August recap and September plans

I can’t believe summer is getting to an end already! Here in Ireland we’re seeing Christmas foods coming up in the shops (I have a lot of thoughts about that!) so that totally changes the atmosphere…

What to say about August?

July was unusual in terms of how many books I read, so August has returned to a more “normal” month for me, with a total of 10 books finished (some may have been started a lot earlier…). I did also complete my original reading goal for 2021, as illustrated by this brightly coloured shelf in my notebook:

Yes, that’s a lot of fantasy books! I know!

I’ve pushed the goal to 100 books, which should be easily doable if I’m being honest – but I did 120 last year and it was pushing myself quite a bit, so 100 seems like a good balance. I may upgrade it again later.

Continue reading…

ARC review: Elves on the Fifth Floor, by Francesca Cavallo, illustrated by Verena Wugeditsch

I read this book in the hottest days of the year, and it’s a weird weather to be reading about Christmas elves, as we were all melting from the heat here in Ireland… I was thinking of the people in the southern hemisphere who’re experiencing winter right now, and I do envy them quite a bit. The heatwave did not stop me from enjoying this, though!

I’m quite sad that I couldn’t find a bigger picture of the cover, it’s very cute!

The story

From New York Times Bestselling Author of “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls”

In the city of R., nothing bad ever happens—which makes it a perfect destination for moms Isabella and Dominique, and their three children, Manuel, Camila, and Shonda, when they’re forced to flee their home country just before Christmas to keep their family together.

Crammed into a tiny apartment at 10 Roomy Chimneys Road, the family does its best to make friends with new neighbors—only to discover that the reason that nothing bad ever happens in R. is that its residents maintain the status quo at all costs. They don’t try anything new. They don’t take risks. And they never talk to strangers.

But the children of R. have had enough. Led by a young inventor, they’ve started a clandestine radio network to communicate freely and challenge the adults’ rules. Their rebellion starts Manuel, Camila and Shonda on a magical adventure— to save Christmas, and to bring community back to the city of R. 

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was given a copy by Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

I don’t often read children’s books, mostly because as a childless adult I feel like this is not really my wheelhouse. I do however love to see diverse books for all ages, and I love a good picture book. So when I saw this on Netgalley, under LGBTQIA, I had to grab it.

It turned out to be for a younger audience than I was expecting, on the lower end of Middle Grade, so that’s something to think about if you’re going to get it as a gift.

We’re following a queer family who had to flee their country due to homophobia, and I appreciate that the author is being very honest about this while also obviously staying appropriate. These are discussions that we can and should have with kids. The anonymity of the city of R. also works very well to tell this kind of stories, too, I think. It could be anywhere.

What I did not see coming was that the police would be involved in this story, I mean from the blurb it was innocent enough, but the moms do get, if not arrested, then escorted to the police station in the back of a car, which… was not explicitly violent, but I suppose as an adult with an understanding of current events it hits as violent.

The story itself is cute other than this particular point, and the children – especially Olivia, with her inventions – are relatable and fun. Not to mention it’s great to see queer families in kids’ books – here with children who have two moms (and others who have two dads, monoparental families, etc). The illustrations are adorable throughout, I actually really liked the inclusion of two-tone illustrations in red and green (and black) as well as the full colour ones. It’s a lovely and very short read for young children.

The Links

Preorder it in time for Christmas!

Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Review: The Unbroken, by C.L. Clark

This is one of my highly anticipated books of the year, mainly because of all the talk about how queer it is (which it really is!) but what I did not expect was how dense and action packed it would be, so it took me an age and a half to finish it. Still, I found it super satisfying throughout!

My copy of the book has seen better days already…

The Story

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.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

You know second hand embarrassment? These characters gave me that same sensation, but in terms of “nooooo why are you doing that you feckin eejit!” instead of, like, embarrassment. The truth is, they’re both trying to do their best, but they do the maths wrong a lot of the time, and could things just happen right for them just once?

As you can see, I had a lot of feelings about this book, and these characters. Everyone was very excited about the book, and I bought it knowing it was queer and awesome (and hearing a lot about Touraine’s arms, which, fair!) but I think this is the first time I truly understand the meaning of “fast paced”. You don’t have time to breathe with this book (in the best of ways). I found myself having to take long breaks because of all the twists and turns in the story, and when I thought the characters (Touraine especially) were going to finally catch a break, something new and world-changing happened.

Continue reading…

ARC Review: The Merchant and the Rogue, by Sarah M. Eden

Sometimes all you want is a little bit of historical romance. I gotta say I was really into the cover with its silhouettes, it reminded me of the Invisible Library, so I had to see for myself what it was about. It turned out to be part of a series (I feel a bit clueless), but that didn’t really prevent me from enjoying it

The Story

London, 1865

Vera Sorokina loves reading the Penny Dreadfuls and immersing herself in tales of adventure, mystery, and romance. Her own days are filled with the often mundane work of running the book and print shop she owns with her father. The shop offers her freedom and an income, and while she is grateful for the stability it brings to her life, she often feels lonely.

Brogan Donnelly was born and raised in Ireland, but has lived in London for several years, where he’s built a career as a penny dreadful writer. He has dedicated himself to the plight of the poor with the help of his sister. But with no one to share his life with, he fears London will never truly feel like home.

Brogan and Vera’s paths cross, and the attraction is both immediate and ill-advised. Vera knows from past experience that writers are never to be trusted, and Brogan has reason to suspect not everything at Vera’s print shop is aboveboard. When a growing criminal enterprise begins targeting their area of London, Brogan and Vera must work together to protect the community they’ve both grown to love. But that means they’ll need to learn to trust each other with dangerous secrets that have followed both of them from their home countries.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was given an advanced copy through Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

This is basically a cosy romance with a side of adventure, with a side of nested dolls. You get three stories in one, as the main narrative is interspersed with chapters from two penny dreadfuls.

Continue reading…

Review: Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir

I’m a big fan of The Martian – I watched the movie a few years back, promptly got the book, and loved it! I’ve rewatched the movie half a dozen times since then, too. So I kind of jumped on this new book almost immediately (or, like, as soon as the library would give it to me, and I wasn’t the only one requesting it…)

(I once again forgot to take a real picture before handing back the book…)

The Story

A lone astronaut must save the earth from disaster in this incredible new science-based thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Martian.

A lone astronaut.
An impossible mission.
An ally he never imagined.

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission – and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery-and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

The Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Because it was such a get-automatically book for me, I did not really read the blurb beforehand… I wasn’t exactly surprised that the premise was similar to The Martian, albeit in a very different context. Your man Ryland is alone on a spaceship, having to science his way to survival… sounds pretty familiar. In this case, he’s not left behind, and he’s not trying to return to Earth, though. He’s on a one-way mission to another solar system, and his crewmates died in transit…

Continue reading…

Review: Hellion’s Waltz, by Olivia Waite

Olivia Waite’s Georgian sapphic romance series, Feminine Pursuits, are one of the very few books that are an instant buy for me. I did this with Waspish Widows, and I did it again with Hellion’s Waltz, and no regrets! I’d do the same for another 10 more in the series.

Louxor likes to check out every book that comes into this house. It’s his now!

The Story

It’s not a crime to steal a heart…

Sophie Roseingrave hates nothing more than a swindler. After her family lost their piano shop to a con man in London, they’re trying to start fresh in a new town. Her father is convinced Carrisford is an upright and honest place, but Sophie is not so sure. She has grave suspicions about silk-weaver Madeline Crewe, whose stunning beauty doesn’t hide the fact that she’s up to something.

All Maddie Crewe needs is one big score, one grand heist to properly fund the weavers’ union forever. She has found her mark in Mr. Giles, a greedy draper, and the entire association of weavers and tailors and clothing merchants has agreed to help her. The very last thing she needs is a small but determined piano-teacher and composer sticking her nose in other people’s business. If Sophie won’t be put off, the only thing to do is to seduce her to the cause.

Will Sophie’s scruples force her to confess the plot before Maddie gets her money? Or will Maddie lose her nerve along with her heart? 

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s really hard for me to review this with more than *incoherent screaming*. I loved it just as much as the previous ones in the series.

This time we’re following a piano teacher and a ribbon maker, and I really enjoy that we keep looking at more trades women were involved in at the time – and again more working class than the first book would’ve let on. We’re once more looking at unions (or lack thereof – I learned that the UK outlawed unions for a few years in the 19th century), and how workers help each other and strive for better rights. In this case, by conning the horrible capitalist man who’s been stealing from them for years. So that part of the plot was tremendously satisfying!

Continue reading…

July recap

I’ve realised I forgot to write the last few monthly recaps, but I want to get back to it. I read quite a bit in July, even though I did not post much. I think part of it was that I did not want to write reviews on old books and nth books in a series, mainly. Another thing is that I read a few very short books.

Jolly Foul Play, A Spoonful of Murder, and Death in the Spotlight, by Robin Steven

I’ve been reading more of this series as they get to me on the library app. I don’t normally read ebooks but these are very easy to get through so it’s no problem at all! Just some fun, quick MG murder mysteries!

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

Each short story in this book was a retelling or riff on an Asian myth or fairy tale. I usually have trouble with short stories but I found that they were all high quality, very entertaining. I also loved learning about more diverse folk tales from all over Asia. The book itself is a lovely object, with illustrated pages at the beginning of each story.

Seven of Infinities, by Aliette de Bodard

I buddy-read this one with Tessa, and it was a lot of fun. It’s a novella, so very quick to get through, but still with the complex world- and character-building that’s typical of Aliette’s work. You can read my full review here.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, by Zen Cho

Another quick novella that I really enjoyed, in audiobook this time. A nun works together with bandits, not a story you’d think likely, but it was a lot of fun. My full review is here.

A Hat Full of Sky, and Thud!, by Terry Pratchett

I’m still on a quest to read all of Pratchett’s Discworld books (though I think I’ll end up skipping the other Rincewind ones, I’m never happy with them). I tend to find them a bit unequal, but these two I really enjoyed. On the one hand, witches! on the other hand, politics! But they both had the caring wit I associate with Pratchett.

Elves on the Fifth Floor, by Francesca Cavallo

A cute MG book about Christmas, and a queer family helping Santa pack all the gifts! I’ll post my review a bit later in the month.

Maurice, by E.M. Forster

This is what I mean about reviewing old books. I’ve meant to read this for years and years. It’s basically a queer classic! I finally got it from the library and, as people who follow me on twitter may have noticed, I was not impressed. Maurice, the titular character, is quite boring and, just, meh. Forster calls him stupid quite a few times. It’s readable, and a window through time (for a specific white middle class Cambridge in the 1910s time) but not the greatest.

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

Yeah so… I was not impressed by this one either. I wanted to love it, I made myself finish it to see if it gets better… It does, to some extent, but it still did not spark joy. I was expecting something more like the Invisible Library and less about suicide and recovery. Which is the main theme of the book, really, so major trigger warnings for that, which I did not expect!

A Song Below Water, by Bethany C. Morrow

Who doesn’t love a book about mermaids? Well, sirens, in this case. This is a YA novel about how Black Lives Matter, but with added magic. I liked it, even though it was not really what I expected. You can see my full review here.

Persephone Station, by Stina Leicht

A queer space opera about fighting off capitalism and helping the native species retain control of their territory. I did like it, even though I was not really a fan of the audiobook. Full review here.

Princess Princess Ever After, by Kay O’Neill

I’ve read both Tea Dragon Society books by the same author and loved them, and this one’s been on my TBR for ages. It’s a cute, short comicbook about kickass, gay princesses who help each other and save themselves. And a dragon! What more can you want?

Yeah, that was a lot for just one month, I can’t quite believe it either. Let’s hope I can read just as much in August, and that the quality remains the same or even better! What was your favourite read in July?

Review: Persephone Station, by Stina Leicht

I saw this book on a list of 2021 queer releases and I immediately knew I had to read it. It took me some time, but I finally got to it, in audio format. I’m still not sure what to make of it, though, so the review got a bit away from me. Some spoilers ahead.

I am, once again, in love with the cover. Although I still don’t know which character this is for sure… (art by Tomer Hanuka)

The Story

Hugo award-nominated author Stina Leicht has created a take on space opera for fans of The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop in this high-stakes adventure.

Persephone Station, a seemingly backwater planet that has largely been ignored by the United Republic of Worlds, becomes the focus for the Serrao-Orlov Corporation as the planet has a few secrets the corporation tenaciously wants to exploit.

Rosie—owner of Monk’s Bar, in the corporate town of West Brynner—caters to wannabe criminals and rich Earther tourists, of a sort, at the front bar. However, exactly two types of people drink at Monk’s back bar: members of a rather exclusive criminal class and those who seek to employ them.

Angel—ex-marine and head of a semi-organized band of beneficent criminals, wayward assassins, and washed up mercenaries with a penchant for doing the honorable thing—is asked to perform a job for Rosie. What this job reveals will affect Persephone and put Angel and her squad up against an army. Despite the odds, they are rearing for a fight with the Serrao-Orlov Corporation. For Angel, she knows that once honor is lost, there is no regaining it. That doesn’t mean she can’t damned well try.

The mildly spoilery Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I am of two minds about this book because I rather liked it, but I feel like it could’ve been even better if it weren’t for some missed opportunities.

Partially, I think I was a bit confused by it at times because the narrator did not really differentiate between voices, except for Suki’s posh RP accent which was quite distinctive. There was a lot of back and forth dialogue that was just “she said”, “Angel said,” “Enid said,” and it was quite hard to follow who exactly said what without these clear distinctions that you often hear in audiobooks. So I did enjoy it, but with moments of “wait what?”

And there was also a lot of fighting… Friends, I lose focus at the battle scenes in movies, and it looks like I do the same in audiobook format. It was just pretty hard to keep track of who was doing what where… and the battle scene was a good chunk of the book.

That being said, I did enjoy the whole concept of the story, and I really liked the characters. The whole idea is that this pacifist species native to the planet (it’s not a spoiler, you learn it literally in the first chapter) has some hidden talents that corporates want, and our friends go to help them make a stand. You do learn very quickly also that they have some great healing abilities, and they could do a lot for humanity. Just, you know, maybe not sell their knowledge to evil capitalist bosses.

Another thing I really liked is what I’d like to call the Aliette de Bodard syndrome – there were practically no men in this story. There were nonbinary characters, Rosie being a prominent one but not the only one. There were a few background characters, like one of the fighters’ boyfriend, who’s named but barely says anything. It’s just refreshing to have books where women and nonbinary people are both the good guys (sic), the bad guys, and the in-betweens. With different sexualities and genders and family models represented too.

So overall it left a good impression on me. BUT and that’s where we get to the missed opportunities part. The author makes use of different point of views, but then seems to drop that towards the end. Whereas I feel like a few chapters, and especially the big revelation at the end, could’ve benefited from being told from another perspective – notably Kennedy’s. Kennedy is… an AI? of sorts? though only she knows that. And parts of the plot revolve around her finding?? another AI? It’s not clear what she expects to find. We do know she may have to destroy it when she finds it, even though she really doesn’t want to. So to me, it made no sense that we saw all this through Angel’s perspective – when Angel really had no idea what was going on. It’d have had more depth and emotion from Kennedy’s perspective at least in part.

And that’s my main complaint overall I think. I don’t know that much about these characters, I’m not made to care enough. Some get wildly injured and I felt nothing about that. So, it’s a good adventure book, but it’s not a book where I could get really attached to anyone in a meaningful way. And when [spoiler] dies, I really was pretty indifferent. I did, however, feel like this was another missed opportunity. Angel’s people are dying. They’ve actually died a few times, and have been revivified, and are all living with chronic illnesses as a result. They’re put in the path of a species who, it so happens, has healing and life-prolonging capabilities. Which they all know. And yet it’s never broached, there’s not even a discussion of “no we don’t want that” or “after all that happened we’re hesitant to help another human” etc. The possibility is thoroughly ignored and it was quite glaring to me.

I think my main issue with this book may be that I saw it from a plot and plotholes/missed opportunities perspective rather than as a story to enjoy. And I’d put this in part on my inability to get attached to the characters, and in part due to the audio narrator who made me feel quite detached from the story too. Maybe this is a rare one where reading it in paper might improve your experience.

Overall good fun, but not up to my expectations, and probably not a book I’ll find myself thinking about too much long term.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | or listen to it on Scribd (affiliate link)

Review: A Song Below Water, by Bethany C. Morrow

I had the audiobook for A Song Below Water on hold for months with the library, and then the physical book… and it only arrived last week or so (they had a copy but libraries were closed for the whole of winter, and I guess I wasn’t the only one who wanted it!) So to say this was highly anticipated for me is a bit of an understatement.

I forgot to take a real picture before I brought it back to the library!

The Story

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Nevermind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

The (spoilery) Review

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Continue reading…

r/fantasy bingo progress report

As I announced previously, I’ve been trying to fill in my bingo card for the r/fantasy book bingo challenge. It runs from April to April, so we’re just about a third of the way through.

The bingo has 3 difficulty levels, normal mode, hard mode (which has a secondary prompt) and hero mode, in which you’re supposed to review all the books you read. I’m giving myself little stars ⭐for each level. I bought a reward star booklet specifically for this, so I’ve three colours.

You’re not supposed to use the same book twice, and ideally not the same author either. I’ve been penciling in titles so far, in the hopes of finding a title for each prompt that fills in all 3… but I’ve decided to start writing them in properly. Which of course, being an airhead, I could not do cleanly without mistakes… (yes I KNEW I wanted Lunis Aquaria for the self-pub one, I had it in pencil. But that’s another page, right? so I did not see it before I’d written it down for short stories…)

Then there’s prompts like “Backlist” (hard mode: published before 2000) where I’ve one book that fills the normal prompt and has a review, and one mode that fills the hard prompt but no review (and I don’t intend to review it)… So I’m still not sure how to deal with those. I went with normal+hard in my little star rating on the bingo card!

I still hope to find a Hard Mode title for some of the prompts so I’ve left them in pencil, and didn’t put in any stars on my card

I also have a smaller “spare card” as a backup because I do think maybe I’ll get extra lines with second books for certain prompts, but that’s really ambitious. So right now I’ve put the extra backlist star on it, as well as a normal mode star for Tram Car 015, on the Genre Mashup tile.

Really what this made me realise is 1) these 3 modes make it a lot more confusing than I thought 2) I am not so good at planning and being organized as I sometimes think I am.

The fact that you can’t repeat is also tricky. My new-to-me author is also a 2021 publication, I’ve got novels that fit for the 2021 AND debut prompt but I want them to fill some other tile first… So I don’t have a bingo yet, but I think with a bit of effort I’ll soon get the 4th column, as I’ve got a few cat squashers lined up, and I just need to pick a debut author to read.

But yeah, I’m finding the whole exercise a bit confusing and frustrating. I think I’ll keep penciling things in as I read them, and write them in proper when they do hit both hard mode and hero (review) mode. Then come December/January I’ll have a look at what I still need to read and become more serious about ticking them off purposefully.