• Blog Tours

    Blog Tour: Mirror Lake – Juneau Black

    Welcome back to the world of Shady Hollow. I’ve got the honour of kicking off the blog tour for the third book in this delightful cosy mystery series by dynamic author duo Juneau Black, Mirror Lake. Just like the first two books, Shady Hollow and Cold Clay, this follows the anthropomorphic woodland creatures of Shady Hollow as they live their ordinary lives – and encounter extraordinary events, shaking up their community. Led by fox journalist Vera Vixen, we get to follow along as murder brings up secrets and redefines relationships.

    Many thanks to Ollie at Hodder for sending me an review copy and inviting me back on the blog tour. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 28/04/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Keen journalist Vera Vixen is recovering from the Harvest Festival (and its bounty of local cheeses, cider and pies) when the calm is shattered by a scream from one of the small town’s grandest houses. Dorothy Springfield, a rat with a reputation for eccentricity, claims her husband – who is standing right next to her – has been murdered. Has Dorothy finally lost her grip on reality? Or is the rat who claims to be Edward an imposter? Vera’s fox nose scents a story. And it’s not long before the discovery of a body, minus the head, complicates things further… (from Hodder)

    OPINIONS: I just adore these books. They’re so far out of what I ordinarily read, but I’ve found them such heartwarming comfort reads over the past few months as I’ve been able to read the trilogy as they’ve been released – and now that Mirror Lake is out, you can binge them all at once! This last installment is just as good as the first two, and now that we’ve had the opportunity to spend a fair bit of time with the characters, we really know them and their dynamics well, which makes it even more comforting. This last book in the trilogy has Vera investigate the case of a murdered man who very clearly alive in the town, and in the process uncovering family secrets, discovering more murders and helping her beau get a promotion.

    I found that some elements of the mystery were rather transparent, but I don’t think these are books to read because they contain gripping plots. These books are charming because of their whole package – the community of Shady Hollow, Vera Vixen who manages to get a smile out of everyone she meets and the mysteries are just the red thread that allows for forward momentum within the stories. Nevertheless, they are reasonably fast paced and never boring, creating a place that the reader likes to spend time in and would love to visit (not least for the maple pumpkin pancakes Vera eats at Joe’s coffee shop…).

    I’m looking forward to diving back into these in the autumn – they’ve got such autumnal vibes – with a mug of mulled cider. The series is just lovely and Mirror Lake is a worthy conclusion. I hope you give them a shot too, and like these books as much as I do.

    Add Mirror Lake to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Hype!

    May Hype Post!

    I can’t believe it’s already time for the next hype post. May has come around very quickly, so have a look at some of our most anticipated books for the month. As always, do have a look at our 2022 overview post for inspiration HERE as we’re trying not to repeat titles.

    The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, out on the 12th of May is her second foray into adult fiction, after The Mercies. The latter took my heart by storm, with its lyrical writing and haunting story, so I can’t wait to read another of her adult books. This one is set during the dancing plague in Strasbourg in 1518, a legendary historical event. It tells the story of three women, pregnant Lisbet, her best friend Ida and Lisbet’s sister-in-law Nethe, newly returned from six years exile for an unkown crime. And no one will tell Lisbet what Nethe did all those years ago… This promises to be another brilliant book by Milwood Hargrave, combining deeply human, individual stories with embedding them in greater historical events, especially those affecting women most of all. These are slow, character-driven stories, but such amazing ones and I cannot recommend her books more – I don’t think there has been a single one, in any age category, that I did not love. Pre-order a copy of The Dance Tree via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    How to be Eaten by Maria Adelmann, out at the very end of May (31st) sounds like a book explicitly written to please me. It mixes a feminist approach to fairy tales with literary analysis and mythological retellings. In a story that is described as wickedly funny, five women meet in a support group to process their trauma in present-day NYC. All corresponding to fairy tale archetypes and representing modern day interpretations of these beloved stories, they start out wary of each other, judging the slightly weird backgrounds and story the other women have. But with time, they realise they have more in common than they thought, and start to consider what brought them together and how they can rescue each other. This hits so many of my favourite tropes, and I can’t wait to give it a read. Pre-order this one via Book Depository here.

    I have been reading Kiersten White’s YA since her debut many many years ago, and especially since I’ve been on a bit of a horror and thriller binge recently, I’m very excited for her adult debut. Hide is out on the 24th of May, and set in an abandoned amusement park – which, even the setting is creepy as hell. The challenge has contestants spending a week hiding in the abandoned park without getting caught, offering a life-changing sum of money as a prize. Main character Mack is sure she’s meant to win this. After all, she’s an expert at hiding, as it’s what’s kept her alive while the rest of her family has perished. But when people start disappearing one by one, she starts to realise that this may be far more sinister than she imagined and that she may have to find a way to work with the other contestants if she wants to survive… It sounds like a deliciously dark thriller, keeping readers up all night reading (or not sleeping from the creepy) which is exactly what I want right now. Pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).


    Perennial favourite of the book community The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has given me a taste for the glamour of old Hollywood, for the golden age of film. And Siren Queen by Nghi Vo, out on the 10th, seems to scratch exactly that itch. Featuring a Chinese American lead in a universe not made to accommodate anyone who doesn’t fit a very narrow mold, Vo explores a world in which an outsider conquers this world on her own terms, with a fantastical bent where monsters are real. The blurb for this one is brilliant, so have a read:

    “No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill—but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.

    But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes—even if that means becoming the monster herself.

    Pre-order this one from Book Depository here.

  • Reviews

    The Shadow Glass – Josh Winning

    I have been having a massive writing block in recent weeks – which is why my review output has been much slower than it has been. But luckily, it hasn’t affected my reading as much (though, looking at the huge pile of books that need writing about, that may not be such a good thing after all…). One of the books that have been sitting next to my laptop is The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning. A weird and wacky fantasy adventure inspired by a love of 1980s films that is immensely loveable and immersive – and one that managed to hit exactly that nostalgic love for The Neverending Story that I grew up with (as a child, one of my family nicknames was “Fuchur” – the German name for Falkor, the dragon from that story).

    Many thanks to Lydia at Titan for sending me a copy for review. All opinions are my own as usual.

    RELEASE DATE: 22/03/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: Jack Corman is failing at life.

    Jobless, jaded and on the “wrong” side of thirty, he’s facing the threat of eviction from his London flat while reeling from the sudden death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, a film Jack loved as a child, idolising its fox-like hero Dune.

    But The Shadow Glass flopped on release, deemed too scary for kids and too weird for adults, and Bob became a laughing stock, losing himself to booze and self-pity. Now, the film represents everything Jack hated about his father, and he lives with the fear that he’ll end up a failure just like him.

    In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying home, a place creaking with movie memorabilia and painful memories. Then, during a freak thunderstorm, the puppets in the attic start talking. Tipped into a desperate real-world quest to save London from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with excitable fanboy Toby and spiky studio executive Amelia to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy while conjuring the hero within––and igniting a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do his father proud. (from Titan Books)

    OPINIONS: I absolutely devoured The Shadow Glass. I was reading this while traveling across London on the tube, and was very upset when my journey was over and I had to pause – only to race through the rest on my way home. Lydia from Titan sold me the book as her favourite book of the year in the publicity email, and I’m so glad I listened and requested it, as the blurb had it sounding quite out there and I wasn’t sure if it would click with me. But this is brilliant and manages to hit those nostalgic feels without going too far into absurdist comedy. The Shadow Glass is fast paced and plot-driven, but its characters don’t suffer because of it.

    I really enjoyed Jack undergoing extensive character growth throughout the story and developing as a person within a relatively short span of time. We also get to know the deceased Bob fairly well, which I liked a lot, as well as some of the stranger creatures from the eponymous film. As a whole, it served as wonderful escapist entertainment, with big dashes of humanity and nostalgia. This will make readers of my generation and that before mine connect with this – it is very much a book aimed at those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, and makes for a refreshing change in the current market.

    Add The Shadow Glass to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    This week’s Monday Minis are coming to you from Eastercon – the exotic holiday destination of London Heathrow. Sun and I are enjoying our time at Con, meeting many lovely people and listening to inspiring panels. And occasionally hiding out in our room, reading and reviewing – like getting this post ready! Many thanks to the publicists for sending me review copies of these books, all opinions are my own.

    This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede is the first book in The Last Finestra series. It has a great hook – Alessa has a god-given gift of magic, supposed to help save her city from a vicious demon attack, except she keeps accidentally killing her suitors instead of amplifying their powers. She’s pretty desperate, she had one job and she’s definitely failing at it. In comes Dante, a mysterious rogue, who seems to be the one person she can touch – so she keeps him around as her bodyguard, all the while trying to solve her other problems. Sadly, I didn’t stay as hooked to the story as I did to the concept, and found Alessa rather frustrating and the chemistry between both her and Dante and her and the other suitors lacking. A lot of people seem to really like this Italian-inspired YA fantasy though, so it’s probably more on me than the book itself – a case of mismatched expectations and reality. I wish I’d enjoyed it more, but while it was a fine book to entertain, it wasn’t more than that for me, and I don’t think I will be continuing the series.

    Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders is the middle book in the Unstoppable trilogy. Following up on last year’s Victories Greater Than Death, this is Anders’ first sequel – her first foray into YA and into writing something that isn’t standalone. That said, this volume both manages to build on the strengths of the first book, as well as not quite live up to my expectations – it is the second book in a trilogy, the one where many threads are left open and few plotlines are taken to their conclusion. Whereas Victories very much was concluded in itself, an arc that could mostly be left on its own, Dreams took these characters, took the ensemble cast, and fragmented it again. The found family aspects of the first book that I loved so much took a bit of a back seat as each of the characters embarked on their own arc and worked on establishing themselves as an individual in their changed circumstances – which was very interesting, but felt less compelling and comforting than the first book for me personally. I still adored Rachael, my favourite character, who was given plenty of space for her anxiety to unfold (THANK YOU CHARLIE JANE for giving us such a wonderful character with anxiety rep!) – and who got to grow outside of her friendship with Tina. Definitely still a good book, and I am looking forward to reading the conclusion, even if it didn’t quite have the magic of the first one.

    Ghosts by Raina Telgemaier has been out on the other side of the Atlantic for a while, but the UK arm of Scholastic has only just brought it over here. This is a middle grade graphic novel set in Northern California, combining Latinx Day of the Dead traditions with Cystic Fibrosis rep. Cat is frustrated that her family has been uprooted to a new town, providing a better climate for her chronically ill sister Maya, and even more so when they meet local boy Oscar who won’t shut up about ghosts. And when an encounter with ghosts causes a flare-up of Maya’s Cystic Fibrosis, Cat has to find a way to help her sister despite her reluctance to embrace the magic. On paper, this is everything I love – the exact kind of graphic novel I tend to immediately fall in love with. But I struggled to connect with it, I think partially because Cat is so reluctant towards anything supernatural and focused on reality – whereas I am the type of person to immediately embrace anything magical. I did appreciate the chronic illness rep, especially how Maya is disabled but doesn’t let it take away from her love of life and desire to experience the world. Far from embracing toxic positivity or a rose-tinted view, it is a portrayal with nuance and dignity. Ghosts is a lovely story and the art suits it really well, and despite not fully connecting with it, I would recommend it on to middle grade readers.

  • the cover of the devil's dictionary novel with a wolf's head over an open book on a dark background
    Reviews

    The Devil’s Dictionary – Steven Kotler

    For those who are looking for an unconventional sci-fi read exploring topics of ecology, empathy and the morality of making money, this book will have you snap your fingers and go ‘found it!’ The Devil’s Dictionary is full of complex questions, but it never leaves levity behind. It’s wry protagonist and clever, tongue-in-cheek narrative style are bound to get you hooked.

    RELEASE DATE: 19/04/2022

    STAR RATING: 5/5 *

    SYNOPSYS:

    Hard to say exactly when the human species fractured. Harder to say when this new talent arrived. But Lion Zorn, protagonist of Last Tango in Cyberspace, is the first of his kind—an empathy tracker, an emotional forecaster, with a felt sense for how culture evolves and the future arrives.

    It’s also a useful skill in today’s competitive business market.

    In The Devil’s Dictionary, when a routine em-tracking job goes sideways and em-trackers themselves start disappearing, Lion finds himself not knowing who to trust in a life and death race to uncover the truth. And when the trail leads to the world’s first mega-linkage, a continent-wide national park advertised as the best way to stave off environmental collapse, and exotic animals unlike any on Earth start showing up—Lion’s quest for truth becomes a fight for the survival of the species. (from Macmillan)

    OPINIONS:

    Hands down, my favourite read of the year! Kotler takes no prisoners in this sci-fi novel meets detective mystery. The premise that a mind-altering substance actually increases your empathy to other, especially other-than-human, beings is refreshing after the convention of sci-fi tech equaling emotionless rationality. It is also an excellent premise through which to discuss human-led ecological change, which Kotler does exceptionally well.

    Kotler’s language has a superb physicality to it. Like ‘one of those info-marketers turned self-help gurus, …, who seems to have self-helped himself to damn nearly every piece of real estate in this part of London’ – a situation that is both alternative reality and also here, now, unapologetically in your face. The dialogue especially is a marvellous thing. The story’s diverse cast is captured through unique linguistic patterns and mannerisms. The conversations are vibrant, with interruptions, tangents and in-jokes that make them come alive. I’ve had these conversations with my friends. Well, maybe not exactly these conversations…

    Since I work on ecological themes in literature for my research, The Devil’s Dictionary was a goldmine of philosophical quandaries and popular imagination assumptions, all bound up in a riveting plot that zigs and zags its way through the mystery, but never lets the readers lose themselves. I finished the book galvanised; perhaps, because despite tackling current social concerns, the novel does not preach anything, but presents a complex situation in a complex world. And that world is not lacking in beauty for being imperfect. It’s a book with feeling, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone!

  • Reviews

    Portrait of a Thief – Grace D. Li

    Portrait of a Thief is a brilliant book combining tropes of dark academia with the classic heist and interrogating the effects of colonialism both on society and on the individuals as all of the main characters are Chinese-American with a variety of backgrounds and relationships to their culture. One that I’d highly recommend, and I’m very much looking forward to having a finished copy in my hands soon.

    Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for sending me an eARC of Portait of a Thief via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 14/04/2022

    STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: This was how things began: Boston on the cusp of fall, the Sackler Museum robbed of 23 pieces of priceless Chinese art. Even in this back room, dust catching the slant of golden, late-afternoon light, Will could hear the sirens. They sounded like a promise.

    Will Chen, a Chinese American art history student at Harvard, has spent most of his life learning about the West – its art, its culture, all that it has taken and called its own. He believes art belongs with its creators, so when a Chinese corporation offers him a (highly illegal) chance to reclaim five priceless sculptures, it’s surprisingly easy to say yes.

    Will’s crew, fellow students chosen out of his boundless optimism for their skills and loyalty, aren’t exactly experienced criminals. Irene is a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything; Daniel is pre-med with steady hands and dreams of being a surgeon. Lily is an engineering student who races cars in her spare time; and Will is relying on Alex, an MIT dropout turned software engineer, to hack her way in and out of each museum they must rob.

    Each student has their own complicated relationship with China and the identities they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but one thing soon becomes certain: they won’t say no.

    Because if they succeed? They earn an unfathomable ten million each, and a chance to make history. If they fail, they lose everything . . . and the West wins again. (from Coronet)

    OPINIONS: I think this is my favourite non-SFF book I’ve read this year. It combines so many things I tend to love about books – dark academia vibes, a good heist, strong characters with complex backgrounds, and most of all, being a commercial and accessible story with immense depth. Through looking at both colonial theft of art by major museums and the complicated relationships to identity all of the main characters have in regards to being Chinese-American, Portrait of a Thief gives the reader much opportunity to think further than the surface level heist story, but by packaging it in an accessible way, it makes readers more open to receive the message. And that is one of my absolute favourite things about books right now. Thinking about museums and how their collections are largely based on objects looted through colonialism never fails to make me grumpy, so this really felt like a book written specifically for me. (If you’re in London and feel similarly, the V&A has an exciting exhibit of reproductions of major landmarks and sculptures! Instead of looting them they made their own to give us an impression, all the way back in the 19th century)

    The story is compelling – as behooves a heist – but it is also a lot of fun. The characters are all charming in their own ways, from Will, who is passionate about art, to Irene who can persuade anyone to do anything (that girl just rolls nat20 after nat20 on persuasion!) or Lily who is a student but also races cars passionately. They come to life in a way that makes the reader almost feel like part of their gang by the end, and while, of course, the idea that a random group of college students can pull of these heists requires a level of suspension of disbelief, as a whole, their shenanigans make sense, and I cheered every time something went off without them being caught.

    All in all, just a brilliant book, and I highly recommend it to anyone, even if it’s not necessarily the genre you usually read. It has something for everyone, romance, action, charm, discussion of complex issues, the whole shebang, so really, there are no excuses not to at least give this a shot. I can’t speak to the nuances of cultural representation, but for me, it was an interesting perspective to read, and it felt organic, adding to the book and its story rather than overpowering it.

    Add Portrait of a Thief to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    Today’s Monday Minis are back in full swing with three books I enjoyed very much. Massive thanks to the respective publicists for sending me eARCs of these books, all opinions are my own, as usual.

    Belladonna by Adalyn Grace is a delightfully dark YA fantasy. It is a new take on the old trope of Death and the Maiden – and we quite literally have Death appear as a character, which thanks to Terry Pratchett’s iconic character has become one of my favourite things. Belladonna is fast-paced, hooks the reader quickly and is full of not all-together unforseen twists. Signa, the main character, just won’t die. In a backstory reminiscent of A Series of Unfortunate Events, her guardians, however, keep dying. And now she’s sent to the last relatives she knows of – an aunt. Her aunt has passed away in the meantime, though, so she’s staying with the uncle and his two children, a son and a sickly daughter in their haunted mansion. Hitting on every Gothic trope in the book, this is just a wonderful escapist story that I couldn’t stop compulsively reading. It never felt like it went in a particularly unexpected direction or re-invented anything major, but it doesn’t need to. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and does so very well.

    I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston took me a while to get into. From the blurb I wasn’t quite sure whether this was going to be a contemporary rom-com or one with a supernatural twist – Shara Wheeler disappears after kissing three people on the same night, nemesis Chloe, neighbour Rory and boyfriend Smith, leaving behind only a series of pink envelopes. When I realised that this was in fact a purely human-based story, and one set in the deep South of Alabama, my enthusiasm started to wane a bit – McQuiston’s One Last Stop was one of my absolute favourite books of 2021, largely because of its time-slip element and NYC setting. However, once I really got stuck into the story and started to get to know this cast of characters, they evolved from superficial high school stereotypes to multi-faceted, loveable people, and into a host of queer kids just coming into their own – which felt very intentional. I couldn’t put the book down, and kept sneaking chapters during work (which meant I ended up working very late that day…). I Kissed Shara Wheeler is basically the movie John Hughes would make in 2022, aimed at the queer and diverse audience of teens today. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a fun read now that it’s warmer outside and you can take a book to the park.

    Someone in Time edited by Jonathan Strahan is a solid anthology of stories centred around time-travel and romance. It has a brilliant line-up, featuring authors such as Alix E. Harrow, Zen Cho, Theodora Goss, Sarah Gailey and many more, which made me run towards my review copy. As with most anthologies, not all stories worked equally well for me, and with this one especially I noticed the bookending with the strongest stories. I found that the first few were strong, then it had a – for me – weaker middle, and then the last few stories were really strong again, ending on what was the absolute strongest story of the collection, Ellen Klages’ tale of female physicist and lesbian culture in the 1950s. And really, it made me a bit sad that apart from Klages’ story, those that resonated most strongly with me were those by authors I was already familiar with and whose work I knew I enjoyed. Part of why I love anthologies so much is because it gives me the opportunity to encounter new authors, find new favourites, and it felt like I missed out on that with Someone in Time. But as a whole, I really enjoyed it – and those stories that worked for me worked really well. So it’s a definite yes from me!

  • Reviews

    A Thousand Steps Into Night – Traci Chee

    I love traveling with the help of books – especially in these days. And A Thousand Steps Into Night takes us into a Japanese-inspired secondary world called Awara, following the adventures of Miuko. A world of demons, gods and humans, where anything can happen. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay, and I hope you’ll follow me there.

    Many thanks to Harper360YA for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 01/03/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: In the realm of Awara, where gods, monsters, and humans exist side by side, Miuko is an ordinary girl resigned to a safe, if uneventful, existence as an innkeeper’s daughter.

    But when Miuko is cursed and begins to transform into a demon with a deadly touch, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life. Aided by a thieving magpie spirit and continuously thwarted by a demon prince, Miuko must outfox tricksters, escape demon hunters, and negotiate with feral gods if she wants to make it home again.

    With her transformation comes power and freedom she never even dreamed of, and she’ll have to decide if saving her soul is worth trying to cram herself back into an ordinary life that no longer fits her… and perhaps never did. (from HarperCollins)

    OPINIONS: I love me a compelling YA. And A Thousand Steps Into Night has something that made me fall in love with it quite early on in the story: a scene in which Miuko, the main character, is disguised as male – magically, so she doesn’t have to worry about visibly passing – and has actual gender feelings about it. And not in the way of discovering that she is, in fact, trans or gender non-conforming, but a scene in which she moves through the world, ostensibly male for everyone who perceives her, but feeling uncomfortable in this body, specifically pointing out elements of dysphoria this disguise is giving her. And that is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a YA novel before. It is something so small – the scene only takes up a couple of pages – but it is something that meant a lot to me, to have this trope of a girl passing as a boy interrogated from the perspective of what this actually does with a person.

    As a whole, the story is relatively fast-paced and compelling. It is in many ways a YA fantasy that revolves around tropes, and as such, doesn’t feel like it re-invents the wheel. But it is compelling and keeps the reader enthralled. Miuko is a charming heroine, and one who doesn’t feel overpowered. She isn’t incapable of failure – which for me is always something that irritates – and the narration sticks close enough to her to get her insecurities across. And that is where YA shines for me – the main characters are allowed to be insecure and not know how to deal with the world and unknown situations. I found A Thousand Steps Into Night to be a fun, escapist read with some deeper undertones that made me like it all the more.

    Oh, and I loved the footnotes giving more information about the Japanese mythology behind creatures and elements in the story. Both in terms of pronunciation and backstory, I just loved the added focus on *this is something relevant* as somewhat of an information magpie.

    Add A Thousand Steps Into Night to your Goodreads here, or order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Minis

    Monday Minis

    I’ve been terrible at Monday Minis – life has been insane – but I’m back with three new titles to tell you about! Many thanks to the publicists for sending me review copies or eARCs of these, and as always, opinions are entirely my own and publishers and especially the lovely publicists are not to blame.

    How to Steal the Mona Lisa by Bethany Walker and illustrator Jack Noel is a lower middle grade story told through epistolary format. Which I’m not a fan of in the first place, and harder to convince me of its value in a highly illustrated children’s book. The main focus is emails between the main character and her grandmother – but these are full of hand-drawn pictures similar to what you’d expect would accompany a traditionally told story for the age category. So that already had me approach the book with a certain amount of grump. It is a book that I struggled with – and that I feel children may struggle too as it doesn’t hold tension well. I found myself wandering off rather often and not invested in the mystery or the characters as much as I would have liked, and I thought that it relied overly much on the reader realising how naive the main character is and feeling smart or smug for noticing things that she doesn’t. It isn’t a bad book, but not one that stands out to me, sadly, and one that I would only recommend if your child is especially drawn in by the format.

    I was extremely hyped for Silk Fire by Zabé Ellor – it was one of the books on my 2022 mega post and so I was thrilled when I was able to get my hands on one of the stunning ARCs. However, as blogger friends started reading it, my excitement rapidly turned to apprehension. I still tried to keep an open mind and approach the book without any prejudices – the premise of courtesan turned dragon in a highly political and codified society still had me intrigued and comps to Jaqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, but more overtly queer sounded like something I’d love. Well. Turns out that this is not a book I can recommend, unfortunately (also, be warned, as this contains pretty much ALL the content warnings). I made it about half-ways through despite my hesitations about the writing, worldbuilding and characterisation when I encountered a graphic rape scene where the main character ends up consciously crossing borders with one of his love interests, and instead of considering why he acted the way he did, he blames daddy issues. And for me, that was the final straw. As a whole, the book feels underedited – it reads more like a first or second draft than a book just missing final copy-edits and proofreading, though as I did read an ARC it may be that the publisher did decide to do more substantial work after this stage. There are staggering holes in the worldbuilding, which seems to be some sort of gender-swapped version of ours in which the main character, Koré, a male prostitute, experiences much of the same prejudice based on gender as women traditionally have in ours. Nuance is not something that exists in this world and it feels like the reader gets repeatedly hit with a blunt object to hammer home that message. And that’s something that pulls through the writing and prose more generally. It doesn’t fit together, it doesn’t work. It seems like having individual sentences that are quotable was the dominant goal rather than to have a text that flows as a whole – interspersed with simplistic clichés. Oh, and the main character is clearly not smart enough for his own schemes. Which is always fun to read. TL:DR this has a great concept, unfortunately the execution is really not where it needs to be so I highly recommend you skip this for your mental health and sanity.

    A River of Silver by S.A. Chakraborty is basically a set of bonus material for her Daevabad trilogy. I call it bonus material rather than a short story collection because it is very much connected to the original trilogy and contains spoilers for the books – which are made clear at the beginning of each story. I really enjoyed diving back into the rich world and learning more about these characters and their backstories. I especially liked the snippet about how Jamshid and Munthadir met and the alternate ending to the series. Just a wonderful, comforting set of stories. I got to listen to these as an audiobook – the collection is released audio-first and then will be published in traditional print format later. And the narrator for the whole collection is just wonderful, I highly recommend listening to these books!

  • Reviews

    The God of Lost Words – A.J. Hackwith

    One of my favourite tropes is books about books. There is just something special about stories that share that love for the written word so openly, that carry their heart on their sleeve. And A.J. Hackwith’s Hell’s Library trilogy does this in so many different ways. Set in the Unwritten Wing – the part of Hell’s Library where books that were never finished are kept – Claire, the librarian, is an author herself, and Hero and Brevity, the two other main characters are a literal main character and a muse respectively. It is a special series, combining a love for books and storytelling with action-packed fantasy, and The God of Lost Words is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

    Many thanks to Sarah Mather at Titan Books for sending me a review copy, all opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 08/02/2022

    STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: To save the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, former librarian Claire and her allies may have to destroy it first.

    Claire, rakish Hero, angel Rami, and muse-turned-librarian Brevity have accomplished the impossible by discovering the true nature of unwritten books. But now that the secret is out, in its quest for power Hell will be coming for every wing of the Library.

    To protect the Unwritten Wing and stave off the insidious reach of Malphas, Hell’s most bloodthirsty general, Claire and her friends will have to decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice to keep their vulnerable corner of the afterlife. Succeeding would mean rewriting the nature of the Library, but losing would mean obliteration. Their only chance at survival lies in outwitting Hell and writing a new chapter for the Library. Luckily, Claire and her friends know how the right story, told well, can start a revolution. (from Titan Books)

    OPINIONS: I’ve been burned a few times with sequels recently. But this one is a heck of a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favourite of the three, to be entirely honest. The first sets up the characters and world, the second introduces a more expansive setting (including a very skaldic Valhalla!) and this third volume has the entire ecosystem break down and having to be re-built. The God of Lost Words is as immersive and addictive as the first two books in the series – just with even higher stakes. If you have liked the series so far, this is a must read, and if you’re new to the series this should be incentive enough to pick it up and binge all three.

    I think what draws me so much to these books is that the characters, for the most part, are those who love stories as much as I do. And that makes connecting with them that much easier. But this isn’t just about that. This is a book about what it means to care about your home and the people in it, wherever that may be. About a willingness to sacrifice everything for those you hold dear. Unexpected bravery, found through research and logic, but attained through emotion. And that is what I love about these books. They are set in Hell, in what is proverbially the worst place in the universe, but they are about personal connection, about human relationships (even if most characters aren’t technically humans) and about finding out who you are inside and what your passions are. The series is at times pulpy, often fast-paced, but always full of compassion and heart.

    Writing about this last book in the series has made me want to do a binge-reread of the whole trilogy, so I hope I have been able to bring across some of my love for these books. They are some of my favourite library-set stories, incorporating mythology from a variety of cultures and focusing on their characters and bringing them to (after)life. Add The God of Lost Words to your Goodreads here, or order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).