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    Monday Minis

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

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

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

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

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    Monday Minis

    Today is a bit of a grab-bag of things that don’t really fit together but I wanted to draw attention to anyway. I’m trying to ease my brain back into reading so I’ve been consuming a lot of novellas and comics. On with the reviews!

    Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons I really enjoyed this one. It’s a gentle exploration of a woman who’s been looked down on and under her sister’s thumb for many years and how she begins to push her own and her sister’s expectations through the unexpected gift of a dragon egg. While there is romance it’s very slow and subtle, the focus instead being on Miss Percy’s growth. The dragon, Fitz is absolutely adorable and this would be perfect for people who enjoyed Marie Brennan’s dragon series but wanted something a bit more domestic and rooted in the British countryside rather than far-flung locations

    The Murders of Molly Southbourne This is an odd one. The premise is instantly engaging, a woman who creates murderous duplicates of herself every time she bleeds. But the framing at the beginning and the end of the book – whilst effective for creating tension and allowed the novella to work both as a standalone and easing into a sequel – didn’t quite work for me. I also found parts of the book a bit slow going – a strange thing to say about a novella and the explanation for how Molly had ended up that way was ultimately to me not needed, proof that sometimes less is more. But despite all of these minor grumps, I keep finding myself thinking about various scenes and unpicking the hows and the whys so it’s definitely one I’d recommend people read. Order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The Ladies of the Secret Circus Circuses are always a bit of a liminal space with the potential for both entertainment and danger and I’m always on the lookout for books that capture that dichotomy. Ladies doesn’t quite succeed in this but it was still a reading experience I enjoyed. The book follows both Lara in the present and her ancestor Cecile in the past Lara has always been aware of Cecile’s history with the circus, but when her fiance disappears on their wedding day Cecile’s past begins affecting Lara’s present in unforeseen ways. Like the majority of books that deal with two different time periods, one story is more compelling than the other. The descriptions of the circus in Paris at the time of Ernest Hemmingway and the lost generation, and its sense of macabre and menace are more attention-grabbing than the quieter and more solemn beginning of Lara’s story of dealing with loss and grief. However, this is just the set-up and although the beginning is slow, events are carefully threaded through time and foreshadowed effectively with a satisfying payoff in the end. While the blurb mentions magic, this is both more and less central than might be expected, and people who come expecting the otherworld-ness of the Night Circus might be slightly disappointed. But as a tale in its own right, The Ladies of the Secret Circus delivered and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

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    Monday Minis

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

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

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

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

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    Monday Minis

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

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

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

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

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    Monday Minis

    And another (manic) Monday! I started working as a bookseller last week and things have been just a tad insane since then. But one of the many things I love about my job is that most of us spend our lunch breaks reading in companionable silence in the staff room. So thanks to the publicists for sending me eARCs of these titles via NetGalley, and as usual, all opinions are my own.

    The Revelry by Katherine Webber is a UKYA contemporary fantasy out from Walker Books in February. It is set in a small town, where each year, a so-called Revelry takes place – a party in the woods, shrouded in mystery and legend. Bitsy and her friend Amy sneak in, and after the party, Bitsy’s life starts to unravel through bad luck while Amy rides a wave of good fortune. So Bitsy starts to convince herself that they are bound together through a curse only she can break. There are some really good ideas in there, especially around the mystery of the Revelry and the history of it, and the way it has impacted the society in their small town, but I felt like these aspects ultimately ended up not being given enough space in the story. Most of the plot revolved around a constant circle of Bitsy having a spell of bad luck while things went well for Amy, Bitsy getting upset, the girls fighting and soon making up again because they have been best friends forever. And then the same thing again. So while the concept was really interesting, the execution wasn’t for me.

    Goblin King by Kara Barbieri is the follow-up to her debut, White Stag. It follows Janneke’s story after the events of the first book, because as we all know, just because the big fight is won doesn’t mean the war itself is over. These books are very loosely inspired by Norse mythology, though it’s more of a vague setting and references to beliefs and concepts rather than heavy-handed cultural influence. I really enjoyed reading this one, even if it has been rather too long since I read the first book and I definitely ended up missing out on quite a bit of the nuance just because I didn’t remember many of the details from the last arc. But this crossover fantasy series – I’d say it’s probably closer to new adult than proper YA – is a lot of fun and has some great characters. I loved how mature Janneke and Soren’s relationship is, and how they actually talk through issues (persistent problems that can easily be solved by communicating are one of my pet peeves). This series is more on the romantic end, but if you like that and epic-ish fantasy, it might be a good one to check out!

    I loved The Gifts That Bind Us by Caroline O’Donoghue. This is the second book in her tarot-inspired contemporary fantasy series, and I think it’s one of the most thoughtful, mature YA fantasies out there. It is more focused on the implications of events, on mental trauma and small-scale relationships and impacts rather than sweeping plots and fast-paced adventures, which is a welcome change and makes this stand out in the market. I think I liked this one even more than the first book as it delved deeper into trauma and consequences, and really dared to lean into slower pacing – but no less tense story-telling. The gang from the first book is back here, Maeve, Roe, Fiona and Lily, but we meet a host of new characters too, both positive and negative, all of them nuanced and complex. And it’s lovely to get books set in small-town Ireland rather than US or UK as is far more common. A wonderful YA series that I’d highly recommend!

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    Monday Minis

    Welcome back to another week of Monday Minis, full of supernatural creatures – vampires, ghosts and monkey kings. Many thanks to the respective publicists for sending me (e)ARCs of these titles – all opinions are my own as always.

    I loved The Coldest Touch by Isabel Sterling. This is the exact kind of contemporary YA fantasy that I will just devour like a vampire devours fresh blood – fitting, because this is a vampire book. But this aint Twilight. It is a fast-paced story about humanity, family and friendship, and also a tender love story between two girls, one of whom first needs to realise that she might not be quite as straight as she thought she was. Big yay for bi rights! It isn’t high literature, but it is incredibly compelling, with complex characters and an interesting magic system. While this is a standalone as far as I can tell, it could also work as the opener of a series, and I could totally see this being turned into an epic TV show too. Think The CW, but smarter. And more charming. I kind of want to reread it already.

    Ghostcloud by Michael Mann is a middle grade adventure set in a futuristic London, one where children are forced to work in factories that are more reminiscent of the nineteenth century than the future. Luke and his friends are shoveling coal under a bombed Battersea Power Station, when he meets Alma, a ghost-girl and learns that he himself is a half-ghost. With the help of Alma, he finds out about the evil plans of overseer Tabatha, and that they may all be in far bigger danger than the mundane risks of hard labour. It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, and I really liked Alma especially. I did feel like the concept was really cool and quite unique, but the writing didn’t completely convince me, and I felt like the characters were a bit flat. It’s a solid story, not an exceptional one, and thus probably not one I’d go out of my way to shill to people. And I slightly hate myself for this, because the cover and the inside illustration/decoration is absolutely gorgeous and I am a very simple Fab, and I like pretty shinies!

    Monkey Around by Jadie Jang is unfortunately a book I didn’t get along with at all. I realised very early on that this was likely going to be a DNF for me, but I still kept trying and made it around 100 pages in before capitulating. In terms of content, it is certainly an interesting one, blending South East Asian mythology with contemporary urban fantasy, set in San Francisco. But the voice is one that annoyed me – it is the kind of artificial humour and overt comedy that grates on me in any sort of context. Asking around in my group of friends and especially reviewers, this one has been a bit of a hit or miss, so if the idea of a modern Monkey King who doesn’t know what she’s doing intrigues you, do have a read of the blurb and see if that tone works for you – it is a good indication of the tone throughout the book. And if you’re looking for a more detailed and positive take on this, have a look at this review from Womble at Run Along the Shelves.

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    Monday Minis

    Welcome back to another round of Monday Minis where Fab catches up on their TBR! Many thanks to all the publicists who sent me eARCs of these three books via NetGalley, all opinions are my own as usual.

    Skyhunter by Marie Lu is your average YA science fiction novel. While I have enjoyed some of her earlier work, I found that this one read quite generic, and didn’t think that it particularly stood out. In fact, I considered DNF’ing it but kept hoping that I’d be sucked into the story. The story is about Mara, one of the last nations standing against the colonial force of the Karensa Federation, and its legendary fighting force, the Strikers, in particular. Talin is one of these Strikers, and when a prisoner is brought to her unit, she has to figure out whether he is a spy, or whether he might be a weapon that can help her side. Skyhunter as a whole is fast paced, but ultimately, nothing in in stands out and makes you connect to the story or the characters. I felt like it was a commercially-driven book, rather than one where I could tell that the author and the whole team behind it loved what they were doing and were thrilled to tell this story – especially because I struggled to really see what the story itself was, the plot felt quite meandering despite its pace, and the characters rather bland. This one is a miss, unfortunately.

    I really enjoyed The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin. This is an interesting take on fairy tales – Cinderella is very much not taken with the reality of her life after years of being married to the prince and is looking for a way out. This is a story full of unlikeable characters, of people you don’t necessarily want to feel for, but ultimately do empathise with. And that speaks to Grushin’s skill with words. But the pacing is off in this one. It feels choppy in places, and drags in the middle at times. It also has much more of a literary fiction feel than what I usually read, which might explain some of the struggles I experienced with the pacing. It does discuss what goes into making a marriage successful – from both sides, which I thought was really smart – and quite satirically portrays fairy godmothers as morally ambiguous characters. And my favourite parts were probably the little mice and their dynasty of self-replacing descendants! This is one to check out if you are into fairy tales, meta-analysis and intellectually challenging books.

    If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich isn’t my usual fare, but I’ve previously enjoyed Gonzales’ work, and so I picked this up on a whim on NetGalley and thought I’d give it a shot. And to be entirely honest, I still don’t quite know what to think about this one. This is the story of Saturday, a boyband, where two members end up falling in love with each other, to the dismay of their controlling management. Zach and Ruben, as well as Angel and Jon ended up growing on me throughout the course of their story and I really cared about them and their fates by the end of it. It was really frustrating to see how the boys were treated by their management when all they want to do is live their reality and share their love with the world. Staying in the closet when you’re ready to come out isn’t something that anyone should have to deal with, and I’m happy with how the story resolves. However, I did feel like it dragged on and was longer than needed – but the pacing issues I had with the story may be more down to the reader I am than the book itself as I rarely read contemporary. It’s definitely a fun book to spend a couple of hours with!

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    Monday Minis: Little Tiger Edition

    A little while ago, the lovely folks over at Little Tiger sent me a box full of their recent YA favourites to unbox over on my TikTok account, and now that I’ve had a chance to read them all, I thought I’d do a special Little Tiger feature for this week’s Monday Minis. All opinions are my own as usual.

    I already reviewed The Boy I Am by K.L. Kettle back when it came out at the start of the year (see my full review here) – I really enjoyed this dystopian YA that is reminiscent of the early 2010s and made me feel all nostalgic for a simpler time in my life. This turns gender roles on their head – boys are in a position of weakness, whereas women control the power in this world, and it shows the stark inequality still present in our system. A fun read with some deeper underthemes!

    I’m not sure why I didn’t fully click with Wranglestone by Darren Charlton. The book has generally been really well received, and quite a few of my friends have read it and liked it a lot. And while there really isn’t anything I can fault the book for, I found that while I didn’t dislike it, I was not emotionally invested in the characters – which meant that I found it hard to keep going. This is essentially both a tense zombie survivalist adventure and a sweet queer romance between two teen boys. But, I just ended up feeling like it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. And I’m not sure if it’s the book, or if it’s the fact that I’ve read most of the queer YA that’s been released in speculative fiction in the last few years and have just become super picky. Because by all accounts, I should have loved this. I think, ultimately, I just didn’t quite buy the romance. For me this ended up being a solid 3* read, and I hope that if you give it a read, it works better for you.

    I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed Radha and Jai’s Recipe for Romance by Nisha Sharma. And now I desperately want some Indian food because of all the delicious sounding recipes this romcom includes… I’m not usually a huge fan of contemporary romance, but this charmed me and I was absorbed into the story from the start, I really do blame it on the food – I am exceedingly food-motivated. While this is certainly not a perfect book, it is one that deals with a lot of the anxieties and challenges that teens face towards the end of their high school years, when they have to balance hobbies, passions, expectations and dreams for their future with the reality that comes crashing down on them. Radha and Jai, while utterly different and from very different backgrounds ultimately struggle with the same sorts of issues, and their differing approaches are interesting and make for a good story. I loved the flavour the Indian-American setting gave the story and the central theme of the Bollywood dancing theme. All in all, a very sweet story and one to look out for if you enjoy contemporary YA!

    The Rules by Tracy Darnton is a YA thriller about Amber, who is fleeing from her survivalist dad. He has been prepping them for some sort of impeding apocalypse for as long as she can remember and raised her under very strict rules for every aspect of life. It’s a gripping story, though not the most refined one. I felt like I didn’t get to know the characters as well as I would have liked – it feels like ultimately The Rules is really a predominately plot-driven story, and anyone outside of Amber is quite one dimensional. The ending was unexpected – though it felt rushed and didn’t get the sort of attention I would have liked to see. I did enjoy reading this, and felt for the characters, but I didn’t love it. It’s worth a look if you’re into YA thrillers though as YMMV!

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    Monday Minis

    Once again it’s Monday – so time for Monday Minis! A very eclectic combination of books this week – a teen mystery, an occult comic and a pandemic YA set in a juvenile detention facility. Many thanks to the publicists who sent me review copies or eARCs, all opinions are my own as always.

    I’ve had The Five Clues by Anthony Kessel for a while. And I read it quite a while ago. But I found reviewing this book very hard – I struggle to write reviews that are predominately negative, especially if a book is from a small press and there isn’t a whole lot out there. There are just some things that I struggled with and that I felt undermined the premise of the book as a whole. First and foremost I just could not deal with the inciting incident being that a supposedly loving mother (who was in fear for her own life) would leave her pre-teen daughter ACTIVE instructions to track down the people she thinks might KILL her?! What mother would put their child in danger like that? Not Edie, the main character, randomly finds something that leads her to believe that her mother’s death might not have been an accident. But her mother basically leaving a trail for her to follow. I was interested in reading the book because it is written by a public health physician and is marketed as teaching young readers to better deal with grief, something that is very dear to my heart as I too have lost my mother at a rather young age. However, I didn’t feel that this came across very well in the finished product, and would recommend other books for this purpose.

    I’m once again on a graphic novel binge, and so I was excited to get to read Shadow Service Volume 2: Mission Infernal by Cavan Scott and drawn by Corin M. Howell. I enjoyed the first volume earlier this year, and this continues Gina Meyer’s story as she runs from MI666, the secret division responsible for the supernatural. Gina is a witch, kicks ass and does not play around. Her adventures in this volume take her to Rome where she has to face a new threat and perhaps work together with old enemies to survive. Shadow Service is a very fun comic series, extremely fast paced – a little to the deterrent of character work, I think, I would prefer if it slowed down a bit and let us discover some more about who these characters are, rather than just their backstories – and it once again ends on a massive cliffhanger that has me very keen to read the next volume. While this isn’t one of my all-time favourite comics, it is one that I really enjoy reading and it has a lot of the elements that make me pick up a story. And every time I’m thinking, ah, I’m getting a bit bored, this story doesn’t quite feel like the right thing for me, they come up with some sort of twist or cliffhanger that ends up getting me hooked again, making the series very addictive. It feels a bit like that comforting thing you can read without having to think too much, similar to how I’ve been binging Riverdale again. A fun series for those of you who like occult action-packed stories!

    At The End of Everything by Marieke Nijkamp is a hard book to talk about. It took me quite a bit to get into it, probably because I tend to struggle with prison settings – I didn’t look up what the book was about before I started reading as I loved their last book, Even If We Break, and knew I would want to follow what they wrote. That the book deals with a virus breakout doesn’t help either, it hits very close to home as the characters struggle to survive after they’ve been forgotten by the world around them. But damn, once you get into the book, it grips you. The way Nijkamp manages to build tension through the rapid switch of PoVs, the addition of lists, transcripts of phone calls and left messages and similar scenes is brilliant, and as the story goes on, you end up not as close to any single character as you’d be in a traditionally told story, but caught up in the fraught atmosphere of the world. It is an excellent book, and one with great disability rep – there is a deaf character and an autistic character, both of which are really well written. Generally, Nijkamp’s a great bet if you’re looking for queer and diverse YA, and this one in particular is one for you if you like to tear your heart out and stomp on it. Be prepared for all the pain.

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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!