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).
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!
- The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
- The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso
- The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
- The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
- Comet Weather by Liz Williams
- Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
BEST SCIENCE FICTION
- Goldilocks by Laura Lam
- The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
- Deal With the Devil by Kit Rocha
- Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen
- Repo Virtual by Corey J. White
- The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
BEST BLURRED BOUNDARIES
- Mexican Gothic – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- The Bone Shard Daughter – Andrea Stewart
- The City We Became – NK Jemisin
- Interior Chinatown – Charles Yu
- Harrow the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
- Legendborn – Tracey Deonn
- Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas
- Year of the Witching – Alexis Henderson
- A Song of Wraiths and Ruin – Roseanne A Brown
- Raybearer – Jordan Ifueko
- The Scapegracers – Hannah Abigail Clarke
- The Four Profound Weaves – RB Lemberg
- Upright Women Wanted – Sarah Gailey
- Riot Baby – Tochi Onyebuchi
- The Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo
- Ring Shout – P Djèlí Clark
- Sweet Harmony – Claire North
- Dominion of the Fallen – Aliette de Bodard
- Islands of Blood and Storm – Kacen Callender (Review of King of the Rising)
- Sweet Black Waves – Kristina Pérez (Review of Wild Savage Stars and Bright Raven Skies)
- The Poppy War – RF Kuang (Review of The Burning God)
- Daevabad – S.A. Chakraborty
- Witches of Lychford – Paul Cornell
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.