Review: Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

A Kindle copy of Spice Road sits on a bookshelf next to a tea tumbler and a box of tea samplers.

Alexis:

Dune meets An Ember in the Ashes

Spice Road is a YA fantasy that follows Imani, a Shield warrior with an affinity for iron. When she discovers her supposedly dead brother is actually alive, she ventures outside of her homeland, the hidden desert city of Qalia, to bring him home. Outside the city limits, she discovers a world that she never knew existed, and grapples with her worldview, herself, her understanding of her brother, and the group she travels with. 

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding. Ibrahim does a great job describing the lush world. I love her use of sensory imagery, especially smell. It brings the world to life.

I love the tea magic! The people of Qalia access their affinity through drinking misra, a tea that allows them to access their magic. The first line of the book is, “We will fight, but first we will have tea.” Which is awesome.

I also really enjoyed the themes that Ibrahim presents. One of the main themes is truth and honesty, as Imani deals with the many lies she’s been told over the years. Another main theme is colonialism, which comes into play in the latter half of the book. I also appreciated the emphasis on family as Imani struggles to handle her rebellious little sister and hold onto hope that her brother is alive and well.

My favorite character is Qayn, a djinni that becomes Imani’s ally. He is the most complex and expressive character of the bunch, and I’m interested to learn more about him and his past!

But unfortunately, I didn’t like Imani’s character. She starts out as very naive and bullheaded…and ends the story being slightly less naive and bullheaded. She tends to be downright mean to anyone who helps her in the slightest and makes a lot of really dumb decisions. It doesn’t help that she’s also known as the Djinni Slayer…but besides obviously slaying a lot of djinni, we don’t really get an insight as to how she got that nickname at the age of seventeen. She also has a very confusing and lackluster enemies-to-lovers romance with a character who accompanies her on her journey. 

I found her to be unlikeable in general, and I had to push through certain chapters because I wasn’t rooting for her the way I should. However, I really loved the tea magic, the Arabian-inspired world, and the mythology aspects of Spice Road. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐ 💫


Special thanks to Delacorte Press for sending me an e-arc for review.

Spice Road is expected to be published on January 24, 2023!

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: Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrotra

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the dove rests on a white and gray marble table next to a Harvest Festival fall candle.

Alexis:

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove follows Katyani, a bodyguard who has had a forbidden soul bond with the Queen of Chandela since she was a child. Along with the two princes of Chandela, Kayani is ordered to travel to a monastic school—the gurukul of the famous Acharya Mahavir—in the middle of a forest that’s crawling with monsters. It’s both at the school and her return home that leave Katyani reckoning with everything she’s ever known. 

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove is an upper YA fantasy inspired by medieval India. I enjoyed the setting, especially the monster-ridden forest (since, as you all know, I’m a sucker for a creepy forest). The story has political intrigue, a slow-burn romance, and plenty of monster hunting.

I especially liked Mehrotra’s writing style and the humor she sprinkles into the story. I found Katyani to be an enjoyable main character; she’s definitely the female version of a himbo, but had a great character arc. There are a lot of layers and reveals in this adventure story that kept me wanting to keep reading.

Some of the characters, especially Daksh, Acharya Mahavir’s son, could have been a lot more fleshed out. Daksh and Katyani’s relationship also felt too underdeveloped considering it takes up a decent chunk of the story. Some character motivations seemed a little too easy, as well, which made me hesitant to give this book a full 5-star rating. However, I really enjoyed this story and definitely recommend it if you’re looking for an action-packed, adventurous story with Indian mythology. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐💫

Review: The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

The Sunbearer Trials rests on a marble table next to a white stuffed pumpkin and two candles.

Alexis:

The Sunbearer Trials follows Teo, a 17-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of Quetzal, goddess of birds.

This book is described as Percy Jackson meets The Hunger Games, and that’s the perfect description. 

Synopsis from Goodreads: 

As each new decade begins, the Sun’s power must be replenished so that Sol can keep traveling along the sky and keep the evil Obsidian gods at bay. Ten semidioses between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are selected by Sol himself as the most worthy to compete in The Sunbearer Trials. The winner carries light and life to all the temples of Reino del Sol, but the loser has the greatest honor of all—they will be sacrificed to Sol, their body used to fuel the Sun Stones that will protect the people of Reino del Sol for the next ten years.

In The Sunbearer Trials, I really enjoyed Thomas’ trademark voicy characters and fun writing style. The story is nice and fast-paced, and everyone’s outfits and superpowers sound so cool. I also like how this Mexican-inspired fantasy world is very diverse and inclusive, and how Teo’s wings play a role in the story and his trans identity.

While this was a fun read, there are some aspects that keep me from rating this higher.

For one, I never feel like the stakes are high enough. I mean, sure, one of the contenders will be sacrificed at the end, but the trials themselves don’t feel big enough to me. The games in The Hunger Games are thrilling to read because the stakes are so high, but in The Sunbearer Trials, Teo doesn’t even want to be there, much less take them very seriously. His motivation is to just…get through the trials so he can go back home. His lack of motivation plus the lack of high stakes meant I skimmed certain sections of the trials.

At times, this story feels more like Percy Jackson, aka middle grade. Now, I’m aware that I’m saying this as an adult reader who mostly reads YA, so maybe younger readers will feel differently. However, Teo is 17-years-old, and oftentimes, I thought he sounds like he should be closer to 14. Keep in mind reading is a personal experience and everyone interprets and reads things differently, but that’s how I perceived the character while reading this book. 

My last point is that the blurb makes it sound like this is going to be a high fantasy story, so imagine my surprise when the characters have phones and are watching TV. While I definitely think more fantasy worlds need modern technology and this is a cool aspect, moments of it took me out of the story. The world has its own version of Instagram and TikTok, and there’s also a reference to furries (what is up with books mentioning furries?? I read another one earlier this year that did the same thing).

That being said, the ending cranked up the stakes, which is exactly what I wanted! This is only the first book in a series, and the series definitely has a lot of potential. I’m interested in getting to know the large cast of characters better and to see what happens next. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐

Review: Unraveller by Frances Hardinge

Alexis is wearing a yellow flannel and holding the UK copy of Unraveller in front of a black bookshelf.

Alexis:

I would read Frances Hardinge’s grocery list if she let me; she’s one of my auto-buy authors. I’m also obsessed with this spooky cover (despite my dislike of spiders!). ⁣

This was the perfect read to ease into autumn. In classic Hardinge fashion, Unraveller is beautifully and darkly atmospheric. I’ve always been obsessed with her writing style. And the world is unique and features a creepy forest/swamp called the Wilds and spider-like creatures called the Little Brothers. ⁣

The story follows Kellen, a rare unraveller of curses, and Nettle, a girl who was formerly cursed to become a heron, as they work to unravel nasty curses—and uncover plots and mysteries along the way. ⁣

Unraveller reads like part dark fairytale and part mystery, and of course it’s a 5 ⭐ read for me. ⁣

I bought the UK edition, but look out for Unraveller in the US on January 10, 2023! ⁣

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