Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Phoenix Keeper by S.A. MacLean

Title: The Phoenix Keeper
Author: S.A. MacLean
Release: August 13, 2024
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 496
Review: 5 Stars


Set in a magical zoo teeming with mythical beasts from dragons and unicorns to kelpies and krakens, The Phoenix Keeper is a fierce joy of a cozy fantasy novel with a soul-restoring queer romance at its heart, for fans of The House in the Cerulean Sea and Legends and Lattes.

As head phoenix keeper at a world-renowned zoo for magical creatures, Aila's childhood dream of conserving critically endangered firebirds seems closer than ever. There's just one glaring caveat: her zoo's breeding program hasn't functioned for a decade. When a tragic phoenix heist sabotages the flagship initiative at a neighboring zoo, Aila must prove her derelict facilities are fit to take the reins.

But saving an entire species from extinction requires more than stellar animal handling skills. Carnivorous water horses, tempestuous thunderhawks, mischievous dragons... Aila has no problem wrangling beasts. But mustering the courage to ask for help from the hotshot griffin keeper at the zoo's most popular exhibit? Virtually impossible.

Especially when that hotshot griffin keeper happens to be her arch-rival from college: Luciana, an annoyingly brooding and insufferable know-it-all with the face of a goddess who's convinced that Aila's beloved phoenix would serve their cause better as an active performer rather than as a passive conservation exhibit. With the world watching and the threat of poachers looming, Aila's success is no longer merely a matter of keeping her job...

She is the keeper of the phoenix, and the future of a species– and her love life– now rests on her shoulders. 

You Can Find It At:
Barnes & Noble


The Phoenix Keeper was SO GOOD! Seriously, it's like it was made just for me. It's a standalone fantasy set in an alternate contemporary world. The main character Aila is the zookeeper for a critically endangered phoenix and more than anything else, she wants to revive the zoo's breeding program for the phoenix. Unfortunately, she is short one male phoenix. Thus begins our cozy, queer, fantasy that you do not want to miss!

One of the things I loved about The Phoenix Keeper was Aila's character arc and growth. She suffers from social anxiety which makes her a loner amongst her zoo colleagues, save for her one long-time friend. However, along with the anxiety, Aila views the world in a self-centered way. She has a habit of thinking poorly of others, most notably her long-term rival Luciana, who runs the zoo's griffin show. Aila is immediately relatable, but not alway likable. This is clearly on purpose. Watching her grow as a person alongside her plot journey was a delight. To see her connect with others, care about them, and even come to think of more people as friends, was like watching her blossom. Her growth is interwoven really well with the story such that it sneaks up on you. Suddenly she's approaching people and community in a new light, but all the work is there. It helps that there are several time jumps in the book, so it doesn't feel like she becomes a totally new person in two weeks.

I am a total zoo nerd. I was already excited for The Phoenix Keeper, but when I learned that it is inspired by the San Diego zoo and the conservation efforts to save the California condor, I knew I was in for a treat. While I am no expert in zookeeping or animal care, the author clearly knows her stuff. The world of the zoo was intricate and exact. We got daily care routines for a variety of magical animals (many similar to real-life animals). We got inner-zoo rivalries. We got the bureaucracy and competitiveness of endangered animal care. I went along this journey with Aila from the every day routines to the extraordinary adventures. The book explores *why* zoos matter, both in Aila's world and ours. It also integrates the very real threat of poaching, not just in the wild, but in supposedly protected zoos. And it shares the way animals are harmed both by active human greed and ambition, but also by lack of care.

While the romance isn't the core of the book, there is a sapphic romance side-plot. The world is largely queer-normative, or at least Aila's portion of it is. There's no 'coming out' or exploration of sexuality. Aila is attracted to many genders. Her best friends is trans. None of this is questioned or even noted beyond to share with the reader. She begins the book with a crush on co-worker, and dragon keeper, Connor. But over time, she develops some complicated feelings for her long-time nemesis Luciana. Aila's character arc in relation to Luciana in particular felt really well-done. While the book doesn't fall into the 'sexy fantasy' category we see a lot nowadays, I think it will do well with romantasy fans who want to lean more into the fantasy side of things.

I want to note that there is a map at the beginning of the book, however, I was not really able to see it in my digital ARC. I bet it's as amazing as the rest of the book, but I will be discovering it with everyone else when my preorder comes.

I would be remiss to end this review without noting the absolutely GORGEOUS cover. Truly a 10/10. The detailing on the phoenixes is exquisite. There are so many magical creatures described in the book, one thing I would love to see are illustrations of the other animals at the zoo. The kelpie is one of my favorites (you'll discover why when you read it), but there are also several types of dragons, phoenixes, griffins, unicorns, and more. Also, the vanishing ducks. Aila spends a lot of time in an aviary with an assortment of different avian magical species, and it would be cool to see an illustration featuring Archie's tower and the other critters roaming around. And as long as I'm placing an order, I want stickers of all the creatures in the book. I think this book does very well as a standalone, but I will not say no to literally anything else I can get. I will definitely be reading S.A. MacLean in the future and you need to check this out when it releases in August!

Author Bio:

S. A. MacLean is a romantasy author from sunny California. Infatuated with magical worlds since her days of brewing mud potions in her childhood garden, she fell in love with the romantasy genre after realizing all her favourite fantasy novels had kisses in them. Her stories invariably feature quirky humour, sassy animal companions, and queer casts who represent her voice as a chaotic bisexual woman.
Sarah received her BS in Natural Resources from Cornell University and a PhD in Environmental Science from UC Berkeley. If you think that sounds overly pedantic, well, she agrees! So she left the research track to teach environmental science at her local community college, inspiring the next generation of students to save the planet. Her ecology background seeps into her fantasy worlds as odd plants and an obnoxious number of bird references.
She currently lives in California with her partner, two cats, and a growing saltwater aquarium. She is represented by John Baker of Bell Lomax Moreton.

You Can Find Her At:

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh

Some Desperate Glory
Author: Emily Tesh
Release: April 11, 2023
Publisher: Tordotcom
Pages: 438
Review: 5 Stars


While we live, the enemy shall fear us.

All her life Kyr has trained for the day she can avenge the murder of planet Earth. Raised in the bowels of Gaea Station alongside the last scraps of humanity, she readies herself to face the Wisdom, the all-powerful, reality-shaping weapon that gave the Majoda their victory over humanity.

They are what’s left. They are what must survive. Kyr is one of the best warriors of her generation, the sword of a dead planet. But when Command assigns her brother to certain death and relegates her to the nursery to bear sons until she dies trying, she knows she must take humanity’s revenge into her own hands.

Alongside her brother’s brilliant but seditious friend and a lonely, captive alien, she escapes from everything she’s ever known into a universe far more complicated than she was taught and far more wondrous than she could have imagined.

A thrillingly told queer space opera about the wreckage of war, the family you find, and who you must become when every choice is stripped from you, Some Desperate Glory is award-winning author Emily Tesh’s highly anticipated debut novel.

You Can Find it At:


I do not have the words to describe how amazing this book is. Emily Tesh fully immerses you in Kyr's world of Gaea Station, only to rip it apart. And then she does it again. A must-read of modern sci-fi. Fans of Ursula Le Guin NEED to check this out. Truly a beautiful work of fiction AND an amazing story. I love Kyr and Cleo and Lisabel and and and. My one note of warning is definitely make sure to check out the content warnings, as Some Desperate Glory deals with some serious topics. Most notably, there is discussion of past sexual assault and an on-page suicide. Also, like, a lot of genocide and murder.

Despite the very heavy themes, I actually think Some Desperate Glory is also a great book for teen readers wanting to explore adult sci-fi. Let me be very clear that it is an adult book. But. Our protagonist Kyr is 18 years old and the pacing will feel familiar to YA readers. I think publishing it as adult was the right choice, largely because it let the author lean into some of the heavier elements and focus on an adult audience, which is more receptive to sci-fi in general right now. (Side note, would love to see some growth in and publishing support for more YA sci-fi). Basically, it's an adult sci-fi with strong crossover appeal for teens.

A lot of the ideas and themes discussed in Some Desperate Glory are both very timely and resonated with me personally. Kyr has been indoctrinated her whole life and spends the book not only reprogramming her belief system, but figuring out how to take a stand. Her views are constantly evolving as she encounters new situations and realizes her world is not as she was told. Eugenics and bioessentialism, homophobia, xenophobia, hyper-militarism, Kyr has absorbed it all. She is cold, calculating. One of the characters describes her as like a horse with blinders on. When she doesn't want to see something, such as something that goes against what she's been conditioned, she pretends it doesn't exist. To truly do the work to deprogram it all, Kyr truly needed to go through every event in the book. She had to see the worst to understand the possibility of doing better. One of the themes that really resonated with me and my own beliefs is expressed at the end. I won't go into too much detail as it's all sorts of spoilers, but toward the end, in regards to deciding who to save, who lives, who dies, she poses the question "what gives you the right to decide". Who are we to decide "the good ones" or "the bad ones".

If you've made it to the end of my rant, you've probably already read the book or are completely sold, but let me throw out one last pitch for the stragglers. Some Desperate Glory is what sci-fi aspires to be. It's a wonderful story yes, but it is also a biting social criticism. I truly believe we are all better for having it, and books like it, in the world.

I'd be remiss if I didn't note that Some Desperate Glory is currently up for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. I encourage you to consider voting for it if you are Hugo voting member.

Okay, last note. I also think Some Desperate Glory would make an AMAZING movie. It sets itself up for a theatrical three-act structure really well. The pacing would transfer really well to the screen. And I just want a way to get the story in front of more eyeballs.

Author Bio:

Emily Tesh is the author of the Greenhollow Duology, which begins with Silver in the Wood and concludes with Drowned Country. Tesh is a winner of the Astounding Award and of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella. Some Desperate Glory, her first novel, was released in 2023.

You Can Find Her At:

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Romance Review: Truly, Madly, Deeply by Alexandria Bellefleur

Truly, Madly, Deeply
Author: Alexandria Bellefleur
Release: April 30, 2024
Publisher: Avon
Pages: 336
Review: 5 Stars


Sparks fly when a lovelorn romance novelist and a divorce lawyer who has sworn off relationships agree to cohost a podcast series offering dating advice to viewers, in Truly, Madly, Deeply, the next steamy queer rom-com from Lambda Literary Award winner and national bestselling author Alexandria Bellefleur.

As a bestselling romance novelist, everyone thinks Truly Livingston is an expert on happily-ever-afters. She’s even signed on to record a podcast sharing relationship advice. Little do they know she feels like an imposter—her parents just announced they’re separating, she caught her fiancé cheating, and her entire view on love has been shaken to the core. Truly hopes the podcast will distract her... until she meets her cohost.

Her first impression of Colin McCory But then he opens his extremely kissable mouth. Colin’s view on love just pisses Truly off, even if he does have an annoyingly attractive face. Bickering with a cynical divorce lawyer is the last thing she needs—so she walks out, with no plans to return.

A few days later, Truly is surprised when Colin tracks her down, asking for a fresh start. Truly can’t deny the little thrill she gets from Colin begging, so she reluctantly agrees. As they go from enemies to friends to something else entirely, Truly discovers they have more in common than she ever imagined, including their shared queerness. He’s a genuinely good guy—charming, sweet, and equally as unlucky in love as herself—and there’s something about Colin that drives Truly a little wild. When their attraction reaches a fever pitch, Truly is happy for the first time in years. Yet she can’t help but wonder... is Colin truly, madly, deeply in love with her? Or is it all too good to be true?

You Can Find it At:


This. Was. So. Good! I enjoyed The Fiancee Farce and so was already anticipating this one, but boy did it deliver! Another reviewer shared on Twitter (sorry, X) that they were reading it + a quote that just grabbed me. I had just gotten approved for an ARC and knew I needed to dive right in.

Colin gets off on quite the wrong foot with Truly, but to be fair, he didn't know she had just broken up with her fiancé because she found him cheating on her. A lot of the time, I feel like authors don't have characters put in the work to come back from a bad first impression, but Colin *swoons*. He knows he messed up, even if he isn't entirely sure how/why, and knows he needs to fix it. If not for his own sake (he crushes on Truly hard and fast), then for his sister, who wants Truly to come back to her podcast. Colin has become my new standard for romance heroes. He is obsessed with Truly (as she deserves) and his actions show that.

Truly is also amazing. She's a queer romance author (which, by the way, both main characters are bisexual) and is finding lots of success in her career. In her personal life? Not so much. Even when I was cringing at her choices (maybe don't try to Parent Trap your parents) I was still rooting for her.

My one little quibble was less with her and more with a thing the author decided not to show. There's a comment made about her instagram and having to share that she broke up with her fiancé. I would have loved a sub-feature of the book with her instagram posts, maybe between chapters. We could get one where she announces she's breaking up with what's-his-face, one for the podcast, at the lake house, etc. Maybe Colin starts showing up in them, and commenters note the sparks flying! I think it would be a fun way to A) make the book stand out even more and B) show more of Truly's author side. It is by no means necessary to the plot (though I would have liked some follow-up to the specific comment), but it would make me happy.

Author Bio:

Alexandria Bellefleur is a bestselling and award-winning author of swoony contemporary romance often featuring loveable grumps and the sunshine characters who bring them to their knees. A Pacific Northwesterner at heart, Alexandria has a weakness for good coffee, Pike IPA, and Voodoo Doughnuts. Her special skills include finding the best Pad Thai in every city she visits, remembering faces but not names, falling asleep in movie theaters, and keeping cool while reading smutty books in public. Her debut novel, Written in the Stars, was a 2021 Lambda Literary Award winner and a 2020 winner of The Ripped Bodice Awards for Excellence in Romantic Fiction. 

You Can Find Her At:

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

ARC Review: To Cage a God by Elizabeth May

As you might be able to tell, I am embracing the quiet blog life. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of upcoming fantasy To Cage a God and can't resist A) bragging and B) telling you to preorder this beauty ASAP!

Title: To Cage a God
Author: Elizabeth May
Release: February 20, 2024
Publisher: DAW
Series: These Monstrous Gods #1
Pages: 384
Review: 5 Stars


Perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, this Imperial Russia-inspired romantasy launches a new dark fantasy duology of gods, politics, and deadly magical powers from a Sunday Times bestselling author

To cage a god is divine.

To be divine is to rule.

To rule is to destroy.

Using ancient secrets, Galina and Sera’s mother grafted gods into their bones. Bound to brutal deities and granted forbidden power no commoner has held in a millennia, the sisters have grown up to become living weapons. Raised to overthrow an empire―no matter the cost.

With their mother gone and their country on the brink of war, it falls to the sisters to take the helm of the rebellion and end the cruel reign of a royal family possessed by destructive gods. Because when the ruling alurea invade, they conquer with fire and blood. And when they clash, common folk burn.

While Sera reunites with her estranged lover turned violent rebel leader, Galina infiltrates the palace. In this world of deception and danger, her only refuge is an isolated princess, whose whip-smart tongue and sharp gaze threaten to uncover Galina’s secret. Torn between desire and duty, Galina must make a choice: work together to expose the lies of the empire―or bring it all down.

You Can Find it At:


Who stayed up until 2am reading, got up at 8am for work, and proceeded to read during every break? This girl! To Cage a God by Elizabeth May was absolutely amazing and I can’t wait for everyone else to get to experience it in February! Fans of Fourth Wing (as it has been all the rage recently) will definitely enjoy it and I plan to sell it to every romantasy fan that comes into the store!

To Cage a God has five POV characters (iirc) and usually I end up with a favorite, begrudgingly reading the other POVs, but I truly loved every single character in this book! One chapter would end, we'd switch POVs, and for a second I'd be frustrated (basically every chapter ended in a cliffhanger), but then I'd be excited to find out what was happening with these other characters.

We get not one, but TWO romances in this book, and Elizabeth May delivers beautifully! Sera left her lover Vitaly four years prior when she fled with her sister Galina. Sera and Vitaly work so well together and it’s hilarious that Vitaly’s love language is essentially murder. Galina infiltrates the palace to take the empire down from within, and in the process falls for the reclusive Princess Vasilisa. (Yes, we get a sapphic romance too!) I loved the disability rep from Vasilisa and watching them fall for each other made me swoon.

Elizabeth May does a great job of mixing the sweet and spicy without losing any plot or worldbuilding. The plot is tight and fast paced while the world is expansive and deep. The world may be Russian inspired, but expect more revolution than Anastasia vibes (which I loved)! This new take on dragons, gods, and magic was exciting and had me entranced until the final page! I will be eagerly awaiting book two in the duology!

Author Bio:

Elizabeth May is the Sunday Times bestselling author of To Cage a God, the Seven Devils duology (co-written with Laura Lam), The Falconer series, and romance novels under the pseudonym Katrina Kendrick. She is Californian by birth and Scottish by choice, and holds a Ph.D. from the University of St Andrews. She currently resides on an 18th-century farm in the Scottish countryside with her husband, three cats, and a lively hive of honeybees that live inside the wall of her old farmhouse.

Elizabeth is represented by Russell Galen at Scovil Galen Ghosh.

Photo credit: Elizabeth May. Download Hires Image here.

You Can Find Her At:

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Turns Out I'm a Liar: Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

So, I fully planned to shut down the posting aspect of Tween 2 Teen Book Reviews. But then I read some really good books, went to mark them as "Read" in Goodreads, and proceeded to write full reviews. So we're going with plan B, which I had been ruminating on when I initially wrote that goodbye post. Tween 2 Teen Book Reviews is still going to become much quieter than it was before, but I can't resist the siren call of yelling at people about books.

I will continue to post reviews (though likely a little less formal/formatted) and potentially other posts if inspiration strikes. I will be focusing on my work as a bookseller and applying to grad school, but there are parts of this I enjoy too much to fully let go. That said, it's quite possible that things will shut down for real a year from now when I (hopefully) am back in school, but that's a later Isabel problem. For now, let me yell at you about the book no one can shut up about!

Title: Fourth Wing
Author: Rebecca Yarros
Release: May 2, 2023
Publisher: Red Tower Books
Series: The Empyrean
Pages: 528
Review: 5 Stars


Enter the brutal and elite world of a war college for dragon riders from USA Today bestselling author Rebecca Yarros.

Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.

But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away...because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.

With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter—like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.

She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.

Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom's protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.

Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda—because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.

You Can Find it At:


I am in love. This book was so good and I won't be surprised if I'm not able to read anything else for weeks because this is on replay in my head. I stayed up until 3am reading it, read at every break at work the next day, and then promptly finished it as soon as I got home. The romance is obviously top tier. Slow burn, lots of pining, and one of my favorite romantasy tropes: sexytimes so good that characters lose control of magical abilities. Me and hyped up books don't always get along, but Fourth Wing is worth every word of praise.

The disability presence in the book was really amazing, as it's not often present in fantasy. Violet has a fantasy version of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective-tissue disorder with a number of presentations. Violet experiences regular joint pain and her joints will dislocate or get injured much easier. As someone who also has joint issues, her experiences really rung true for me. Additionally, a scribe Violet is friends with is Deaf and Violet uses sign language to converse with her. Along with capital R representation, I love to see little ways that disability is incorporated into a world.

Another fun note is the background queer presence in the world. As far as I know, both Violet and the love interest Xaden are straight. However, this seems to be a world built as queer-accepting by default. Violet's best friend Rhiannon is noted as dating men and women. At least one character uses they/them pronouns. Neither of these things are remarked upon as being out of the ordinary or looked down upon.

I saw someone note that aspects of the world building (such as being able to kill other students) isn't exactly logical, but exists just to make things more dramatic. I can definitely see that, but it doesn't bother me much. There actually were some plot/world building things I had questions about (the conflict seems very simplistic) but Yarros had some exceptional plot twists that answered those questions. Of course, now I have a billion more questions, but that's more to do with the giant cliffhanger she left us with.

Needless to say, I am counting the days until Iron Flame comes out. November can't get here soon enough. I'm still kicking myself because I almost got one of the sprayed edge first editions at work, but let it go thinking we'd get more in. So I will be making sure to preorder book two for that sweet sweet artwork.

Author Bio:

Rebecca Yarros is the #1 New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of over fifteen novels, with multiple starred Publishers Weekly reviews and a Kirkus Best Book of the Year. She loves military heroes and has been blissfully married to hers for over twenty years. She’s the mother of six children, and is currently surviving the teenage years with three of her four hockey-playing sons. When she’s not writing, you can find her at the hockey rink or sneaking in some guitar time while guzzling coffee. She and her family live in Colorado with their stubborn English bulldog, two feisty chinchillas, and a Maine Coon cat named Artemis, who rules them all.

Having fostered then adopted their youngest daughter who is nonverbal and on the autism spectrum, Rebecca is passionate about helping children in the foster system through her nonprofit, One October, which she co-founded with her husband in 2019. To learn more about their mission to better the lives of kids in foster care, visit

To catch up on Rebecca’s latest releases and upcoming novels visit

You Can Find Her At:
Reader Group