The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches – Sangu Mandanna
YOU NEED THIS BOOK. This may be my favourite book I’ve read this year (Spear doesn’t count, while it came out this year, I read it last…) So, without further ado, read the review and then run to your preferred retailer.
Huge thanks to the lovely Kate at Hodder for sending me an ARC and making me a very happy Fab. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 23/08/2022
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon has lived her life by three rules: hide your magic, keep your head down, and stay away from other witches. An orphan raised by strangers from a young age, Mika is good at being alone, and she doesn’t mind it … mostly.
But then an unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches, and Mika jumps at the chance for a different life.
Nowhere House is nothing like she expects, and she’s quickly tangled up in the lives and secrets of its quirky, caring inhabitants … and Jamie, the handsome, prickly librarian who would do anything to protect his charges, and who sees Mika’s arrival as a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.
As Mika finds her feet, the thought of belonging somewhere starts to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and soon Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect the found family she didn’t know she was looking for… (from Hodderscape)
OPINIONS: This is a near perfect book. The best way to describe it is likely as a combination of Mary Poppins, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, The House in the Cerulean Sea and a good dose of comfort. It follows Mika Moon, a young witch who finds herself as a tutor to three young witches on a remote estate – complete with a gruff but loveable groundskeeper, a charming elderly gay couple looking after house and children and a missing guardian. It is the sort of book that makes you smile from the first page to the last, as the book’s UK editor described it to me.
I saved reading this for a day where I needed a comfort read and I was so glad I did. It is really the perfect book for those moments, and one I see myself rereading again and again when I need that sort of feeling – I hope there will be a myriad of beautiful special editions to add to my collection! My flatmate stole it after I read it and breezed through it – and I’m thrilled that I’ve managed to sell multiple friends on it before even writing this review.
It is a lovely story, not too relaxed but also not too fast-paced and full of tension. There is constantly something to focus your attention on and ensure the reader does not get bored, without raising anxiety levels. It is a character and vibe driven story, with relationships of various kinds at its centre. I found the development of those relationships delightful, tender and utterly realistic. While the central plot elements feel big to the people in the story, they are not in the grand scale of things, and it feels refreshing to read a book that is concerned with the small, with the fate of the immediate future of a group of children for the next few years, rather than saving the world.
In short. Get this book, you’ll love it. And it’s almost out, so there’s not even long to wait. Add The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
I should preface my review of The Phantom of the Opera by Cavan Scott and José María Beroy with the fact that I’ve never seen The Phantom of the Opera as a stage show. So I didn’t really know what to expect going into this graphic novel adaptation – only having vague awareness of some of the most famous songs. And I was surprised at how the story differed from how I imagined things – I’d somehow imagined it as this great Gothic romance between Christine and the Phantom, but it really, really isn’t. It went in very different directions to how I thought it would – and some that I am still not clear on if they were red herrings or not. And that is probably my biggest issue with this as a graphic novel. I don’t know if this is due to the source material or a problem of the adaptation itself, but it felt like an incomplete story. Thoughts were expressed, but not finished, and the ending was extremely abrupt. As a whole, it felt rather like a collection of ideas than a complete story. And accomplished comics storytelling and great art, unfortunately, couldn’t fully compensate for that.
I am more of a fantasy reader than a science fiction one, in general. But Kate Dylan’s debut, Mindwalker gripped me so much I breezed through the audiobook in a single day – which, were this a paper book wouldn’t be that unusual, but audio takes about five times as long! Sil Sarrah is a brilliant leading character and the world Kate Dylan creates is both harrowing and compelling. I loved how the story went in unexpected directions and got extremely twisty – not leaving the reader time to breathe and relax. It is a fast-paced, high-octane thriller, a cute romance and a disturbing vision of the future rolled all into one. A great YA, in short. As I listened to the audiobook via NetGalley I would be remiss not to praise Stephanie Cannon’s narration, perfectly translating Kate Dylan’s text to the aural format.
High Times in the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson is a Tor.com novella about fairies, politics and bureaucracy. It has the vibes of the UK Houses of Parliament crossed with a good dose of magic and supernatural threat – though it often feels like the fantasy elements thinly veil the author’s contempt at contemporary politics. While I very much agree with the sentiment, I’m not sure it makes for a great reading experience, especially for someone caught in the middle of the futile squabbling of a largely incompetent government. Lana is a scribe, brought to the Low Parliament by circumstance and thrown into these political machinations with little warning. Her allies are only two – a fairy named Bugbite and a human politician called Eloquentia – and those both have their own agendas. As a whole, this novella feels more like a satire with fantasy elements than the fantasy story I was expecting – and I think my lack of enjoyment was more due to timing and circumstance than the quality of the writing or the story.
Daughter of Darkness – Katharine and Elizabeth Corr
Greek mythology? YA? Wonderful, immersive writing? Yes please. Add a gorgeous Micaela Alcaino cover to the mix and I’m well and truly suckered in. And Daughter of Darkness doesn’t disappoint. It’s less a retelling than a story rooted in the world of Greek mythology, doing its own thing, which is pretty cool – I’m really looking forward to seeing more reactions as I can see this being really popular, hitting on a lot of current YA trends.
Many thanks to Hot Key Books for sending me an ARC, as always, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 04/08/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Deina is trapped. As one of the Soul Severers serving the god Hades on Earth, her future is tied to the task of shepherding the dying on from the mortal world – unless she can earn or steal enough to buy her way out.
Then the tyrant ruler Orpheus offers both fortune and freedom to whoever can retrieve his dead wife, Eurydice, from the Underworld. Deina jumps at the change. But to win, she must enter and uneasy alliance with a group of fellow Severers she neither likes nor trusts.
So begins their perilious journey into the realm of Hades… The prize of freedom is before her – but what will it take to reach it?
OPINIONS: This was a really fun read – it hit my mythology obsession perfectly, and the Corr sisters know how to write a story that grips the reader and compels you to finish the book in a single sitting. In short, the story is as tempting as that beautiful cover is. While this is deeply grounded in Greek mythology, this is entirely a new story, using the known stories as a foundation, but creating a new narrative rather than retelling something familiar. In some ways, this reminded me a bit of some of the books I read during the 2010s YA boom, but in a good way.
I don’t think this is going to go onto my favourites shelf, but I did really enjoy reading it, and I am very much looking forward to the second book in the series. The Corr sisters clearly know how to tell a story and how to get their readers invested in their characters. Because I’m me, I obviously kept wishing this was queer, because that would have made me love it just that bit more, but really, it’s very solid as it is. Deina is an interesting main character, and I enjoyed reading her story. It’s not a super deep book, but a good read, and I’ll likely reread it soon.
Add Daughter of Darkness to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Mia and the Lightcasters – Janelle McCurdy
I have a complete soft spot for middle grade! On a sad day, there’s nothing better than devouring a book written for kids – they are usually incredibly immersive and captivating, and provide great escapism, so are wonderful for taking a mini-break from our own problems. And Mia and the Lightcasters is an exciting debut from a new voice that I’m sure we’ll hear much more from – I loved the world of the Umbra and I can’t wait for you all to read this wonderful book too.
Many thanks to Bethany at Faber for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 04/08/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Mia always dreamed of being an umbra tamer until she met the wild creature on the Nightmare Plains. Since that day, she prefers to stay safe within the walls of Nubis. Safe, that is, until a surprise attack. With her parents captured, Mia’s only hope is to travel to the City of Light to find help. But with only her little brother, two friends and one solitary tamed umbra, the journey feels impossible. Mia not only has to overcome her fears, she also has to learn to harness her umbra taming abilities if they are to complete the quest in time. (from Faber)
OPINIONS: This was such a fun read! Maybe it’s because I’m currently immersed in kids books all day, but I’m on such a children’s fiction roll. And a promising new middle grade series that doesn’t only come with cute creatures, but also interior illustrations? Count me in. Yes, I’m a sucker for pictures in books. For all ages. For the record, if it were up to me, every single book would have at least one piece of interior black and white art. Anyway. Mia and the Lightcasters. Janelle McCurdy has given us an impeccable debut, one that wouldn’t go amiss among the likes of Rick Riordan Presents. It is compelling, fast paced, and full of great characters and a world that the reader just wants to get stuck into.
The stars of the show in Mia and the Lightcasters are the Umbra. Beasts that can be tamed, but which can evolve between different forms – reminiscent of Pokémon in that respect – but very, very real to Mia and her world. Mia’s always dreamed of being a real-life Umbra tamer, but her first encounter one was quite different from what she imagined. And then Mia doesn’t have too much of a choice in facing her fears…
I loved seeing not just Mia, but also Jada, the older tamer, as Black girls who just did their thing and weren’t used as a narrative device, which unfortunately is something that isn’t too common in UK kidlit yet. This makes Mia and the Lightcasters an especially important book for the UK industry – it shows Faber’s commitment to diversity in actions, rather than just words, and I am thrilled for the kids for whom this is a milestone in representation – though I wish it was standard rather than something to single out… Initially I was sad that there wouldn’t be a pretty hardcover of the book, but the more I think about it, the happier I am that it is indeed a paperback original – making it all the more accessible to the children who need this book. More books like this please, publishing industry, put your money where your mouth is.
Add Mia and the Lightcasters to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here.
Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards 2022 – The Finalists
Hello all! We’ve been hard at work reading all of the Subjective Chaos nominees for 2022 and we’ve reached consensus on a brilliant shortlist of finalists across categories. It’s been a very hard choice for many categories, but without further ado, this year’s finalists are, in no particular order:
The Unbroken by C.L. Clark
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan
Best Science Fiction
Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky
A Desolation of Peace by Arkady Martine
A Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu
This is Our Undoing by Lorraine Wilson
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
& This Is How To Stay Alive by Shingai Njeri Kagunda
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
These Lifeless Things by Premee Mohamed
The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed
Best Graphic Novel
The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox-Ostertag
Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto & Ann Xu
The Kingston Cycle by C.L. Polk
The Expanse by James SA Corey
Best Short Fiction
The Amazing Exploding Women of the 20th Century by A.C. Wise
Homecoming Is Just Another Word For The Sublimation Of The Self by Isabel J. Kim
Welcome back to a new round of Monday Minis. Two YA novels and an adult historical this week – many thanks to the respective publishers for providing me with eARCs via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
Melissa Grey’s Valiant Ladies is based on two real-life vigilantes. Eustaquia “Kiki” de Sonza and Ana Lezama de Urinza were known as the Valiant Ladies of Potosi in seventeenth-century Peru, taking up arms and living a life of vigilante justice while being lovers. This novel sets in earlier in their lives though, when they may already have been headstrong, but still fairly sheltered. The story’s core mystery is the murder of Kiki’s brother Alejandro – catapulting the two girls into a dangerous investigation and a life that is more interesting that they perhaps imagined for themselves. It also focuses on Kiki and Ana falling in love and figuring out how to navigate society’s expectations with their own desires. It is a compelling story with strong characters, though expect to read something that is far more reminiscent of a fantasy novel than historically grounded. It may be inspired by historical figures, but it is not historical fiction in terms of how it reads. A fun read if you like stabby girls!
Dark Earth by Rebecca Stott is set in post-Roman Britain. Isla and Blue are the daughters of the Great Smith, exiled for purported use of magic in smithing his swords. They have been living free lives, learning trades forbidden to women, and when their father suddenly dies, they need to run into an abandoned Londinium to escape enslavement. They find community and kinship, but also danger in this story full of myth and folklore. It is beautifully written and compelling, a feminist story grounded in an image of the past that isn’t quite what we expect, using the period as a vehicle to create strong characters. It is thoroughly enjoyable, though I found that there wasn’t much that truly stood out to me, especially when comparing it to some of my other favourites set in the period. Certainly not a mistake to pick this one up, in any case.
The Blood Traitor by Lynette Noni is the satisfying conclusion to The Prison Healer trilogy. I was lucky enough to get to read eARCs of all three books in the trilogy early, and they are entertaining, quick YA fantasy reads. The story revolves around Kiva, the daughter of the rebel queen Tilda Corentine, who has spent most of her life in Zalindov prison. In the first book, Kiva undergoes a trial by ordeal, and falls for a prince in disguise, in the second book, they leave Zalindov behind and Kiva has to navigate loyalty to her rebel family with her growing feelings for Jaren. In this third volume, the gang is separated through betrayal, and the story enters a much grander scale than before. It is no longer just about a handful of characters, but about continental politics, about long-term loyalty and a huge quest. These books aren’t the deepest or the best-written, but they are certainly fun and solid reads. And now you can binge the whole series in one go.
How to Kill Your Best Friend – Lexie Elliot
There seems to be an upswing in casual crime novels about killing people you’re supposed to care about – last year brought us Bella Mackie’s awesome How to Kill Your Family, and now Lexie Elliot comes in with How to Kill Your Best Friend. Fitting that I was reading this while visiting one of my best friends… Though, unfortunately, not on a lovely beach, but in a city heatwave.
Many thanks to Amber and Hannah at Midas PR for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 02/09/2022
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Georgie, Lissa and Bronwyn have been best friends since they met on their college swimming team. Now Lissa is dead – drowned off the coast of the remote island where her second husband owns a luxury resort. But could a star open-water swimmer really have drowned? Or is something more sinister going on?
Brought together for Lissa’s memorial, Georgie, Bron, Lissa’s grieving husband and their friends find themselves questioning the circumstances around Lissa’s death – and each other. As the weather turns ominous, trapping the guests on the island, it slowly dawns on them that Lissa’s death was only the beginning. Nobody knows who they can trust. Or if they’ll make it off the island alive… (from Corvus)
OPINIONS: I was drawn into this by the title and cover, to be entirely honest. I have been on a bit of a mystery binge for comfort reading, and it intrigued me – especially as someone who adores water and would like nothing more than to be able to go for a daily open-water swim. But I found this an odd read. The most jarring element, to me, was that not a single one of the characters, of this supposed friend group, seemed to actually like each other. And yes, it may have been one of those situations where you become friends, and then stay friends out of habit, but it was still strange. There just wasn’t any true affection between any of them, and at various points of the story I thought any one of them had reason to commit the inciting murder.
I did really like the atmosphere, the backdrop of an isolated island together with a crumbling world of luxury. And I do have to give this one to Lexie Elliot, despite the characters frustrating me to no end, they were all complex and multi-layered, interesting people. But ultimately the pacing of the story felt off, with too much happening at once, and then not for a long time, and then pivoting in a completely different direction. It was a fun read, and I breezed through it rather quickly. But in the end, it didn’t feel as satisfying as I was hoping it would, and I was left slightly disappointed with the book as a whole.
If you’re intrigued, you can add How to Kill Your Best Friend to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here.
It’s been crazy over here. So a true catch-up Monday minis post this week – three books I’ve read (slightly late, to my shame), and where I feel like I don’t have all that much to say about them but want to showcase the books all the same. Huge thanks to the lovely publicists for sending me these books for review – and as always, opinions are entirely my own.
Something Certain, Maybe by Sara Barnard is not quite my usual fare. It is a contemporary YA novel with a good dose of romance, set around Rosie who is going off to university to study pharmacy. Rosie has her life planned out – uni, career, everything. But uni isn’t quite what she expected – and the girl she falls for, Jade, is pretty much the only thing she loves about the experience. And then her mum develops health issues too. Something Certain, Maybe is an ode to not knowing, to the insecurity that moving away to university brings with it. It is a book that shows that you don’t need to know all of the answers, and that it is fine to flounder a bit. And for me, personally, it hit on a lot of things I was feeling in that first few months of going away from home, of realising I was doing the wrong course, of struggling with my own choices. But, at the same time, as a book, this didn’t quite work for me. I found it a bit too slow, a bit too evasive. Perhaps that is because I have grown up since then, but it didn’t grip me – I found myself putting it down again and again, taking breaks – or truly make me care about the characters as more than concepts. It is a solid book, but one that I think I wouldn’t re-read.
Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik is a fun space opera romp. The first in a new series, this features Octavia, the captain of a space ship and her crew, and rival frenemy Torran Fletcher who hires them for a job. It is twisty, though not entirely unpredictable. The characters are solid, and it is very entertaining. I enjoyed my read, even if I’m not sure if I did so enough to continue on to the next in the series. It is a bit too superficial and will-they-won’t-they for my tastes, but I can see this working really well for a lot of readers who are more interested in straight romance elements than I personally am. It is more character focused than on the space opera elements, and it’s definitely not the right book if you’re looking for hard science fiction – in terms of storytelling it is closer to paranormal romance set in space than it is to traditional science fiction, which I think caught me out a bit.
For the Throne by Hannah Whitten is the sequel to last year’s For the Wolf. It concludes the duology, and it is just as compelling and delicious as the first book. It goes into more detail about the characters introduced in For the Wolf, though this second instalment focuses on Neve, Red’s older sister, who has taken on the throne – though for most of the story, she is lost in the Shadowlands. This is a dark fairytale, and where For the Wolf was Beauty and the Beast for those who never wanted the Beast to turn into a sleek prince, this is self-determination, rejection of fate and accident of birth. Best read in quick succession, this is a duology I’d recommend for fun escapism and folklore-inspired fantasy fans. It has grown-up fairy tale vibes, but far less wholesome, and it is completely up my street. These aren’t perfect books, and I don’t think I’d go as far as consider them favourites, but I’ve reread the first one, and I’ll probably reread the second one too. They’re the sort of lovely comforting books with an edge that just work for me.
Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure – Lewis Hancox
Welcome to St. Hell: A Trans Teen Misadventure by Lewis Hancox is part autobiography, part memoir and part guide to figuring out gender as a trans teen. It is an invaluable resource, and I hope one that many questioning teens get their hands on.
Huge thanks to Scholastic for sending me a review copy, all opinions my own as always.
RELEASE DATE: 02/06/2022
SUMMARY: Lewis has a few things to say to his younger teen self. He knows she hates her body. He knows she’s confused about who to snog. He knows she’s really a he and will ultimately realize this… But she’s going to go through a whole lot of mess (some of it funny, some of it not funny at all) to get to that point. Lewis is trying to tell her this … but she’s refusing to listen. In Welcome to St Hell, author-illustrator Lewis Hancox takes readers on the hilarious, heartbreaking and healing path he took to make it past trauma, confusion, hurt and dubious fashion choices in order to become the man he was meant to be. (from Scholastic)
OPINIONS: Telling creator Lewis Hancox’s own story of discovering his trans identity, this touching graphic novel is a great resource for teens questioning their own gender identity. It isn’t a straightforward or easy story, and shows that being queer is not a sudden choice for most. It is a slow process, and one that often includes a lot of denial and internalised prejudice and fear.
Autobiographical and benefitting from the perspective of adult Lewis, the author self-inserts his adult persona into the story throughout, interacting with his younger self and the people around him, both to give reassurance and to have sometimes uncomfortable conversations about how especially his initial coming out went and how it affected their feelings. And that is something I found interesting to see – the acceptance of others struggling with the change, not because they struggled with Lewis being a guy but because it is a major change and comes with fears of their relationship changing and insecurity. Lewis comes across as wise, and it is great to see his insight into people’s thoughts and behaviour, even if it is clear that the journey to get there wasn’t easy.
I think this graphic novel is a valuable resource and I am incredibly glad it exists. It is nuanced and informative, and I think it will help many teens. While the specific humour didn’t always fully click with me, I think ultimately, the messages and content are far more important. This is an essential book to have in every school library and I hope one that is made accessible to the teens that need it. Add Welcome to St. Hell to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
The Luminaries – Susan Dennard
A very long time ago, in a different world, Susan Dennard spent nearly six months entertaining Book Twitter with a create-your-own-adventure story based on an idea she never sold. We got invested in the daily polls about our chaotic heroine Winnie Wednesday, love interest Ugh Jay and best friend Erica, and regularly killed off our characters because we had no sense as a hivemind. And now, Susan wrote the book, edited it and sold it. And it’s coming out in November. Welcome to The Luminaries.
Huge thanks to Tor Teen for sending me an eARC via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 08/11/2022
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.
Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.
Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.
But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.
Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark. (from Tor Teen)
OPINIONS: This book was everything I hoped for and more. While it is a very different story than what I remember from the #TheLuminaries Twitter thread, it carries the same energy forward into a compelling YA fantasy. We still have our favourite stubborn but charming Winnie, Ugh Jay and Erica, though in this version, Winnie and Erica aren’t currently as close anymore because reasons. But we also meet so many new characters who round out the story. Where the create-your-own-adventure was fairly basic, this is a true novel, complex and full of nuanced backstory.
There is plenty of fan service – such as the iconic boop moment straight from the Twitter thread. And believe me when I say I squeed out loud when I got to it. We also get answers to a lot of things that remained open questions, especially around the locket, so central to the story. I did wish there was more Diana action, as I found the organisation fascinating and I was disappointed that the shed didn’t find its way into this version. But then I think about the fact that this is billed as book one and gleefully think about how Susan will go on to torture us next and get VERY excited.
The Luminaries is both an exciting, action-packed YA fantasy for those new to the universe and a lovely comfort read for those who have been following the story’s journey since Summer 2019. Susan has done it again, and I for one am a fan – I’ve already ordered my copy from the US because I can’t wait for the UK edition.
Add The Luminaries to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Book Depository here.