Review: The Genesis Wars by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Alexis holds The Genesis Wars in front of an abstract painting and yellow pillows.

Alexis:

The Genesis Wars is the sequel to The Infinity Courts, a YA sci-fi fantasy. The Infinity Courts was one of my favorite books of 2021, so I’ve been waiting to read the second one!

For context, the series follows a girl named Nami who was murdered. After she dies, she finds herself in the afterlife, which is called Infinity. There, she finds out that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife, made herself queen, and is enslaving humans. But when Nami finds a group of rebels, she works to take down Ophelia.

The Genesis Wars starts off a little slow. That being said, I’ve always loved Bowman’s writing style, and the beginning sets up even more worldbuilding that’s full of vivid imagery while building up Nami’s character.

The second half of the book is all action, and it contrasts with the first half well! I loved getting to know the world of Infinity even more. I loved the character arcs, and I loved the two plot twists near the end. I especially loved the jaguar named Nix.

The only problem is…now I have to wait for the next book in the series! 

Anna’s Favorite Books of 2021

It’s that time of year again! That time when we start thinking about everything we read in the past year—what we loved, hated, and everything in between. This year, I revolutionized my reading by keeping a reading journal within my bullet journal. I kept notes there on each book I read. I found that this helped me internalize each book, think critically about the plot and writing style, and more clearly remember the books I read throughout the year. 

Looking back on my reading in 2021, here’s what I found:

My top genres were mystery and thriller, which I’ve never read much of before this year. Many of my favorite books of the year fall into this genre, including my favorite series of the year, Tana French’s The Dublin Murder Squad and Anthony Horowitz’s Susan Ryeland’s series. In contrast, I also read some really bad thrillers and came to the conclusion I prefer crime/murder mysteries over physiological thrillers. We’ll see if this genre sticks!

I didn’t read much nonfiction at all, coming in with one essay collection, Disability Visibility, and just one memoir, Flesh and Blood by N. West Moss. I love memoirs, especially, so that’s something I want to read more of again in 2022!

Let’s get to the best books I read this year, by genre but in no particular order:

Literary Fiction

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

Summary: In a world divided by a coup, climate disaster rages. The Rain Heron follows different characters as they try to survive as well as the appearance of a mythical rain hero. 

Dystopian; environmental; climate control; lyrical; magical realism 

If you like: Abby Geni & books like Severance 

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Summary: Silvie’s dad is an Ancient Britain/Iron Age enthusiast. He forces his family to spend 2 weeks a year living in the woods with an Archeology class and professor. This year, things change.

Favorite Quote: “Without a house, it occurred to me, it is much harder to restrict a women’s movement. Harder for a man to restrain a woman.” – page 59 

This coming-of-age novel manages to have a conversation about misogyny and abuse in so little pages. 

Content Warnings: Physical & Emotional Abuse 

 

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh 

Summary: Three sisters grow up on an isolated island with their father and mother. They’ve been told the outside world isn’t safe, and they are made to perform horrible experiments on each other. When men arrive from the outside world, they realize their parents might not be telling the truth.

Content Warnings: Sexual, Emotional & Physical Abuse

If you like: The Handmaid’s Tale

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Summary: This is a fictionalized account of William Shakespeare’s family and the death of his son, Hamnet, during the Black Plague.

Warning: This book will make you cry. I loved the magical element and creative liberties O’Farrell took with Shakespeare’s history. 

Content Warnings: Death; Grief

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Summary: Lifelong friends and penpals Eileen and Alice live very different lives. One is a wealthy, successful author post-mental health collapse and the other has been stuck in the same job for years. When they finally decide to visit each other, tensions mount. 

Don’t come at me, Sally Rooney haters. No one writes characters, dialogue, and life like Sally Rooney. This is a beautiful novel about mental health, fame, and how friendships change over time.

Thriller & Mystery 

The Likeness by Tana French

Summary: When a woman named Lexie is found dead, Detective Cassie Maddox, who looks just like her, goes undercover as Lexie.

This is my favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad books so far and has dark academia elements.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Summary: Drawing Master Walter Hartright teaches art at an estate and becomes intrigued by a crime and the mysterious presence of a woman in white. 

This massive book is surprisingly readable and reminded me of my love for Victiorian fiction. 

Like all Victorian fiction, there are themes of madness, surveillance, and lack of women’s agency in society. 

Northern Spy by Flynn Berry

Summary: Tessa’s word unravels when she finds out her sister is a member of the IRA. 

This is a twisty novel about family, loyalty, and lies that helped contextualize the conflict in Ireland for me.

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

Summary: Carly drops out of college and travels to the haunted town of Fell, New York to investigate the disappearance of her Aunt Viv 20 years earlier.

There are some really terrifying ghost scenes in this, but this is ultimately one of the most heartwarming thrillers I’ve ever read.

Content Warnings: Sexual abuse

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Summary: A woman, Cecily, disappears from Branlow Hall and the answer is hidden in a book by the late mystery writer Alan Conway. The family asks his ex-editor, Susan Ryeland, to find Cecily. 

This book-within-a-book may be even better than the first book in this series! The plotting and double mystery is so cleverly written. 

Young Adult

Yolk by Mary H.W. Choi

Summary: Jayne moves from Texas to New York for college and to flee from her first generation Korean parents. There she reunites with her older sister, June, who reveals she has cancer.

This is one of the most intense and emotional books I’ve ever read. Unlike other tear-jerker YA books that deal with cancer very badly, Yolk treats it with respect. 

Content Warnings: Cancer; Eating Disorders

The Valley and the Flood by Rebecca Mahoney

Summary: Following the death of her best friend, Rose struggles with PTSD. One day, trying to escape her grief, she ends up in a strange town that she can’t leave. 

Warning: You won’t have a clue what’s going on for the first 100 pages or so, but this book is so creative, emotional, and interesting that you’ll want to keep reading. It’s all one big metaphor for PTSD. 

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Summary: In a futuristic world destroyed by climate change, Kasey searches for her lost sister, Cee. 

This book asks big questions about science and humanity, such as, if we don’t act to save the world now, when will we? And, when will we hold big polluters responsible? But at the center of all this is the complicated relationship between two sisters. 

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

Summary: A group of kids try to survive a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by flu flies. 

I loved everything about this book. It’s about sacrifice, found family, hope, survival, and it had a huge twist that blew my mind.

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danworth

Summary: Dual timelines one-hundred years apart follow creepy happenings and strange deaths at The Brookhants School for Girls. 

Admittedly this book could have been a lot shorter, but this sapphic mystery includes some of the best characterization I’ve ever read in YA.

The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters

Summary: When Natasha’s sister Rochelle disappears, she turns to the witchy girl, Della, who lives by the woods where she went missing.

Set in rural Tennessee, this is a really atmospheric and original fantasy/mystery with LGBTQ+ rep.

Fantasy 

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Summary: A fantasy based on Pre-Columbian American mythology. 

This is a complex, perfectly paced fantasy that follows multiple characters. One of the biggest problems I usually have with fantasy as an adult is the length, and this book didn’t lag for one second. Black Sun ended on a huge cliffhanger, and I can’t wait for the sequel. 

Middle Grade

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus

Summary: When orphaned siblings Anna, Edmund, and William are forced to leave London during World War II, they make a pact to find a new family in the countryside. Instead, they’re placed with several horrible families. Their only solace: the library . 

If you liked: The War that Saved My Life

I binged this cozy middle grade treasure in one sitting. This is a great story about found family, the tenacity of children, and how books can save lives. 

Happy reading! I’m excited to see what 2022 brings and hope that everyone has a great year, reading wise and otherwise.

Review: The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

A hardcover copy of The Ones We're Meant to Find rests on a wooden table in a coffee shop. An iced green tea and a coffee sit behind it. A laptop rests on the book's right.

Alexis:

I’ve been trying to read more sci-fi and dystopian, so I was excited when I won this book and got it in the mail!

The Ones We’re Meant to Find follows sisters Kasey and Cee. Cee is stuck on an abandoned island with nothing but a robot for company. She has amnesia, but she does remember her sister, Kasey, is out there somewhere. And she needs to find her.

Kasey is a 16-year-old STEM prodigy living in an eco-city, which is basically a city hovering in mid-air that’s an oasis from the rest of the polluted planet. She has always felt like a loner, and she can’t stop thinking about when Cee went missing.

I really liked how Kasey and Cee have opposite personalities. Cee is a caring, social butterfly, and Kasey the quiet loner; their characters are foils of each other, and it works well. 

I read He’s debut novel, The Descendant of the Crane, and I feel like both her writing style and her characterization have improved! The pacing was great, and I enjoyed seeing the plot unfurl, along with a massive plot twist.

That being said, if I’m being honest, I sometimes wasn’t sure what was going on in Kasey’s chapters. Because she’s a scientist, her chapters contain a lot of science, and I had to re-read certain paragraphs, especially since He created the future science herself. I honestly feel like I need to just re-read the entire book to get a better picture, as I sometimes had a hard time picturing what the world looked like. I almost wanted more info dumps, because scientific and futuristic technology was thrown at the reader rather than explained.

I also had a bit of a hard time connecting with Kasey, as she often felt a little too unfeeling; however, I know that was intentional, so I didn’t let it affect my overall rating. 

I was especially invested in Cee’s story and the mystery of her past. I loved the themes of humanity, sisterhood, and the environment. And not to mention, I love the cover!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Review: Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

Alexis:

“The forest sticks to me.”

Happy day after Christmas, everyone! If you celebrate, I hope you had a wonderful day despite this very strange year.

Now, I’m always down for a story with a spooky forest.

Winterwood follows Nora, a seventeen-year-old girl who comes from a long line of Walkers: women with witch-like powers who live next to the creepy Wicker Woods. Nora finds a lost boy named Oliver alive in the woods despite a massive snowstorm, and works to unravel the mystery of how he survived. 

Things I liked:

I love Ernshaw’s writing. It’s lyrical and enchanting, reminding me of a dark fairy tale. It perfectly fits the lovely, cold, and haunted aesthetic of this book.

I loved the setting. Nora’s house sounds homey and witchy, and I enjoyed the descriptions of it, alongside the forest, from Nora’s perspective. 

Things I didn’t like as much:

Besides Nora, I never felt like I got far enough below surface level with the other characters, and sometimes I couldn’t pin down motivations. Usually, I love dual perspectives, but I felt like Oliver’s perspective didn’t reveal enough about him for me, and his amnesia didn’t help.

I loved the magic, but I wanted it to be talked about/explained even more. I never really understood how it worked, even with the many pages dedicated to the Walker ancestors.

While I loved Ernshaw’s writing, it was too repetitive sometimes. Even though it fits the nature of this story (by the end), and I usually love repetition, I think it was utilized just a little too much.

Lastly, I guessed one of the main plot reveals very, very early on, and it’s already a slow-moving story. On top of that, the book’s conclusion felt a bit like a cop-out.

Despite that, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I sped through it. I love Earnshaw’s writing, and I look forward to reading her future books, where hopefully the plot and characters will be a little more refined.

VERDICT: 🌲🌲🌲/5

Review: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Alexis:

Raybearer is an impressive novel. The worldbuilding, based off of West African folklore, is intricate, and I often had to re-read sections about the world’s history because it was so detailed. But Ifueko went above and beyond when it came to shaping her world, and even if I couldn’t always keep up, it made the world very real.

There’s political intrigue, romance, magical creatures (including fairies), a found-family, and family drama. 

The writing was great, I loved the main characters (and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better in the sequel, since this first book was a little more plot/world-driven than character-driven) and I enjoyed being swept into this magical world. 

I only have two small critiques, one being that I didn’t get to know some of the characters well enough, and the pacing was a little slow in the beginning. However, this book reads like an epic, and the beginning starts out when Tarisai is a child, so I guess that is to be expected, and once it picked up its pace, I didn’t care!

Even though I’m not usually as much of a fan of high fantasy as compared to contemporary fantasy, I was pleasantly surprised with the dense, intricate world Ifueko crafted, and the plot unfolded in ways I never would have predicted. I love books that surprise me, and this book surprised me in all the right ways.

I found this to be a unique and engaging read, and if you’re looking for your next well-drawn, diverse YA fantasy, then I recommend it!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Alexis:

Hi, everyone. I’m finally done with my first year of grad school, and you know what that means– I get to read for fun again!

Deeplight starts out as a slow burn. At first, it turned me off a little bit, but I know Frances Hardinge; she’s one of my favorite authors! She is a masterful worldbuilder, and she spends the first 100 pages exploring the world of Deeplight and letting you dig into the mind of her characters in order to set up a powerful punch later.

Synopsis: Deeplight follows Hark, a fifteen-year-old boy who’s a little lost in the world. He just feels like a sidekick to his longtime friend, Jelt, until he’s put on trial for a crime and sold as an indentured servant. If you couldn’t tell from the front cover, the story is set on an island, called Lady’s Crave, where thirty years ago, the sea gods “turned on one another and tore each other apart.” If the islanders are lucky, they can find relics of the dead gods called “godware,” which are powerful and valuable. Hark just so happens to find a heart, which saves the life of Jelt. But when it starts to change Jelt, and not in a good way, Hark searches for answers with the help of a girl named Selphin and an old priest named Quest. 

I think this is the first book I’ve read by Hardinge that has a boy narrator instead of a girl. I will admit: I kind of wish the story was told from the perspective of Selphin, a girl he meets on his journey. I connected with her character a little more than Hark. 

The plot picks up a ton during the second half of the book, and I found myself really appreciating how she set up the world in the first half. Hardinge’s plot always goes in a direction I’m not expecting, and her books (including this one!) are always the epitome of fantasy, always delving deep into her dark, imaginative world and filling them with masterful descriptions. And this is why she’s one of my favorite authors!

I love the morally grey characters, and how Hardinge focuses on a toxic friendship, a topic not often explored in fantasy. I think the character arcs were great. Hardinge also created a world where deaf culture is normal and accepted, and the characters often use sign language to talk to each other. Overall, this book is a well-drawn, imaginative sea story that travels in unexpected, vivid directions. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 

 

Currently reading: Late Summer

Anna: Happy Monday from my two current reads!

I’m finally getting to the second book in the Kingkiller Chronicles series. I’m 300 pages in and completely swept up once again into Kvothe’s story! I’m finding that it mimics the first book maybe a little too closely so far, but I’m excited to see the direction it goes. Will Patrick Rothfuss ever finish the third book?

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

I’m also loving We Are Okay, a novel that’s deep, character-driven, and introspective in a way that YA novels sometimes aren’t. I’m finding the slow pacing  a great contrast to an action-packed fantasy.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

What I read in July

Anna: July was a crazy month for me! Work was super busy, but I also took a mini-vacation to the beach! My wedding is only three months away now and it’s starting to feel so real!

Reading always helps me stay calm when there’s so much going on in my life. I also read a wonderful mix of genres this month!

5 stars:

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

4 stars:

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

Hunger by Roxanne Gay

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Severance by Ling Ma

3 stars:

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (not pictured)

The Dry by Jane Harper

What were your July highlights, reading wise or otherwise?

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

This is a beautifully written, important book that deserves more attention. When Mary was eight, she killed the baby that she and her mom were babysitting…allegedly. After she’s released from jail as a teenager, Mary lives in a group home where she is harassed endlessly by the other girls. Meanwhile, she can’t remember what happened that night that baby Alyssa died- the night that landed her in jail for years.

This book is about a lot of things. It’s about a mother’s responsibility to her child, it’s about the corrupt prison system and the state, it’s about the mistreatment of blacks in the justice system. I loved Mary as a character who wants to take the SAT and go to college, who loves her mother and finds the strength in her to trust those trying to help her despite everything that’s happened to her.

Sometimes I find it hard to connect with YA because it can be superficial. This is not the case at all with Allegedly. Mary is a character in a position where she can’t even attend high school or afford an SAT prep book. It’s a perspective I’m not used to reading in YA. This is a heartbreaking and eye-opening read that I recommend to everybody.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

VERDICT: 5 stars

Review: We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

“What if I don’t give a shit about the world?”

“I’d say that’s pretty fucking sad.”

“Why?”

“Because the world is so beautiful.”  

We are the Ants is a difficult book to explain and to “place”. This is technically “science fiction”, and I say technically because it blends reality and fantasy. I love that it defies genres! The reader is left to wonder what is real and what is not. I’d warn potential readers not to the read the book jacket copy, because I want them to enjoy the mystery and surprise.

Trigger warnings for self harm, sexual assault, and suicide. This is a BIG part of the book so please don’t read this if that’s something too close to home.

I felt such a connection to the characters, particularly the narrator and protagonist, Henry, a teenage boy who is faced with a big decision: should he save the world or allow it to be destroyed? When we meet him, he’s overcome with grief over losing his boyfriend.  I was so invested in his story as he comes to terms with his grief and mental instability and battles many forms of bullying and harassment. Henry’s grief and mental health manifests itself in a totally original way that I thought worked so well.

This is also just “angsty” enough to be believable but not shallow or stereotypical in any way, a problem I sometimes have “drama” in YA. We are the Ants depicts horrific reality of mental health. This book doesn’t shy away from critically examining the demands our society has on teenagers. The amazing part is that Hutchinson explores all these themes through the unique lens of alien abduction and the impending apocalypse.

We are the Ants is one of the best YA novels I’ve read in awhile! I highly recommend it!

VERDICT: 5 books!