Read in October 2023

October was Spookoplathon month and I managed to read all the books I had intended to read, with a couple of extra thrown in the mix.

In total I read 10 books, good for 3691 pages. The average October book comes to 369 pages/book.

It was a bit of an average month, with mostly good books, but also a few lesser or forgettable books. My star ratings fluctuated from 2 to 4, bringing the average October book to 3.4 stars.

In terms of target group, I read quite a few YA books (4), but mainly in my own target group with 6 adult books.

As always, I also varied in reading format, with significantly fewer audiobooks than usual (1), a few e-books (3), but many own books with 6 bookcase books.

For the genres I alternated between 4 genres, namely mystery (1), horror (2), romance (3) and fantasy (4).

For the language I stuck to English once again and I didn’t read a single book in my native tongue of Flemish/Dutch.

Below is the list of the books I read in MONTH and my star rating.
Click the link to jump to the blurb and my review! As always, be aware that both blurb and review may contain spoilers, especially when it comes to sequels in a series! Sometimes I will also hide spoilers behind a black band, which you can read by selecting the text like here!

  1. Grace, Adalyn – All the Stars and Teeth (All the Stars and Teeth #1) ★★★★
  2. Harper, Jane – The Dry (Aaron Falk #1) 🎧 ★★★★
  3. Grace, Adalyn – All the Tides of Fate (All the Stars and Teeth #2) ★★★★
  4. Reid, Ava – The Wolf and the Woodsman ★★
  5. Craig, Erin A. – Small Favors ★★★
  6. Coldbreath, Alice – A Bride for the Prizefighter (Victorian Prizefighters #1) ★★★★
  7. Sim, Tara – Scavenge the Stars (Scavenge the Stars #1) ★★★
  8. Poston, Ashley – The Dead Romantics ★★★
  9. Coldbreath, Alice – A Substitute Wife for the Prizefighter (Victorian Prizefighters #2) ★★★★
  10. Moreno-Garcia, Silvia – Mexican Gothic ★★★

Grace, Adalyn – All the Stars and Teeth (All the Stars and Teeth #1) ★★★★

Genre: YA Fantasy

Set in a kingdom where danger lurks beneath the sea, mermaids seek vengeance with song, and magic is a choice.

She will reign.

As princess of the island kingdom Visidia, Amora Montara has spent her entire life training to be High Animancer — the master of souls. The rest of the realm can choose their magic, but for Amora, it’s never been a choice. To secure her place as heir to the throne, she must prove her mastery of the monarchy’s dangerous soul magic.

When her demonstration goes awry, Amora is forced to flee. She strikes a deal with Bastian, a mysterious pirate: he’ll help her prove she’s fit to rule, if she’ll help him reclaim his stolen magic.

But sailing the kingdom holds more wonder — and more peril — than Amora anticipated. A destructive new magic is on the rise, and if Amora is to conquer it, she’ll need to face legendary monsters, cross paths with vengeful mermaids, and deal with a stow-away she never expected… or risk the fate of Visidia and lose the crown forever.

I am the right choice. The only choice. And I will protect my kingdom.

Considering this book had been on my TBR for a long time, ever since I got it in an Owlcrate box, and considering it’s a YA story, which I’m less and less drawn to, my expectations were pretty low. Is that why I really enjoyed this? In any case, this was delightful and fun!
Wonderfully lush world full of sea monsters, mermaids and pirates, which immediately drew me into the adventure. Only gripe is that the ending felt a but underdeveloped and rushed, but that doesn’t change that I had a lot of fun reading this!

🎧 Harper, Jane – The Dry (Aaron Falk #1) ★★★★

Genre: Mystery

A small town hides big secrets in this atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by award-winning author Jane Harper.

In the grip of the worst drought in a century, the farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily when three members of a local family are found brutally slain.
Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown for the funeral of his childhood friend, loath to face the townsfolk who turned their backs on him twenty years earlier.
But as questions mount, Falk is forced to probe deeper into the deaths of the Hadler family. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret. A secret Falk thought was long buried. A secret Luke’s death now threatens to bring to the surface in this small Australian town, as old wounds bleed into new ones.

I first heard about this book through Lianne’s channel “Literary Diversions”, who absolutely adores this author. So when this series got picked as her Book Club series readalong, I decided to give it a try, since I’m always looking for new thriller authors to read.

The Dry is the first in a new series following Aaron Falk. In this book he’s compelled to return to his hometown for the funeral of childhood friend Luke, who is believed to have murdered his wife and son, before committing suicide. Aaron is enlisted by Luke’s parents to find out what really happened, since they cannot be reconciled with these accusations.
Aaron’s return to his hometown is also no small feat, considering he was effectively driven out of town twenty years earlier due to another traumatic event.

The author does a tremendous job of creating the atmosphere.
Desolate, oppressive and claustrophobic, rife with small-minded and prejudiced people and secrets around every corner.

Events from the past and present alternate, creating in depth characters and situations.
At first the audiobook made it confusing to recognize when a flashback began, but I quickly got used to it and became completely engrossed, both in the mystery of the present and that of the past.

I could not have predicted the ending and although I found the placing of some of the explanations somewhat weird, I really liked how well rounded the story was, answering most of the burning questions.
I’m definitely going to read more from this author and this series.

Grace, Adalyn – All the Tides of Fate (All the Stars and Teeth #2) ★★★★

Genre: YA Fantasy

Through blood and sacrifice, Amora Montara has conquered a rebellion and taken her rightful place as queen of Visidia. Now, with the islands in turmoil and the people questioning her authority, Amora cannot allow anyone to see her weaknesses.

No one can know about the curse in her bloodline. No one can know that she’s lost her magic. No one can know the truth about the boy who holds the missing half of her soul.

To save herself and Visidia, Amora embarks on a desperate quest for a mythical artifact that could fix everything―but it comes at a terrible cost. As she tries to balance her loyalty to her people, her crew, and the desires of her heart, Amora will soon discover that the power to rule might destroy her.

This sequel was just as good, if not better, than the first book.

Considering how much of the story was already resolved in book 1, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this sequel, but I absolutely loved the direction the story took.
Some aspects were somewhat predictable and there were still some things I found underdeveloped and lacking, but I still really enjoyed it nonetheless.

The writing style completely captivated me and also propelled me forward in the story.
My only negative point is again the typical YA-ness of it all, which is more of a me-problem and not the book’s. Especially our main character, Amora, annoyed me at times, while she is actually a very typical YA protagonist, presented as the “strong female”, but who to adults just comes across as stubborn, rash and selfish. But, kudos for the book being aware of this fact:

“If that’s how you want it to be, fine. But your stubbornness will be the knife in all of our chests one day, Amora. Gods help us.”

All in all a solid, fun book, that does not shy away from the emotional gut punches and concludes the duology satisfactorily.

Reid, Ava – The Wolf and the Woodsman ★★

Genre: Fantasy

In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all.

“The trees have to be tied down by sunset. When the Woodsmen come, they always try to run.”

At first I really enjoyed this book (what a gem of an opening line), despite its insufferable main character Évike.
It had a very mesmerizing, cozy folkloric atmosphere, while simultaneously being brutal and grim.
But gradually, the behaviour of the main character just became too annoying to be able to appreciate anything else about the story.

“You’ve not an ounce of good sense”

Évike is supposedly in her mid-twenties, but half the time she acts like a petulant child, while the other half she acts like a horny teenager.
I understand she grew up in harsh circumstances, being ridiculed and bullied, only to get betrayed and sold out. I can get behind her being bitter about it, but she just did not evolve at all throughout the entirety of this book. She acts so rashly and immature, determined to always do the exact opposite of what she’s advised to do. She’s selfish, mean and cruel to everyone, even those wanting to help her. It really started to annoy me and made me question if I would finish the book.

“I suppose a coward is anyone who acts with forethought, who doesn’t hurl themselves into the jaws of the beast only to prove their heroism?”

Her motivations, and also those of other characters, made no sense at all, or changed every few chapters, making them unbelievable and fickle. Many aspects in the book are just not explained or worked out enough to have any sort of impact on the reader. Neither was the romantic aspect any appealing.

Thoroughly disappointed in this one and I actually should have quit reading this when I first considered it, because the pay-off was not good enough to redeem the book in my eyes.

Craig, Erin A. – Small Favors ★★★

Genre: Horror

From the critically-acclaimed author of House of Salt and Sorrows comes a mesmerizing and chilling fairy-talesque novel about Ellerie Downing, a young woman in a small town with monsters lurking in the trees and dark desires hidden in the shadows—in Amity Falls, nothing is more dangerous than a wish come true.

Ellerie Downing is waiting for something to happen. Life in isolated Amity Falls, surrounded by an impenetrable forest, has a predictable sameness. Her days are filled with tending to her family’s beehives, chasing after her sisters, and dreaming of bigger things while her twin, Samuel, is free to roam as he wishes.

Early town settlers fought off monstrous creatures in the woods, and whispers that the creatures still exist keep the Downings and their neighbors from venturing too far. When some townsfolk go missing on a trip to fetch supplies, a heavy unease settles over the Falls.

Strange activities begin to plague the town, and as the seasons change, it’s clear that something is terribly wrong. The creatures are real, and they’re offering to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand, for just a small favor. These seemingly trifling demands, however, hide sinister intentions. Soon Ellerie finds herself in a race against time to stop Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves from going up in flames.

The atmosphere is what really makes this book.
Very oppressive and threatening. Everything seems completely normal, but there is still something that makes you feel uneasy and alert to every little sound.

“There’s a power in names, don’t you think? Once your name is given away, you can’t help but be pulled along by those who have it.”

The story itself is largely predictable and our main character Ellery is quite naive, but that makes sense considering how she grew up.
The resolution was really intriguing, but at the same time it felt like the author wasted this idea a bit with how little she did with it.

All in all, a book that you should read mainly for the atmosphere and not so much for the result.

Coldbreath, Alice – A Bride for the Prizefighter (Victorian Prizefighters #1) ★★★★

Genre: Historical Romance

Mina’s well-ordered life is thrown into disarray when her father drops a bombshell on his deathbed: she has a brother she never knew of. Not only that, he is on his way to rescue her from the collapse of their school under a mountain of debts.

A wild journey across country later, Mina finds herself thrown at the feet of the brutish William Nye, prize-fighter and owner of a disreputable inn, The Merry Harlot. Respectable Mina is appalled to find herself obliged to wed this surly stranger!

Forced to draw on reserves of inner strength she never knew she possessed, Mina uncovers perilous secrets and bravely carves herself a new life at the side of this man, as she proves herself a more than worthy partner for the prize-fighter.

Sometimes I just need a bit of a comfort read. A predictable book for which its likely outcome is its main draw. For this, Alice Coldbreath has recently become my go to author. I started reading her “Brides of Karadok” series last year and finished all 6 published works in this series this year. So when this craving for comfort reared its head this month, I had to pick something from one of her other series and eventually chose book 1 of her “Victorian Prizefighter” series, because I wanted a different setting than the medieval one and this was an excellent decision.

I don’t think I have read any historical romances where both parties are from the lower classes, so this was something completely unique for me, and I really loved it!
This had everything I’ve grown to like about Alice Coldbreath’s writing: great characters, slice of life scenes, slow build up. And despite me reading this for its predictability, it still went in unexpected directions, making me fly through the book.
The only thing that I would have liked to have seen differently is a dual point of view. Now we only got Mina’s perspective, making some aspects fall a little flat or coming out of nowhere.

But nevertheless a nice low stakes, high comfort read.

Sim, Tara – Scavenge the Stars (Scavenge the Stars #1) ★★★

Genre: YA Fantasy

When Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have earned her a longer sentence on the debtor ship where she’s been held captive for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide.

Amaya wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of deception—and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she’s plotting to bring down—the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she realizes she must trust no one…

Packed with high-stakes adventure, romance, and dueling identities, this gender-swapped retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo is the first novel in an epic YA fantasy duology, perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, Sabaa Tahir, and Leigh Bardugo.

Gosh, this wasn’t a bad book or anything, but I just didn’t care about anything really.
The writing is certainly compelling enough and the world shows a lot of promise, but I was able to put this book down in mid-sentence without feeling any sense of urgency to continue reading. Ultimately I finished it to find out how it was going to end, so there was something that made me want to know what was going on, but ultimately this did nothing to change my overall feeling of disinterest and I am therefore not sufficiently intrigued to want to read the sequel.

Poston, Ashley – The Dead Romantics ★★★

Genre: Romance

A disillusioned millennial ghostwriter who, quite literally, has some ghosts of her own, has to find her way back home in this sparkling adult debut from national bestselling author Ashley Poston.

Florence Day is the ghostwriter for one of the most prolific romance authors in the industry, and she has a problem—after a terrible breakup, she no longer believes in love. It’s as good as dead.

When her new editor, a too-handsome mountain of a man, won’t give her an extension on her book deadline, Florence prepares to kiss her career goodbye. But then she gets a phone call she never wanted to receive, and she must return home for the first time in a decade to help her family bury her beloved father.

For ten years, she’s run from the town that never understood her, and even though she misses the sound of a warm Southern night and her eccentric, loving family and their funeral parlor, she can’t bring herself to stay. Even with her father gone, it feels like nothing in this town has changed. And she hates it.

Until she finds a ghost standing at the funeral parlor’s front door, just as broad and infuriatingly handsome as ever, and he’s just as confused about why he’s there as she is.

Romance is most certainly dead . . . but so is her new editor, and his unfinished business will have her second-guessing everything she’s ever known about love stories.

This was charming, but a lot heavier than expected.

“I’d always written how grief was hollow. How it was a vast cavern of nothing.
But I was wrong.
Grief was the exact opposite. It was full and heavy and drowning because it wasn’t the absence of everything you lost—it was the culmination of it all, your love, your happiness, your bittersweets, wound tight like a knotted ball of yarn.”

Instead of a cutsie romance, I got a more profound story contemplating death, grief and retrospection. I quite liked it, and found that it handled a lot of hard hitting subjects in a gracious and striking way.

“I’m not great with surprises. I don’t—didn’t—take chances. I didn’t take risks. On anything—or anyone.”

However, it did not really deliver on the romance part for me, which I honestly found rather dull and frankly unnecessary considering what else was going on, which is kind of weird to say for a book marketed as a romance.

“I couldn’t believe that I was swooning over the bare minimum—decency.”

I much preferred the story when it focused on the family and the quirky way they ran the funeral home or on the self-examination of our main characters.

“Buying books always made me feel better, even if I never read them.”

A fun and thoughtful read, but which suffered a bit due to misrepresentation in its marketing creating unnecessary expectations that weren’t fulfilled.

Coldbreath, Alice – A Substitute Wife for the Prizefighter (Victorian Prizefighters #2) ★★★★

Genre: Historical Romance

Plain, respectable Lizzie Anderson is in the devil of a fix. After catching sight of something she was not supposed to, her whole family is torn apart by the ensuing scandal. Lizzie’s steadfast principles means she cannot deny the evidence of her own eyes and as a consequence finds herself thrown out onto the street! Her only ally in her time of need, comes from a very unexpected quarter indeed…

Benedict Toomes has long thought Lizzie a thorn in his side, but after seeing her staunchness in the face of adversity, he finds himself picturing her in a totally different role in his life. A stand-in for the betrothed he no longer wants to marry… Find out how this unlikeliest of couples navigates life together after a rocky start and find their preconceived notions about the other could not have been further from the truth!

Yep, after reading the first book in this series, I quickly craved reading the second, curious if it would deliver more of the same. And indeed it did, if not even better!

I loved the setting of the traveling fair and the no-nonsense attitude of our heroine. I enjoyed the hero in this one more than in the first book, probably because we did get to read from his perspective this time. The build-up was fantastic as always.

Only one book left in this series and I’m not quite sure if I want to savor it or just read on, since I’m enjoying them so much!

Moreno-Garcia, Silvia – Mexican Gothic ★★★

Genre: Horror

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemí’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

This book was not at all what I expected it to be and I’m a bit in two minds about it.

“The world is filled with so many extraordinary wonders, isn’t it? You could spend a lifetime peering in forests and jungles and never see one tenth of nature’s secrets.”

Looking at it as a whole, the story was quite interesting. Deliciously creepy, uncomfortable and compelling. The writing style however dragged it somewhat down for me. It was dry and felt stilted and wooden at times. I also didn’t really get along with our main character and felt not enough was done with the Mexican part or with the set-in-the-fifties part. Barring some word use, this could have easily been set in England in current days.

“She was the snake biting its tail.
She was a dreamer, eternally bound to a nightmare, eyes closed even when her eyes had turned to dust.”

All in all, I did not fall as head over heals for this book as I was expecting, based on its almost cult-following, but it did deliver on the spooky, gothic, eeriness that I like.

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