Serena’s Review: “The Grimoire of Grave Fates”

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Book: “The Grimoire of Grave Fates” by Hanna Alkaf and Margaret Owen

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, June 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

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

Book Description: Professor of Magical History Septimius Dropwort has just been murdered, and now everyone at the Galileo Academy for the Extraordinary is a suspect.

A prestigious school for young magicians, the Galileo Academy has recently undergone a comprehensive overhaul, reinventing itself as a roaming academy in which students of all cultures and identities are celebrated. In this new Galileo, every pupil is welcome–but there are some who aren’t so happy with the recent changes. That includes everyone’s least favorite professor, Septimius Dropwort, a stodgy old man known for his harsh rules and harsher punishments. But when the professor’s body is discovered on school grounds with a mysterious note clenched in his lifeless hand, the Academy’s students must solve the murder themselves, because everyone’s a suspect.

Told from more than a dozen alternating and diverse perspectives, The Grimoire of Grave Fates follows Galileo’s best and brightest young magicians as they race to discover the truth behind Dropwort’s mysterious death. Each one of them is confident that only they have the skills needed to unravel the web of secrets hidden within Galileo’s halls. But they’re about to discover that even for straight-A students, magic doesn’t always play by the rules. . . .

Review: I was definitely intrigued when I heard about this upcoming fantasy anthology. Not only was it a collaboration between a huge number of famous authors, but the idea of a murder mystery taking place in a school of magic as the foundation upon which the anthology is built upon is compelling as heck. Add an eye-popping cover, and you’ve got me! This is definitely a change of pace from the types of fantasy stories that I typically read, so I was very excited and curious to see what it had to offer.

I’m going to skip over my usual summary paragraph here, as I think the description given by the publisher is more than enough, and it’s hard to add more with anthologies that are, by their nature, built upon many layers of different characters, themes, and stories. So let’s get right to the review! First of all, I’d like to state how impressive of a project I think this book is. Collaborations are always tricky, but I have to imagine the more authors you include, the harder it is to ensure that the finished product feels complete and even. This is all the more difficult when you’re writing a murder mystery, a specific genre that requires careful plotting, close regulation of what information is made known and when, and a neat balance of pace to keep the reader engaged while not also losing them as the book builds to its final conclusion. But I think, overall, this aspect of the book came together very well, and none of the individual stories stood out as ill-fitting with the larger story as a whole.

That said, I didn’t wholly love this read. On one hand, this is purely a subjective opinion as I’m not a huge fan of anthology stories, in general. I have a long record here on the blog of my struggles with a book rising at the exact rate at which an author adds POV characters. The more you have, the more I’m going to have a difficult time connecting to the story. Obviously, that is unavoidable here. I did like several of the individual chapters, but this then lead me to become increasingly frustrated as, again and again, I lost these characters just when I was beginning to become invested in them. And even in multi-POV stories, there’s always the anticipation of returning to a beloved character, which isn’t the case here. I also liked the level of diversity that is included, but there were also moments where it began to feel a bit like “diversity Bingo” and less like a natural and organic collection of individuals.

I did like the magical elements we had in the story as well. There were a few particular characters who had very unique ways of practicing their magic that I was especially interested in. But, again, I was always left wanting just a bit more. And, while every chapter did move the murder mystery along, bit by bit, the overall experience did begin to feel a bit tedious. However, as I said, I struggle with this approach to story-telling in general, so this could definitely be more of “me” problem than an actual problem with the book itself. On top of that, the writing style did err towards the younger side of YA; again something that is really subjective to the preferences of the reader. If you’re a fan of anthologies or love any of the authors involved in this project, this is likely a book you’ll enjoy. If you tend to enjoy adult fantasy more, this might not work quite as well.

Rating 7: A cool concept and an impressive feat of collaboration, but the large cast of characters and the slow pace of the larger mystery itself left me struggling to fully connect to the book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Grimoire of Grave Fates” can be found on this Goodreads lists: YA Releases June 2023

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire, Vol. 8”

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Book: “American Vampire, Vol. 8” by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

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

Book Description: Vampires in space? It’s 1965. Pearl and Skinner escaped The Gray Trader with more questions than answers, and their search for clues leads them to … NASA! You’ve never seen vampires like this before!

Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque continue their epic Eisner Award-winning story, as Skinner Sweet and Pearl touch more of the key moments in American history.

Review: It really has been a trip returning to “American Vampire” after I fell off of it a few years ago. And when I was approaching the penultimate volume, “Volume 8”, I was a bit cagey about how I was approaching the end. Partially because I felt like Scott Snyder just introduced a storyline that, to me, seemed like it needs to have perhaps a FEW volumes to wrap it up in a way that didn’t feel rushed. But also because even in the face of this new storyline, there were some hanging threads that we hadn’t addressed (hello James Book as a vampire?). So I was nervous going in, having been burned in the past when a story seems like it had to wrap up really quickly, maybe before it was ready. But I’m happy to report that my hesitance was unfounded, because “American Vampire: Volume 8”, was a stellar entry to the overall mythos!

I remember looking at the cover of this and thinking to myself ‘oh come the fuck on’, but honestly Snyder did a really good job of building up a great narrative to send Skinner Sweet into outer space that I bought hook line and sinker while it mirrors American history. We are now in the mid 1960s, and the Space Race and Cold War is at the forefront. Pearl and Skinner had a nearly deadly run in with the mysterious Gray Trader, a vampire that has power, strength, and influence that neither of them has ever seen, and are now back with the Vassals of the Morning Star, who have tapped them to join up to help try and stop this new foe. This involves satellites, Russian surveillance, and a long sleeping creature called the Tiamat that could awaken at any time and prompt the Russians to send nukes flying to prevent it, even if it means the end of the world, with the Gray Trader actively trying to set the wheels in motion to make it happen. So the VMS, with Felicia Book back in play, want Pearl and Skinner to help prevent nuclear armageddon by keeping the Gray Trader’s movements at bay by working against the satellite surveillance Russia has been using to keep an eye on the Tiamat’s potential reawakening . And it is such a creative way to take on ideas of the Space Race and the Cold War and apply it to this story. It’s really one of the more creative ways that Snyder has approached significant moments in American history and compared and contrasted it within the vampire narrative, and he pulls it off within the story, even if that story ends with sending Skinner freaking Sweet into outer space. I believed the reasoning and I really enjoyed the story arc.

But the most interesting and satisfying aspect of this book is a moment that I have been waiting for since I started “American Vampire” all those years ago: Pearl and Felicia Book finally, finally meet. And not only meet, but are teamed up on their own part of the Gray Trader mission that involves breaking into Area 51. TWO BADASS VAMPIRE LADIES TEAMING UP AT LAST?!?!?!


I love Pearl and Felicia as we all know, and I love how their differences and their differing perspectives and experiences both serve to bring out the best of them as a team. Whether it’s company woman with a lot of experience and leadership strength Felicia, or renegade but compassionate Pearl, there is no sexist bullshitting around with them being mistrustful or jealous of each other. They are very different, but their differences make for a fantastic team dynamic and I loved seeing them both come together and have their own mission. Their thread is the moment that shines the most in this volume and it has been a long time coming to see them together.

I know that the next volume of “American Vampire” is the final one. I THINK that we have pulled things together enough that we could be on the verge of sticking the landing. But at the same time, we still haven’t seen Jim Book in vampire form arrive to meet up with everyone else yet, so maybe I am anxious. Regardless, I liked “Volume 8” and what it did for moving the Gray Trader story along! Let’s see how Snyder wraps this all up!

Rating 8: Interstellar vampire horror with a dash of global peril and deepening conspiracy, “American Vampire, Vol. 8” is setting up a finale that has a lot of, uh, stakes in play.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire, Vol. 8” is included on the Goodreads list “Vertigo Titles: Must Read Comics A-E”.

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “The Thorns Remain”

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Book: “The Thorns Remain” by J.J.A. Harwood

Publishing Info: Magpie, May 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

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

Book Description: A dance with the fae will change everything

1919. In a highland village forgotten by the world, harvest season is over and the young who remain after war and flu have ravaged the village will soon head south to make something of themselves.

Moira Jean and her friends head to the forest for a last night of laughter before parting ways. Moira Jean is being left behind. She had plans to leave once – but her lover died in France and with him, her future. The friends light a fire, sing and dance. But with every twirl about the flames, strange new dancers thread between them, music streaming from the trees.

The fae are here.

Suddenly Moira Jean finds herself all alone, her friends spirited away. The iron medal of her lost love, pinned to her dress, protected her from magic.

For the Fae feel forgotten too. Lead by the darkly handsome Lord of the Fae, they are out to make themselves known once more. Moira Jean must enter into a bargain with the Lord to save her friends – and fast, for the longer one spends with the Fae, the less like themselves they are upon return. If Moira Jean cannot save her friends before Beltine, they will be lost forever…

Completely bewitching, threaded with Highland charm and sparkling with dark romance, this is a fairytale that will carry you away.

Review: Here’s another example of cover lust! But I was also drawn in by the fact that I’ve been on a bit of a good run with Fae/Faerie books in the last few months. I gave high ratings to both “The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill”  and “Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries”. I was also particularly intrigued by the description of this one and its inclusion of dancing with the Fae. It’s a pretty well-established piece of fairy lore (I’ve always loved the “Seven Dancing Sisters” fairytale especially!) and it can swing either romantic or highly dangerous. With hints at powerfully dark Fae and bargains, I have to guess this one might swing towards the latter. Either way, count me in!

Moira Jean and her friends have always know there was future was to depart their small village and make lives for themselves out in the greater world. As young women, this departure and future would largely be tied to their marriages. But when Moira Jean’s beloved dies in the war, her world is rocked and her future torn to shreds. When her friends go out into the forest to dance and celebrate one last time before they leave home, Moira Jean joins them. There, they are joined in their dancing by the wild and dangerous Fae and one by one, Moira Jean’s friends are stolen away. Now it up to her to rescue them, entering into dangerous bargains with Lord of the Fae who is as mysterious as he is beguiling.

So this book both was and wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s always interesting to see the balance that different authors take with their Fae, some leaning towards the more human and romantic versions, while others delve deeper into the cruelty and danger the Fae represent. This book neatly presents both options, and I think this was probably the biggest strength of the book. There is a romantic plotline, but we are never allowed to forget that the Lord of the Fae is distinctly not human. Furthermore, many aspects of the relationship that Moira Jean develops with him is comprised of supremely unhealthy dynamics, and much of the story is Moira Jean confronting these realities. This is also tied into Moira Jean’s overall arch, one that sees her struggling to define herself and her life outside of the rather co-dependent relationships she has traditionally relied upon.

That said, I struggled with the end of this book. On one hand, I liked the resolution to the romance and how that was handled. But there were many questions left unanswered about just how these actions worked within the larger Fae world and rules that we had been presented with. Further, the manner in which Moira Jean escapes her situation undercut her agency. I wish she had been more actively involved in solving her problems, and I think this would have been the button that was missing on her character arc. The pacing was also a bit all over the place. The ending, especially, felt rushed and thus a bit anti-climatic.

As a character, Moira Jean was enjoyable when she was spunky and active. But there were also times that she read as very annoying and those were the times that it became hard to understand what a powerful Fae lord would see in her. Kind of like the pacing and the world-building, there was such a mix of good and bad elements that I was often left feeling off-kilter and struggling to connect to the story. I think there were a lot of good ideas here, it just didn’t feel like everything came together the way one would want. If you’re a big fan of Fae stories that focus on the darker element of these magical beings, than this book is probably worth checking out. But I do think there are more complete versions of a similar story to be found.

Rating 7: A bit of a frustrating read as I really enjoyed it at times and then, conversely, struggled at others.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Thorns Remain” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Books like Hozier songs and Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2023

Kate’s Review: “Bad Summer People”

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Book: “Bad Summer People” by Emma Rosenblum

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, May 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

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

Book Description: A whip-smart, propulsive debut about infidelity, backstabbing, and murderous intrigue, set against an exclusive summer haven on Fire Island. None of them would claim to be a particularly good person. But who among them is actually capable of murder?

Jen Weinstein and Lauren Parker rule the town of Salcombe, Fire Island every summer. They hold sway on the beach and the tennis court, and are adept at manipulating people to get what they want. Their husbands, Sam and Jason, have summered together on the island since childhood, despite lifelong grudges and numerous secrets. Their one single friend, Rachel Woolf, is looking to meet her match, whether he’s the tennis pro-or someone else’s husband. But even with plenty to gossip about, this season starts out as quietly as any other.

Until a body is discovered, face down off the side of the boardwalk.

Stylish, subversive and darkly comedic, this is a story of what’s lurking under the surface of picture-perfect lives in a place where everyone has something to hide.

Review: Thank you to Flatiron Books and NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

Summer is finally here, and for some people that means getting to the beach and reveling in the sand, sun, and surf. While my summer travels aren’t taking me to such a place, I do know a few people who may be going to Fire Island this summer, though more in the capacity that many people think of Fire Island. Honestly, before “Bad Summer People” by Emma Rosenblum ended up in my hands I, too, thought of Fire Island as predominantly a place for the LGBTQIA+ community to party hard. But apparently it’s also a spot where the wealthy and entitled elites also like to spend the summer months. And in this book, those wealthy and entitled elites might just end up murdered amongst all their secrets and lies. And you know what? SIGN ME UP TO READ ALL ABOUT IT!

The mystery is presented right away at the top of the book. A body is found in the sand in a posh Fire Island community called Salcombe. We don’t know who they are, we don’t know how they got there, and we immediately jump back to the start of summer and start to meet our cast of characters, all of whom could be victims or suspects based on the secrets, backstabbing, and resentment and malice that they all feel towards each other. I liked the set up of having different third person perspective chapters of the various players, as they all have unique insights into not only how the mystery is slowly going to come together, but also into their own parts to play in the overall question as to what happened. Like so many suds filled thrillers before it, we get twists, we get turns, some are revealed more deftly than others, and the red herrings and clues pile up at breakneck pace. You add in a bunch of poisonous people who we could either take or leave in terms of their survivability and it’s the kind of book that reads super fast and keeps the reader mostly engaged. It’s at times a little predictable, and at times it’s pretty familiar with it’s tropes and plot reveals, and that these reveals mean for the identity of the victim found at the top of the narrative.

And to be fair, this is definitely more focused on the interpersonal drama and backstabbing than it is the mystery. But that didn’t stop me from having a hell of a fun time whilst reading it. I love me soap opera drama nonsense, and “Bad Summer People” delivered a whole lot of it. We get into the minds of a number of people in Salcombe, from the nasty queen bees of the summer community to outsiders desperate to be insiders to more seasoned residents who are more removed from the dramatics, and they all have a nasty bite that reads like guilty pleasure fun. Whether it’s Lauren, the most popular mom in a dying marriage who starts to seek out attention elsewhere, or Jen, the well loved wife of the community’s golden boy who has some darkness she’s always hidden, or Robert, the new tennis instructor who is desperate to be a part of the wealthy elites, all of our characters are kind of assholes, but it’s really entertaining seeing them all spiral as the summer goes on. Sure, there’s the question of whose body is found on the beach at the start and how it got there, but that sometimes feels a bit incidental. Because of that this may not be the BEST fit for people who are in it for the thriller aspects of the mystery. But for people like me, who also love watching people be dicks to each other on the page, it’s a quick, breezy jaunt, and the perfect beach read.

“Bad Summer People” was lots of fun and would be a great book to take on a beachy trip this summer! Hopefully you won’t be getting into the shenanigans that these characters stumble into, however.

Rating 7: Sudsy and indulgent with some good twists and turns, “Bad Summer People” is a fun and wicked whodunnit that revels in its soap and drama.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bad Summer People” is pretty new and not on many Goodreads lists right now, but it would definitely fit in on “Beachy Reads”.

Not Just Books: May 2023

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: “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3”

Hot take: Marvel has been struggling lately. You heard it first here. But I’ve still been diligently making my way to the theater in the hopes that things will turn a corner soon. And while this movie was perhaps not that corner, it was still a whole lot better than the several movies that came before it. Mostly because I imagine it would be really hard to make a truly bad movie with a cast that is this good and has this level of chemistry with one another. Though, I will say this movie continues the trend where everything has to be SO GRIM all of the time. Can we just get back to some happy storylines? Maybe some love stories that don’t end in tragedy?

Netflix Show: “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story”

No, no we cannot. Because here we go with “Bridgerton,” another of my go-to feel good franchises, taking on a story that we all know is made up of one tragedy after another. And that’s not even adding in the marital horror that we got in this one that I wasn’t even expecting! But, again, the show was saved by fantastic casting and excellent writing. I really did enjoy this one, but man, I’m so sick of the bummer storylines. I can’t wait for season 3. If they make that one sad somehow, I might just riot.

TV Show: “The Great American Baking Show”

What do you look to when you see sadness all around? Baking reality tv, of course! I knew there was an American version of this show, but I never really looked into it. But here’s a win for Roku’s advertising on my TV! I saw the poster for this one pot up, I saw my two familiar judges, and I clicked right on through. I know Paul has been a judge for a few seasons on this show now, but I am happiest with my favorite two judges together. I also really liked the two new hosts. I also really liked that this was happy. I repeat, happiness was found here.

Kate’s Picks

TV Show: “Star Trek: Picard”

Back in 2020 Serena and I both picked the first season of “Picard” for a Not Just Books post, as the revisiting of “Star Trek”‘s Captain Jean-Luc Picard in his later years was satisfying and pretty interesting. I did watch Season 2, and while it was fine, it didn’t make the cut when I watched it. But let me tell you, this third and final season was AMAZING, if ONLY because it has finally decided to give in to the fan service that Trekkies have been clamoring for since Season 1. Picard has gone back to his quiet life on the vineyard, but then he gets an SOS message from his former crew member/ former lover Beverly Crusher seeking his help. Picard enlists the help of Will Riker in hopes of helping Bev, and then reunites with more former crew members as they all have to face a new, but familiar, villain that threatens The Federation. I love “Next Generation” and all of its players so seeing so many of them come back (Bev! Geordi! WORF!) was so satisfying, but what is ALSO satisfying is that it harkens back to other “Trek” series like “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” as well. It just feels like a reunion of old friends that I’ve missed for a very long time.

Film: “Evil Dead Rise”

I’ve been an “Evil Dead” fan since high school, and “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” is a top 3 horror movie for me. And while it’s true that Bruce Campbell has hung up the chainsaw, fear not, fans, because “Evil Dead Rise” is a FABULOUS new story for the “Evil Dead” canon, tapping into its scary and gory roots and creating a new iconic Deadite and a new iconic hero. Both of whom are women. Beth, facing a personal crisis, goes to visit her sister Ellie and her nieces and nephew in a shabby L.A. apartment building. When an earthquake hits, nephew Danny finds a strange book and recordings in a newly opened area. When he plays the records, an evil force possesses Ellie, turning her into a Deadite. Now Beth has to try and save herself and her niblings before Ellie takes their souls. This movie is a goddamn blast, with disgusting special effects, a rad successor to Ash Williams in Beth, and an assuredly legendary new horror villain in Deadite Ellie. And yes, there is a chainsaw. And a cheese grater. MAKE OF THAT WHAT YOU WILL. I loved this movie, I was clapping my hands in glee through the last third of it.

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

Well it’s true that Season 15 of “Drag Race” was a little bit of a mixed bag for me (top two notwithstanding, I love them both), but luckily “All Stars” Season 8 has started and it is off to a grand start! Last season was All Winners, and while it was nice seeing all of these queens showcased for the entire season, I missed the old format, and that format is BACK! A few of my previous faves have been selected to compete this All Stars cycle (Heidi N Closet! JESSICA WILD!!), and seeing them back with even bigger and better concepts and wardrobes and performances has been a treat. It’s also really cool seeing a few queens who were either from early seasons (again, JESSICA WILD!!), or were early outs on their season (like Jaymes Mansfield or Kahanna Montrese), being given another chance, and seeing their growth is a joy. I also love seeing who they are picking for the lip sync assassins this season, as they have been FIERCE thus far (Aja was PHENOMENAL!). I love having this show back and back to the levels I expect. In a moment where laws are being passed to oppress trans people and drag performers, it’s all the more important to find the joy and subversion in these artists and the art of drag!

Year of Sanderson: “The Hero of Ages”

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

“Year of Sanderson” is an on-going, monthly series that will post on the last Friday of each month in which I will cover various Brandon Sanderson-related things. This will largely be comprised of book reviews (some from his back catalog and some from the books being released this year), as well as assorted other topics like reviews of the items in the swag boxes that will be coming out as part of Sanderson’s Kickstarted campaign. Frankly, we’ll just have to see what we get from this series, very much like the Kickstarter itself!

Book: “The Hero of Ages” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor Fantasy, October 2009

Where Did I Get this Book: own it

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

Book Description: Who is the Hero of Ages?

To end the Final Empire and restore freedom, Vin killed the Lord Ruler. But as a result, the Deepness—the lethal form of the ubiquitous mists—is back, along with increasingly heavy ashfalls and ever more powerful earthquakes. Humanity appears to be doomed.

Having escaped death at the climax of The Well of Ascension only by becoming a Mistborn himself, Emperor Elend Venture hopes to find clues left behind by the Lord Ruler that will allow him to save the world. Vin is consumed with guilt at having been tricked into releasing the mystic force known as Ruin from the Well. Ruin wants to end the world, and its near omniscience and ability to warp reality make stopping it seem impossible. Vin can’t even discuss it with Elend lest Ruin learn their plans!

Previously Reviewed: “Mistborn” and “The Well of Ascension”

Review: Here we are, the last book in Sanderson’s first Mistborn trilogy! And this is very much where the proof was in the pudding as far as his future as a rock star fantasy author goes! It’s one thing to write a great started to a series. Another to not get caught up in the sophomore slump of the second novel. But it’s an entirely different beast to tackle an ending. And boy oh boy, what an ending it is!

Things are not looking up for Vin and Elend. Yes, Elend evaded death by becoming a Mistborn himself, but balancing his duties as leader with learning to master the powerful abilities now at his hands is more than most can accomplish. For her part, Vin is grappling with the world-changing results of her actions after she accidentally released Ruin, an almost all-powerful destructive force, back into the world. Now, with the very world around them turning against them, Vin and Elend must fight once again not just for the freedom of their people, but for their very survival.

What can I saw about this book that hasn’t been said a million times before and isn’t just me reduced to incoherent gushing?? I mean, simply put, it’s an excellent book and a fantastic finisher for the trilogy as a whole. It is the conclusion of large character arcs for both Vin and Elend which has seen each character grow from fairly simple beginnings to the very complex beings we see here. As the challenges they face have grown more complicated, so, too, do we see Elend and Vin grapple with decisions that seemingly have no “good” answer. Vin, in particular, a being who is almost all-powerful in her own way, must learn navigate the complicated fall-out of the decisions she made in the previous book. And, for his part, Elend, now granted the abilities that Vin wields so masterfully, must face where his strengths and Vin’s differ.

In many ways, this book has a much darker, more grim overall tone. The world is literally falling apart around our cast and crew, and, like I mentioned above, the decisions they are facing have no easy answers. That said, these dire circumstances are prime ground for more world-building and the exploration of this planet’s complicated history. There is one particular reveal that comes over the course of this trilogy that is truly impressive. In fact, there are so many reveals about how certain beings and magic systems work that come to light in this last book that it is proving fairly hard to review it! Suffice to say, one of the true joys of reading this book is seeing how it weaves together loose threads (and even things that the reader didn’t know was a threat at all!) from the previous two books.

I also think that Sanderson nails the end of this book. Almost all of the characters ended up in situations that were completely different than what I had expected going in. The stakes are high and the end result is appropriately bittersweet. This story is also fairly action packed from start to finish, as can only be expected in a plot focused on preventing the literal destruction of an entire people and world! In a similar vein as the “threads you didn’t know where threads” aspect of the first two books, this book lays out very subtle hints about Sanderson’s larger Cosmere universe as a whole that pay off nicely for fan who go on to read his other works.

Rating 9: An excellent conclusion to the trilogy and proof that Brandon Sanderson has all the goods, from start to finish!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hero of Ages” is on these Goodreads lists: Most Interesting Magic System and Best Heroine in a Fantasy Book.

Kate’s Review: “The Quarry Girls”

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

Book: “The Quarry Girls” by Jess Lourey

Publishing Info: Thomas & Mercer, November 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

Book Description: Minnesota, 1977. For the teens of one close-knit community, summer means late-night swimming parties at the quarry, the county fair, and venturing into the tunnels beneath the city. But for two best friends, it’s not all fun and games.

Heather and Brenda have a secret. Something they saw in the dark. Something they can’t forget. They’ve decided to never tell a soul. But their vow is tested when their friend disappears—the second girl to vanish in a week. And yet the authorities are reluctant to investigate.

Heather is terrified that the missing girls are connected to what she and Brenda stumbled upon that night. Desperately searching for answers on her own, she learns that no one in her community is who they seem to be. Not the police, not the boys she met at the quarry, not even her parents. But she can’t stop digging because she knows those girls are in danger.

She also knows she’s next.

Review: I had to wait a LONG time to get “The Quarry Girls” by Jess Lourey from my library. I saw it in passing at some point but didn’t look too much into it, but once I realized that it takes place in Minnesota, that explained a few things. Local author, local interest, that always hypes up the library patron community. I had heard some good things, and jumped in expecting a fairly straight forward and run of the mill mystery, so imagine my surprise when it took me totally off guard and really, really got under my skin. This is the kind of thriller that doesn’t just have a good atmosphere and pace, it’s also the kind that feels super, super real in the most upsetting ways. But that’s what makes it stand out so much.

The mystery itself is haunting and suspenseful. Heather is a teenage girl living in St. Cloud, Minnesota in the late 1970s. A local waitress goes missing, her absence first dismissed as a case of a runaway or a flighty girl off on an adventure, and Heather tries not to worry. She runs with her friend group, best friends Maureen and Brenda by her side, and tries not to fret about the cool older man her guy friends have started hanging out with, lest they think she’s a baby. But then her friend Maureen goes missing too, and Heather is convinced that it has to do with something that she and Brenda saw one night shortly before. I loved the slow build up on this mystery, with Heather trying to find clues as to what happened to Maureen (a girl with a ‘reputation’ and therefore dismissed as another runaway, but we are going to get into all THAT in a bit) and has to break out of her anxious, shy self to try and help her friend. I loved watching her find various clues and insights, and how those clues and insights start to point to an even bigger, more encompassing, and more disturbing mystery at hand. As Heather starts to realize that things she thought were true are false, and that there are people she thought she could trust, but actually can’t, it makes for a slow burn and dread building mystery that kept me hooked and terrified for this literal teenager just trying to help her friend.

And that touches on the bigger themes of this book, specifically the fact that in greater society, sometimes women are victims and sometimes men are either enablers and abusers themselves, and we don’t necessarily REALLY know all sides of a person, even when we care about them or trust them. Heather has many men in her life, whether it is her District Attorney father who has been placing a lot of responsibility on Heather after her mother had a mental breakdown (which had devastating effects on Heather, but also has a hidden backstory), or the Sheriff in town who may be hiding his own corruption and culpability when it comes to Maureen, or childhood guy friends that Heather thought she knew, but have started becoming more aggressive, or demanding, or cruel. As Heather starts to learn things about Maureen, things that others deem ‘wild’ or ‘bad girl’, and tries to piece things together, she starts to learn things about all these boys and men, and it’s very hard to watch her have to learn some really difficult truths. That isn’t to say that there isn’t hope here. Because once Heather learns things she never wanted to know, she can start to learn how to fight back. But growing up too fast always has a cost.

And now I need to talk about the setting of this book because as a Minnesotan I am obligated to gush about a well done book that takes place in my home state. And man oh MAN does Lourey hit the nail on the head when it comes to Minnesota culture and location (which makes sense since she spent a good amount of time in St. Cloud and is currently living in Minneapolis). I’ve been to St. Cloud maybe three times in my life, but it’s a bit notorious to those Minnesotans who live outside of it for a number of negative reasons. The first is it has a reputation for being incredibly racist. The second is that various cogs in the Stearns County law enforcement machine have come under fire for corruption and incompetence (the Jacob Wetterling case is one of the most infamous examples. If you want a good resource on how badly Stearns County fucked this case up for twenty plus years, seek out the “In the Dark” Podcast, Season 1. Your blood will boil). When I started reading I wondered if Lourey was going to tap into some nostalgia about 1970s St. Cloud, but it became quite clear quite quickly that nope, this was going to dive head first into the toxicity of the community, and how misogyny of the 1970s (which still permeates today), of small town look away culture, and general ‘not my business’ sensibilities of Minnesota ‘nice’ combined to create a tragic story that felt very, very real. There are also fun moments of Minnesota in here, though, which didn’t make it all about the very true faults of Minnesota culture. Whether it was references to how we love festivals in summer due to long ass winters, or a trip to Valley Fair, or the weird quirk that a Minnesotan canNOT be the last person taking an item of food from a shared plate, these fun bits were VERY on point and very amusing.

I really loved “The Quarry Girls”. It broke my heart many times but also gave me a little hope beyond the darkness. I need to go back and read more stuff by Jess Lourey, this was just great.

Rating 9: A searing, heartbreaking thriller about small town secrets, violent misogyny, and having to grow up too fast under horrible circumstances while trying to persevere, “The Quarry Girls” is emotional, raw, and yet somehow hopeful.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Quarry Girls” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Modern Mystery, Crime Fiction”.

Serena’s Review: “Witch King”

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Book: “Witch King” by Martha Wells

Publishing Info: Tor, May 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

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

Book Description: “I didn’t know you were a… demon.”
“You idiot. I’m the demon.”
Kai’s having a long day in Martha Wells’ Witch King….

After being murdered, his consciousness dormant and unaware of the passing of time while confined in an elaborate water trap, Kai wakes to find a lesser mage attempting to harness Kai’s magic to his own advantage. That was never going to go well.

But why was Kai imprisoned in the first place? What has changed in the world since his assassination? And why does the Rising World Coalition appear to be growing in influence?

Kai will need to pull his allies close and draw on all his pain magic if he is to answer even the least of these questions.

Review: While I’m not up-to-date with Martha Well’s current, very popular “Murderbot” series, I am a big fan of her in general. I read all of her “Books of Raksura” series a decade or so ago, for example. As with many SFF authors, it can become quite intimating to start up on a long-running series, regardless of how much one likes the author in general. So when I saw that she was releasing a stand-alone fantasy novel, I jumped on the opportunity to get back to reading her work. Let’s dive in!

After awakening from his own murder, Kai is fairly disturbed. As a demon, changing bodies is not pleasant, but it is manageable. What’s more worrying is the loss of time and the changing political movements of the world at large. With generations of lives making up his own long life-span, Kai is dependent on the few allies he has who have also experienced both his past and his present. But now they, too, are missing, and Kai is desperate not only to find them but to uphold a promise made long ago.

Brandon Sanderson is indisputably the current master of fantasy world-building. But I think what is not acknowledged is Martha Wells’ dynasty as a master of original character work. Not only are all of her characters enfolded in complex, layered arcs in each of their books, but she also has a real skill at writing non-human protagonists that, none the less, reflect very human challenges, joys, and sorrows but through very unique angles. The “Murderbot” series is an obvious example, but the series I read about a decade ago also featured an entire world “peopled” by alien creatures without a humanoid in sight (that I remember at least). And here, in this book, Wells is back at it, presenting us not only with Kai, a demon, but with an entire society built up around various peoples, many humanoid but not quite human either.

But, of course, Kai is our main character. And while some of the typical lore around demons is touched on, it is clear early on that Kai is not the sort of demon we are familiar with. Instead, his kind have formed a symbiotic pact with a group of human people where both societies benefit from the intermingling of their kind. But, through a series of flashbacks seen throughout the book, a powerful and ruthless new group of magic users began a marching conquest of the known world that resulted in the decimation not only of demon kind but also of the many peoples who make up this world.

The use of these flashbacks was incredibly effective, though I will say they highlight another crucial aspect of Wells’ writing style. She’s definitely of those high fantasy authors who creates incredibly complex and nuanced worlds and just plops her readers down right in the middle of the action. You basically have to be comfortably not understanding everything you’re currently reading on the page. Instead, the joy is found in trusting that understanding will come, and it will come in a very specifically constructed and directed manner laid out by the author. In this book, as the story is about a being who has lived for generations, these flashbacks do a lot of work to really set up the stakes of the current situation. Not only the history behind the current political upheaval, but also the relationships Kai has formed with his small band of allies, all of whom we slowly meet throughout the story.

The writing and plotting is also incredibly tight. There were moments when I was laughing out loud at the dialogue and Kai’s distinctly unhuman manner of looking at the world. But then there would be heart-wrenching scenes that perfectly highlighted that while not all of these characters are human, they still experience the same sense of love and betrayal, hope and despair. The pace was steady and even throughout the story, and I enjoyed the themes of found family, trust, and the struggle of individual cultures and peoples when facing a powerful enemy. Overall, I can’t recommend this book enough to SFF readers. It’s definitely not an “entry level” story, but if you’re a fantasy fan who enjoys slowly building an understanding of a world and story, than this is the perfect book for you!

Rating 10: A sprawling world and history to explore alongside the best grumpy, snark demon I can imagine!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Witch King” can be found on this Goodreads list: Can’t Wait Books of 2023

Kate’s Review: “The Salt Grows Heavy”

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Book: “The Salt Grows Heavy” by Cassandra Khaw

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, May 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

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

Book Description: From USA Today bestselling author Cassandra Khaw comes The Salt Grows Heavy, a razor-sharp and bewitching fairytale of discovering the darkness in the world, and the darkness within oneself.

You may think you know how the fairytale goes: a mermaid comes to shore and weds the prince. But what the fables forget is that mermaids have teeth. And now, her daughters have devoured the kingdom and burned it to ashes.

On the run, the mermaid is joined by a mysterious plague doctor with a darkness of their own. Deep in the eerie, snow-crusted forest, the pair stumble upon a village of ageless children who thirst for blood, and the three ‘saints’ who control them.

The mermaid and her doctor must embrace the cruelest parts of their true nature if they hope to survive.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I know that my Dad took my preschool self to see Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” in the theater, and while it’s not a top tier Disney film for me, I enjoy it enough (fun fact: it’s my Dad’s favorite Disney movie). I never sought out the original Hans Christian Andersen story, but I am kind of familiar with the general concept and how different and how much bleaker it is than the more palatable for children Disney version. I never really thought about what it would be like to make it even bleaker, but author Cassandra Khaw apparently did, because “The Salt Grows Heavy” takes “The Little Mermaid” and turns it into a full on balls to the wall body horror novella. Like, FULL ON BODY HORROR GORE AND VISCERA. WORK, ARIEL.

Pretend that the water is blood and guts and you aren’t even halfway there. (source)

Now this all sounds super promising, and between that and the cover (I LOVE THE COVER) I had high hopes for this novella. Unfortunately it was a bit of a mixed bag.

But first, what I liked! WHAT AN OUT THERE AND FREAKY CONCEPT! I love the way that Khaw has taken the story of “The Little Mermaid” and twisted it into something so visceral, so splatterpunk, so disturbing and gory. Our protagonist mermaid has fled the kingdom she married into with a mysterious Plague Doctor after her children with the prince have destroyed the city and all who live there. The original tale makes a victimized mermaid a lovelorn waif, while Khaw makes her into a vengeful, held against her will and now broken free with much blood behind her heroine. This story is one of the goriest I have ever read, so graphic that when I was reading it in a public place I had to set it down a few times just to swallow back disgust. In a good way! Body horror gets under my skin, and sometimes it puts me off, but even though this was so gross and nasty and relentless, it really worked well for me.

But what didn’t work as well was how flowery and overwrought the language felt at times. It’s a creative choice and I have to respect it, and I do admit that sometimes there were moments where I really did love the beauty of the language and descriptors that were used. But I have always had a very difficult time with very flowery and complex and ornate language in the stories I read for whatever reason. It makes it easier for me to get lost, and easier for me to find my eyes glazing over. I also think that we jumped in at a point that felt a bit more like the middle of a story versus a clear beginning, and because it’s a novella we had to speed through the place where we were at to resolve everything, which meant that there could have been more world building and more detail. And I do wish that we had spent some time with the mermaid and the horrible prince, to really see a full subversion of “The Little Mermaid” instead of a subversion of what felt more like a sequel to the tale that we know.

So while I was a bit disappointed in “The Salt Grows Heavy”, I had a fun time being absolutely disgusted with some of the body horror stuff in this book. If you don’t have the same hang ups with flowery writing styles that I do and love body horror, this book would probably be a good fit!

Rating 6: I loved the concept, and I really liked some of the creative aspects of twisting “The Little Mermaid” into a body horror gore fest. But the purple prose is a bit much, which is, admittedly, more reflective of my personal preferences.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Salt Grows Heavy” is included on the Goodreads lists “Queer Horror”, and “Horror to Look Forward To In 2023”.

Beach Reads: Summer 2023

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Back for 2023, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! Perhaps a little early, but Memorial Day is the traditional kick off to Summer, after all, and that’s just a week away. “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to fast paced, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks

Fantasy Title: “Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faieries”

I actually had a really hard time narrowing down my choice for the fantasy genre on this list. I guess I was really in the mood for “cozy fantasy” last year, as there were several that popped up as good options for this one. But, ultimately, I landed on this one. It just hits all of the right vibes for what I look for in a beach read style fantasy novel. The titular character, Emily Wilde, has a great narrative voice. There are quirky side character galore. And there’s a love slow burn romance at the heart. It’s also a refreshing take on fairytales and Fae fantasy stories. It uses a lot of familiar concepts and plots, but the way everything is woven together works perfectly. It’s also a nice, stand-alone story in a genre that’s full of series (though, to be fair, there is a second book coming out this winter, but that in no way undercuts the fact that this is already a stand-alone story on its own).

Science Fiction Title: “Eversion” by Alistair Reynolds

Science fiction is often the genre where I’m most likely to run into the same problem Kate does for many of her books: the genre doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to the “coziness” of what we usually think of when we talk about beach reads. Space is scary in its vastness and its unknowns. So, while I can’t say that “Eversion” doesn’t have its legitimately creepy aspects, I can say that they don’t rise beyond what you often find in science fiction. It’s also just a super fun and interesting read. The story is woven together with a series of jumps forward and backward in time where both the reader and the main character is left trying to piece together what exactly is real and what is happening altogether. Every time I thought I had it figured out, another layer would be pulled back, and I’d have to start all over again! But that was the fun of it all! My husband also really liked this one, so consider this a double recommendation!

Mystery Title: “A Study in Charlotte”

I haven’t reviewed this one on the blog, but Kate gave it to me for Christmas several years ago, and I really enjoyed it. As you can probably guess from the title, this is yet another Sherlock Holmes retelling with the famous detective being reimagined as a young woman named Charlotte. Is it confusing now having this series and the “Charlotte Holmes” series by Sherry Thomas? Yes, yes it is. This one, however, is a YA story, the Charlotte we have here is actually a many-generations-down relative of the original Sherlock, and the story is set in contemporary times. It’s a really fun version of the story, and definitely a fun little mystery to enjoy while relaxing this summer.

History Title: “The Monsters We Defy”

I always struggle with this category. I always want to recommends books for this list that I have personally read and enjoyed. And the reality it, as far as historical fiction goes, I read very little straight “historical fiction.” It’s always a combined with other genres I enjoy, often mysteries. But I also read a lot of historical fantasy fiction, so that’s what I went with here. Yes, there are fantastical elements to this book, but I do think the historical setting and commentary is by far the predominant feature. The story takes place during the Jazz Age of 1925 in Washington, D.C. The story follows a young woman who puts together a ragtag group to pull off a heist. And yes, one the members is a jazz musician who uses their abilities to hypnotize everyone who uses the music.

Kate’s Picks

Horror Title: “The Whispering Dead” by Darcy Coates

I figure that perhaps a person going to the beach for a relaxing day or a full vacation may not be super into something incredibly scary or disturbing, so “The Whispering Dead” by Darcy Coates is probably a good choice. Keira comes to in a strange town with no memories of who she is, but with the distinct impression that she is being hunted. When she takes refuge and hides in an abandoned cemetary groundskeeper’s home, she realizes that she can see ghosts, and that they want her help in passing on. It has entertaining characters, whether it’s amnesiac medium Keira, or quirky Zoe, the earnest but kind of paranoid barista who becomes her best friend, “The Whispering Dead” has some creepy ghostly moments and an engaging supernatural mystery, but never full goes into terrifying material that may waylay an enjoyable day in the surf!

Thriller Title: “The Wife Who Knew Too Much” by Michele Campbell

When it comes to breakneck thrillers that have a lot of soap and suds (which is my favorite kind to take on vacation), Michele Campbell is an author who usually delivers and makes for a fun read, and “The Wife Who Knew Too Much” is making the list this year. It has everything: lost loves, the cold elites, a dead wife, and a mistress who is pulled in perhaps because her lover isn’t being fully honest with her. Tabitha, a working class girl who worked at a country club one summer, fell in love with wealthy golden boy Connor, but it ended in heartbreak. When they meet up again later in life he is married but claims it’s pretty much over and that his wife is a manipulative and vicious person. But when his wife ends up dead, and she leaves a note that implicates Connor, as well as a mysterious and damning ‘her’, Tabitha realizes she may be in far too deep. Drama and danger, this is absolutely a page turner for a relaxing vacation.

Graphic Novel Title: “Cryptid Club” by Sarah Andersen

I know that with my distractibility and antsiness, especially on a trip, I may need a book that I can put down and pick up easily, and “Cryptid Club” by Sarah Andersen not only fits that bill, but also has one of my special interests at its heart: CRYPTIDS!! This collection of comics about cryptids like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and my very favorite cryptid Mothman, is both a fun set of stories about urban legends that have captured weirdoes imaginations, while also letting them explore the social anxieties of these beings and how they are so much like us with very human problems. Andersen is charming and hilarious, and I love seeing where she takes these legends and makes them so, so funny and also relatable. And since it’s comic strip form, it’s easy to take a break to jump in the water for awhile.

Non-Fiction Title: “Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood” by Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova

I’ve been watching “Drag Race” for 10+ years, and while every season has successful and popular queens, Season 7 gave us the comedic duo of Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova, whose banter, chemistry, and humor launched them into the pop culture stratosphere with web shows and traveling shows. And now books! Their first book, “Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood” is a parody on women’s centered self help books, but also has essays and conversations about their friendship, their experiences in drag and their other artful pursuits, and the importance of self love and self fulfillment. And it’s also, of course, incredibly funny as they ruminate, satirize, and go off on tangent after tangent. I found this book funny and quick, and given that there are so many attacks on drag and LGBTQIA+ culture it’s all the more important to lift up these voices and experiences. It’s just a bonus that this one is such a laugh riot.

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