• Minis

    Monday Minis

    Welcome back to another week of Monday Minis – a literary historical novel I quite liked, and then two that I sadly didn’t get along with at all. I wish I could love every book I read! Nevertheless, many thanks to the publicists for giving me (e)ARCs of all of these titles for review, and as usual, all opinions are entirely my own.

    Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth is a historical novel set in London’s theatres of the Victorian era. It follows Zillah, a young actress, born and raised in London, but playing a Black savage on the stage due to her mixed heritage. But her comfortable life is disturbed when she meets Lucien, a fellow Black man and grocer, who leads her to question her role on the stage and in life, and introduces her to new ways of thinking. Around the same time, she learns of another Black woman held captive by the owner of the theatre she works at, and so Zillah starts her own investigation into what is right and wrong. A captivating story with a strong leading character who undergoes a huge growth arc over the course of the book, this was one I did really enjoy. I thought parts of the resolution were a bit simplistic in its execution, but I loved the overall message that the book ended on. Definitely one to check out if you are into historical fiction at all – a story verging on a mystery, with a romantic component.

    I struggled a lot with The Gift Book 1: Eleanor by RA Williams. This is a dark fantasy novel set in the first half of the twentieth century between the wreck of the Titanic and the beginning of World War II. It includes elements of Indiana Jones-esque hunts for antiquities, a ruthless, smart and driven protagonist and an obsessive mystery. However, I had two major issues with the book. First, the writing is rather clunky – it is not immersive and I felt that it would have needed further editing to reach a level to be ready for publication. This is not aided by the story jumping through years, weeks and months at will between chapters, making it harder for the reader to keep up while reading, rather than telling a coherent story. The other thing that I struggled with a lot is that it does not interrogate any of the events or privilege in the story – for example, Eleanor, the main character, moves to Berlin in the 1930s as a Jewish woman, and any concerns about Nazi Germany are pushed to the side as irrelevant as the family has plenty of money. And that sort of callousness isn’t something I’m happy to just take in the age of diverse books – privilege is fine, but use it as a platform to discuss issues from, to see it as a springboard for other things, not as an excuse to gloss over anything you want to ignore. So in a book where I felt iffy about the story already thanks to the writing, that lack of depth put me off, which means this is not something I will recommend.

    I was extremely excited for Emily X. R. Pan’s An Arrow to the Moon. I fell in love with the writing in her debut which charmed me with its haunting and lyrical ways despite being quite a bit outside my usual taste, so having more of that in a contemporary fantasy retelling of Chinese myth sounded like a dream come true. An Arrow to the Moon reimagines the story of Chang’e and Houyi in 1990s US – which I didn’t realise from the blurb. I assumed it was set in the present day, and it read like it was, except for the lack of communication devices. And I get how the existence of the internet would have messed up some of the plot points, but also, the setting felt rather clumsy and like an afterthought. I guess that is how I feel about most of this book – there are some great ideas and concepts, but ultimately in execution a lot doesn’t seem to be quite thought through enough, or shown to the reader to the extent that demonstrates why they should care. Apart from many small gripes I had with this book throughout, it felt unfinished – like a draft that doesn’t actually tie up the loose ends, but rather serves to get the story down and then to identify those. It made me really sad because I was so hyped for the book and I realised quite early on that I was only continuing to read on because I hoped that it would get better. So sadly this one is a miss for me too.

  • Reviews

    Mort the Meek and the Monstrous Quest – Rachel Delahaye

    Mort the Meek is back! I loved the first Mort book when I read it last year – Mort the Meek and the Raven’s Revenge – see my review here, and so I jumped on the chance to request book two when it came out. This is more of the same macabre kids humour combined with wonderful illustrations and quirky narration, so just a gem all around.

    Many thanks to Little Tiger for sending me a review copy, all opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 06/01/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Around the unfriendly, rocky island of Brutalia, the waves are awash with brave sea-farers, on a treasure hunt for their demanding queen. Among them is Mort, but rather than hunt for treasure, he’s more interested in looking for his family who are lost at sea. Unfortunately, his shipmate Punky has her eyes firmly on the prize.

    But when the pair find the tentacle of a mythical sea creature, their adventure takes a dramatic turn. Is this the prize-winning treasure Punky and the queen seek? Or could it be a monstrous twist in Mort’s rescue mission? (from Little Tiger)

    OPINIONS: I just love these books. They remind me a bit of A Series of Unfortunate Events aimed at a slightly younger audience – and less realistic. This is again narrated by animals explaining words and sarcastically talking about what is going on – sea creatures this time. The focus on lexicon and new vocabulary is one of my favourite aspects, and something I know I would have absolutely adored as a child as well. Set on the island of Brutalia, this second installment takes place quite a bit of time after the first, with enough time having past for Mort’s father and siblings to have gone lost at sea. Their terrible queen has decided that she is now going to be a god queen – and thus asks her citizens to go out and quest to be named half-gods.

    Mort joins this expedition – not because he wants to be a half-god, but because he wants to find his missing family. On the way, he is paired up with the infuriating Punky, who has a soft core beneath her hard exterior, loses his pacifist ways and accidentally becomes a fish god. In the end, he has to find back to his pacifist roots to find a solution to Brutalia’s problems after receiving help from unexpected allies. Again, the story focuses on how ultimately issues can be solved through thinking and talking rather than violence, which I think is a wonderful message, and one that is very important to drill into the audience’s heads at that age.

    I think these books are probably best aimed at young readers aged seven to nine, though my adult self still enjoyed it a lot. Join Mort on his adventures by adding Mort the Meek and the Monstrous Quest to your Goodreads here, and ordering a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Hype!

    February Hype Post!

    And again it is time to talk about next month’s releases! To start, a reminder to check out our yearly preview post HERE, as we’ll try and not repeat books – there are simply too many great ones to be highlighted! And tbh, February is a bumper month there already, it really is a fantastic month for new releases.

    Fab: I am an utter mystery addict right now, and one of my recent favourites was Mia P. Manasala’s Filipino and food themed Arsenic and Adobo. Homicide and Halo-Halo is the second book in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Series, and continues the story of Lila and her set of meddling aunties, the not one, but two, attractive and successful bachelors in her life and all the chaos that comes with life in Shady Palms. The books are in turn funny, charming and full of food – and in particular, Filipino food, which may be one of my obsessions… I can’t wait to delve into the shenanigans of Lila and co and figure out who truly killed the pageant judge that Lila’s cousin/frienemy Bernadette is accused of murdering! Pre-order via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Fab: It’s high time we added some non-fiction to our hype posts, and A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them by Neil Bradbury sounds like a brilliant choice. A blend of true crime, science and medical history, this puts the substances first and foremost. It tells the story of murder and mayhem through the eleven ‘deadly molecules’ that are portrayed in this book, looking at how they work, how they affect the body on a molecular level and what the damage they inflict tells us. It sounds absolutely fascinating and like a great resource for both morbid curiosity and any budding writer who may be including poison in their work… Pre-order via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Fab: From Dust, A Flame by Rebecca Podos is queer Jewish YA fantasy, and if that doesn’t tempt you, I’m not sure what will. Hannah and her family have spent their life in motion, running from something that Hannah’s mother never explained. And on Hannah’s seventeenth birthday, she wakes up transformed. Her mother leaves her and her brother alone, promising to be back with a cure – but never returns. And so Hannah and Gabe are drawn into a search for answers, a family they never knew and a history more tragic and fantastical they could have imagined. As the past comes crashing into the present, Hannah has to figure out her curse to save herself and her loved ones. It sounds like a wonderful story and I am looking forward to diving in. Pre-order this via Book Depository here.

    Sun: I surprised myself with how much I loved Sisters of the Vast Black and whilst it made a perfectly fine standalone I’m really glad we’re getting Sisters of The Forsaken Stars to see how the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita are coping with the fallout of their decisions.

    After releasing crucial details Central Governance had been hiding from their citizens, the sisters are constantly moving around in a bid to remain out of sight, if not necessarily out of mind. However, their decision is making them a focal point for more rebellious sections of citizens, angry at Central Governances’ direction and sooner or later the sisters will have to choose to what extent they get involved.

    I really enjoyed the first as the nuns had a great deal of agency and had a mix of characters who were both believers with a thoughtful examination of how this affected their choices and those who were there for more pragmatic reasons. Pre-order via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Sun: Across a Field of Starlight is the newest sci-fi graphic novel from the author of O Human Star which was a brilliant look at AI on a very personal level.

    Across a Field of Starlight is about two non-binary kids, Fassen and Lu from two very different communities who meet when Fassen’s spaceship crashes on the planet Lu is surveying. Although they remain separated their friendship continues amidst a backdrop of change and unrest, with a threatening empire getting stronger and closer to both communities.

    The cover art for this looks lovely and O Human Star had clear crisp art that was a joy to follow so odds are good Starlight will be the same. I’m really looking forward to learning about Fassen and Lu. This is out 8 February. Pre-order via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    Elektra – Jennifer Saint

    One of the most successful titles in the recent boom of mythological retellings is Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne. Blessed with both a hardback and a paperback special edition, and nominated for the Waterstones Book of the Year, I really enjoyed it when I read it last year (see my review here). So to say I was excited for Elektra is an understatement. It looks at one of the most fascinating mother/daughter relationships in Greek myth, that of Clytemnestra, Helen’s sister, and her daughter Elektra – and is another enthralling tale.

    Many thanks to Wildfire and NetGalley for the eARC, all opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 28/04/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: The House of Atreus is cursed. A bloodline tainted by a generational cycle of violence and vengeance. This is the story of three women, their fates inextricably tied to this curse, and the fickle nature of men and gods.
    Clytemnestra
    The sister of Helen, wife of Agamemnon – her hopes of averting the curse are dashed when her sister is taken to Troy by the feckless Paris. Her husband raises a great army against them and determines to win, whatever the cost.
    Cassandra
    Princess of Troy, and cursed by Apollo to see the future but never to be believed when she speaks of it. She is powerless in her knowledge that the city will fall.
    Elektra
    The youngest daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Elektra is horrified by the bloodletting of her kin. But can she escape the curse, or is her own destiny also bound by violence? (from Wildfire)

    OPINIONS: Elektra is once again an enthralling story of three women often overlooked in mythology. It is quite a bit darker than Ariadne was – how could it not be, centred around this many murders as these interwoven stories are. I enjoyed this as a solid read, although I felt that the book tried to combine what should have been two separate stories into one, not giving either enough scope to delve deep enough. I wish that the book had entirely focused on Clytemnestra and Elektra, as I felt that the inclusion of Cassandra’s storyline meant that the nuances of the mother/daughter relationship, and especially the way it deteriorates and madness potentially creeps in after the sacrifice of Iphigenia didn’t have enough space to be explored in a manner that felt completely satisfactory. It felt like having the third perspective took up too much of the story but didn’t add quite enough in value.

    But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy reading the book – I did very much. Saint’s writing is strong and evocative, and the story compelling. It conjures emotions throughout, as I don’t think there was any part of the book that left me cold (though, much of it was rage at our darling Agamemnon…), and that is truly a credit to the author. I am an absolute fiend for mythological retellings, and so the complaining I am doing here is really complaining on a very high level, please don’t get me wrong! I am very much looking forward to reading Saint’s next book, because more feminist retellings are always a win in my mind.

    It’s interesting how a well-written retelling can get you completely enthralled in its plot and have you on your toes, even though you technically already know how the story ends. I know not everyone will be as familiar with these stories as I am, but it is something that always fascinates me. I think it may be part of why I fall in love with these stories so much – because I know the broad strokes, they are comforting, but because they are new interpretations, they are still new and exiting stories as a whole. Or maybe I’m just a weirdo. Who knows.

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

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    After an intermission with a special Monday Minis appearance by Sun we’re back to regular programming. As usual, thank you to publicists for giving me access to these books, all opinions are my own.

    I actually picked up an ARC of The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs back when I was bookselling – so not technically an ARC I have to review, but one that charmed me so utterly I couldn’t not write about it. A cover that is stunning, but an inside that is no less so. If you know me at all, you know that I’m a glutton, so a book that has food as an essential character was always likely to tempt me, though I’m always surprised when I fall for something that has absolutely no speculative elements at all. Not only are the descriptions in this delectable, but the characters telling the story really do come to life. I devoured The Language of Food just like I would one of Eliza Acton’s wonderful dishes. One of my favourite elements was that the book was rooted in history, featured real characters – though on the flip side, that also ended up presenting me with my one source of frustration with the book (which, I truly believe, is on me and not the book itself). There are some hints that I took to mean that there may be a queer subplot, but alas, those hopes were dashed when a different secret was exposed which – outside of history – was less compelling storytelling in my book. I highly recommend The Language of Food to those of you who love elegantly written prose, delightful descriptions of food and to be transported into a different world.

    Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe definitely lured me in with the stunning cover. I’m a sucker for that 1920s opulent decadence and the accompanying aestethic, and combined with family secrets… This tells the story of Mae, raised on an island among a rich family as a sort of foundling, though not quite part of them. It is full of magic and mystery and of people keeping secrets. Nevertheless, I didn’t fully fall in love with it, as I felt that the characters didn’t come to life as much as I would have liked them to. Many of them ultimately blended together and much was predictable. It was still a fun YA read, but not one that I think I will be rereading. It’s interesting that these Gatsby-esque settings are setting a trend at the moment, but that essentially means that this one will be overshadowed by stronger books in the same space, I think.

    I really enjoyed A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft. This was one of my most anticipated YA novels for 2022, as while I didn’t quite click with her debut novel, Down Comes the Night, I felt like she was very much an author to watch and thought her writing had a lot of potential for future novels. And A Far Wilder Magic did not disappoint. Set in a forest – which, probably my favourite sort of fantasy setting – and around a magic that is based in alchemy and thus learned rather than inherited, this tells the story of Wes, desperate to learn magic so that he can use it to set himself up for a better life, to help his family out of poverty, and Maggie, the daughter of a renowned alchemist, raised comfortable in material respects but poor in love. It is a lovely subtle story, both an overt adventure with high stakes, but also featuring an undercurrent of being an outsider in society for various reasons, of class, of what is actually important in life and what sacrifices you are willing to make for those you love, whether romantically, through obligation or friendship. It is a story with strong characters, most of them strong-willed and with clear ideas of how they see the world and their futures, which leads to interesting ways in which they have to communicate and navigate the gaps between these ideas. I did wish that it delved deeper into some of the issues it touched on, but it’s a solid read and one that I liked a lot.

  • Reviews

    Swashbucklers – Dan Hanks

    Came for the chocolate eyeballs, stayed for the wacky story and the adorable talking fox. Dan Hanks’ Swashbucklers is unique, hilarious and very out there – some elements worked very well for me, some didn’t quite click with me personally, but it was definitely a fun read.

    Many thanks to Caroline at Angry Robot for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 09/11/2021

    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: When Cisco Collins returns to his home town thirty years after saving it from being swallowed by a hell mouth opened by an ancient pirate ghost, he realises that being a childhood hero isn’t like it was in the movies. Especially when nobody remembers the heroic bits – even the friends who once fought alongside him.

    Struggling with single parenting and treated as bit of a joke, Cisco isn’t really in the Christmas spirit like everyone else. A fact that’s made worse by the tendrils of the pirate’s powers creeping back into our world and people beginning to die in bizarre ways. With the help of a talking fox, an enchanted forest, a long-lost friend haunting his dreams, and some 80s video game consoles turned into weapons, Cisco must now convince his friends to once again help him save the day. Yet they quickly discover that being a ghostbusting hero is so much easier when you don’t have schools runs, parent evenings, and nativity plays to attend. And even in the middle of a supernatural battle, you always need to bring snacks and wipes…

    OPINIONS: Comedic fantasy is always a difficult beast. It’s hard to find that right balance between hitting your stride in terms of humour and overdoing in the eyes of the audience – and I’m not an easy customer in that respect. A cynic by nature, I’m quick to roll my eyes at books that try too hard to be funny. So Swashbucklers never had the best starting conditions with me – but there were a lot of things that I did really like about the story.

    My favourite element was probably Tabitha, the talking fox slash magic tour guide to the realms, who helps the motley crew of the book figure things out and find their way through their adventure. I also really enjoyed the concept of a group of friends who have gone through this huge thing together years ago, mostly lost touch in the intervening years and who are now getting back together in their middle age and are confronted with the impossible once again. Those dynamics worked really well and made the book stand out to me – because of their familiarity with each other, they are unafraid to call out each other’s behaviour, and it is refreshing to have characters who are not trying to impress but to function.

    I did strongly dislike the ending – it felt like it ended in the sort of time paradox that is doomed to failure if you actually think about it, and if the story had actually cut two scenes earlier, the ending would have been far more final and satisfying. I think that is what ultimately made me decide on the three star rating – I was torn on whether to round up or down, as it was very much a case of me just not fully clicking with the book rather than there being anything to criticise in a more objective sense, but then I felt that the way the “post-credits” ending left things undid a lot and left me very grumpy.

    Nevertheless, it is a fun book, and if you are more into comedic fantasy, eighties nostalgia or if you too love talking animal companions, you can find Swashbucklers on Goodreads here, and you can get your hands on your own copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    Castles in Their Bones – Laura Sebastian

    Hodder’s in for a great month of new releases in February. Not just this one, but also Only a Monster (reviewed HERE) and The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, which is much beloved even if it didn’t quite work for me, are all coming out in the same month, and it’s very exciting! Castles in Their Bones shows Laura Sebastian’s talent for building rich worlds, strong female leads and an affinity to take risks other authors would have shied away from.

    Many thanks to Kate Keehan and Hodderscape for the eARC. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 01/02/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: The plot: overthrow a kingdom. The goal: world domination. The plan: marriage.

    Empress Margaraux has had plans for her daughters since the day they were born. Princesses Sophronia, Daphne, and Beatriz will be queens. And now, age sixteen, they each must leave their homeland and marry their princes.

    Beautiful, smart, and demure, the triplets appear to be the perfect brides – because Margaraux knows there is one common truth: everyone underestimates a girl. Which is a grave mistake. Sophronia, Daphne, and Beatriz are no innocents. They have been trained since birth in the arts of deception, seduction, and violence with a singular goal – to bring down monarchies – and their marriages are merely the first stage of their mother’s grand vision: to one day reign over the entire continent of Vestria.

    The princesses have spent their lives preparing, and now they are ready, each with her own secret skill, and each with a single wish, pulled from the stars. Only, the stars have their own plans – and their mother hasn’t told them all of hers.

    Life abroad is a test. Will their loyalties stay true? Or will they learn that they can’t trust anyone – not even each other? (from Hodder)

    OPINIONS: I hate to utter the word reading slump. But I have been struggling a bit to get excited about the books I’m reading, and I’m once again starting far too many and then just starting a new one next time I pick up a book. And while I do eventually finish them, I never really get immersed. Not so with Castles in Their Bones. Slightly aided by a lazy day due to Booster side effects, I raced through the 500-odd pages of this epic fantasy in a few hours, and I already want more. I especially loved the ending – I think Laura Sebastian made some great choices that not every author would have had the guts to go through with – one that sets up strong character arcs for the next book in the series.

    The three princesses, Sophronia, Daphne and Beatriz start out as sort of an entity, but as the story goes on, they really develop into their own characters and the differences between the sisters become clear. They are not damsels, but manipulators, though it soon becomes clear that they may not be in control as much as they believe themselves to be. I did feel like the side characters did not get quite as much attention as the triplets, and, for example, their respective spouses/fiancés were not as well-rounded as the girls themselves. It did sometimes feel like they were interchangeable almost. But ultimately, it didn’t diminish my reading experience.

    In terms of plot, the story was compelling, if not fully surprising. I think the best way to describe Castles in Their Bones is as a comfort read – taking on enough of the familiar beats of YA epic fantasy to create an atmosphere of recognition in some ways, while also taking them and twisting them into something of its own. It is reasonably fast paced, which adds to the compulsive readability. For me, this will be a book I’m going to reread, because it’s perfect to curl up with under a blanket and sip on a mug of tea or hot choc. Because I too have castles in my bones.

    Add Castles in Their Bones to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    The Key in the Lock – Beth Underdown

    I have been absolutely addicted to mysteries and thrillers recently, so this ARC arrived at the perfect time. Set during the First World War, this has two different mysteries at its core, and predominately focuses on how they impact the affected families – in particular Ivy Boscawen, our main character. In the present, she mourns her son, and tries to figure out how exactly he died, all the while being haunted by the death of a small boy in her past. The Key in the Lock is creepy, captivating and haunting. A perfect winter read, really, even if it’s not a flawless book.

    Many thanks to Penguin/Viking for sending me an ARC for review. All opinions are my own as usual.

    RELEASE DATE: 13/01/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SYNOPSIS: I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unravelling from an upper window, and the terrace bathed in a hectic orange light… Now I see that the decision I made at Polneath was the only decision of my life. Everything marred in that one dark minute.

    By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still.

    For Ivy is sure that there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the Great House, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free.

    But once you open a door to the past, can you ever truly close it again? (from Viking)

    OPINIONS: This is in parts a historical novel, a mystery and a ghost story. Ivy is haunted by the ghosts of her son and her past, though it is long left unclear whether these are literal or metaphorical. It is one of those books that I find incredibly hard to review, as I think I feel fonder of it in hindsight than I did while reading, already considering a reread to get back into that spooky and uncanny wintery mood with a mug of hot chocolate. The Key in the Lock is certainly one of those novels where you end up wondering what is truly happening until you get to the very end, and I’d love to go back and see the seeds of those revelations in the text.

    Ivy Boscawen isn’t the most sympathetic of main characters. While she suffers, she is also an unreliable narrator in a lot of ways, and a very privileged woman. I was never quite sure if I felt with her for her losses and her challenges in life, or if I was annoyed at her for being so oblivious to everyone else’s issues and the way she treated those close to her. But ultimately, that means that she is a great character. She is well-written and complex, and causes emotional reactions in the reader. And to me, that is more important that many other things about a book.

    The Key in the Lock is certainly not a book that left me unaffected on an emotional level. It is compelling, unexpected and atmospheric. I would put this in the category of vibe-books, which I’m coming to appreciate as something that does work very well for me. If you too feel that way, I really recommend you pick this up when it comes out next week, as it’s leaving a lasting impression on me.

    Add The Key in the Lock to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    Happy New Year, lovelies! Starting off the new year right with a fresh bunch of Monday Minis for your enjoyment. As always – many thanks to the publishers for sending me eARCs of these titles, all opinions are my own.

    Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor is pretty magical. I adored this when I started it, even if it felt like the magic of it started wearing off a bit once I got stuck into the story. This is the story of 17 year old Jani, and her younger sister Zosa, who are trying their best to get by as orphans – until the Hotel Magnifique comes to town, and they see a chance to escape into a world of magic and mystery by signing on as staff. But not everything there is quite how they imagined it, and Jani soon finds herself alone and having to face bigger challenges than she ever imagined if she wants to see her sister again and figure out how to help the other employees. And initially I was extremely taken in by the story and worldbuilding, and charmed by Bel, the love interest. As the story went on though, I got a bit disillusioned with everything – mirroring Jani’s journey in the book I guess – and felt like it leaned too much on classic YA tropes, and certain things just ended up working out too neatly. I found the story ultimately was too predicable for me to unreservedly enjoy it, and there weren’t enough characters of substance to care about. There were some details I was still wondering about by the end, but as I read an ARC, I suspect those are the type of things that will likely have been addressed in the final copies. So all in all, a flawed but entertaining YA fantasy, a good way to spend an evening reading.

    By all rights, Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson should have been a book that I adored. But just like her last novel, Sorcery of Thorns, somehow, I just did not click with it – maybe I should take that as a sign to stop trying and accept that this may be an author who is simply not for me, as much as the copy tempts me. Vespertine is the story of Artemisia, an apprentice nun, one of the Gray Sisters, who prepare the dead so their souls can pass on. When her convent is attacked, she ends up bonding with an ancient spirit bound to a saint’s relic and drawn into an epic fight. Think lots of bickering within Artemisia’s head between her and the spirit, unexpected bonding in various places, lots of moral gray areas, and greatness thrust upon our heroine in a grand quest. And I just don’t know why this didn’t do it for me. I started on the eARC, and struggled with it, and then went on to the audiobook which I did eventually finish, but feel very ambivalent about. I think it boils mostly down to me as a reader not meshing with this particular author’s style as, if I try to pinpoint where my issues lie, it largely is with a lack of emotional connection. I did find Artemisia rather annoying as she generally thinks she is always right and struggles to critically reflect on her own actions, so some of the interior monologues and conversations between her and the revenant ended up feeling repetitive. The other obvious issue I had with the story is that it felt like it had a romantic arc forced into the story that did not fit in there, between characters who do not have chemistry, and which, to me read more like ticking a box than something that grew organically. So all in all, a three star read for me.

    I loved The Women of Troy by Pat Barker. After really enjoying The Silence of the Girls early in 2021, I slept on this one for far too long, considering I had an audiobook ARC, and I’m not only addicted to mythology retellings, but also audiobooks. However, I’d listened to another book narrated by the same narrator – a contemporary fantasy – shortly before, and she has a very distinctive voice, which kept throwing me off. But now that I got sufficient distance, I devoured the audiobook within just over a day. The story sets in after the fall of Troy, and covers the period until the Greeks depart. It is again largely told from the perspective of Briseis, Achilles’ war prize (though, of course, that great warrior is long dead now). Central themes are how to regain the Gods’ favour in order to return, the adequate disposal of King Priam’s body and continuing on from The Silence of the Girls, the treatment and the voices of the women of Troy, now slaves in the Greek camp. Pat Barker’s books are on the very literary end of the current boom in mythology inspired books, oriented very much towards an audience traditionally driven by awards and prestige, in contrast to the more commercially oriented Ariadne or Daughters of Sparta. As a nerd, I love that we get such a breadth of stories retelling mythology, reworking it to give the formerly voiceless more of a voice and not continually centering mediocre white men on their power trips (yes, for much of The Women of Troy I would have liked to slap Pyrrhus and knock some sense into him – never mind Menelaus and Agamemnon). Definite recommendation!

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    I hope you had a wonderful Christmas if you celebrate, and I wish a happy New Year to all of you lovely people. Time for another round of Monday minis, and many thanks to all the publishers for sending me eARCs of these books – even if they ended up not working quite as well for me as I hoped.

    The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh is one of those books that I desperately wanted to fall in love with but ultimately ended up feeling pretty ambivalent about. It is a Korean-inspired fairytale about a girl who sacrifices herself to marry the Sea God to save her family and broader community and gets more than she bargained for in the process. It is well-written and lyrical, and reads pleasantly. Picking this one up will make for an evening well-spent, as it is an entertaining and compelling book, but it doesn’t feel like a must-read to me. My main gripe with it is that the characters really aren’t that fleshed out, which in a poetic tale like The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea makes or breaks the story for me personally. I never felt like I got to know who Mina is as a person other than a quite generic YA heroine who is self-sacrificing, brave and cares for her family and community. For me, this was a three star read, but I can see it working much better for readers who aren’t quite as character-oriented as I am.

    I didn’t connect to Moonlocket by Peter Bunzl at all sadly. I did quite enjoy the first in the series, Cogheart, when I read it a while ago, though maybe it did have the same issues I noticed with this and I’ve just glossed over in my memories. This is a middle grade fantasy series set in Victorian London, around a girl with a mechanical heart, her mechanimal pet, a fox called Malkin and her best friend. In this volume, they are trying to track down the best friend’s mum, who had abandoned him as a small child, and find themselves embroiled with a legendary criminal and the hunt for a priceless artifact belonging to Queen Victoria herself. While this sounds rather exciting by itself I felt that the writing wasn’t as good as the concept. The story lost tension in clunky phrasings and telling rather than showing, and personally, I felt that it would have needed another rigorous set of edits. And as there are quite a number of Victorian-set middle grade adventures, I don’t think this one stands out from other books in the space. I do have to say that I ultimately did get invested in the ending, and ended up giving it a rounded up three stars.

    The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder was one of my picks on the 2022 Megapost, so I was thrilled when I was approved for an eARC and read it the same day. But however much I tried to love it… I just didn’t. As a whole, the story felt superficial and the characters flat. Fi and Briar, the main couple in the story just didn’t have any chemistry and I honestly couldn’t stand Briar, who was the type of shiny YA boy without flaws. The only interesting character was Shane, and even she was mainly “not like other girls” and largely built around rejecting her previous life. I think there was a really cool concept in here, but it would have needed another thorough structural edit to really shine. As it is, it felt like quite lacklustre to me, and I wouldn’t really recommend picking this one up – though it may work better for other readers!