A tale of necromancy, vampires and shenanigans, reminiscent of Terry Pratchett writing for the modern woman, Alice James’ Grave Secrets is a delight of a paranormal romance. I’ve hyped this up so much that my partner’s mum has just taken the ARC off me to read herself, so I guess that speaks for itself!
Many thanks to Rebellion Publishing and Hanna Waigh for sending me an ARC and including me on this blog tour!
RELEASE DATE: 03/09/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She’d love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent. All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve. It’s all made rather more complicated by the fact that she’s the one raising all the zombies – oh, and she’s dating one of the vampires. It can’t be the best decision she’s ever made, but he’s so pretty. Really, what’s a girl meant to do? (from Solaris)
OPINIONS: Grave Secrets is one of the most hilarious books I have read in a long time. I was chuckling the whole time I was reading Toni’s story and at times even laughing out loud – my poor partner who was trying to write their dissertation at the same time! Toni is a wonderful heroine, flawed and complex, spunky and independent. She knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it, all the while being a kick-ass necromancer and adorkable at the same time.
Her menagerie of men is just as fun and exciting – there is a three-hundred year dead zombie named Bredon who loves to eat, the handsome vampire Oscar, dashing doctor Peter, who happens to be human, and what about the rakishly dangerous vampire Benedict Toni loves to hate? While this first volume of the story is quite clear on her loyalties, it leaves a lot of speculation for the future as Toni’s chemistry with all of these men is high and she might have to re-evaluate her options after everything that happens in Grave Secrets….
Grave Secrets is well-written, funny, sexy, and highly addictive – I need more as soon as I can get it. I cannot wait for the second volume of the Lavington Windsor Mysteries to be released so I can get my fix of this wonderful paranormal romance series and decide on which ship to stan. Add Grave Secrets on Goodreads and order a copy via Waterstones or your book dealer of choice!
As you have probably heard (because I’ve been telling everyone I’ve met), I co-founded a blog tour company, Phoenix Fire Tours a little while ago, and we are currently running our very first tour! Bright Raven Skies by Kristina Pérez was published on the 25th of August and is the conclusion to her Sweet Black Waves trilogy based on the legend of Tristan and Eseult, and centers the character of Branwen.
For the full tour schedule and links to all posts, check out the Phoenix Fire blog here! We are also running a giveaway for a finished copy of the book for a lucky winner with a US or UK shipping address: CLICK HERE TO ENTER
I loved this third installment just as much as the first two – the same wonderfully complex characters, unashamed bodily autonomy and determination that make the series such a treat dominate Bright Raven Skies as well. It is thrilling, fast-paced and will keep the reader enthralled from start to finish. Full of twists that you don’t see coming, Branwen will have to choose between her light and dark sides once and for all in this satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
Now, I said I would be writing about the food featured in this book today. I think that came up more often in the earlier volumes, as I paid full attention this time and there were barely any instances of meals that the characters eat! I was hoping for a nice feast that I could choose something from to recreate and treat you all to a recipe for – I love medieval cookery, which is full of the combination of sweet and savoury, with dishes like meat pies spiced with honey and raisins.
The main thing that Branwen and Essie consume in Bright Raven Skies is not food, but rather drink: Blackberry Wine. This sweet concoction is their drink of choice throughout their stay in Kernyv. I wish I was able to recreate this myself, but I don’t trust myself to brew alcohol (yet) – though I do have some friends back in Switzerland who know how to brew mead! I do imagine this Blackberry Wine as a sort of mead cut with blackberry juice, low in alcoholic percentage, sweet and utterly drinkable. I’m not sure how available these things are here in the UK, but in Switzerland where I grew up, me and my friends actually drank mead laced with cherry juice as our beverage of choice growing up, so I feel quite nostalgic about the idea of Blackberry Wine.
I don’t want to encourage anyone to drink, but if you do drink and have the chance to pick up something along those lines at a medieval fair or a castle or somewhere similar, I do recommend it!
My summer of medieval retellings has led me to reading lots of Arthuriana and a fair bit of Robin Hood-inspired stories, but surprisingly little about Joan of Arc. So I was very keen to give Jaime Lee Moyer’s Divine Heretic a go, especially given that her Brightfall, a Robin Hood retelling crossed with the Fae, was one of my favourite takes on that source material.
Many thanks to Jo Fletcher Books and Netgalley for providing me with an eARC of Divine Heretic in exchange for an honest review.
—– Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault —–
RELEASE DATE: 20/08/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Jeanne d’Arc was only five when three angels and saints first came to her. Shrouded by a halo of heavenly light, she believed their claim to be holy. The Archangel Michael and Saint Margaret told her she was the foretold Warrior Maid of Lorraine, fated to free France and put a king upon his throne.
Saint Catherine made her promise to obey their commands and embrace her destiny; the three saints would guide her every step. Jeanne bound herself to these creatures without knowing what she’d done. As she got older, Jeanne grew to mistrust and fear the voices, and they didn’t hesitate to punish her cruelly for disobedience. She quickly learned that their cherished prophecy was more important than the girl expected to make it come true.
Jeanne is only a shepherd’s daughter, not the Warrior Maid of the prophecy, but she is stubborn and rebellious, and finds ways to avoid doing – and being – what these creatures want. Resistance has a terrifying price, but Jeanne is determined to fight for the life she wants.
But when the cost grows too high, Jeanne will risk everything to save her brother, her one true friend and the man she loves. (from Jo Fletcher Books)
OPINIONS: This is Joan of Arc as you have not read her before. A girl with a mind of her own, agency, and doubting the voices in her head as she lives her life. Full of surprising twists and subversion of the legend as it is traditionally told, Jaime Lee Moyer manages to make the story truly her own with Divine Heretic. You might think you know the plot, but trust me, this is a different story, using characters and elements, but weaving it into a new tapestry worth discovering for itself.
Jeanne is a nuanced character, full of life in a well-crafted world. Ethan, Pierre and Sarah, the other main characters are just as interesting and it is refreshing that religion is only important in the more abstract sense. Yes, Jeanne hears voices, but she is not a zealot. And that is probably the most important thing to know going into Divine Heretic. It is not a novel about a religious warrior. It is a book about a young woman figuring out who she is and what her place in the world and the war going on is. She just happens to hear voices, and these voices claim to be saints and an archangel.
Libri Draconis wouldn’t be a very good bookish dragon site if it didn’t talk about dragon books every once in a while. And Brian Naslund’s series starting with Blood of an Exile, and continuing with the recently released Sorcery of a Queen are excellent dragon books. And if you look closely, it even features a quote from my colleagues at Grimdark Magazine endorsing it, so another reason to pick up the books!
Many thanks to Jamie-Lee Nardone and Stephen Haskins for sending me a copy of Sorcery of a Queen in exchange for a honest review!
RELEASE DATE: 06/08/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: The dragonslayer Bershad and Queen Ashlyn are facing the greatest challenge of their lives.
Branded the Witch Queen and driven from her kingdom, Ashlyn flees to her mother’s people. Yet she won’t be beaten, resolving to master magical feats long thought impossible. But this could have unforeseen consequences. Meanwhile, Bershad has learnt why he seems invincible – and that he’s living on borrowed time. However, he remains determined to help Ashlyn regain her throne.
They will face a foreign emperor, commanding an army equipped with terrifying new weaponry. This aggressor will do anything to crush Ashlyn’s land, and claim its prized dragons. So to save her kingdom, both queen and dragonslayer must attempt the impossible to prevail. (from UK Tor)
OPINIONS: To me, the central conflict in Sorcery of a Queen is between the factions of Ashlyn and Kira, two sisters at war with each other, which is pretty refreshing for epic Grimdark fantasy. Neither is exactly morally good, or very queenly, but both are ambitious, complex and power-hungry, which makes for very interesting reading material. One of my favourite aspects of the series is the way sorcery is set up, as a sort of learned alchemy that is not inherent but rather macabre in itself and attained through experimentation and study.
The dragons are more set dressing that characters themselves, as the series is more concerned with the concept of dragons existing in the world and the implication that has for the story at large than the impact of individual dragons. Bershad, another of the main characters, is a famous dragonslayer, sorcery is partially based on dragon’s body parts and ingredients found in their lairs and Kira’s airships are built out of dragon’s carcasses.
The story itself is well-written and compelling, and just like the two titular queens, the remaining characters are morally conflicting, following their individual aims over any clear moral alignment. Sorcery of a Queen doesn’t suffer from second-book syndrome, in fact, due to its slower nature and focus on the discovery of sorcery I might have enjoyed this one even more than Blood of an Exile!
In any case, I am very much looking forward to the final installment of the Dragons of Terra trilogy. Add Sorcery of a Queen to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Waterstones or any bookseller of your choice!
Body Talk is a very special collection of short essays and stories, discussing all aspects of the human body from the perspective of a variety of authors and writers, accompanied by little FAQs and info blocks about the things you might not have known about beforehand. Spanning from period issues to dealing with cancer or being LGBTQIA+, most things that teenagers might encountered are included in this wonderful book.
Many thanks to Amanda Dissinger and Algonquin Young Readers for sending me an eARC of Body Talk in exchange for an honest review.
RELEASE DATE: 18/08/20
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: We all experience the world in a body, but we don’t usually take the time to explore what it really means to have and live within one. Just as every person has a unique personality, every person has a unique body, and every body tells its own story.
In Body Talk, thirty-seven writers, models, actors, musicians, and artists share essays, lists, comics, and illustrations—about everything from size and shape to scoliosis, from eating disorders to cancer, from sexuality and gender identity to the use of makeup as armor. Together, they contribute a broad variety of perspectives on what it’s like to live in their particular bodies—and how their bodies have helped to inform who they are and how they move through the world. (from Algonquin Young Readers)
OPINIONS: I wish I had Body Talk back when I was a teenager. It is the kind of book I would love to get into the hands of every insecure kid out there – and all the ones who project outward confidence for that matter – to give them perspective on themselves and the world around them. Understanding for what other people might be experiencing, helping to build empathy.
All of us have insecurities, especially when it comes to our bodies. Reading the very personal contributions from these writers, from names as big as Tyra Banks or Roshani Chokshi, or any of the thirty-five other contributors makes one realise that not a single one of us is free of these worries. And that is why Body Talk is such an important book.
Kelly Jensen has done a fantastic job compiling the voices featured in Body Talk, and enhancing the contributions through clever explanations of some topics that are commonly misconceived or FAQs that teens might have about certain issues. This makes the collection invaluable for young people and a fantastic resource for parents and schools to have on hand. Please get copies of this book and distribute them to the young people in your life so they can grow up feeling validated and reassured!
So many AMAZING books to get excited about coming out in September that I’m breaking my own rules – half of these I’m going to be reviewing on here! But I’m literally jumping around with glee at the prospect of being able to hold them in my hands within the next month, so let me have this moment of excitement!
Two of my favourite writers of queer YA are writing a book together. That’s about all I needed to know about Miss Meteor to make sure it went very high up on my excitement list. It is co-written by the fabulous Anna-Marie McLemore (check out their Dark and Deepest Red, for example) and Tehlor Kay Mejia (author of the We Set the Dark on Fire duology), this is a contemporary YA about Lita and Chicky, and the Miss Meteor pageant. I have no idea what I’m getting myself into, but I’m sure it will be brilliantly written, lyrical and heartbreakingly beautiful. I can’t wait. Miss Meteor is out on the 22nd of September and you can pre-order a copy from Amazon here.
Anthologies are totally my jam. Especially diverse ones. And as someone who was a teenager around 2010 (aka peak Twilight era) I’m all for the tasteful return of vampires that come without a side of racism. I’m currently reading Vampires Never Get Old as I’m lucky enough to be on the Hear Our Voices Blog Tour (look out for my review on the 24th of September) for it, and I’ve loved the stories so far. They are queer (many of them) and clever and full of interesting characters, and the line-up Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. Parker have managed to assemble is stellar. This one is also out on the 22nd, and you can pre-order it here.
Arthurian mythology meets Black girl magic. I love seeing the diversity in modern takes on medieval stories, so I’m incredibly excited for Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn. I have an eARC so I’ve started reading the beginning, and I’m now doubly excited as it features the protagonist going to early entrance college, which I see myself represented in as a smarty-pants who went to uni at sixteen. A unique take on the mythos, with the Legendborn being descendants of the Arthurian knights and Merlins being mages, this urban fantasy is thoroughly modern. It’s out on the 15th of September and you can pre-order here.
One of the books I’ve been most anticipating is Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys. Originally supposed to be released in May, the pandemic has pushed it back, and it is now finally coming out on the first of September. Cemetery Boys features a trans boy trying to prove himself a real brujo. It is queer and features the most amazing cover – and from what I’ve seen on Twitter Aiden is a fantastic human being too who deserves all our support. It sounds like perfection, and I’ve pre-ordered my copy months ago – you should get yours too, for example from Hive here!
Books about books are like catnip for nerds like me. So I’ve been eagerly awaiting Garth Nix’s The Left-Handed Booksellers of London ever since I first heard about it. And now it’s almost here – also published on the 22nd of September! Luckily I have an e-ARC thanks to the lovely folks over at Gollanz so do look out for my review soon. This is about fighting (left-handed) and intellectual (right-handed) booksellers, murder, magic and the most wonderful of all places, bookshops in my adopted home of London. And Garth Nix is nothing if not a damn good writer. So go ahead and just pre-order it. Click right here to do so.
Last year, I absolutely devoured Rena Barron’s Kingdom of Souls. And while I’m desperately waiting for the sequel, she is now back with a middle grade novel that sounds just as amazing: Maya and the Rising Dark. Another one out on that magical 22nd of September, this is the story of twelve-year old Maya, godling, half human, half Orisha and full nerd. Her dad has gone missing, and she has to face the Lord of Shadows, a creature from her worst nightmares to try and get him back and save the world. The book sounds wonderful and exactly what I need to read once I hand in my dissertation. Pre-order a copy here.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko is probably one of the most unique fantasies to come out in 2020, and despite its Covid-induced delay it is almost ready to be let loose upon the world! I loved that it in no way conformed to the traditions of Western fantasy and is thoroughly grounded in African storytelling and culture. Jordan is a fantastic writer, and I cannot wait to see where her career takes her – a few months ago, she did a promo thing on Twitter where she asked readers to send in pictures and described them in the Raybearer style, and this is how she described me, I absolutely love it!
Many thanks to HotKey Books for sending me an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!
RELEASE DATE: 18/08/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of Eleven. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust.
Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn – but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself? (from HotKey Books)
OPINIONS: There is so much to say about Raybearer, and at the same time, I’m just blubbering and yelling at you to buy this damn book. It is unique, has positive portrayals of asexuality, subverts the chosen one trope, and features some beautiful writing. My favourite element about this book was probably the world building – looking for a non-problematic new fandom to stan now that you no longer want to associate yourself with a certain wizarding school? No problem, Jordan Ifueko just gave us twelve realms to identify with. There is magic, there is friendship, there is family and there is love of all sorts. Really, there is everything needed in a great YA novel.
The characters are deliciously complex, and Tarisai’s true loyalties are murky until the very end of the book, adding tension to the story. The Lady, the book’s antagonist, is just as faceted and layered, rather than just being some sort of faceless evil. Nevertheless, kindness overshadows ambition and competition, which is a lovely change from so many YA novels. Despite everything that happens in the story, the bonds of friendship and loyalty do hold the group together and shape the plot.
If reading this has made you want to read Raybearer – I know writing has made me want to reread -, you’re in luck, it is finally out next week! Add it to your Goodreads here, and pre-order from your retailer of choice. Click here for Forbidden Planet, or I know Fairyloot will be doing an awesome special edition with the UK cover on a hardback soon!
I have been spending this summer reading and thinking about retellings and reinterpretations of stories taken from the European Middle Ages, and Alex Myers The Story of Silence is probably the one that stands out most. Based on the thirteenth-century text “Le Roman de Silence”, The Story of Silence uses the background of medieval courtly culture to interrogate gender normativity. Despite being a tale of knights and minstrels, it is in no way a dusty tale of times past, but one discussing themes incredibly relevant to the present day. As the cover suggests,
“A knight must have courage to be who they are.”
I am incredibly grateful to Harper Voyager for sending me a review copy of this wonderful book. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 09/07/20
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: There was once, long ago, a foolish king who decreed that women should not, and would not, inherit. Thus when a girl-child was born to Lord Cador – Merlin-enchanted fighter of dragons and Earl of Cornwall – he secreted her away: to be raised a boy so that the family land and honour would remain intact.
That child’s name was Silence.
Silence must find their own place in a medieval world that is determined to place the many restrictions of gender and class upon them. With dreams of knighthood and a lonely heart to answer, Silence sets out to define themselves.
Soon their silence will be ended. (from Harper Voyager)
OPINIONS: The Story of Silence reads both like a fantastical tale of knights and quests, and a thoroughly modern story of identity. Through its lyrical prose and allegorical style of writing it will appeal not only to the traditional reader of a Harper Voyager book, but also to a more general literary audience. It is a compelling story – I read through it in a day after I received my copy and have been thinking about it and recommending The Story of Silence to whomever would listen ever since.
I think the only thing I kept thinking of The Story of Silence as a point of criticism is a packaging decision. Throughout, I wished that Harper Voyager had printed a translation of “The Roman de Silence” which the story is based on, a fairly short medieval text, alongside the novel, but I think that is a very niche complaint I have as someone who appreciates those kinds of texts.
Silence is a really interesting character – I will be using they/them pronouns for them in this review, as there is a variety of different pronouns used for them throughout the story. They are born a girl, raised as a boy and ultimately have to discover their identity for themselves. By being raised outside of society and the norms associated with their assigned gender, Silence is confronted with the challenge of figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world at large once they leave their isolated upbringing. While their story is told retrospectively by themselves, it is done so in a linear manner as they figure things out, and not from the perspective of an omniscient narrator. As the author himself is trans, these explorations of gender identity are nuanced and ring true. It is not a simple thing, but a lengthy process taking Silence most of the story to come to terms with and find some kind of answer to. I hope that any books involving the discovery process of trans characters that I am going to read in the future will have such an insightful and thoughtful portrayal.
Many of the remaining characters are archetypes rather than fleshed out people, which adds to the starkness of the story instead of detracting from it. Their one-dimensional nature fits the schematic setting of the tale, where Silence is moving through a set world, fully fleshed out and ready to become their best self. Simply said, The Story of Silence is a fantastic book, and I highly recommend you give it a chance. I know I will be re-reading it soon. Add it on Goodreads here, and order a copy from your retailer of choice – I’m partial to the beautiful sprayed-edge edition Forbidden Planet has on offer here…