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    Monday Minis – Short Fiction Edition

    This week’s Monday Minis are a bit of a special edition. I’ve been reading quite a bit of short fiction recently – thanks to some amazing publicists who have sent me some anthologies and collections for review – so I thought I’d do a roundup of the lovely books I’ve read! I received review copies of all of these, all opinions are my own as usual.

    We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2020, edited by C.L. Clark and series editor Charles Payseur came out from Neon Hemlock Press in August. It reprints a selection of short fiction published in 2020 that the editors chose as their ‘best of’ 2020 – which, as they quite eloquently explain in the introduction is a very subjective classification and always ends up missing out on great things due to a variety of reasons. As such, this was quite a mixed bag for me personally. I think as a whole, the anthology was very well done and put together in a way that made sense, even if the individual stories weren’t all to my taste. I did feel like the stronger stories were in the second half of the anthologies – the ones that stood out to me most were “Thin Red Jellies” by Lina Rather, which shows the heartbreaking deterioration of a relationship under strange circumstances, and “The Wedding After the Bomb” by Brendan Williams-Childs, which focused on the found family aspect of queer groups. A solid entry if you want to get into reading more short fiction!

    I first came across Aliya Whiteley’s work late last year, when I read and reviewed the brilliant Skyward Inn (see my review here). So I jumped at the chance to read her new collection From the Neck Up, full of short fiction about the strangeness of life and the uncanny things that people encounter in their everyday lives, published by Titan Books in September. I highly enjoyed all of the stories in this collection – I really appreciate how Whiteley manages to evoke an uncanny atmosphere using relatively simple and accessible language, keeping her work grounded in reality while unsettling the reader with the content of the stories. These stories are really taken from the mundane, rather than the poetic and abstract, and that makes them all the creepier. An excellent collection of light horror stories.

    I’ve been on a bit of a translated fiction binge recently, and Sinopticon has only given me more authors to look up and read more from. Edited by Xueting Christine Ni, this collects and celebrates stories written by Chinese authors over the past few decades and makes them accessible to a far wider audience by translating them into English. I would love to see more of these kinds of anthologies and really dive into the way storytelling differs in different places. This anthology features some true gems – the two stories that stood out the most to me were “The Great Migration” by Ma Boyong and “Flower of the Other Shore” by A Que. Two utterly different stories that managed to draw me into their worlds completely. The first, “The Great Migration” is set in a far future where humans have colonised Mars and features two travelers who meet trying to travel home to Earth in the limited window where the two planets are closer to each other. This is an analogy to the Chinese tradition of people returning home to their families across the country for the holidays, such as Chinese New Year, turning a really mundane encounter into something special through great writing. The second story, “Flower of the Other Shore” is more out there – it’s story of the zombie apocalypse, but it’s a truly special one. The writing is haunting and the characters are ones that will stick with you. So definitely an anthology that should be on your radar!

    The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. Liu collects seven of the author’s stories and was published in June 2021 by Tachyon. This was my first foray into Liu’s prose work – I’d read the Monstress graphic novels, which she writes, but a graphic novel isn’t quite the same thing as a prose story. Now that I’m finished with the collection, I remain torn with my thoughts about it. I love that the stories all have that almost whimsical, ethereal feel to them that I expected from Liu’s work after Monstress, but none of them stood out to me in particular as stories that I loved. So while the atmosphere and the writing worked really well for me, I didn’t connect to the stories on an emotional level and found the individual stories almost forgettable. What I did really enjoy is that all of the stories had a little afterword about their inspiration, about their original publication. I loved reading these little insights that Liu had while going over her earlier work again in preparation for the collection, as all of the stories contained here are reprints. If you like Monstress, or enjoy atmosphere-driven stories with a good dash of whimsy, you might enjoy this collection a lot!

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    Monday Minis: A Few Novellas

    I don’t typically read novellas – not because of some active choice on my part, but merely by happenstance. But over the past couple months, a few novellas have managed to find their way into my reading queue, and so I thought I’d do a special Monday Minis looking at these three completely different little books. All opinions are my own.

    My Dirty Duke: A Victorian Novella by Joanna Shupe completely knocked my socks off! I heard about this book, because I follow author Sarah McLean on Twitter and she recommended it, and thank goodness she did. This novella checks all the boxes in terms of pure, unadulterated enjoyment for me. The writing is superb. The characters come to life on the page, and their arcs are real and meaningful despite its short length. The romance is delectably steamy right from the beginning (including naked, amateur photography) and is amplified by the age-gap trope – he is her father’s best friend – truly magnificent! If you want a wickedly decadent historical that you can read in a couple hours before bed, this is the novella for you! (Aside: OK, after writing this, I’ve decided I need to go read this yet again…)

    The Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a fantasy novella about a sorceress who loses her position of power after being betrayed by her lover. I was looking to fill the r/fantasy Latinx Book Bingo square, and was drawn to this novella by the description in Goodreads advertising it as Sword and Sorcery. Although I would not classify the book as such – I believe this to be a personal story about coming to terms with one’s hubris – it was still a pleasurable read delivering a solid message about the evils of desiring power in a interesting, fantastical setting. For me, the highlight of this book was the meso-american folklore influence on the world-building, especially in the form of what I would consider the main character’s cheeky familiar, the Nahual. Overall, a short, satisfying story.

    I saw a preorder announcement from the author for this book on my Twitter timeline (via the Romance Books hashtag), read the description, and immediately went to Amazon and bought it. Flesh and Stone: A Monster Romance Novella by Emily Hemenway is a steamy, contemporary romance novella that takes place between an almost 200 year old gargoyle and a contemporary, young New York woman. Yes, you read that correctly – the MMC is a gargoyle, and he and the FMC have gargoyle sex. You can thank me later. Thomas was part of a secret organization that investigated the supernatural when he was transformed into a gargoyle by an evil witch. He awakes in the present day when Hannah, an FBI analyst, recently moved to New York City, touches the statue on a tour of the old cathedral. You can imagine her surprise, but maybe not her reaction to this stony gentleman! This book was so cute and simply a fun read, perfect for October with all its witchy, monster vibes. 

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    Monday Minis

    And welcome back to Monday Minis, Switzerland Edition, the second. I’m still here, hanging out with my favourite person in the world (my grandma, sorry lads). I got to meet up with some lovely nerdy friends this weekend and eat lots of great food, so a fantastic time was had. Sadly, I didn’t have quite as much of a good time reading this batch of books… Once again, thank you to the wonderful publishers for sending me (e)ARCs for review, all opinions are my own.

    Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed is a fun YA contemporary with an added historical narrative woven into the story. Khayyam is spending the summer in Paris after losing an important art history essay competition and feeling like she has failed at everything she worked towards. And then she meets Alexandre. Alexandre Dumas, to be exact. Descendant of that Alexandre Dumas, the one who she was working on. Together, they follow her seemingly insane theory about a missing painting once belonging to Dumas, and thus end up following in the footsteps of Leila, a young Muslim woman living in the Paris of Dumas’ time. There is much here that makes a great story. But I ended up loving the premise a lot more than the actual book. To me, there were a lot of pieces that just didn’t quite fit together properly and the story and characters ended up like a puzzle with half the pieces missing or wrongly assembled. I might have approached it from the wrong perspective as someone very familiar with academic work in both history and art history, so it might well be that I am just the wrong reader for the book – but the way historical documents were treated in the story made me cry and that Khayyam’s parents (PROFESSORS!) encouraged her in this endeavour made me VERY upset. JUSTICE FOR RARE MATERIALS! I think this was a three star read for me, but ultimately more due to who I am than anything else.

    Dare To Know by James Kennedy frustrated me to no end. It starts out very intriguing – it’s a high concept thriller about a narrator who works for a company which developed an algorithm able to predict people’s deaths, until one day, he is in an accident, which causes him to calculate the time of his own death… which is half an hour in the past. This leads him on a wild goose chase for his ex-girlfriend who is the only other person who knows his time of death and might be able to help. But the story loses itself in a confused stream-of-consciousness narration skipping through moments of the narrator’s past, ultimately not leading to much of a coherent plot line. What further annoyed me is that the narrator is a self-centred narcissist who thinks he is smarter than everyone around him and I could not stand the bastard. I was close to throwing the book across the room many many times because of what a dick the narrator is – I don’t think he has any redeeming qualities. And because the book is so closely focused on his experiences, that is a major aspect of the reading experience. So, sadly not one I’d recommend.

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    Monday Minis

    Welcome to Monday Minis, Switzerland edition. I’m finishing up writing these as I am on the train from one end of the country to the other. I’m on a bit of a recuperation trip seeing friends and family until the middle of next week, so who knows how much I’ll be posting. Sadly, this week’s books are all ones that I didn’t get on great with even if I was really excited for all of them – keep reading to see why. Many thanks to all the publishers for sending me eARCs via NetGalley.

    What is it with sequels not living up to the potential of the first book recently? I feel like The Monarchs by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige is the latest in a series of second books following up on great initial novels that just left me wanting more. I read The Ravens, the first book, a couple times, both before it released for my review and after it came out and loved the characters, setting and approach to magic. But this second book felt very generic and lost a lot of the magic that sucked me into the first one to begin with. The plot takes a long time to get going – the main arc doesn’t really start until about halfway through – and much of what happens is basically petty drama. Honestly, I just ended up not being emotionally invested in this and constantly thinking of more interesting directions that the book could have taken. I think as a whole it is fine, and it ends up in a mostly satisfying ending to the duology, but it could have been so much better. While The Monarchs really focuses on just Vivi and Scarlett – and shows much less of their fellow Ravens – it seems to do so superficially, and not really explore their dynamic, which for me was one of the most interesting parts of the first book. So a solid three stars from me.

    The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl has such an interesting concept which is total Fab catnip – it made it onto my October hype post even. But, I struggled to even finish it. It ended up being more of a rage read than anything else. The story follows four girls at an elite boarding school after the death of one of their own as they slowly figure out that they’re actually set to repeat fairy tale tropes and their destinies are set. The concept is great, but that is pretty much the only thing the book has going for itself. The writing isn’t great – and in a crowded YA fantasy market, clunky writing is really something that does put me off. The characters were bland and because they fell into stock tropes, not characterised deeply enough. I didn’t feel like I got a proper sense of any single one. And while the book as a whole had a sense of casual queerness, I was rather upset to realise that the Beauty and the Beast insert characters included casting the only trans character in the book as the “Beast”… which is certainly a choice. I was quite excited when I realised that the book was set in Switzerland – and quite close to where I grew up too – but that soon turned to dismay when I realised that the setting was not well crafted, but relied on stereotypes and a lack of basic research. All in all, this is a book that I found underperformed in all aspects and would not recommend, as tempting as the premise is.

    The Ice Whisperers by Helenka Stachera is a middle grade fantasy that takes readers back to the Ice Age. The framing narrative is set in pre-revolutionary Russia, and the story then transports readers and characters into a dream-world close to the Ice Age. It centres Bela, who was raised as something of an orphan by extended relatives and never truly felt like she belonged, as she discovers that there is more to her parentage as she ever suspected. There is a lot to this story that is sweet, and I can see many young readers enjoying Bela’s adventures. But it is also not one that stands out enough in terms of writing and characters for me to recommend this over some of the other middle grades I’ve been reading. I think this is an author to watch, even if this particular book isn’t quite a standout success yet.

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    Monday Minis

    Have You Seen Me? by Alexandrea Weis started out as the exact kind of book I’ve been craving as part of my dark academia binge. I mean, girls disappearing at an elite boarding school outside of New Orleans, mixing cold cases with new tragedy, a young, atttractive teacher and a hardened cop turned small-town sheriff? Sounds pretty good, right? The combination of late-twenties Audrey and her teen students as narrating points of view mean that the book is interesting to both YA and adult audiences, as well as catnip for potential adaptation. However, the book didn’t manage to live up to its potential. Much of the adults’ behaviour did not follow any sort of logic, especially not when considered from a perspective of an educators responsibility to keep their students safe. The somehow insta-love between sheriff and teacher didn’t manifest in any kind of flirting, which would have been odd enough while her students kept dying, but in him constantly expressing worry about HER safety while not being worried about the students at all. WHO KEPT DYING. And then, around the middle of the story, Native Americans were brought in as a red herring. It was very clear that it was supposed to be a red herring – we never actually encounter one of them, their only purpose in the story is that they keep getting mentioned as some sort of barbarian people who perform rituals on the school grounds and thus are suspects in the girls’ disappearances. Which, no thank you. There is no reason why this is necessary – and no benefit to the plot of this specific book. The only reason I did not rage-quit when this was brought up, is because I needed to know exactly how angry I needed to be. Do not recommend.

    The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling is a fun romance centred around Vivi, witch, lecturer and chaotic young woman. A decade ago she accidentally hexed her ex, hot Welsh witch Rhys, which they only just found out as he’s in town for a big ritual. This is basically one big comedy of errors as the two bicker and eventually fall back in love as they try to save the town and undo the curse. The Ex Hex is lighthearted and entertaining, with charming characters, though it lacked substance for my taste. I felt like it was just this tad too easy of a read and wished there was a bit more of an underlying issue. Part of it was probably also that this was a cishet romance, which is not something I pick up often – I was drawn in my the witchy aspect, and it was definitely more romance than witchy novel. So I think this is exactly what it says on the tin, and if that’s what you crave, go for it! Just don’t ask it to be anything that it’s not trying to be.

    These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong made my favourite books of 2020 list. I adored the book and thought it combined so many things seemingly effortlessly, so I was very excited for Our Violent Ends, the sequel and end to the duology. However, it didn’t manage to get anywhere close to the magic of the first book and I ended up very frustrated with it despite all my efforts to try and love it as much as I did the first book. It felt like it needed a lot more editing (and it might well be that some of the issues I noticed will be resolved in the finished copies). Much of the plot seemed to be stuck in endless loops of the same over and over again rather than propelling itself forward, which to me was a less than ideal reading experience, combined with a lot of artificial pining between Roma and Juliette. I did enjoy the development of some of the minor characters, though partially that was more on principle than because their storylines felt natural. Ultimately the story did come to a somewhat satisfying conclusion, but the book as a whole did not come close to the magic I felt reading the first book. I’ll still be following what Chloe Gong does next, but Our Violent Ends was more miss than hit for me.

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    Monday Minis – Historical Romance Edition

    In this special edition of Monday Minis, I’ll be sharing thoughts on a few upcoming Historical Romance releases that I thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend to any lover of the genre! I received eARCs of all three of these books from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

    Duke Gone Rogue is the first book I’ve read by Christy Carlyle, and with this one book, she has immediately ascended to the top of my favorite Historical Romance authors list. To escape his reputation as a heartless curmudgeon in late Victorian-era London, the Duke of Ashmore takes a much needed vacation in Cornwall where he is forced to come face-to-face with his father’s debauched past manifest in the pleasure estate he must now occupy. Maddie Ravenwood is a pillar of the Haven’s Cove community and must convince the unrelenting Duke of Ashmore to repair the eyesore of a property that he just wants to forget. Intentions quickly shift as the two start to develop an easy rapport that blossoms into something more. I happily give this book my highest of recommendations. I think it’s an excellent example of a mature, well-developed Romance that doesn’t rely on sex to build intensity or chemistry. There was no “pining and whining,” and from the beginning, Maddie doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind or articulate what she wants, not only in her life, but also from her love interest. How satisfying to read a FMC that flat out says: “I want you” and “Please touch me.” More of this in Romance please! The prose is solid, the characterization near perfection, and there is no contrived side-plot used to drive the story. This book is about Will and Maddie and how their lives are enriched through knowing each other and falling in love. I will definitely be reading on in this series and look forward to more from this author!

    The second book in The Fifth Avenue Rebels series, The Lady Gets Lucky follows the relationship of wallflower Alice Lusk and rakish scoundrel Christopher “Kit” Ward as they navigate high society during the Gilded Age in Newport, New York, and Boston. At a house party in Newport, Alice decides to take her life into her own hands by asking Kit, a man purported to turn even the shiest of women into a vixen, to give her lessons on men so that she can find a husband and escape her overbearing mother. But as the lessons progress and they get to know one another, an unexpected relationship begins to develop, and they are forced to examine themselves, the emotional scars of their pasts, and each other to chart a path forward in their lives. This book is only the second I have read by Joanna Shupe. I was so enamored of My Dirty Duke, I wanted to get a sense of her writing in a full-length novel, and I was not disappointed. The relationship is slow-burn, taking the entirety of the book to develop, which makes the HEA that much more satisfying and authentic. But the highlight of this book is Shupe’s characterization. All the characters are lovable, not just Alice and Kit! The supporting cast (the unlucky Duke Lockwood and the naughty, but strong Nellie Young) piqued my interest, and I’m eager to read on, hopeful to see their stories develop in the broader context of the series.

    Eva Leigh’s The Good Girl’s Guide to Rakes is the first book of her new Last Chance Scoundrels series set in Regency-era London. Kieran and Finn’s parents are furious after the two rakish brothers help their best friend Dom leave their sister at the altar. Oops! They won’t see a penny of their parent’s money unless all three are married to respectable women. Kieran takes the challenge head-on and asks Dom’s sister Celeste to introduce him to proper society. But Celeste is sick of proper society. She’ll help Kieran, but only on the condition that he return the favor and show her the scandalous side of London. Throughout both their tame daytime excursions and their clandestine nighttime outings, the two find they are far more similar than outward appearances and reputations would have led either to believe. Their partnership turns into a steamy love affair that will have you frantically turning the page for more! For me, this book was entirely a pleasure read. I enjoyed the characters and found them engaging. The chemistry between Kieran and Celeste was intense and their encounters wonderfully steamy. Kieran’s dabbling in poetry was a delightfully unexpected, and well-executed, addition. The premise was a bit contrived and unlikely for my taste, but the book was so fun that it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment. I will definitely read on in the series – I cannot wait to find out what happens with Finn and Dom! 

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    Monday Minis

    Unravel The Dusk by Elizabeth Lim is the follow-up to Spin the Dawn, a whimsical Asian-inspired fantasy in which Maia pretends to be her brother to take part in a competition to find the next imperial tailor. With the help of magical scissors she sets out on an adventure that ends up much greater than expected. This sequel has the odd position of following up on a book that I kind of thought should have been a standalone. So, it feels like certain themes seemed to repeat themselves, the plot was sometimes a bit meandering but it was still very enjoyable. It is a compulsively readable series, and while book one was rightly called out for ableism (Maia’s brother has a limp, which she fakes for much of the book) this is something that is not present in this sequel, which I really appreciated. I also really liked the coherent world-building with references to the in-universe story of Six Crimson Cranes, which the author recently released as a standalone fairy-tale. All in all, this is a sweet YA fantasy, great for bingeing and a cosy night in now that it’s getting colder.

    Alpha Night by Nalini Singh has been lying around on my partially read pile for far too long. It probably wasn’t the wisest move to try and dive into the middle of a series without being caught up on what happened beforehand (entirely mea culpa) but back then I thought, oh, a paranormal romance will be a fun enough read. But how wrong I was. I did enjoy the beginning when I started it many moons ago, and didn’t feel as overwhelmed as one might think reading a book out of sequence, until I put it aside once the romance parts started happening. Because oh boy, did that transport me back a decade in the development of female-orientated fantasy. Not remembering that that was why I put the book aside a while ago, I recently picked it back up to finally finish, but had to decide to DNF – going from unrelated conversation to rough sex within two sentences is just not my jam. I prefer my romantic scenes to be slow-burn with tangible buildup, and not banging for the sake of banging. I think this might also have to do with the shifter dynamics inherent in Singh’s work (as the lovely Kat explained to me, who is much more well-versed where it comes to romance), so, not a book for me, unfortunately.

    Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone is so damn compulsively readable. I just wanted to dip in for a bit, and oops, the book is done. It coasts by on a dark, gothic atmosphere, and gives me such Hades and Persephone vibes – though Violeta, the main character seems to be more interested in the local broody boy than in the powerful death deity she deals with. While this is more of a gothic fantasy, this has hit the spot of my dark academia craving as it kind of matches the aestethic and vibes of those books and I’m now already longing for the sequel. It isn’t the most inventive story or has the most unique characters, but it is incredibly compelling and the combination of all these individual elements turn it into something special. If you’re into YA fantasy, and like your books dark and gloomy, this is definitely one to put on the TBR. A very very solid 4* read for me – and one I’ll probably be rereading soon.

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    Monday Minis

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

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

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

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

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    Monday Minis

    Finally getting to write a bit again – though bear with me, I’ve been very migraney, so it’ll be rather short and sweet today I think. Good thing it’s Monday Minis anyway! I’ve got three very different books for you today – a YA anthology of romantic stories, a YA fantasy about fae and a YA creepy historical/horror. Thanks to all of the publishers for providing me with eARCs via NetGalley, as usual, all opinions are my own.

    Fools in Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales, edited by Rebecca Podos and Ashley Herring Blake, is full of short stories with twists on romantic YA tropes by some of the most popular authors working in YA right now. You’ve got everything from fake dating to missed connections to love triangles and enemies to lovers, usually with a brilliant twist. And pretty much all of these stories are queer or diverse in another way – no straight white cis stories centred here, no ma’am – and my, how happy that makes me. I read this book spread over a couple weeks, reading just one or two stories to cheer myself up as all of them are just really lovely and delightful and positive. This is the kind of feel-good book that will make you feel better about yourself and the world and just kind of has the same effect as a hug or a cup of hot tea. While none of the stories were especially brilliant in a standout-favourite sort of way for me personally, none of them stood out as weak either – a solid anthology without clear weak spots. Highly recommended if you’re looking for something to cheer you up!

    These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan is a YA fae fantasy romance. At its centre is Brie, a girl with a hate for the fae. But when her sister is sold to the Unseelie Court, she will do anything to get her back. Including bargaining with the Unseelie King to steal relics from the Seelie Court, flinging herself head-first into both courts and their machinations. I was quite ambiguous about this book – it is entertaining and a very quick read, but there isn’t anything very special about it for me. There is the expected love triangle, hinted at already in the blurb, and really nothing that makes it stand out from the many fae YA books out there. Originally I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to read These Hollow Vows, then was sucked in by the hype, and it was perfect for a train read, but not more than that if it makes sense. If fae are more your thing, or if you’re a lover of books like The Cruel Prince, this is probably more your cup of tea than it is mine!

    What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo was one I was very excited for. A creepy family mansion, clan secrets and a girl returning from boarding school to uncover it all? Sounds like the gothic book of my dreams. Add in some magic and wolf shifters and I’m bound to love it. However, I actually ended up dnf’ing this at about 40%. I tried reading it as an eARC, and when I struggled to get into it, I switched to audio (as I had it available on my Scribd). And while there are quite a few reasons that influenced my decision to abandon the book, the main one was that Eleanor, the main character, A TEEN, as well as her sister and cousin, both teens too, are weirdly obsessed with this middle aged man who seems to be grooming them – and I’m just not here for that. It might well be that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for that later on in the story that I just haven’t reached, but the behaviour as depicted in the story up to where I reached just made me feel so uncomfortable as a reader that I could not keep reading. Thus, this is a book I will not be recommending.

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    Monday Minis

    Greetings from surprisingly sunny Edinburgh. Yes indeed, I have made it out of London for the first time this year, and I’m very excited. I reread T.L. Huchu’s The Library of The Dead on my train up to get in the proper mood, and I’m going to finish my TikTok about it later (yes, I’ve become THAT person). If you missed it way back, here‘s my review of The Library of the Dead from December. But without further ado, today’s Monday Minis. Once again, thank you to all the publishers for sending me review copies of these novels, all opinions are my own.

    I struggled with Meet Me In Another Life by Catriona Silvey. I listened to this as an audiobook and kept taking rather long breaks, listening to whole books in between. This is the story of Thora and Santi, two people destined to meet again and again in Cologne, at different points in their lives, but with a shared love for the stars. There are some elements that stay the same across all of their lives, but some elements, especially their relationship to each other keep changing. Still, this makes the story feel very repetitive – there are only so many times I find the same characters meeting over and over again interesting. While there ultimately was a reason behind the story being what it was, I ended up mostly bored after the third repetition or so, and only kept listening because I didn’t want to give up. I don’t think this is a book I’d recommend, personally. It does explore interesting questions of how circumstances can change a person and how nurture influences character, and I can see how it might appeal to a more literary oriented reader. Ultimately it seems to put form over substance, and that is not the kind of reader I am.

    Seven Deaths of an Empire by G.R. Matthews is an interesting one. It’s a huge epic fantasy tome, with all the trappings. It starts off great, and I loved the first few hundred pages. I originally found that while it used a lot of the tropes of epic Grimdark, it also subverted them and made them into something new and interesting. It is a military fantasy, but it also has central female characters, and I really liked the flashbacks introducing every chapter. However, once I hit the halfway point, I started struggling with this book. I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with the story, it probably has more to do with my reading mood than anything else. But it took me forever to actually finish it, and to be entirely honest, not much about it actually stuck with me. If you’re into classic Grimdark such as Mark Lawrence or Joe Abercrombie, this is a new author to check out, but if you’re more into diverse fantasy this might not be for you.

    I devoured Composite Creatures by Caroline Hardaker. When I picked this up the other day, I just wanted to read a few chapters to get a feel for it, and suddenly I was halfway through the story. It is unsettling and creepy and all too close to reality. And Caroline’s writing is stunning and immersive. This is the story of Norah and Art, a couple living in a dystopian world, which unravels over the course of the story to show just how broken it really is. And if I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting to be as enthralled by this story as I ended up being – it’s not the most plot-heavy, but it is emotionally captivating and that took me by surprise and is a large part of why I ended up loving it. Composite Creatures is the kind of soft genre-defying psychological horror that I love, that focuses on unsettling the reader rather than being a gore fest. This one I do unreservedly recommend.