Alexis’ 2023 Hopefuls

Alexis:

Happy new year from me and my new book cart! The top shelf is my physical TBR (will I ever get to it?) And the bottom is shelf overflow. ⁣

I’m currently reading an ARC of A Song of Salvation by Alechia Dow, as one of my goals for this year is to delve into more sci-fi/space operas.

Here’s a long list of books I would love to get to at some point in 2023.⁣

  • Know My Name by Chanel Miller
  • The Little Village of Book Lovers by Nina George
  • Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans
  • Empire of Exiles by Erin M Evans
  • The Ashfire King by Chelsea Abdullah 
  • Song of Silver, Flame Like Night by Amélie Wen Zhao
  • Threads That Bind by Kika Hatzopoulou
  • Never a Hero by Vanessa Len
  • The Bone Shard War by Andrea Stewart 
  • The Foxglove King by Hannah Whitten
  • A Fire Endless by Rebecca Ross
  • The City of Dusk by Tara Sim
  • When In Rome by Sarah Adams 
  • Seven Faceless Saints by M.K. Lobb 
  • A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid
  • Two Twisted Crowns by Rachel Gillig

I also saw that there’s some interesting discourse going around in the book community (I mean when is there not?). Apparently, some readers think it’s a red flag when someone mostly reads new books.

I’ve always enjoyed reading newer releases. As a writer myself, I love supporting authors during and after their book launches, because some day, I hope that will be me! I’m also all for reading what you like and what you want, as long as it isn’t hurting anybody.

What do you think? Do you feel the same as I do?

Happy reading!





Anna’s Yearly Wrap-Up: Best Books Of 2022

Anna: It’s that time of year again! 

Reading Stats

In 2022, I read a total of 69 books. My top three genres were literary, mystery, and contemporary, although not as many mysteries made it to my top books this year. I read 93 percent fiction and 7 percent nonfiction. Oops— one of my reading goals for 2022 was to read more nonfiction. Maybe next year!

Reading Tracking App

This year, I stopped using Goodreads and switched over completely to The StoryGraph to track my reading. Why? Goodreads is owned by Amazon and The StoryGraph is independently owned. I also just prefer it— The StoryGraph is more user-friendly, you can actually select the correct edition you’re reading, there are trigger warnings and each book is tagged by its mood, pacing, and genre. I also like that you can tag the books you own and digitally line up your TBR. 

Reading Journal

Instead of using my main bullet journal, this year I tried chronicling my reading in a separate reading bullet journal. I found it pretty tedious and stopped about halfway through the year. Even though I find that journaling helps me remember and process a book better, I need to stop writing so much of the summary or I get too burned out to actually journal. Luckily my in-laws got me a templated reading journal for Christmas, which I’m going to try using this year. 

So without further ado, let’s talk about the best books that I read this year! I’m not attempting to rank these; I loved them all.

Fiction

The Push by Ashely Audrain

I could not stop reading The Push and it haunts me to this day. This is a fast-paced yet deeply character-driven thriller about a mother who is convinced her daughter is evil, but no one else believes her. It’s about how terrifying parenthood is and how you might not have as much control over your child as you think.

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

I was hesitant to read this since I did not enjoy the only other book I’d read by Emma Straub, The Vacationers. But I loved This Time Tomorrow! It centers on a father/daughter relationship and how that changes as we age. It’s also about being happy where you are in life while recognizing that it’s okay to feel nostalgic for the past.  It also involves time travel! I can’t wait to reread this one.

Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel 

This coming-of-age book has a lot going on—some themes include mental health, sexuality, and our obsession with true crime. It follows Zoe, a struggling college student who becomes involved in a dangerous scheme when she and her study abroad roommate move into the apartment of a famous mystery writer. It’s a little slow in places but has so many elements I love that I couldn’t stop reading.

Bewilderness by Karen Tucker

This was one of the first books I read in 2022, and it continues to stick with me. It’s literary fiction about two friends living with drug addiction. Tucker writes about the heartbreaking cycle of addiction in a way that humanizes it without glorifying it. The writing is beautiful, I loved the friendship between the two main characters, and the ending still gets me. 

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

After reading (and loving) the Monk & Robot series by Becky Chambers, I was excited to jump into this sci-fi series. This first book was so fun and featured a diverse, lovable cast of characters that travel space together in a rag-tag ship called the Wayfarer. I’m looking forward to continuing the series! 

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

It’s hard to write about mental health in a fresh, new and meaningful way, but Meg Mason does it. Martha’s mental illness is never named in Sorrow and Bliss. We just know it’s a very stigmatized disease. I loved the role of family in this book, and that a large part of Martha’s journey is about accepting their love and support.

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Modern Irish fiction is among my favorite, and this slim, “quiet” novel packs a punch. I read this one in early January, and it’s the perfect book to read around Christmas time. It makes you question what you would actually do when confronted with someone in need around what is supposed to be the happiest and most giving time of the year.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel 

I’ve loved every Emily St. John Mandel book I’ve read, and this one is no exception. It’s almost impossible to describe what Sea of Tranquility is about, but it follows different characters across different timelines and worlds. Slowly their stories start to weave together. I loved the sci-fi and dystopian elements of this one as well!

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell 

This was one of my most anticipated new releases of the year, and it did not disappoint! No one writes historical fiction like Maggie O’Farrell. This retelling of the life of the duchess Lucrezia de Medici is set in Renaissance, Italy. We know from the beginning that Lucrezia is killed early in her marriage by her husband. The Marriage Portrait is beautifully written, full of tension, and I loved the direction it went. 

Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft

I don’t read much YA any more, but I picked up this one and liked it so much that I also read Allison Saft’s other book, A Far Wilder Magic, this year. I preferred this one, which follows Wren, a young healer who visits a gothic, crumbling mansion to figure out its dark secret. It also has a romance plot, which I actually enjoyed (I’m not huge on romance in my reading these days). The way the relations between the different kingdoms are written in this one is really well done.  

Nonfiction

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

Kathryn Miles explores the life and death of Julie Williams and Lollie Winnans, avid hikers who were murdered while camping in Shenandoah National Park. As a woman and frequent hiker of Shenandoah, I was intrigued—and terrified—by what Miles has to say about how the places we consider the most peaceful are not actually safe, especially if you’re a woman. 

My Body by Emily Ratajowski 

I knew nothing about model Emily Ratajowski before reading her memoir. Now, I respect her. Her essays recognize that Emily uses her body as currency and that it’s made her wealthy. Yet she challenges the perception that a woman can’t be sexy, intelligent, and call herself a feminist and a writer all at once.

Here’s to another great year of reading in 2023!

Review: Kill Your Darlings by L.E. Harper

A Kindle ARC of Kill Your Darlings rests on a white marble table next to a Santa hat and a book notes notebook

Alexis: 

If you’re looking for Inkheart meets Inception, then Kill Your Darlings is for you. 

Inkheart was my absolute favorite book as I kid, so you know I had to request Kill Your Darlings on Netgalley!

The story immediately jumps into the action. Author Kyla thinks she’s dreaming at first. After all, she’s in Solera—the world she created in her fantasy series. But soon, she realizes that she’s stuck in Solera, who is in the middle of a war against the evil villian, and Kyla has to figure out how to save both herself and her favorite characters.

This book depicts the struggle of mental health, specifically with depression. It’s the main theme and the main abstract obstacle that Kyla must overcome. Kyla’s struggles, which Harper explains stem very closely from her own, give this book such a raw and emotional edge. I really felt for Kyla as she struggles with her very dark thoughts and depression in order to learn her self worth.

Harper’s wordbuilding is amazing. Solera is the perfect mix of a fantasy and sci-fi world. It has a healthy mix of dragons, magic, battles, and a slew of magical creatures. Since Kyla is the author, we also get a great insight to how the world and its dark and light magic works. 

Without giving anything way, I thought all of the parallels between Earth and Solera were done well. I like how we get asexual representation with Kyla’s character. And I love Kyla’s relationship with a dragon named Cendrion. 

I did think the romantic subplot felt a little forced, especially considering the age gap. However, I think it accomplished what Harper needed it to do for the story. Besides that, my only main critique is that I wanted even more at the end of this story. There were some open-ended questions and interactions that I itched to see while I was reading. However, I understand why Harper ended the book this way, especially considering the frame of the novel (which is within the frame of the novel about Soltera…hence the Inception aspect!). Even without a more beefy ending, this book packed a punch!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

TWs: Depictions of mental illness including depression, anxiety, suicide and suicidal ideation, and self-harm

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn

Alexis holds a copy of Bloodmarked over a pile of fallen autumn leaves and her black Chelsea boots.

Alexis:

I’m not kidding when I say I sat down and devoured Bloodmarked in one day.

Bloodmarked, book two in the Legendborn Cycle, was one of my most anticipated sequels, and let’s just say if you’re worried about middle-book-syndrome/sequel syndrome, don’t be!

So much happens in this book that I already feel like I need to re-read it. The plot really thickens.

I loved learning more about Bree. I loved learning more about her root and her ancestors. I loved getting to know the secondary characters even more. I especially enjoyed getting to know Sel and Alice better. A decent number of new characters are also introduced, but Deonn does such a good job of balancing everyone out that no character feels flat.

Bloodmarked also dives into important themes such as racism, white privilege, and identity. This is such a well-fleshed out series so far, and I can’t wait to see where Deonn takes it next.

Overall, there’s not much else I can say about this book without spoilers! If you still haven’t picked up Legendborn and you’d be into a King Arthur retelling (or even if you’re just looking for a great and multi-layered YA fantasy read), I recommend picking it up.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

Alexis wears a pirate Halloween costume and holds a copy of The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy in front of fall foliage.

Alexis:

Happy belated Halloween!

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy was the perfect read to finish out October.

Hart is a demigod who’s a marshal for a wild land called Tanria. Mercy is an undertaker for her dad’s funeral home, Birdsall & Son, where Hart sometimes drops off bodies he finds in Tanria. But the two, who take their jobs too seriously sometimes, hate each other. But then Hart, who has been lonely for years, pens a letter to “A Friend,” it ends up in Mercy’s hands. When she anonymously responds, the two strike up a tentative friendship. 

I just had so much fun reading this book. It has fun fantasy elements like animal mailmen who used to be the messengers to gods and zombie-like creatures, yet the story also feels very contemporary. 

I don’t have anything negative to say about this book. Sure, the romance between Hart and Mercy happens a little suddenly, but there is a build up through the letter writing, which is an aspect I realized I’m loving in novels lately. I loved learning more about the characters’ backstories, and I especially loved Mercy’s relationship with her family. 

If you’re looking for a book that’s pure, weird fun but also has a macabre sense of humor that doesn’t shy away from the brutality of death, then this is for you.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Defend the Dawn by Brigid Kemmerer

Alexis holds a copy of Defend the Dawn in front of bookshelves in a bookstore.

Alexis: 

Did this book just come out on Tuesday? Yes. Did I binge read it and finish it today? Also yes. 

Defy the Night is one of my favorite books, so it’s safe to say that Defend the Dawn was one of my most anticipated reads. And I’m happy to say it did not disappoint.

Defend the Dawn brings even more political intrigue, plot twists, and morally gray characters. I was constantly second-guessing what I knew about character motivations.⁣

⁣While the middle moves a little slowly, in classic second book fashion, I still really enjoyed it. I love both of the main characters, Tessa and Corrick. I loved reading about their messy emotions and relationship. I also really enjoyed getting to know Corrick’s brother, King Harristan, better, and I love his brotherly relationship with Corrick.

While Defy the Night only has 2 POVs, a third POV is sprinkled into Defend the Dawn. I found that it worked really well for the story, especially since Tessa and Corrick are on a ship for the majority of the book.  ⁣

⁣And then of course, we have the ending. The appropriate reaction is “ahhh!!” It was so action-packed and I loved it, but of course it ended on a cliffhanger. Now I have to wait and see what happens, and I’m an impatient reader!

If you still haven’t picked up this series, it’s a New Adult fantasy series filled with politics, a rebellion, a pandemic, outlaws stealing for the sick, and of course a dash of romance. It’s also low fantasy, so if you want a fantasy without magic, then this is the series for you.

⁣VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⁣

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: Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Alexis:

Since I’m unfortunately recovering from lung surgery, I decided that continuing with my rom com binge and sticking to more lighthearted reads might be a good idea. 

I read The Love Hypothesis earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised. The writing was easy and accessible and the story was funny and heartwarming. 

Needless to say, I picked up Love on the Brain. And I have to admit…I’m a little baffled.

Was this fun to read? Yes. Like its predecessor, Love on the Brain contains so much interesting science talk (as well as a focus on neuroscience) and you can tell Hazelwood knows what she’s talking about. 

That being said, I got major déjà vu when reading this book. I kept thinking, “Have I read this before?” There were so, so many scenes, moments, and plot points that were almost the exact same as The Love Hypothesis. 

Now: yes, I am aware that both books started out as Reylo fanfic (but I like to keep an open mind!). So I knew there would be some similarities. However, both of the main characters, Bee and Levi, were nearly carbon copies of the main characters in The Love Hypothesis, except Bee somehow managed to be a more unhinged version of Olive. 

At least I liked Levi’s character. But there was also a plot point at the end that was honestly so ridiculous that it made the story unredeemable for me. 

Final thoughts: It started off as a fun read, but I wasn’t able to enjoy or get sucked into the story because it was just a worse version of The Love Hypothesis.

Review: Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel

Anna: This scratched an itch in my reader brain that hasn’t been scratched in a while—that’s the only way I can really describe it! 

Other People’s Clothes follows Zoe, an art student who studies abroad in Berlin for a year to get away from her life in New York. Zoe is dealing with the recent unsolved murder of her best friend, Ivy. In Berlin she meets Hailey, also an art student from her college in New York, and they agree to sublet a famous mystery writer’s apartment. But something isn’t right about the apartment, and the girls think someone may be watching them. 

This is literally everything I could want in a book—literary fiction but with mystery and thriller elements. It explores mental health, being a creative person, and the unique experiences (and loneliness) of studying abroad, discovering your sexuality, and generally figuring out yourself in college. But above all, Other People’s Clothes explores the unique relationship between roommates. I don’t think the writing style is for everyone, but it really worked for me. My only critique is that the ending was a bit too long. But I’d rather an ending be too longer rather than too short. All in all, this was a solid debut.

VERDICT: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Someone please recommend me more books in this vein!

Also, my husband and I are moving in just a few short weeks, hence the boxes! My books and bookshelves are in a state of disarray. I’m going to miss the built in bookshelf in this apartment so much…

Review: Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren

A hand holds a yellow can of mango Bubbly sparkling water next to a Kindle, which rests on both a gray blanket and a black and whtie blanket.

Alexis:

I recently read The Unhoneymooners, which is undoubtedly the most popular of Christina Lauren’s books. And I really enjoyed it. It was the perfect beach read, and there were definitely a lot of actual laugh-out-loud moments.

So I decided to pick up Love and Other Words. And it’s definitely my favorite of the writing duo known as Christina and Lauren.

The story follows two different timelines. In modern day, Macy is a busy pediatrics resident stuck in a routine relationship. Back when she’s thirteen, Macy is struggling to deal with her mom’s recent death when she strikes a friendship with bookish Elliot. Eventually, their relationship becomes more. But in the present timeline, Macy has been estranged from Elliot for a decade, and when she unexpectedly runs into him, she has to face both him and her past.

The alternating timelines work really well for the story. Macy and Elliot’s characters already have a lot of tension between them, but the timelines and the mystery of what happened to their relationship ups the tension even more.

Part of why I loved this book was the past timeline. Reading about their growing friendship feels so realistic, sweet, and sometimes awkward, but true to their characters and to life. Their shared love of books and words makes for a solid foundation and a fun story to read.

As for the modern timeline, both Macy and Elliot are absolute messes, and it was both fun and heartbreaking to read. 

I only have two critiques, and one is relatively small. As a Greek American, I was excited to read about Elliot Petropoulos. I loved reading about his family’s dynamic, but I thought there was a missed chance to explore his Greek identity, even if it was just a little bit. His family didn’t even have spanakopita or baklava when they hosted Thanksgiving! There was a mention of peeling potatoes that I thought might have been a nod to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but I kept waiting for him or his family members to make a joke about being Greek.  

The other is the reveal/plot twist at the end, which was definitely an…interesting choice. The ending really needed to be expanded on in order to give both Elliot and Macy more time to unpack what happened and really deal with their trauma, especially Elliot.  

That being said, this story about childhood sweethearts made me feel all the feels. I found myself wholly engrossed in the writing and in Macy and Elliot’s story and relationship.

VERDICT: 5⭐s