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: 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 Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi

Alexis holds This Woven Kingdom in a coffee shop next to her laptop and wooden chairs.

Alexis:

Happy Sunday, everyone! I’ve been enjoying reading and writing in coffee shops lately. I’ve always loved their atmospheres (and plus having some good green tea and a peach danish always helps, too).

I just finished reading This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi. Mafi’s writing is absolutely beautiful and atmospheric. Just on a writing level, this book was a joy to read. I absolutely loved her descriptions of the landscape and the world. It was so vibrant and lovely on the page, and it made her worldbuilding of the Persian mythology inspired world great.

This Woven Kingdom has two POVs: Alizeh, the long lost princess of the Jinn kingdom, who became a servant to hide after the murder of her parents, and Kamran, the crowned prince. I thought Mafi’s characterization of both main characters was great, but I especially enjoyed Alizeh’s chapters. 

All that being said, this is a very slow moving book, and if you haven’t picked up on it yet, I love slow moving books. But while the worldbuilding and characters are so well-established, barely anything happens in this book, and it’s over 500 pages long! Besides what happens in the end, the only main plot point is some insta-love. 

Overall, this book felt like one long set up for the next one in the series, but I’m interested to see what happens in the next one.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐.75 

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

Review: A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft

A Kindle with the cover of A Far Wilder Magic is being held in front of a Christmas present and Christmas tree.

Alexis:

Thanks so much to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press & Wednesday Books for my e-ARC of A Far Wilder Magic!

The story follows two characters: Margaret and Weston. Margaret lives in a small town, where an event called the Halfmoon Hunt is happening soon. The hunt is for the hala, a magical fox. And while Margaret owns a hound named Trouble, she needs an alchemist in order to enter the hunt.

Weston, or Wes, is desperate for an apprenticeship as an alchemist. He travels to Margaret’s town in order to appease Margaret’s mother, a famed alchemist, to become her apprentice. But Margaret’s mother isn’t there, and Wes finds himself joining the hunt with Margaret.

There were so many elements of this book that I loved. Saft’s writing is atmospheric and lovely, with a dash of creepy when describing the woods and the hala’s dark presence. 

The story has dual POVs, which I always love, and it’s character-driven. What I really appreciated about this book is that both Wes and Margaret are flawed characters. They feel very real, and their motivations feel very real, because of this. Wes is boisterous and utterly charming, but he’s also a swaggering womanizer. Margaret, on the other hand, is strong and stubborn, but she’s a recluse due to her absent parents, and is unwilling to let anyone in.

Their personalities are foils of each other—grumpy and sunshine—and I found that it worked well alongside their shared feeling of being outsiders. Both of them struggle against discrimination and ostracization. 

I thought the slow-burn romance was well done. However, I will say I went into this expecting it to be YA, and while it definitely feels like YA, there are a couple of scenes, while not spicy, that do veer more towards NA. It’s just something to keep in mind when going into this or recommending it to teens.

My only critique is that the worldbuilding very closely mirrors our world in the 1920s. The city is a thinly veiled New York. The religions are almost carbon copies of Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. I almost wanted this to be a true historical fantasy set in the 1920s, or the worldbuilding to stray a little farther from the real world. That being said, I think Saft handled the main theme of xenophobia/antsemtisim well.

I really enjoyed this one, and if you like flawed and dynamic characters, character-driven stories, romantic fantasies, and atmospheric reads, then I think you’ll enjoy it!

Pub day: March 8, 2022

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

TW: Antisemitism, animal injury and death, gore, parental neglect, panic attacks, nationalism and xenophobia

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

Review: Dance of Thieves Duology

The spines of the Dance of Thieves duology perches on a windowsill next to a Sweater Weather wood-wick candle, and a small pot of cat grass.

Alexis:

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson had been on my tbr for years, and I finally said, You know what? I should get it from the library. 

I had no idea this book would focus so heavily on the romance, but I didn’t mind it. The story follows Kazi, a solider of the queen’s, and Jase, the leader of the Ballenger family, an influential family that rules a kingdom that the queen doesn’t recognize. 

Let me start out by saying that Pearson’s writing is great; the writing itself is 5 ⭐s. She has the perfect writing style for a fantasy book like this one, and I really enjoyed it. I also really love dual POVs, and I think it worked well for the story. 

I simultaneously loved this book and thought it was just okay. I sped through the first half (despite never having read Pearson’s other series, where Dance of Thieves takes place, and struggling a bit with the worldbuilding). 

But this book has a lot of long sections that drag. The writing and world feel like adult fantasy, but this is definitely a YA book, because we have some almost-insta-love, enemies to lovers, and teenage angst. 

I think the parts that just felt okay to me were the constant backs and forths. This is basically an enemies to lovers, and then lovers to enemies, and then back to enemies to lovers book. There was a lot of miscommunication, which I’m starting to dread in romance-heavy books. And to think it was the miscommunication plotlines, as well as all the extraneous worldbuilding details, that bogged down the story. 

That being said, I enjoyed it as a whole, and I’m hoping I’ll like the second one even more! 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐/5 

Vow of Thieves:

What a sequel! This book makes up for the slow plot in Dance of Thieves. While the book is still long, there’s so much more action. The stakes are super high. Kazi and Jase are separated for the majority of the book, which adds to the longing and stakes of the book.

I enjoyed getting to know all of the side characters more.

There are a couple aspects that kept this from being a 5-star read, however. While I liked that Kazi and Jase were separated, as I think it helped with character growth, I think it went on just a little too long. I waited like 300 pages just for them to be together again, and considering the first book was mostly insta-love, I didn’t really get to see them grow together as a couple. 

On top of that, there was one “plot twist” that kept being hinted at, but it was very obvious from the get-go what it was. And it also dragged on for almost 300 pages. 

Despite that, I flew through this book, and overall, I enjoyed it!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

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: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐