated from each other during the majority of it. It added more tension!

Six Crimson Cranes ⁣by Elizabeth Lim

This book is an East Asian inspired fairytale retelling. It follows a cursed princess named Shiori who attempts to break the curse cast on her six brothers; their stepmother turned them into cranes. I loved Shiori’s character arc, and I enjoyed the worldbuilding. I do wish the romance was more developed, and I wanted more dragons! But this was a great read overall.

⭐⭐⭐✨⁣

Vespertine ⁣by Margaret Rogerson

Vespertine follows Artemisia, a Gray Sister, a nun who cleanses the bodies of the deceased so that their souls can pass on. When a revenant, an ancient spirit bound to a saint’s relic, is woken up, it attaches itself to Artemisia. While this was a cool concept, I wasn’t feeling the book overall. It was missing the charm and humor of Rogerson’s other books. In the acknowledgments, Rogerson mentions that she wrote it while depressed and under Covid lockdown, and unfortunately, you can feel that heaviness really come through. The extra half star was for Artemisia’s character, who I thought was a unique main character; but ultimately, I didn’t connect with this story as much as I wanted to.

⭐⭐⭐⁣

Dance of Thieves ⁣by Mary E. Pearson

The first in the duology, Dance of Thieves had the potential to be a 5-star read; however, long sections of this book dragged on with extraneous detail. After some insta-love, Kazi and Jase go back and forth between enemies and lovers constantly, and it gave me whiplash. The writing is 5-star worthy, and while there were moments I loved, I found myself skipping large chunks of paragraphs just to finish the book.

⭐⭐✨⁣

Sky in the Deep ⁣by Adrienne Young

The story follows warrior Eelyn in a Viking-inspired world. When she discovers her brother, Iri, is actually still alive, she is stolen by Fiske, the same man who saved Iri. But Fiske, and now Iri, belong to an enemy clan, and Eelyn can’t wait to escape to go back home to her father.

Maybe because I heard glowing reviews of this one, but the writing just felt very bland to me. The character development and romance didn’t have a great arc, and while I loved the world and the vibes, I found myself detached from the story. However, I highly recommend reading Fable by Young if you haven’t already.

⁣October felt like a very long month. I read a wide variety of books, with my reviews across the board, and I’m looking forward to some great reads this month!

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: Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

A hardcover copy of Defy the Night lays on tops of an orange, pumpkin printed blanket and a gray blanket. Alexis' hand holds an iced pumpkin black tea, while her dilute calico cat sniffs it. A purple candle rests behind the book.

Alexis:

Defy the Night is a classic upper YA fantasy, complete with political intrigue/court politics, a sickness ravishing a world, and a brewing rebellion. And romance, of course. 

I loved the dual POVs. The story follows Tessa, an apothecary who makes elixirs by night to give to the sick poor, and Corrick, the prince and the King’s Justice. I enjoyed reading from both of their perspectives, and I liked how their voices actually sounded distinguishable.

I loved how Kemmerer explores the brotherhood between Corrick and Harristan. And the romance is written well and doesn’t feel forced.

All that being said, the world itself feels pretty generic and doesn’t stand out from any other YA fantasy. There were some easy to guess plot twists. However, I still enjoyed the plot. The pacing is great and never too slow, the characters are engaging, and Kemmerer’s writing style feels immediate in a way that sucks you in.

I’m looking forward to the sequel to this one, too!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

A library copy of For the Wolf sits on a deck flanked by a sunflower and a Sweater Weather candle, along with some fall leaves.

Alexis:

For the Wolf has a lot in common with Lakesedge:

✔️A self-sacrificing man who is seen as a monster to the outside world, but who is only trying to control the environment around him—the environment that is also a part of him

✔️ A run-down estate/castle surrounded by dark, creepy woods

✔️ A slow-paced story of a strong woman attempting to learn how to control her magic

Which of course means that I loved it! I’m always, always a sucker for an atmospheric read with lyrical writing and creepy woods. And this book has so many depictions of dark woods come alive with earthy magic.

Although For the Wolf is being marketed as YA fantasy for some reason, I would describe it as a new adult, romantic fantasy, as Red, the main character, and her twin sister, Neve, are twenty-years-old. 

Red is the Second Daughter of the Queen of Valleydan, which means that she must be sacrificed to the Wolf of the Wilderwood. She’s been told all her life that the Wolf is a monster who is keeping the world’s captured gods from returning. But when she finally meets the Wolf, a man named Eammon, she realizes that what she’s been told is a lie. Meanwhile, stuck as the Princess, Neve, the First Daughter, is doing everything in her power to get Red back from the Wolf, even if it means upending her own world.

As much as I loved this book, I will admit some flaws I noticed while I was reading. While Lakesedge’s magic and worldbuilding is clear, For the Wolf’s worldbuilding is a little hazy. I enjoy slow-paced books, but a lot of answers about the magic system came a little late. We also get short chapters, called Interludes, from Neve’s perspective. And I’ll be honest: I wasn’t really interested in her chapters. However, based on the ending, I think her POV will work well in the sequel. 

While the romance is very similar to that in Lakesedge, I do think it was more fleshed-out and better written in For the Wolf. 

All in all, if you liked similar books, such as Uprooted and The Wolf and the Woodsman, then you might enjoy this one, too!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

TW: Self harm for magic use (cutting), blood and mild gore, parental death, religious abuse