I’ve been terrible at Monday Minis – life has been insane – but I’m back with three new titles to tell you about! Many thanks to the publicists for sending me review copies or eARCs of these, and as always, opinions are entirely my own and publishers and especially the lovely publicists are not to blame.
How to Steal the Mona Lisa by Bethany Walker and illustrator Jack Noel is a lower middle grade story told through epistolary format. Which I’m not a fan of in the first place, and harder to convince me of its value in a highly illustrated children’s book. The main focus is emails between the main character and her grandmother – but these are full of hand-drawn pictures similar to what you’d expect would accompany a traditionally told story for the age category. So that already had me approach the book with a certain amount of grump. It is a book that I struggled with – and that I feel children may struggle too as it doesn’t hold tension well. I found myself wandering off rather often and not invested in the mystery or the characters as much as I would have liked, and I thought that it relied overly much on the reader realising how naive the main character is and feeling smart or smug for noticing things that she doesn’t. It isn’t a bad book, but not one that stands out to me, sadly, and one that I would only recommend if your child is especially drawn in by the format.
I was extremely hyped for Silk Fire by Zabé Ellor – it was one of the books on my 2022 mega post and so I was thrilled when I was able to get my hands on one of the stunning ARCs. However, as blogger friends started reading it, my excitement rapidly turned to apprehension. I still tried to keep an open mind and approach the book without any prejudices – the premise of courtesan turned dragon in a highly political and codified society still had me intrigued and comps to Jaqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, but more overtly queer sounded like something I’d love. Well. Turns out that this is not a book I can recommend, unfortunately (also, be warned, as this contains pretty much ALL the content warnings). I made it about half-ways through despite my hesitations about the writing, worldbuilding and characterisation when I encountered a graphic rape scene where the main character ends up consciously crossing borders with one of his love interests, and instead of considering why he acted the way he did, he blames daddy issues. And for me, that was the final straw. As a whole, the book feels underedited – it reads more like a first or second draft than a book just missing final copy-edits and proofreading, though as I did read an ARC it may be that the publisher did decide to do more substantial work after this stage. There are staggering holes in the worldbuilding, which seems to be some sort of gender-swapped version of ours in which the main character, Koré, a male prostitute, experiences much of the same prejudice based on gender as women traditionally have in ours. Nuance is not something that exists in this world and it feels like the reader gets repeatedly hit with a blunt object to hammer home that message. And that’s something that pulls through the writing and prose more generally. It doesn’t fit together, it doesn’t work. It seems like having individual sentences that are quotable was the dominant goal rather than to have a text that flows as a whole – interspersed with simplistic clichés. Oh, and the main character is clearly not smart enough for his own schemes. Which is always fun to read. TL:DR this has a great concept, unfortunately the execution is really not where it needs to be so I highly recommend you skip this for your mental health and sanity.
A River of Silver by S.A. Chakraborty is basically a set of bonus material for her Daevabad trilogy. I call it bonus material rather than a short story collection because it is very much connected to the original trilogy and contains spoilers for the books – which are made clear at the beginning of each story. I really enjoyed diving back into the rich world and learning more about these characters and their backstories. I especially liked the snippet about how Jamshid and Munthadir met and the alternate ending to the series. Just a wonderful, comforting set of stories. I got to listen to these as an audiobook – the collection is released audio-first and then will be published in traditional print format later. And the narrator for the whole collection is just wonderful, I highly recommend listening to these books!