Book Thoughts: Isaacs’ “Phantom & Rook” – 4.5/5⭐️

Goodreads: 4.34/5 ⭐

Me: 4.5/5 ⭐

Aelina Isaacs’ Phantom & Rook: When an Immortal Falls in Love with a Witch was such a palate cleanser of a read, and easily bingeable. But don’t get me wrong, a LOT happens in this book.

There’s a hedge witch and an immortal who find each other after many years (though one of them doesn’t realize it), a wonderfully vibrant cast of supporting characters, and a mysterious game that’s causing chaos throughout the city.

I have to admit, this one kept me guessing. But, once I gave up on trying to figure out what the story was about, I finally realized it: Phantom & Rook is not about heroes fighting tangible villains, but inner ones. It’s about finding love and family again after being adrift for a very long time. Wrapped in a fantasy world filled with magic and mystery is a story about people who have experienced real world pain and suffering, and who must overcome it in order to finally find happiness.

I did wish there was a bit more backstory in this case, as there were mentions of several previous events that I would have liked to experience first hand with the characters. That said, it helped that there wasn’t a lot of it because the pace wasn’t interrupted. I’m very happy to see that there is already a short story out (When Witches Sing) because I really enjoyed my time in Levena. I would also love future stories that explore more of Arlo and Thatch’s pasts, so we can learn more about what made them the individuals they are today.

In all, I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting a warm hug after a heavy read, or a heavy day.

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

Goodreads Rating: 3.2/5 

Mine: 3/5 (What I read)  

I did not finish this book. 

I made it to the halfway point before deciding not to continue, even though part of me wished I could. The book had great promise: a series of strange deaths, a protagonist of mixed descent finally ready to face her bogeyman, a father’s secret work, and a mysterious house in the woods tied to a murderer.  

However, Maya, was just not likable. At least, not to me. I couldn’t connect with the main character on any level (even the mixed heritage point). The chapters where the book touches on her Guatemalan blood (from her dad’s side) seemed shallow, though I truly wish the author would have fleshed this aspect of Maya out more. I enjoyed the mystery behind discovering her father’s book, and really wanted a hint to the secrets it held earlier in the story. However, this aspect was often overshadowed by flashbacks about other aspects of Maya’s life, that I almost forgot about the book altogether.  

I felt like there were many missed opportunities. Fleshing out Aubrey (and her possibly toxic friendship) earlier on rather than spending time on Dan, who pretty much disappears after the first few chapters. Also, fleshing out Maya’s connection with her grandmother, whose funeral she insisted on attending. Though, the reader didn’t get to meet the grandmother even in death. She remained an abstract. Perhaps it was an active choice not to show the grandmother during her funeral, and keep her as an abstract presence, but, it would have made death more concrete for Maya to have engaged with her grandmother’s body. It’s how we say goodbye, and gives things finality. That said, I enjoyed the description of the funeral procession through the graveyard. For some reason, graveyards in Latin America have a slumbering tranquility to them that I haven’t felt here in the US.

Also, there were large blocks of unnecessary backstory that slugged down the pace and took space away from the other competing themes.  

However, despite the points I mentioned, Reyes succeeded in creating a character in Frank that was both creepy and manipulative. Dude was slimy as all heck, and I felt my heart race during the chapters where he interacted with young Maya. Teenage girls are vulnerable, and he played on her need for validation and acceptance so well that you didn’t realize it was manipulation until several encounters later.  

Overall, The House in the Pines was not a book for me, but it was ambitious and created a villain that was believable in his sliminess. I look forward to reading Reyes’ future work.  

Book Thoughts: Elizabeth Kerner’s “The Lesser Kindred”  

Hello All!  

Second book of 2023 down.  

If you’re an old-school fantasy lover, this trilogy is for you.

Published in 2001, The Lesser Kindred is the second of the Tales of Kolmar Trilogy. Tor is one of my favorite fantasy publishers, so I often have high hopes for their books. Then again, my thoughts are a tad more biased because the first book of the series, Song in the Silence, also happens to be one of my absolute favorite books of all time. It’s one I pick up every few years and reread, seeing the characters with different eyes each time.  

In Song in the Silence, we meet a young Lanen Kaelar, who was left by her mother as a baby and raised by her adopted father, a horse breeder. In her early twenties, Lanen is filled with wanderlust and eager to leave home and explore the lands of Kolmar. And maybe, if she’s lucky, find the legendary dragons she’s always dreamed about.  

She finally gets her chance when her adopted father dies and she learns the circumstances behind her birth, and her mother’s departure, from her closest friend and truer father, Jamie. Mainly, she’s at the center of an old prophesy predicting the end of the world as they know it, and that she was promised to demons even before she was born. Together, Lanen and Jamie set out from their old home and Lanen is able to gain passage on a boat bound for the Dragon Isle, where she meets the creatures of her dreams and even falls in love with none other than the Dragon King. It’s this sense dreaming and fulfillment that draws me back to Song in the Silence time after time.  

However, The Lesser Kindred is another story. I tried reading it before, when I was in my teens, and can honestly say that I understand it more now, in my thirties, than I did at fifteen. I can’t even remember if I finished it the first time, though it has lingered in the back of my mind for well over a decade and a half. In the second book, Lanen is more mature due to the struggles she, and her new husband Varien, have faced. Meanwhile the danger to her life is ever more present as the two set off to escape the demon master looking for them and fulfill a promise to Varien’s people. Not only this, but Lanen finds herself pregnant and facing an internal battle that further puts her life in jeopardy. Will her children be monsters? Will she really bring about the end of the world?  

Definitely heavier themes to digest. Along with the themes of displacement from one’s home, human greed, and human resilience in the face of adversity. I can more relate to Lanen’s fear of an unknown future, and her frustration at others daring to try and control the course of her life. Motherhood is a great, often rewarding, thing. But how many mothers have wondered what kind of people their children would become? How many people have wondered if their actions would bring more evil than good?  

In all, I really enjoyed picking The Lesser Kindred back up, and revisiting beloved characters (like old friends). The final book, Redeeming the Lost, is already on my bookshelf, waiting. I don’t think I’ll pick it up immediately because I am still digesting the rest of the second book. But once I do, I will take my time with it because I hate endings and especially endings of beloved stories. It’s only taken me about twenty-or-so years to read all three, so what’s a few more months, right?  

Anyway, if you’re a lover of classic fantasy, I highly recommend the Tales of Kolmar trilogy. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you’ve ever felt a longing for magic and adventure.  

Thoughts: Everina Maxwell’s “Winter’s Orbit” 

Hello All!  

The first book of 2023 was Everina Maxwell’s “Winter’s Orbit”, a fun romp through an intergalactic society filled with political intrigue and colorful characters, all framed within an icy alien landscape. It was a fun read, to say the least, though a bit more political than I usually like. There were a few parts where the pace was slow – roughly, the first third of the novel as we got to know Kiem and Jainan – the prince on royal probation and his Thean emissary husband. This isn’t a bad thing of course, especially if you prefer deeper character development over a fast-paced plot.

I originally went into it thinking it was a young adult book, but, by the halfway point I realized it’s more for adults. Some of the heavier themes included domestic abuse, trauma, and duty to one’s nation. Throw in a few assassination attempts, a done-with-your-shit emperor, a spunky assistant running from her space pirate past, and you’ve got a crazy ride. Also, both Kiem and Jainan grow throughout the story, overcoming their misconceptions about each other and themselves, and so became one of the most stable power couples in their mutual societies.  

Overall, Winter’s Orbit surprised me by presenting some very mature themes amongst a colorful, imaginative landscape, as well as two main characters who struggle with real-life anxieties and fears.  And, as space opera’s go, this one was a pretty quick read.

Let me know if you pick it up!

Book Review: “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” – 5/5⭐️

Pages: 384 

Rating: 5/5 Stars



This is a beautiful book. Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a tender ride through the mind of Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza as he matures into a young man, and builds a lifelong relationship with his best friend, Dante Quintana. The two boys are like polar opposites, but bring out the best in each other. Ari is introspective by nature, and self doubting, while Dante is extroverted and very confident. Ari sometimes mentions how Dante seems to fit right in, while he himself struggles socially to the point of having no friends. 

Both boys carry a deep weight within their hearts, and it’s their friendship that gives them the courage to approach life, and their parents. While one fears rejection by bringing up his imprisoned brother, the other fears disappointing his parents by coming out to them. Being Mexican-American myself, I wholeheartedly sympathized with the two boys because family is such an important thing in Latinx culture. It’s pretty much sacred, and the fear of disappointment is very real. Yet, what struck me the most was the depth of love between the two families, and the relationship the parents had with their children. Because, as we know, not all traditional parents are so open minded. So, seeing the level of tenderness and acceptance from the Mendoza’s and Quintana’s made me want to cry. In fact, I did, a few times. 

What I enjoyed too was the use of the weather in this book. Hot summer days, clear starlit nights, and rainstorms. So many rainstorms. Saenz seemed to connect the weather with Ari in that way. In the beginning, it is summer and he is dry and parched, in need of a friend to exchange words with and validate his existence. Then come the storms of confusing emotions, of family secrets, of school, teenage angst, and injuries. It’s one after another for poor Ari, until, finally, the sky clears and he has come into himself.

In all, this is a fun and quick read, filled with the budding emotions of two teenage boys and the trials they face in a society that is not entirely understanding. But thankfully, they have family to rely on, as well as each other. Oh, and a dog named Legs. Let’s not forget Legs. 

If you choose to give this a read, let me know what you think! I haven’t picked up the second book just yet, so I’d love to hear thoughts from those who have read it.

Book Review: Peter S. Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn” – 4/5⭐️

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is a hard book for me to rate, and that’s because it holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve loved this story (both book and movie form) since I was a kid, and so, I decided to reread it because I was curious about how I would see it now, as an adult. 

In the book, we meet the Unicorn, who exists alone in a kind of immortal stasis. She never leaves her enchanted wood, and so is long disconnected from the world of man. What eventually draws her out of her safety zone is learning that she is the last of her kind. Determined to find the others, she reenters the world of man and immediately runs into humans who can no longer see, or believe in, wonders. She meets the Magician Schmendrick, who, though a true magician, is incapable of controlling his magic, and Molly Grue, a woman who long thought herself well past her prime. However, together, the three journey to a land equally frozen in time, and find themselves coming back to life along the way. 

In this way, time is one of the biggest themes in the story. The passing of time being something that is both feared, but can also bring beauty. It is something necessary for life to be appreciated. The other big themes are human greed and fear, and how they can eventually lead to one’s own downfall. 

I will admit, the reason I ultimately settled on 4 stars, instead of 5, is because of the characters. I wasn’t as connected with them as I once was, though I understood their motivations and admired them all in their own way. For example, I found that I didn’t really care for Schmendrick, as his character was a bit self-centered at times. He is meant to play the fool, as he is beginning his true journey of self discovery, but I still found him a bit irritating at times. However, the harsh Molly Grue has a stronger character. She is jaded, but at the end of the story, is rejuvenated by her adventure with the Magician and Unicorn. I would have liked to know a bit more about her. The Unicorn herself learns about human emotions, like love and regret, and becomes the first of her kind to have truly lived as something else, other than a unicorn.

In all, this book is lyrically written, whimsical, and fast paced. It’s a classic read for anyone wanting a little bit of magic in their lives.