• Reviews

    Campaigns & Companions: The Complete Role-Playing Guide for Pets

    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.

    (from Rebellion)

    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).

  • Reviews

    Storyland – Amy Jeffs

    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.

    Add Storyland to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    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.

  • Reviews

    XX – Rian Hughes

    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!

    Add XX to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    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.

  • Something Special

    Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards 2021 – The Finalists

    We’ve been reading. We’ve been deliberating. And we have made some tough but necessary decisions – whittling it down to the finalists in all the categories. Without further ado, here are the 2021 SKCA finalists!

    Best Fantasy

    The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk

    The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow

    Best Science Fiction

    The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson

    Goldilocks, Laura Lam

    Best Debut

    Legendborn, Tracy Deonn

    Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas

    The Year of the Witching, Alexis Henderson

    Best Blurred Boundaries

    The Bone Shard Daughter, Andrea Stewart

    Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

    Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu

    Best Novella

    The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo

    Ring Shout, P. Djeli Clark

    Best Short Fiction

    “You Perfect, Broken Thing”, C.L. Clark, Uncanny Magazine 32, available here

    “Yellow and the Perception of Reality”, Maureen McHugh, Tor.com, available here

    Best Series

    The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang

    Dominion of the Fallen, Aliette de Bodard

  • Reviews

    The Hollow Heart – Marie Rutkoski

    Marie Rutkoski’s The Midnight Lie was one of my favourite YA fantasy reads of 2020 (see my review here), so of course I jumped into reading this sequel – which actually released in the UK today! So happy book birthday, The Hollow Heart. This is a very different book to the first one. I feel like it might be aimed more at readers of Rutkoski’s earlier series (The Winner’s Curse trilogy) rather than being solely a sequel to The Midnight Lie, which stood wholly separate from the earlier books – and this made for a somewhat odd reading experience as someone who hasn’t read them. But read on to find out my full thoughts on this.

    Massive thanks to Kate Keehan and Hodder for sending me an eARC through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 09/09/2021

    STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Nirrim’s heart is lost, traded to the god of thieves in order to restore her people’s memories of their city’s history. Meanwhile, Sid, the person she once loved most, has returned to Herran to take up her duty to the crown.

    But frightening rumours are growing in the Herrani court: of a new threat rising across the sea, of magic unleashed upon the world, and of a cruel, black-haired queen who can push false memories into your mind, so that you believe your dearest friends to be your enemies.

    Sid doesn’t know that this queen is Nirrim, seeking revenge against a world that has wronged her. Can Sid save Nirrim from herself? And does Nirrim even want to be saved?

    As blood is shed and war begins, Sid and Nirrim find that it might not matter what they want… for the gods have their own plans. (from Hodder & Stoughton)

    OPINIONS: This book hasn’t helped my major crush on Sid at all. Nope. Still there and going strong. I’ve got a soft spot for princesses who might not be entirely cis but certainly gay and badass. However, her storyline is where I had most of my issues with the book. While it is a compelling story – I stayed up late one evening and finished it in one sitting, it is compulsively readable – it relies on a lot of previous knowledge that is not present in The Midnight Lie, but refers back to Marie Rutkoski’s earlier trilogy. It is revealed that Sid’s parents are in fact the main characters of that series, and so much of Sid’s storyline while in Herran is based on backstory that readers of that will be familiar with but that isn’t sufficiently introduced (or necessarily relevant for the story of this duology at all) for readers who have come to this author with The Midnight Lie, the start of a new series. And that is something that I find quite frustrating. Adding in some easter eggs for fans of previous books – sure, that’s perfectly fine and fun, but having a large chunk of the book be about something that isn’t driving the story forward or properly contextualised? I’d rather have seen that portion used for more character development.

    Meanwhile, Nirrim, who was more of a passive vehicle in the first book has taken on more of an active role. Having bargained away her heart, she has taken over her city, and rules it with an iron fist. She becomes a really interesting character, as she acts in a capacity where she truly believes she is doing the right thing and is protecting the people she cognitively knows she cared about – but because she is not capable of feeling these emotions any longer, she hurts them more than she helps.

    I really liked that the book dared to separate the couple from the first book – and keep them apart. And even once they were physically in the same place, things were not peachy. Sid and Nirrim both changed that that impacted their relationship deeply – even without considering that Nirrim traded away her heart. Add in meddling deities and tricky bargains, and you have a very interesting story. So all in all, this was a pretty good duology, which I will probably be rereading quite a few times. Great characters, fleshed out setting and I think I can look past the weaknesses in Sid’s plotline (and maybe eventually catch up with that old series… but then we all know the state of my TBR…)

    Add The Hollow Heart to your Goodreads here, or order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    Come With Me – Ronald Malfi

    I’ve been in such a suspense and thriller mood recently, so Come With Me has been a perfect treat. This is the kind of book that will keep you up late reading because you just need to know how the story ends and how all the pieces fit together. A true standout of the genre.

    Massive thanks to Sarah Mather and Titan for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 20/07/2021

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Aaron Decker’s life changes one December morning when his wife Allison is killed. Haunted by her absence—and her ghost—Aaron goes through her belongings, where he finds a receipt for a motel room in another part of the country. Piloted by grief and an increasing sense of curiosity, Aaron embarks on a journey to discover what Allison had been doing in the weeks prior to her death.

    Yet Aaron is unprepared to discover the dark secrets Allison kept, the death and horror that make up the tapestry of her hidden life. And with each dark secret revealed, Aaron becomes more and more consumed by his obsession to learn the terrifying truth about the woman who had been his wife, even if it puts his own life at risk. (from Titan Books)

    OPINIONS: This book surprised me in all the best ways. This is definitely the kind of story that will keep you reading until the very end as you just need to know how the story ends as Allison’s secrets slowly unravel as Aaron follows in her footsteps. It is a murky investigative mystery that drags you into a world of unspoken pasts and murdered girls, and one man’s search for the truth about his wife. Aaron’s grief is palpable as he is trying to figure out what Allison was working on before her sudden death at the hands of a mall shooter, and how the seemingly random dots connect together.

    Especially as police procedurals often make me feel uneasy these days – and I think I’m not alone in a general malaise with law enforcement – it is refreshing to read a thriller that is mostly divorced from these elements. Allison was a journalist, and Aaron is a literary translator following in her footsteps. That he ends up investigating what he believes to be a serial killer is – to him – purely coincidence. This is not a book that will have you guessing the resolution early on – and I’m very excited that the film rights have already sold, as I think this will translate brilliantly to screen.

    It is compelling, the tension is kept high throughout and Aaron is a charming fucker of a man. Maybe I like him so much because he is a literary translator, so basically a bonafide nerd, one of us creative weirdos. But generally it’s not a pretty story, it’s one that has some grit to it. If you like gripping mysteries, you need this one.

    Add Come With Me to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    Scales and Sensibility – Stephanie Burgis

    Stephanie Burgis does it again, authoring another whimsical and comforting historical romantic fantasy. Scales and Sensibility delivers on everything you’d expect from a Fantasy-of-Manners romp through Regency-era England – gentlemen and ladies, country estates and balls, delightfully quirky characters, and a touch of magic. What a soothing and wholesome read! I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 04/10/2020

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

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    Sensible, practical Elinor Tregarth really did plan to be the model poor relation when she moved into Hathergill Hall. She certainly never meant to kidnap her awful cousin Penelope’s pet dragon. She never expected to fall in love with the shameless – but surprisingly sweet – fortune hunter who came to court Penelope And she never dreamed that she would have to enter into an outrageous magical charade to save her younger sisters’ futures.

    However, even the most brilliant scholars of 1817 England still haven’t ferreted out all the lurking secrets of rediscovered dragonkind…and even the most sensible of heroines can still make a reckless wish or two when she’s pushed. Now Elinor will have to find out just how rash and resourceful she can be when she sets aside all common sense. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll even be impractical enough to win her own true love and a happily ever after…with the unpredictable and dangerous “help” of the magical creature who has adopted her.


    With a single breath of fire from Elinor’s magical pet dragon, Sir Jessamyn, Elinor is veiled in an illusion and the stage is set for this delightful Regency-era romantic comedy complete with society scheming, blackmail, stunning character and plot reveals, and a wholesome HEA.

    The plot is driven by Elinor’s attempts to hide her illusion while servants and house guests begin to guess her secret and use it against her. Blackmail abounds, striking Elinor from all angles; she is forced into a balancing act of lies and scheming to ensure her secret stays in tact to protect those she loves. Conflict also arises from the strong feelings Elinor develops for Benedict Hawkins. She begrudgingly supports his attempts to woo her awful cousin Penelope for the dowry that will save his family and estate, even as she falls more and more in love with him. While all of this transpires, Elinor is also dealing with the revelation that dragons are magical creatures! Will she ever be able to reverse the effects of Sir Jessamyn’s magic?

    These elements all weave together to form a truly compelling and satisfying Fantasy-of-Manners plot that will have you quickly paging through the last third of the book! The relationship between Elinor and Benedict is heart-warming and sweet, and although not the focus of the story, is adeptly formed to contribute just the right amount of romance to the plot.

    My favorite part of the book was the cast of delightfully plucky characters. Burgis’ characterization is magnificent; she creates an ensemble cast where each character is uniquely distinct. From Sir Jessamyn’s gross little burps and diarrhea, to Mr. Aubrey’s eccentric, scholarly obsession with dragons, to Lady Hathergill’s brutally hilarious honesty after Elinor makes her second wish, the cast of characters are the shining star of this book. The antagonists are equally well-written, and you will love to hate Penelope, Lord Hathergill, and the suspicious Mr. and Miss Armitage.

    Highest of recommendations for this lovely and satisfying read! If I’ve tempted you, add it on Goodreads here, and pre-order it via Amazon here.

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    It’s Monday Minis time again! This one is a bit of a collab effort between me and Kat, as she’s graciously agreed to contribute this week – most things I’ve read recently need to get their own full length post. It’s been a good reading week, to be honest. As always, all opinions are our own.

    Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes is a fun sci-fi romp through space, featuring psychic cats. The story is led by Captain Eva Innocente of La Sirena Negra, who has to compromise herself and her morals in order to save her estranged sister. It is an easy read, fast paced and rather compelling – although the aforementioned psychic cats, which are a major selling point of the book (they are mentioned on the cover!) really would need to play a bigger role in the story for my taste. They only pop up a few times and it is really Eva’s story and not theirs. And that is definitely a large part of why it has taken me so long to finish this – I’ve started it probably three times on kindle until a friend passing on a physical copy gave me the kick up the ass to finally finish it. I think I’m intrigued enough to read book two for the heck of it, just because it’s good space opera escapism, but they are not books I think I will be going around and hugely recommending to anyone as standout favourites.

    If you’re looking to start an adult Paranormal Romance series, but are yearning for something a bit out of the ordinary, then Heart of Fire by Bec McMaster might be for you! Unlike traditional, urban PNR settings, the Legends of the Storm series takes place in 1880s Iceland, is steeped in Nordic culture and mythology, and has a heroic fantasy aesthetic. Layer on a hefty dollop of dragon (or dreki, as the case may be) lore and shifting, and you have the unique and unexpected spin on classic PNR tropes that makes Heart of Fire such an intriguing read. The characters, especially the couple featured in this book, are well-developed and balanced; although Rurik exudes the classic alpha-male vibes, the FMC is equally strong and driven, creating quite the power couple. There’s definitely insta-lust, and the couple is quick to act on it, but that’s somewhat expected as part of the fated mates trope. The romance is steamy, the plot is peppered with tension and action, and a solid foundation is laid for a PNR series with staying potential. Enjoy!

    I was very excited for Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan – I’ve been looking forward to this since it was first supposed to be released in 2019, but sadly, the ARC failed to live up to the potential in my head. This is the story of Ahn, a girl raised as a peasant, who finds out that she carries ancient magic, and Altan, a boy who was supposed to become Emperor but has lost his position. It is a xianxia novel, so set within existing traditions of Chinese storytelling, which is pretty cool. My favourite aspect of Jade Fire Gold was probably the world building, which was rich and epic, and carried through some of the other weaknesses – I did read through the whole story fairly quickly despite being disappointed with it as a whole. Apart from the setting, it read like a fairly typical YA fantasy novel, which is great if that’s what you’re looking for, but these days I feel like we’ve been spoiled with so many outstanding books that that isn’t enough for me to really enjoy a story. The pacing was quite inconsistent, with large stretches feeling like nothing much is happening and then a big chunk of the story being packed into the last twenty percent or so. Ahn and Altan are both very passive characters, and it feels like the story is happening to them, rather than that they are propelling their own fortunes forward. I also struggled to see the chemistry happening between them, which made their eventual relationship feel more like box ticking than a natural development. It is still a decent and entertaining read, but not one that I will go out of my way to reread.

  • Blog Tours

    Blog Tour: The Winter Garden – Alexandra Bell

    Sometimes books surprise you. And The Winter Garden was one of those in the very best ways. I fell for this wonderful story within just a few pages, and devoured it so quickly. Think of this as Lady Trent mixed with fairy tale vibes and featuring an aromantic heroine. This is just such a delightful, cosy book that I want to shove into everyone’s hands.

    Massive thanks to Del Rey for sending me an ARC and having me join the blog tour. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 02/09/2021

    STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: On the night her mother dies, 8-year-old Beatrice receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. A place of wonder and magic, filled with all manner of strange and spectacular flora and fauna, the garden is her solace every night for seven days. But when the garden disappears, and no one believes her story, Beatrice is left to wonder if it were truly real.

    Eighteen years later, on the eve of her wedding to a man her late father approved of but she does not love, Beatrice makes the decision to throw off the expectations of Victorian English society and search for the garden. But when both she and her closest friend, Rosa, receive invitations to compete to create spectacular pleasure gardens – with the prize being one wish from the last of the Winter Garden’s magic – she realises she may be closer to finding it than she ever imagined.

    Now all she has to do is win. (from Del Rey)

    OPINIONS: I love Beatrice. She is such an amazing leading character – not without flaws and struggles, but determined and real. She reminds me a lot of Isabella, Lady Trent from Marie Brennan’s The Natural History of Dragons – except instead of being motivated by dragons, Beatrice is motivated by her search for a magical garden full of wonders – the titular Winter Garden. She is explicitly written as aromantic and asexual – though far from cold or frigid. She loves her friends dearly and is determined to make her own way in the world. Rosa, the other PoV character in the story, is just as interesting and complex. She initially gets everything she dreams of – but soon learns that this might not be exactly what she thought it be like. A brilliant inventor of clockwork creatures, she finds herself in a loveless marriage with only her mechanical birds for protection. And she too is determined to carve out her own path.

    Enter the Winter Garden. While Beatrice had been hunting for it since childhood, Rosa only heard about it through Beatrice. But as both women settle into adulthood and their own struggles, they are invited to participate in a competition for a wish and have to decide how far they are willing to go for the ultimate prize. All in all, this is such a delightful and wholesome book – the perfect comfort read as the days are getting shorter and it is time to curl up under a blanket with a hot drink and a good book. I haven’t fallen so hard for a book in ages – and been so positively surprised. I’d gone into reading this with no expectations, as I asked for it forever ago and didn’t even read the blurb before I dove in last weekend and then just fell for it within a few pages and started recommending it to everyone who would listen. I even considered staying up very late to read it in a single sitting (I ended up managing half).

    So, very highly recommend this delightful book if you’re looking for some escapism, and like some whimsy in your stories. Add The Winter Garden to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).