Not Just Books: January 2023

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

Serena’s Picks

Movie: “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”

Count my husband and I in the group of people whose money Netflix lost by only releasing this movie in theaters for one weekend! I’m not sure what went on behind this poorly thought out decision, but I hope all the dollars they left on the table remind them that yes, some people still do want to actually go out to the theater! I mean, at this point, any excuse to escape my children sounds good. But the opportunity to watch a smart, hilarious, murder mystery as well? Definitely! Ah well. We still watched on Netflix the Friday it was released and enjoyed the heck out of it. Fans of the first movie are sure to love this one, as will those who are first timers to “Knives Out.”

Netflix Show: “The Recruit”

From a sure bet to a very questionable new release. Questionable because I really couldn’t tell what I was getting into after watching the trailer. Is this an action show? A comedy? Are we supposed to like this kind of ridiculous dude bro who seems to be a walking, talking 20-something stereotype? Well, yes to all of the above. And you have to give all the credit to Noah Centineo for this one. As I said, this is a character who you really should dislike. But Centineo’s charm and douchey charisma (is that a thing??) carry the entire thing. You find yourself rooting for this bumbling guy who seems to stumble from one disaster to another. I did struggle towards the end when one of the main female characters made some decisions that truly catapulted her into “too stupid to live” territory, but, again, my investment in Centineo’s character ultimately won me over.

TV Show: “Veronica Mars”

Yes, yes, I’m admitting to be very late to this show. Not only did I not watch it when it was originally on, but I really wasn’t even aware it was a thing until fairly recently when I went down a Kristen Bell rabbit hole and discovered it in her back catalog. I’ll also admit that I watched the first half of the first season over several months, still not understanding what all the fuss was about. And then Logan and Veronica kissed, and my little shipping heart was all in. Yes, I’m also unfortunately spoiled for the end, but that just means I can very tidily turn of my viewing experience before any…unpleasantness ruins my “happily ever after.”

Kate’s Picks

TV Show: “Trixie Motel”

One of my dearest friends, David, has been living outside Minnesota, spending his time on archaeological digs or out west working on his dissertation. But whenever he is in town we try to get together to relive our glory days of ordering in Chinese food and watching queer content (as this was how our friendship was solidified during our time working together at the Science Museum of Minnesota). For his winter visit we sat down and started “Trixie Motel”, a renovation show that is the project of hilarious drag queen/musician/comedian Trixie Mattel. I’ve been a Trixie fan since she was on “Drag Race” on Season 7, but seeing how she has expanded her brand over the years has been really fun. Now she and her partner have bought a motel in Palm Springs, and they are renovating it to make it campy and kitschy as well as fully functional and enjoyable. This show shows how the renovations went, and is humorous as well as really neat to see in terms of transformation. I’m not a big home renovation show person, but this one was VERY entertaining.

TV Show: “Bluey”

So this is a little bit the influence of my daughter at work, as right now she is VERY into “Bluey”, an Australian cartoon about a blue heeler puppy and her family. But if I am being totally honest, I, too, really really love “Bluey”! The show is little eight minute shorts following Bluey, her sister Bingo, and her parents Bandit and Chilli as they go through general family and childhood things. A lot of it is centered around imaginative play and family time, and it’s incredibly cute. But my husband and I also feel that it does a GREAT job of capturing some of the more silly but also very endearing aspects of childhood, and parenthood, and how sometimes we are all just doing our best out there. It’s been described as ‘a show for parents that kids just happen to like’ in a joking manner, but it hits the nail on the head in a lot of ways. And as someone with a very spirited toddler, it’s fun to cuddle up with her and be like ‘oh that is absolutely something she would do’ whenever Bluey or Bingo are being their sweet, sometimes frustrating, but hilarious and wonderful selves.

Film: “M3gan”

It was once again field trip time for the Terror Tuesday crew, and we had been much anticipating “M3gan”, the new killer doll horror film with an AI twist. The trailer alone was so unhinged that I sent it to the group chat the day it dropped with an ‘OMG????!!!!’ message. And “M3gan” lived up to the WTF-ness of the trailer and more. When Cady is orphaned in a terrible car accident, she is sent to live with her Aunt Gemma, who is a robotics and AI developer for a toy company. Gemma, hoping to help Cady but to also work on her newest creation, introduces her niece to M3gan, a robot doll that uses AI to learn, connect to, and provide care, teaching, and comfort to its owner. But as M3gan learns more, and Cady becomes more and more attached, things start to take a sinister turn. It’s part AI run amok, part creepy doll, and M3gan is a SUPER FUN AND VICIOUS villain. Our group had a serious hoot at the theater, as it has moments of genuine suspense, but also a lot of dark humor to round it all out.

Diving Into Sub-Genres: Portal Fantasy

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We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us will present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.

Portal family is probably the largest and most popular sub-genre in fantasy fiction. I know that second part is a pretty hefty claim, but even among the most picky of fantasy readers, those who hardly ever read the genre as a whole, there’s a decent chance they hold a special place for some portal fantasy novel or another. It’s unavoidable when some of the biggest titles in fantasy fiction fall under this subgenre; even more so when many of those titles (“Harry Potter,” “The Wizard of Oz”) are also children’s and middle grade fiction, works that many readers will enjoy as kids even if they go on as adults to read very little in the fantasy genre as a whole.

Portal fantasy is also a wide, sprawling sub-genre on its own. It’s definition is simple: it’s a story that involves characters travelling through a “portal” (wardrobe/train platform/tornado/etc.) from our real world into some magical, fantasy realm. Already you can see the huge potential and likely list off a good number of titles that would fall under this category. What’s more, a broad interpretation of this subgenre would just be characters travelling from world to world, none of which need include our real world. For example, the “His Dark Materials” trilogy utilizes both of these options. We have characters travelling from our world to new worlds, like Will in the second book, “The Subtle Knife.” But there are also several characters, like Lord Asriel, who never travel to “our world” at all, but only between different, unique worlds.

The definition of “portal” can also vary. Some would say there needs to be an actual passage way from one distinct world to another unique world; others would count the Daevabad trilogy as a portal fantasy, simply due to the hidden nature of the city itself, unseen and inaccessible by humanity. Portal fantasy is also one of the oldest subgenres of fantasy. Some of Shakespeare’s plays would likely count (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) and, of course, there is Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Between all of these definitions, and the fact that portal fantasy is a popular subgenre in fantasy fiction for all ages (probably the most popular by far in children’s fantasy), there are a million options to choose from, but here are a few that I particularly enjoy and I think represent the subgenre well.

“The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis

This is probably one of the first books/series that comes to most people’s minds when they think of “portal fantasy.” Not only is it a supremely popular children’s series, but the portal itself holds much of its appeal simply by how ubiquitous it is: what child hasn’t crawled into a closet or wardrobe and wished there was a door way to another world to be found at the end? The titular wardrobe in the first book, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” is the most well-known of the portals found in this story. But if you continue reading, you’ll also find children swept away through a painting and simply by the winds felt on a cliffside.

“Wayward Children” series by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire has created a series that not only features portal fantasies as the primary premise of all of her books, but each book does a deep dive into the types of people who walk through these magical doors. The types of people who look for them, and those who don’t. And she paints a world that holds so many doorways to so many unique worlds that she’s even made a sort of flowchart to diagram the sorts of worlds her characters may come from and travel to. Where does each world fall on a scale of chaos or order? Good or evil? These novellas are all incredibly unique and highlight a lot of the appeal that the portal fantasy subgenre holds for the many readers who enjoy it and wish they, too, could find their door to another world.

“The Fionavar Tapestry” series by Guy Gavriel Kay

This is one of the first adult portal fantasy series that I remember reading as a teenager. Up to that point, for me, portal fantasy was something found in children’s and young adult fiction, but not so much in the stuffy works that made up adult fantasy. The story follows five men and women who find themselves pulled into a fantasy world where they each have important roles to play. And this is definitely adult portal fantasy all around, as Kay dives into some pretty dark themes throughout the series. I remember really enjoying it, but also being rather shocked as a teenage reader by certain scenes. It’s one of those fantasy series that has stuck with me throughout the years, but also one that I need to return to soon as I haven’t ever re-read it.

“The Invisible Library” by Genevieve Cogman

This eight book long series wrapped up recently, back in 2021 and was massively popular during its run. It’s a fairly standard portal fantasy, with its main character, Irene, travelling from realm to realm in her work for a Library that collects fiction from these various worlds. Throughout the series she gathers a group of friends around her and encounters all sorts of wild worlds, including time travel. These are really lovely books, all the more appealing for featuring a heroic librarian as their heroine!

“In Other Lands” by Sarah Rees Brennan

This is another fairly straight-forward portal fantasy, but its quirky take on not only the the magical world and the beings that populate it but on its protagonist make it stand out as a great, modern story. The word “deconstruction” has been used when describing this book’s take on its central trope, but it does so in an interesting and hilarious way, rather than the usual, more pretentious sort of deconstruction. The hero is also a young teenage boy who is just as snotty and irreverent as you’d expect from a boy of that age. And yet you can’t help rooting for him anyway!

“Shades of Magic” trilogy by V.E. Schwab

Lastly, I’m including one of my favorite portal fantasies of all time. This is also a nice mixture of the two definitions of portal fantasy in that one of our main characters travels in the traditional direction (from our world and into a magical one), but our other main character is from the magical world and travels not only to our world, but also to other, unique worlds beyond. This trilogy not only has unique worlds (varying Londons each with different levels of magic), but I really enjoyed the way the magic system and travel between these works worked. Fans of portal fantasies should definitely check this trilogy out if you haven’t already!

What portal fantasy books are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

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

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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?

Another Take: Fall 2022

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.

“Eversion” by Alastair Reynolds

From the master of the space opera, Alastair Reynolds, comes a dark, mind-bending SF adventure spread across time and space, Doctor Silas Coade has been tasked with keeping his crew safe as they adventure across the galaxy in search of a mysterious artifact, but as things keep going wrong, Silas soon realizes that something more sinister is at work, and this may not even be the first time it’s happened.

In the 1800s, a sailing ship crashes off the coast of Norway. In the 1900s, a Zepellin explores an icy canyon in Antarctica. In the far future, a spaceship sets out for an alien artifact. Each excursion goes horribly wrong. And on every journey, Dr. Silas Coade is the physician, but only Silas seems to realize that these events keep repeating themselves. And it’s up to him to figure out why and how. And how to stop it all from happening again.

Serena’s Review (9 Rating)

Ancillary Review of Books

The Quill to Live

SciFi Mind

“Spells for Forgetting” by Adrienne Young

A deeply atmospheric story about ancestral magic, an unsolved murder, and a second chance at true love.

Emery Blackwood’s life changed forever the night her best friend was found dead and the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her. Years later, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence on the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and running the family’s business, Blackwood’s Tea Shoppe Herbal Tonics & Tea Leaf Readings.

But when the island, rooted in folklore and magic, begins to show signs of strange happenings, Emery knows that something is coming. The morning she wakes to find that every single tree on Saoirse has turned color in a single night, August returns for the first time in fourteen years and unearths the past that the town has tried desperately to forget.

August knows he is not welcome on Saiorse, not after the night everything changed. As a fire raged on at the Salt family orchard, Lily Morgan was found dead in the dark woods, shaking the bedrock of their tight-knit community and branding August a murderer. When he returns to bury his mother’s ashes, he must confront the people who turned their backs on him and face the one wound from his past that has never healed—Emery.

The town has more than one reason to want August gone, and the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises spanning generations threaten to reveal the truth behind Lily’s mysterious death once and for all.

Serena’s Review (9 Rating)

Grim Dark Magazine (5 Stars)

Caffeinated Reviewer (4 Stars)

These Lyrics and Lines (5 Stars)

“Poster Girl” by Veronica Roth


Sonya Kantor knows this slogan–she lived by it for most of her life. For decades, everyone in the Seattle-Portland megalopolis lived under it, as well as constant surveillance in the form of the Insight, an ocular implant that tracked every word and every action, rewarding or punishing by a rigid moral code set forth by the Delegation.

Then there was a revolution. The Delegation fell. Its most valuable members were locked in the Aperture, a prison on the outskirts of the city. And everyone else, now free from the Insight’s monitoring, went on with their lives.

Sonya, former poster girl for the Delegation, has been imprisoned for ten years when an old enemy comes to her with a deal: find a missing girl who was stolen from her parents by the old regime, and earn her freedom. The path Sonya takes to find the child will lead her through an unfamiliar, crooked post-Delegation world where she finds herself digging deeper into the past–and her family’s dark secrets–than she ever wanted to.

Serena’s Review (9 Rating)


Utopia State of Mind


Book: “House of Hunger” by Alexis Henderson

Book Description: Marion Shaw has been raised in the slums, where want and deprivation is all she knows. Despite longing to leave the city and its miseries, she has no real hope of escape until the day she spots a peculiar listing in the newspaper, seeking a bloodmaid.

Though she knows little about the far north–where wealthy nobles live in luxury and drink the blood of those in their service–Marion applies to the position. In a matter of days, she finds herself the newest bloodmaid at the notorious House of Hunger. There, Marion is swept into a world of dark debauchery–and at the center of it all is her.

Countess Lisavet, who presides over this hedonistic court, is loved and feared in equal measure. She takes a special interest in Marion. Lisavet is magnetic, and Marion is eager to please her new mistress. But when her fellow bloodmaids begin to go missing in the night, Marion is thrust into a vicious game of cat and mouse. She’ll need to learn the rules of her new home–and fast–or its halls will soon become her grave.

Kate’s Review (Rating 10)

Books, Bones, & Buffy Review (3.5/4 Stars)

Utopia State of Mind

Carole’s Random Life (4 Stars)

Book: “Such Sharp Teeth” by Rachel Harrison

Book Description: Rory Morris isn’t thrilled to be moving back to her hometown, even if it is temporary. There are bad memories there. But her twin sister, Scarlett, is pregnant, estranged from the baby’s father, and needs support, so Rory returns to the place she thought she’d put in her rearview. After a night out at a bar where she runs into an old almost-flame, she hits a large animal with her car. And when she gets out to investigate, she’s attacked.

Rory survives, miraculously, but life begins to look and feel different. She’s unnaturally strong, with an aversion to silver–and suddenly the moon has her in its thrall. She’s changing into someone else–something else, maybe even a monster. But does that mean she’s putting those close to her in danger? Or is embracing the wildness inside of her the key to acceptance?

This darkly comedic love story is a brilliantly layered portrait of trauma, rage, and vulnerability.

Kate’s Review (Rating 8)

The Reading Cafe

The BiblioSanctum (4.5/5 Stars)

Cats Luv Coffee

Book: “Ghost Eaters” by Clay McLeod Chapman

Book Description: Erin hasn’t been able to set a single boundary with her charismatic but reckless college ex-boyfriend, Silas. When he asks her to bail him out of rehab—again—she knows she needs to cut him off. But days after he gets out, Silas turns up dead of an overdose in their hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and Erin’s world falls apart.

Then a friend tells her about Ghost, a new drug that allows users to see the dead. Wanna get haunted? he asks. Grieving and desperate for closure with Silas, Erin agrees to a pill-popping “séance.” But the drug has unfathomable side effects—and once you take it, you can never go back.

Kate’s Review (9 Rating)

Jenn’s Bookshelves

Ginger Nuts of Horror

Books, Bones, & Buffy (4.5/5 Stars)

Highlights: November 2022

Kate weeps for the end of the Halloween Season, but now we are in November and we are barreling forward towards the winter holidays, where food and family rule and the cold weather in Minnesota starts to close in. Snow is pretty, but snow is also cold. Hopefully we still have some time to wait, and while we do we have some books that we are looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks

Book: “Saint” by Adrienne Young

Publication Date: November 29, 2022

Why I’m Interested: I don’t know if I can properly express just how much I hate this cover. Honestly, if I didn’t know that Adrienne Young is an established author with a good number of well-received books under her belt already, I’d glance at this and think it was one of more poorly designed self-published books I’ve seen. That aside, however….this is the prequel to the “Fable” duology and tells the story of her famous father, Saint, and of her mother, a woman who died before Fable’s own story began. I’m really excited to see the love story play out between these two characters. Though I’m a bit hesitant, as it’s always kind of a bummer to read about character who you know are going to hit up against tragedy hard in their future.

Book: “Raven Unveiled” by Grace Draven

Publication Date: November 8, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Grace Draven is another author whom I’ve really enjoyed reading. I’ve gone through a lot of her back catalog over the years, but it has been especially fun reading her “Fallen Empire” trilogy as it’s come out. We’ve seen a lot familiar romantic pairing tropes covered and covered well. And like the first book, this romance is one of my favorites: enemies to lovers! It also features two characters who were introduced in the second book (to varying extents between them) and whose conflict was built into that book. After meeting them there, I was primed with excitement to see how their story would play out here, with Gharek, the late Queen’s “fixer” essentially, chasing after Siora, the woman who used to care for his daughter but whom he now sees as the person who betrayed them. Can’t wait to check this one out!

Book: “Tread of Angels” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Publication Date: November 15, 2022

Why I’m Interested: I’ve really been enjoying this author’s “Between Earthand Sky” series, so she’s become kind of a no-brainer for lists like this. She comes out with a new book? It’ll probably end up here. But this novella also sounds particularly interesting, following the story of a young woman setting out to try and save her sister who is accused of murder. Add in fallen angels, demons, and a strange new world, and this book sounds like just my cup of tea. Not to mention, November is a busy reading month for me; there are so many great upcoming books that I couldn’t fit on this list! That being the case, I’m happy to get my hands on a novella every once in a while.

Kate’s Picks

Book: “White Horse” by Erika T. Wurth

Publication Date: November 1, 2022

Why I’m Interested: You know how much I love a good horror story, especially if there are ghosts involved, and “White Horse” by Erika T. Wurth is getting a lot of hype in the horror community from people I trust. Kari has been perfectly satisfied with her metal music, her horror novel collection, and sitting at the local bar The White Horse a few nights a week. She tries not to think of the mother who left her when she was two days old, or her father’s accident that threw her into a caregiver role. But when her cousin Debbie brings Kari a bracelet that once belonged to her missing mother, Kari starts seeing the woman’s ghost, as well as visions of other, scarier things. Kari is determined to find out what happened to her mom, and to try and stave off whatever monster has come along for the ride.

Book: “Wayward” by Chuck Wendig

Publication Date: November 15, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Back in 2019, Chuck Wendig wrote a pandemic thriller/dystopia story called “Wanderers” in which a fungus based disease took out a huge majority of Earth’s population. And then a year later we were in the midst of an actual real-life pandemic, and while it wasn’t as deadly as White Mask by any means, it still turned the whole world upside down. And now we have the sequel, “Wayward”, and I have to say it’s an achievement of my own anxiety and mental health that I could pick up an 800+ page book about a pandemic raged America. The town of Ouray is home to the former sleepwalkers, Shepherds, and Black Swan, the AI that predicted world’s end. Benji is a well respected member of the community, Shana is awaiting the birth of her child after being in stasis for years, and Matthew is barely hanging on. But then Black Swan starts acting strange, and its followers are becoming more fervent. Soon Ouray doesn’t seem as utopic as it once did. I smell a cult, guys, and that sounds awesome.

Book: “Five Survive” by Holly Jackson

Publication Date: November 29, 2022

Why I’m Interested: I really loved Holly Jackson’s “Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” Trilogy, so it was a no brainer that I absolutely needed to read her next YA thriller novel “Five Survive”. Her stories are so addictive and fun, and this one goes in a whole different direction than what we saw with Pip in that previous series. Six friends are on an RV road trip hoping to meet up with friends for a relaxing and fun vacation. But when the RV’s tires blow, they are completely confused as to what could have happened, since the road looks clear. Then they realize that someone shot them out, and is watching them with a gun. The shooter says that they want a secret that one of them is hiding, and that person had better come clean, or else people will die. Soon the friends start questioning who they really are to each other.

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

Highlights: October 2022

Fall is officially here, and Kate’s season has arrived. Beyond all of the spooky reads to be found, we are both planning what our kids will be for Halloween while, more importantly, planning how we can steal most of their candy for ourselves. Hey, they’re still toddlers, we’re just being good parents by preventing tiny cavities! But we’re also both looking forward to pulling out all of the cozy blankets and curling up with some great reads. Here are a few we’re looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks

Book: “The River of Silver” by S.A. Chakraborty

Publication Date: October 11, 2022

Why I’m Interested: This book of short stories has been released in audiobook format for a bit now. But it’s just now releasing as a physical book and so I’m including it here now since this is the format I prefer to read for this series. I’m very excited to return to this world, and the book description promises a nice balance of perspectives between fan favorite characters, characters we’ve only seen in the background, and a couple of completely brand new faces. Given how sprawling this world and history is, I’m sure there are plenty of stories to be mined, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Book: “Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove” by Rati Mehrotra

Publication Date: October 18, 2022

Why I’m Interested: While most fantasy fiction readers have read a ton of European medieval fantasy, what’s more rare is medieval fantasy set in other parts of the world. So with this story coming in as a fantasy version of medieval India, I was definitely interested from the get go. I also really like this cover. It’s not doing anything super flashy, but it speaks to my old-school fantasy loving self somehow. I’m a bit concerned by the book description which lists our teenage female protagonists as “the best guardswoman ever,” as I’m on record as having a major eye-roll problem with this particular trope. But we’ll see if Mehrotra has a new take on some of this.

Book: “Princess of Souls” by Alexandra Christo

Publication Date: October 11, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Speaking of covers, this one reminds me strongly of “The NeverEnding Story” and its intertwined snake pendant. That aside, I was able to nab an ARC of this from ALA, so I’ve been eagerly waiting for my chance to pick it up. It’s sold as a Rapunzel-inspired story following a young woman with the ability to steal souls. I’m not quite sure where the Rapunzel stuff gets into this (even reading the full Goodreads description, I’m not sure), but I do love a good fairytale retelling, so I’m quite hopeful!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “Malice House” by Megan Shepherd

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Why I’m Interested: This was one of my ARC highlights from ALAAC22, as it had been on my radar for a few months by the time I was headed to the conference. Chuck Wendig was singing its praises and that was good enough for me! Haven is an aspiring illustrator who returns to her author father’s seaside estate, Malice House, after his death following a long battle with dementia. While staying there she finds a hand written manuscript of a book he never published, and as a horror collection it’s a creepy departure from his literary works. Haven thinks that it could be the key to jump starting her illustration career, and begins to draw the creatures from its pages. But then strange things start happening, ranging from scary noises at night to people dying in town. Her father had always said the house was haunted, and now Haven may be living her own horror story. This Gothic horror novel is sure to scratch a haunted house itch!

Book: “Such Sharp Teeth” by Rachel Harrison

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Rachel Harrison has been a must read author for me ever since her debut “The Return”, and then the tonal shift between that scary story and her whimsical witch tale “Cackle” showed her versatility. Now she’s taking on the werewolf story, and I am very, very excited about it. Rory has returned to her small hometown after her twin sister Scarlett begged her to come be with her. Scarlett is pregnant and recently single, and Rory, though she hates her hometown, drops everything to be with her twin. But one night after bar hopping at the old haunts, Rory is attacked by a ferocious creature, leaving a weird injury that bleeds silver. Now Rory is starting to notice weird changes to her body and personality, which only get worse as the full moon gets closer. After transforming into a werewolf, Rory is determined to keep those she loves safe… and determined to figure out if she can break this werewolf curse. Harrison always has snappy feminist themes in her books, and I expect this one will be the same!

Book: “Jackal” by Erin E. Adams

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Why I’m Interested: This was a book that ended up in my email box from the publisher, and while I hadn’t heard of it until then, I was immediately taken with the description. It has so many elements that I love: missing people. Small town secrets. Social horror themes. “Jackal” sounds like it could be more of a thriller, but my gut feeling is that this book is going to be scary as hell. Liz is returning to her rural Pennsylvania town after years of being away. Being one of the only Black people in Johnstown was incredibly difficult, but her childhood best friend is getting married, so she’s willing to return for that. But then the bride’s daughter Caroline goes missing. And it’s not the first time a young Black woman has disappeared in this town, as Liz remembers one from her youth who did as well, as was found dead with her heart removed. As Liz looks into it, she finds a disturbing pattern of Black girls missing and murdered. Liz is desperate to find Caroline before it happens to another one. I’m bracing myself for scares and probably lots of heartbreak with this one.

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

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