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

Review: Wildbound by Elayne Audrey Becker

An e-ARC of Wildbound on a Kindle sits on top of the spine of Foresborn in front of a green forest. A bottle of Topo Chico sits on its left.

Alexis: 

Wildbound is a fantastic sequel and ending to the Forestborn duology. A huge thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley for providing me an e-ARC!

The Forestborn duology follows Rora, a shifter who lives in Alemara, a land that once had magic but no longer does. When her best friend and the youngest prince, Finley, grows sick with a magical illness called the Fallow Throes, she’s tasked by the king to travel to find stardust to cure Finley, alongside Weslyn, the older prince, and her brother, Helos.

While Forestborn only followed Rora’s POV, Wildbound has dual POVs and follows Helos, her brother, as well. This worked exceptionally well for the story, and I found that the dual storylines upped the tension. I also got to know and understand not only Helos’ character better, but Finley’s, too. I actually ended up loving Helos’ POV just as much as Rora’s. 

Wildbound is action packed. We follow a war in Helos’ storyline and a spying adventure in Rora’s. While there are quiet moments to breathe, I didn’t want to put this book down.

Like Forestborn, Becker’s writing is lovely and full of forest and nature imagery. The characters are well-rounded, loveable, and so easy to root for! The worldbuilding and political intrigue are fantastic. Wildbound also delves into some very dark themes–not only prejudice but genocide, torture, and PTSD. Becker explores the themes of love and belonging with just the right amount of romance, including an m/m romance. 

I highly recommend picking up this duology if you haven’t already–Wildbound solidified it as one of my favorites.

Book Recs for Pride Month

Alexis sits in a coffee shop holding an iced London Fog latte.

Alexis:

Let’s talk Pride Month!

I put together a list of books that you might not know feature LGBTQA
characters.

  • Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko: Ace
  • Legendborn by Tracy Deonn: Nonbinary, pansexual, and gay
  • The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart:
    Sapphic
  • The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid: Sapphic
  • Forestborn by Elayne Becker: m/m romance

And of course, my favorite LGBTQA-centered reads that I always recommend are

  • Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
  • Tin Man by Sarah Winman
  • Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters
  • Under the Whispering Door and
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
  • We Are Okay by Nina Lacour

Happy reading!

 

Review: Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray

Beast of Prey stands on a deck railing next to a bottle of Peach Joe Tea in front of a forest.

Alexis:

5 ⭐ review!

It’s no secret that I love stories with creepy woods, so I was happy to find that Beasts of Prey features a creepy jungle.

There are so many layers to this book. The worldbuilding is interesting and intricate, the characters are bright and distinctive on the page, and Gray’s writing style is really doing it for me.

Beasts of Prey is a Pan-African fantasy inspired by lore, animals, language, and even historical figures from many different African nations, as Gray explains in her author’s note. Gray also explores forced diaspora. You can really feel her love and devotion to the world and the story that she’s created, and it gives the book that extra layer that makes the world come alive.

Beasts of Prey does have some classic YA tropes, but I loved the main characters and the central themes of finding yourself and overcoming past trauma. The story follows two main characters: Koffi, an indentured beastkeeper of the Night Zoo, and Ekon, a trainee for a band of religious warriors called the Sons of Six. When Koffi accidentally unleashes magic she didn’t know she had, called the splendor, it gets her in trouble with the owner of the Night Zoo. She finds herself teaming up with Ekon, who is trying to prove himelf worthy of being a warrior, in order to track down a monster called the Shetani.

The book follows one other POV from a girl named Adiah, and I enjoyed puzzling out how she connects with the rest of the story.

The inner editor in me loves that Gray also included an annotation of her first chapter in the back of the book—I loved seeing her writing and editing process.

This is a great beginning to the series, and I recommend it if you’re looking for a story with multiple POVs, great characters, monsters, magic, and a creepy jungle! 

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.