If you only read one translated book this year, make it The Cabinet by Un-su Kim, translated by Sean Lin Halbert. This is probably the most unique book I’ve ever read – at least the most unique book I remember. It is truly something special and hits that sweet spot between speculative and literary fiction.
Many thanks to the wonderful Caroline at Angry Robot for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 12/10/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Cabinet 13 looks exactly like any normal filing cabinet. Except this cabinet is filled with files on the ‘symptomers’, people whose weird abilities and bizarre experiences might just mark the emergence of a new species.
But to Mr Kong, the harried office worker who spends his days looking after the cabinet, the symptomers are just a headache; from the woman whose doppelganger broke up with her boyfriend, to the man with a ginkgo tree growing from his fingertip. And then there’s that guy who won’t stop calling, asking to be turned into a cat… (from Angry Robot)
OPINIONS: This is a mind-blowing book. I’ve been raving about it at everyone who would listen for the whole time I was reading it, which, for my standards, has been a very long time. This isn’t the kind of book you sit down and devour in a single sitting, it is the sort of story you savour slowly, over the course of weeks, which you digest bit by bit and come back for more again and again. It is truly something special, something absolutely weird and wonderful. If you only read one translated novel this year, make it this one – not that you shouldn’t read far more translated fiction than that. I’m reading a few others at the moment, and I’m really enjoying it. I think The Cabinet is inspiring me to seek out more Asian speculative writing, which is really the highest compliment I can give a book.
In this, Un-su Kim unashamedly writes away from what we consider Western conventions of story-telling – it is easy for me to say that The Cabinet is utterly unique – it certainly is from my perspective as a European reader, but perhaps that is also showing my ignorance of Korean literary conventions that he is moving within. I can say that it is a very special book though. It is the story of a man, a sort of mash-up between curator and janitor, tasked with taking care of Cabinet 13, the titular cabinet, which contains files on all sorts of weird and wonderous occurrences, showing where the magical intersects with the mundane. These vingnettes intersect with the framing narrative, and paint a vivid picture of a world where anything is possible. In some ways, it is reminiscent of the Russian fantastic literature of the sort written by Gogol, vaguely remembered from the early semesters of my literature degree, but not quite.
The Cabinet is a work of speculative fiction, but not one that will appeal to every reader of genre fiction. It skews more literary and requires a different sort of reader than the sort of epic fantasy novel likely to hit bestseller lists. It is an intellectual book, one that requires the right mood – but one that is worth every second you invest in it. I think it is one that I will be returning to again and again, one that will be staying on my mind for a very long time.
Our friend (and wonderful blogger) Peat mentioned that he was working on a tag based on the frustrating things cats do. I (Fab) loved the idea (my favourite ever D&D character that I’ve played was a very annoying Tabaxi) – so I’m very excited that it’s live now – check out THE EVIL CAT BOOK TAG over at Peat’s blog here! I snagged Kat and here are our choices for Peat’s prompts (prompts and flavour texts are copied from him).
Knocking shit off of high places – A book with a cliffhanger
We’ve all seen it right? The majestic leap up high. The tentative dab of the paw at something on the high surface. The crash if you don’t get to them quick enough. Hopefully it wasn’t breakable. Or your wedding ring. But, really, this wasn’t the cat’s fault. It’s yours. Some things shouldn’t be left near cliffs…
Fab: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia is the first book in a duology about two sapphics who fall in love while married to the same guy in a terrible system and burn down the status quo in the process. It ends in a way that I did not see coming, and the wait for book two was truly torture. This is a series where you really need to have both books ready to binge.
Kat: Dying on Second is the fourth book in the Marie Jenner Mystery series by E.C. Bell. Marie has a secret – she can see and speak with the deceased. Like her mother before her, she helps the dead to move on to the next plane of existence. Needless to say, because of her unique abilities, she’s seen and experienced some pretty heavy stuff, but nothing compares to the situation she faces in the conclusion of book 4 – talk about a cliffhanger! To see what happens to Marie and how she gets out of this latest mess, readers will have to check out book 5 in the series, Hearing Voices.
Howling at 3am – A book you didn’t sleep to finish
To you, it is sleep time. To the cat, it is playtime. Or maybe they’re hungry. Or just evil, for ’tis the witching hour. Whatever the reason, you should be awake. The cat says so. Some books are similarly insistent…
Fab: All of Us Villains by Christine Lynn Hermann and Amanda Foody (finally out in November…) was one of those books that I simply could not put down. Think Nevernight meets Gossip Girl, with a dash of The Hunger Games. Addictive YA at its best, with a cast of morally grey characters who compete for power and survival. Magic that has been kept secret now unveiled by a tell-all book, and perhaps working together might be a solution after all? This one definitely kept me reading until I was done, and I’m still impatiently awaiting the sequel. Even though book one isn’t published yet.
Kat: I read the entire first trilogy of Ilona Andrew’s Hidden Legacy series in three days. That’s right folks – three books, three days. Needless to say sleep was not a priority. This series is near perfection for me, and Burn for Me will knock your socks off with its action-packed plot and inventive magic system. The over-arching, series-wide plot is well-paced, each book contributing significantly to the development of the conspiracy and uncovering more hints as to the identify the ultimate big bad. The romance is slow-burn, with tension building over the course of the first two books, exploding with steam in the second, and then coming to the HEA conclusion at the end of the first trilogy. Highest of recommendations to fans of Urban Fantasy Romance!
Hiding before a vet visit – A book with a self-destructive character
Some people have a sixth sense for impending calamity. Most cats have a sixth sense for an impending visit to the vet and hide. Who cares if it’s for their own good? We’ve all read someone like that…
Fab: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo is an excellent book. But damn, Alex Stern is a self-destructive character. She has no sense of self-preservation or caution. She leaps head-first into danger without thinking twice about what could happen. Partially because that girl carries a shit ton of baggage around with herself, partially because of who she is. But I can’t think of a more self-destructive character than our dear Galaxy.
Kat: I think we can all agree that our favorite detective has issues with self-preservation. Storm Front is the first book of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series, and our introduction to Harry’s peculiarly adept ability to put himself into danger. I mean, how many wizards do you know willingly visit a powerful blood-sucking vampire at night in her demesne and then exposes her true form for everyone to see? Terrible idea, Harry. Terrible. That’s not the last time Harry puts himself in a terrible situation in this book, and certainly not the last time across the broader series. Despite his assertion otherwise, Harry Dresden has a serious death wish.
The turd dangling from their behind – A sequel that was a bit, er, turd
Sometimes cats eat hair. And sometimes when they do, it gets stuck post-defecation, with a little bit of said defecation attached to it. So when your darling cat goes by and you get excited, you soon realise there’s something horrible behind them. Just like a bad sequel…
Fab: I have to admit, I wasn’t as hyped about Children of Blood and Bone as most of my friends were. But I still enjoyed it quite a lot and was excited for the sequel. (And, I truly hate being negative about books on the blog! Peat, you’re worse than a cat with a turd stuck to its butt for making me be mean on purpose!) Children of Virtue and Vengeance was probably my biggest disappointment of 2020. Not the worst book I’d read – I mean, I did finish it – but in terms of what I expected and what I felt when reading.
Kat: What’s worse than a sequel that’s a bit of a turd? The final book in a trilogy that’s a bit of a turd. I absolutely adored the first two books in Amanda Bouchet’s The Kingmaker Chronicles series. I blew through them so quickly with the fresh Greek-mythology-based world-building. I was genuinely excited to see how the series would end, and unfortunately I DNF’ed the final book, Heart on Fire. To me, it seemed to be a complete departure from the tone and focus of the first two books. It was almost like it was written by someone else entirely! Very disappointing. However, the first two books are solid, so if you’re the type of person that doesn’t need to read the full series to feel complete, I highly recommend them!
Puking on the carpet – A book with a betrayal
We all know this one. And we all know it’s not really the cat’s fault. But why now? And especially, why there? Why not a nice easy to clean surface? Right or wrong, it feels like a betrayal…
Fab: With a title like A Lesson in Vengeance, Victoria Lee’s latest book is bound to be prime real estate for those backstabbing sapphics. Felicity and Ellis spend most of the book betraying each other and the people to various degrees and it’s a joy to read. Highly recommend this for some premium cat puking on the carpet betrayal energy.
Kat: Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie is one of the best revenge books out there. But in my opinion, it is also contains one of the most powerful betrayals I’ve ever read in that it subverts the entire quest for vengeance and exposes its futility. You’ll have to read the book to discover the details of the betrayal, but suffice to say it helps solidify Abercrombie’s well-deserved reputation as the master of grimdark fantasy.
Dragging in live animals – A book with shocking violence
One time I heard a great commotion and looked up to see a pigeon flying up my hallway, pursued by a mighty predator bounding away. I get that you are a mean lean hunting machine, but do you have to bring me the final act to watch? Sometimes it all just seems a little over the top…
Fab: There are a lot of books that have a liberal approach to violence. But knowing Peat and his tongue in cheek approach to this (and the cat chaos energy of this tag), there was only one choice for me: When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey. Yes, this is a delightful sapphic found family witchy YA novel. But also, it starts with an accidental murder by exploding penis. I am not kidding. It’s also not a spoiler because it’s the inciting incident for the story. So yeah. That’s that. Highly recommend the book. It is actually quite wholesome.
Kat: Grace Draven is not one to hold back on graphic content, and that’s not just limited to explicit sex. There is often a strain of brutality and rawness in her books that can be quite unexpected for Romance readers. When I first read Radiance, I didn’t know what to expect; so, when I reached the torture scene (I won’t spoil who is tortured by whom or why), I was shocked. While not the most violent scene found within her canon, this scene was my first encounter with violence in her books. It’s honestly one of the things I appreciate about her as an author, though – she is graphic across all aspects of her writing!
Looking you in the eye before misbehaving – A book with a character desperate for attention
It’s one thing to be naughty, nay, malevolent. But to look right at me before you do it? Just to make sure your cry for attention will get attention? Why not lie in front of the television ins- oh, you did that too. Cats just really love attention…
Fab: I did not have to think long about which character I think is the biggest attention whore when Gideon is right there. The star of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is swagger incarnate. Just look at her on that cover. She needs to be the focus of every room that she walks into. Especially if she is supposed to be lying low. Subtlety is not one of her strengths. But that is part of why I am so damn in love with her.
Kat: He may groan about being called the Thorn of Camorr, but make no mistake, Locke Lamora loves to be the center of attention. From his elaborate disguises and public performances to his desire that his targets know who bested them, the protagonist of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series is a just bit of an attention whore. The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first book in this thrilling series centered around this lovable yet frustrating character and his merry band of trouble-makers.
Shredding things- A book with a destructive character
Soft furnishings. Wrapping paper. Your jeans. The loo roll. If a cat can shred it, a cat will shred it. One of my cats once got into a multi-pack of loo roll and pretty much redecorated the house. Some types are just inherently destructive…
Fab: Zetian in Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow is the female badass version of a suicide bomber. She joins a special ops division purely to get revenge for her sister’s death at the hands of a mecha pilot – and proceeds to kill him within a few chapters. She has no moral qualms, is out for revenge and her own survival is an afterthought. Neither she nor this book take any prisoners, and I knew within a few pages that I was in love. Read this as soon as you can.
Kat: Need someone murdered? Beat-up? Blown-up? Dani, a super-human vigilante, from Kit Rocha’s Mercenary Librarian series has got you covered. She’ll be the first person to offer up her destructive services and is downright excited at the prospect! In Deal with the Devil, she doesn’t understand why her team doesn’t think a rocket launcher or C-4 are appropriate items to pack for their quest. When things go south, she doesn’t hesitate to comment, “Now aren’t you sad I didn’t bring the C-4?”
Has never been fed, never – A series you can’t get enough of
Whether it’s the incessant yammering whenever in the kitchen, the attempts to trip you up and get their food quicker, or the naked theft from your plate, many cats give the impression of having never been fed before. But hey, we all know what it’s like to be insatiable, right…
Fab: I’m not the best at reading whole series. Because I tend to read books as they come out, I forget about series as I wait. But I’ve recently been obsessed with the Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan, starting with A Natural History of Dragons. I still haven’t quite forgiven my friends for letting me sleep on these books for so long. They’re smart, featuring a nerdy, ambitious female lead who is prickly and not always the most charming and sociable – someone who is a lot like me. I raced through the five books of the series this summer, mostly in audio book, and I highly recommend them.
Kat: I cannot get enough of Tessa Dare’s Girl Meets Duke series. There are so many things to love about this Victorian-era Historical Romance series, the least of which is the fact that the MMC in the first book, The Duchess Deal, swears in Shakespeare! Her wit, humor, and banter are thoroughly entertaining, but what I really can’t get enough of is the quirky band of eccentric women who attract and join forces with an equally unique group of misfit men. Oh, and did I mention the steam? Whew! I am not-so-patiently waiting for the next book!
Be so cute you forgive them anyway – A book with a wicked MC you like
This set of tags might make you think I hate cats, but I love my little hyperactive gremlins like few other beings. There’s many reasons for it, but one is they’re so bloody cute. Some characters definitely have that energy too…
Fab: Everyone’s got to have one problematic fave, and Mia Corvere from Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight series is mine. She is such a messed up character, but she is also a bisexual icon and she helped me figure out who I am. She would also fit into so many other categories in this tag – she is also both self- and outwardly destructive, the books in the series have kept me up late reading and they most definitely end on cliffhangers. They are also bloody and addictive. Yes, there are problematic aspects to the series, and I will not deny them (one of the characters is named after the Jewish word for God that is not supposed to be uttered, the name for the society infamous for blood sorcery is very close to a subset of the Jewish people and a society presented as barbarian in the books can be read as similar to the Aborigines/Maori people), so do approach these books with caution.
Kat: I have to admit that I shouldn’t like Ryder as much as I do, but what can I say – I’m a complete sucker for his over-the-top brand of wickedness. In Fighting Destiny, we are introduced to a deliciously sexy and wicked MMC who is clearly terrible for our female heroine on multiple levels. But as the book – and series – progressed, I found myself increasingly intrigued and rooting for this unlikely and oftentimes morally ambiguous MMC. Let’s be honest – his wickedness just made him even more hot!
‘Tis blog tour time again! The Wisdom of Crowds is the final book in Joe Abercrombie’s The Age of Madness series, an epic Grimdark trilogy featuring revolution, betrayal and politicking. I’ve reviewed book two, The Trouble With Peace here, and was part of the readalong for the series in the leadup to the publication for this last volume (you can find my chunk of book one, A Little Hatred, here). So I was of course thrilled when Gollancz asked me to be part of the propaganda machine for this final installment and see what Leo, Savine, Rikke and co were up to. And don’t the three hardbacks look great together?!
Many thanks to Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for the review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 14/09/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Some say that to change the world you must first burn it down. Now that belief will be tested in the crucible of revolution: the Breakers and Burners have seized the levers of power, the smoke of riots has replaced the smog of industry, and all must submit to the wisdom of crowds.
With nothing left to lose, Citizen Brock is determined to become a new hero for the new age, while Citizeness Savine must turn her talents from profit to survival before she can claw her way to redemption. Orso will find that when the world is turned upside down, no one is lower than a monarch. And in the bloody North, Rikke and her fragile Protectorate are running out of allies… while Black Calder gathers his forces and plots his vengeance.
The banks have fallen, the sun of the Union has been torn down, and in the darkness behind the scenes, the threads of the Weaver’s ruthless plan are slowly being drawn together… (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: Whelp, that was ending to a series, yes. I don’t think I’ve read a full series quite as grim as this one in a while! I’m actually surprised at the amount of characters that ended up making it to the finish line mostly intact, bodily or in regards to their dignity. I loved the amount of focus the book laid on Savine – she is my favourite bitch – such a complex character and one who gives zero fucks for what anyone else might want. She is ambitious and determined and will make this work her way. Just like the first two books, expect The Wisdom of Crowds to be fast-paced, action-packed and full of betrayal. The story definitely does not take any prisoners and will not go where you expect it to head.
Consider this setting as similar to the eighteenth century. So still quite rustic in many ways – there are first instances of large-scale technology but still wars are fought largely by men running at each other with swords. Communication is slow, which means machinations need to be carefully planned and betrayal lays rife. And of course the setting is ideal for the spark of revolution to catch on quickly. This is really the big arc of these books. The seed of revolution to the aftermath. And all the steps in between, all the different layers of society affected by the changes brought about, the ones driving change, the ones swept up in it and the ones who suffer when people more important than them decide to change things.
Joe Abercrombie does really well to zoom in and out of focus in his work – he doesn’t just show the perspective of one or two characters or one layer of society. Where his work really stands out is in sweeping scenes showing the impact of larger events on a whole city, a whole camp. This gives the story a really plastic character beyond just the machinations of a few elite members of society, which I really appreciate. The Wisdom of Crowds is a very good conclusion to the series set up in A Little Hatred and The Trouble With Peace. If you’re not opposed to Grimdark and you like your fantasy on the grittier end of things, I do recommend you give this trilogy a shot.
And it is time for a monthly hype post again! Notable mentions should go to Sistersong by Lucy Holland, which still stands at my favourite book of the year and which is finally being released in the US this month (it has been out in the UK since April). See my review for it over at Grimdark Magazine here. The other book that I reviewed a while ago and am still very excited about it finally being available to you all is The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta. See my review for this delightful YA novel here. I’m also delighted that Anna has decided to join me this month by shouting about a book that I’m also very excited about.
Anna: There’s a post doing the rounds on social media about revising fairytales: how, effectively, arguing that Goldilocks would have just been eaten by the three bears misses the point of the genre altogether; how, instead, we can celebrate the ingenuity and magic of familiar characters adapted to modern society. And that’s something I’m really hoping to see in A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow, out on October 5th.
It’s a reimagining of the Sleeping Beauty story, focusing on Zinnia, whose mysterious health condition dictates she won’t live past twenty one. But, when she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel on her birthday in imitation of the familiar fairytale, she finds herself plunged into strange worlds and meeting unexpected allies. This will be my first encounter with Harrow’s work (I know, I know, I’m woefully behind!), but I am really glad it is this one and can’t wait to get a hold of it.
Fab: Rick Riordan is probably the most influential Middle Grade author writing today – and he is brilliant. I loved his Percy Jackson Universe and I can’t wait to see what he does with Daughter of the Deep, released on both sides of the Atlantic on the 5th of October. This is a standalone take on Jules Verne’s 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, starring Ana, a high school freshman at a school that specialises in all things aquatic. As per usual with Uncle Rick’s work, she gets tangled up in a grand adventure, as she finds out more about her family and circumstances. I love both MG and his writing, so this is very high up on my list for books I desperately need and I know it’ll be brilliant. Order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: It is no secret that I am a huge V.E. Schwab fangirl. So I’m very excited to finally get to read Extraordinary. This is a graphic novel based on the world created in the Villains series of novels, but featuring new characters and standing on its own. The story revolves around Charlotte Tills, who following a fatal bus crash, seemingly dies only to wake up to discover she has become an EO — a person with ExtraOrdinary abilities. In Charlotte’s case, it’s the ability to see people’s deaths, but when she looks into her own future, sees her own murder at the hands of the self-proclaimed hero and notorious EO killer Eli Ever, who is currently in prison for the murder of Victor Vale. Refusing to accept her fate, Charlotte sets off to find – and change – her futurebefore it comes for her. Victor and Eli are fantastic characters and this story set between Schwab’s Vicious nad Vengeful sounds amazing, and I look foward to diving back into the world. Pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link) – they even have signed copies!
Fab: The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl is out on the 26th from Sourcebooks Fire. Fitting well into my current dark academia obsession – the story is set in a boarding school – as well as incorporating reimagined fairy-tale heroines, this is a can’t-miss book for me. Ella, Yuki and Rory are the talk of school gossip at Grimrose Académie after the death of their friend. While it has been ruled a suicide, they are convinced that there is more to the story – and discover that they are cursed to repeat the doomed endings of their stories until they find a way to break the cycle. This sounds like such a fun, escapist story right up my alley, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. It’s also supposed to be queer, which makes it all the more delicious. Pre-order a copy from Blackwell’s here.
Fab: Midnight in Everwood is M. A. Kuzniar’s adult debut. I’ve loved her Middle Grade The Ship of Shadows, so I was always going to be intrigued by her adult writing. Make it a reworking of the fairy-tale of the Nutcracker and basically a magic ballet novel and give it a cover this pretty and you have me hooked. Set in winter in Edwardian society, the heroine of this story is Marietta, a girl who loves ballet, but is at a point where she will have to give it up to take her place in life. But a magical stage setting transports her into an enchanted forest full of danger, treachery and glamour and she has to keep all her wits together if she is to escape. It sounds like a perfect wintery read as we are going into the colder seasons – I’ve got it on pre-order and can’t wait to curl up with the book and a hot chocolate. Out on the 28th, you can pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
In general, I’m not the biggest fan of science fiction. But the wonderful Caroline over at Angry Robot tempted me to read this duology by telling me that it is not only written by an autistic author but features an autistic main character. As I am of the firm opinion that we need more neurodivergent leads in fiction, I could not resist and dove in head first – and I was not disappointed!
Many thanks to Angry Robot for sending me review copies of these books. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 11/06/2019 (The Outside) / 13/07/2021 (The Fallen)
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
THE OUTSIDE: Autistic scientist Yasira Shien has developed a radical new energy drive that could change the future of humanity. But when she activates it, reality warps, destroying the space station and everyone aboard. The AI Gods who rule the galaxy declare her work heretical, and Yasira is abducted by their agents. Instead of simply executing her, they offer mercy – if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor. With her homeworld’s fate in the balance, Yasira must choose who to trust: the gods and their ruthless post-human angels, or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics could turn her world inside out.
THE FALLEN: The laws of physics acting on the planet of Jai have been forever upended; its surface completely altered, and its inhabitants permanently changed, causing chaos. Fearing heresy, the artificially intelligent Gods that once ruled the galaxy became the planet’s jailers.
Tiv Hunt, who once trusted these Gods completely, spends her days helping the last remaining survivors of Jai. Everyone is fighting for their freedom and they call out for drastic action from their saviour, Tiv’s girlfriend Yasira. But Yasira has become deeply ill, debilitated by her Outside exposure, and is barely able to breathe, let alone lead a revolution.
Hunted by the Gods and Akavi, the disgraced angel, Yasira and Tiv must delve further than ever before into the maddening mysteries of their fractured planet in order to save – or perhaps even destroy – their fading world. (both from Angry Robot)
OPINIONS: So, as mentioned above, the best thing about these books is that they are written by an autistic author and feature an autistic lead. Pure catnip for me. And she is so well-written. Yasira isn’t a caricature or a broken person – she is a scientist who faces an added set of challenges due to her disability. It’s brilliant that she is not only the lead in the series, but she is given a romantic storyline with her girlfriend Tiv, showing that autistic people aren’t incapable of love as it is often (VERY WRONGLY) said.
This is packaged in a thrilling story of angels, so-called Gods and survival in space. The books are compelling and keep you up late reading as the characters undergo trials and struggles, and face betrayals from unexpected places. The duology mixes fun space opera with smart science fiction, and blends them to create something unique that really stands out. In the richly-built world, the humans have engineered their own overlords through AI gone wrong, and Yasira and her team have to work to retain their independence and survive.
Fast-paced, queer, diverse and unique, what more could you want from books – and The Outside and The Fallen have convinced even me, the most reluctant science fiction reader, to be more open to reading far more of the genre (and I am reading quite a few at the moment and have since I read those!). Definitely recommend checking these books out if they sound even the slightest bit interesting to you.
In this special edition of Monday Minis, I’ll be sharing thoughts on a few upcoming Historical Romance releases that I thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend to any lover of the genre! I received eARCs of all three of these books from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
Duke Gone Rogue is the first book I’ve read by Christy Carlyle, and with this one book, she has immediately ascended to the top of my favorite Historical Romance authors list. To escape his reputation as a heartless curmudgeon in late Victorian-era London, the Duke of Ashmore takes a much needed vacation in Cornwall where he is forced to come face-to-face with his father’s debauched past manifest in the pleasure estate he must now occupy. Maddie Ravenwood is a pillar of the Haven’s Cove community and must convince the unrelenting Duke of Ashmore to repair the eyesore of a property that he just wants to forget. Intentions quickly shift as the two start to develop an easy rapport that blossoms into something more. I happily give this book my highest of recommendations. I think it’s an excellent example of a mature, well-developed Romance that doesn’t rely on sex to build intensity or chemistry. There was no “pining and whining,” and from the beginning, Maddie doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind or articulate what she wants, not only in her life, but also from her love interest. How satisfying to read a FMC that flat out says: “I want you” and “Please touch me.” More of this in Romance please! The prose is solid, the characterization near perfection, and there is no contrived side-plot used to drive the story. This book is about Will and Maddie and how their lives are enriched through knowing each other and falling in love. I will definitely be reading on in this series and look forward to more from this author!
The second book in The Fifth Avenue Rebels series, The Lady Gets Lucky follows the relationship of wallflower Alice Lusk and rakish scoundrel Christopher “Kit” Ward as they navigate high society during the Gilded Age in Newport, New York, and Boston. At a house party in Newport, Alice decides to take her life into her own hands by asking Kit, a man purported to turn even the shiest of women into a vixen, to give her lessons on men so that she can find a husband and escape her overbearing mother. But as the lessons progress and they get to know one another, an unexpected relationship begins to develop, and they are forced to examine themselves, the emotional scars of their pasts, and each other to chart a path forward in their lives. This book is only the second I have read by Joanna Shupe. I was so enamored of My Dirty Duke, I wanted to get a sense of her writing in a full-length novel, and I was not disappointed. The relationship is slow-burn, taking the entirety of the book to develop, which makes the HEA that much more satisfying and authentic. But the highlight of this book is Shupe’s characterization. All the characters are lovable, not just Alice and Kit! The supporting cast (the unlucky Duke Lockwood and the naughty, but strong Nellie Young) piqued my interest, and I’m eager to read on, hopeful to see their stories develop in the broader context of the series.
Eva Leigh’s The Good Girl’s Guide to Rakes is the first book of her new Last Chance Scoundrels series set in Regency-era London. Kieran and Finn’s parents are furious after the two rakish brothers help their best friend Dom leave their sister at the altar. Oops! They won’t see a penny of their parent’s money unless all three are married to respectable women. Kieran takes the challenge head-on and asks Dom’s sister Celeste to introduce him to proper society. But Celeste is sick of proper society. She’ll help Kieran, but only on the condition that he return the favor and show her the scandalous side of London. Throughout both their tame daytime excursions and their clandestine nighttime outings, the two find they are far more similar than outward appearances and reputations would have led either to believe. Their partnership turns into a steamy love affair that will have you frantically turning the page for more! For me, this book was entirely a pleasure read. I enjoyed the characters and found them engaging. The chemistry between Kieran and Celeste was intense and their encounters wonderfully steamy. Kieran’s dabbling in poetry was a delightfully unexpected, and well-executed, addition. The premise was a bit contrived and unlikely for my taste, but the book was so fun that it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment. I will definitely read on in the series – I cannot wait to find out what happens with Finn and Dom!
It is rare that a book is as purely delightful as Campaigns & Companions by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, edited by Alex de Campi and illustrated by Calum Alexander Watt. A short, highly illustrated book which imagines what would happen if pets were facing some of the more stereotypical situations Dungeons & Dragon players find themselves in on a regular basis.
I also loved the amazing influencer box that the book came with – made me feel all fancy (yes, this is the first time I ever received something like this, Hanna at Rebellion is truly the best). So huge thanks to Rebellion for the review copy, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 16/09/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
What if your pets could play D&D? And what if they were… kind of jerks about it?
If there are two things all geeks love, it’s roleplaying games, and their pets. So why not fuse the two? It’s time to grab your dice, dust off that character sheet, and let your cat or dog (or guinea pig, or iguana, or budgie) accompany you on an epic adventure!
It’ll be great!
…unless your pets are jerks.
OPINIONS: I think this might be my favourite parcel I’ve ever received from a publisher. This is the kind of book that is basically like a cup of tea (ideally drunk out of the amazing cat-in-a-box promotional mug) – it cheers you up and makes everything better. If you’re one of those lucky bastards who has a bathroom that doesn’t get damp, this makes for the perfect bathroom book, one that visitors to your outhouse can pick up and flicker through at leisure while there, as each double-page spread features a new situation with brilliant accompanying illustration. And I’m saying this not because this is a book that needs to be relegated where the sun doesn’t shine, but because – at least in the circles I move in – it is a popular place to keep books that people should see and where more readers will see the brilliance!
This is the kind of book that could easily have been terrible. But the execution of the concept of having pets playing D&D is as brilliant as the idea itself. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it is clear that the authors know their way around roleplaying and have put a lot of thought into the little vingnettes and the illustrations enhance the text really well. Just like real players, the pets in the book put character before player logic in many situations – which of course leads to hilarity. As an avid D&D player and DM I feel that – I have done and seen many dumb things that I knew were dumb when I did them, but made complete sense for the character and their perspective. So if that necromancer cat keeps reanimating the dead mouse to catch it again, or the dog tries to get through the door with a stick in his snout… that does make sense to them.
So tl:dr – you need this book. ASAP. Whether you’re a grown-up who likes D&D or you have kids you want to entertain or anything in between. This will make you giggle out loud. Add it to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Amy Jeffs’ Storyland recreates a history of stories, building a culture through a shared mythology of Britain at the edge of the world. 24 stories, all illustrated with linocuts and using various medieval sources to tell these foundational stories of Britain. This is a wonderful treasury of legends, and as the lovely publicists at riverrun sent us a sampler of the first four stories in the book, Anna and I (Fabienne) decided to use our medievalist backgrounds to give you something of a first impression reading of each of the stories.
This is Anna‘s verdict of the sampler: A stylish and evocative collection. The style is flowing and refined, painting in evocative strokes the emergence of Britain. Alongside such excellent retellings of British myth and folklore as The History Press’ Folk Tales series, Jeffs’ collection reinvigorates tales of old for a modern audience. And that’s a lengthy way of saying that I really enjoyed it.
And Fabienne‘s verdict is that she desperately needs to get her hands on a full copy of the book – it is a wonderful treasury of stories, both for readers with a general interest and for those with a particular medievalist focus. It is a beautiful edition, and thought-provoking both through its illustrations and commentary. A real gem.
1 – The Giant’s Dance
These giants came from Africa, before the Biblical flood. They wandered North, carrying stones and eventually built a temple, until they were washed away by the flood.
Fabienne: This story talks of giants carrying stones, wandering, of finding a new home and creating a potential legend for Stonehenge. I love how Jeffs name checks so many medieval writers and their opinions on the topic in her commentary on the story. It also shows how the origins of Britain are diverse down to the very beginnings.
Anna: Storyland reads like a response to Tolkien’s plea for a ‘mythology for England,’ with the exception, of course, of being for more than just England. And there is something powerfully Tolkienesque about the Giants’ journey from the scorching climes of Africa to the mist-bound islands of Britain. This first story in the anthology brings up the very bones of the land, and names them.
The explanatory notes that accompany each tale offer a deeper understanding into how these stories arose and for what purpose they were used throughout history.
2 – The Naming of Albion
Around the time of the flood, the Syrian king was blessed with many daughters. The eldest of these was called Albina. However, his daughters conspired to kill all of their husbands. The youngest told on them, and her sisters were exiled to life at sea. They eventually landed in a new land, and had children with devils, who became the giants of Albion.
Fabienne: And once again, Britain is presented as a country of immigrants. I love how much the founding legends emphasize that. Though not a fan of the monstrous portrayal of women… Even if it is a stock trope that was repeated again and again in medieval literature, sadly.
Anna: As a former student of Medieval literature, I thoroughly enjoyed Jeffs expanding upon ‘the stock … character of the female Saracen’ as a convention in medieval romance and commenting on how the reading of the Syrian Albina and her sisters has changed over time. Although this is a mythology of Britain, Jeff makes sure to situate it on a global stage.
3 – Brutus Founds Britain
The giant Gomagog rules over the island of Britain. The Trojan Brutus is prophesied to build a ‘new Troy’ in Britain by Diana, an analogue to Aeneas for the British. So he travels to the island, fights Gomagog, defeats the giants, founds London and lends his name to Britain.
Fabienne: I love this story – it’s so weird and wonderful. Gerald of Wales has a version of it in his Irish works which he uses to give the British claim over Ireland as well, which is slightly insane, but that is medieval writing for you. I also really like that this version includes Diana – and I agree with Anna, this illustration is simply gorgeous! No wonder they chose this one for the cover of the book as well. Honestly, this story has so much that one could dive into – just like this whole book!
Anna: This one contains my favourite illustration out of the ones I’ve seen so far – the goddess Diana manifesting to Brutus, her figure pushing at the confines of the frame, tendrils of smoke or hair or grasses spilling across the double page spread. She is without her typical attributes of bow, deer, or crescent moon, but that, in my opinion, makes her more powerful, more universal.
Diana, or maybe a sense of the numinous she embodies, presides over the rest of this section, casting even the mightiest of human heroes into perspective as very small actors in a very big world.
4 – Scota, First Queen of Scots
In around 1500 B.C. there was a Greek prince Gaytheles who married an Egyptian princess Scota. Together they travelled to Spain, where they built the city Brigantia. But the nomads were still unhappy, so they kept searching for their happy place and went into the Atlantic, ultimately settling in Ireland with their sons Hyber and Hymer as Gaytheles died.
Fabienne: It’s interesting how this story is so different from Gerald of Wales’ account of the same – he uses it to show how the English should have supremacy over Ireland, whereas this account is more concerned with sovereignty and national identity. It is a great example to show how medieval tales were just as concerned with propaganda and establishing the correct view of the past in order to further political aims as modern media is, which is often overlooked. Goes to show that studying the past really is very relevant to the present.
Anna: This tale, out of the four so far, deals most closely with nationhood and national identity. Weaving it together with a Christian perception of the world, the tale has been used as an argument for Scottish sovereignty. It also makes easy to remember the commonly overlooked fact that the Scots were originally from Ireland.
The minimalistic illustrations that are not bound by a particular time period and do not crowd the page with anachronisms remind us how pertinent some of the issues of the tales.
This is something quite different from my usual review fare. I had to ask myself, ‘almost 1000 pages. Are you sure?’ and just like that I knew I’d relish the challenge. And I was not disappointed!
Many thanks to Black Crow PR for the review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 20/08/2020 (HB) / 19/08/2021 (PB)
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: At Jodrell Bank a mysterious signal of extraterrestrial origin has been detected. Artificial intelligence expert Jack Fenwick thinks he can decode it. But when he and his associates at Hoxton tech startup Intelligencia find a way to step into the alien realm the signal encodes, they discover that it’s already occupied – by ghostly entities that may come from our own past. Have these ‘DMEn’ (Digital Memetic Entities) been created by persons unknown for just such an eventuality? Are they our first line of defence in a coming war, not for territory, but for our minds? XX presents a compelling vision of humanity’s unique place in the universe, and of what might happen in the wake of the biggest scientific discovery in human history. As compelling as it is visually striking, Rian Hughes’ first novel incorporates NASA transcripts, newspaper and magazine articles, fictitious Wikipedia pages, undeciphered alphabets, and ‘Ascension’, a forgotten novelette by 1960s counterculture guru Herschel Teague that mysteriously foreshadows events. The battle for your mind has already begun. (from Pan Macmillan)
OPINIONS: Weighing in at just under 1.2 kg, this book is not one to approach lightly. And not just because it’s a doorstop of a volume. Like it’s subject matter – a mysterious signal from space – it is an artefact, a palimpsest of words, fonts, and layouts. The narrative follows Jack Fenwick, who describes himself as being on the autistic spectrum and having ‘a propensity for spotting patterns, repetitions, a knack for seeing through large volumes of raw data to the underlying equations.’ The book itself seems to be a glimpse into his world: a place of signs and archived web-pages worth any conspiracy buff’s cork board. A topography of the mind.
Rian Hughes’ XX is unlike anything I have ever read. Even the word ‘reading’ doesn’t seem to fully encompass what passed between me and this book. It has such a presence in the room! It is part concrete poetry, part algorithm, raising the ever-present questions: where does consciousness arise? and what forms can it take?
I certainly did not find it a light read (in both senses of the word), but a very stimulating one. It tackles the possibility of consciousness that is profoundly inhuman in a compelling a varied way. And I hesitate to even comment on the storyline’s development, because, like the signs that permeate the book, it feels open to interpretation. If you feel inclined to tackle the big questions – this one’s a must!
Unravel The Dusk by Elizabeth Lim is the follow-up to Spin the Dawn, a whimsical Asian-inspired fantasy in which Maia pretends to be her brother to take part in a competition to find the next imperial tailor. With the help of magical scissors she sets out on an adventure that ends up much greater than expected. This sequel has the odd position of following up on a book that I kind of thought should have been a standalone. So, it feels like certain themes seemed to repeat themselves, the plot was sometimes a bit meandering but it was still very enjoyable. It is a compulsively readable series, and while book one was rightly called out for ableism (Maia’s brother has a limp, which she fakes for much of the book) this is something that is not present in this sequel, which I really appreciated. I also really liked the coherent world-building with references to the in-universe story of Six Crimson Cranes, which the author recently released as a standalone fairy-tale. All in all, this is a sweet YA fantasy, great for bingeing and a cosy night in now that it’s getting colder.
Alpha Night by Nalini Singh has been lying around on my partially read pile for far too long. It probably wasn’t the wisest move to try and dive into the middle of a series without being caught up on what happened beforehand (entirely mea culpa) but back then I thought, oh, a paranormal romance will be a fun enough read. But how wrong I was. I did enjoy the beginning when I started it many moons ago, and didn’t feel as overwhelmed as one might think reading a book out of sequence, until I put it aside once the romance parts started happening. Because oh boy, did that transport me back a decade in the development of female-orientated fantasy. Not remembering that that was why I put the book aside a while ago, I recently picked it back up to finally finish, but had to decide to DNF – going from unrelated conversation to rough sex within two sentences is just not my jam. I prefer my romantic scenes to be slow-burn with tangible buildup, and not banging for the sake of banging. I think this might also have to do with the shifter dynamics inherent in Singh’s work (as the lovely Kat explained to me, who is much more well-versed where it comes to romance), so, not a book for me, unfortunately.
Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone is so damn compulsively readable. I just wanted to dip in for a bit, and oops, the book is done. It coasts by on a dark, gothic atmosphere, and gives me such Hades and Persephone vibes – though Violeta, the main character seems to be more interested in the local broody boy than in the powerful death deity she deals with. While this is more of a gothic fantasy, this has hit the spot of my dark academia craving as it kind of matches the aestethic and vibes of those books and I’m now already longing for the sequel. It isn’t the most inventive story or has the most unique characters, but it is incredibly compelling and the combination of all these individual elements turn it into something special. If you’re into YA fantasy, and like your books dark and gloomy, this is definitely one to put on the TBR. A very very solid 4* read for me – and one I’ll probably be rereading soon.