Review: Book of Night by Holly Black

Book of Night rests on a coffee shop table next to a Starbucks cup and a pumpkin

Alexis:

On a whim, I picked up Book of Night from the library. I haven’t read a Black book (unless you count The Spiderwick Chronicles when I was a kid) and I’ve heard conflicting reviews of Book of Night

Which I now understand.

The first half of this book is slow. The worldbuilding is minimal, there are too many chapters that take place in the past, and the world itself suffers from what I call adult fantasy book syndrome—the world is cold and dreary, depressing and dark. For example, Ninth House has adult fantasy book syndrome, meaning everything about it is unnecessarily dark. While Book of Night isn’t quite as dark, it still has a criminal main character, lots of references to drugs and alcohol, kidnappings and murder, self harm, trauma, etc.

Which makes me wonder…why can’t we have an adult fantasy book that is both dark yet fun? 

That being said, the second half of this book takes a turn. The inciting incident doesn’t happen until around page 50 or 60, and then the plot gets rolling. I became more intrigued by the plot and the characters, especially as the world’s shadow magic and manipulation was explored a little more. There was also a plot twist that worked really well for me.

The beginning of the book is 2 stars, and the latter half 4, making this a 3 star read overall. (Or crescent moons, if you will).

VERDICT: 🌙🌙🌙/5

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

Review: Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier

Alexis holds Year of the Reaper in front of a plant and a solar-powered metal cactus.

Alexis: 5 ⭐ review!

Year of the Reaper follows Cas, a young lord who is finally on his way home after being held as a prisoner for three years and surviving a plague. When someone targets the royal family, Cas finds himself teaming up with Lena, a historian, to find the mysterious assassin. 

I loved this book! Cas is such a great main character. He’s flawed and scarred from his time as a prisoner, and his story deals with him trying to move on from his past. He also spends time reuniting with his older brother, and I enjoyed their relationship. 

There are so many interesting facets to this story. The story is set in a medieval fantasy world that’s based on both the Pacific Islands and the black plague. While it’s a low fantasy world, Cas is now able to see ghosts—which I read as a symbol/physical manifestation of his survival with the deadly plague. 

A majority of the book also deals with not only the aftermath of the plague, but a long war that has finally come to an end.

The characters are well-rounded, and I enjoyed the dynamic between Cas (grump) and Lena (sunshine). There’s also the “who hurt you?” trope, but it was very well done. My only small critique is that I feel like the title doesn’t fit the story that well.

If you’re looking for a fun, multi-faceted YA fantasy/mystery that also deals with some dark themes and trauma, then I recommend picking this one up!

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Anna: What would you do for love?

This is How You Lose the Time War is the most imaginative book I’ve read in a long time. It reminded me why sci-fi  is such an amazing genre that I need to explore more. It also has LGBTQ+ rep!

Summary: Red and Blue are change agents who work for rival time traveling agencies–Blue for the Garden, a vast organic consciousness. Red works for the Agency, a Technotopia. While traveling to different “strands” of history and time to change history, they start to write each other letters and slowly fall in love.

The actual rules and word building in This is How You Lose the Time War is super confusing at first and very slowly revealed to the reader. I didn’t know what was going on for a while, but that’s okay. This book is more about the lyrical writing and the vivid, visceral images of time traveling and Red and Blue’s romance that literally stands the test of time. This is ultimately a “star-crossed” lovers narrative, but it’s not tropey at all. This book takes work to get through, but it’s rewarding and worth it.

I also think it’s so cool that this book was co-written! As a writer, I can’t imagine creating such a complex world and story in the first place, but also doing it so seamlessly with another writer.

Verdict: 4 stars

Review: Furyborn and Kingsbane by Claire Legrand

The spines of Furyborn and Kingsbane rest on a windowsill next to a white curtain and a candle.

Alexis:

Furyborn, and the rest of The Empirium Trilogy, has been on my tbr list for a while now, and when I found Furyborn in a used bookstore, I grabbed it!

To be honest, it took me a while to get into the worldbuilding. I had to read the first half of this book carefully in order to understand the world and the characters.

Furyborn has two timelines—1000 years apart. Two queens, the Sun Queen and the Blood Queen, are prophesied to either break or save the world. Rielle can perform all seven kinds of elemental magic, and enters a series of trials to prove that she is the Sun Queen. 1000 years later, Eliana is an assassin just trying to keep her family alive in the Undying Empire when she runs into a rebel named Simon who needs her help.

Like I said, once I got to the halfway point, I loved this book. It’s both action packed yet slow paced. The first chapter/prologue offers a glimpse of what happens in the end, and I found that it upped the tension and anticipation for me while I read. 

While I wasn’t a huge fan of Rielle’s character, I found Eliana to be interesting and flawed. And Simon was by far my favorite character; I can’t wait to learn more about him in the next book.

My one main critique is that this book was originally marketed as YA and—it’s not. It’s definitely adult, with adult themes and sex scenes. I would categorize it as New Adult, which I desperately hope will eventually be a more solidified genre. 

If you’re looking to dive into a new trilogy full of action, powerful and flawed women, angels and elemental magic, and dual timelines, then you might like this.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

As for Kingsbane, where to begin!

The plot thickens. Legrand throws her characters into everything imaginable; anything bad that can happen does.

It’s hard to say anything else about this book without giving major spoilers, but I both hated and loved reading it, and the ending almost had me throwing it against the wall.

Despite feeling terrible for all of the characters, this book was just so intense and dark, and I loved it. That being said, I’m not a fan of how Legrand writes her sex scenes, and I think there were several in here that were unnecessary. 

But Kingsbane stuck with me, and I’m still waiting to read the third and final book in the trilogy to see what happens!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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: 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: Monsters of Verity Duology by Victoria Schwab

Alexis, wearing a green flannel, holds a up a Kindle copy of This Savage Song in front of a fenceline and an autumn forest.

Alexis:

I have to admit: Schwab’s books are either a hit or miss for me, and I’ve avoided reading more of her books for that reason.

But I think This Savage Song, the first in the duology, is my favorite of hers so far!

It follows two juniors in high school named Kate and August, in an apocalyptic America that’s been divided into territories and overrun with monsters born from violence.

Kate is the daughter of Harker, who rules one side of the city of Verity, and August’s father is Flynn, who rules the other side. Kate does her best to get kicked out of every boarding school her father has dumped her in, in an attempt to come home to Verity. When Kate finally returns to Verity, August is enrolled into her high school, his enemy’s high school, in order to spy on her.

But here’s the thing: August isn’t actually human, no matter how hard he tries to be. He’s a Sunai, and he can reap souls through music, with his violin. 

I loved the gritty, urban feel of this book. Schwab’s writing style definitely works the best with this kind of book (as opposed to The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, which is a lot less punchy and to the point, and instead very flowery). And I’m always a sucker for a dual POV.

August was by far my favorite character in this book. I loved his personality, and how he tries his best to balance who he wants to be with his monster side. And his musical, monster-y superpower was so interesting to read about. He’s such a wholesome and well-rounded character.

Kate is a great character, too. Schwab did a great job of writing how her past trauma impacted her and continues to influence her character. She’s a strong badass with a soft side, and she and August’s personalities mesh well together. 

Though a long book, the pacing was great, and I loved the survival plotline. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 

Our Dark Duet

I flew through this book because I wanted to know what happened. That being said, it just felt a little disjointed, especially in comparison to the first one. The gritty vibes were all there, all good, and I really liked Kate’s character arc.

I liked August’s character arc, too, but I felt like we didn’t get to see his transformation, while we got scenes in the beginning explaining and detailing how Kate got to where she is.

The plot was a little bit frustrating, mostly because there was one monster that appears and is never explained/explored enough, so that I was left with a lot of questions. But mostly, I enjoyed this book overall…if it wasn’t for the ending.

It was a very specific kind of ending that I really, really don’t like. It’s totally a personal preference, but for me, it just kind of ruined the story.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐

Overall, if you’re looking for a gritty, YA urban fantasy, definitely pick this up! Now, the question is: should I finally read A Darker Shade of Magic?

Review: Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross

Alexis holds the naked spine of the book Dreams Lie Beneath next to a candle and Starbucks cup, while her dilute calico cat looks on.

Alexis:

Dreams Lie Beneath follows Clementine, or Clem, who is her father’s apprentice magician in a small town. Each new moon, people’s nightmares come to life, and it’s Clem and her father’s job to not only record the townspeople’s dreams, but to fight any that come to life.

But then two strange magicians come to town, challenging Clem’s father for his position. When he loses, Clem seeks revenge on the two men who upended her life.

I absolutely loved the beginning of this book. Ross’ writing style is lovely, and I enjoyed the worldbuilding. Clem is a great main character, and even when she makes some questionable decisions, I found myself always rooting for her. 

I enjoyed the magic system, and how Ross describes the nightmares coming to life. I also enjoyed the history of this world and the book’s plot.

This easily could have been a 5-star read for me. However, after the beginning of the book, some of the side characters begin to feel a little too flat for my liking. Phelan, the magician Clem ends up working with, was intriguing in the beginning, but as the story moved along, his character was just too flat. Despite his copious amount of page time, I felt like I knew Imonie, Clem’s family cook, and Mazarine, an old lady from Clem’s hometown, better than I knew Phelan. 

Despite this, I really enjoyed this book. If you’re looking for a book full of dreams and nightmares, with a cool magic system and a dynamic main character, then you might enjoy this!

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!