Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2021: Picks 5-1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! For me, the word “favorite” is an important part of this list. As I go through the last year’s worth of reading, I often found that some books would strike particular chords within me more deeply than others, even if, quality-wise, another book might be stronger. Of course, this just makes it all that much harder to put them in any order. But here it goes! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!

5. “Forestborn” by Elayne Audrey Becker

I get the feeling that this book has flown largely under the radar of the mainstream reading community, and that’s so, so sad! I really loved this first installment in a new fantasy duology. There are many familiar elements (persecuted magical beings, royal figures who are more than they seem, an enemies-to-lovers romance), but Becker strings all of these elements together in such a way that the story still felt fresh and new. Her writing was also perfectly suited for my preferences, being both lyrical and character-focused. I pretty much binge read this book and am anxiously awaiting the second book’s release in 2022. Those who like fairytale-like fantasy stories and a solid romance, definitely check this one out!

“Forestborn” Review

4. “A Desolation Called Peace” by Arkady Martine

“A Desolation Called Peace” Review

This is the second time that Martine has been featured on one of these lists for me. And it just goes to show the strength of her writing and of this duology that her second book, “A Desolation Called Peace,” has actually climbed up the ranking! I enjoyed this one even more than “A Memory Called Empire.” Having already gotten much of the character introductions done and the basic world-building laid out, it was clear that Martine felt free to truly explore the moral, cultural quandaries at the heart of this universe she had imagined. I always enjoy science fiction that pushes the boundaries on first contact scenarios with new alien species, and Martine does that here with spades. If you liked “A Memory Called Empire” and haven’t gotten around to this one yet for some reason, what are you waiting for?

3. “Black Sun” by Rebecca Roanhorse

“Black Sun” Review

I find this one particularly amusing. If you read the review, you’ll see it’s that unicorn of a book where Kate and I really come down on opposite sides (well, we probably would do that rather often if we both regularly read out of our preferred genres, but that’s really neither here nor there). As far as our category system goes, this book can be found under the tag “Rating 6” AND “Rating 10.” Which is just strange! As you may have guessed, I was the one who rated it 10. I enjoyed all three of the POV characters, even when some of them were on opposing sides of the brewing conflict. The world-building was fantastic and unique, and I always enjoy a good political fantasy. This is definitely one to check-out if you’re looking for an action-packed story and three excellent main characters.

2. “The Last Graduate” by Naomi Novik

“The Last Graduate” Review

No one will be shocked to see this one on this list, or even to see it high up on the list. I don’t think there’s been a year that Novik has released a new book and it hasn’t made my “Top 10.” Man, it was such a long wait for this book to release! Not only did I get an advance copy of the first book which set the waiting time as even longer, but this book’s publication date was set back from its original. But it finally arrived and was everything I could have asked for! El was back in all of her snarky glory. Orion was back in all of his clueless glory. And now in their final year, the stakes were even higher. Alas, the book did end on a pretty massive cliffhanger, so the horrid wait for the final installment has already begun. September can’t come soon enough!

1. “Vespertine” by Margaret Rogerson

“Vespertine” Review

Perhaps even crueler than the cliffhangers that Naomi Novik tends to write is the long wait time I had to endure before Margaret Rogerson released her next book! It’s been years, I tell you! But it did not disappoint and, what’s more, seems to be the start of a series? Maybe? It also works as a stand-alone book, which is one of the things I’ve loved about Rogerson’s work in the past. This story has all of the trade-mark aspects that I’ve loved from this author: a fantastic leading lading, hilarious banter, and an imaginative new fantasy world. Fans of her work should definitely check out and, heck, any fantasy fan should check out ALL of her work!

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2021?

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2021: Picks 5-1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! Like past years I won’t be including re-reads, sometimes my opinion of a book could change and evolve after I had read it, so some surprises may be up near the top, as well as perhaps a book or two that didn’t make my reviews on here initially due to genre limitations. But here they are, ready for a countdown! And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our Twelve Days of Christmas Giveaway”! Today I’m going to countdown my favorite reads, five to one.

5. “You Love Me” by Caroline Kepnes

“You Love Me” Review

Good ol’ Joe Goldberg is always going to be a literary darling for me, his adventures incredibly messed up but also super funny in the darkest way. In his third book, “You Love Me”, Caroline Kepnes sends him to the small community of Bainbridge Island, where he can lick his wounds after losing Love Quinn’s love and the right to see their son. But don’t worry, Joe hasn’t given up on love just yet, as he now has fallen for Mary Kay, the town librarian. And he will do anything to get her to love him back. I have read this book a few times this year, mostly via audiobook, as the “You” books are my insomnia listens (yeah, I know, wtf), and with each listen I found more to love about this book. Joe is still Joe, but this book brings out some pathos from his character, and while it’s not ‘growth’, per se, it’s still a way to make him interesting. Bring on book four!

4. “Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery” by Brom

“Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery” Review

This is the book that I have lovingly referred to as “Beauty and the Beast” meets “The Witch” and I stand by that summation. “Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery” by Brom is very THAT. When Abitha, a young woman living in a Puritan community, loses her husband to mysterious death, she is set to keep his land as her own. Though his brother has other thoughts. Meanwhile, a being of the forest with no memory of his past or identity suddenly awakens, with a need to feed and calls to violence being sent his way by other forest spirits. When Abitha meets this ‘Slewfoot’, as she calls him, they start to learn about each other, the positives and negatives of being outsiders, and the powers they have within themselves. I just adored this book, and make no mistake: it has plenty of moments of horror, both of the otherworldly and the very, very human kinds.

3. “The Love Hypothesis” by Ali Hazelwood

“The Love Hypothesis” Review

If I could just somehow translate my happy squealing about this book to review form I absolutely would, because “The Love Hypothesis” is assuredly the CUTEST BOOK I HAVE READ THIS YEAR! Possibly in the past few years, honestly! I don’t usually tout romance on the blog, but this year I made the exception for this lovely, steamy, and fun romance novel! Olive is a graduate student at Stanford who hopes to do cancer research. Adam is a wunderkind professor with a reputation for being an ass. When she impulsively kisses him to convince her best friend she’s dating someone, she is mortified. But after talking, they realize that they could both use a fake dating scenario to their advantage. You can probably guess where this is going. Ali Hazelwood makes this story not only adorable and sexy, but it also has some really well done bits involving grief, trauma, and the abusive aspects of academia. And I love it so, so much it’s now a go to read when I’m feeling down.

2. “My Heart Is A Chainsaw” by Stephen Graham Jones

“My Heart Is A Chainsaw” Review

I continue to bow down to Stephen Graham Jones, an author whose voice in horror is so unique and so powerful that I feel that he is helping transform the genre as a whole, while still showing his love for the roots of it at every turn. His newest novel is his best, and a love letter to slasher movies and their fans. Jade is an Indigenous teenage girl living in the smalltown of Proofrock, Idaho. And right around the time some wealthy developers have moved in to gentrify, strange murders start to happen. Jade knows all her slasher lore, and she KNOWS that a slasher killer is afoot. And when a new girl in town arrives just in time for the kills to start, Jade knows that this girl HAS to be the final girl who will stop the killer once and for all. There are fun and lively references to an entire smorgasbord of slasher movies and tropes, but it is Jade who really shines, as she is resilient, plucky, and deeply, deeply damaged in a way that makes you want to hug her and keep her safe from everything and everyone. I would go from grinning to crying as I read this book. A horror masterpiece. And it’s only the beginning as it was recently announced that Jade’s story is going to be a trilogy. Cannot wait.

1. “Firekeeper’s Daughter” by Angeline Boulley

“Firekeeper’s Daughter” Review

I knew the moment I set this down that “Firekeeper’s Daughter” by Angeline Boulley was going to be hard pressed to be knocked from its place as my number one read of the year. The moment I started I was completely blown away by this debut YA thriller/mystery. Boulley tells the story of Daunis, a biracial teenage girl whose mother is white but whose father was Anishinaabe, and who has never really fit into either identity. When Daunis’s best friend is murdered by an ex and Daunis witnesses it, she is approached by agents from the BIA and the FBI, who want to bust open a drug ring that is affecting the community. Daunis has knowledge of Indigenous medicine and chemisty, and the government agents think that an Indigenous person is behind the drug running, so they ask her to go undercover. As she investigates, she starts to find out secrets that could change her life, and the life of her community, forever. This book….. It is so emotional, and compelling, and it is impossible to put down while also hitting all the right beats when it comes to life for Indigenous youth in America today. Read this book. It’s phenomenal.

And that completes my list for 2021! What were your favorite books this year?

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2021: Picks 10-6

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! For me, the word “favorite” is an important part of this list. As I go through the last year’s worth of reading, I often found that some books would strike particular chords within me more deeply than others, even if, quality-wise, another book might be stronger. Of course, this just makes it all that much harder to put them in any order. But here it goes! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!

10. “The Bone Maker” by Sarah Beth Durst

“The Bone Maker” Review

I really enjoyed this book by Sarah Beth Durst. This author has been fairly hit and miss for me, but when she’s on, she’s on! One of the things I liked most about it was the fact that it featured a main character and side characters all who were solidly middle-aged. It was a very most “post Chosen Ones” storyline, exploring what happens to the heroes after they have conquered the all-powerful source of evil in their world. Of course, for there to be a story, there is some question about that last part. But the book also explored a lot of bigger topics like grief, loss, vocation, and found families. It’s a great stand-alone fantasy novel.

9. “Dustborn” by Erin Bowman

“Dustborn” Review

It’s always the best when I get to include a new author who I just discovered in the last year! This list often includes many long-time favorites (they’re favorites for a reason!), but it really illustrates the unique joy of reading to know there are always new favorites out there to be discovered! “Dustborn” is really everything its cover would have you believe: a post-apocalypic “Mad Max” style YA novel. That said, it’s also nothing like what you would believe, having some of the best surprise twists that I’ve seen in quite a while! The story follows a young woman who sets out to find salvation for a world that is tearing itself apart. This was another stand-alone story, and I enjoyed the heck out of it!

8. “Silence in the Library” by Katharine Schellman

“Silence in the Library” Review

Those who read my review for this book will know how near a miss this was to getting on this list, purely because I lost track of when this book was released! But luckily I was able to rectify this oversight quite quickly, and here we are. This was an excellent new mystery for Lily Adler and co. We saw many familiar faces, but also met a new cast of characters including Lily’s villainous father. And, of course, an entire host of suspects for the most recent murder Lily stumbles upon. This series also continues to do excellent work in casting a diverse cast of characters into a historical setting.

7. “All of Us Villains” by Amanda Food & Christine Lynn Herman

“All of Us Villains” Review

I almost didn’t pick up this book due to my unenthusiastic initial impression of the cover art. Good thing I dismissed this and let myself be talked into it by a few trusted sources, because I really enjoyed this! It’s very much “The Hunger Games” fantasy edition, but it does many things right that other wanna-be similar stories failed to do. Not least of all, it’s been long enough since “The Hunger Games” released that the similarities were fun instead of annoying. On top of that, the authors did great work in creating a fully fleshed-out world in which this type of magical battle royal makes sense (as much as kids fighting to the death ever can!). They also peopled their world with a cast of character who were all distinct and interesting. It’s a rare thing that a book can have four POV characters and I can enjoy them all! I definitely recommend this one to YA fantasy fans looking for something new!

6. “Murder on Black Swan Lane” by Andrea Penrose

“Murder on Black Swan Lane” Review

This was a book/series that has been hanging out on my TBR list for years now. There are several books out, that’s how long it’s taken me. I have all the regrets!!! I loved this book when I finally got around to checking out the audiobook from the library. The narrator was excellent, something I always find really elevates these British mysteries. And I also really liked our two main characters. We get to know them slowly as the book unfolds, but the author also wisely doesn’t show all of her hand in this first book and it still feels like there is more to learn about both of these leads in future books. The mystery was also interesting, and the story was surprisingly action packed! I’m planning on diving into the second book soon and I fully recommend this to fans of historical mystery novels.

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2021?

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2021: Picks 10-6

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! Like past years I won’t be including re-reads, sometimes my opinion of a book could change and evolve after I had read it, so some surprises may be up near the top, as well as perhaps a book or two that didn’t make my reviews on here initially due to genre limitations. But here they are, ready for a countdown! And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “Twelve Days of Christmas Giveaway”! Today I’m going to countdown my favorite reads, ten to six. 

10. “She’s Too Pretty To Burn” by Wendy Heard

“She’s Too Pretty To Burn” Review

This was one of the earliest books I read in 2021 where I thought ‘okay, this is a contender for the top ten of the year’, mostly because it was so darn twisted and addictive! A Sapphic and modern retelling of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”, teenage photographer Veronica meets the shy but compelling Mick, who becomes her muse, and which starts to drive a deep and intense connection between the two. But when they get caught up in a murder within the guerilla art world, things start to spiral. The intensity was up there, the histrionics hit just right, and I was both rooting for the characters while also wanting to smack them upside the head at times. If there is a sequel (it may have been set up? I hope so!), I will definitely pick it up.

9. “A History of Wild Places” by Shea Ernshaw

“A History of Wild Places” Review

Cults, baby! You know I love a good cult story, so this tale of missing people and the mysterious Pastoral (which may or may not be surrounded by a deadly diseased forest?) had ‘me’ written all over it. And Shea Ernshaw kept the thrills going, and took me by surprise multiple times! Travis is sent to look for Maggie St. Clair, a childrens book author who disappeared into the woods looking for a commune called Pastoral, but then he disappears too. Then a couple years later, citizens of the commune, trapped there because of a deadly plague, find evidence of their presence that they never knew of. This dark fantasy has a lot of horror and mystery elements that make it both dreamy and terrifying, especially when you see the secrets that the leader of a small, isolated community, has been keeping…

8. “Untamed Shore” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“Untamed Shore” Review

I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and the woman had multiple books published this past year. My favorite of the bunch also happened to be a favorite of 2021, and that was her republished thriller “Untamed Shore”. Viridiana is a teenage girl living in a Baja seaside town in the 1970s, when some wealthy American tourists arrive. She’s hired to be an interpreter, and is immediately taken with all of them, especially the handsome Gregory. But when one of them ends up dead, Viridiana is compelled to lie about what she knows to keep her new friends safe, and this in turn may be a mistake. For what does she actually know about these Americans? Viridiana is probably my favorite of Moreno-Garcia’s protagonists, as she is a complex character who feels very real while being easy to care about and root for, even when she’s making mistakes. The hard boiled crime mystery is a good one as well, and I was nearly breathless by the time everything shook out.

7. “White Smoke” by Tiffany D. Jackson

“White Smoke” Review

A Gothic ghost story mixed in with a family drama with a dash of some really good points about redlining and gentrification. That is how I would sum up this new horror novel from one of my favorite YA Thriller authors. Mari and her newly blended family have picked up their life and are moving into a newly redone building in a neighborhood that her mother’s new company owns. Tensions are high due to Mari’s anxiety, as well as her head butting with her stepsister Piper. But once they move in, things take a turn for the strange. Things end up in places they weren’t in initially. Strange noises are heard in the night. A terrible smell takes over Mari’s senses on occasion. Mari doesn’t know if her anxiety is playing tricks on her, or if there is something very wrong in their new, ‘perfect’ home. This story had moments of complete terror for me, and anyone who loves a good ghost story should check it out.

6. “Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Malibu Rising” Goodreads Page

I mean, it happens every once in awhile! A book that I loved one year that didn’t make it on the blog due to genre constraints makes it onto the Top Ten list. This year that book happens to be Taylor Jenkins Reid’s new historical fiction “Malibu Rising”! As someone loves a good family drama and a nice healthy does of eighties nostalgia, this one was a winner. The Riva siblings are getting ready for their annual Summer Party in 1980s Malibu, eldest Nina hosting and still processing her upcoming divorce. Pro surfer Jay is trying to mend a broken heart, while photographer Hud is hiding a secret from him. And youngest Kit has a secret of her own she’s hiding from all of them. We get to know the Rivas, their family history, and what happens the night that Riva’s Malibu mansion has a raucous party…. and then burns to the ground. I fell for all of the Rivas, and loved how Jenkins Reid tells their story of love, loss, and loyalty tested.

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2021?

Not Just Books: December 2021

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

TV Show: “Miss Scarlet and the Duke”

I’ve had my eyes on this one for a while, but I was waiting for an open chunk of time when I could binge watch the entire six episode season. And that time finally came last week when the boys went to their Grandparents’ and I had a free day at home! So binge away I did! And I can’t really say I was surprised by it, I knew I was going to love it going in! Historical mystery featuring a woman investigator and her gruff and grumpy companion with whom she shares a bantering, quasi-flirty relationship? All of those are my things! So yes, I really liked this and now am eagerly awaiting season 2.

Movie: “Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Again, on said free day from the boys, my husband and I took advantage of our time and went to see this movie on opening night. It was a great theatrical experience all around! There are a lot of spoilers for this movie, so I was glad we got in early so we were able to experience it with fresh eyes. It was also fun being part of an audience who was doing the same: gasping at the same moments, applauding on and off throughout, and generally just having a great time! I really, really liked this movie. Probably my favorite of the three new Spider-Mans and definitely in my top picks of all of the Marvel movies. If you’re a superhero fan, this is definitely one to see!

Podcast: “Binge Mode: Marvel”

Given how much I enjoyed Binge Mode’s podcasts for “Game of Thrones” and most especially “Harry Potter,” it was only a matter of time before I got to this! But having watched a few other Marvel movies recently and knowing that the new “Spider-Man” was coming out this month, I thought now was the time to dive in! As usually, this podcast is great. They dive into all of the origins and easter eggs fo the movies that only the most avid comic readers would have recognized. They also do great work tying together the themes and larger moving story that connects all of these movies. A really fun cast!

Kate’s Picks

TV Show: “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars”

So I actually didn’t sit down and watch “All Stars” Season 5, for a couple of reasons. The first was that I was still bitter about how my girl Manila Luzon was screwed out of her rightful crown in Season 4. The second was that I LOVE the winning queen with all my heart, but it was pretty clear the moment she walked into the workroom that she was going to win Season 5. After not watching 5, I was less motivated to start 6. But on my birthday I decided to finally start Season 6, and my gosh! I was completely blown away by the sheer talent that almost every returning contestant brought to the competition! There were so many worthy queens who were bringing it every week that I genuinely had no clue who was going to be added to the Hall of Fame by the end of the season! I also finally got to see the new elimination format, and I really liked it this time around (especially since it cuts down on the possibility that a weaker queen could eliminate a stronger one after one off week). This season was really enjoyable, and I was happy with the winner (and would have been happy with ANY of the Top 3 winning)!

TV Show: “Succession”

For awhile I’ve been seeing the social media hype for HBO’s dark comedy “Succession”, about a morally bankrupt billionaire family that has a hold on media but is constantly at odds with each other, and decided to give it a whirl this past month while baking Christmas cookies. And man oh man, did the hype live up to itself for me, as I am officially addicted to this show! As mentioned, it follows the powerful Roy family, a media dynasty that is very clearly a take on the Murdoch family, as their patriarch Logan starts to shift his focus on how the power would suss out after he passes away, much to his children’s chagrin. Especially the chagrin of heir apparent Kendall. When that succession line comes into question, Logan’s other children start to think about their OWN positions. It’s dark and bleak but super funny, and while there isn’t really anyone to root for, I’m supremely entertained by a lot of the characters (in particular Greg, the hapless and clueless great nephew of Logan who just kind of ends up caught in the web by happenstance).

Film: “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion”

This is absolutely not a new film to me, but it had been a LONG time since I had last watched it. Like, potentially almost fifteen years or more, which is really shocking to me given how much “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” meant to me when I was in middle school! It’s a movie about Romy (Mira Sorvina) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow), who are best friends living together in kind of monotonous existences in L.A. When they run into old classmate Heather (Janeane Garofolo), they hear about their upcoming ten year high school reunion, and decide that they want to go… But have to make up lies to be more impressive to their classmates. Sorvino and Kudrow have great chemistry, it’s a SUPER 90s flashback of a movie, and while middle school Kate was a Romy type I can safely say that as a thirtysomething I FULLY relate to sardonic and bitter Heather. Also, my husband had never seen it, which was what prompted the viewing in the first place.

What have you enjoyed this month?

Serena’s Review: “Age of Empyre”

Book: “Age of Empyre” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publishing Info: Grim Oak Press, May 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: own it

Book Description: A door opens. An army of dragons advance. And the fate of the living rests with the dead.

After obtaining the secret to creating dragons, the leader of the Fhrey has turned the tide of war once more—but gaining the advantage has come at a terrible price. While Imaly plots to overthrow the fane for transgressions against his people, a mystic and a keeper are the only hope for the Rhunes. Time is short, and the future of both races hangs in the balance. In this exciting conclusion to the Legends of the First Empire series, the Great War finally comes to a climactic end, and with it dawns a new era in the Age of Empyre.

Previously Reviewed: “Age of Myth” , “Age of Swords”, “Age of War” , “Age of Legend”, and “Age of Death”

Review: I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to finishing up this series, but…well, it did. I was really enjoying the audiobook versions, and I had half a mind to wait for the library to have a copy. But over a year later, it looked like that wasn’t going to happen, so on to my purchased copy! The last book ended on a pretty big cliffhanger that I still remembered vividly over a year later, so I was pretty excited to see not only how that was resolved but how the entire series was going to be wrapped up.

The war is coming to a head. With the secret to creating dragons now known to the Fhrey, the Rhunes one real advantage has been crippled. But all is not lost and those who set out on a quest into the heartland of the Fhrey people still have hope to cross the realms of the dead. But all who started out will not return, and the future of both races hang in the balance.

This was a bit of a tricky read for me, the first of its kind in this series which, overall, I’ve greatly enjoyed. I did start having a few questions around the midpoint of the series. The author surprised me with some sudden swaps in main characters and removal of other, previously central, figures. For the most part these played well and I remember praising the Sullivan for breaking some tried and true fantasy stereotypes and not getting precious with his characters. But around this point the story also started to feel meandering and lacking in the tight pacing and focus that I saw in the first three books. This was most noticeable in the last book, which had previously been one book that was then cut in two. And it showed. It really felt like the author simply gave himself a page count and then just ended the book when he reached it. Because of that, this book has similar problems in that it feels like the second half of the first book, rather than a story with its own unique arc.

I also struggled with a couple of the character actions (some carried over from the previous book, choices made there that made little sense that then had massive repercussions in this book). It felt like Sullivan had to quickly tie up the many loose ends left, but this resulted in several characters with arcs that, over the entirety of their story told over multiple books, felt ultimately rather pointless. Why were some of these characters even introduced if it feels like their story really didn’t go anywhere in the end? It was very disappointing.

I especially struggled with Persephone’s story. She was one of the strongest characters in the first several books, but in the last few, it feels as if she’s barely on the page. And if she is seen, she feels aimless and without agency. I get that Sullivan is trying to tell the story of many characters, some of whom played bigger roles in certain parts of this grand tale and less in others, so perhaps it was simply the manner in which some of them (particularly Persephone) rose and fell out of prominence felt clumsy. This book also tied up a few characters’ stories in ways that I felt undermined much of their previous journey, making it feel like much of it was for nothing. I can’t name names without spoiling big reveals, but you’ll know them when you see them.

It’s tough, because I still enjoyed the general experience of reading this book. Sullivan has an engaging, approachable style of writing that makes the process of reading his stories fun and easy. It was only when I sat down after the fact and reflected on this series as a whole that I truly began to feel disappointed. I would still ultimately recommend this series and this author to epic fantasy fans. Even though I had some quibbles with this ending, it wasn’t a dumpster fire by any means and was largely satisfying (even if I had personally wanted different endings for a few characters/aspects). I’m excited to check out the other series by this author, however. Technically, they were written before this series but, chronologically, happen afterwards. Should be a fun reading experience!

Rating 7: Solid enough as its own book, but lacking a bit as the conclusion to the series as a whole.

Reader’s Advisory:

Find “Age of Empyre” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?”

Book: “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” by Harold Schechter and Eric Powell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Albatross Funnybooks, July 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: One of the greats in the field of true-crime literature, Harold Schechter (Deviant, The Serial Killer Files, Hell’s Princess), teams with five-time Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist Eric Powell (The Goon, Big Man Plans, Hillbilly) to bring you the tale of one of the most notoriously deranged murderers in American history, Ed Gein. DID YOU HEAR WHAT EDDIE GEIN DONE? is an in-depth exploration of the Gein family and what led to the creation of the necrophile who haunted the dreams of 1950s America and inspired such films as Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs.

Painstakingly researched and illustrated, Schechter and Powell’s true-crime graphic novel takes the Gein story out of the realms of exploitation and gives the reader a fact-based dramatization of these tragic, psychotic and heartbreaking events. Because, in this case, the truth needs no embellishment to be horrifying.

Review: A statement I am about to throw out there is going to sound weird and perhaps a bit screwy, so I need to proceed with a caveat: true crime as a subject matter is depressing. It is a genre that is predicated on the suffering and victimization of others, transformed into a kind of ‘entertainment’ (though admittedly I don’t think that I’m, like, ‘entertained’ in the ‘wheee this is fun!’ sense of entertainment whenever I consume it). Like it’s ALL depressing. But for me, one of the more depressing stories is that of Ed Gein, murderer, grave robber, and recluse whose furniture and decorative creations were made of body parts. Gein has always bummed me out because it is VERY easy to trace his warped sense of self to the massive amounts of abuse he was subjected to from a very young age. It sure doesn’t excuse what he did; plenty of people are abused and don’t turn into the kind of guy who makes a belt out of women’s nipples. But It is just another example of how trauma has long reaching consequences. And that brings me to “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” by Harold Schecther, a new comprehensive true crime narrative from a true crime giant. This time in graphic novel form!

(And it probably goes without saying, but this book has SO MANY CONTENT WARNINGS. From child abuse to spousal abuse to necrophilia to gore to animal abuse, proceed with caution)

In terms of how Schechter tackles the story of Ed Gein, from childhood to murders, I thought that he did a pretty good, comprehensive job. The research is obviously there, the sensationalism is to a minimum (even kind of scolded, as in the book there is a section on people who turned his gross crimes into urban legend lore just for attention), and the way that Gein’s crimes influenced modern horror are well parsed. He starts with the premiere of “Psycho”, a story that takes inspiration from Gein’s twisted and abusive relationship with his mother, and slowly starts to tell the tale of Gein and how he potentially went from mild mannered and scared boy to small town monster. It’s nothing I didn’t already know, but Schechter is great at contextualizing the story. As I mentioned above, Gein’s life was one of horrendous abuse, from the physical the the emotional to the religious, as his mother was tormenting and supremely controlling, his father was an at times violent alcoholic, and due to his suppressed and weird nature, his peers ostracized him… which then sent him more under the wing of his mother Augusta… who was very unwell. There’s a reason that “Bates Motel” explores the depths of Norman Bates’s mother in the way it does. But all that said, Schechter doesn’t feel like he’s making excuses for Gein. There isn’t any sympathy put his way. A little bit of pity, sure, as we do see what a scared and abused little boy he was. But no sympathy, especially since his victims (including possibly his own brother!) were wholly separated from his misery.

I think that the biggest stumble for me with this book is that I’m not sure that being a graphic novel really added much to the story. Don’t misunderstand me, Eric Powell has a really well done final product with his illustrations, and they have a weird and unsettling energy to them that still feels based in realism. But I’m not certain that we gained anything from this story being in a graphic format. I’ve definitely seen graphic formatting add more to historical events, either through the visual literacy aspects of graphic novels or through contextualizing complex or heavy subject matter, especially for younger audiences. But in the case of “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?”, I don’t know if it really enhances the story with a visual element. But again, the style itself was well done. Man did he get the Ed Gein look down.

Source: Albatross Funnybooks

“Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” is a well laid out summary of the Ed Gein story and all the dark and depressing facts it has to offer. The comic aspect doesn’t enhance it, per se, but the overview is comprehensive without succumbing to exploitation or bad taste.

Rating 7: A pretty comprehensive (and therefore deeply disturbing and depressing) history of Ed Gein and his crimes, though the format felt at times unnecessary.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” is included on the Goodreads list “Comic Book Club Recommendations”.

Find “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “A Psalm of Storms and Silence”

Book: “A Psalm of Storms and Silence” by Roseanna A. Brown

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, November 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: Karina lost everything after a violent coup left her without her kingdom or her throne. Now the most wanted person in Sonande, her only hope of reclaiming what is rightfully hers lies in a divine power hidden in the long-lost city of her ancestors.

Meanwhile, the resurrection of Karina’s sister has spiraled the world into chaos, with disaster after disaster threatening the hard-won peace Malik has found as Farid’s apprentice. When they discover that Karina herself is the key to restoring balance, Malik must use his magic to lure her back to their side. But how do you regain the trust of someone you once tried to kill?

As the fabric holding Sonande together begins to tear, Malik and Karina once again find themselves torn between their duties and their desires. And when the fate of everything hangs on a single, horrifying choice, they each must decide what they value most—a power that could transform the world, or a love that could transform their lives.

Previously Reviewed: “A Song of Wraiths and Ruin”

Review: So, if you’ve read my review of “A Song of Wraiths and Ruin,” you will remember that I checked both of these out from the library at once. Very rarely do I get a chance to read books back-to-back like this. Either because I read the first one when it comes out and there is naturally a long wait. Or because I can’t get my hands on them both at the same time. But it’s always a fun experience to simply stay in one world over the course of two books. The first one followed a fairly straight-forward plot, but its interesting uses of West African culture and folklore kept me on board. Let’s see what the second one had to offer!

All of Karina’s worst fears have come to pass, the mutiny she had feared struck and she now wanders alone and hunted, desperate to reclaim her throne. But it soon becomes clear that Karina’s desire to return to her throne is not only important to her but to the entire country, for with the return of her sister as come chaos and disaster. Malik quickly learns that returning Karina to her throne is all that will resettle this disturbance. But, of course, their is the teensy problem of trying to get a woman you tried to kill to trust you once again and work alongside you.

Before we get into the real review, I just want to take this moment to love on the covers of both of these books. Rarely do I like covers that feature models, I think they’re usually too cheesy and draw to mind cheap covers of romance paperbacks of old. But I really like the cover for both this book and the first one. I think I probably like this one even more than the first. It’s great to see Malik, and Karina looks more like the powerful character I imagined.

Sadly, this book was a bit of a let-down. I had some concerns going in, considering one of my bigger complaints about the first book was the fairly bland and straight-forward writing style and plot design. This is always a bit difficult for me to review in these types of books, as I’m not the target audience, not being a young adult myself. However, while I think that perhaps a younger audience would be less turned off by this more plain style of writing and plotting, I do think that authors and publishers regularly underestimate their readers. Just because YA readers will read this book and maybe not be actively turned off by the simple writing (unlike me), I would theorize that they would greatly appreciate it more if the author challenged their abilities and expectations a bit more.

Mostly, I was disappointed with the direction the romance and characterization took for our two characters. I never enjoy a romance that has tension created and kept alive only by actively obtuse levels of determined noncommunication. Maybe just talk to each other?! I also have limited patience for wishy-washy trust issues of the sort we see here. It simply doesn’t feel natural to try to pair the level of interest/love these two are meant to feel for each other with the level of distrust we get from their mental dialogues and their unwillingness to communicate basic facts. It just doesn’t read as natural to have characters behave like this.

I was pleased enough with the ending, a bit expected, but it also felt like a natural fit for the story. So, while I personally didn’t really enjoy this duology on the whole, I do recognize that it may appeal much more to actual YA readers. The West African cultural elements and folklore were still very interesting, so I don’t regret checking it out.

Rating 6: A bit of a let down with a romance plot line that I generally don’t enjoy. But I’m also not the target audience, so take from my opinion what you will.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Psalm of Storms and Silence” is on these Goodreads lists: 2021 Fantasy and Science Fiction Books by Black Authors and X of Y and Z.

Find “A Psalm of Storms and Silence” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Love Hypothesis”

Book: “The Love Hypothesis” by Ali Hazelwood

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, September 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.

That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding… six-pack abs.

Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.

Review: So this is a bit of a surprise! I’m sure you are thinking ‘now wait a minute, usually Serena is doing reviews of romance, not Kate! What is going on lately?!’ Well, I had to review this one. I just had to. I know that I’ve mentioned on here that I’ve been doing my fair share of romance reading this year (you saw last week’s review of “The Ex Hex”, which wasn’t representative of my overall positive experience of romance reading), and let me tell you, do I have a treat for you all. I am here to review “The Love Hypothesis” by Ali Hazelwood. A steamy and STEM-y romance that I just LOVED, with an unexpected “Star Wars” connection. Yep. This is repurposed Reylo fan fiction, everyone!

As someone who only saw the first two movies in the new trilogy once, and never bothered with ROS, this is out of context for me but also kinda really hot? (source)

So for those who don’t know, “The Love Hypothesis” was originally an AU Reylo fanfic that put the characters into an academia setting. Now they are Olive, an ambitious and driven graduate student in biology, and Adam, a greatly feared professor within the program, and they are both well formed and conceived characters on their own, “Star Wars” inspirations noticeable but certainly not constraining. In an act of desperation, Olive kisses Adam in hopes of convincing her best friend Rose Anh that she has moved on from the man she had been dating previously, and whom Anh has a huge thing for. Olive and Adam eventually cut a deal to fake date each other, as it’s mutually beneficial (Olive can keep Anh feeling secure in her feelings, and Adam can convince Stanford that he isn’t considering leaving and therefore stopping the institution from freezing his research funds). It’s the perfect set up for a fake dating trope, and Hazelwood makes Olive and Adam so likable it’s impossible not to root for them in their perpetual optimism (Olive) and reserved grouchiness (Adam). There are silly misunderstandings, witty banter, and a slow burn build up to some really sexy scenes, and I have found that all of this is EVERYTHING I NEED IN A ROMANCE NOVEL. But Hazelwood also tackles some pretty hefty issues, like sexual harassment in academia, abusive mentors, and trauma and loss, and does it all in a way that feels genuine and not just to keep a plot going. We also get to know all these characters (albeit through Olive’s perspective for the most part) and really find something to like about almost all of them, from Olive and Adam (boy do I love Adam) to their various friends and foils. I especially loved Adam’s bestie Dr. Rodriguez, a sarcastic and devil may care professor who is almost assuredly the Poe Dameron analog from the original fan fiction. Everyone is just so darn lovely.

And the sexiness. I mentioned how it’s a slow burn progression, and as I said, that’s just how I like it. But let me tell you, the sweet sweet build up in this book makes for a very satisfying pay off, and when it pays off, IT PAYS OFF. I lent my copy to my dear friend and fellow “It” reviewer Laura (who is as big an Adam Driver fan girl as I am), and in a video chat she said, ‘this is good, but when does it get GOOD?’ Well, the next day I got a text that just said ‘IT GOT GOOD’. For someone who loves a slow burn and wrote some pretty salacious fan fic in her own time (I’m not telling which fandom it was for), even I was clutching my pearls a bit by how graphic it was once it finally came to a simmering head. In the best way. There is also some really solid and realistic demisexual representation in this book, which I always love to see. Sometimes I encounter romance novels that (for me) lay the horniness on a little too thick, and then there are others that are a bit too chaste. “The Love Hypothesis” meets in the middle.

Hoo boy, I am not used to reviewing romance novels. All I can say is that I LOVED “The Love Hypothesis”. I know that there are lots of opinions about Reylos on the Internet, but I gotta say, Ali Hazelwood has written an awesome romance, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store next! Olive and Adam forever!

Rating 10: Just hook this up to my veins whenever I need a pick me up. SO DAMN ADORABLE.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Love Hypothesis” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Grumpy Sunshine Romances”, and “Romance Novels With STEM Heroines”.

Find “The Love Hypothesis” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!

Happy holidays fellow book lovers! And in honor of this time of year when presents  giving is everything, we’re hosting our annual “12 Days of Christmas” Giveaway. But, tricky us, it’s actually two giveaways, each one comprised of six books from our preferred genres. Read on to see what books are included in each prize package and enter for your chance to win! Both giveaways are open to U.S. residents only and end on January 1.

Serena’s Prize Package

“The Wolf of Oren-Yaro” by K.S. Villoso (My Review)

“The Mask of Mirrors” by M. A. Carrick (My Review)

“Blood of the Chosen” by Django Wexler (My Review)

“Wildwood Whispers” by Willa Reece (My Review)

“The Bone Maker” by Sarah Beth Durst (My Review)

“Animorphs Graphix #1: The Invasion” by K.A. Applegate & Michael Grant, Adapted by Chris Grine (My Review)

Click to Enter Here!

Kate’s Prize Package

“All These Bodies” by Kendare Blake (My Review)

“Silence in the Woods” by J.P. Choquette (My Review)

“The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess” by Andy Marino (My Review)

“Empire of Wild” by Cherie Dimaline (My Review)

“The Lost Village” by Camilla Sten (My Review)

“The Keeper of Night” by Kylie Lee Baker (My Review)

Click HERE To Enter!

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