Welcome back to another round of Monday Minis – I’m sorry these have become a bit more sporadic as life has been increasingly manic these last few weeks! But here’s a solid selection of books for the week – something for every sort of reader, really. Many thanks to the respective publicists for giving me access to eARCs via NetGalley, all opinions are my own as always.
A Prayer for the Crown-Shy is the follow-up to Becky Chambers’ Hugo- (and Subjective Chaos) nominated A Psalm for the Wild-Built. And this one may be even better than the first book. It keeps following Sibling Dex and Mosscap on their journey, and it gets more personal this time. A major plot element is Mosscap getting “injured” and having a part that needs replacing – along with all of the philosophical considerations that come with it. In A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, Dex and Mosscap interact more with others, and it really feels like the series is coming into its own. I loved how Mosscap’s personality as a curious observer dominated his interactions with the people they met on their travels, and Dex got to see their family again. It is a wonderful quick comfort read, and I desperately want more.
I can’t quite believe that The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner was first published in 1996. It has only now come over to this side of the Atlantic thanks to the good work of the lovely folk over at Hodderscape – and reads like a newly published book. A timeless YA classic, really. The Thief is a compelling, fast read centred around a thief, Eugenides, called Gen and a massive heist, politics and a misfit gang. In short, lots of things still on trend in YA and with good reason. I had the pleasure to listen to Megan chat about the book and her journey as a writer last week, and I have been assured that the second book in the series is even better than this first one by my lovely flatmate who has read them all growing up. Definitely a wonderful series to get your teeth into and read as they’re now published in the UK in quick succession with stunning covers!
Peter V. Brett’s The Desert Prince is an epic fantasy set in a somewhat Middle Eastern/North African feeling setting. It is the first book in a new series, though set in the same world as his earlier books – fifteen years on. This was my first Brett book, and I did notice a lack of context at times, though it largely stands on its own merit and knowledge of the earlier books is not necessary to follow the story. It just gives an added dimension to it, and I imagine makes it easier for readers to pick up on cultural references between characters that I likely missed. What makes The Desert Prince stand out from other epic fantasy is that Olive, the main character, is intersex. Always aware of the unique body they were born with, Olive was socialised as a girl and over the course of the story struggles with the confines of that identity. But it did feel like this was often simplified, and I would have loved to see Olive really find a non-binary identity and communicate that, rather than letting themselves be boxed into places that don’t entirely fit by others. All in all, The Desert Prince was an entertaining book – in many ways traditional epic fantasy battling demons, betrayal and politics with chosen ones at its centre, but a fun twist on it. I may well pick up the sequel.
Happy Monday everyone! This week is catching up with some of my NetGalley backlog time – I’ve been trying to read already published books to reduce my TBR, and sadly, none of these really clicked all that much with me. They’re all decent books, but I’m not the ideal reader for them. But in any case, huge thank yous to the publicists for sending me eARCs of these titles, all opinions are my own as always.
The City of Dusk by Tara Sim is one of those books where I’m really not sure how to feel about them. I was super excited for it, and then it took me forever to read it (literally, I kept reading a few chapters, putting it down, and then coming back to it, I think it took me a couple of months!). This is the first in an adult epic fantasy from an author who previously wrote YA – and a lot of people have been saying that they think it reads as YA still. I don’t agree with this. The main characters are adults. They’re not teens. They may be young, but they’re not literal kids, and it doesn’t read like YA in terms of pacing either – which, to me, was a good thing. It is a story that works better for adults, and the crossover audience aging out of YA (aka those of us who still love YA even though we’ve technically outgrown it years ago). However, it is too long. Tension isn’t consistent, and so the book feels very meandering, which I think contributed to me putting it aside again and again. It seemed like the author was still trying to find her stride in this new series and world, and while I’m intrigued enough to want to read the next book, I think this one may have needed another round or two of polishing to truly shine.
Wilder Than Midnight by Cerrie Burnell is a middle grade fairy-tale inspired fantasy. It is the story of a princess and a girl raised in the woods, of greedy royals and determined girls. It is a fast read, and an entertaining one, but I found that neither the plot nor the characters were allowed much nuance. I know it is a middle grade book, and there is certainly allowance for simplification with that age group, but there are so many wonderful middle grade books out there that do have that nuanced approach and are much more satisfying reads. I found the black-and-white morality, the predictability of the tropes and the lack of depth in the main characters didn’t let me get emotionally invested in their fates and thus did not make Wilder Than Midnight stand out for me.
The Symmetry of Stars by Alex Myers unfortunately has been one of the more disappointing books I’ve read recently. I simultaneously feel like I only finished it because I loved his last book, The Story of Silence, so much, but also was far harsher on this one than I may otherwise have been for the same reason. I also have to admit that I picked up The Symmetry of Stars without knowing much about it because I thought I’d like it as much as the author’s previous book – but I think I liked that one for its story and themes more than Myers’ own work now that I have read another one of his books. In some ways, The Symmetry of Stars addresses some similar motifs concerning nature and nurture as The Story of Silence did, showing parallels between the books, and letting them function almost as companion pieces of a sort. However, the tone in which they are written differs enormously, as does the manner in which the motif is addressed. While The Story of Silence did so almost whimsically through medieval romance, The Symmetry of Stars is a very philosophical book. It is wordy, and it seems to go in circles at times as it argues with itself. It features a larger cast, but all of the characters stay fairly non-descript and bland. And at the moment, that is just not something I’m vibing with. I was expecting to love this, but, to be entirely honest, I was bored. I kept hoping that I’d change my mind, I’d find the magic of The Story of Silence, but I didn’t. If this is one you’ve been ogling up for yourself, I’d encourage you to check out a sample first to see if you mesh with the writing style.
More Monday Minis! It’s a true Monday today, Mondaying hard for me. But have some minis to cheer you up and get you in the reading mood – and hopefully improve your Monday… Many thanks to the publicists for eARCs of all of these via NetGalley, opinions are my own as always.
Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May has been very high on my most anticipated list for a very long time – just look at that cover. Absolute Fab-bait right there. Sapphic historical fantasy with witches? Doesn’t really get more me than that. But unfortunately, the book got swept up in my struggles to read digitally – I only managed to get an eARC as the promised physical copy got lost on the way somewhere, and struggled to get into it, mostly because I don’t like reading on kindle and forget about books that aren’t visibly in front of me. So when I finally picked up my final copy (yay gilded edges from Goldsboro, they look amazing and fit the book so well) I ended up racing through it in a day because it gripped me and I connected much better to the story in that format. I loved Emmeline, Annie and Bea, the three women driving the story. It is a slower book, but an immersive one. One that grabbed me just right and hit the stop perfectly. It is a story of self-determination, of finding your own path outside of the conventions that are given to you by society, and especially one where women realise that they don’t need men to live a fulfilling life in a period where they very much still determine how the world works. It is a lovely story, and one that I know I’ll come back to again.
Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen is a fun YA fantasy about witches, seers and princes. I really enjoyed how it did not have a pleasant main character, how Violet was allowed to be prickly and quite literally be made of thorns. It is a fast read, and an entertaining one. Prophecies are usually considered to be a good thing, a driving force in YA and I loved how this took that trope and turned it on its head by having Violet, the resident seer also be a liar and actively speak a false prophecy that affects the elite of the kingdom. In that, Violet Made of Thorns plays with fairy tale tropes throughout, and is a refreshing voice in YA. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of Gina Chen’s writing in the future, even if ultimately this one wasn’t 100% my cup of tea in execution.
Seven Devils by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam is one that I read ages ago and somehow just forgot to review – I read it before release! It is a delightful space opera with a ton of references to Greek mythology which made me love it even more. Combining queer found family elements (pretty much all of the main characters are queer, and female or non-binary, which is awesome) with hints at pre-determined story elements through the references and generally a fun space opera story, Seven Devils is pure entertainment. It is fast-paced and not scientifically accurate. This is one of those science fiction books where the rule of cool supersedes everything, rather than being meticulously researched in terms of technology and science. And it makes it compulsively readable. I need to catch up with Seven Mercies, the second book in the duology which has been released in the meantime (shame on me, this is how long this took me…) and dive back in the world of Eris, Ariadne and co. I loved all of the characters, who became more like friends over the course of the story, which I found wonderful. Definite recommendation for a relaxing and quick read.
This week’s Monday Minis are coming to you from Eastercon – the exotic holiday destination of London Heathrow. Sun and I are enjoying our time at Con, meeting many lovely people and listening to inspiring panels. And occasionally hiding out in our room, reading and reviewing – like getting this post ready! Many thanks to the publicists for sending me review copies of these books, all opinions are my own.
This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede is the first book in The Last Finestra series. It has a great hook – Alessa has a god-given gift of magic, supposed to help save her city from a vicious demon attack, except she keeps accidentally killing her suitors instead of amplifying their powers. She’s pretty desperate, she had one job and she’s definitely failing at it. In comes Dante, a mysterious rogue, who seems to be the one person she can touch – so she keeps him around as her bodyguard, all the while trying to solve her other problems. Sadly, I didn’t stay as hooked to the story as I did to the concept, and found Alessa rather frustrating and the chemistry between both her and Dante and her and the other suitors lacking. A lot of people seem to really like this Italian-inspired YA fantasy though, so it’s probably more on me than the book itself – a case of mismatched expectations and reality. I wish I’d enjoyed it more, but while it was a fine book to entertain, it wasn’t more than that for me, and I don’t think I will be continuing the series.
Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders is the middle book in the Unstoppable trilogy. Following up on last year’s Victories Greater Than Death, this is Anders’ first sequel – her first foray into YA and into writing something that isn’t standalone. That said, this volume both manages to build on the strengths of the first book, as well as not quite live up to my expectations – it is the second book in a trilogy, the one where many threads are left open and few plotlines are taken to their conclusion. Whereas Victories very much was concluded in itself, an arc that could mostly be left on its own, Dreams took these characters, took the ensemble cast, and fragmented it again. The found family aspects of the first book that I loved so much took a bit of a back seat as each of the characters embarked on their own arc and worked on establishing themselves as an individual in their changed circumstances – which was very interesting, but felt less compelling and comforting than the first book for me personally. I still adored Rachael, my favourite character, who was given plenty of space for her anxiety to unfold (THANK YOU CHARLIE JANE for giving us such a wonderful character with anxiety rep!) – and who got to grow outside of her friendship with Tina. Definitely still a good book, and I am looking forward to reading the conclusion, even if it didn’t quite have the magic of the first one.
Ghosts by Raina Telgemaier has been out on the other side of the Atlantic for a while, but the UK arm of Scholastic has only just brought it over here. This is a middle grade graphic novel set in Northern California, combining Latinx Day of the Dead traditions with Cystic Fibrosis rep. Cat is frustrated that her family has been uprooted to a new town, providing a better climate for her chronically ill sister Maya, and even more so when they meet local boy Oscar who won’t shut up about ghosts. And when an encounter with ghosts causes a flare-up of Maya’s Cystic Fibrosis, Cat has to find a way to help her sister despite her reluctance to embrace the magic. On paper, this is everything I love – the exact kind of graphic novel I tend to immediately fall in love with. But I struggled to connect with it, I think partially because Cat is so reluctant towards anything supernatural and focused on reality – whereas I am the type of person to immediately embrace anything magical. I did appreciate the chronic illness rep, especially how Maya is disabled but doesn’t let it take away from her love of life and desire to experience the world. Far from embracing toxic positivity or a rose-tinted view, it is a portrayal with nuance and dignity. Ghosts is a lovely story and the art suits it really well, and despite not fully connecting with it, I would recommend it on to middle grade readers.
Today’s Monday Minis are back in full swing with three books I enjoyed very much. Massive thanks to the respective publicists for sending me eARCs of these books, all opinions are my own, as usual.
Belladonna by Adalyn Grace is a delightfully dark YA fantasy. It is a new take on the old trope of Death and the Maiden – and we quite literally have Death appear as a character, which thanks to Terry Pratchett’s iconic character has become one of my favourite things. Belladonna is fast-paced, hooks the reader quickly and is full of not all-together unforseen twists. Signa, the main character, just won’t die. In a backstory reminiscent of A Series of Unfortunate Events, her guardians, however, keep dying. And now she’s sent to the last relatives she knows of – an aunt. Her aunt has passed away in the meantime, though, so she’s staying with the uncle and his two children, a son and a sickly daughter in their haunted mansion. Hitting on every Gothic trope in the book, this is just a wonderful escapist story that I couldn’t stop compulsively reading. It never felt like it went in a particularly unexpected direction or re-invented anything major, but it doesn’t need to. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and does so very well.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston took me a while to get into. From the blurb I wasn’t quite sure whether this was going to be a contemporary rom-com or one with a supernatural twist – Shara Wheeler disappears after kissing three people on the same night, nemesis Chloe, neighbour Rory and boyfriend Smith, leaving behind only a series of pink envelopes. When I realised that this was in fact a purely human-based story, and one set in the deep South of Alabama, my enthusiasm started to wane a bit – McQuiston’s One Last Stop was one of my absolute favourite books of 2021, largely because of its time-slip element and NYC setting. However, once I really got stuck into the story and started to get to know this cast of characters, they evolved from superficial high school stereotypes to multi-faceted, loveable people, and into a host of queer kids just coming into their own – which felt very intentional. I couldn’t put the book down, and kept sneaking chapters during work (which meant I ended up working very late that day…). I Kissed Shara Wheeler is basically the movie John Hughes would make in 2022, aimed at the queer and diverse audience of teens today. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a fun read now that it’s warmer outside and you can take a book to the park.
Someone in Time edited by Jonathan Strahan is a solid anthology of stories centred around time-travel and romance. It has a brilliant line-up, featuring authors such as Alix E. Harrow, Zen Cho, Theodora Goss, Sarah Gailey and many more, which made me run towards my review copy. As with most anthologies, not all stories worked equally well for me, and with this one especially I noticed the bookending with the strongest stories. I found that the first few were strong, then it had a – for me – weaker middle, and then the last few stories were really strong again, ending on what was the absolute strongest story of the collection, Ellen Klages’ tale of female physicist and lesbian culture in the 1950s. And really, it made me a bit sad that apart from Klages’ story, those that resonated most strongly with me were those by authors I was already familiar with and whose work I knew I enjoyed. Part of why I love anthologies so much is because it gives me the opportunity to encounter new authors, find new favourites, and it felt like I missed out on that with Someone in Time. But as a whole, I really enjoyed it – and those stories that worked for me worked really well. So it’s a definite yes from me!
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!
Welcome back to another installment of the Monday Minis, books that have delighted the Fab edition! Massive thanks to the respective publicists for sending me these books for review, all opinions are my own.
All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie is a wonderfully lyrical novella, ostensibly about the introduction of horses to medieval Iceland, but not really about horses at all. Set in the 9th century, this follows a single man, a trader, as he leaves Iceland for the mainland and interacts with people from cultures foreign to him. Heavily inspired by the accounts of Ibn Fadlan, a 10th century Arab-Muslim traveller, whose accounts shaped our perceptions of Viking traditions such as their funerals, this is an account of travels, of interactions between cultures, of first contacts. Taking a single story, it tells of grander adventures, of genealogies, taking up storytelling traditions found in Norse literature throughout the centuries. It is well-researched, beautifully written and haunting. I am sad I only got to read an eARC of this, and I know I will have to get myself a finished copy of this novella as soon as possible as it is one that I will want to dive into again and again. A true treat for medievalists and enthusiasts of slow, thoughtful stories alike!
The lovely folks over at Faber Children’s sent me a copy of Serendipity, a YA short story collection based on romance tropes edited by Marissa Meyer. Each story takes a different trope – think: just one bed, fake dating… – and constructs a contemporary romance around it, and they are delightful. I’m not usually one for long-form contemporary YA in most cases, but for some reason, short stories seem to work really well for me. As always with anthologies, I didn’t love every story as much, and unsurprisingly Anna-Marie McLemore’s was my favourite. I am nothing if not predictable with my favourite authors! But as a whole the collection cheered me up and felt like a warm hug. If you too would like to experience that feeling, you should get a copy of this anthology.
I was so thrilled when I received Gallant by V.E. Schwab in the mail from the wonderful folks over at Titan Books. My full review is locked and loaded over on Grimdark Magazine and should go live soon – but in the meantime, the book is as gorgeous on the inside as the cover makes you expect. It is atmospheric and character-focussed, with a plot that really takes second place to those elements. But this is the area where Schwab’s writing shines the most, and it is the magical sort of book that just does not let you go until you are done. I also loved how the story incorporates a series of beautiful illustrations – not merely as decorations, but as an integral part of the storytelling. Olivia, the main character, is non-verbal, and is written beautifully and with compassion. It would have been so easy for Schwab to fall back on ‘lost in translation’ tropes with communication, but largely avoiding those made the book so much stronger. A true five-star read!
In true Monday Minis fashion, this is me catching up on reviews long overdue… As always, many thanks to the publicists for providing me with eARCs via NetGalley, and all opinions are entirely my own.
The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson is a book that I struggled to connect with. Set in a world where there is an ocean made out of grass, on which ships propelled by magical hearthfires sail, this tells the story of Kindred, a young hearthfire keeper. Her grandmother, the Marchess, is a legendary hearthfire keeper herself and taught Kindred all she knows – and now she’s just found out that the Marchess supposedly killed herself by stepping into the sea. But Kindred is sure that there is more to the story, and that her grandmother is alive. And to find out more she is willing to risk everything and betray everyone – including her own crew. I loved the concept, but I found the characters unlikeable in a way that made me disconnect emotionally. I originally started reading this as an ebook as I was sent an eARC, and switched to audio after it had come out and I still hadn’t made much headway, but it still took me far too long to get through. I had to take long breaks in between reading this because while I did enjoy the story, it is the kind of writing that I soon feel like I’ve had enough of. It is a book that felt drawn out and slow to me, one that I just didn’t click with. The Forever Sea addresses a lot of very interesting ideas and topics – not least of all, the impact of finite resources on a society and climate change, but ultimately, while I can appreciate its good points, it wasn’t a book for me.
The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick is the second book in the Rook & Rose series. Following up on The Mask of Mirrors, this continues Ren’s story as she infiltrates Naszrenian society and tangles with the masked vigilante known as the Rook. Despite loving Marie Brennan’s – one of the co-authors – Memoirs of Lady Trent, this story failed to captivate me in the same way. In theory, this should be exactly my cup of tea, as it has characters of dubious morality, great descriptions and a fair dose of betrayal and backstabbing, but in practice, I didn’t like the first book as much as I wanted to, and felt similarly about this second volume. Individually, I love Ren, Tess, Vargo and Grey, and think they are brilliant characters whom I would love to learn more about. But in combination, I’m just not invested. Perhaps it feels like there’s too much of a good thing, too many storylines that are individually interesting, because in some ways, it seems to me that the series is meandering along, unsure where it is heading. I don’t dislike it, and I will probably pick up the next book too because I can’t help myself, but for me these are solid three star reads.
A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross is a wonderfully enchanting tale set on a Scotland-inspired island, the isle of Cadence. Split in East and West, with bad relations between the areas, inhabitants live in a medieval-ish society, though one where magic is real. Jack returns to the island after years of studying music on the mainland, hoping that his skills as a bard will help the heiress Adaira track down a series of missing children. It is a fairly slow-paced story, but one that nevertheless weaves its song around you and enchants the reader. I loved the characters, the honesty between them, and the lack of inhibition to confront hard topics. That really made this stand out for me. The story does go in a lot of unexpected directions towards the last third, and now I’m really keen to get my hands on the next book in the series. If you like mythical, atmospheric tales this one may be a good choice to pick up.
Sorry for missing last week’s Monday Minis, it’s been a bit of a crazy time with visiting family, staying with friends and travelling back to the UK. But I’m back today with an interesting mix of YA and teen books for you! Many thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for providing me with eARCs for all of these titles, all opinions are my own as usual.
The Righteous by Renée Ahdieh is the third book in her The Beautiful series. And I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about this installment – beginning with how I thought this was a trilogy and kept waiting for resolution that did not come, only to be blind-sighted by the story ending just after 90% and finishing on excerpts from ALL of Ahdieh’s series. Written in Ahdieh’s signature compelling style – I don’t think I’ve read anything of hers that hasn’t gripped me – this pivots away from the first two books a bit by focusing on Pippa and Arjun, two characters present in The Beautiful and The Damned. And I have to say, this is a choice that I really liked. They are great characters, and it made for an interesting change – however, this series is a bit all over the place. It started out as a historical vampire romance-y story, and now it’s more of a fairy story. Although I’m enjoying myself and they’re entertaining reads, I feel like I’m being conned to an extent, not necessarily in a bad way. I’m just not sure if I’d have picked up the series if I’d known where it’d go – and the ending to this particular volume made me grumpy. I was all set to give it four stars and then the very end changed my mind. So one to read if you’ve been enjoying the series, but no reason to pick up the series by itself.
Kelcie Murphy and the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts by Erika Lewis is a Rick Riordan-esque middle grade adventure about a girl who finds herself transported into a world of Irish mythology. Centred around Kelcie who grew up in Boston, knowing nothing about herself apart from her name, the story soon evolves into a fast-paced adventure when she finds her way to the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts and starts finding out more about her true powers and heritage. As is the norm with these sorts of books, she soon becomes part of an ancient struggle for the destiny of the world together with her friends. It is fun and a quick read – a very entertaining book that I think lots of readers will enjoy. However, I have to say it is not one that stands out, not in terms of plot, writing or characters. It is perfectly fine, but not one that I think I’ll be thinking about again or recommending to people much. If you think the premise sounds great, go for it, it may work better for you than it did for me though!
A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger is absolutely lovely. I adored their debut, Elatsoe, last year and so I was thrilled to be approved for the audiobook for their sophomore novel. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the blurb, and ended up positively surprised by a story that was nothing like any book I’ve read before and full of magic. Nina is Lipan, a teen in our world, trying to decode and translate a story she recorded before her great great great grandmother’s death, while Oli is a cottonmouth (yes, the snake) from the land of spirits and monsters. For much of the book, their stories are told in parallel, but then events happen in both their worlds to bring them together – and they find out that they are far more connected than they ever realised. My two favourite things about this – and Darcie Little Badger’s work in general – are the amazing character work – they really come to life – and the lack of adherence to western storytelling conventions. I love learning more about the Lipan Apache that the author is from just through how they tell their stories, through what is important to focus on.
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.