Serena’s Review: “Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries”

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Book: “Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries” by Heather Fawcett

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, January 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

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

Book Description: Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.

Review: This book wasn’t on my radar at all, somehow. Horror of horrors, since, spoiling myself here, I loved this book! Instead, it ended up on my TBR list only because I saw that it was likely going to be the December Adult Fairyloot book, and I wanted to get an idea of what it was all about ahead of time. So I read this about a month ago, but saved my review for closer to the publishing date. And here we are, ready and willing to give a rave review for this book!

When Emily Wilde arrives at the remote, northern town of Hrafnsvik, she is there for one purpose and one purpose only: studying the local Fae for inclusion in her in-progress encyclopaedia. While she is an excellent scholar, she is less skilled at ingratiating herself with the locals and quickly finds herself on the outs with most everyone in the village. Even more infuriating is the arrival of her charming academic rival who quickly attaches himself to her work and seems to soon have the entire town besotted with him. As the two work together, Emily begins to uncover clues of larger, nefarious curse that is plaguing Hrafnsvik…as well as clues that her rival may be more than he seems.

We have again one of those situations where I stumbled upon a book completely by chance and am now terrified of how many other lovely titles I’m missing out on! Alas, such is the life of an avid reader, I guess. Whatever way it made it onto my TBR pile, I’m sure glad it did. This book was pretty much everything I like about fantasy. It has a quasi historical setting, a buttoned-up, bookish leading lady who seems to always get herself into trouble, an adorable animal companion, a charming love interest with a subdued romantic subplot, and an interesting, but not overly embellished (side-eying Sarah J. Maas here) Fae world.

On this last point, the story is definitely a slow-burn on its fantastical elements. The plot, of course, is centered on Emily’s research of Fae and the story starts out simply enough with her following these regular steps of study. But the plot takes a few sudden twists and turns towards the middle and final third of the book that truly bring these fantasy Fae elements to the front. I was both surprised and delighted by these twists. There were a couple of choices, particularly towards the end of the book, that definitely took the story in a direction I hadn’t anticipated (or, at least, I hadn’t anticipated just how much the author would commit to these decisions).

But because this book is a slow-burn story, plot-wise, much of its success rests on just how charming Emily Wilde is as a narrator. As I said, I particularly enjoy this type of scholarly, semi-stoic woman protagonist. The unintentional hilarity of this type of narrator’s way of speaking is half the fun, and such is the case here as well. It was all the better when Wendell arrives, and the the whole “fire and ice” dynamic gets going. Their chemistry is immediately charming, and the reader gets to enjoy being on the “in” about Wendell’s obvious feelings for Emily while she remains the obtuse dunderhead she is about human interactions.

Like Wendell, I think “charming” is probably the best word to describe this entire book. I definitely recommend this book for most all fantasy readers, especially those who like subdued but lovely romances and new versions of Fae and Fae courts.

Rating 9: A delight from start to finish, never stumbling in its tone while weaving together a subtle romance and a heartfelt journey of discovering the importance friends and community.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Upcoming 2023 SFF Books With Female Leads or Co-Leads and First AND Last Name Please

Kate’s Review: “The House in the Pines”

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Book: “The House in the Pines” by Ana Reyes

Publishing Info: Dutton, January 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher at ALAAC22.

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

Book Description: Maya was a high school senior when her best friend, Aubrey, mysteriously dropped dead in front of the enigmatic man named Frank whom they’d been spending time with all summer.

Seven years later, Maya lives in Boston with a loving boyfriend and is kicking the secret addiction that has allowed her to cope with what happened years ago, the gaps in her memories, and the lost time that she can’t account for. But her past comes rushing back when she comes across a recent YouTube video in which a young woman suddenly keels over and dies in a diner while sitting across from none other than Frank. Plunged into the trauma that has defined her life, Maya heads to her Berkshires hometown to relive that fateful summer–the influence Frank once had on her and the obsessive jealousy that nearly destroyed her friendship with Aubrey.

At her mother’s house, she excavates fragments of her past and notices hidden messages in her deceased Guatemalan father’s book that didn’t stand out to her earlier. To save herself, she must understand a story written before she was born, but time keeps running out, and soon, all roads are leading back to Frank’s cabin.

Utterly unique and captivating, The House in the Pines keeps you guessing about whether we can ever fully confront the past and return home.

Review: Thank you to Dutton and ALAAC22 for providing me with an ARC of this novel!

It’s nuts to think that The ALA Annual Conference in 2022 was already almost half a year ago. I feel like I did a pretty okay job going through my ARCs and taking them on, and given that a few I grabbed were for early 2023, I did have some stragglers by the end of the year. One of those was “The House in the Pines” by Ana Reyes, which had been touted as an eerie thriller with a creepy as heck cover to boot. As someone who likes creepy cabins (“Evil Dead” really set the bar, be it the movies OR the musical), the cover alone commanded my attention. By the time I was diving in, long after the conference had ended, it didn’t take long to become invested even beyond the core concept and solid cover.

What I liked most about this book is that I wasn’t sure if it was going to ultimately be a horror story with potentially supernatural elements, or a very off kilter thriller that does, in fact, have a possibly plausible explanation. Where it ultimately ended up, I’m not quite sure, but the ride was pretty well worth it. I liked how we jumped through time in the narrative, seeing our protagonist Maya in the present day as she grapple with her past relationship with a man who may have killed her best friend. How, she isn’t sure, as Aubrey just dropped dead, and Frank was right there and seemingly did nothing. But Maya can’t shake the feeling that he did it, especially when she stumbles upon a viral video of ANOTHER woman just dropping dead, with Frank being present again. In the present we see her obsess and try to figure out how he could have pulled this seemingly impossible murder off. But then we jump to the past, and see how Frank manipulated, groomed, and influenced Maya at seventeen years old. It’s sometimes a bit jarring to see the two time lines so close to each other, especially since the jumps aren’t as predictable, but I liked the contrast and how it brings the story together.

As for the strange elements that I was referring to up-post, as to whether this is a horror story or a thriller, Reyes really knows how to make her pages and moments disorienting. I really couldn’t tell if I could at all trust what I was reading, and had to skip back a couple times here and there to re-read to make sure I was getting everything I was theoretically supposed to be getting. This is all, mostly, a positive and deliberate thing, as it is very much in control and doesn’t feel due to sloppy or haphazard writing. And ultimately, this book is less about the weird and disorienting things, and more about the fallout and trauma that Maya has experienced, and how that in and if itself can lead to disorientation. I think that my only qualm with all of this is that, because it’s more about that and less about Frank and true answers, the ending feels a bit drawn out and unresolved. I know that a lack of resolution definitely has its place in stories with themes such as these. But I think that for me the narrative would have benefited a bit from some more concrete answers and resolutions.

Overall, “The House in the Pines” is strange and twisty, with bleak but interesting themes. I will be very curious to see the reactions this one receives as more people read it, and I’m very curious to check out what Ana Reyes brings forth next.

Rating 7: Weird and upsetting with some intriguing twists, “The House in the Pines” is a solid way to start your thriller reading in 2023.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The House in the Pines” is included on the Goodreads list “Latinx Mysteries and Thrillers”.

Highlights: January 2023

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How is it 2023?!! I mean, we probably say that every year, but still, it’s always a bit shocking. All the more so when you have kids and every year marks another year they’ve been around being little terrors joys. But with the new year comes a whole new pile of books to get through! Here are the ones we’re particularly excited about this month!

Serena’s Picks

Book: “Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries” by Heather Fawcett

Publication Date: January 10, 2023

Why I’m Interested: This book checks off a lot of boxes for me. Scholarly, unsocial leading lady? Yes. Historical fantasy with an emphasis on folklore and faeries? Yes. Comedic love interest? Yes. While I’m always a bit nervous about books that are written a diary format, as I’ve struggled with this style in the past, I’m hopeful that the premise of these being working scholarly journals will help that for me. I also really like this cover. It’s fairly simple, but I think it nicely sets a particular tone for the type of fantasy novel the reader is picking up.

Book: “Mysteries of Thorn Manor” by Margaret Rogerson

Publication Date: January 17, 2023

Why I’m Interested: Umm, obviously! I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Margaret Rogerson. And beyond that, this is a novella that she has described as “an author writing fanfic for their own novel.” Yes, please! I’m really excited to see more from Elisabeth, Nathaniel, and their demon companion, Silas. The romance had only just begun at the end of “Sorcery of Thorns,” so I can’t wait to see how this relationship develops further. And, of course, Silas’s return from the dead was a big surprise at the end of the novel, so I imagine there is a decent well of emotional drama to be drilled there, too. I’ll be getting to this one right away, count on that!

Book: “Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame” by Meg Long

Publication Date: January 17, 2023

Why I’m Interested: I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Long’s first book in this series, “Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves.” It was a clever, science fiction novel with the bond between a young woman and her half-feral wolf at the heart of the story. Along the way, they pick up some friends, including Remy, a young woman on the run from the corporation who created her. This is her story, and it promises to be one of revenge, betrayal, and the power of friendship. Yes, I’m a bit sad that there’s not an equivalent animal companion, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Kate’s Picks

Book: “The House in the Pines” by Ana Reyes

Publication Date: January 3, 2023

Why I’m Interested: This is one of my last ALAAC22 ARCs, and it took a lot of willpower to keep myself from jumping in a little too quickly given that its release was pretty much six months after obtaining it. But the time is here! When Maya was seventeen and about to go away to school, she met Frank, and was instantly smitten. But then her best friend Aubrey, who never liked Frank, died suddenly and mysteriously, and Maya was convinced Frank had something to do with it. Now seven years later, after running and never looking back, Maya sees a viral video of a woman dropping dead for no apparent reason, and sees that Frank is the man with her. Now she has to return to her hometown, and to Frank’s cabin in the woods, to try and get answers. Nothing good ever happens in a thriller with a remote cabin, so this one could be super tense.

Book: “How To Sell a Haunted House” by Grady Hendrix

Publication Date: January 17, 2023

Why I’m Interested: I’m always up for some Grady Hendrix, a horror writer that brings some quirkiness and humor to his really effective horror stories. And it occurred to me when I read this description that the man hadn’t taken on the haunted house story until this one! So I’d say we’re about due! Louise and her brother Mark are estranged, living different lives on different parts of the country. But when their parents die in a tragic car accident, Louise returns to their home of Charleston and has to confront not only their deaths, but also the brother she has resented and been away from for all these years. They squabble about the house and the inheritance, but as they start trying to clean it out, strange things begin happening. There are weird sounds from the locked attic. Things turn on and off. And their mother’s puppet collection seems to be moving. Louise and Mark have to learn to get along, because how are you going to confront a haunting alone? Knowing Hendrix there will be some genuine heart with the scares and the humor.

Book: “One Girl in All the World” by Kendare Blake

Publication Date: January 31, 2023

Why I’m Interested: Well, for one, I absolutely LOVED the first book in the series, “In Every Generation”. For another, anything that brings back some of my favorite “Buffy” characters and does right by them is getting some love from me. But mostly, I am very eager to see where Kendare Blake takes Frankie Rosenberg and her new Scooby Gang. Frankie is still getting used to her slayer-witch powers, and with Buffy and the other slayers still missing she and her friends are doing their best to hold down the Hellmouth. But it doesn’t help that her new powers and the rumors of a dead Buffy have attracted some old friends back to the Hellmouth. On top of that, whispers of a new big bad, The Darkness, are making their way to Frankie and her friends and loved ones. What is The Darkness? And is Buffy alive out there somewhere? I am very pumped for this continuation! Especially if we get to see Spike as a school librarian some more.

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

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”

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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:

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