Book Reviews

[Book Review] The Greenhollow Duology

Titles: Silver in the Wood (#1) and Drowned Country (#2)
Author: Emily Tesh
Genre: fantasy; short stories / novella; LGBTQ; romance; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.

When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart. 

The second volume of the Greenhollow duology once again invites readers to lose themselves in the story of Henry and Tobias, and the magic of a myth they’ve always known.

Even the Wild Man of Greenhollow can’t ignore a summons from his mother, when that mother is the indomitable Adela Silver, practical folklorist. Henry Silver does not relish what he’ll find in the grimy seaside town of Rothport, where once the ancient wood extended before it was drowned beneath the sea—a missing girl, a monster on the loose, or, worst of all, Tobias Finch, who loves him. 

Review: 5 Stars

This duology was 1. sweet 2. kind 3. engaging 4. magical 5. the embodiment of green magic 6. a little bit wicked. I loved it. Book 1 (Silver in the Wood) started with this amazing legend of the Wild Man in the forest, who we learn to be real, and a man named Henry Silver who has absolutely no business being in the woods at all. A story of is built on their dynamic and it is a beautiful thing. Their companionship is fantastic and the lengths the two go to for each other in book one is so, so good.

In book two (Drowned Country), we meet two more characters who are, without a doubt, such a fantastic addition to Henry and Tobias’ dynamic. ADELA is the GOAT. She’s got so much spirit and life and all things badass. And when the story continues, and the myth of the Wild Man and his domain is explained and evolves — it is so believable.

Tesh’s world and her work is so good. This duology was a fast read — I wish there was more of, honestly. It was so beautiful and so fresh. I would pick up anything else she writes in a heartbeat.

[Book Review] The Singing Hills Cycle Series (2)

Book Covers for The Singing Hills Cycle Series

Titles: The Empress of Salt and Fortune (#1) & When the Tiger Came Down from the Mountain (#2)
Author: Nghi Vo
Genre: fantasy; novella/short stories; LGBTQ; women’s fiction; romance; feminism
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) #1 – A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy. 

#2 – The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

Review: 5 Stars

I truly enjoyed these two books. I’m unsure if there will be more, but so far there are only two. Both were wonderful. They were well-crafted, intricate stories about women, about families, about life, and about love. Both of the Singing Hills Cycle books featured Chih, a cleric who wants to record history as it was. On their journey, Chih finds that what they think they know isn’t exactly real, but a version that has been warped by others. They aim to correct it and write the narratives of those they run into.

In The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Chih is told this beautiful, tragic, and powerful tale about the exiled empress who is cunning, wild, and lovely through the eyes of a former maid, who is also cunning and wild. Chih learns from her that history isn’t always what was written from Rabbit, the maid. As the story continues, there are moments of the supernatural blended in so beautifully with the realistic. Animals, humans, spirits — it’s all so perfectly woven together so that Chih can write the the true history of empress of salt and fortune.

In book 2, Chih is hoping to get to their destination on the back of a mammoth, but ends up getting caught up in a storm and detained by tigers threatening to eat them. It’s here that they learn again that the history they have written back at the temple isn’t quite the truth. This time, the tigers tell Chih the truth, a beautiful love story where once there was just a history of violence and gore that painted the tigers like vicious monsters.

Again, Vo creates these beautiful characters, this compelling story, and this amazing moral where we’re sitting right there with Chih – remembering that we have to think critically about the histories we learn.

I loved these stories and sincerely hope there are more.

[Book Review] Dead Djinn Universe Series (0.5 & 0.7)

Book Covers for A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Titles: 0.5 — A Dead Djinn in Cairo & 0.7 — The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Author: P Djèlí Clark

Genre: fantasy; short stories; steam punk; mystery; historical fiction; novella; sci fi

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine.

Entries in this series can be read as standalones in any order.

Review: 4 Stars

Around the end of 2020 I was looking for shorter texts to reach my goodreads challenge for the year and I stumbled on P. Djèlí Clark’s work and started reading it all as quick as I could. I am INTO it. In this series, he’s created this very realistic version of 1910’s Cairo with a twist… it’s kinda magical.

In 0.5 — A Dead Djinn in Cairo, he goes into the background a little, there or magical beings of all sorts in the world, both good and bad, and a group meant to help sort one from the other. This group is the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. In both 0.5 and 0.7, the main characters are investigators in the Ministry and have a mystery to solve that is more than meets the eye.

In 0.5, the lead investigator is a woman, a badass woman who wears trousers and sleek coat and takes no shit from men who are still afraid of women with a brain.

In 0.7, the investigators are men, and work to solve the mystery together (but need help from women all along the way). Along the way, a women’s liberation movement is going on, fighting for women’s rights. It’s pretty cool.

My favorite parts of these stories are how seamless the integration of magic is in the mundane. Every single element has been thought of, but it all feels authentic. I think that’s a major credit to the fact that the author is a historian and does ample research before writing.

There are two more books in this series and I’m looking forward to getting into both!

[Book Review] Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins cover image

Title: Mary Poppins

Author: P. L. Travers

Genre: classics; middle grade; fantasy; fiction; adventure

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed.

It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life!

Review: 3 stars

I grew up with this movie but hadn’t read this book until now. Honestly, I was overall pretty disappointed when I finished the book. I legit cried. But then, you ask, why three stars? Because it still had all of the magic and heart of the film.

I wholeheartedly believe the film is better than the source material in this case — I don’t want to start a fight with any purists, but like, Michael’s character alone… and like? Bert! they did my boy DIRTY.

I loved reading about the additional adventures in the book and getting more depth into the Banks family on Cherry-Tree Lane, but overall, I had 25 years of the movie to compare it to, and that won out. (Which I suppose isn’t quite fair.)

Mary is downright mean and not at all caring and loving, except to the twins.

Michael is a spoiled brat in much of the book, and while that could be said for both children in the movie, they learn and grow— in the book, the characters are static. All of them. And then poof, Mary leaves.

My love for the movie will never fade, but I won’t be reading book 2.

[Book Review] The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Title: The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek

Authors: Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal

Genre: YA; fiction; mystery; horror/ thriller; paranormal fantasy

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

It’s 1992 in Bleak Creek, North Carolina—a sleepy little place with all the trappings of an ordinary Southern town: two Baptist churches, friendly smiles coupled with silent judgments, and an unquenchable appetite for pork products. Beneath the town’s cheerful façade, however, Bleak Creek teens live in constant fear of being sent to the Whitewood School, a local reformatory with a history of putting unruly youths back on the straight and narrow—a record so impeccable that almost everyone is willing to ignore the suspicious deaths that have occurred there over the past decade.

At first, high school freshmen Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson believe what they’ve been told: that the students’ strange demises were all just tragic accidents, the unfortunate consequence of succumbing to vices like Marlboro Lights and Nirvana. But when the shoot for their low-budget horror masterpiece, PolterDog, goes horribly awry—and their best friend, Alicia Boykins, is sent to Whitewood as punishment—Rex and Leif are forced to question everything they know about their unassuming hometown and its cherished school for delinquents.

Eager to rescue their friend, Rex and Leif pair up with recent NYU film school graduate Janine Blitstein to begin piecing together the unsettling truth of the school and its mysterious founder, Wayne Whitewood. What they find will leave them battling an evil beyond their wildest imaginations—one that will shake Bleak Creek to its core.

Review: 4 stars

As far as mysteries go, this one had me until the end. I wasn’t expecting some of the twists that came about and I was genuinely surprised at some of the more paranormal elements that McLaughlin and Neal incorporated into their storytelling.

That said, I enjoyed the mystery and storytelling overall but some of the writing was clunky. Pieces of the story could have gotten a little more developed (Janine for instance, considering she’s part of the storytelling instrument), but for a debut into YA and into this genre, it was fun.

Rex and Leif are really cute characters. They’re boys going through the heat of summer, puppy love and also a paranormal mystery in an ultra conservative small town where everyone knows everyone. What could go wrong? I love the way the friendship builds and grows over the course of the book too. Their boundaries are tested but in the end, they know they can rely on each other.

As I was reading this, honestly, the townsfolk just gave me the creeps. No small towns for me… thanks Bleak Creek.

[Book Review] The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary cover image

Title: The Lost Apothecary

Author: Sarah Penner

Genre: fiction; historical fiction; mystery; fantasy; contemporary

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

Review: 5 Stars

I really enjoyed Sarah Penner’s multi-POV novel even though this is something that usually turns me off when reading. Traditionally, I find them to be annoying and I get lost in the story because I’m trying to keep track of too many plot points. I thought that would be especially true in this because I was going to have to navigate multiple points of view that spanned multiple centuries. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily these perspectives overlapped.

This book was multiple things; a mystery, a woman’s journey to find herself — a few actually, a coming of age, an Indiana Jones-esque quest for the historical truth that is also a Holmesy crime solving novel.

There are three perspectives 1. Nella the 18th century apothecary, 2. Twelve-year-old maid servant Eliza Fanning, and 3. Caroline, a woman alone in London in the 21st century. The way these three perspectives weave together is straight up magical. Where Nella and Eliza come together makes sense — same time line, but the way Penner fits Caroline (200 years later) into the narrative is brilliant.

Each chapter alternates perspective, but the story connects and picks up like they’re all together. London becomes the fourth major character in a way that is so interesting and fantastic. The power of the history, the past, and preservation is a huge component to this story.

All of this story feels like a love letter to the power of women. Their power to persevere. Their power to create. Their power to find, discover, help, save, come together, and their power to destroy. In all story lines, Penner reminds us time and time again that Nella, Eliza, and Caroline have all of these and more in so many ways.

This was my Book of the Month selection, it had a beautiful cover and an interesting tag line, and I’m very glad I selected it.

[Book Review] The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor

The Body is Not an Apology Cover Image

Title: The Body is Not an Apology
Author: Sonya Renee Taylor
Genre: nonfiction; self-love; self-help; workbook; feminism; social movements – social justice
Synopsis: [from Goodreads] Humans are a varied and divergent bunch with all manner of beliefs, morals, and bodies. Systems of oppression thrive off our inability to make peace with difference and injure the relationship we have with our own bodies.

The Body Is Not an Apology offers radical self-love as the balm to heal the wounds inflicted by these violent systems. World-renowned activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor invites us to reconnect with the radical origins of our minds and bodies and celebrate our collective, enduring strength. As we awaken to our own indoctrinated body shame, we feel inspired to awaken others and to interrupt the systems that perpetuate body shame and oppression against all bodies. When we act from this truth on a global scale, we usher in the transformative opportunity of radical self-love, which is the opportunity for a more just, equitable, and compassionate world–for us all. 

Review: 5 Stars

This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine. It had never come up on my radar before, I’d never seen it on my timeline, heard quotes from it, or heard of the author, Sonya Renee Taylor before.

I’m so glad I have now. This book is one I will, as my friend did with me, recommend to everyone. It is worth your time, and your work.

This isn’t a body positivity book, but it does have aspects of that. This is a present day and historical account of straight up body terrorism and how we are all both steeped in it and accountable for it. Taylor walks us through a journey to self-awareness using the body. We all have one, and it makes the messaging digestible for all.

The endgame: radical self-love in the face of white supremacy, capitalism, and our own implicit bias.

[Book Review] I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

I Can Make You this Promise Cover Image

Title: I Can Make this Promise
Author: Christine Day
Genre: MG; realistic fiction; contemporary fiction; family adoption
Synopsis: [from Goodreads] All her life, Edie has known that her mom was adopted by a white couple. So, no matter how curious she might be about her Native American heritage, Edie is sure her family doesn’t have any answers.

Until the day when she and her friends discover a box hidden in the attic—a box full of letters signed “Love, Edith,” and photos of a woman who looks just like her.

Suddenly, Edie has a flurry of new questions about this woman who shares her name. Could she belong to the Native family that Edie never knew about? But if her mom and dad have kept this secret from her all her life, how can she trust them to tell her the truth now? 

Review: 4 Stars

This was a really sweet book about family and friendship and determining who you are and what shapes you. Edie is a great middle grade lead and has a really wonderful narrative presence.

The relationships she has with Amelia and Serenity are authentic and honest. They reflect just how it feels to be a preteen / teenager growing up and learning what it means to be a true friend to someone else.

Her family dynamic is lovely. The whole story revolves around her family’s past and her heritage and why it’s a secret for her and as she uncovers the truth, how she and her family come to grips with it is truly wonderful.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, but great read.

[Book Review] Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

Lost in the Never Woods Cover Image

Title: Lost in the Never Woods
Author: Aiden Thomas
Genre: YA; fantasy; retellings; mystery; thriller; fiction; fairy tale
Synopsis: [from Goodreads]

It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road, and gets pulled into the mystery haunting the town.

Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, claims that if they don’t do something, the missing children will meet the same fate as her brothers. In order to find them and rescue the missing kids, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.

Review: 5 Stars

This was one of the coolest fairy tale retellings I’ve read in a long time. It reminded me a lot of The Hazel Wood, in that it wasn’t just a happy go lucky retelling with a fun loving character on a journey everything turns out fine.

This is told from the perspective of Wendy and it is not all fun and games and Neverland hijinks. The way Thomas tells and creates this narrative is both gripping and heart warming.

I love the depth to Wendy and Peter for sure, but all of the little interactions with the side characters too. In the hospital’s children ward where the children all want to be the shark, getting to know Jordan’s boyfriend, learning the effects of trauma on the family through their shared interactions. It’s so well written… but honestly I would expect nothing less from the author of Cemetery Boys.

Read this if you loved the original, read this if you loved Hook. It’s spooky, it’s mysteries, and I couldn’t put it down.

[Book Review] The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Title: The Fifth Season (Book 1/3)
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Genre: fantasy; science fiction; ya; dystopia
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Review: 4 stars 

The learning curve for this novel / series was really steep, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this novel in the least. Jemisin has, in this series, created a world, and along with it, a complicated mythology, history, and vocabulary. There is a class system, a series of working pieces, and a natural order of things that from the beginning feels like it needs disrupting. 

Readers walk into this book en media res and it feels like jumping into an eight foot pool without really knowing much more than a doggy paddle. She provides a strong warning at the beginning though, so if we decide to keep reading, it’s really our choice. I decided to keep reading and was not disappointed. 

I love the characters in this novel. Jemisin creates strong voices in each of them. She also uniquely presents the second point of view for Essun, one of the narrators of the novel. Throughout her chapters, instead of getting an understanding of what’s going on around Essun, we see what’s happening through her. 

This is made clear in the very beginning of the text when Jemisin writes, “You’re the mother of two children, but now one of them is dead and the other is missing. Maybe she’s dead, too… And you… you shut down. You don’t mean to. It’s just a bit much, it’s the it? Too much. You’ve been through a lot, you’re very strong, but there are limits to what even you can bear” (Jemisin, 16). 

This truly and intrinsically places the reader squarely within the narrative framework of the text. I’ve never felt more a part of a novel before this. It was almost like I was going to have to stay with her, suffer with her, survive with her. Whatever this character had to face, so would I, as the reader. 

The interwoven tapestry of the Stillness is so creatively designed in this novel. There are so many connections and characters that are, in the end, all tied to this stonelore. 

I still have to many questions about the stonelore. 

Okay. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this review for a minute and here’s what I got:

Sexuality and sex is really well written in this book. It’s so nonchalant and like, normalized that it isn’t even a big deal in this world, but that’s why it’s cool to say something about in this review. 

This book really has a lot to say about systems of power and corruption. It does so in really, really overt, horrifying ways (Damaya’s hand, Syen’s first assignment, the node worker, etc.).  There are so many ways, through this first book in the series, that Jemisin really talks about the struggle of power, and it is really cool when Syenite and Alabaster have their discussions about this. 

I love the dynamics between Alabaster and Syenite. There’s this deep respect, but also utter annoyance. I’m here for it. It was really interesting to watch this relationship grow this book. It was clear right away that Alabaster had this very different ideology, right? And that he could really teach someone like Syenite, if she was open to it. I have so many thoughts about this. I almost wish there was more of this.

One thing I didn’t like at the very when he told her he understood why she did something, but would never forgive her for it. He was the one who told her to do whatever it took to make sure it never happened. She did what she had to. So. That pissed me off. 

(Rant over)

Okay. 

So. 

I loved this book. I loved the relationship between characters and time and the world and the earth. I’m so intrigued to see where this is going.