• Something Special

    Debut Author Interview Project: Ginger Smith

    Angry Robot have an awesome publicist, which means that over the next few weeks I’ll be posting interviews with quite a few of their debut authors! I am very excited to have so many wonderful interviews to post. Today, you’ll hear from Ginger Smith about her debut The Rush’s Edge (Goodreads/Bookshop [affiliate link]). I don’t know about you, but I really want to read The Rush’s Edge now!

    Please tell us about your book:

    Lab-grown, genetically-engineered “vat” soldier Hal and his crew scour the Edge of the galaxy salvaging crashed ships. Hal knows vats like him die early chasing the adrenaline rush they’re programmed to crave, but his former commanding officer and best friend Tyce keeps him on the right path. After he meets natural-born tecker Vivi, he begins to wonder if there’s a future for the two of them, but first, they must figure out what was downloaded into their ship by a strange alien artifact and why the government will do anything to keep them silent about it. In short, The Rush’s Edge is the story of a programmed solider who, with the help of his found family, discovers what it means to be human. 

    How did you celebrate its release?

    Due to COVID, I wasn’t able to do very much celebrating, except with my husband at home. But I did buy a beautiful pair of moonstone earrings I’d been eyeing and wore them at my launch event. [The Rush’s Edge was released in November 2020.]

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    I was about ten when I read The Elfstones of Shanara by Terry Brooks, and I was crushed by the ending (I don’t want to spoil it, but a character that I loved died in what I felt was a really unfair way). I got so upset and angry that I decided right then and there to write my own novel and that way I could have it end how I wanted it to, and there wouldn’t be any deaths at the end! It was a sprawling 328-page hot mess of a fantasy novel, complete with a good and evil brother, mages, dwarves, gnomes and a beautiful princess. I threw in everything AND the kitchen sink. I toiled tirelessly on that monster for two or three years, and I still have it today. It remains unpublished (lol).

    What was your publishing journey like?

    It was a crazy thrill ride, interspersed with tons of waiting. I wrote The Rush’s Edge in about three months, then spent another month editing.  When I thought I was ready, I began querying agents, changing my query for each one, as well as revising those initial 25 pages. I had gotten to agent number six or seven when I saw that Angry Robot and an e-publisher had an open submission period at about the same time, so I figured I had nothing to lose. I submitted to both as well as a few more agents.

    All summer I dreamed of my book finding a home at Angry Robot.  It seemed like such a long shot. Finally, the e-publisher called to talk contracts, then Angry Robot called to talk 24 hours after that. I thought I was going to die when I was offered the contract with AR. They were such a unique publisher that I wanted my book to find a home there. They even gave me time to get an agent. I signed with Amanda Rutter, and she was a huge help in navigating the contract and publication process!  

    Angry Robot was just a dream to work with. Editing was a team effort and I even had input on the cover, which I did not expect. All in all, except for COVID and its restrictions, the entire process exceeded my hopes.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    Well, not counting the one at ten years old (lol), probably three. Two of them were fanfic novels. I think I learned so much about pacing a story, writing action scenes and building strong characterization from those experiences.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    This is a great question! I think I understand my writing process better and I trust it more now in a lot of ways. As I wrote the debut novel with the intention of getting it published, I really paid attention to the processes I used so that I could replicate them later. Success also makes everything a little more complicated because you want to live up to or surpass your first book. 

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    I wish I’d known how much waiting was actually involved. I definitely learned the lessons of patience by writing the book, then waiting a whole year for publication. I also wish I’d listened to those people that told me not to read reviews.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    First, is getting the word about my book out there. Secondly, trying to switch worlds to write something new is very, very hard. I miss Hal, Vivi and Ty. After spending two years of my creative life with them, it’s very hard to put them aside to work on something else.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    Yes, all the way around. Angry Robot’s a great publisher to work with, and I have a great group of author friends I met on Twitter. Also, Amanda Rutter, my agent, has been supportive from day one.

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    It’s been harder to focus on writing, but working from home did give me more time to complete the edits on The Rush’s Edge.

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    COVID really had a dampening effect upon being able to do in person events. I think this is the major reason 2020 has been hard on all debut authors.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    That’s a tough question. I’ve had two reviews say two completely different things that couldn’t possibly both be true, and that taught me that reviews are subjective/entirely for readers. I want everyone to love my book as much as I do, but unfortunately, some will not. That’s how this game is played. I don’t think anyone likes getting that first negative review, but you can’t let those things rent space in your brain, as my husband likes to say.

    What are you planning next?

    I’d love to publish more stories in The Rush’s Edge universe, but right now, I’m starting on a horror novel set in a dystopian future.  I also may put up a few stories on my website (ginger-smith-author.com) set in the world of The Rush’s Edge so keep your eyes open for those!

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I write every evening from 7 to 10, without fail.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    I have different soundtracks for different moods in a story.  For The Rush’s Edge, I listened to the Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse soundtrack, The Heavy, The Police, Styx, Queen, Pink Floyd and Rush.

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Coffee, but I’ll take anything caffeinated.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    When I got a favorable Publisher’s Weekly review, I felt like I’d made it.  I printed it out, framed it and hung it on my wall along with the cover artwork from my book.  Holding The Rush’s Edge in my hands was another amazing highlight that I’ll never forget.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Wandavision was simply amazing and just what I needed after The Mandalorian.

    I’ve also read a few great books over the last year: The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier, Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire by Dan Hanks and The Light Years by R.W.W. Greene.

  • Something Special

    Debut Interview Project: Lavinia Thompson

    I am very excited to launch my debut interview project. I will be talking to a variety of authors who have debuted recently (or not so recently) and their experiences of writing, publishing and life as a published author. And the first author I get to talk to is Lavinia Thompson and her debut Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna (which just came out in February), and her publication journey. This is somewhat of a guinea pig interview, so let me know if you have any suggestions/things you’d love to know from debut authors!

    Please tell us about your book:

    My book is called Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna (add it on Goodreads here, and order a copy from here). It is the first in the “Beyond Dark” series, which focuses on two criminal profilers, Agents Alyssa Rawkesby and Thayer Volikov. Alyssa is a veteran profiler who specializes in female serial killers, while battling her own mental problems. Thayer is her mysterious new rookie partner with a past he keeps quiet. They must learn how to get along while tracking down serial killers. He wants to learn from one of the best profilers out there, but quickly learns she wants little to do with other people – why is she so closed off from the world? The series explores their developing friendship, their individual stories and the cases they encounter along the way.

    How did you celebrate your book’s release?

    I kept it simple with an online launch via a Facebook event. I didn’t put too much planning into it, but I did do a special event for those who came – they got the change to request a signed copy of the book when paperbacks are ready! I’ve also been playing around with different marketing techniques.

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    I don’t remember how old I was. I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Stories, both reading and writing, were an escape from an abusive childhood. Even now, writing is how I cope with my complex PTSD and severe depression. I always knew I wanted to publish books, to make a career out of writing. I dabbled in various genres over the years, only starting in mystery a year or so after my divorce. Sometimes in writing, our new beginnings in life get reflected in our writing and I know mine is like that. I went from dark fantasy when I was my teens, then in my twenties I was writing a rock star story, called “Edge of Glory”, which I never finished, then in 2019, I started the “Beyond Dark” series. I’m a long-time fan of true crime stories, be it books or documentaries. My mother let me watch “Law and Order” and true crime shows when I was a kid. So, this genre was pretty inevitable for me to fall into.

    What was your publishing journey like?

    It’s been a long one. I originally began reading about self-publishing in 2012 when there was that explosion of successes. I was just graduating college and trying to break into a journalism career. That didn’t quite turn out how I planned, so I kept returning to my books. Back in 2012, I don’t think I was quite ready for the amount of work that came with a self-publishing career. I was restless, impulsive and pulled in many different directions. I didn’t know what I wanted. Various failed relationships and my marriage and divorce led me off the path I wanted to take when I was younger. Of who I was. One day I was graduating from college and over-confident in my future, and the next I was a 30-year-old woman, single and unsure of who she was.

    Funny thing, age. My personal journey impacted my publishing journey so much. When I was in relationships, I didn’t write as much. My focus became making my partners happy, even when it became toxic. I’d rip myself away and return to writing. Originally, I returned to “Edge of Glory” because it was familiar, I’d been working on it for so long already. I really, truly believed that would be my first success with self-publishing. But I couldn’t seem to get the story right. I am still playing with it. But I needed something new, given that my life was in this transition stage. So, I took up writing for a character who had resided in my mind for many years. That’s where Alyssa came from. Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna is her introduction to the world.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    Quite a few! I wrote short stories as a kid, tons of poetry over the years, I wrote a couple of fantasy books, and “Edge of Glory”. In 2004, I lost all of my writing in a housefire. I was 14. I had fantasy novels, journals and notebooks of my poetry. Gone up in smoke. The original draft of “Edge of Glory” was one of them. I was devastated. I quit writing for a while, but turned back to it when I became suicidal as a result of the abuse and the fire. Writing saved my life. I think it was simply some scribbled rant on loose paper, but it reminded me of why writing was my therapy. It’s been there for me when no human was.

    Sometimes the journey is like that. We’re constantly growing and learning, both personally and in writing. That first book you really believe in won’t always be the one you publish. Sometimes it is the one meant to prepare you for the project that will be your debut. With “Edge of Glory”, I learned tons about character development, story arcs and story structure. I learned that stories don’t always work the way we want them to but it doesn’t mean we need to give up on them. “Edge of Glory” is a story that in many ways grew up with me. It came to a point where I outgrew it and now have to figure out where it is still relevant to my life. I’ll finish it one day. I swear on it.

    But it also came to a point where I had to shelve it for a while, which I did in January 2019. It taught me that sometimes, as we’re growing with these stories, we need to give them space to grow. I am excited to revisit it, as I adore the characters and their stories, and to revisit their growth in the time since I have shelved it.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    I take it more seriously, for sure. Before, self-publishing was one of those “someday” aspirations. “I’ll get there one day,” I’d always claim. I had been working on “Edge of Glory” since I was a teenager, and while I always wanted to publish it, it never seemed time. But with Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna it was so quick. I started in January 2019, and in February 2021 I was hitting that “publish” button. It had gone through various rewrites, with my wonderful beta reader several times, a professional edit and me being so indecisive on cover art. But now here it is. It’s out in the world! I certainly didn’t expect it to happen so fast. Now, I am focused on getting the second book finished, edited and published within the next year or so. If you enjoyed Belladonna, then I believe Gravedigger is a fitting follow up!

    See? I’ve already tapped into my inner book marketer. That’s another thing – book marketing! So daunting! I read tons about it before publishing “Beyond Dark” but I still sometimes sit in front of my laptop wondering, “What am I supposed to be doing?” After publishing, be it traditional or indie, it is something that takes up a lot more time. I already work a full-time job to pay my bills, so I find my writing time cut down a bit so I can market the book. It’s a learning experience, as is the whole process. I am enjoying my time learning about the other side of publishing. I am a learner at heart, so I enjoy absorbing knowledge. I find that in publishing, I am looking for more ways to better my writing. I am studying story structure and my own genre more. I am allowing my self to grow into the mystery genre and make mistakes and learn from those. I feel like my relationship with writing has only deepened. I enjoy it now probably more than I ever have. I am single, childfree and able to focus on my books. Something I have always wanted. I feel truly great about my relationship with writing.

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    How long editing actually takes!! I have been writing for a long time, but never went through the full, proper editing process until Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna. To make it professional and up to publishing standards is a lot of work. My beta reader was amazing with the story and seeing my vision. The draft was admittedly a mess when it went to her, but she saw what I was trying to do and only made it better. I also did a lot of self-editing. It was also my first time working with a professional editor. I learned so much from him, and most of all, I learned why a professional editor is so important. He put a professional touch on my book that I couldn’t have. Very detail-oriented, picked up on many things I missed, and he took the time to explain many of his edits, which was really eye-opening and insightful. I am definitely a better writer for having done that. It made the book better than I could have done on my own. It’s something I am proud to put out there.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    Time. Between working full-time, book marketing, and other obligations, I really have to make my writing time count more than ever these days. I might be single and childfree, but I also need to sleep sometime and take breaks to avoid burnout. Once the pandemic is over, hopefully later this year, I will be looking forward to reviving my social life. Finding that balance is a challenge. It’s a second job, it truly is.

    Market oversaturation is a challenge faced by all authors right now. I read somewhere that there are roughly seven million books published on Amazon. That’s a huge sea to wade through in order to find ideal readers who will buy the book. Standing out in this market is hard. This is a thrilling age to be a creative mind. We have at our fingertips the internet, which allows us to put our projects out there, overstepping the publishing companies to do it on our own. But the downside is also what makes it great. Anyone can do it. We face that great big sea of works and wonder how to stand out, if we will stand out. One of my co-workers at my job makes music, and we recently discussed how the indie music industry is facing the same challenge. Every creative deserves the chance to be heard, but sometimes it feels like we yell into a crowd whose attention is torn in fifty different directions. In the digital age, attention spans are short and if we don’t capture the reader within the first few words of a blurb, we lose a sale.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    Absolutely! I have mingled in the writing and publishing community online for many years now. The support from the community has been wonderful. Again, it’s an overfilled sea of books, so I didn’t expect fame and stardom immediately, but I had great support at the small book launch I did, from my writing group on Discord, and on Twitter. I published during a weird time, when we don’t have face-to-face interactions, so I do feel like I have lost out on that for this launch. But the online community has been spectacular. This industry feels so competitive sometimes, yet at the end of the day, writers are also a community and we need to support each other.

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    At times, yes. For the most part, it’s given me more time to write and edit, which I believe is why Beyond Dark 1: Belladonna got done as quickly as it did. In May and June 2020, I was temporarily laid off from my job, as many people were, so I took that time to dive into the developmental edits on that book. It put me ahead. In that time, I also started a spinoff series, “Beyond Cover”, which is about two undercover agents. That was a fun side project that has become a serious spinoff to the main series. If the pandemic impacted my creativity, it did do in a positive way. As always, writing was what got me through the year of isolation, the lack of a social life, and offsetting the impact all of this would have had on my mental health otherwise.

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    You know, I do wonder about this. This last year has seen a lot of societal change. The Black Lives Matter movement and the calls for police reform (both of which I completely support) made me question how a police procedural would perform in the market. As a white woman, I don’t feel the matter of racism is my story to tell, so I don’t really touch on it in my series. I’m not trying to tell that story. At the end of the day, the “Beyond Dark” series is Alyssa’s story, and so I hope that her character is what stands out. That readers will see who she is, versus just seeing another cop. I was worried when there was talk on social media about the fate of crime dramas amidst all this police brutality that we see. I hope current events, despite how important the discussion about systematic racism and police reform is, don’t impact how readers might receive “Beyond Dark.” I am not trying to change the world with this series. I simply want to tell Alyssa’s story and give a creative outlet to my fascination with criminal psychology. So I think that’s what it boils down to: knowing what story you are telling and for who.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    I have yet to get a negative review for “Beyond Dark”. As of this writing, it has a singular five-star review. But given that I have been posting publicly for years, I am certainly no stranger to negative reviews. Basically, I take what’s constructive and helpful, and see how it can better my stories. If someone is being overly negative and hurtful, I say nothing and move on. It’s not worth the energy spent to respond to such a thing. People are entitled to their opinions. It’s a shame when they use that privilege to be hurtful, but we as writers also have the choice to move past it in a mature matter.

    What are you planning next?

    Oh, I have lots in the works! I am almost halfway done the first draft for Beyond Dark 2: Gravedigger. I am hoping to have that edited and published for early next year. If it happens sooner, great, but I learned from the first book that editing is a long process, so I don’t want to rush that.

    “Beyond Cover” will have four books to the series. I am about to start writing the third while I edit the first. Publishing is in the future for this series, as well. Beyond Dark 3 will be a crossover with the spinoff, so I likely won’t publish the spinoff debut until the third “Beyond Dark” is released. Give it some sort of introduction before pointing readers to the other series.

    I am also slowly working on “Edge of Glory” and seeing where I can take that. And finally, I have a silly side project, called “She’s so Lovely” – a mystery/romance novella series about a private investigator who seeks life after a rough divorce, while solving the cold case of two missing girls. My first drafts of my work all get posted on Booksie, a writing website. I emphasize, first drafts. By no means is what people read there what finally gets published. It’s fun to get reader feedback and see analytics during the early writing process.  

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I write for a few hours before work, and after. I fit in book marketing time somewhere in here. It’s set, but it is also conditional on how tired I am after work and other obligations. But I am consistent in writing or doing something book-related at least once a day, because even the small things matter.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    I don’t have just one. I have a separate playlist on Spotify for each book. I make a soundtrack for each, since every one has a different vibe to it. I am a music addict in general, though. One can find almost any genre in my song library. Beyond Dark 1 had a soundtrack full of Lana Del Ray, Billie Eilish, Lacuna Coil, In This Moment, Kelly Clarkson, Linkin Park, Madonna, and even Britney Spears and Annie Lennox. I basically just pluck out songs that fit the book’s vibe and add it to the playlist. Anything goes, really. So far, Gravedigger has had a dark or old country vibe to it, since it is set in a small prairie town. Gretchen Peters, Lindi Ortega, Johnny Cash, Pistol Annies, and then I added the “Dark Country” albums to it. Those are a mixture of songs with a creepy or ominous sound.

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    This depends on the time of day. Before work, it’s coffee or tea. After work, it’s tea or a whiskey or two. I also smoke weed after work (legal here in Canada), which is helpful to my anxiety and complex PTSD, and helps me focus. Music is my other writing fuel.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    I want to say hitting that “publish” button, but honestly, it was the online book launch. It was small and short, but engaging with friends and readers was really wonderful. These are people who have supported me the entire time, and it means the world to me. We hung out online and discussed female serial killers (I learned of ones I didn’t even know!) and then criminal psychology. It was a delight to connect with people who are so supportive.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    I read a lot of true crime. I recently read a book called Jersey Tough by Wayne “Big Chuck” Bradshaw, his memoir about going from outlaw biker to undercover cop. A truly fascinating read. I am currently reading The Great Diamond Heist by Gordon Bowers, about the 2015 diamond heist in Hatton Garden in London, England. Otherwise, I have been absorbing books about book marketing and self-publishing.

  • Something Special

    Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards 2021

    This is a bit of a special post. I’m very very excited to be part of the judging team for the Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards for 2021. These are blogger awards, focused on speculative fiction. This is the fourth year running – see this announcement of 2020’s winners here. This year’s judging team is consisting of Anna (@Imyril/There is always room for one more), Adri (@adrijjy/Nerds of a Feather), Arina (@voyagerarina/The Bookwyrm’s Guide to the Galaxy), Jonny (@SFFjonbob/Parsecs & Parchment), Kris (@hammard_1987/Cloaked Creators), L.A. (Aquavenatus), Lisa (@deargeekplace/Dear Geek Place), Womble (@runalongwomble/Runalongtheshelves), Noria (@noriathereader/Chronicles of Noria), Sean (@DowieSean/Nerds of a Feather) and Sun (@suncani1). They’re all wonderful people and bloggers, and I highly recommend you check them all out!

    But now, WE HAVE NOMINEES. This is not a false alert, we have actually decided on a fantastic roster of nominees for our various categories. As I am a glutton for punishment, I’ll be judging in all of them except for Sci-Fi. But luckily I have a while to read/reread all of these wonderful books. If there’s a link, it means I have reviewed the book before, and you can click to read it!

    BEST FANTASY

    BEST SCIENCE FICTION

    BEST BLURRED BOUNDARIES

    BEST DEBUT

    BEST NOVELLA

    BEST SERIES

    BEST SHORT FICTION

    • “Tiger Lawyer Gets It Right” by Sarah Gailey (from the Escape Pod anthology)
    • “Convergence in Chorus Architecture” by Dare Segun Falowo (from the Dominion anthology)
    • “In Kind” by Kayla Whaley (from the Vampires Never Get Old anthology)
    • “Volumes” by Laura Duerr (Cast of Wonders, online here)
    • “You Perfect, Broken Thing” by C.L. Clark (Uncanny Magazine, online here)
    • “Yellow and the Perception of Reality” by Maureen McHugh (Tor.com, online here)
    • “Juice Like Wounds” by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com, online here)

    And that’s all of them. Lots of reading to do, and I hope you’ll check out some of our choices!

  • Something Special

    Favourite Books of 2020

    Somehow I ended up reading more in 2020 than I ever have before (at least as far as I can remember). I aimed to read around 200 books as usual, and now, close to the very end of the year I’m aiming to hit 365 books read, one for each day of the year. Only a handful left to go! Among all these books were a lot of wonderful books, and I have chosen just three each for the various categories I read in. All the books in this post were five star reads that have stood out and I would unreservedly recommend (and order of naming is not to indicate order of preference).

    In terms of Adult SFF, my absolute favourite books this year were Sistersong, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and The Once and Future Witches. I got to review all three of these early, and damn, it was hard to wait until everyone else had the opportunity to read them so I had people go gush over them. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow is a historical tale of suffragettes crossed with witchcraft. It is wonderfully written and features three sisters, utterly different but united in their struggle to persevere against the patriarchy. I reviewed it here, and you can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab speaks of isolation and depression and how they effect our lives and personalities through the story of a girl who makes a deal with a devil for eternal life – only to have everyone she encounters forget her immediately. This book spoke to me on a level few books ever have and I love it with my whole heart. I have loved all of Schwab’s work, but this is the best one to date. Fantasy for people who like literary tales and the most amazing characters. See my review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The third book on this list, Sistersong by Lucy Holland is not actually out until April, but I was able to read an ARC of this haunting tale. My review isn’t written yet (I’m struggling to get past THIS BOOK IS AMAZING AND YOU NEED IT), but should be on Grimdark Magazine soon. Sistersong is the story of three siblings, retelling the ‘Twa Sisters’ folk ballad. It is set in a late antique Britain just before the coming of the Saxons, and tells of the society and struggles encountered by high-born women (and trans men – it features a character who we would call transmasculine today). Pre-order it from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    In terms of YA, the three books I loved most have one thing in common: they are all retellings in one way or another. Legendborn, These Violent Delights and Dark and Deepest Red are uttely different, but I love all of them unreservedly. These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is a reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai. Constantly in conversation with the famous play, These Violent Delights surpasses its source material by weaving a tale of colonialism, racial tension and supernatural plague with the memorable characters based on Romeo and Juliet, accompanied by a host of side characters that have just as much personality. Check out my review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    I spent much of 2020 reading books based on medieval legends. But Legendborn is the one Arthurian-inspired novel that truly stood out from the crop. I loved this contemporary YA fantasy so much. Set on a university campus and featuring a heroine going go college early, Tracy Deonn reimagines the Knights of the Round Table as a supernatural secret society. Mixed in with are themes of Black Girl Magic, slavery and racism in the US. My review’s here, and you can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore was one of the first books I read in 2020 and it has stayed on my mind throughout the year. Combining the Strasbourg Dancing Plague of the early 16th century with the modern story of a girl and magical shoes, McLemore manages to write a near-perfect book (yes, Anna-Marie McLemore meets medieval legend is catnip for Fab). As all their books, Dark and Deepest Red features lyrical writing, queer characters and a Latinx twist. Order yourself a copy from Blackwell’s here.

    The three children’s book I chose are very different from each other, but I fell in love with all of them. A Kind of Spark, Orion Lost and The House of Hidden Wonders show the breadth of amazing children’s books currently being published in the UK. Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm is the first middle grade space sci-fi I’ve read and it was wonderful. Featuring a rag-tag crew, a lot of failure and a compelling narrative, this one snuck into my heart. I love it when characters are challenged and forced to learn from their mistakes, and that is definitely the case here. Get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll is high up on my list of favourite middle grade books I’ve ever read. Featuring an own-voices autistic girl fighting for her goals, I feel like this should be required reading for everyone. Eleven year old Addie finds out about historic witch prosecutions in her Scottish town, and feeling a kinship with these women persecuted for being different, decides that she wants to dedicate a memorial to them. READ IT! See my full review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling is also set in Scotland, however, this is a historical detective story (including a young Sherlock Holmes!). Addressing disability, this story also deals with difference and acceptance, and focuses on found family. I loved this charming and thrilling story and highly recommend it. Read my full review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    This list wouldn’t be complete without some graphic novels/mangas! My favourites this year were Vinland Saga, Mooncakes and The Daughters of Ys. Vinland Saga by Yakoto Mukimura was my re-introduction to the world of Anime and Manga – a good friend watched the Anime series with me, combining my love for Viking legend with her passion for visual story telling. This (long-running) manga series is the story of Thorfinn, a young boy who loses his father and is raised as a warrior among enemies. The narrative follows King Canute and the Vikings in England – that’s about as far as I’ve gotten, I’ve only read the first five volumes. I can’t wait to read more of my favourite disaster boy next year! Order a copy of the first volume from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux is based on a Breton folktale, tells a wonderfully dark story and has the most amazing art. I randomly picked this up in a shop and ended up loving it so much. Two royal sisters, Rozenn and Dahut both fight for their city in their own ways, and suitors to the princess mysteriously disappear in a city protected by magical walls… Order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Last on this list is the book that reignited my love for graphic novels this year: Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu. This adorable queer YA fantasy about werewolves, friendship and first love got me out of a massive reading slump during the first lockdown and I can’t rave about it enough. It is wonderful and cute and makes life better. Get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Something Special

    Summer Reading Blast

    Hello friends! If this were a normal summer, us UK book nerds would be queuing for things at YALC this weekend, so I thought it would be fun to do a round-up post of some supernatural YA to read this summer! I’ve read and enjoyed all of these, so I hope you will find something to pick up too.

    DISCLAIMER: I received e-ARCs of all of these books via Netgalley in exchange for my honest reviews.

    The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi doesn’t actually come out until September 22nd, but it’s worth the wait. The sequel to The Gilded Wolves takes the crew to Russia to try and save Laila… As the bookish community knows, a group heist novel is one of the best trends to come out of YA fantasy, and Roshani Chokshi does them better than most: diverse, full of history and mythology, with complex characters! Her protagonists are from marginalised backgrounds, autistic and queer, and exceedingly well-written, and I highly recommend this series (although the book ends on an evil cliffhanger, so be warned). Get a copy from Waterstones here!

    Filipino-American debut author Janella Angeles’ Where Dreams Descend is the tale of Kallia, a showgirl wanting to prove herself in the male-dominated world of stage magic. Joining a competition in the city of Glorian against all odds, she and her mentor, Demarco, soon are up against much more than either of them bargained for. Reminiscent of cult favourites such as The Night Circus and Caraval, Where Dreams Descend takes the reader into a world of illusion and glamour, both of the magical and the mundane kind. While this won’t be my new favourite book – it is too trope-heavy and reminiscent of mid-2010s YA for my personal taste and not gritty and philosophical enough, I see this being a summer hit and something much of YA fantasy fandom will love. Get your copy from Waterstones once it comes out on the 25th of August.

    Lobizona by Romina Garber is YA fantasy’s answer to illegal immigration meets Argentinian werewolves, out on the 4th of August. Telling the story of Manuela Azul, a young girl hidden away in Miami with her mother due to their undocumented state and her strange eyes, Lobizona deals with what it is like to be different in a world not set up for people who don’t fit society’s narrow mold, be that our human world or a more supernatural one. In a world where women are witches and men are werewolves, Manu is a unique hybrid, discovering her powers after running away from ICE and joining a sort of ‘magic school’. It is an interesting concept, and I loved the way it was set up, but the execution was predictable at times and failed to keep me immersed in the story. Manu herself was a bit of a Mary Sue character, and I was more invested in the side characters, who were more complex. But definitely a summer read to recommend! Order a copy off Book Depository here.

    While the three preceding books are all very clearly fantasy, this last book, Here Lie the Secrets by Emma Young, is more of a paranormal mystery. When Mia was thirteen, her best friend Holly died. But to Mia, Holly isn’t truly gone, though she’s never admitted that to anyone else. Years later, Mia is spending the summer in New York, when she meets Rav, a parapsychology student and ends up involved in the investigation of a haunted house. While Here Lie the Secrets is about ghosts and mysteries, it ends up being much more about self-discovery, dealing with trauma and growing up. It is a wonderful example of YA truly written for a teenage audience. Mia undergoes such a journey of growth over the course of the book that will resonate with many young people reading Here Lie the Secrets, and struggling with the changes coming with finishing school and starting a new part of life. The book as a whole is charming and compelling, and I do recommend getting yourself a copy from Waterstones (it’s out now).

  • Something Special

    The Arthurian Megapost

    This is something I’ve been cooking up for quite a while – I’ve been reading and collecting some of the hottest recent stories based on Arthurian myth! I love all the diversity that these authors have brought into medieval legend, and I’m sure you will find something that intrigues you!

    Look at this pile of books!

    A honorable mention needs to go out to Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, which will be published later this year. This modern take on the Arthurian legend features a black heroine, a secret society of descendants of King Arthur and his knights and magicians calling themselves Merlins! I have been excited for this ever since it was first announced, but sadly haven’t been able to read it yet. Pre-order via Book Depository.

    So. King Arthur, in space. But make it gay. This is the basic premise of the wonderfully quirky Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy. Ari, who in this incarnation happens to be a girl, finds out that she is actually Arthur reincarnated when she pulls Excalibur out of a stone in an intergalactic amusement park, leading to a romp through space, a fight against an evil corporation, and, of course, the wooing of Queen Gwen. A thoroughly modern take on the legends, this reinterpretation nevertheless features many of the classical elements of the Arthurian tales, while packaging the quest as a space heist with a queer ensemble crew. I loved it! Get yourself a copy from Waterstones here!

    In this just-published sequel to Once & Future, Sword in the Stars, Ari, Gwen, Merlin and company are on the run again and this time they are going native: back to the time of the original King Arthur! But of course, traveling through time and space does not go as planned, and the group gets separated, shaking up the dynamics of the team again. Many shenanigans ensue, and our crew of queer heroes shake up the Middle Ages and shape Arthurian legend into the story it should always have been. Sword in the Stars is a great conclusion to the duology, and I devoured every page. Full of twists and turns, these books are inclusive, fast-paced and thrilling story-telling as it should be. More of this kind of writing, please! This lovely book is available from Portal Bookshop here.

    Kiersten White is one of the greats of current YA, especially when it comes to retellings. After having had her go at Vlad Dracul (the And I Darken trilogy) and Frankenstein (The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein), she has now turned her attention towards Arthurian myth, with a trilogy starting with The Guinevere Deception. A mysterious girl posing as Guinevere is to marry Arthur, sent by Merlin to protect the young king. Lancelot is an outcast, and a girl, which I really do hope is a hint for queer stories to come in the sequels. The story starts off slow, but does pick up towards the later parts and poses more questions than it answers. The Guinevere Deception is a decent start to a new trilogy, and I am curious to see where the second book takes the story, although I am not as in love with the series as I was hoping to be. You can get yourself a copy via Hive!

    Written by Thomas Wheeler and illustrated by comics legend Frank Miller, Cursed is the book incarnation of what is intended to become a franchise. Announced from the start as a Netflix show (slated for release this year) as well as a book, I imagine this version of Arthurian legend focusing on Nimue will work better on TV. Nimue and her people are fey, hunted due to their race by the tyrannical Uther and friendly with young Arthur and Morgan. It is grand, and written in a manner that puts its weight on images and plot, rather than character development and prose. I have to admit that I struggled to get through the book, as I could not connect to the writing or the characters. I do hope that the change of medium will help the story find its audience, as I think Nimue could be a fascinating character if given enough development. If you are interested, you can get a copy via Hive.

    Published in March of this year in the UK, Lavie Tidhar’s By Force Alone is a period-set mashup of Arthurian myth. This Arthur is brash, young, and power-hungry, expanding his influence out from a small band of men based in London. If I’m being honest, I struggled a lot to get through this book, although I had been looking forward to reading it – it took me almost three months to finish it. It is fast paced, and the language used is rather crass and modern, breaking the illusion for me. This led to a disconnect between story and characters, and I was unable to immerse myself in the novel. While I do not usually mind authors taking creative license with historical source material, having dialogue that is clearly twenty-first century in a book set in the early medieval period does not work for me. I do see this being a personal preference, and I’m sure that By Force Alone will be a book that is great for a different type of reader! If you are interested, you can get a signed copy via Forbidden Planet.

    April Genevieve Tucholke’s Seven Endless Forests is a very loose retelling of Arthurian myth, including as many elements reminiscent of Norse stories as English. It is a companion novel to 2018’s The Boneless Mercies, which loosely retold a feminist Beowulf. Tucholke’s novels are slow, deliberate and infinitely poetical. They are quiet books reminiscent of medieval epics, centering on women shamelessly concerned with seeking glory and pursuing their personal aims, ignoring society’s conventions and expectations in favour of those. Here, the central element taken from Arthurian legend is the true ruler’s sword, with greatness thrust not on the most willing but the chosen one. Tucholke’s take is nuanced and special, and I am in love with her books. Get this one from Waterstones!

    Giles Kristian’s Lancelot approaches the Arthurian myth from the viewpoint of the eponymous Lancelot, warrior supreme. Following along from Lancelot’s childhood to his time with Arthur past his clash with the legendary king. More historical novel than fantasy, Lancelot nevertheless contains some elements of speculative fiction – anything else would be hard in Arthurian legend with characters like Merlin! It is well written and compelling, and makes the men behind the legends come to life. Very recently, Giles Kristian has published a sequel, Camelot, featuring Lancelot’s son Galahad as the first-person PoV. Order a copy of Lancelot via Hive.

  • Something Special

    Graphic Novel Favourites

    I don’t know about you, but with everything going on at the moment, my attention span has suffered hugely. While I’m still reading and reviewing, it is taking a significant portion of my available energy every day, and I’ve often been reading in bit-sized pieces rather than the binges I’m used to. What’s worked really well instead have been GRAPHIC NOVELS! In case this is something that might work for others as well, I decided to put together a list of my current favourites. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve enjoyed all of these. (And while I’ve given order links to places that still ship, I do encourage checking with your local comic stores or indies whether they are able to procure them for you instead!)

    The book that started this whole post. Stuck for something to read, I picked up this graphic novel and fell in love. A whimsical YA tale of a witch and a non-binary werewolf, up against a mysterious force in the woods. Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu is adorable, and the graphic novel equivalent of a cuddly blanket and a mug of tea. While it is not the deepest story, it is captivating, and embraces its format and audience. This is the perfect thing to read while stuck in quarantine! Get yourself a copy from Waterstones or Book Depository.

    The Wicked and the Divine is the original graphic novel series that got me into the genre! Now complete in nine volumes, this series follows a number of teenagers turned temporarily into Gods, mixing a variety of mythologies with the modern cult of celebrities. It has its highs and lows, but it is always entertaining, the art is stunning, and the antagonist is complex and unexpected and the story is twisty until the bitter end. And did I mention that the series is done now and you can binge it in one go? I highly recommend you check it out for yourself – get the first volume from Waterstones or Book Depository.

    I’ve been going back and forth about what to include in this lineup, and ultimately decided to go with series that had a very different vibe. The next, Monstress, is drawn in an amazing Art Nouveau style by Sana Takeda – something I have not seen in any other graphic novel series, features a one-handed protagonist, and TALKING CATS. The story is weird, and it doesn’t always make sense, but its so beautiful you won’t mind. You’ll just root for my love Maika and go with the flow and that’s that. And oh, my, I just saw that there’s a fourth volume out that I completely missed… to the order machine I go! If you’re intrigued, you can get your own from Waterstones or Book Depository.

    It’s no secret that I love everything that V.E. Schwab writes – and her comics are no different. The Shades of Magic trilogy ranks among my all-time favourites, and the Steel Prince comics are its prequels. Featuring adventures of the stern king Maxim Maresh back when he was a rash young prince, these graphic novels showcase V.E. Schwab’s signature storytelling and add mythology to the universe. Accompanied by Andrea Olimpieri’s wonderful art, they are a must for any Schwablin! Get them from Forbidden Planet directly.

    Last, but not least, a manga that I’m looking forward to checking out as soon as it arrives is Vinland Saga. While this Japanese series has been around for ages, even in translation – the English version is at Book 11 now, it’s anime adaption only came out recently. I’ve been watching it religiously with my friend and loving it, so I can’t wait to see the source material for our favourite disaster boy Thorfinn! Inspired by the Icelandic sagas and the legendary discovery of Vinland (America) by Leif Ericson a thousand years ago, this tells the story of young Thorfinn, son of Thors, a tale of pride and war. Vikings told through the Japanese lens. I love it. Order this from Waterstones or Book Depository.

  • Something Special

    Reading in the Time of Coronavirus

    Today’s post is going to be something a bit different. Instead of one big review, it’s going to feature a whole bunch of mini-reviews, in the style of if you like this, you’ll love this! As we can all expect to be spending a lot more time at home (on the positive, more reading time!), I thought I’d feature a lot of lovely books to try and give you some inspiration for the days and weeks to come. This is also completely not selfishly motivated to help me reduce my NetGalley backlog at all, obviously – and unconnected to the fact that I’ve been ill and can’t focus for long enough to write proper reviews!

    So without further ado, if you love…

    …dragons, slow-burn enemies to lovers and wlw fantasy in the vein of Tehlor Kay Meija’s We Set the Dark on Fire, Nina Varela’s Crier’s War or Rebecca Kim Wells’ Shatter the Sky, check out The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli!

    While The Sky Weaver is nominally the third in the Iskari trilogy, each of the books works just as well as a standalone. In this one, Safire, commander of armies, is vexed by Eris, a pirate and thief until they are forced to cooperate for the good of the realm. Throughout their quest to find Asha, the last Namsara, their lifes and fates become entangled and their hate evolves into something more… Beautifully written and well paced, this thrilling and action packed story will captivate you from start to finish! While the romance is not at the centre of the narrative, it is one of the most well-crafted slow-burn relationships I have ever read, and I have been on the lookout for something similarly well written ever since I read The Sky Weaver! The book also features dragons, aka the best animals ever, so there’s absolutely no reason not to order this from your indie of choice! I’ll leave a Hive link here for your convenience!

    …creepy historical novels, ghosts, and eerie atmospheres in the spirit of Marian Womack’s The Golden Key, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre or Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep, give Alma Katsu’s The Deep a go.

    Set in a dual narrative on the Titanic in 1912 and her sister ship, the Brittanic in 1916, The Deep follows young Annie Hebbley as she leaves home and works on both ill-fated ships. Following a series of unexplained events, and heists, join Annie in questioning her sanity. A haunting tale of obsession, The Deep takes unexpected turns and features a host of morally questionable characters that demand your attention. While this high-seas narrative does not feature any mermaids, the book as a whole is as alluring as a siren. Order yourself a copy from your indie of choice or here!

    …ragtag bands of misfits, political turmoil and anti-heroes as seen in such wonderful books as R.F. Chuang’s The Poppy War, Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow, K.S. Villoso’s The Wolf of Oren-Yaro or Half a King by Joe Abercrombie, then I suggest you put Dave Wragg’s The Black Hawks on your TBR!

    Chel is just your average dude. And then he accidentally breaks his oath and swears a new one to a prince. Now he has to bring said prince across the country. Except, both he and the prince are utterly clueless what they’re up against. On the way, they join forces with the eponymous Black Hawk Company, a wonderfully scrappy band of mercenary rogues, shenanigans and political mess ensuing. An entertaining debut featuring an excellent cast of characters full of flaws and personal motivations, Dave Wragg has delivered an intriguing beginning to his series. Thrilling and humorous, The Black Hawks is one to distract you from the worries of 2020. Treat yourself to a copy here.

    …magical YA full of ensemble casts, dark forces looming and artificially created powers, reminiscent of great reads such as The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco or The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, check out the Diviners series by Libba Bray. Book four, The King of Crows was just published and concluded the series wonderfully (yes, I’m cheating slightly).

    The King of Crows is an explosive conclusion to the last ten years of Diviners stories. Evie and her band of diviners now face a an enemy threatening the world as they know it: the King of Crows. Having lost the goodwill of the people thanks to events earlier in the series, they undergo one last mission to try and repair the rift between worlds. Featuring a diverse cast addressing many of the issues present in early twentieth-century America, the characters evolve and grow into their own in order to defeat the King of Crows. My one gripe with the book was that, as the group was split into several smaller parties, the narrative was too split up, leading to a lack of depth in the individual plots. I would have preferred a tighter book at times. But then, that is personal preference, and I still very much enjoyed my read! You can order yourself a copy of this massive brick here.

    Many thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with copies of all these wonderful books in exchange for my honest opinions!

  • Something Special

    Unplugged Book Box Review

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    So I received my Unplugged book box this weekend, and loved it! As they are a new company and this is their first box, I’ve decided to do an extensive unboxing and review. But first of all I wanna thank them for assembling a great and useable box, I’m impressed, especially given that it’s their first box! The little details are amazing and really make a difference!

    Without further delay, a full unboxing picture (though without the cards…)!

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    Every item came wrapped in black tissue paper, which I really loved, as for me, it enhances the unboxing experience! I love that they didn’t give a lot of spoilers, as many other boxes do. If I already know half the contents of the box, it really detracts from the experience. If one wanted, this would also allow one to space it out over a few days. Every item also came with a little note about the creator (yay for small businesses!) and the thoughts behind them, which is wonderful. I think this is a very good alternative to spoiler cards. But now on to the items (including their notes!)

    First of all, the theme card and photo challenge. This month’s theme was ‘Keep your head above water’ – Unplugged isn’t merely another book subscription service, it is also focussed around self-care and mental health. The theme was well done, and provided a red thread throughout the box. The photo challenge really fits into this as well, being aimed less at bookstagram pictures than providing experiences that happen to be memorialised through a picture. I defitely plan on participating!

    For me, the most central part of book boxes  really is the book. I know, you think that that is obvious – but from what I’ve seen on social media, the items that come with them seem more important, as it seems that book nerds are supposed to be collectors of random bookish things as well. Not that I mind getting great items, but it’s just not my focus (Seriously, why is everyone obsessed with POP figures, for example?). Whether I keep subscribing is mainly tied to the quality of the selected books – if I do spend that much money on a box, I do want to consistently receive 4+ star reads. I also always try to read the included books before the next box.

    Sadie, the book included here, is unexpected. It’s not my usual genre, and I probably would not have picked it up in a store. But now ghat I have had a closer look and thought about it, I’m very excited to read it. According to the blurb, it revolves around a runaway girl on a quest, and a podcast, whose intention it is to find that missing girl. It seems like a unique concept, ans I’m looking forward to delving into the story.

    The book came accompanied by a signed bookplate, an author letter, and a little swag-travel brochure. What also came with it is a mysterious envelope that you’re supposed to open after reading. I’m super curious to see what is in there – and I hope they keep doing that in future boxes!

    Candles are one of my favourite things to receive in boxes – though it is getting to the point where I pretty much have a collection. Burning them while reading gives me joy and makes my room smell great. I’m thrilled with this Inej (Six of Crows duology) inspired candle, it is beautiful and it smells AMAZING! It also comes in a solid dark glass jar, which shouldn’t make a difference, but I’m really excited about! This was designed by Get Fictional and it is probably my favourite item in this box! Though it is closely followed by the tea:

    Inspired by Stephen King’s IT, this tea is intended to be drunk cold, and has been created by Story of my Tea. From the description, it is a fairly pure tea, without added flavour, so definitely something that pleases tea-purists. I really like that it contains caffeine – most teas that I’ve received in boxes have either been herbal/fruit based, or decaffeinated – and if I drink black or green tea (which I only do like every day) I want my tea to contain caffeine. Maybe that’s a grad student problem though, we do run on tea and coffee…

    The next item is a Triwizard Tournament inspired bath bomb from Zen Bath Candies. I don’t know how these girls do it, but they included the three types of items I love most! I can’t wait to hang out in a hot bath and enjoy this! As it addresses the second task Harry Potter has to undergo in the Triwizard Tournament, it quite literally fits the theme of keeping your head above water!

    Now this item is tiny, so tiny that I actually didn’t see it when I was unpacking the box yesterday and only found it when I was taking pictures earlier! The little black thing had simply hidden in the depths of the box – or maybe I’m just silly! It is a tiny book-magnet, which you can actually write in! It’s maybe 4×2.5 cm big and ADORABLE! It has been handmade by A Magnetic Library, and the book it represents, To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, is a tale of sirens and princes and figuring out how to interact with the world once it turns out that there is more to the story than the strict rules you have been raised by.

    Now on to the papery goodies included! This wonderful Hogwarts Express print will definitely go on to my wall, and I will have to try that smoothie recipe on the back. Inspired by Draco Malfoy and his love of apples, it sounds delicious (and contains neither bananas, nor pineapples, the point of which I don’t get when it comes to smoothies).

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    These stickers were actually the first thing I saw when I started unpacking the box. All of them are self-care themed, and I love the idea. Sadly, they are a bit too pastel for my taste, but I’m sure I’ll be able to use at least some of them for my bullet journal. And who knows, maybe I will start liking pastels at some point!

    Finally, there was a self-care prompt included which focuses on gratitude. In a funny coincidence, my therapist actually told me to start a gratitude journal in our last session. I will definitely have to look into adding this to my bullet journal and figuring out the best way to do it. Being mindful and content with yourself and the people around you is central to mental hygiene in my opinion, and I hope through this more people are inspired to look at the small things that happen and not ignore them and only see the bad! Furthermore, they included a little September playlist on Spotify, which I find a great idea. However, as I’m not too fond of mainstream music, and listen mainly to metal, this isn’t really something I will enjoy.

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    Last but not least, the reverse of the soundtrack card reveals the October theme, Things are not what they seem – I am very much looking forward to see what they have planned around that theme!

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    Now that I’ve talked about everything included in the box, I assume you’re wondering whether it is worth subscribing yourself. I do recommend it, and spots are currently open for October! It is a well-curated box, supports small businesses, and focuses on mental health – I approve!