ARC Review: No Gods, No Monsters, by Cadwell Turnbull

I can’t remember what made me pick out this specific ARC, I think generally curiosity and the cover being nice. It did take me a while to get to it, for various reason, but once I started I read it in about 2-3 days!

The Story

One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.

As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.

At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?

The world will soon find out.

The Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It’s a weird one because I THOUGHT I knew what to expect from that blurb, but really I didn’t. Our narrator, Cal, is both omniscient AND an actual character in the novel, with his own story and traumatic past. He’s moving back to St Thomas (in the US Virgin Islands) and dealing with the death of his brother. But he also follows Laina, Ridley, Dragon, Rebecca,… throughout their own stories, as an invisible presence. That was one of the parts that I found most intriguing.

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Review: Alice Payne duology, by Kate Heartfield

Now this is one of those books that I’d heard good things about back at Dublin2019, and never got around to it. I did love another Heartfield short story, in a Shakespeare anthology some years ago, and I also own her novel, Armed in her Fashion (still on my TBR) so I had an idea that I’d enjoy it, but never got around to it. I found the audiobooks on Scribd back in late August, and listened to the two of them in a row.

The story

A disillusioned major, a highwaywoman, and a war raging across time.

It’s 1788 and Alice Payne is the notorious highway robber, the Holy Ghost. Aided by her trusty automaton, Laverna, the Holy Ghost is feared by all who own a heavy purse.

It’s 1889 and Major Prudence Zuniga is once again attempting to change history―to save history―but seventy attempts later she’s still no closer to her goal.

It’s 2016 and . . . well, the less said about 2016 the better!

But in 2020 the Farmers and the Guides are locked in battle; time is their battleground, and the world is their prize. Only something new can change the course of the war. Or someone new.

Little did they know, but they’ve all been waiting until Alice Payne arrives.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s a fun adventure series, maybe a bit short for the scale of what it’s trying to do. I especially felt like it was missing something in-between the two novellas.

The audiobooks were great, I quite enjoyed the narrator, and at the same time I felt like I’d have needed a paper copy to be able to leaf back through it and piece things together more easily. Time travel usually wrecks my brain and it turns out when you can’t double check what just happened to help you keep track, it’s even harder. But the narration was well worth it.

What can I say, I also enjoyed the characters, all three main one – Prudence, Alice, and Jane. The dynamics between Alice and Jane are… strange at times, at the limit of toxic, and I’m not sure if that was intentional or not. I found it a lot more enjoyable in the second book, where they’re more respectful of each other, and both have a lot more agency/ Jane can be a lot more active and so feels less frustrated by it. With the usual disclaimer that as a white woman I’m not the best placed to judge this aspect, I did find that the choice of two Black women as the leads, especially in times like the late 1780s, and in places like England and America, gave more depth to the story and was well handled.

And highway women robbing rapey and abusive men to get back at them? sign me the eff up!

I did have some… plot related issues with the time travel, like I think at times it did not fully respect the own conventions/rules that were set (e.g. characters remembering things they would have normally forgotten, that kind of thing) and I feel that maybe a longer format would’ve been easier to manage. But as much as I like scifi shenanigans, I still read mostly for the characters, and I was not disappointed in that respect.

The Links

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

Review: Seven Devils, by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam

I know I promised a review of this in my last wrap up, I did mean to post it quickly but time got away from me this week. Anyways… This was one of my favourite reads this year. I rarely do “one more chapter and then…” at 2am like I did when I was 12, because I have a job in the morning and I’m always tired, but this was one of THOSE books that I had to force myself to put down.

I keep seeing the other cover but I actually prefer this one! I think it’s the UK hardback? Who knows… It’s shiny!

The Story

This first book in a feminist space opera duology follows seven resistance fighters who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire — or die trying.

When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy’s most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire’s voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.

Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.

When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire’s inner workings.

Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can’t, millions may die.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was devastating, and I loved it. I had to ask a friend if any of the good ones died, before I could make myself finish it. That’s how terrified I was. (Spoilers: there are no dead gays in this book. go ahead and enjoy it!)

The universe this is set in is absolutely awful, with a tyrant at the head of the galaxy, and everyone being mind controlled or brainwashed into thinking everything is ok. Those characters have… a lot of trauma.

And at the same time, it was a joyous read, a comfort read almost. To see, as they call it, a space Mad Max: Fury Road, where a bunch of women of different backgrounds and with different (all traumatic) pasts (and one man) fight for something better. It gives hope, in a way.

The authors made me care for all the characters so, so much. They’re relatable, they’re deeply wounded, and I wanted to give them all a hug. Every single one of them. It’s very hard to pick a favourite. They’re just all so, so well written, flaws and all. And I do love a book with mainly women.

I found especially on point the way their guilt at their actions still affected them, even though they had no choice (or very little choice) in the matter. There would be a lot more to say about war, and trauma, and tyranny, and I don’t think I’m capable of saying it in a coherent way, but the book certainly makes its point come across clearly. Just… *waves hands* go read it? you won’t regret it.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | Portal Bookshop | Kenny’s

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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.
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