Reviews

ARC Review: Seven Mercies, by Laura Lam & Elizabeth May

Seven Devils was one of my favourite books of 2021, and I Could Not Wait for the follow up, so I jumped at the chance to review the ARC from Netgalley! I also buddy-read it with Tessa, mostly for support and general yelling “wtf” at each other.

(spoilers for Seven Devils in the following review, but I will not spoil the actual book of course!)

Confession time: this cover is not my favourite. I prefer the space/ship version, but i think they both look weird…

The Synopsis

THE MOST-WANTED REBELS IN THE GALAXY ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO CAN SAVE IT

After an ambush leaves the Novantae resistance in tatters, the survivors scatter across the galaxy. Wanted by two great empires, the bounty on any rebel’s head is enough to make a captor filthy rich. And the Seven Devils? Biggest score of them all.

The Devils take refuge on Fortuna where Ariadne gets a message with unimaginable consequences: the Oracle has gone rogue. In a planned coup against the Empire’s new ruler, the AI has developed a way of mass programming citizens into mindless drones. The Oracle’s demand is simple: it wants its daughter Ariadne back at any cost.

Time for an Impossible to Infiltrate mission: high chance of death, low chance of success. The Devils will have to use their unique skills, no matter the sacrifice, even if that means teaming up with old enemies. Their plan? Get to the heart of the Empire. Destroy the Oracle. Burn it all to the ground.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I will start by saying I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It took me a bit to get back into it, but after a while I just could. Not. Stop. Reading. I had to know what happened next. There were also a lot of “wtf” revelations and semi cliffhangers that really made the pacing of this book work for me.

Continue reading…

Book review: The Wife in the Attic, by Rose Lerner

I’d had this book recommended to me a few times as a great historical sapphic romance. I had been keeping an eye on it, and by total chance I won the author’s Halloween giveaway. Given a choice of ebook or audio, I of course took the audiobook – and binged it over one weekend! So thank you Rose Lerner for the amazing audiobook! I read it very quickly in November but sadly got behind on writing the review…

The Story

Goldengrove’s towers and twisted chimneys rose at the very edge of the peaceful Weald, a stone’s throw from the poisonous marshes and merciless waters of Rye Bay. Young Tabby Palethorp had been running wild there, ever since her mother grew too ill to leave her room.

I was the perfect choice to give Tabby a good English education: thoroughly respectable and far too plain to tempt her lonely father, Sir Kit, to indiscretion.

I knew better than to trust my new employer with the truth about my past. But knowing better couldn’t stop me from yearning for impossible things: to be Tabby’s mother, Sir Kit’s companion, Goldengrove’s new mistress.

All that belonged to poor Lady Palethorp. Most of all, I burned to finally catch a glimpse of her.

Surely she could tell me who had viciously defaced the exquisite guitar in the music room, why all the doors in the house were locked after dark, and whose footsteps I heard in the night…

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Continue reading…

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I’ve been intrigued by this book for a while without actually knowing what it was really about, except that it had queer themes (and 7 husbands). It went off Scribd before I could get to it, but it’s back now so I jumped right on it the moment I noticed it.

The Story

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I don’t know what I expected from this book. First off, I’ve been hearing about it for so long I don’t even think I remembered the time period it was set in, and I thought it was a gothic novel of some kind? It’s not. But I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Evelyn is not a likeable character, in a lot of ways, but she knows her flaws and you do root for her. It’s at the same time an exploration of the commodification of women’s bodies and the things you have to do for success (especially in the 50s and 60s) when you’re only seen as “a nice pair of tits”. And at the same time it’s also a love story between Evelyn and [redacted] that I really cared about.

It also delves into AIDS and Stonewall a little bit, and other political matters for queer people at the time. It was good to see, albeit in fiction, how the events could have felt like for the people not directly involved.

I also loved the whole story-in-a-story business, and Monique’s character especially. I think it gave Evelyn’s narrative the context and distance it needed by asking her some tough questions, and showing her compassion where she had none for herself.

This was going to be a 4-star book, I think – not a true reason for the missing star, it just didn’t hit THAT place for me. And then the last twist or two happened and it just really blew my mind. And the very ending, which I sort of expected, made me tear up and that sealed it for me.

cw: historical homophobia, biphobia, domestic violence, death, cancer, alcoholism

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Bookshop UK (affiliate link) | Portal Bookshop | Kenny’s | or listen to it on Scribd (affiliate link)

Review: Armed in her Fashion, by Kate Heartfield

I’ve enjoyed reading Heartfield’s short story in Monstrous Little Voices a few years ago. It was the highlight of that anthology (it was a bit of a letdown, as a whole, but it looks like the authors weren’t aware of the others’ work although it was all linked together somehow… which led to some unfortunate things. But that’s a story for another day. Point is, Heartfield’s story was brilliant). Looked up what else she was up to, and at the time, Armed in her Fashion wasn’t out yet.

I promptly got it at Dublin Worldcon 2 years ago, got it signed… and then kept putting it off because the concept was so wild and amazing I was afraid to be disappointed.

The Story

In 1328, Bruges is under siege by the Chatelaine of Hell and her army of chimeras — humans mixed with animals or armour, forged in the deep fires of the Hellbeast. At night, revenants crawl over the walls and bring plague and grief to this city of widows.

Margriet de Vos learns she’s a widow herself when her good-for-nothing husband comes home dead from the war. He didn’t come back for her. The revenant who was her husband pulls a secret treasure of coins and weapons from under his floorboards and goes back through the mouth of the beast called Hell.

Margriet killed her first soldier when she was 11. She’s buried six of her seven children. She’ll do anything for her daughter, even if it means raiding Hell itself to get her inheritance back.

Margriet’s daughter is haunted by a dead husband of her own, and blessed, or cursed, with an enchanted distaff that allows her to control the revenants and see the future. Together with a transgender man-at-arms who has unfinished business with the Chatelaine, a traumatized widow with a giant waterpowered forgehammer at her disposal, and a wealthy alderman’s wife who escapes Bruges with her children, Margriet and Beatrix forge a raiding party like Hell has never seen.

The Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Trigger warnings: period-accurate sexism and transphobia, misgendering, violence, murder, body horror.

I think I described the book on twitter as “the Wife of Bath meets a Bosch painting, and also says ‘trans rights!'” and that is basically it. It’s a sff and medieval nerd’s dream come true. We follow Margriet, who’s not necessarily a nice character but is very much like the wife of Bath – she knows what she wants, she hates her husband, and she takes no shit. She and her little band navigate a world full of demons and half human monsters that I’d swear were lifted right off a Bosch paining, and for a story set in Bruges it makes a lot of sense!

The story itself is about claiming what’s yours, as a widow, and for your daughter, from a dead husband who was a liar and a thief but is still technically bound to you because medieval laws tend to say “fuck women”. So while I didn’t like Margriet, I could certainly see her point of view and why she was doing all of that.

The “side” characters, who did have their own point of view chapters, were almost more interesting to me, from Beatrix who is developing some interesting magical abilities and tries to get her own way in a shitty world despite her stubborn mother, to Claude, the trans man-at-arm who’s given shit by everyone around him for who he is but has a job to do and damned if he’s not gonna do it!

I especially liked Claude because I was not expecting a trans character (I don’t fully read the summary sometimes, and I’ve had this book for ages) and I thought it was done well. Just be aware, the other characters misgender him continuously in their POV chapters. I’d have really liked if by the end, a few of them “got it” and gendered him correctly, but I was happy enough with the ending he got, considering the period setting.

I also enjoyed that it pitted one woman – Margriet – against another – the Chatelaine – but they were all in a way fighting the same patriarchal bullshit. Now, the Chatelaine may be truly evil, but she’s taken over Hell from her own good-for-nothing husband, and she’s fighting for the King of France to give her what he promised – her own lands to govern – despite Salic laws and all that other shit. It was clearly not all black and white, and I like that in a villain too!

As a weird little book tidbit, it has an inserted page to make up for a printer error, as I just found out now! It was funny and confusing when I came to it, I even made a little video.

It’s a bit of a medievalist daydream and I highly recommend it!

The Links

Sadly it seems to be out of stock in most places, due to uh, issues with the publisher. I can’t even find an ebook link 🙁 but here’s hoping the author finds a new home for it! I’ll update and link back if I find a place that has them.

Small reviews: Lodestar Award for Best YA

Part 3 of the hugo series, after novellas and short stories: the Lodestar’s not technically a Hugo but the ballot is the same.

As an aside, I’ve decided I’m not going to review the Novels because I’ve not read about half of them. Harrow the Ninth requires me to reread Gideon because I forgot the important details, and Relentless Moon is a book 3 where I read only book 1. I don’t particularly like Susanna Clarke, and I found Black Sun actually underwhelming. That’s it, that’s the review. I’m currently reading The City We Became, and enjoying it, as I enjoyed Network Effect a few months back. I’ll probably vote but I don’t really have clear enough Opinions on most of these to give you the rundown like I did for the others.

So, the Lodestar. The best of fantasy YA for this year.

They’re all so good! They’re basically all 5 stars or very close to it.

Let me go through them in the order that I read them:

Continue reading…

Small reviews: Hugo nominated short stories

So as I explained in my post on the Hugo nominated novellas, I’ve signed up for the Worldcon supporter membership, which gives you access to the “voter packet”, in which most authors and publishers kindly provide their nominated works for you to review! Not free, but a very cheap price for the year’s favourites.

So I’ve decided to do my best to read as much of it as possible to vote fairly (since you do, also, get to vote) and put the reviews out there. It feels like that’s the least I can do for authors who provide their stuff for free (membership money goes towards organizing Worldcon and the Hugos, not to the authors).

I’m currently reading my way through the Novel and Astounding nominations (and doubting I’ll make it through them all before the 19th) but I thought I’d take a short break and go through the short stories! These are all free to read somewhere online, I’ll put the link down there as well.

Continue reading…

Review: No Man of Woman Born, by Ana Mardoll

This book was part of my OcTBRChallenge reading list, for one very shameful reason: I got the ARC for it like 2 years ago, before I even HAD a blog, when I was still using tumblr and basically only had the vaguest idea of how NetGalley worked. I downloaded it and then… completely forgot about it! … and then since I’ve been using Netgalley again, the more time passed the more ashamed I was and the least I felt like reading it because of that. (You’re supposed to read ARCs in a timely manner and this is the complete opposite of timely). I’m now mad at myself for waiting this long, because it was a super enjoyable read!

The Blurb

Destiny sees what others don’t.

A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father’s death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess laboring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he’s ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny.

From the author of the Earthside series and the Rewoven Tales novels, No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven fantasy stories in which transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies. These prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character’s gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story.

The Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I rarely enjoy every story in a collection – I actually tend to find short story collections difficult to rate/review because they’re often unequal. Not so here! Every story is a twist on the gendered prophecy (“no man born of woman can harm Macbeth” type thing) with trans, genderqueer and nonbinary characters who find themselves confronting various evils.

I especially loved the Sleeping Beauty retelling, “Early to Rise”, with a bi-gender (?) character who bargains their way out of their own curse. It was a great twist, and not what I expected even within this specific brand of stories.

King’s Favour, about an evil witch-queen who kills every magic practitioner in her kingdom to avoid being killed by them, was also a highlight for me, in both the concept and the execution of it/the ending.

But really, every one of the short stories was great in its own way, and the last one, Wish-Giver, was so heart-warming, and such a nice way to conclude the collection.

The writing style also had that fairy tale quality to it that worked great with the topic, and I flew through this book in only a few short hours. Definitely recommend, and I’m angry at myself for waiting so long to read it!

The Links

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

Review: A Dowry of Blood, by S.T. Gibson

I requested this book as an ARC back when this blog was fairly new – and I was fairly new to Netgalley… so I then did not download it in time, it got archived, and I couldn’t access it anymore. But the concept – brides of Dracula, but make it queer(er), kept intriguing me, so I figured what the hell, and bought it for myself a while back – I just had to know!

Doesn’t it look cool?

The Story

A lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is a story of desire, obsession, and emancipation.

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things. Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets.

With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh my goodness, why did I wait so long to read this??? (I was embarrassed over the whole ARC thing, that is why). But, nevermind that! this book fucking delivers! I had Expectations, not gonna lie, but they were met and exceeded!

It’s a second person story, basically with Constanta recounting her story to her husband (Dracula). So I wasn’t sure I’d get into it? I’m usually weirded out by 2nd person, but I think the fact that it was very clear who it was addressed to, made it more like reading an epistolary novel, than something addressed to “me”. So it actually worked remarkably well.

It’s very much about love – between the different “brides” but also twisted, controlling love, from and for the vampire himself (he’s never named I think, but there are hints that he is really the same Dracula as Bram Stoker’s). For me this was mainly a beautifully written story about escaping controlling, abusive lovers and getting back control of your life. With added queerness and polyamory (of the non-toxic kind also).

The basic plot is (and you’ll know from the start because the heroine comes out and says it on like page 2) “here’s how much of a fucking abusive asshole you were, and here’s why I killed you” and let me tell ya, I am here for queer revenge plots on abusive men. SO HERE! I’m also here for cheating relationships where the women end up with each other and get their revenge on the man eventually.

You can feel the conflicting feelings of Constanta and her fellow “brides” for the man they love, but who’s also hurting them. I’ve had my fair share of psychological abuse, and I work with victims of coercive control, so it truly hit home for me. And I don’t have the words to express how gorgeously written it is!

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | Portal Bookshop | or read it on Scribd (affiliate link)

Small reviews: Hugo-nominated novellas

After a thread from Seanan McGuire earlier this year, I decided to get myself a supporting membership for Worldcon. It’s in DC this year so it’s safe to say I’m not going, I likely wouldn’t even go if there weren’t a pandemic on – but the supporting membership gives you votes in the Hugos (for a much much lower price than an attendance membership/ticket) and that means the voter packet.

The voter packet is all the works the authors and publishers agree to give you access to, for free, so that you have a chance to read them and vote fairly. This year, since Worldcon is in mid-December, there’s still some time to vote, and I’ve been working my way through the nominated works. This month I’ve focused first on reading all the novellas, since I heard a lot of good things about most of them.

I honestly don’t have a marked preference at this point, so I’m not telling you which I think is best, just sharing some thoughts! They’re in the nomination page order.

Come Tumbling Down,
by Seanan McGuire

This one’s a bit different from the other nominations, because it’s #5 in a series. It’s also MG/YA (I’m honestly not fully sure what I’d classify it as) while the others are pretty adult. I’ve enjoyed the series so far, but it’s hard to judge it on its own merits. It comes after book 3 in chronological order, with 4 being a standalone. But this one is very much part of the series and I had to look up the plot of the previous ones to have a refresher… It’s strongly focused on identity, who makes us who we are, can you be a “good” monster, etc. I found it really good but it’s so different from the others that I find it hard to compare.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo

I quite enjoyed this book when I read it back in… March? It’s one of two in this list (with Upright Women Wanted) that I’d read before its nomination, and I even wrote a full review for it back then (alongside the second in the duology). I still think the second book was much stronger, and it was also eligible. But sometimes things happen during nominations, who knows. I’d have preferred to see the second book, but it’s still a very strong contender. It’s very… soft? allegorical? those aren’t quite the right words but it’s full of symbolism and stories within stories.

Finna, by Nino Cipri

Last year around spooky season I read Horrorstor, which is a story set in an alternate-Ikea where eldrich things happen. This is a similar concept, but queerer, more adventure than horror (although with its fair dose of horrifying things too), and with the same level of “corporations and capitalism suck your soul” commentary. I really enjoyed it! Worth also noting one of the main characters is trans/nonbinary, and so is the writer. I still find it rare enough to see nonbinary rep, it’s good to see them represented in the ballot also (Empress of Salt and Fortune also has a nonbinary MC, though idk how Nghi Vo identifies).

Ring Shout, by P. Djéli Clark

I’ve enjoyed everything I read of P. Djéli Clark so far (both Dead Djinn universe novellas, and… I think a short story somewhere?) but I was hesitant to read this one for a while because the KKK isn’t exactly a light subject, and I didn’t know if I was ready to read more about that (a privilege I know!) even in a fantasy universe. This novella, however, is an absolute delight. Black people – especially Black women, queer Black women at that – just taking back the narrative and kicking KKK ass, with magic and eldritch horrors… I did not expect it to be funny, or joyful, but it really is! Again, not a topic I’d have thought I’d enjoy reading about but I was proven wrong!

Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi

Now, that’s a name that’s been all over SFF in the last couple years, I feel like. And I’d been wanting to read this ever since it came out, without quite knowing what it was about. It turns out to be a bit too much real-life for my liking, and I struggled to finish. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely fantasy, but it deals mainly with (systemic) racism, police brutality, and the prison industry… which weren’t themes I was really ready to take on at that point in time. You know, I know about it, I’m outraged by it, but I do read for escapism mainly, while this is more a political novella, without the utter joy that there was in Ring Shout. There’s nothing bad about it, it’s actually really good, it just is not for me.

Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gailey

So this is one of the books I received round Christmas last year, and I absolutely loved it (but also I’m biased towards paper books so it helps). I wrote a full review back in January, but the gist of it is Western, Queer, Librarian women. It’s one of the strongest books on this list, for me. Like Ring Shout, it takes a bleak subject – here a military, totalitarian, anti-queer and anti-women regime over the US (worse than the past 5 years, I mean) and does something joyful with it.


Honestly my vote is split on this one, they’re all very strong, although I do have my favourites – and I think most of them are doing something important one way or another. It’s a good thing the ballot lets you put a #2, #3, etc. but even then it’ll be tough to choose.

ARC Review: Scales and Sensibility, by Stephanie Burgis

I’ve been following Stephanie for ages on twitter and I keep telling myself I need to read her books – especially the regency ones. So when she tweeted about available ARCs for this one, I jumped on the opportunity. I mean, a Regency book, referencing Austen, but with DRAGONS? Sign me the F up!

Look at her! look at that dragon!

The Story

Sensible, practical Elinor Tregarth really did plan to be the model poor relation when she moved into Hathergill Hall. She certainly never meant to kidnap her awful cousin Penelope’s pet dragon. She never expected to fall in love with the shameless – but surprisingly sweet – fortune hunter who came to court Penelope. And she never dreamed that she would have to enter into an outrageous magical charade to save her younger sisters’ futures.



However, even the most brilliant scholars of 1817 England still haven’t ferreted out all the lurking secrets of rediscovered dragonkind…and even the most sensible of heroines can still make a reckless wish or two when she’s pushed. Now Elinor will have to find out just how rash and resourceful she can be when she sets aside all common sense. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll even be impractical enough to win her own true love and a happily ever after…with the unpredictable and dangerous “help” of the magical creature who has adopted her.

A frothy Regency rom-com full of pet dragons and magical misadventures, Scales and Sensibility is a full-length novel and the first in a new series of standalone romantic comedies.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

As usual: I got this advanced copy for free through Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

This was a short and sweet romance novel. Now, I don’t talk about it a lot but I’ve a healthy obsession for Jane Austen’s books. I may or may not own even some obscure adaptations. I’ve watched the 1995 miniseries (you know the one!) way too many times. So you give me a regency romance clearly inspired by the Lady, and I have to get it. And fantasy is also the main genre that I read. Mix the two and I’m one happy reader indeed.

I do have certain expectations when I open a regency novel, but Burgis met and exceeded them all. I like even my historical male love interests to be respectful and not sexist: check. I like my characters witty, and some amount of social commentary: check and check. I like historical accuracy to some extent, and even if dragons make that point kinda moot, I enjoyed the fact that she had small details like, oh, chamberpots hidden behind the scenes for ladies to relieve themselves during parties, to cite only my favourite. It was witty, and fun, and full of horrible people for us and the heroine to make fun of.

The whole concept gave me quite a bit of secondhand embarrassment, to be quite honest. Elinor’s dragon puts her in some embarrassing situations, or she walks right into them. But it was the kind that I was able to laugh at, and not be too embarrassed to continue reading. I also saw the “plot twist” at the end coming, but in a satisfying way. Let us say I was reminded of certain characters in Mansfield Park

The romance itself was very sweet. It was pretty quick, but I’m a person who crushes easily so I can appreciate that in a good story, and it worked with the fast pace of the novel overall. Besides, I really rooted for the two of them in general, against all the awful people around.

Honourable mention goes to Mrs Hathergill, without spoilers I can honestly say I want to be her when I grow up!

Anyways, I could not stop from about halfway through to the end, and I kicked my feet in excitement at the ending, like a little child with a present, so that should tell you how much I liked it. I want more stories like this, fun and light, but with that backdrop of social commentary that makes regency novels so great. And dragons!

The Links

I thought it was out tomorrow/Wednesday until I got an email saying it’s out today? i don’t understand time. Anyways you can order/preorder it below:

Barnes & Noble | Kobo | More links through the author’s website