• March Hype Post!

    This one is a bit late this month, but hey, it’s still February so it counts! There are tons of books that are being released in the next few weeks (also have a look at the books for March in my 2021 overview!)

    One book that’s on that list nevertheless deserves mention here: The Second Bell by Gabriela Houston will be released by Angry Robot on the 9th of March. I got to read this early, and I absolutely loved it. It is a story of belonging, wrapped up in a Slavic-inspired fairytale. See my review on Grimdark Magazine! In terms of books that I’ve already reviewed on here, I’d like to point out Skyward Inn by Aliya Whitely, out from Rebellion on the 16th (review here) – I liked this so much that you can find a quote from my review in the finished copy. I also loved One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky, a funky novella about timetravel featuring a pet dinosaur (review here). This is from Rebellion too and out on the 2nd.

    The Unbroken by C.L. Clark is out on the 23rd of March from Orbit. This is the story of a soldier and a princess, both fighting for the good of the people they each care about. It’s messy, both Touraine (the soldier) and Luca (the princess) are idiots but I love them. I’m two thirds of the way through, and I’m hoping to finish this over the next few days. The story also addresses colonialism and the day to day impact it has on society. It is set in a pseudo-North African setting, and Luca represents the colonial force. So far, this is a great book, though not an easy one. Also, please admire the amazing Tommy Arnold cover art! Order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The Councillor by E.J. Beaton will be out on the 2nd from DAW. This wasn’t on my radar for the longest time, but I’ve had quite a few people rave about it. It’s a Machiavellian fantasy, with lots of scheming, plotting and politics. So just my cup of tea. Funnily enough, this too features a royal Luca, although this time a prince. It also features a scholar MC and is set in a queer-norm world, so it sounds wonderful. Get a copy of this via Blackwell’s here.

    Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes is also out on the 2nd, from Tor.com. The copy for this says that it ‘crosses borders and genres with stories of fierce women at the margins of society burning their way toward the center.’ It is a collection of stories around women forging their paths against society’s expectations. And as we all know that I’m an angry, rebellious feminist, this sounds like the best thing ever. Pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards 2021

    This is a bit of a special post. I’m very very excited to be part of the judging team for the Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards for 2021. These are blogger awards, focused on speculative fiction. This is the fourth year running – see this announcement of 2020’s winners here. This year’s judging team is consisting of Anna (@Imyril/There is always room for one more), Adri (@adrijjy/Nerds of a Feather), Arina (@voyagerarina/The Bookwyrm’s Guide to the Galaxy), Jonny (@SFFjonbob/Parsecs & Parchment), Kris (@hammard_1987/Cloaked Creators), L.A. (Aquavenatus), Lisa (@deargeekplace/Dear Geek Place), Womble (@runalongwomble/Runalongtheshelves), Noria (@noriathereader/Chronicles of Noria), Sean (@DowieSean/Nerds of a Feather) and Sun (@suncani1). They’re all wonderful people and bloggers, and I highly recommend you check them all out!

    But now, WE HAVE NOMINEES. This is not a false alert, we have actually decided on a fantastic roster of nominees for our various categories. As I am a glutton for punishment, I’ll be judging in all of them except for Sci-Fi. But luckily I have a while to read/reread all of these wonderful books. If there’s a link, it means I have reviewed the book before, and you can click to read it!

    BEST FANTASY

    BEST SCIENCE FICTION

    BEST BLURRED BOUNDARIES

    BEST DEBUT

    BEST NOVELLA

    BEST SERIES

    BEST SHORT FICTION

    • “Tiger Lawyer Gets It Right” by Sarah Gailey (from the Escape Pod anthology)
    • “Convergence in Chorus Architecture” by Dare Segun Falowo (from the Dominion anthology)
    • “In Kind” by Kayla Whaley (from the Vampires Never Get Old anthology)
    • “Volumes” by Laura Duerr (Cast of Wonders, online here)
    • “You Perfect, Broken Thing” by C.L. Clark (Uncanny Magazine, online here)
    • “Yellow and the Perception of Reality” by Maureen McHugh (Tor.com, online here)
    • “Juice Like Wounds” by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com, online here)

    And that’s all of them. Lots of reading to do, and I hope you’ll check out some of our choices!

  • The Mask of Mirrors – M. A. Carrick

    So, give me fancy dress fantasy and morally grey protagonists, and I’m a happy gal. But sadly The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick felt a lot like painting-by-numbers and did not manage to get me invested. A lot of my friends really love it though, so do have a look if you think it might be for you – I just recommend a sample first!

    Thank you to Orbit Books and NetGalley for the eARC, all opinions are my own as always.

    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶

    RELEASE DATE: 21/01/21

    SUMMARY: Fortune favors the bold. Magic favors the liars.

    Ren is a con artist who has come to the sparkling city of Nadezra with one goal: to trick her way into a noble house, securing her fortune and her sister’s future.

    But the deeper she is drawn into the aristocratic world of House Traementis, the more she realizes her masquerade is just one of many. And as corrupt nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the City of Dreams, the poisonous feuds of its wealthy and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled…with Ren at their heart. (from Orbit)

    OPINIONS: I’m going to preface this by saying that two thirds of my friends have REALLY loved this (such as Sara, whose review on the Fantasy Inn is here) and the remaining third have pointed out similar issues to the ones I had with the book. So I really recommend you check out a sample and have a look yourself if you’re tempted!

    Mask of Mirrors has everything that I like about a book. There’s stunning imaginery, fancy dresses, morally corrupt characters and no clear side of right or wrong. But nothing about it felt particularly new or innovative. For me personally, this was a fun read, but I kept craving more. While I enjoyed it, it did not pull me in on an emotional level, which I want books to do these days. It’s hard to find a systematic fault with the book, I think it just wasn’t the book for me.

    There has been a lot of vaguely Venetian-set fantasy, and to be honest, none of it has really hit my sweet spot. The setting of Mask of Mirrors and its concept is wonderful and deep, the characters are interesting. I particularly liked Tess and found Vargo very charming despite being a fantasy-cop. But I guessed the big twist quite a bit before it was released, which took away the magic for me. I struggled with the fact that Ren doesn’t figure out someone else’s secret identity due to their voice – she is a con artist, she is by definition perceptive, and this just broke immersion for me. But again, I think this is a ME thing and not a BOOK thing. I’m definitely curious to pick up the second one in the series and see how the story continues.

    Add Mask of Mirrors to Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Ruthless Women – Melanie Blake

    Today is my stop on the Midas PR Blog Tour for Melanie Blake’s Ruthless Women. This came out yesterday from Head of Zeus and according to the marketing copy it is “a glamorous revenge-filled thriller”. This of course made me curious and I was looking forward to delving into a fun and compelling story about the various women at the set of a soap opera. But while I always try to write positive reviews for blog tours, Ruthless Women sadly falls into some unforgivable traps – I am truly sorry to have to write a negative review.

    You can find the book on Goodreads here, and on Waterstones here.

    Thank you to Midas PR and Head of Zeus for the eARC. All opinions are my own.

    SUMMARY: On a beautiful private island off the coast of the UK, the cast and crew of glamorous TV show Falcon Bay are at breaking point.

    Ratings are falling, and their new boss is inventing ever more dramatic – and impossible – storylines to get Falcon Bay back into the number 1 slot.

    Director Farrah, lead actress Catherine and producer Amanda are the passionate, ambitious women holding the show together. With so much at stake, they will stop at nothing to stay in the jobs they love and on the island they call home.

    Can these women team up to bring down their rivals? Or will scandal, betrayal and ambition tear them apart? (from Head of Zeus)

    OPINIONS: So the first 75-80% of Ruthless Women are pretty decent. It is just what it says on the tin, fluffy, overly dramatic soap opera actors and producers and their petty problems with each other, relationships and the show. It is entertaining, if nothing special to write about. But around the eighty-percent mark of the book (and this will include potential spoilers), it all goes to hell. One of the women gets outed for being trans. And not only has she previously been introduced as a sort of villain, but her transness is used as a weapon against her. It is a punchline and blackmail material. And while that alone already had me in a rage while reading, the fact that she gets killed in the most ridiculous way at the end of the book and it is considered ‘just punishment’ by the remaining ruthless women in the book made it infinitely worse. This is 2021, and the queer community has been fighting for representation and recognition for DECADES at this point, and the ‘kill your gays’ trope has been well and truly called out. There is no reason to introduce a trans character only to twist their transness against them and then kill them shortly after. Especially in this case, where there simply needs to be some kind of secret to use against the woman in question, there are so many easier and less hurtful ways to plot the story. Have a damn lovechild or fake identity or something without hurting one of the most marginalised communities. And considering the current climate in the UK and the struggle against TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists), having a supposedly feminist book treat its only trans character in such a way is certainly a choice. There is enough shit in the world that we don’t need to pile more on to trans people (or any other marginalised group). I cannot possibly recommend this book considering the harm that it does, which supersedes any merit it might have.

  • Whisper Down The Lane – Clay McLeod Chapman

    So I read this a couple of weeks ago, but have been horrible at getting around to writing a review – looks like having a grown-up job in books affects my thinking about books outside of work!

    But yes, Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman. This is an adult horror novel about the power of rumours, set in a dual timeline between Richard as a teacher and his childhood, when he was still called Sean. It is disconcerting and addictive, and I definitely recommend it if it sounds like your cup of tea!

    Many thanks to Jamie-Lee Nardone and Stephen Haskins at Black Crow PR and Quirk Books for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own.

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    RELEASE DATE: 06/04/21

    SUMMARY: Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday—but Sean does . . .

    Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table . . . and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbor, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favorite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation—and Sean and his mother are left holding the match.

    Now, thirty years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies. (from Quirk Books)

    OPINIONS: This is an incredibly addictive psychological horror novel. Whisper Down the Lane uses the dual timeline to tell the story of what happened thirty years ago, while mirroring it in present day. The person at the heart of both storylines is the same, in one as a boy accusing his teacher of abuse, and in the other as a teacher being accused of similar things. It is disconcerting and uncomfortable at times – which for me is important in a horror novel.

    What I found most terrifying is the depiction of the child storyline, where you can see how adults projecting their fears affects Sean, and how things escalate because he is trying to tell them what they want to hear. This idea of rumours spreading and lives being ruined is something that is really scary to me. Social opinion really does ruin lives, and usually due to things that aren’t true, while the people who actually do despicable things end up scot-free.

    But then, the actions of Sean, the five-year-old start haunting Richard, adult teacher. The parallel stories mesh together really well, and the ending is very satisfying. It is unexpected and well done – I was worried that it would be something weird or unrealistic, so I was very pleasantly surprised. Added to that is that there is no clear-cut evil in the story. It shows all the perspectives and how someone acting in the way they believe is right and best and being thorougly misguided.

    If you think this might be up your alley, add it on Goodreads here, or pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Mini reviews!

    As I’ve been working a ton, I’m once again behind with writing reviews. So I decided to do another round of mini reviews – have a read and see if there’s something that appeals to you!

    I was extremely excited for The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox (Michael Joseph, February 2021). But sadly, the execution of the concept was just not for me. The story centres Taryn, a self-absorbed woman who has issues dealing with her sister’s murder. She hires a hitman to take out her killer and ends up being pulled into a supernatural threat. I found the characters superficial, and I was bored by the writing. As this promised to be a book about books, something that I usually adore, I was very frustrated throughout reading it, and would not recommend it. If you are interested, you can get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The Four Profound Weaves (Tachyon, 2020) by R.M. Lemberg is a wonderful novella set in the author’s acclaimed Birdverse. It has the air of a fairytale, with trans and queer characters at its centre. The story drew me in and made me cry multiple times as characters were able to just live their realities. The eponymous four profound weaves are magical ways in which the characters in this world are able to weave things (and themselves) from nature. But to vanquish an evil ruler, they have to learn how to weave from death… I really liked this novella, and I highly recommend it if you like lyrical, magical stories. Get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell (Bantam, 2021) reads a bit like a Terry Pratchett book transposed into a present-day setting. I loved the concept, but the execution did not work for me. The humour was too crude and there were a lot of discriminatory jokes. I feel like the setting of a newspaper focusing on the weird and supernatural could have offered itself to far better stories, but the characters frustrated me to no end and I couldn’t get over some of the comments that were made. Added to that was that the plot just tried to do everything, rather than focus on one direction and do it properly. I don’t recommend this one, but if you want to check it out yourself, you can get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link)

    Mexican Gothic (Jo Fletcher, 2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a much beloved book. It is set in early twentieth century Mexico, around Noemi, a headstrong young woman. Her cousin has recently gotten married, and sent them a letter that has the family worried. So Noemi goes to try and figure out what is going on in the remote estate of High Place. It’s a textbook Gothic novel, with mild horror elements and psychological tension. I can appreciate that it is a really good book, but I do have to say that it wasn’t for me. I found myself wandering off and not caring at all, and I think it’s just me not clicking with Moreno-Garcia’s writing. But if you’re curious, I do recommend taking a look! You can get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The City of a Thousand Faces by Walker Dryden (Orion, 2020) is based on the world created in the podcast Tumanbay. There are a lot of elements to recommend this story, but ultimately they did not come together in a satisfying way. I really enjoyed the setting, and some of the characters were really interesting. Still, I felt like the writing and the plot was too all over the place to hold my attention. While events happened, it did not feel like the individual characters were headed anywhere. The story happened to them, rather than the POV characters moving it forward. You can get a copy of this one from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • One Day All This Will Be Yours – Adrian Tchaikovsky

    So Rebellion sent me this quirky little novella earlier this week and 24 hours later, I had already read and loved it! I started writing this review a few days ago, and then got distracted, as usual. I had no idea what to expect with One Day All This Will Be Yours, but it exceeded any expectations that I might have had.

    Many thanks to Hanna Waigh and Rebellion for sending me a review copy! All opinions are my own.

    STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶

    RELEASE DATE: 02/03/21

    SUMMARY: Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.

    Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time.

    I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.

    Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again. (from Solaris)

    OPINIONS: I haven’t laughed as much reading a book than I did reading One Day All This Will Be Yours in ages. I loved every minute of reading it. It has all my favourite things, exotic pets, time travel and oddball characters. Like, there’s a dinosaur who eats people for his owner! The narrator is a narcissistic idiot, but I loved him so much. Need to protect. He’s the last human at the end of time, killing everyone who might have invented time travel themselves in order to prevent more mass casualties in war.

    Much of the book is the narrator trying to prevent a possible future he is confronted with. He is content with being the last human at the end of time and doesn’t want anything to threaten that status quo. But things don’t go quite how he planned… The book is amazingly funny and the best part is, there’s a dinosaur who eats Hitler at the end of time (this is as out of context in the book as it is here, so I don’t count it as a spoiler). I need more Adrian Tchaikovsky being comedic in my life and you do too.

    This might be a slim little novella, but it packs a punch and I highly recommend it. It reminds me of a less literary This Is How You Lose the Time War, though not queer. That’s the only way this could have been improved in my opinion, though the choices make a lot of sense in context. Add One Day All This Will Be Yours to your Goodreads list here, and pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Good Morning, Midnight – Lily Brooks-Dalton

    So Good Morning, Midnight was published a while ago, in 2016, but it’s been getting more traction again recently because the Netflix film Midnight Sky based on the book has just been released. I hadn’t heard of this before, so I’m very grateful to Kate Moreton and Weidenfeld & Nicholson for sending me a review copy to check out!

    STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶

    RELEASE DATE: originally 09/08/16, this edition 12/09/17

    SUMMARY: There is a particular beauty in silence, in being cut off from the world. Augustine, a brilliant, ageing scientist, is consumed by the stars. He has spent his entire life searching for the origins of time itself. He has now been left alone on a remote research base in the Arctic circle, all communication with the outside world broken down. But then he discovers a mysterious child, Iris, who must have hidden herself away when the last of his colleagues departed.

    Sully is a divorced mother. She is also an astronaut, currently aboard The Aether on a return flight from Jupiter. This is the culmination of her career, the very reason for all the sacrifices she has made – the daughter she left behind, the marriage she couldn’t save. When all communication goes silent, she is left wondering what she will be returning to.

    Marooned in the vast silence of space and the achingly beautiful sweep of the Arctic, both Augustine and Sully begin to understand their place in the world, and what gives their life meaning. For only in the silence can we find out who we truly are. (from W&N)

    OPINIONS: I really enjoyed this book, although it won’t be one of my standout favourites. Augustine is a fantastic anti-hero, a grouchy old man left to his own devices. Sully and her team of astronauts struggling to figure out why they have lost contact with Earth while in deep space are great too. Lily Brooks-Dalton manages to craft a host of multi-dimensional, flawed characters that play off each other wonderfully. Good Morning, Midnight is really a character driven novel.

    There isn’t a lot of plot other than to establish the setting. It is a slow book, focused on philosophical questions, which I enjoyed. The settings, both of which are based on isolation hit home these days where we are isolated in our homes. There are some coincidences in the book (especially one major one) that just seems incredibly convenient, which did frustrate me a bit. But I liked the relatively ambiguous ending a lot. You finish not knowing how the story will end, and I think it’s a great choice to end the book where it did.

    If you like bleak and thoughtful approaches to isolation and philosophical considerations about life and the world, I recommend you check out Good Morning, Midnight. Find it on Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • February Hype Post!

    Hello lovely readers! February is approaching fast and I’ve got my hopes up for it to be better than January. Many great books are being released – do have another look at my 2021 overview as I’m not going to talk about the same books here (find it HERE).

    First of all, the lovely C.L. Polk is releasing the final book in the Kingston Cycle. Soulstar is released on the 16th, and I am very much looking forward to reading it (though I haven’t read book two, Stormsong, yet). This is the story of Robin Thorpe, a character I fell in love with the first time I met her in Witchmark. I can’t wait to read more about this feisty young lady trying to become a doctor. If you like historical romantic fantasy, you definitely need to check these books out! Order it via Blackwell’s here.

    The second book on my list is A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel, which is also a Tor.com book. This is out on the 2nd. This is a sci-fi thriller, from the blurb: “A darkly satirical first contact thriller, as seen through the eyes of the women who make progress possible and the men who are determined to stop them…” It is about rocketry in the 1940s and it shows it from the perspective of Mia, whose family has been fighting to get to the stars for generations. It sounds fantastic and I want to get my hands on it ASAP. Order a copy from Blackwell’s here.

    Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age by Annalee Newitz is a non-fiction history book (so TOTALLY not my thing, nope). I love Annalee Newitz’s writing so I’m really keen to read some of their non-fiction. This book centres on some urban metropoles that have since been abandoned, and looks at the reasons behind their abandonment. I was about to put this on one of my lists last year, but then the release got pushed to this February – it’s out on the 2nd as well. Based on archaeology, this sounds really interesting and I’ll definitely order it soon. Get your own copy from Blackwell’s here.

  • Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses – Kristen O’Neal

    Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses intrigued me due to its approach to werewolves as a chronic illness and featuring disabled characters. However, while I loved the concept, I did not end up enjoying the book as much as I expected to. It’s an interesting format, but there were some issues too.

    Many thanks to Black Crow PR and Quirk for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own.

    STAR RATING: 2.5/5 ✶

    PUBLICATION DATE: 27/04/21

    SUMMARY: Priya worked hard to pursue her premed dreams at Stanford, but a diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease during her sophomore year sends her back to her loving but overbearing family in New Jersey—and leaves her wondering if she’ll ever be able to return to the way things were. Thankfully she has her online pen pal, Brigid, and the rest of the members of “oof ouch my bones,” a virtual support group that meets on Discord to crack jokes and vent about their own chronic illnesses.

    When Brigid suddenly goes offline, Priya does something out of character: she steals the family car and drives to Pennsylvania to check on Brigid. Priya isn’t sure what to expect, but it isn’t the horrifying creature that’s shut in the basement. With Brigid nowhere to be found, Priya begins to puzzle together an impossible but obvious truth: the creature might be a werewolf—and the werewolf might be Brigid. As Brigid’s unique condition worsens, their friendship will be deepened and challenged in unexpected ways, forcing them to reckon with their own ideas of what it means to be normal. (from Quirk Books)

    OPINIONS: So, the most important thing about Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses is the format. I didn’t realise this going in, but approximately half the book is written as conversations on a Discord server or text messages. Many characters only appear through such conversation and don’t physically interact with the MCs. It was an interesting approach, but for me personally it didn’t quite work. It made the story drag and sometimes hard to follow – reading other people’s inside jokes just isn’t very funny to me.

    The plot itself is pretty cool, looking at lycanthropy as a chronic condition that the person in question has to deal with and contextualising it within a support group for chronically ill people. But, the representation seems to be on a surface level. It’s hard to put my finger on it in terms of the illness narrative. While I don’t have Lyme disease, which the MC has to deal with, I am someone with chronic migraines and mental health issues, and a close friend of mine has EDS. Obviously there isn’t one right way to deal with such things, or a single way to discuss it, but to me, Lycanthropy and Chronic Illness reads like a story written by someone who has talked to some people who are disabled or have a chronic condition rather than one written by someone who is able to pull from personal experience.

    Added to that is the fact that Priya, the main character, is Indian-American, and her parents seem to be immigrants. However, this representation too doesn’t go past the surface. The family is presented as devoutly Christian, going to church every Sunday and putting a big emphasis on the religion. So far, so good. Christianity is a minority religion in India, so focusing on that seems surprising. The way it is discussed reminds me more of a white American approach, to be entirely honest. Throughout the book, there is little to place them culturally, apart from one reference where the mother speaks Tamil. But there are no endearments, no occasional words in Tamil or any discussion of food that is not western – the one instance food is truly talked about it’s pizza, and they refer to the pineapple controversy. While I am obviously not an expert on Indian-American culture, Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses reads to me as a book featuring a white girl with an Indian name. (Also a huge thank you to my anonymous Indian friend who patiently answered all my questions to help distill my thoughts!)

    These things heavily detracted from my enjoyment of the story. PoC authors continuously fight for representation and it seems a shame that this digs into that without doing a convincing job. Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses is an enjoyable, funny book, but also a deeply flawed one. I personally wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, as much as I hate writing that on here. If you are interested in checking it out for yourself, you can find it on Goodreads here, and order a copy from Waterstones here.