Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2022: Picks 5 – 1

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

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, five to one. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!

5. “The Drowned Woods” by Emily Lloyd-Jones

“The Drowned Woods” Review

I’ve been waiting and waiting for another book by Emily Lloyd-Jones ever since I devoured “The Bone Houses” a few years ago. That book also featured on my Top 10 list of the year. So it’s probably no surprise that this one made it on here, and into the top five, nonetheless. This book is loosely connected to that one as well, but only in the smallest of senses. It can largely be read as a stand-alone fantasy, inspired by a Welsh Atlantis folk story, and was such a pleasure in every way! I particularly liked some of the clever ways the magical aspects were woven in. There’s also a very subdued romantic subplot that I found very sweet. But alas, now I’m back to the long wait for another book by this author! I’m giving away an ARC version of this one in our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”

4. “Belladonna” Adalyn Grace

“Belladonna” Review

This probably goes down as one of my biggest surprise reads this year! Looking at the cover and only being passably familiar with the author as a YA fantasy author of a duology I hadn’t gotten around to yet, I picked this up on a whim. And lucky I did, cuz I loved it! On one hand, it’s fantastic to be completely taken by surprise like that, but on the other hand, I’m then left with the fear of all the other good books I could be missing simply because I pre-judged them on their cover and an over-abundance of YA fantasy! Either way, this book was a fun, fast read with, most shocking of all, a love triangle that I didn’t hate! The second book is coming out this summer, and I’m both incredibly excited and incredibly nervous. I’m also giving away an ARC version of this one in our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”

3. “Circe” by Madeline Miller

“Circe” Review

This was my pick for our summer bookclub theme and my prompt was “A Book with a Map.” Well, the map itself was pretty lackluster, but the story more than made up for it! I’m probably one of the few readers who hadn’t already read Miller’s “Song of Achilles,” but what can I say? I never feel in the mood for ugly crying tragedy! But this book was so good, I might need to re-think that. I loved this take on the famous character, Circe, and how her story wove in and out of so many Greek myths. It also gives us a unique take on Odysseus and “The Odyssey.” Miller had a lot to say about women, motherhood, and the subtler sides of power. Such strong work.

2. “Nettle & Bone” by T. Kingfisher

“Nettle & Bone” Review

As promised in my previous post, here’s T. Kingfisher to round out my most surprising authors of the year mini list! I’ve read a good number of books by her this year, even roping Kate into a joint review of one of her fantasy/horror stories. But this was the first one I read and still one of my favorites. It’s a short, sweet fairytale that was a perfect balance of all of my favorite things. There was romance, there was a strong female lead, there was hilarious dialogue, there were adorable animal companions (yes, plural!). I highly recommend this book (and author!), especially for fantasy readers looking for shorter, original stories.

1. “The Golden Enclaves” by Naomi Novik

“The Golden Enclaves” Review

I don’t think this pick will surprise anyone. Novik’s books always seem to make it on to my Top 10, and she’s been the number one pick a few times before as well. This, being the third book in what has been a super solid fantasy trilogy, was either going to bomb and cause mass despair among the many ardent fans, or end up here and on many other “best of” lists. This was a very ambitious last book, and a challenging one on top of that as Novik moves the setting out of the Scholomance, a setting that had almost been a character in its own right. The world-building continued to impress, and Novik didn’t shy away from tackling some very difficult human truths. Any fan of the trilogy will have already read it, almost guaranteed given the awful cliffhanger from the second book. But if you’re one of those fantasy fans who for some reason hasn’t read this trilogy, run, don’t walk, to your nearest library/bookstore right now!

What have been some of your favorite reads of 2022?

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2022: 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. “The Violence” by Delilah S. Dawson

“The Violence” Review

This was one of my first 10 star ratings of 2022, and boy was I in for a wild ride from start to finish. It was also the first mysterious plague novel that I could read in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which, to me, was a symbol of my emotional coping becoming more robust. In this thriller, a mysterious illness infects people and makes them apoplectically violent, where they have absolutely no control over their faculties. And stay at home mom Chelsea, who is trapped in a violent marriage and fears for herself and her daughters, sees it as a way to get rid of her husband once and for all. But things don’t go according to plan, and now Chelsea and her daughters are separated and trying to survive. It’s an action packed thrill ride, and I loved all of the center stage female characters, from Chelsea to her daughters to her complicated mother.

4. “House of Hunger” by Alexis Henderson

“House of Hunger” Review

I loved Alexis Henderson’s previous novel “The Year of the Witching”, so I was of COURSE very interested to see what she would do next. And “House of Hunger” was yet another unsettling and dread filled and unique take on another of my favorite sub genres: the vampire horror. But much like “The Year of the Witching”, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Marion is an impoverished woman, barely making ends meet and being abused by her ill brother. So when she is approached to become a Blood Maid to an aristocratic and enigmatic woman, where she is guaranteed riches and security, she jumps at the chance to start over. Soon she is her mistress’s favorite, her blood being her chosen nourishment. But then Marion starts to wonder what exactly happened to the other Blood Maids in the House of Hunger. Henderson doesn’t ever write the word ‘vampire’ in this book, but the mythos is there, though it is unique and imaginative. And so, so creepy.

3. “The Weight of Blood” by Tiffany D. Jackson

“The Weight of Blood” Review

Tiffany D. Jackson is a favorite author of mine, and way back when when I found out she was doing a “Carrie” reimagining I am pretty sure I shrieked in glee. And she knocked this reinterpretation out of the park, making it her own with new characters and themes involving identity, race, and bigotry. Madison has been white passing her entire life, but when an unpredicted rain storm reveals that she is, in fact, Black, her already shunned status is now tinged with racist attacks from her classmates. When her torment goes viral, some in charge of the Prom want to rehabilitate the school’s image, and decides to host the first integrated Prom the town has seen. Meanwhile, Madison is starting to realize that she has strange powers. And when the popular quarterback asks her to the dance, it sets off a chain of events that fans of “Carrie” will find VERY familiar. I loved this book. It’s my favorite of Jackson’s books, hands down.

2. “White Horse” by Erika T. Wurth

“White Horse” Review

This one was a bit of a surprise for me, if only because I was a bit late to the game in figuring out it was a book I wanted to read. It had gone under my radar for awhile, and then when it did come across my consciousness I basically requested it and read it pretty quickly without the anticipation of a long awaited release. But “White Horse” almost immediately connected with me, and I ended up really, really loving it. Kari is an urban Indian who loves metal music, Stephen King books, and spending her evenings at The White Horse bar. She tries not to think about the mother who abandoned her just days after her birth. So when her cousin gives her a bracelet she found that used to belong to her mother, Kari isn’t super enthralled. But then she starts having visions of her mother. As well as something far more monstrous. This ghost story is scary as hell, and also has some very poignant themes about motherhood, family, and generational trauma. It’s phenomenal.

1 . “The Pallbearers Club” by Paul Tremblay

“The Pallbearers Club” Review

I knew this was going to be my favorite read of the year the moment I finished it. I was basically weeping uncontrollably and saying to myself ‘oh my God’ over and over. Paul Tremblay always breaks me, but this was a special kind of broken. And who would have thought I’d be so broken over a faux memoir with snarky peanut gallery comments from a woman who may or may not be a vampire. This is the memoir of Art Barbara, a man who had spent his teenage years sickly and lonely. That is, until he met Mercy, a mysterious woman that joined his high school community service group that would be pallbearers and mourners at the funerals of those who had no one. Mercy is cool and enigmatic, and Art adores her. But their friendship is clouded by the fact that he thinks that she may, in fact, be a vampire. And as it ebbs and flows over the years, Art is both scared of her and drawn to her. And Mercy, unwilling to stand by as he tells HIS side of the story, has notes for his book. It’s hard to know what the truth is in this book. But I highly, HIGHLY recommend checking it out to draw your own conclusions.

So that’s it! My Top 5 of 2022! What have been some of your favorite reads of 2022?

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2022: Picks 10-6

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

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 Bird and the Sword” by Amy Harmon

“The Bird and the Sword” Review

Amy Harmon is one of my best new finds as far as authors go this year. She and T. Kingfisher probably share the distinction (you’ll see the latter on this Top 10 list as well!). That being the case, I read and reviewed several of her books this year, greatly enjoying them all. But this was the one I chose for this list as I think it was my most enjoyed read of the lot. Harmon is definitely an author who mixes weighty topics alongside her more fantastical, and I think this one struck the perfect balance. There was romance, there was magic, there was fortitude in the face of grim odds. It’s just a solid, stand-alone fantasy novel. There’s a second book set in this same world that I’ve been holding on to for a rainy day. We’ll see if that one shows up on next year’s list!

9. “The Murder of Mr. Wickham” by Claudia Gray

“The Murder of Mr. Wickham” Review

I was approached about participating in a blog tour for this book, and man, am I glad I did! While we all know that Jane Austen fans can fall on the more snobby side when it comes to adaptations of their beloved originals, as one of said snobs, I’m not above admitting when someone has done a fantastic job! Gray not only creates two solid original characters, but somehow manages to represent every single Austen hero and heroine to near perfection, even zeroing in on some relationship dynamics that were only barely hinted at in the originals. Truly, it’s an impressive feat. There are also numerous Easter eggs for Austen fans who really know their stuff.

8. “Half a Soul” by Olivia Atwater

“Half a Soul” Review

I love fairytales and I love historical fiction. So of course I’m going to love a combination of the two! Especially when the fairytale is an original story featuring a young lady who has, shocking!, half a soul! And while much of the story is light-hearted and romantic, Atwater also focuses in on some of the social struggles going on during this period of history. I went on to read two other books by Atwater over the summer, each of which I enjoyed in their own right. But this first one still sticks with me as the best of the three. Fans of historical fantasy should check out all three, but this one most of all! I’m giving away an ARC version of this one in our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”

7. “Eversion” by Alistair Reynolds

“Eversion” Review

While I definitely read a lot more fantasy fiction than science fiction, it seems that every year I read a book that slaps me around the side of the head reminding me that I really should check out more science fiction. This year, that book was “Eversion.” Reynolds is known as a pretty great science fiction author, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading one of his books until Orbit sent me an ARC of this one. And it was so great! I really don’t want to say much about it at all, because I think it’s one of those books that’s best read completely unknown. There are so many layers of secrets upon secrets and reveals upon reveals, that you’ll be glued to the page from start to finish! I’m also giving away an ARC version of this one in our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”

6. “Spells for Forgetting” by Adrienne Young

“Spells for Forgetting” Review

It’s well known on this blog that I’m a big fan of Adrienne Young. I’ve read a good number of her books, and I don’t think I’ve given a poor grade to any of her stuff. So I was intrigued to see her coming out with an adult contemporary fantasy. Contemporary fantasy can be very hit and miss for me, but in the hands of Young, I should never have feared. Put together a small town romance, a cold case murder of a teenage girl, and magic very akin to the sort found in “Practical Magic,” and you have yourself a winner and a place on this list!

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 2022?

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2022: 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. “In Every Generation” by Kendare Blake

“In Every Generation” Review

As I mentioned in this review, 2022 was a bit of a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” nostalgia trip for me, and it ended on the highest note with this new series by Kendare Blake. Buffy Summers was such a formative character for me in high school, but my very selective preferences and opinions regarding characters (and the asshole creator) made revisiting the original content a bit sour. So seeing Blake be able to create a new set of characters to make her own, while bringing in well loved characters from the original series (including my beloved Spike), was a true joy. We are now following Willow’s daughter Frankie as she comes into her own as the first Slayer-Witch, and seeing her come into her power as well as find her own group of Scoobies to help her. It was such a fun and nostalgic read!

9. “Kismet” by Amina Akhtar

“Kismet” Review

I found this book to be such a fun and addictive read this year! Whether it’s the biting satire of the wellness industry to the creepy cultl ike aspects to the incisive look at covert and overt racism in the wellness movement, “Kismet” is both suspenseful and at times very humorous. A young woman decides to leave her home with her abusive aunt in favor of moving to Arizona with her wellness mentor and closest friend. But when she gets there, people in the small community start dying strange and violent deaths. I do love some good satire, and this book has that and more. I was so praising of it my Aunt actually picked it up, and she too really, really enjoyed it. Just a fun thriller all around.

8. “Ghost Eaters” by Clay McLeod Chapman

“Ghost Eaters” Review

Scary ghost imagery fans, look no further. The first full horror title on this list was read in a purposely darkened hotel room by a crashing Lake Superior, and the ambiance was on point. After her ex boyfriend dies (shortly after she set a boundary in regards to helping him escape rehab), Erin is plagued with guilt. So when she hears of a drug called Ghost that can supposedly let people see the dead, she takes it in hopes of closure. Instead, Erin is seeing ghosts everywhere, and when they start seeking her out, her life starts to fall apart. This is both a scary ghost story, but also a deeply upsetting story about guilt, trauma, and addiction. And it really, really got under my skin.

7. “Goddess of Filth” by V. Castro

“Goddess of Filth” Review

Witches continue to be my jam, horror sub genre wise, and I have really enjoyed V. Castro’s stories that center on the Latina experience. So obviously combined that makes for a kick ass, feminist witch story that ALSO decolonizes Western ideas of possession and demons. After a spell leads to the possession of their friend Fernanda, a group of teenage wannabe witches decide that they have to help their friend. But as they observe Fernanda’s behavior while possessed, they start to realize that perhaps this ‘demon’ isn’t the invasive and evil thing that their community and religion has made it out to be. Feminist, unique, anti-Imperialist, “Goddess of Filth” is a creepy and empowering novella.

6. “The Hacienda” by Isabel Cañas

“The Hacienda” Review

Gothic horror stories are absolutely perfect for the winter months, and one of my favorites of 2022 was “The Hacienda” by Isabel Cañas. It doesn’t matter that this one takes place in a warmer area, it will still send chills down your spine! Beatriz has married a local hacendado named Rodolfo, not because she loves him but because the marriage can bolster her and her mother’s safety during turbulent political upheaval. But when she gets to his hacienda, it’s clear that there is a VERY angry ghost still lurking on the property, and she has to turn to a local priest/secretly practicing witch to try and cleanse the house of the spirit. Much like “Goddess of Filth”, “The Hacienda” also has themes about colonization and Imperial violence, and it also has a very scary ghost story at its heart that will be sure to keep people up at night. I really, really loved it.

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 2022?

Not Just Books: December 2022

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

Movie: “Bullet Train”

My husband and I seem to go in strange phases where we watch a whole bunch of movies all at once that feature the same actor. Currently, we’re on a bit of a Brad Pitt binge. So it was a natural next step to check out “Bullet Train” on Netflix. And it didn’t disappoint! This is a bloody, violent, hilarious, action-packed spectacle from start to finish. Pitt is up to his usual standards, but the rest of the cast has no problem keeping up with their main star. There were also some excellent cameo appearances! Overall, this was a really fun, wacky movie. It takes a bit to figure out exactly what kind of movie you’re watching, but once you do it’s quite the ride. I’d liken it most closely to another Brad Pitt movie, “Snatch.”

Movie: “No Time to Die”

While I’m not a James Bond completist, like most of the rest of the general public, I’ve enjoyed Daniel Craig’s turn as the character. So of course eventually I had to get around to his last movie. And I really liked this one! I haven’t hated any of his Bond movies, but there have definitely been highs and lows to the series. But I think this one is pretty great all around. Good action, good character stuff, just the right amount of humor. Did I remember the love interest when she appeared on the screen? No I did not. Did I confused my Bond villains and my Mission Impossible villains for a hot minute? Yes, I did. But who cares! I got there in the end, and this was a satisfying conclusion all around. Now to wait and see who will be Bond next! I hear Henry Cavill suddenly has some time on his hands…

Movie: “Avatar: The Way of Water”

I am proud to say that my opinion of the first “Avatar” movie never changed. I thought it was a visual spectacle with a very average but inoffensive storyline (honestly, most blockbusters fall into a similar category for me). I also never jumped on the hatred bandwagon after the fact and quietly laughed at the number of people who held this opinion after viewing the original three times in the theater. All that to say, I had no problem feeling confident that this long-awaited sequel would be well worth a theater ticket, even if I didn’t have a lot of expectations on the story front. And it checked out for that! It was absolutely incredible to see this on a big screen, and I was honestly in awe of what movie magic was being used to make some of these scenes look the way they do. Yes, the story is still pretty straight-forward, but it also didn’t throw me out of the movie. If you like big, awe-inspiring movies, this is definitely one to check out in 3D at a theater.

Kate’s Picks

TV Show: “Wednesday”

I’m sure this was a given. While I don’t have a huge amount of nostalgia for the two “Addams Family” movies from my youth (I can’t even tell you why I didn’t obsess over these movies as a child! I like them a fair amount and they tick ALL MY BOXES!), I do love The Addams Family as pop culture figures (I kind of want to be Morticia). So of course I wanted to watch “Wednesday” when Tim Burton announced that he was making it for Netflix. In the series Wednesday has been sent to the Gothic private school for supernatural kids that her parents went to (as she was expelled from public school), and while there she finds herself caught up in a mystery surrounding a monster that is killing people in her orbit. Oh, and there may be some secrets regarding her father Gomez from his time at Nevermore Academy as well. I do like Tim Burton, and I also really like Jenna Ortega in her own right, as she has put in solid performances in “X”, “Scream 5”, and in the second season of “You”. And she was really the perfect casting for Wednesday, as she holds her own against the iconic performance by Christina Ricci while making Wednesday a new interpretation that works VERY well.

Film: “Midnight”

This one came out of nowhere, as it was a Terror Tuesday pick by a friend and I had never heard of it. But once it started, HOO BOY DID IT HAVE MY ATTENTION. Kim Kyung-mi is a Deaf woman who happens to stumble into the path of an escalating and sadistic serial killer (played by “Squid Game”‘s Wi Ha-joon), and after witnessing one of his victims she becomes a target. She and her mother spend a terror filled night playing cat and mouse as they try to escape him and his ire, as he manipulates people around him to seem harmless while these two women try to stay alive. The tension in this one is PALPABLE, and I was practically screaming by the end when it all comes to a head. It feels like “Hush”, “Wait Until Dark”, and “The Silence of the Lambs” all rolled into one, and if you are familiar with any of those you know how intense this movie is.

Film: “Violent Night”

You honestly had me at the concept of Santa Claus beating the absolute shit out of bad guys. But you throw in David Harbour, and maaaaan, I am even more game because WOOF. The plot seems pretty clear: after a girl and her family are taken hostage on Christmas Eve, she uses a toy walkie talkie her father gave her to ask Santa to save her and her loved ones. And then Santa starts kicking ass with lots of explosions and other violent nonsense, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. This was a fun theater excursion for the Terror Tuesday crew, and it certainly got me in the holiday spirit when the rest of the month has been stressful due to toddler illness and the holidays whipping everything into overdrive. Bonus points for John Leguizamo.

Serena’s Review: “A Broken Blade”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “A Broken Blade” by Melissa Blair

Publishing Info: Union Square Co., August 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Keera is a killer. As the King’s Blade, she is the most talented spy in the kingdom. And the king’s favored assassin. When a mysterious figure moves against the Crown, Keera is called upon to hunt down the so-called Shadow. She tracks her target into the magical lands of the Fae, but Faeland is not what it seems . . . and neither is the Shadow. Keera is shocked by what she learns, and can’t help but wonder who her enemy truly is: the King that destroyed her people or the Shadow that threatens the peace?
As she searches for answers, Keera is haunted by a promise she made long ago, one that will test her in every way. To keep her word, Keera must not only save herself, but an entire kingdom.

Review: I have a confession: I’m kind of a BookTok snob. On one hand, this is simply laziness and I’ve never spent the time to really dive into this medium. But on the other hand, from what I’ve seen, it seems like the kind of platform where a very small number of books dominate the recommendations. Obviously, this is great for those books, but this focus on a small number of books means that while some get tons of exposure, less well known works slip through the cracks. And, of course, we all know my track record with these highly promoted books…for some reason I just can’t get on the same page as many fans!

Keera’s world is, if not a happy place, at least a well order one, one in which she clearly knows the role she plays, dark as it is. She is an assassin and spy, so skilled that she is the King’s favorite. Of course, this has lead her down dark paths that she struggles to live with. But, such is her world. However, when she is sent hunt down a strange person known as the Shadow, she must venture outside of her typical boundaries and into Faeland. There, she discovers truths that shake her to her very core, forcing her to reimagine the world she thought she was living within.

If you look at Goodreads, this book is rated pretty highly: firmly in the four star range. And, honestly, I can see why. This book reads as the sort of thing that was built to sell. Pick a favorite fantasy trope, and there’s a good chance it’s in this book. Want to play book bingo? This book’s the one for you. Paint by numbers plotting and characters? Check, check, check! It’s not that anything is outrageously bad, it’s just all so very, very familiar that I found myself almost immediately struggling to want to continue reading. Individually, I get why many of these elements are appealing (I mean, on their own I like most of these tropes too), but doesn’t there come a point where readers can feel the pandering a bit too clearly? This book felt like that to me. It was built to sell, and I could still see the marketing department’s fingerprints all over it.

But, like I said, there is nothing actively bad about it. The writing doesn’t qualify as bad, but it is definitely on the more wooden side, too often falling back on telling its readers how to think and feel than showing them or leading them to certain conclusions in more subtle ways. The characters, too, had elements that could have made them interesting, like Keera’s struggle with alcoholism. But this telling sort of writing let these character aspects fall flat. Beyond that, Keera fell a bit too close to the “not like other girls” line, and her character arc never really felt like it challenged her at all.

Even themes that could have had some weight seemed to deflate when actually explored. The story flirts with an interesting discussion of colonialism before quickly subsiding back into the straight-forward plotting that makes up the majority of the story. I don’t know how many synonyms for “flat” I can use at this point, because the worldbuilding was also lackluster. I often had more questions than answers, and the bits of descriptions we do come by all feel fairly generic.

As you can see, I don’t have much positive to say about this book. I can’t point to any one thing that was actively bad, but it was definitely one of those books that felt like a chore to read from start to very-predictable finish. Fans of these tropes may like it (and must, given the Goodreads rating!), but honestly, they all felt tired out to me, and there are better examples all over the place of any one of them.

Rating 6: Per the usual, the hype let me down and all I found here was more of the very, very familiar same.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Broken Blade” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Assassins.

Kate’s Review: “Blackmail and Bibingka”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Blackmail and Bibingka” (Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries 3) by Mia P. Manansala

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, October 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: It’s Christmastime in Shady Palms, but things are far from jolly for Lila Macapagal. Sure, her new business, The Brew-ha Cafe, is looking to turn a profit in its first year. And yes, she’s taken the first step in a new romance with her good friend, Jae Park. But her cousin Ronnie is back in town after ghosting the family fifteen years ago, claiming that his recent purchase of a local winery shows that he’s back on his feet and ready to give back to the Shady Palms community. Tita Rosie is thrilled with the return of her prodigal son, but Lila knows that wherever Ronnie goes, trouble follows.

She’s soon proven right when Ronnie is accused of murder, and secrets and rumors surrounding her shady cousin and those involved with the winery start piling up. Now Lila has to put away years of resentment and distrust to prove her cousin’s innocence. He may be a jerk, but he’s still family. And there’s no way her flesh and blood could actually be a murderer…right?

Review: We are in the full swing of Hanukkah in my house and Christmas is this weekend, so you know that I am both feeling pretty good but also PRETTY frazzled. By this time at the end of the year I am almost always teetering towards burnout, and this year is no different, as we’ve been dealing with child illness AND a surgery in the family this past month. So I was looking for some light hearted reads that were within the holiday spirit, and I realized that Mia P. Manansala’s new “Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries” book, “Blackmail and Bibingka”, was not only out, but also Christmas themed! What’s more festive than delicious recipes and a little bit of premeditated murder, after all?

In terms of the story itself, it’s a solid and fun continuation of Lila Macapagal’s amateur detective adventures in her small town of Shady Palms. She’s running a successful coffee shop, her Tita Rosie is still running her successful cafe, and everything is hunky dory… until Rosie’s son Ronnie shows up after a fifteen year absence, with a winery business in tow. Trouble follows Ronnie, and shortly thereafter the wife of a big investor in the winery is poisoned at an event, and Ronnie is seen as a suspect. So once again Lila is thrust into trying to clear a family member’s name, all while trying to get through the holidays and her own stresses. It’s a pretty standard formula we get here, as with a lot of cozy mysteries as that is part of the point of the genre, but there are strengths and unique bits elsewhere. Whether it’s Lila’s Filipino background and cultural aspects that enter into the plot, or the fact that Manansala does a really good job of bringing in diverse characters and experiences, or that the characters are just downright likable (mostly) and interesting, this series really connects with me beyond the mystery itself. I actually thought that the mystery this time was pretty easy to discern, but that didn’t matter because the journey getting there was enjoyable and well paced. I also thought that Manansala was very good and tackling some of the more difficult sides of Lila’s family. In some ways it is black sheep Ronnie who can’t get his act together, or how Rosie can’t help but forgive him even as he’s hurt her so much. But it actually also shows how someone like Ronnie, who has been pretty hurtful, can be a product of his own hurt at the hands of those who love him and his mother, even if they didn’t really mean for it to be that way. It’s melancholy stuff, but it never felt like it was too much.

And yes, we’re going to talk about the recipes. Because once again we have a slew of delicious sounding recipes that have both Filipino origins, but also a recipe for Coquito, a Puerto Rican coconut egg nog, as one of the characters is Puerto Rican and plays a pretty significant role in the story. It’s always so great to see these recipes that I am unfamiliar with being shared and explained in really simple ways, and I am fully considering trying to make some bibingka (a rice cake with many toppings options) for one of the family get togethers. There are also twists on recipes that I am more familiar with, like a snickerdoodle recipe with ginger that also sounds so freaking good. I said it once and I’ll say it again: give me cozy mysteries with all the food.

“Blackmail and Bibingka” was a fun mystery that brought a little reading zazz to my holiday season after a pretty brutal lead up. It’s always nice to be able to settle in to decompress with an entertaining read, and this one definitely provided that.

Rating 7: A fun holiday themed mystery with even more delicious recipes, “Blackmail and Bibingka” shows the dysfunctional side of Lila Macapagal’s family, but keeps it light.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Blackmail and Bibingka” is included on the Goodreads list “ATY 2023: Asian Diaspora”, and would fit in on “Holiday Themed Cozy Mysteries”.

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “The Orchid Throne”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Orchid Throne” by Jeffe Kennedy

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: As Queen of the island kingdom of Calanthe, Euthalia will do anything to keep her people free—and her secrets safe—from the mad tyrant who rules the mainland. Guided by a magic ring of her father’s, Lia plays the political game with the cronies the emperor sends to her island. In her heart, she knows that it’s up to her to save herself from her fate as the emperor’s bride. But in her dreams, she sees a man, one with the power to build a better world—a man whose spirit is as strong, and whose passion is as fierce as her own…

Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, has built an army to overthrow the emperor. But he needs the fabled Abiding Ring to succeed. The ring that Euthalia holds so dear to her heart. When the two banished rulers meet face to face, neither can deny the flames of rebellion that flicker in their eyes—nor the fires of desire that draw them together. But in this broken world of shattered kingdoms, can they ever really trust each other? Can their fiery alliance defeat the shadows of evil that threaten to engulf their hearts and souls?

Review: I’ve read a few books by Jeffe Kennedy in the past, though I don’t think I’ve reviewed any of them for the blog? She typically writes fairly light-hearted romantic fantasy, and I’ve enjoyed her books in the past. I’ve seen her recent trilogy pop up on Edelweiss over the last few years and finally decided that now was the time to give her another go!

Decades before, a tyrant discovered a powerful, explosive force that allowed him to conquer all of the small kingdoms and force them into unwilling submission as part of his empire. Ruin and destruction is still remembered by the populous, and one young prince has had to reimagine himself as a warrior rebel while trapped in a slave mine. Slowly, he is now working his way towards his revenge on the emperor who destroyed his land and home. But one kingdom survived: the beautiful island of Calanthe. For its ruler welcomed the conquering empire when he came to their shores and promised his own daughter to be a future bride. Now grown, Euthalia works to maintain the tremulous independence that her father bought her land at the price of her hand. But time is running out and the emperor is coming to collect. Soon enough, a rebel prince and a ruling queen will cross paths, and what comes could change the course of the world.

As I said, it’s been a few years since I’ve read anything from this author. And while I remember liking her books, they were also of the sort that I enjoyed reading in the moment, but then quickly forgot. But either my opinion has shifted in the ensuing years or this trilogy is starting off on a stronger foot than Kennedy’s previous books. I really liked what this book had to offer! Most of all, I liked that while it definitely has a strong romance at its heart, the author wisely spends a significant amount of time firmly establishing her two leads as individuals in their own rights. They each have distinct histories and experience, particularly with how their countries and parents dealt with the cruel emperor who now rules them all. Due to these histories, they each have very different priorities when they meet each other, only grudgingly seeing eye to eye, if at all.

Conri’s story is the more straight-forward and familiar of the two with his arc of tragedy, followed by oppression, followed by revolution and then a single-minded focus on punishing the man who tore down his world as a child. But Euthalia’s story is more complex. Her father’s decision to not fight the conquering emperor lead to much derision and scorn by the other nations that fought him. But now, in the aftermath, Euthalia’s home is the only one that remains even partially independent. As such, Euthalia herself walks a fine line as the only remaining ruler, at once trying to protect her people while also delaying her wedding to the emperor. When Contri arrives on her doorstep, all she sees is bloodshed and ruin. And all Conri sees is a frivolous court ruled by a frivolous queen.

I also really liked the general tone of this story. While this world is one big history of tragedy, the story itself reads as largely light-hearted with a good amount of laugh-out-loud dialogue. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that Kennedy leaves reveals for both late in the book and, in some cases, for the next book entirely. There are mysteries to be still found about Euthalia’s homeland and why her father chose what he did. I have the second book loaded up on my Kindle already, and I’m excited to find out what’s to come. I definitely recommend this book to fans of fantasy romance and those looking for a lighter fantasy novel.

Rating 8: Like the lush magical kingdom at its heart, this book overflows with wonder and hidden power. Sure to please fantasy romance lovers everywhere!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Orchid Throne” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Hidden Gems Across the Genres and Adult Fantasy Romance.

Kate’s Review: “In Every Generation”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “In Every Generation” by Kendare Blake

Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, January 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eBook from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Frankie Rosenberg is passionate about the environment, a sophomore at New Sunnydale High School, and the daughter of the most powerful witch in Sunnydale history. Her mom, Willow, is slowly teaching her magic on the condition that she use it to better the world. But Frankie’s happily quiet life is upended when new girl Hailey shows up with news that the annual Slayer convention has been the target of an attack, and all the Slayers—including Buffy, Faith, and Hailey’s older sister Vi—might be dead. That means it’s time for this generation’s Slayer to be born.

But being the first ever Slayer-Witch means learning how to wield a stake while trying to control her budding powers. With the help of Hailey, a werewolf named Jake, and a hot but nerdy sage demon, Frankie must become the Slayer, prevent the Hellmouth from opening again, and find out what happened to her Aunt Buffy, before she’s next.

Get ready for a whole new story within the world of Buffy!

Review: Thank you to Disney-Hyperion for sending me an eBook copy of this novel!

It’s so funny, when the shows “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” ended I never really went back to revisit them. I wrote a hell of a lot of fan fiction about my favorite characters, but I don’t think I’ve ever done a full rewatch. This is odd because “Buffy” is a show that had a huge impact on me as a teen for a litany of reasons, but between dissatisfaction with some of the way the stories ended and the fact that Joss Whedon is a massive prick, actually getting back into my “Buffy” love has been pretty much sidelined until the past year or so. Whether it was watching “Cobra Kai” and seeing striking parallels between bad girl Tori and my favorite dark slayer Faith, or getting books at ALAAC that were part of the “Buffy” universe, 2022 kind of brought back some of that love. So when I was approached to read Kendare Blake’s new Buffy books, starting with “In Eery Generation”, I went in with an open mind, because I like Blake as an author and I’ve been feeling extra nostalgic. That said, I was not prepared for how much I was going to enjoy “In Every Generation”, the first book in her Frankie Rosenberg series. Guys. I REALLY LIKED THIS BOOK! I was transported back to when the whole family would watch “Buffy” and then my high school best friend Blake would call to dissect the episode!

Queen. (source)

There is always a bit of a risk when a franchise is rebooted for a new generation, and given that “Buffy” ended almost twenty years ago (oh GOD I’m getting old) it may have seemed odd that suddenly we are getting a lot of new content that stems from our favorite vampire slayer. It doesn’t really help that Buffy Summers’s creator Joss Whedon has been exposed as a total shithead in recent years. But Blake takes a job that could have been VERY difficult and makes it seem so easy, in that not only does she effectively capture the pure snarky, heartfelt, and very 2000s essence of “Buffy”, but she also creates new characters that feel real, believable within the world, and makes them just as likable and able to hold their own against old favorites. I really, really loved Frankie Rosenberg, the daughter of Willow who has been awakened as the first Slayer-Witch after an attack on a gathering of slayers that may have left Buffy, Faith, et al dead. We have familiar call backs to Buffy’s own original journey through Frankie and her new group of Scoobies (such as her best friend Jake Osbourne, teen werewolf and cousin to Willow’s ex-boyfriend Oz, and Hailey, a human girl with a missing slayer sister), but Frankie is wholly different from Buffy and really feels like a well thought out person and character. I wholly believed her as an awkward teenage girl who grew up around some of Sunnydale’s best and brightest combatants against evil, and also liked that there was a certain Gen Z flair brought to her character I also liked how Blake taps into vampire lore beyond the “Buffy” stuff, as Frankie may or may not be gearing up to fight against Countess Elizabeth Báthory, notorious Hungarian murderess who, in this, may or may not be a vampire. Blake has used historical events for inspiration before in her horror fiction, vampire fiction no less, and I really liked how it worked here too. It makes the stakes (hurr hurr) higher and it feels more interesting than just having it be Dracula or something (yes, that is a read, if you know, you know). Frankie is just so likable, her friends are adorable too, and I am wholly eager to follow then through this trilogy.

But here is the thing that really sold it for my elder millennial self: BLAKE HAS BASICALLY SHOWCASED A FEW OF MY FAVORITE CHARACTERS FROM THE SHOW AND MADE THEM EVERYTHING I EVER WANTED THEM TO BE! We all know what a big Spike fan I am thanks to my review for William Ritter’s “Bloody Fool for Love”, and I have very high standards and expectations and hopes for any interpretation of my favorite snarky ensouled vampire. Blake has made him SO, SO EXCELLENT!! She has his voice down, she gives him a lot of really fun things to do, and she really knows how to tap into his more vulnerable sides by making him Frankie’s Watcher (with full school librarian aspects and everything, much to his chagrin) and making him care for her like a daughter. I also really loved Willow in this, as she is very much Willow but with a motherly bent, but also a woman who has been thrust back into a magical role that she had been limiting because of her past with dark magic getting out of control. And the one that surprised me the most but also made me SO happy was seeing that Oz is here!! This surprised me a bit because he left in Season 4 and was barely ever mentioned again, but I always had a soft spot for him because Seth Green was the reason I started watching “Buffy” in the first place. Blake expertly taps into the Willow and Oz connection without erasing the fact that Willow is a lesbian, but still keeps their care for each other feeling very real even if platonic. Honestly, everything Blake did with these characters, be it their interpretations or the backstory she built to get from the “Angel” finale to here (I’m fine with erasing the comics canon), made it feel so, so perfectly “Buffy”. Hell, she even limited Xander’s role, and as someone who has never liked Xander (don’t even get me started, I could do a TED talk) but understands why he kind of needs to be here, I was very okay with the part he did play. If Faith shows up as the series continues, I will be on cloud nine. I WANT TO SEE WHAT SHE DOES WITH FAITH. And I, of course, want to see Buffy. But I appreciate that Blake is holding off a bit. Frankie needs to grow into her own thing without THAT weight on her shoulders, so I will bide my time for Buffy to show up. Because she has to.

Overall I super, super enjoyed “In Every Generation”. I am SO amped to see where we go from here, and I am so happy that Kendare Blake has taken on a universe near and dear to my heart and continued it so well. “Buffy” fans old and new need to seek it out.

Rating 9: Boy did this hit every single “Buffy” note that I ever hoped for. So good to see an old favorite in good hands.

Reader’s Advisory:

“In Every Generation” is included on the Goodreads lists “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and “Countess Elizabeth Báthory – Fiction and Non-Fiction”.

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 December 31.

Serena’s Prize Package

“Eversion” by Alastair Reynolds (Review)

“Belladonna” by Adalyn Grace (Review)

“The Drowned Woods” by Emily Lloyd-Jones (Review)

“Half a Soul” by Olivia Atwater (Review)

“The Stardust Thief” by Chelsea Abdullah (Review)

“Wind Daughter” by Joanna Ruthe Meyer (Review)

Enter to win!

Kate’s Prize Package

“Number One Fan” by Meg Elison (Review)

“The Vicious Circle” by Katherine St. John (Review)

“After Dark with Roxie Clark” by Brooke Lauren Davis (Review)

“Shutter” by Ramona Emerson (Review)

“The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Review)

“All The White Spaces” by Ally Wilkes (Review)

Enter To Win!

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