“Year of Sanderson”: “Elantris”

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: “Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor Fantasy, 2006

Where Did I Get this Book:

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

Book Description: Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.

Arelon’s new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping—based on their correspondence—to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.

But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.

Review: It is only fitting to start out this year’s series on Brandon Sanderson by reviewing his first book, “Elantris.” Like many people, “Elantris” wasn’t the first book I read by Sanderson. Instead, I got on the Sanderson train after reading his “Mistorborn” trilogy as it was released. Then I finished it and, feeling suddenly bereft, I checked out his writing history and low and behold, there was this little stand-alone novel that had been quietly waiting in the background. After reading it, I knew that Sanderson was going to be a “go-to” author for me going forward: not only did I like it as much as the “Mistborn” trilogy, I might have even liked it more!

Elantris was once the golden light of Arelon, not only a beautiful city in and of itself, but populated by the Elantrians, a powerful group of magical individuals who grace those around them with the benefits of their abilities. But then disaster strikes: the city, and its people, crumbles and in the city’s ruined shadow clings the remnants of this once great people. Into this outskirts city, Princess Sarene arrives to marry a prince, only to find he has died, and she has been left a widow. But as she tries to navigate her new existence, she never suspects the truth: the prince is not dead, but banished having become cursed with the same cruel plague that struck down the Elantrians.

While this wasn’t my first experience with Sanderson, I do think that had I read this one first, I would have been even more on-board with his writing than I was after reading the “Mistborn” trilogy. There, Sanderson had three entire books to lay out a complex world, construct multi-layered characters, and depict all the intricate ins and outs of a very complicated magic system. But in “Elantris,” he shows all of these same skills but contained within one novel. Yes, it’s a very long novel, but it’s still one book as compared to three.

As compared to some of his later works, this one has been dinged by other reviewers for lacking the polish of his more recent books. However, in re-reading it for this series, and looking at it purely on its own merits, I don’t think there’s much I can say to that. To me, this book is a pretty perfect example of a solid, stand-alone epic fantasy. It checks off so many boxes without stumbling in any of the three major areas: world-building, characterization, and magic system. Instead, all three come through with flying colors.

In this book, the world-building and the magic system are very closely intertwined. Much of the story surrounds the mystery behind the sudden downfall of the Elantrians and the remaining curse that still randomly strikes individuals in the present day. The curse itself is quite unique, and we explore the lives of those living with it through the eyes of the Crown Prince, Raoden. We learn alongside him of the strange society that now exists within the crumbling city of Elantris where those who are cursed cannot die, but any injury they sustain will never heal, leaving them fragile and susceptible to a never-ending pain that will, eventually, drive them mad.

Outside Elantris’s walls, readers can begin to piece together more of this world-gone-wrong through the eyes of Sarene, a princess who has just arrived in this land only to find her one source of contact, the prince she had been writing, has “died” and she is now widowed and alone. Sarene is exactly the sort of heroic female character I love reading. She’s set up into a situation that is as disempowering as it can get, but she rises against these limitations and plays an integral role in the ultimate solution.

Readers who picked up this book when it was first released probably didn’t realize that they were getting a sneak peak into a toolkit that Sanderson would go on to perfect over the years. Other than his unworldly writing speed, the author is probably best known for his creative magic systems. And here we get a small peak into the beginnings of his abilities in this regard. Not only is the curse that struck the Elantrians incredibly interesting and unique, but the ultimate explanation and solution are as surprising as they are creative. It’s fantasy at its best: fun, exciting, and pushing the boundaries of our expectations.

Overall, “Elantris” is a magnificent novel. And regardless of how others may compare it to Sanderson’s incredible catalog of works, I believe it stands on its own as a near-perfect epic fantasy.

Rating 10: If an alien species came to earth and wanted an example of what “epic fantasy” is all about, “Elantris” would be the go-to pick.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Elantris” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Fantasy Books Written for Adults and Best Stand-Alone Fantasy Book.

Kate’s Review: “Ashes”

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

Book: “Ashes” by Álvaro Ortiz

Publishing Info: Top Shelf Productions, February 2023

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

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

Book Description: Three old friends reunite for the mother of all road trips! One of Spain’s most brilliant graphic novelists finally makes his English-language debut in this elegantly unpredictable gem.

Polly, Moho, and Piter haven’t seen each other in years. Now they’ve piled into a car for a loooong journey to a mysterious cross marked on a map. All their old personality quirks and conflicts are resurrected with new wrinkles as this surreal reunion gets underway. Up ahead are car chases, alcohol, roadside motels, banjo-playing thugs, a ship graveyard, violence, sensual tension, and, of course, a monkey!

The captivating first graphic novel from internationally renowned cartoonist Álvaro Ortiz is an explosive mix of emotional road movie and hooligan thriller in which nothing is what it seems.

Review: Thank you to Top Shelf Productions for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

I am admittedly a not so well organized person. This has been my reality for a number of years, probably partially in part due to ADHD and how I can be very out of sight, out of mind. This means that sometimes I miss details, be it things on my calendar or emails. That almost happened to me when I was approached to read “Ashes”, a road trip graphic novel by Álvaro Ortiz, as it was in our email box and it got lost in the shuffle. But I was very lucky in that it came up one more time, and I caught that email, and was sheepish that I had missed it before but also happy that I’d finally seen this story come across my screen. Because boy, was the description so, so weird, and therefore VERY intriguing. I consider myself lucky, and once again promise myself to be better about these things. We’ll see how that goes. But I’m glad that I did see it, because “Ashes” is unique and very fun.

This graphic novel is quirky and fun, with odd characters, a nutty premise, and a monkey companion named Andrés. Reading the description was a trip, but admittedly very enticing because of how trippy it was. And once I began reading, I realized that we were not only going to get a bunch of quirks, but also a sometimes emotional story about a group of friends who have to come to terms with the death of one of their own, and with the fact they all drifted apart when that, at one time, seemed unlikely. Polly is the high strung one, Piter is laid back and quiet, and Moho is a bit of a hardened degenerate. But when their friend Hector dies and leaves them the request to take his ashes and dispose of them at a place on a map he left behind, the three left behind feel the need for closure. Whether that’s closure for Hector, or for their friend group in general, remains to be seen at the start. I liked getting the background for the friends, seeing how they found each other, and in some ways how they drifted apart, and how we can see the pieces as to why they want to do this even though they aren’t close anymore. As someone who has had a number of friendships ebb and flow and come and go throughout my life, but who knows there are a couple that I would probably feel a need to reconnect with in similar circumstances, it just felt very realistic when examining the ways people grow apart, in part due to changing values, bad behavior, or just plain distance and lack of time.

AND THEN THERE ARE THE WEIRD THINGS, and I say that in the most affectionate way. Moho, Piter, and Polly have to go on an emotional road trip, but there are definitely wacky aspects to it. Whether it is Moho’s monkey Andrés, whom he saved from a run down circus and who gets his own little backstory vignettes, or two biker-esque thugs on their trail who have a love for the banjo, or a ghostly presence that is revealing itself to each friend as the story goes on, and it reminded me a bit of the kind of quirky caper that you may see in a Coen Brothers film. It also made the tension feel pretty high at times as they all realize that they are being followed, and that this trip may not be plagued only by awkward friendship baggage, but also true danger. But always done with a bit of cheekiness. I mean, there is a silly little monkey! The stakes are high but it never feels overdramatic in the way that things unfold. And just for funsies we also get some historical tidbits about cremation, be it as a process, a historical footnote, or a use in various cultures death practices.

And finally, the art style is so unique and unexpected. When I first saw it I found it a bit jarring, but I quickly started to appreciate and enjoy it, and didn’t feel like it took away from some of the more tense and emotional moments. And honestly it really worked when it came to Andrés the monkey.

(source: Top Shelf Productions)

“Ashes” is both humorous and bittersweet, a study in how friendships evolve and change, and a wacky road trip romp. It comes together well and is very entertaining.

Rating 8: Funny, emotional, and bursting with adorable monkey shenanigans, “Ashes” is a charming road trip story about changing friendships.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ashes” isn’t on any Goodreads lists at the moment, but it reminded me of a Coen Brothers movie as I was reading it.

Serena’s Review: “The Magician’s Daughter”

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

Book: “The Magician’s Daughter” by H. G. Parry

Publishing Info: Redhook, February 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

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

Book Description: It is 1912, and for the last seventy years magic has all but disappeared from the world. Yet magic is all Biddy has ever known.

Orphaned in a shipwreck as a baby, Biddy grew up on Hy-Brasil, a legendary island off the coast of Ireland hidden by magic and glimpsed by rare travelers who return with stories of wild black rabbits and a lone magician in a castle. To Biddy, the island is her home, a place of ancient trees and sea-salt air and mysteries, and the magician, Rowan, is her guardian. She loves both, but as her seventeenth birthday approaches, she is stifled by her solitude and frustrated by Rowan’s refusal to let her leave. He himself leaves almost every night, transforming into a raven and flying to the mainland, and never tells her where or why he goes.

One night, Rowan fails to come home from his mysterious travels. When Biddy ventures into his nightmares to rescue him, she learns not only where he goes every night, but the terrible things that happened in the last days of magic that caused Rowan to flee to Hy-Brasil. Rowan has powerful enemies who threaten the safety of the island. Biddy’s determination to protect her home and her guardian takes her away from the safety of Hy-Brasil, to the poorhouses of Whitechapel, a secret castle beneath London streets, the ruins of an ancient civilization, and finally to a desperate chance to restore lost magic. But the closer she comes to answers, the more she comes to question everything she has ever believed about Rowan, her origins, and the cost of bringing magic back into the world.

Review: First things first, I absolutely love this book’s cover! It’s so unique and eye-catching. I’m on the record as disliking books using cover-models, and I’m even starting to burn out a little on the cartoonish characters (though there are still versions of this theme I can get behind.) But I think this cover does exactly what a good cover is meant to do: it communicates exactly what kind of book you’re going to get. And here, that would be a book taking place in a historical setting and featuring a fairytale-like tone of fantasy. So, well done cover artist! Let’s get to the book itself, though.

While Biddy understands that a world exists beyond the boundaries of the smile island that she shares with her magician guardian, Rowan, and his rabbit familiar, but all that she knows of it comes from books. Not only has she never seen a city, but while she knows that magic disappeared from the larger world decades ago, for her, growing up, she has been surrounded by it. But soon she sees that there are darker shadows growing in Rowans eyes every time he returns from the mysterious ventures to the outer world he goes on each night. As she finally begins to demand answers to her growing questions, she learns that there is much more going on in the world outside her home than she had ever suspected. And soon she may be needed to play a much larger role in shaping the future than she ever could have imagined.

I absolutely adored this book, as I knew I would almost from the first page of the novel. Of course, things could have always taken a turn for the dire, but the tone and style of the writing was exactly the sort that always appeals to me. The author was direct, and yet whimsical, deftly exploring the world and characters she had created while never falling into the trap of exposition or strange, narrated infodumps. On top of this, the dialogue was witty and had me laughing right from the start, particularly the interactions between Rowan and his familiar, Hutchingson.

But a book cannot live on funny dialogue alone. Indeed, for me, it really comes down to the characters themselves, and as Biddy is the protagonist with whom we travel this story alongside, the book lived and died based on her characterization. She, too, was exactly the sort of leading teenage character I enjoy. It’s a coming of age story where the character is doing exactly that…coming of age. She doesn’t start out as some “best assassin/thief/princess/etc.” and, indeed, the stories she paints about herself are challenged throughout the book. As she comes to understand the world and her own place in it, she must grow into understand the complexities of all the moving pieces and people in it. Rarely is anyone a true hero or true villain. Biddy must come to understand the adults in her life and the stories they, too, have built up around themselves and how they behave in the world and the choices they make. There were strong themes of family, choice, and the duties we have to those around us, both those with whom we are familiar and care for and those stranger who we will never meet but who we understand as humans too who deserve care and kindness as much as the next person.

I also really liked the way that the magic system was used to explore these themes. For what starts as a simple fantasy premise, that magic is leaving/has left the world, the author leverages this topic into deeper conversations about how society responds to emergencies. From what can be well-intentioned decisions going wrong to how those who seek power can take advantage to consolidate wealth into their own pockets at the expense of the many. It was really well done, and the story definitely took some twists and turns towards the last half that really surprised me and left me on the edge of my seat.

Indeed, I really have nothing to criticize about this book! I think it perfectly accomplished everything it set out to do, and it will surely appeal to all fantasy fans who are looking for a great fairytale-esque stand-alone fantasy. I can’t wait to see what the author does next! I’ll definitely be first in line to find out.

Rating 10: Heart-wrenching in all the right ways, this fairytale fantasy deftly explores important themes of individual choice and the responsibilities we have towards the least of those in society.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Magician’s Daughter” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Magicians in Historical Fiction.

Kate’s Review: “Lore Olympus: Volume 1”

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

Book: “Lore Olympus: Volume 1” by Rachel Smythe

Publishing Info: Del Rey, November 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

Book Description: Experience the propulsive love story of two Greek gods—Hades and Persephone—brought to life with lavish artwork and an irresistible contemporary voice.

Scandalous gossip, wild parties, and forbidden love—witness what the gods do after dark in this stylish and contemporary reimagining of one of mythology’s most well-known stories from creator Rachel Smythe. Featuring a brand-new, exclusive short story, Smythe’s original Eisner-nominated web-comic Lore Olympus brings the Greek Pantheon into the modern age with this sharply perceptive and romantic graphic novel.

Review: It has come up before on this blog, but I absolutely adore the story of Hades and Persephone from Greek Mythology. That said, I am always VERY wary of new and updated takes on this myth, as I am always worried that well meaning creators will take this thousands of years old story and critique it through a modern day lens and decide that it is wholly unacceptable (and to be fair, it’s not like I can blame them because HOO BOY, the optics of it). I am always FAR more interested in adaptations that, instead of making it about grooming, abuse and uneven power dynamics, tap into the very ample potential of a story about a woman discovering her own power and coming into her own on her own terms and with agency… And yeah, it sure doesn’t hurt if there is some steamy romance involved (what can I say, I love a depressive demon nightmare boy and Hades is the originator). So when a Book Club friend asked me if I had heard of “Lore Olympus” and told me what it was, my first question was “okay…. you know my tastes with this story, am I going to like this?” And she said “OH yeah”. So I got “Volume One” from the library, and sat down one night intending to start it. But then I proceeded to finish it and ordered all available volumes to be added to my personal library. Suffice to say, I loved “Lore Olympus: Volume One”.

This is everything I need in a Persephone and Hades story. Everything. (source)

“Lore Olympus” is a long running web comic that takes on the Taking of Persephone with a lot of modern sensibilities, a distinct soap opera attitude, and a slow burn romance between two super different, super complex, and super likable Greek deities. The first is Hades, the sullen and emotionally damaged King of the Underworld. In this Hades is a corporate overlord who lives alone, tolerates his more fun loving brothers Zeus and Poseidon, dotes over his EXTENSIVE dog collection, and buries his past traumas of being a son of Kronos and ALL the baggage that entails. The other is Persephone, the goddess of Spring who has just come into her own, leaving a very sheltered life in the Mortal Realm to be roommates with Artemis on Olympus as she begins her studies and starts a (reluctant) journey to remain a maiden devoted to purity. Through a series of coincidences and the pettiness of other Gods, Hades and Persephone meet, and thus begins a very, very slow burn that brings in not only a VERY lovely romance, but also other well known deities and their nonsense, updated interpretations of various myths, and the start of a story of two people who have a deep, deep connection finding out things about each other as well as themselves. “Volume One” is setting up a lot of the groundwork, introducing us to a huge cast and a lot of settings, and it is done with a lot of heart, a lot of humor, and so many different emotional beats. I loved this start of getting to know both Persephone and Hades, seeing their aspirations and their slowly building friendship and the peeling back of their layers. I love how sad and awkward and brooding Hades is. I love how effervescent and charming and, shall I say, edgy Persephone is. I love that we are getting teasing moments about their characters and what multitudes they contain. I love how Rachel Smythe is being slow and deliberate as she starts to carefully explore the romance that these two will surely have. Because when they interact, it is such a joy.

I also really loved the way that Smythe brings in all sorts of other Greek Mythology players and inserts them into this modernish remix of the lore. You get some fun contemporary interpretations of these characters, like Zeus and Poseidon forcing Hades to attend rowdy brunches with them, or Artemis being a well meaning but condescending roommate, or Eros being a bit of a hot mess romantic (who is dealing with his OWN baggage, with hints to his messy relationship situation with Psyche, YES PLEASE, MY OTHER FAVORITE MYTH). But we also get some darker moments and characterizations, with Smythe turning well known players on their heads and making them more sinister. The most obvious example of this is Apollo, whose Golden Boy reputation hides a personality that oozes with malevolent privilege run amok. But my favorite was Hera, the long suffering wife of Zeus who, in original mythology, is always portrayed as a shrew of sorts. In “Lore Olympus” she definitely has a nasty streak, but you can tell that it is due to a deep unhappiness that she is living with, and not just because of her philandering husband. I really, REALLY love Hera in this series.

And finally, the artwork is very cute. Smythe has this really easy to connect to style, that can shift on a dime from cartoony and quirky humor to absolutely breathtaking imagery. The use of color is phenomenal and I just love how she has designed all of the characters.

We are off to a fantastic start in “Lore Olympus: Volume One”. I look forward to seeing how Hades and Persephone grow as a couple and as individuals.

Rating 10: BE STILL MY HADES/PERSEPHONE LOVING HEART. What a fun, emotional, and slow burn take on one of my favorite Greek Myths of all time.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lore Olympus: Volume One” is included on the Goodreads lists “Greek Mythology Retellings!”, and “Hades and Persephone”.

Another Take: Winter 2023

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

Don’t just take it from us, other readers like these books, too! And we have decided that we would like to showcase other reviewers and bloggers that have their own thoughts and feelings about books that we have loved. Here are a few of the books we’ve enjoyed recently and what other bloggers have to say about them.

“The Poison Season” by Mara Rutherford

Leelo has spent her entire life on Endla, coexisting with the bloodthirsty Forest and respecting the poisonous lake that protects her island from outsiders who seek to destroy it. But as much as Leelo cares for her community, she struggles to accept that her younger brother will be exiled by his next birthday, unless he gains the magic of enchanted song so vital to Endla.

When Leelo sees a young outsider on the verge of drowning in the lake, she knows exactly what she’s supposed to do. But in a moment that will change everything, Leelo betrays her family, her best friend, and Endla by making an unthinkable choice.

Discovery could lead to devastating consequences for both Leelo and the outsider, Jaren, but as they grow closer, Leelo realizes that not all danger comes from beyond the lake—and they can only survive if Leelo is willing to question the very fabric of her society, her people, and herself.

Serena’s Review (8 Rating)

One Book More (4 Stars)

The BiblieoSanctum (4 Stars)

Dark Dispatch

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

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.

Serena’s Review (9 Rating)

Smart Bitches Trashy Books

Your Words My Ink (4 Stars)

Books, Bones, & Buffy (5 Stars)

“The Last Tale of the Flower Bride” by Roshani Chokshi

Once upon a time, a man who believed in fairy tales married a beautiful, mysterious woman named Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada. He was a scholar of myths. She was heiress to a fortune. They exchanged gifts and stories and believed they would live happily ever after–and in exchange for her love, Indigo extracted a promise: that her bridegroom would never pry into her past.

But when Indigo learns that her estranged aunt is dying and the couple is forced to return to her childhood home, the House of Dreams, the bridegroom will soon find himself unable to resist. For within the crumbling manor’s extravagant rooms and musty halls, there lurks the shadow of another girl: Azure, Indigo’s dearest childhood friend who suddenly disappeared. As the house slowly reveals his wife’s secrets, the bridegroom will be forced to choose between reality and fantasy, even if doing so threatens to destroy their marriage . . . or their lives.

Serena’s Review (8 Rating)

Becky’s Book Blog

Tea Leaf Reads (4 Stars)

Coffee Killed the Bookworm (4 Stars)

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Stephen Graham Jones

December 12th, 2019, Jade returns to the rural lake town of Proofrock the same day as convicted Indigenous serial killer Dark Mill South escapes into town to complete his revenge killings, in this riveting sequel to My Heart Is a Chainsaw from New York Times bestselling author, Stephen Graham Jones.

Four years after her tumultuous senior year, Jade Daniels is released from prison right before Christmas when her conviction is overturned. But life beyond bars takes a dangerous turn as soon as she returns to Proofrock. Convicted Serial Killer, Dark Mill South, seeking revenge for thirty-eight Dakota men hanged in 1862, escapes from his prison transfer due to a blizzard, just outside of Proofrock, Idaho.

Dark Mill South’s Reunion Tour began on December 12th, 2019, a Thursday.

Thirty-six hours and twenty bodies later, on Friday the 13th, it would be over.

Don’t Fear the Reaper is the page-turning sequel to My Heart Is a Chainsaw from New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.

Kate’s Review (9 Rating)

Books, Bones, and Buffy (4 Stars)

The Inkblotters (A+)

The Bibliosanctum (4.5/5 Stars)

“The Black Queen” by Jumata Emill

Nova Albright, the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High, is dead. Murdered the night of her coronation, her body found the next morning in the old slave cemetery she spent her weekends rehabilitating. Tinsley McArthur was supposed to be queen. Not only is she beautiful, wealthy, and white, it’s her legacy—her grandmother, her mother, and even her sister wore the crown before her. Everyone in Lovett knows Tinsley would do anything to carry on the McArthur tradition.

No one is more certain of that than Duchess Simmons, Nova’s best friend. Duchess’s father is the first Black police captain in Lovett. For Duchess, Nova’s crown was more than just a win for Nova. It was a win for all the Black kids. Now her best friend is dead, and her father won’t fact the fact that the main suspect is right in front of him. Duchess is convinced that Tinsley killed Nova—and that Tinsley is privileged enough to think she can get away with it. But Duchess’s father seems to be doing what he always does: fall behind the blue line. Which means that the white girl is going to walk.

Duchess is determined to prove Tinsley’s guilt. And to do that, she’ll have to get close to her. But Tinsley has an agenda, too.

Everyone loved Nova. And sometimes, love is exactly what gets you killed.

Kate’s Review (8 Rating)

Lace and Dagger Books (4/5 Stars)

Utopia State of Mind

“How To Sell a Haunted House” by Grady Hendrix

When Louise finds out her parents have died, she dreads going home. She doesn’t want to leave her daughter with her ex and fly to Charleston. She doesn’t want to deal with her family home, stuffed to the rafters with the remnants of her father’s academic career and her mother’s lifelong obsession with puppets and dolls. She doesn’t want to learn how to live without the two people who knew and loved her best in the world.

Most of all, she doesn’t want to deal with her brother, Mark, who never left their hometown, gets fired from one job after another, and resents her success. Unfortunately, she’ll need his help to get the house ready for sale because it’ll take more than some new paint on the walls and clearing out a lifetime of memories to get this place on the market.

But some houses don’t want to be sold, and their home has other plans for both of them…

Kate’s Review (9 Rating)

The Lit Bitch (4 Stars)

Run Along The Shelves

Caffeinated Reviewer (4 Cups)

Serena’s Review: “Emperor of Ruin”

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

Book: “Emperor of Ruin” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Orbit, February 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

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

Book Description: The last surviving Chosen, Ashok has finally risen up and taken control of The Twilight Order. He promises equality and prosperity, but Gyre and Maya know the truth. Only death follows in Ashok’s wake. To take him down, Gyre will have to unite old allies—from all across The Splinter Kingdoms and the depths of Deepfire. And Maya will have to seek out a legendary weapon hidden in the mountains that could turn the tide in their battle for freedom.

Previously Reviewed: “Ashes of the Sun” and “Blood of the Chosen”

Review: I’ve really been enjoying this trilogy so far. It’s not really a surprise, however, as I’ve been on record as a fan of Wexler’s work for quite some time. But there has also been a lot to like specifically about this series. It’s been a wild romp of a ride with two characters who are both sympathetic and wonderfully flawed individuals. I’ve gone back and forth between loving them both and then wanting to smack them each upside the head. But here we are at last with the final book in the trilogy. Will my beloved, broken, estranged siblings finally get their acts together in time to save the world? Let’s find out!

A Chosen has finally returned to the world and with him comes great change. While many see the return of a fabled god-like being, Gyre and Maya know first-hand that Ashok is no one’s savior. Indeed, his monstrous exterior barely hints at the darkness within. Now, not knowing what horrors Ashok has cooked up over his centuries’ long exile, Maya and Gyre must race to not only piece together the mysteries of the past, but cobble together a resistance that can save their world. But even if they succeed, each most grapple with the fact that the world that emerges will look nothing like the one that will now be left behind. And will there be a place for a mythical thief and revolutionary? Or for a powerful, near-Chosen herself?

So, I’ll just get right to it. I think this was my favorite book of the trilogy! In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by this fact. Thinking back on my reactions to the first books, I realize that many of my minor frustrations dealt with the growing pains through which our two main characters were constantly struggling. They’d each keep coming out with these perspectives that were either incredibly naive or supremely narrow-minded, and, at times, it drove me bonkers! So, is it really any wonder then that when we get to the final book, presumably where our two main characters do in fact get their acts in order and temper their instincts, I’m suddenly all in? And don’t let this say anything about the quality of the first two books. Indeed, without those character moments where Maya and Gyre were frustrating and short-sited, we’d never get the true payoff that we see here when each has to come fully into the roles they have chosen for themselves. Roles that are much more nuanced and full of compromise than their former selves could have ever imagined.

But while my sudden increase in appreciation for these two characters may come as no shock, this trilogy also had a lot of surprises in store that I truly wasn’t suspecting. The end of the second book sets up Ashok as your rather typical “big bad” who will come and lay waste to the world unless the ragtag group of resistance fighters come together and dramatically hold him off. And yes, that all did happen, too. But what surprised me was the addition of a third character perspective that layered on an entire new story on top of the one that I thought we had been developing. When I started this book, I’d have said I had a pretty clear understanding of the history and world that had been developed. All that was left was for the grand confrontation. But nope! There was almost more world-building and history in this book alone than in the first books together, and I gobbled it all up! Truly, there were some excellent surprises and twists that I think will please all fans of this series so far.

I also really liked the use of the ever-growing cast of characters. I particularly liked the role that Kit played. Not only do we see her abilities with her constructs used to their full creative powers, but the character was once again allowed to be a fully-fledged character, instead of only the quippy, raunchy, side-kick she’d kind of become in the second book. There were also a few twists towards the end with her that I was particularly happy about, especially with regards to her complicated relationship with Gyre.

There were, however, a few hiccups in pacing that came in the beginning of the story, I felt. There were a few quests and and extra missions that began to feel…well…extra. Not that they weren’t necessary for getting crucial pieces of information or crucial characters all together, but I did struggle a bit with the pacing in the first half of the book due to these various side stories. But once I got to the halfway mark, things picked up and never stopped until the end.

Overall, I really loved this conclusion to the book. Not only did it follow through on the grand confrontations that had been set-up in the first two books, but it added so many new layers to the world and extra twists to the story that it ended up being the best book in the trilogy. I highly recommend this book to fans of the first two books. And now that the trilogy is done, complete with a stellar conclusion, I can universally recommend the series as a whole to practically all science fiction/fantasy fans, especially those who enjoy lots of action in their stories.

Rating 9: Not content to rest on any laurels, this book rose above and beyond the numerous promises made in the first two books to deliver a conclusion that is as epic and enjoyable as the best SFF out there today!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Emperor of Ruin” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2023.

Kate’s Review: “Aliens: Vasquez”

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

Book: “Aliens: Vasquez” by V. Castro

Publishing Info: Titan Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

Book Description: A groundbreaking Latinx Aliens novel by a rising star Latina author, featuring the fan-favorite character PFC Jenette Vasquez from the hit movie Aliens and the family she is forced to leave behind.

For the very first time, the canonical background of the breakout Aliens hero Jenette Vasquez, as well as the story of the children she was forced to leave behind as written by the rising Latina horror star V. Castro (Queen of the Cicadas).

Even before the doomed mission to Hadley’s Hope on LV-426, Jenette Vasquez had to fight to survive. Born to an immigrant family with a long military tradition, she looked up to the stars, but life pulled her back down to Earth—first into a street gang, then prison. The Colonial Marines proved to be Vasquez’s way out—a way that forced her to give up her twin children. Raised by Jenette’s sister, those children, Leticia and Ramon, had to discover their own ways to survive. Leticia by following her mother’s path into the military, Ramon into the corporate hierarchy of Weyland-Yutani. Their paths would converge on an unnamed planet which some see as a potential utopia, while others would use it for highly secretive research. Regardless of whatever humans might have planned for it, however, Xenomorphs will turn it into a living hell.

Review: Depending on the day and my mood, it’s a toss up between whether “Alien” or “Aliens” is my favorite film in the franchise (admittedly, I don’t really acknowledge any of the other films in the “Alien” universe because I don’t like any of them). They are such different movies in tone and theme and genre. But the one I revisit the most often is “Aliens”, as I do love the rag tag Colonial Marines who find themselves in a REALLY bad situation with a corrupt company, an traumatized expert, and a LOT of hungry and bloodthirsty Xenomorphs. One of the stand out marines is Vasquez, a tough as nails no nonsense brawler soldier who is one of the only women on the team. I love Vasquez as a character. One of the problems with Vasquez is that she is a Latina woman who is portrayed by a non-Latina in brownface. So when I saw that V. Castro, one of my favorite horror authors writing right now, was going to give Vasquez an origin story and explore her legacy in a new Sci-Fi horror novel, I was THRILLED. If there is any author who can reclaim the character of Jenette Vasquez, Castro is the one who can do it, as her horror stories have a Latine lens and perspective, AND she knows how to craft a gross and balls to the wall horror story. So I dove into “Aliens: Vasquez” with high hopes.

Haaa, look at Hicks in the background just amused as heck. (source)

“Aliens: Vasquez” is not only a deeper look into Jenette’s backstory, but it is also an exploration of her legacy after her death on LV-426 at the Hadley’s Hope Colony vis a vis the lives of her twin children Leticia and Ramón. I loved that Castro decided to go this route, as while the backstory for Jenette is great (more on that in a bit), there is only so much to work with there. So to think of it as the whole Vasquez legacy works very well. For Jenette, we see her upbringing in a close knit family that has a share of tragedy involving disease, poverty, and societal racism. Eventually she is charged with a crime she didn’t commit thanks to a corrupt cop, and has to choose between prison and military service. To make matters more upsetting, she eventually finds herself pregnant while enlisted, and is told that she can either abort, or have the babies and give them up never to be seen again, and both scenarios end with her forced sterilization. Given what he know about American history (and very RECENT history too) with government forced sterilization of non-white disenfranchised people, this is all very chilling. I loved seeing Vasquez go from somewhat ambitious teenager to hardened Marine, and seeing the various injustices that got her there.

But then there are the twins, Leticia and Ramón Vasquez, and that is the real heart of the story. We get to see these twins as they are raised by their loving aunt with no memory of their mother, and how this loss sets them on two very different paths. For Leticia, she wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and joins up with the Marines, hoping to prove herself a worthy warrior not only for her mother, but for their family’s tradition of women fighters. For Ramón, it means gathering enough power that he will never feel powerless again. We mostly follow Leticia, and I felt like I got to know her better, but what we do get to know about Ramón is well conceived and feels very realistic. I thought that the twins paths were very on point for the overall tale, and also for the “Alien” themes, as while Leticia becomes a commando like other badass women in the franchise, Ramón ends up working at Weyland-Yutani, the corporation whose greed and thirst for power is what gets everyone into the Xenomorph mess in the first place. Let’s just say that it’s up to its old tricks, and Ramón feels a lot like Paul Reiser. I liked seeing them have to come together when things with the Xenomorphs go wrong. Because, of course, it goes wrong.

And let’s talk Xenomorphs. You need to have a solid focus on the Xenomorphs and all the action and body horror nastiness that comes with them, and I think, for the most part, Castro achieves this. There are the required ‘Weyland-Yutani just can’t leave it alone!’ themes, just as there are the really gross parasitic moments of chest bursters, but there are new ideas like what if someone tried to cross breed Xenomorphs with other creatures to create other kinds of horrible bioweapons? It’s disgusting and unsettling as hell, and it felt very in character and in universe. My only qualm was that I almost felt like, when it all comes together with the research, the Xenomorphs, and the twins colliding, it almost wasn’t enough action and climax. That isn’t to say that things earlier should have been scrapped or cut. I would argue that this book should have been longer to explore this confrontation between Xenomorphs, a marine, and an enabler as it all comes to a head. Especially when that marine and enabler are twins.

Overall, this is a very worthy addition to the “Alien” universe and I thought that it was a great reclamation of a character that is well loved in a movie fandom. Fans of “Aliens”, you should read this.

Rating 8: A fun exploration of a fan favorite character that moves her beyond Hollywood dated stereotypes, “Aliens: Vasquez” feels right at home in the “Alien” franchise.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Aliens: Vasquez” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on “Alien Books & Tie-Ins”, and “Latinx Horror/Fantasy”.

Serena’s Review: “The Scarlet Circus”

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

Book: “The Scarlet Circus” by Jane Yolen

Publishing Info: Tachyon Publications, February 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

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

Book Description: “The Scarlet Circus,” the fourth volume in Yolen’s award-winning short fiction series brings you passionate treasures and unexpected transformations. This bewitching assemblage, with an original introduction from Brandon Sanderson, is an ideal read for anyone who appreciates witty, compelling, and classic romantic fantasy.

Review: Jane Yolen is a powerhouse in the fantasy genre. She’s written over 400 novels, short stories, poems, and essays. Beyond that, her work has claimed numerous awards over the many decades she’s been writing, not least of which include a Caldecott Medal and numerous Nebula Awards. Such is the case that she’s one of those authors whose backlist is so intimidating that no matter how many books of hers I read, whenever I pick up a recent one, I’m immediately struck with a sense of guilt for not having gotten to more! So I was happy to see that she was releasing a short story collection this year (with a focus on romance, just in time for Valentine’s Day!), as that seemed like an easy, bite-size re-entry point to an author who deserves much more space on this blog.

This is a short story collection, so there’s really no point in including a summary paragraph. I also won’t be going over every single story in this collection. But I will say right here that I’d struggle to rank these stories or try to include any as “least favorites.” So right here at the top, this is a general recommendation for this collection, and any fans of fantasy short stories should definitely check this one out.

The collection covers a wide swatch of fantasy genres, including fairytale retellings (“Alice in Wonderland”), reimaginings of popular tales (like King Auther and “Romeo and Juliet”), time travel, and even a clever take on the footnotes of an essay that has disappeared after being written in invisible ink. Interspersed with all of these tales, Yolen has included her own poetry. While I do think that her prose is stronger than her poems, these were also nice breaks between the stories, and will likely appeal to those who like a bit more variety in their reading experience.

I did have a few favorites, however. While all of the stories focus on love in one way or another (some with happy endings, other with tragic), I did particularly like one of the later stories in the collection, “The Sea Man,” that focuses more on the love of family. The story follows a sea captain who discover the titular sea man. Though their connection is brief, the story explores the deep understanding of family and love that can cross all boundaries, including ones as simple as language to the more complicated kind that delve into the fantastical.

I also really liked “Dark Seed, Dark Stone,” a story that takes place in ancient Britain, focusing on the Picts and their in-fighting. After the death of her father, the shield of the King, Bridei, a young woman wishes to take upon herself that same role. But, of course, her skills with a spear and shield could never compete with the other warriors. Instead, she earns her place through sheer bravery and the ability to take on a threat in a unique way. Again, the love story is a very small part of this story, but I thought it was an interesting new look into this time period and Bridei himself.

Lastly, I really enjoyed “Dragonfield,” a more straight-forward, action-packed fantasy story. As the title suggests, it follows the tale of a brave young woman, a reluctant hero, and their fight to save their town from a rampaging dragon. While this story wasn’t doing anything particularly shocking, it was the sort of solid, familiar fantasy story that I think most authors work years to complete. And here, Yolen seems to whip it out as if it’s nothing. The simplicity of the story itself instead highlights her vast skills at amusing narration and the creation of interesting and sympathetic characters, even with a very limited format.

As I said, this is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of stories. It’s a must read for all fantasy short story fans, and I think it is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a unique take on a love story this Valentine’s season.

Rating 9: Yolen expertly weaves together a tapestry of romance, with the weft made of magic and the warp made of humanity’s joys and tragedies.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Scarlet Circus” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Best Fantasy Short Story Collections.

Kate’s Review: “Exiles”

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

Book: “Exiles” by Jane Harper

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, January 2023

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

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

Book Description: At a busy festival site on a warm spring night, a baby lies alone in her pram, her mother vanishing into the crowds.

A year on, Kim Gillespie’s absence casts a long shadow as her friends and loved ones gather deep in the heart of South Australian wine country to welcome a new addition to the family.

Joining the celebrations is federal investigator Aaron Falk. But as he soaks up life in the lush valley, he begins to suspect this tight-knit group may be more fractured than it seems.

Between Falk’s closest friend, a missing mother, and a woman he’s drawn to, dark questions linger as long-ago truths begin to emerge.

An outstanding novel, a brilliant mystery and a heart-pounding read from the author of The Dry, Force of Nature, The Lost Man and The Survivors.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

I will admit that I was a bit shocked when I started to read the description and promotional bits about “Exiles” by Jane Harper and it was referred to as the last Aaron Falk Mystery. I think that part of it is that I’m so used to long running series that end up twenty plus books deep (Hello, Temperance Brennan Series), that when a series that has such critical acclaim and a devoted audience decides to end only a few books in my knee jerk reaction is ‘why?!’ But if this indeed the end, “Exiles” is a great way to say goodbye to a detective that I didn’t realize I would miss until he was leaving.

“Exiles” is a missing person story, with Harper’s investigator Aaron Falk at the helm even though he isn’t really there in a professional capacity. When his friend Raco’s brother’s ex Kim goes missing, and stays missing for a year, Falk finds himself being pulled into the question of what happened to Kim, who may have seen her the night she disappeared during a small town festival and left her baby alone in a carriage in a sea of people, and who may know something that isn’t being said. I liked that Falk was more drawn into this final mystery not because of his profession, but because of his loyalty to Raco, and the connection he has to a family that hasn’t gotten a lot of answers. I also liked Aaron slowly getting to know a family friend named Gwen, and starting to realize that perhaps he wants a more quiet life with people that he cares about surrounding him. It’s funny because it’s not like Falk is a character that I am absolutely obsessed with, and I feel like he is a bit of a conduit to tell other broader stories, but I liked his journey in this one and how it ultimately shakes out for him.

The mystery itself it fairly straight forward, and while I kind of had a good gut feeling as to what had happened, I liked the slow and steady pace Harper took with it. Her mysteries always feel in complete control, and never feel like they tread towards melodrama or the like. I enjoyed seeing Falk have to piece together not only the mystery of what happened to Kim the night she disappeared, but also what other circumstances and moments in her life may have played a part in her ultimate disappearance. But I also liked the additional, potential connection to another unsolved crime in the community, in which a man was the victim of a hit and run (and it just so happens that Gwen is that man’s widow). Harper is deliberate and very quiet in her mystery weaving, but it all comes together very well.

And finally, I just like the way that Harper writes the people in this story. I got a good sense for everyone, whether it’s old familiar characters or brand new ones. They all feel like well rounded people, and while some may be hiding things or may be serving as narrative misdirections they all fit in well and aren’t completely obvious as to how they all fit into the broader mystery at hand. She just knows how to create a believable community and cast.

“Exiles” is an introspective and quiet but engaging mystery. If this is, indeed, the last book with Aaron Falk, I’m glad that his trilogy ended on a high note.

Rating 8: A solid mystery, an enjoyable cast, and a nice swan song for a literary detective!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Exiles” is included on the Goodreads list “Most Anticipated Reads of 2023”.

Book Club Review: “This Poison Heart”

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

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is retellings and reimagings.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “This Poison Heart” by Kalynn Bayron

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury YA, June 2021

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

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

Retelling/Reimagining: “The Secret Garden”

Book Description: Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.

When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.

From the bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead comes another inspiring and deeply compelling story about a young woman with the power to conquer the dark forces descending around her.

Kate’s Thoughts

When we decided on reimaginings/retellings for our Book Club theme for this new cycle, I jumped into a number of lists trying to figure out what I was going to choose. I wanted to avoid titles that people may have already read, and I wanted to try and find one that would be a more modern take on a classic that was steeped in Western literature. So when I stumbled upon “This Poison Heart” by Kalynn Bayron and that it involved a Black teenage girl with Poison Ivy-esque powers that was based on “The Secret Garden” I was very intrigued. I hadn’t read the book in its entirety, but I was obsessed with the early 90s movie and thought that this was a fun choice. And while it absolutely has some good moments and fun aspects to it, I think that I was let down a bit by this retelling.

First I will talk about the good! I love the concept of a teenage girl who has magical powers that make plants drawn to her, and make her immune to poisonous plants while she can make plants thrive. I really enjoyed the ways that Briseis has to grapple with these powers, and how this kind of magical reality could cause serious problems (what with trees uprooting around you trying to get closer to her and how these issues could affect relationships). I also enjoyed that, when Greek mythology connections start to come through, that Bayron wants to re-examine the character of Medea, the villainous witch that killed her children to get back at her husband Jason. I really love it when there are new takes on old myths like that, especially ones that deconstruct evil women and give them more depth, complexity, and tragedy in their own right. But that kind of leads up to my big issue with this book being called a “Secret Garden” retelling. It doesn’t really feel like that, outside of a mysterious garden on a newly inherited estate. The other themes didn’t feel present, and it did shift a bit more towards Greek Mythology as the story went on. I just think that it takes more than a mysterious garden to be a retelling of the story (that said, I LOVE poison gardens so that was pretty cool).

So while I did like certain parts of “This Poison Heart”, as a retelling it wasn’t as successful as I would have liked it to be. As a fantasy YA novel without that connection it works just fine.

Serena’s Thoughts

I second all of Kate’s thoughts! I, too, really loved the 90s version of “The Secret Garden” and very much enjoyed the book, as well. So I definitely went in to this re-telling with a lot expectations, not only about the themes that would be covered (loneliness, found family, etc.) but also which characters would show up and how they would be reinterpreted. I’ve got to say, by the time I realized there was no Colin equivalent, I was getting pretty bummed.

As Kate said, about halfway through the book the story takes a massive swerve into Greek mythology. I’m on the record as loving “Circe,” so I definitely don’t have anything against this theme. It was more the fact that I had been sold on one story (one I really hadn’t seen before, a retelling of “The Secret Garden”) and ended up reading a very different one (a Greek mythology story, which, frankly, is getting a bit played out recently.)

The characters were also a mixed bag for me. I really liked Briseis herself, and I thought the ways that her plant powers affected her life were interesting and creative. I also really liked that her moms played very active roles in the story, rather than just mysteriously disappearing as is so often the case in YA fiction. But other than that, I struggled. For one thing, I didn’t like the love interest. The romance ticked off two of my pet peeves: one for instalove and two for semi-creepy age discrepancies. Look, we can’t sit here on a high horse and give Edward Cullen all of this flack for being so much older than Bella and then let this romance off the hook just because is f/f. At least, I can’t.

Overall, I didn’t love this book. The first half of it I thought was pretty intriguing and was setting up an interesting story. But halfway through it takes a massive swerve, and I spent the rest of the book dreaming of what could have been.

Kate’s Rating 6: I liked Briseis’s powers and I liked the reinterpretation of a Greek mythology villainess, but this didn’t really feel like a “Secret Garden” retelling.

Serena’s Rating 6: While it had a few redeeming qualities, especially in the first half, I could never get beyond the fact that I’d been sold one thing and was reading something completely different.

Book Club Questions:

  1. How familiar are you with “The Secret Garden”? Did you feel like this was a successful reimagining?
  2. What were your thoughts on the Greek Mythology elements of the story?
  3. Did you like the magical aspects of the story? Did you feel like the magical systems were well thought out?
  4. What did you think of Rhinebeck as a small town setting?
  5. Did any characters stand out to you in particular?
  6. Do you think you will continue on in the series?

Reader’s Advisory

“This Poison Heart” is included on the Goodreads lists “Popsugar 2023 #14: A Modern Retelling of a Classic”, and “Alex’s Sapphic Masterlist”.

Next Book Club Pick: “The Witch’s Heart” by Genevieve Gornichec

%d bloggers like this: