I would be remiss if I didn’t start this off by yelling that Sistersong is finally being published in April. I reviewed this historical epic fantasy for Grimdark Magazine at the start of the year and I haven’t stopped telling anyone who would listen that they need to read it. Find my review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
I love me a good fairy tale. And if it is dark and twisty, and features a sapphic romance, that is totally up my street. So I’ve been desperate to get my hands on Malice by Heather Walter since I saw the announcement. Told from the perspective of the villain, and featuring a cursed Princess Aurora, and the two working together to maybe lift the curse before it’s too late… Catnip! This will be out from Del Rey on the 13th of April, and you can pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
The Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner is one of those books that I’ve been looking forward to forever. It’s a historical fantasy about witchcraft and Jewish folklore set in Hungary. I adored the author’s first book, The Sisters of the Winter Wood, one of the first books I reviewed on here (see here). This is from the blurb: “Deep in the Hungarian woods, the sacred magic of King Solomon lives on in his descendants. Gathering under the midnight stars, they pray, sing and perform small miracles – and none are more gifted than the great Rabbi Isaac and his three daughters. Each one is blessed with a unique talent – whether it be coaxing plants to grow, or predicting the future by reading the path of the stars.” It sounds wonderful and atmospheric and I can’t wait. Out from Orbit on the 15th of April, order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Last year, I really enjoyed Finna by Nino Cipri. A fun romp through the multiverse based in an IKEA-equivalent. And now, Defekt, the follow up novella is being published on the 20th of April by Tor.com. Set in the same world/furniture store as the first one, this will feature a new protagonist. From the blurb: “To test his commitment to the job, Derek is assigned to a special inventory shift, hunting through the store to find defective products. Toy chests with pincers and eye stalks, ambulatory sleeper sofas, killer mutant toilets, that kind of thing. Helping him is the inventory team — four strangers who look and sound almost exactly like him. Are five Dereks better than one?”. Pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Translated from the original Polish, The Widow Queen by Elżbieta Cherezińska sounds like just the kind of historical inspired fantasy I’ve been loving recently. This is the blurb: “To her father, the great duke of Poland, Swietoslawa and her two sisters represent three chances for an alliance. Three marriages on which to build his empire. But Swietoslawa refuses to be simply a pawn in her father’s schemes; she seeks a throne of her own, with no husband by her side. The gods may grant her wish, but crowns sit heavy, and power is a sword that cuts both ways.” Forgotten historical figure, a woman who took power? Yes please. This will be out from Tor on the 6th of April and you can get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
There’s a new genre in town and it’s fast becoming my favourite: Queer Epic Historical Fantasy. A few months ago, I got to read and review Sistersong by Lucy Holland, which I love to bits (see my review on Grimdark Magazine here), and now UK Tor/Mantle Books were kind enough to send me an ARC of She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan. As usual all opinions are entirely my own.
Since I was a kid, I tend to pick up historical based novels in order to learn more about the feel of an era. And as I know basically nothing about Chinese history and legends, I couldn’t wait to read this queer retelling. Shelley Parker-Chan does for Chinese legend what Madeline Miller does for Greek mythology. This book is brilliant, and you all need to read it. (And isn’t the black and gold of the ARC stunning? I think I might also have to get both the UK and US finished copies, because both covers are gorgeous)
RELEASE DATE: 22/07/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: In a famine-stricken village on a dusty plain, a seer shows two children their fates. For a family’s eighth-born son, there’s greatness. For the second daughter, nothing.
In 1345, China lies restless under harsh Mongol rule. And when a bandit raid wipes out their home, the two children must somehow survive. Zhu Chongba despairs and gives in. But the girl resolves to overcome her destiny. So she takes her dead brother’s identity and begins her journey. Can Zhu escape what’s written in the stars, as rebellion sweeps the land? Or can she claim her brother’s greatness – and rise as high as she can dream? (from Mantle Books)
OPINIONS: So I finished She Who Became The Sun, and immediately wanted to read it again. It is a brilliant book, both in terms of content and writing. I really am falling for this new trend of queer historical epic fantasy, it is everything I want in a book. If you loved Disney’s Mulan as a kid and now you want to recapture what you loved about it, this is the book for you – the grown up version based on history. Zhu Chongba is the Mulan equivalent, but they are ambitious, ruthless and smart.
Zhu takes her brother’s name after his death, and becomes a monk, and a politically important person over time, thanks to their tactical prowess. They are the kind of character that, as a reader, you don’t know whether to love or hate. Ma, the wife, the only person who knows that Zhu was born a woman, is probably the only “good” character in the story. She is a cinnamon roll and I just wanted to hug and protect her. Together, they make a brilliant power couple, challenging each other and becoming powerful.
There are few books that I had such visceral emotional reactions to. Shelley Parker-Chan is definitely a writer to watch out for – her debut is brilliant, and I can’t wait to read more of their writing. Plot: compelling. Characters: strong and evoking emotional reactions. Writing: beautiful and poetic. She Who Became The Sun is a must read.
The Unbroken. Or the arms book, thanks to Tommy Arnold‘s fantastic cover art. And, damn, if that cover doesn’t make you want to pick up the book without even knowing what it’s about.
Massive thanks to Orbit and Netgalley for sending me an eARC in exchange for a honest review. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 23/03/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale. (from Orbit)
OPINIONS: So, this is in no way an easy book. It took me ages to read, and I kept forgetting that it was still unfinished. But ultimately, once I finally finished it, there was no other rating than the full 5 ✶. It is brilliant, it is tough, and it confronts us with a part of Europe’s imperial past that we often like to gloss over. The Unbroken is set in a fantasy world, but with strong parallels to the real world history of France and the colonialisation of Africa. It packages these tensions in a personal story of love, betrayal and politics. While I am not the right person to go into this in depth, it certainly made me think.
The story is led by two main characters, Luca and Touraine. Luca is a princess, symbolising the colonial force, while Touraine is a soldier, taken from her family and culture as a child. They are fantastic characters to build a story around. Luca is a polarising figure, at least in my community – many people hate her due to what she symbolises, while I think she is trying to make the best out of a terrible situation, and actively working towards change, which makes me like her. But then, there are no good people in this story. Both Luca and Touraine have vested interests in the political game, and do whatever it takes to get there. And that is exactly what makes me like them so much, and what got me invested.
And, have I mentioned that the book is sapphic? It’s not a romance or a love story in any way, but there are queer elements and many shippable couples. I really appreciated the mostly queernorm world. The one gripe I had with the book – and this might entirely be down to me missing things because I read in chunks – is that there is magic, but I didn’t get much of a sense of how it worked or what it can do. But that’s a tiny point of criticism, and might well have been fixed in the finished copies even.
Fab tries to catch up with her reviewing challenge. So have some more mini reviews to make space for bigger features again. Work is kicking my ass so I don’t get around to reading and blogging as much as I’d like…
A Summoning of Souls by Leanna Renee Hieber is the last in her Spectral City trilogy. It is a solid last installment, wrapping up many of the story threads from previous books nicely. I breezed through this supernatural mystery about a medium in NYC, and her coven of girls who help the police with crimes including ghosts. I love Eve, the main character, and her budding relationship with Detective Jacob Horowitz is a big draw of these books. They are fast paced and entertaining, full of loveable protagonists. If you’re looking for supernatural detective stories with a romance element, I suggest you check this series out! Order a copy from Blackwell’s here.
The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst is a wonderful story of necromancy, the corruption of power and the aftermath of winning a war. Twenty-five years ago, Kreya and her friends defeated the evil necromancer Eklor. Since then, Kreya has been obsessed with finding a way to give her dead husband a second life. Now, she has finally managed with the help of an old friend. But as they travel to the old battle grounds, they figure out that Eklor isn’t really gone, and return to him having found a way to gain power again. But does her experience with necromancy make her evil too? This is a story in which these gray areas are explored in detail. Like so few books it looks at what happens after a big win, and how so-called heroes deal with their past and having a future after it seemed impossible. If you’re into murky morals and interesting world-building, this is a book for you. Pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers is not technically a book I have to review. I bought it myself, and it blew my mind in the best possible way. It is the story of Grace Porter, a fresh PhD graduate in Astronomy, raised by a military father who insisted on achievement. To celebrate her graduation, she travels to Las Vegas with her two best friends, and accidentally gets married to Yuki Yamamoto. Lost in her life now that she has reached her goal, which she’s worked for for years, Grace decides to give this stranger she married a shot and spends the summer in New York with Yuki. Honey Girl is heartwarming, but also evil – as someone around Grace’s age, many of her struggles (including with mental health issues) feel familiar, and the way she is looking for her next steps hits home. This is a book that will tear you apart, make you cry, but it is extremely worth it. A truly stellar debut. Order a copy from Amazon here (I’m sorry for linking to them, but all my indies are out of stock!).
And one last blog tour for this week! In typical me-fashion I ended up bingeing the whole book today instead of actually sticking to my TBR and reading in time… All The Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter is a charming and compelling folk-tale inspired story, with a wonderful heroine. Check out the posts of the other stops on the tour too!
Massive thanks to Titan and Sarah Mather for providing me with an eARC and letting me be part of the blog tour!
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
RELEASE DATE: 08/04/21
SUMMARY: Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.
A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them. (from Titan Books)
OPINIONS: Um, so I love fairy tales and this has the exact feel of those kinds of stories. It is not a perfect book but one I very much enjoyed and fell for. I struggled a bit to get into it, but once I got sucked into the story at not quite a third in, I couldn’t put it down. Miren is such a fantastic leading character, stubborn, fierce, but also young and clueless in a lot of ways. She is not your average chosen heroine, although she does hint at elements of the trope. Having been left by her parents and sold into a marriage she doesn’t want by her grandmother, she sets out to find out who she is after she finds out that her parents are not dead as she was told for her whole life. And once she gets to her destination, she finds a situation much different to her expectations.
There are elements that are utterly predictable, and issues that get solved a little too easily, but it doesn’t distract from the enjoyment of the story. This is a book that embraces its flaws, and doesn’t pretend to be anything but what it is: an compelling tale inspired by traditional folk tales. It is set in a world where stories Slatter has published before exist as stories passed down the O’Malley family. Creating a universe in which these stories can shine.
If you enjoy twisted stories with compelling characters, that nevertheless feel comforting and familiar, this might be a book for you. Add All The Murmuring Bones to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
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.
Yes, this is the week of too many blog tours. But all of them are for awesome books! Today, it’s my turn to talk about Dangerous Women by Hope Adams. This is a fun historical mystery set aboard a ship going from the UK to Australia in the nineteenth century. It is focused on characters, and based on a real journey and the quilt that was produced during the voyage. You can see the quilt here – I can’t stop staring at it! And can I just mention how gorgeous the cover for Dangerous Women is? I love it.
Thanks to Michael Joseph Books and Gaby Young for having me on the tour and sending me an eARC. All opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
RELEASE DATE: 04/03/21
SUMMARY: London, 1841. The Rajah sails for Australia. On board are 180 women convicted of petty crimes, sentenced to start a new life half way across the world. Daughters, sisters, mothers – they’ll never see home or family again. Despised and damned, all they have now is each other. Until the murder. As the fearful hunt for a killer begins, everyone on board is a suspect. The investigation risks tearing their friendships apart. . . But if the killer isn’t found, could it cost them their last chance of freedom? (from Penguin Michael Joseph)
OPINIONS: I’ve been on a bit of a historical kick lately, and I really enjoyed Dangerous Women. It is a fun escapist story, with the added quality of being based in a real historical moment. While the characters and story are fictional, the ship, the Rajah, existed, and was used to transport prisoners from the UK to Australia in 1841. The quilt the woman produce over the course of the journey exists and is absolutely stunning, giving the story an added dimension.
I found this to be well-written and full of interesting characters. It really is a character-driven story, and not very fast paced. I feel like it could have been condensed a bit, but not massively so. What irritated me a bit while reading – and this is likely due to reading an eARC and generally being terrible at noticing chapter headers – is that it switches around on the timeline quite often, but because it’s all on the ship it isn’t always obvious from context. This got me a bit muddled up for a while, but I think that’s more of a me problem than anything else.
The resolution of the story is very satisfying and it never felt very obvious how the story might turn out. The ARC I read was at times a bit more superficial than I would have preferred, but overall it did not detract from my enjoyment. It is not a perfect book, but if you like historical fiction or novels such as The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton, you might like this one too. Add Dangerous Women to Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Today I’m excited to start of a very special blog tour for The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys. While I adored the book – set in Spain in the 1950s and looking at life under Franco through the eyes of a young American photojournalist – this won’t be a review post. I got to attend a fantastic event with Ruta, and talk to her about retelling history. You can find The Fountains of Silence on Goodreads here, and copies are available from Bookshop here (affiliate link). Massive thanks to Penguin and Nina Douglas for sending me a copy of the book and having me as part of the blog tour!
SUMMARY: Madrid, 1957. Daniel, young, wealthy and unsure of his place in the world, views the city through the lens of his camera. Ana, a hotel maid whose family is suffering under the fascist dictatorship of General Franco. Lives and hearts collide as they unite to uncover the hidden darkness within the city. A darkness that could engulf them all . . . (from Penguin)
Ruta is one of the most beloved historical fiction writers out there. She won the Carnegie Medal in 2017, is published in 60 countries and even has a postage stamp with her face in Lithuania. She is again longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for The Fountains of Silence. The story is very much set in a crossover space, and can be read both as a YA novel and an adult one. Ruta believes that history helps human understanding, giving people a reason for things being the way they are. In her opinion, history helps compassion, and silence breeds misunderstanding. If history is not talked about, every person can create their own version of events.
But why write about the Franco regime? Ruta is Lithuanian-American, and her first novels had been about exploring her family history and identity, so Spanish history isn’t a very obvious choice for her. When she was touring Spain for her first book, Between Shades of Grey, she did a number of school visits. And those teens, readers of her debut novel, asked her whether she might take her expertise of writing historical novels and apply them to their own history. Because young Spanish people don’t know about their past. After Franco’s death in 1975, Spanish policy culminated in the Pact of Forgetting, which meant that the atrocities of the civil war and the ensuing regime were not discussed. The past was not reckoned with, not taught, and not talked about.
Her immediate reaction, as someone who is not connected to Spain at all, was that it was not her place to write this story. But the idea never left her, and once she found the right lens – that of a young American, raised by a Spanish mother, but with no knowledge of life in Spain – she decided to write the story after all. While her earlier novels had a family connection, based in Lithuania and Eastern Europe, allowing her to write them from the inside out, this one required a different approach. She wrote The Fountains of Silence from the outside in. Using an outside observer, she consciously chose to write an unreliable narrator, a tourist. This allowed her to tell the story from someone passing judgement over what he sees, and highlight that as a tourist, one only sees part of the story. And personally, I think this is a large part of what made The Fountains of Silence resonate so much with me. Seeing the struggle of someone trying to make sense of what he sees, of trying to figure out the full story from his perspective, but utterly failing to.
Ruta really is a huge history nerd at heart (or, a history hoe, as we call ourselves in my circle of friends). She collected a variety of items from the period, such as a travel brochure handed out on flights from the US to Spain in the 1950s. She has the original key to the room in the hotel Daniel stays at. She also found pieces of the guarda civil uniform of the period. All this helps her to create an immersive experience for her readers. In the book itself, she included bits of historical documents accompanying the story. And that is one of the things I loved most about the book: while reading this historical novel, telling a story and using history to illustrate it, these documents allowed me to get even more of a sense of the world. Ruta used these sources to show to the reader where the story came from. Because The Fountains of Silence is a book that is ultimately about the history in it, and not the explicit story.
By writing about a period that is not that far in the past, Ruta was able to refer to oral history. To talk to witnesses who lived through the Franco regime. One of the anecdotes she told us was that once she started publicly talking about the book she was writing, people approached her to tell her their stories. One of these was an old man, who had grown up in a boys’ home, and later become a bellboy at the Hilton Castellana, where the story is set. The stories he told her directly influenced the book, and readers can see him in the character Buttons, one of the most lovable in the story.
I have been on a bit of a mystery/thriller binge recently, so I was very excited when this science fiction thriller arrived on my doorstep. It is just as addictive as the blurb made it sound and I’m looking forward to continuing the story!
Many thanks to Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for sending me a review copy, all opinions are my own as usual.
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
RELEASE DATE: 21/01/21
SUMMARY: Tanta has trained all her young life for this. Her very first mission is a code red: to take her team into the unaffiliated zone just outside InTech’s borders and retrieve a stolen hard drive. It should have been quick and simple, but a surprise attack kills two of her colleagues and Tanta barely makes it home alive.
Determined to prove herself and partnered with a colleague whose past is a mystery even to himself, Tanta’s investigation uncovers a sinister conspiracy that makes her question her own loyalties and the motives of everyone she used to trust. (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: This is a well-written and gripping thriller, drawing you into the world of Inscape from the first page. I am usually much more of a fantasy reader than a science fiction one, but this hit the sweet spot for my current obsession with fast-paced mysteries. The story starts with Tanta’s mission going very very wrong – but instead of being reprimanded, she ends up promoted. Tanta is a wonderful main character, flawed, young and inexperienced, but determined and ambitious. Half the time I wanted to hug her, the rest of the time punch her. But most importantly, I was never ambivalent towards her.
There is a sapphic relationship woven throughout the story. But Inscape isn’t a romantic book or one that focuses on a romantic subplot. It is merely there. This is a thriller first and foremost, with a strong focus on the resolution of the mystery. Cole, the second main character, doesn’t remember much. He is smart, but he has a massive gap in his memories. Together with Tanta, he sets out to figure out why his memory was wiped, who they are, and what is going on around them.
The story addresses themes of belonging, human programming and surveillance. It is a great escapist book, and if you’re looking to leave this messed up world for a few hours, it’s a good choice to pick up Inscape. Add it on Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
This book surprised me in all the best ways. I got the audiobook off NetGalley (massive thanks to PRH Audio!) and I raced through it in like three days. And I was working for most of those days, so you can imagine how obsessive I was about listening! This is a supernatural alternative history of the Space Race and it hit all my sweet spots.
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
RELEASE DATE: 04/03/21
SUMMARY: Germany, 1945.
Mia, a nineteen-year-old girl, is sent by the OSS to find Wernher von Braun: Germany’s – and the world’s – foremost rocket scientist. Her mission: stop the Russians getting hold of him.
But von Braun is suspicious. And so he should be.
For Mia is no ordinary girl. She only looks human. And helping the Allies win the Second World War is just one part of her plan . . .
Because there’s an even darker conflict on Earth. A secret struggle thousands of years old. One that has taken generations of Mia’s people.
But can the firing of rockets finally bring about its end?
Can Mia, as the last of her kind, bring the stars down to earth?
And if she succeeds, what will happen to us? (from Penguin Michael Joseph)
OPINIONS: Ok, so this is SO GOOD and you need to get your hands on this. It is an alternative history of the Space Race in the 20th century intertwined with the story of the Kibsu, a sort of anomaly where generations of mothers and daughters appear like clones and possess superior brains for science. We meet them at the point where they’re the 99 – the 99th generation, with Sarah as the mother and Mia the daughter. At the start of the story, Mia is nineteen, and on a mission to extract Wernher von Braun for the Americans at the end of World War 2. The story continues until Mia has her own daughter and they become the 100.
One of my favourite aspects of this was the extensive historical notes at the end of the book, explaining about the sources, further reading and historical figures. Can you tell that I’m a nerd? I also really enjoyed the interludes of earlier generations of the Kibsu, visiting eras such as the Dutch witch trials or the medieval Rus’. A History of What Comes Next is meticulously researched, and in addition to being a wonderful novel and story of its own, teaches the reader much about cultural history.
I loved Mia from the start – she is a young woman, headstrong and determined to find her own path. The narration adds to that, portraying her as she is, with nuance and detail – it sounds as if it’s Mia directly speaking to the reader. The interplay of text and delivery is astounding and adds to the enjoyment of the story. The book is narrated by 5 or 6 different narrators, giving each point of view a distinct character.
I cannot recommend this book enough. If you are fascinated by space at all or love science fiction, you have to make sure to give this a shot. You can add it on Goodreads here, get the audiobook from Audible here and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).