Hello, I’m back with some more mini(ish) reviews for five books that I’ve read recently(ish)! Including…well, you read the title, you know what’s coming. Let’s get into these!
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
“You are like a living rose among wax flowers. We may last forever, but you bloom brighter and smell sweeter, and draw blood with your thorns.”
Isobel has created a reputation as the most skilled painter of portraits for the fair folk, who can’t create as humans can. But when she paints human sorrow into the eyes of the autumn prince, Rook, he steals away from her home to answer for her crime.
Listen, an immortal, nonhuman character who’s aloof and thinks mortals are beneath them but ends up accidentally falling in love with a mortal? God-tier trope! I did not expect to get so invested in the romance of this book, especially since it’s a bit insta-love, but it was so sweet and beautiful that I couldn’t help it. I loved Isobel and Rook, both as individuals and as a couple. Also, it may be a cliché but anytime a book initially presents love as a weakness and eventually proves that it’s a strength, I can’t get enough of it.
The best way I can think to describe this book is “romantic,” and not just in the love story aspect. The writing is lush and atmospheric, making me feel like I was stepping into this magical, fae world right alongside these characters. Margaret Rogerson describes the natural world with beauty and horror existing simultaneously, which fit perfectly with the ideas of glamour and art and mortality.
The ending was a bit rushed, though, and I still had quite a few questions when the story ended. While I don’t mind an open ending, it felt like it was supposed to feel wrapped up, but wasn’t. That said, given the beautiful writing and wonderful characters, I’m looking forward to picking up more of this author’s work.
Content warnings: gore, animal death
Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur
Elle and Darcy’s first date is a disaster, so Elle expects never to see Darcy again. But when Darcy later asks her to fake a relationship, hoping to appease her matchmaking brother, Elle agrees despite her misgivings.
This book is my worst enemy. In theory, I should love it, since I’ve wanted a wlw Jane Austen retelling for years, and it’s even set in my home region of Seattle! So how could I end up disliking this so thoroughly?
Look, call me an Austen snob, but I just think that if you’re going to say that your book is inspired by Pride & Prejudice, and even name your characters after the icons that are Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, you should at the very least say something interesting about the original story. You don’t even have to keep the same plot points (this book certainly doesn’t), give the characters the same personalities (Elle is a completely different character from Elizabeth), or include key elements from the original (this book doesn’t have any of the Bennet family shenanigans or any equivalents to Bingley, Charlotte, Mr. Collins, Wickham, or Lady Catherine). But if the only thing your book has in common with P&P is a few nods to famous lines and the fact that the characters dislike each other starting out? That’s not inspired by P&P, my friend, that’s just every other romance novel.
Maybe I’m fixating too much on the P&P thing and it’s not that deep, but genuinely why would you name your characters Elle and Darcy if you’re not going to explore any of the themes from P&P?? This book can’t even get its take on first impressions right. In the original, Darcy initially dislikes Elizabeth because she’s from a lower class and he thinks she’s beneath him, but in this book, Darcy’s dislike comes from the fact that Elle is an astrologer. I’m sorry, but classism is NOT the same thing as skepticism about astrology!
It was a bad start and it never really got better from there. The reason for Darcy and Elle faking a relationship was the most contrived, nonsensical thing I’ve ever read, and the miscommunication that leads to the third act breakup was so frustrating. The only character I didn’t vehemently dislike was Darcy, and even her I wanted to shake by the shoulders and shout, “You’re smarter than this!”
I knew going in that the astrology aspect was going to bother me, since I am decisively not an astrology fan. At least I can say that the book didn’t end with Darcy realizing that Elle was right about astrology all along. But in general, I dislike the entire concept of soulmates or finding the person that the universe has predestined you to be with, so even the idea of a relationship being “written in the stars” bugs me. That’s just my own personal preference, but it certainly didn’t improve my reading experience.
Also, this book was incredibly white.
In summary: Written in the Stars does not deserve the associations it has with Pride & Prejudice and I’m still waiting for a queer Austen retelling that doesn’t make me want to throw the book across the room.
Bruised by Tanya Boteju
After the death of her parents in a car accident, Daya manages her grief by keeping it on the surface of her skin in bruises. When she ends up at a roller derby bout and gets the opportunity to try out for a team, she sees it as the perfect opportunity to collect some new bruises and prove how tough she is.
This was not an easy book to read. Daya’s struggles with grief and self harm were incredibly well written, don’t get me wrong, but occasionally overwhelming to the point that I couldn’t read too much at one time. I absolutely see this as a testament to Tanya Boteju’s writing, but do want to throw out the warning.
Daya was a heartbreaking and wonderfully written character—angry and hurt and lashing out at everyone around her because she can’t process her own pain. I loved watching her various relationships develop over the course of the book, as she discovers friends and a real community for the first time. So much of this book is about realizing that softness is not the opposite of strength, which is a message I can get behind. The ending felt a bit too rushed, though, with everything wrapping up a bit too neatly for my taste; it didn’t quite ring true to the messiness of emotions in the rest of the book.
Content warnings: self harm, death of parents, car accident
This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills
“We should all find something to be weirdly passionate about, don’t you think?”
When her family moves to a small town in Florida, Sloane ends up falling in with a strange group of friends, getting tangled into their relationships, heartaches, and a quest to track down a missing painting.
Emma Mills really is the master of writing character-focused contemporary YA books that are hard to summarize, huh? I genuinely could not tell you most of what happens in this book in terms of plot, despite having recently finished it, but I do know that it brought me on a rollercoaster of emotions. Obviously, I loved all of the characters—Sloane was such an entertaining, sarcastic narrator, Vera and Gabe were actual angels, Frank lit up every page he was on. The unexpected star for me was Sloane’s dad, who was hilariously and painfully relatable, because who hasn’t fallen deeply into a hole of fanfiction when life seems otherwise meaningless?
Even though I loved pretty much every aspect of this book, I found myself wanting just a little bit more of all of it. I felt like it touched on so many beautiful ideas and messages—Sloane’s anxieties about her future, Vera and Gabe’s family, Remy’s existential crises, etc.—but never went into them as deeply as I would have liked. That being said, any book that shows that friendships are just as important as romance is a win for me.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
“Sometimes the ones we call our heroes are the greatest monsters of all.”
In a world ravaged by climate change, the Navajo reservation has been reborn, with legendary gods and monsters coming to life and incredible powers awakening in its people. Maggie Hoskie is a monster hunter, but when she encounters a new, horrifying monster that she might have the power to destroy, she sets out along with a strange medicine man named Kai to discover the truth.
Maggie was a fascinating character who instantly intrigued me. She has a lone wolf action hero feel to her—brusque and aggressive and insistent on working alone—in a way that few female characters get to have. Her character journey as she fights with the parts of herself that she believes to be monstrous, in addition to the relationship dynamics with various other characters, was the highlight of the book for me.
Much of this book felt like a slow buildup to the climax, which made me want the end to feel more, well, climactic than it was. That said, I loved the world that Rebecca Roanhorse built here. It’s bleak and horrifying and full of bad people doing awful things, but I loved the Navajo stories and mythology woven into a futuristic version of our own world. Definitely hoping to pick up the sequel soon!
Content warnings: child death, assault, police brutality, cannibalism, gore
What books have you read recently? Have you read any of these? Have you found a least favorite book of the year? 😬