Book box review: The Book Resort

I was considering a subscription for a while, but I was struggling to find one with 1) adult SFF in it and 2) local enough that I don’t have to pay customs tax. The joys of being in Ireland post-Brexit…

I did find this lovely Book Resort one, which lets you pick the genre you want. It’s Irish, and the treats inside are from small Irish companies.

I subscribed in early January and received my first box last month. I was not entirely happy with it, as it felt a bit empty compared to other book boxes I’d seen. The chocolate was absolutely amazing, but the book (Beauty and the Wolf, by Wray Delaney) wasn’t exactly what I’d been expecting when I asked for SFF. I mean it IS fantasy but, as I described it to a friend, it looks like the kind of fantasy that likes to pretend it’s not, to be marketed with the non-genre literature. (I had a lot to read and I’ve not given it a try yet, so I might be wrong there, but it wasn’t the best first look for this book box).

I did decide to give it a second try (also, did I mention the chocolate?) and the second (March) box arrived on Tuesday.

Inside, the book is wrapped in black crinkly paper (bonus: the cats love it! they will tear it apart for a few days and sit on it before I send it to recycling) and this time I’m really excited about the contents:

So there’s the book, Blood Metal Bone by Lindsay Cummings (true fantasy this time, though I’m not quite sure how it falls on the YA/Adult continuum), which sounds intriguing. The cover is gorgeous and the phoenix is also (in black) on each new chapter page, which is just nice. I’m really satisfied with this.

The treat is luxury irish milk chocolate, by Sweet Living, a small company out of Kilkenny. It looks amazing and, well it’s milk chocolate, no sorcery there, but it does taste very good!

The self care item is a bit of a miss since it’s seaweed bath salts from AlgAran and, like probably most of the Dublin population, I live in a cramped studio that doesn’t have a bath. It is, however, palm free and vegan, and is made with organic ingredients. Apparently you can sort of use it as a scrub (so it says on the back) so I can still make some use out of it, maybe? For comparison, last month’s was a nice-smelling hand cream and I’ve been using it since, or more accurately opening it to sniff it regularly, because it’s so nice.

Overall I’m pretty happy with this box, I did not know about this book so it’s more a chance to try something new rather than getting the hot book of the month. The service is super quick (they ship on the 1st and I got it on the second) and the non-book items are clearly quality and local, even if I don’t always have a use for them.

I find it’s on the expensive side, at 33€ a box for a book around the 10-12€ mark, but you can customize it, and it includes shipping. It’s reasonable for the products you get. I think if I stay with them I’ll remove the beauty product and stick with the chocolate, which has been great so far!

Get the box here (with free shipping on the isle of Ireland).

(F/F) February recap

So this month did not go as planned, at all. Mostly because I’ve got a lot of exams for class, and some health things to take care of, and volunteering on the weekends, so I ended up not reading nearly as much as I’d planned for February, and not much on my F/F list. February’s been tough on my burnout feelings, so I’ve coped by reading more audiobooks instead of the paper books I’d planned.

So I have 2 bingos, but they’re not really the books I’d planned to read. And there’s overlap, so I didn’t count it all

F/F february books I read:

  • Gideon the Ninth (audiobook, “enemies to… friends?” trope, SFF… backlist and own voices too, but I don’t wanna count anything too many times): It was fucking amazing, and I’m not over the ending. I wish I’d found the time/energy to get through Harrow the Ninth some time this month too! Full review here
  • Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (romance/historical, own voices I think): Equally as enjoyable as the first one in the series. Every time I read a sapphic historical romance it reminds me I should read more sapphic historical romances! Full review here
  • Fireheart Tiger (SFF, 2021 book even if not a debut, own voices): I jumped on it the very day I got it, and I read it in two hours. Just so very good, and there is more de Bodard in my reading future for sure! Full review here
  • Angel Mage (only very technically on this list. Audiobook, SFF): I did really enjoy it but it pales compared to all the other great books I read this month! Full review here
  • I also started Other Words for Smoke but I’m only about halfway through. It’s really original though and i’m enjoying it so far

Other reads

Been reading through the Murderbot audiobook as my way to relax this month, and it’s been great. I wrote a raving review here as well but the main point is that they’ve been giving me bite-sized audiobooks that I can just “read” when I have a minute, or while trying to sleep, and that’s all I’ve managed the last two weeks. This is really what all the pink in my reading tracker below is about: murderbots!

Other Life Things

I’ve been training for a charity volunteering thing, and it’s taken this whole weekend and the last, plus some evenings. So I’ve been absolutely knackered. In a good way, for the most part. I’m learning a lot. But I’m also getting a lot more headaches than before so it’s made it hard to do anything. And my psychology course is reaching its end, meaning that I’m scrambling a bit to get everything done. I feel like I’ll be a lot more at ease in a month or two when that’s done, then get more reading at that point.

With Tessa’s influence, I’ve been giving my bullet journaling (or lined journaling, technically) a second life. We were chatting about it and suddenly I’d ordered too many stencils and some washi tape… It was long overdue though! I also did a nice spread, which I think gives me a better idea of how much I read so far this year.

March blogging might be a bit more sporadic as I get other things sorted in my life, but my plan is 1) to read some of the upcoming ARCs that I got and 2) finish what I’d put on the F/F TBR!

Review: the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

I’ve had a pretty intense 2 weeks and very little time to read. Very little time at all, if I’m being honest. What I did get though, is a Scribd subscription, so I thought why not read a couple novellas. I’d read Murderbot Diaries #1 (All Systems Red) on paper, back in May or June and absolutely loved it!

So in the last week or so I read the next 3 novellas and started the Network Effect novel (Murderbot Diaries #5) and I want to tell you all about it!

The Story

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

What I thought of the first book

Another one where I thought I’d written a review back then! So I’m very bad at remembering things, but it’s stayed with me since then with lots of good thoughts and “I gotta read the next one at some point”. I’m also not sure why I “only” gave it 4 stars then.

I really enjoy the grumpy robot trope, and Murderbot really is fun to read. A security robot who just wants to be left alone to watch media? Who thinks humans are stupid and can’t take care of themselves? And who reluctantly finds itsself helping its humans? yeah, loved it! It was very short, but packed a lot. And I always love stories that bring up ethics around robots and non-human sentience so it really hit all the right spots.

The crew it’s with (for some reason I keep gendering Murderbot but it goes by “it” so far) is also diverse, and the whole series gives Wells more opportunities to show diverse cultures, relationships, etc. which is really good.

The Audiobook

First off, even though the books are amazing on their own, I want to tip my hat off to the narrator, Kevin R. Free (aka Kevin in Welcome to Night Vale) for reading Murderbot so well. He gives it a grumpy, deadpan voice dripping with humour and sarcasm and it’s so enjoyable to listen to, I just couldn’t wait to get to the next one every time I finished a book. I did think I recognize his voice so it was funny to me to realise he was in Nightvale, because those two characters are so different!

Because the audiobooks (until now) are roughly 3-4h, it’s really bite-sized, and feels a lot more like a podcast. I’ve been carrying Murderbot round the house as I was doing other things all week, basically!

The series overall

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Yes, yes, I know I said I’ve not finished it. But I can say pretty confidently that I’m enjoying the hell out of it! and that’s that.

I mean, it’s funny, it’s full of important topics and interesting characters, robots or otherwise. I really enjoy the worldbuilding that went into it, and all the things Murderbot is capable of, but the tone of the narration is what really does it for me.

I also think this series should be called Grumpy Series Addicted Robot vs Capitalism. But of course that’s way less catchy! We still get to see better futures, like Preservation where people have universal income and healthcare and don’t have to work their health away for corporations (sounds familiar?) and family units that are not monogamous or heterocentric but that are still portrayed as loving and caring. An asexual robot, humans with various genders other than M and F, with neopronouns… all of that is normal in Murderbot’s world, and it’s really what I like to see in my scifi. Despite the title it’s really a heartwarming series. I want to be Murderbot’s friend!

Oh and the robots… Robots, AIs, constructs… whatever they are, Murderbot hates them almost as much as it hates humans, and like humans it ends up liking them and making friends in spite of itself. Which is both hilarious to read, and sometimes really heartbreaking. Either way, love it!

I’ll be over there, reading the last books in the series and patiently waiting for the next!

Get the books

Amazon UK* | Waterstones | Or read the audiobooks on Scribd*

*these are affiliate links, I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links (or a free month on Scribd) at no extra cost to you

Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Curse whoever told me to read that book, though to be honest it’s probably everyone and no-one in particular. Listen, I’ve been hearing about this one for years! And it looks pretty cool too! And I’m well aware I’m late to the party (though happy that I can jump onto the next book now instead of waiting) but I’m… I… well, let me just write a proper review to put my thoughts in order!

Just look at how cool this cover is!

The Story

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

The Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I genuinely did not know whether to give this a 4 or a 5 so I split it in half.

Look, I’ve gotta come clean, I was daunted by this book. It looked so good! Everyone was so happy with it! I was just afraid to be disappointed, I think. I wasn’t, though!
I picked up the audiobook and let me just say, the narrator, Moira Quirk, is amazing. I mean, I laughed out loud quite a few times, and that’s mostly due to the deadpan tone she gave Gideon. I think it went a long way to make the humour land, and really carry across Gideon’s character. The one drawback of the audiobook is that it’s harder to flip back through to make sure you didn’t miss an important detail, and there’s a very big cast so I felt like a paper copy would have come in handy.

Because this book looks at first glance like a lot of brooding from Gideon and not much happening (I mean a lot happens but she does not seem to do much) but then when Feces Hits the Fan as one of the characters says, then there is a lot to keep track of, and I feel like I’ll need to go back through it with a fine tooth comb for those tiny details I missed the first time round. Because I Did Not See It Coming, alright. The plot is intricate work, and it’s really like reading a huis-clos, but in space, with necromancers and a main character who’s way, way too sassy for her own good.

It is, above all, pretty dark, and very funny. I couldn’t believe my ears when I recognised some semi obscure meme or other! And it’s also touching, in a lot of weird ways, especially as Gideon and Harrow start to tentatively get closer, or at least not hate each other so much. And as the reasons for their resentment become clearer. I genuinely did not think I could come to even like Harrow, but I did, probably about as much against my will as it was against Gideon’s too.

There’s loads to be said about the side characters, too, but there are so many of them… I’ll just say this: I really enjoyed reading about Palamedes and Camilla, and I hope we see more of that (well, of Camilla) in the future.

I feel like I oughta take points off for the ending, because I’m pissed at it and I’m not ok but at the same time it’s also just a sign of a writer’s job well done, isn’t it?

Get the book

Amazon (UK)* | Portal Bookshop (UK) | Kennys (IE/EU) or listen to it on Scribd*

*affiliate links

Review: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows

Right so now that I’ve (finally!) posted a review of Celestial Mechanics I can tell you all about the next book in the series. It’s pretty much a standalone except one of the two leads had a tiny role in the first book, and you’ll see Eliza (one of the maids to Lady Catherine in the first book, turned engraver’s apprentice here) quite a bit but she’s not the main focus.

Mostly it follows the same themes as the first (independent women, doing their own thing! and falling in love!) but this time with printing and bees! I’ve been quite obsessed with bees during first lockdown (this guy’s videos are just… so soothing??) so it was really enjoyable to learn a bit more about it from a historical perspective. And I also learned quite a bit about the period at the end of Regency, beginning of George IV’s reign, which was really new to me.

This is how I spent Valentine’s Day weekend

The Story

When Agatha Griffin finds a colony of bees in her warehouse, it’s the not-so-perfect ending to a not-so-perfect week. Busy trying to keep her printing business afloat amidst rising taxes and the suppression of radical printers like her son, the last thing the widow wants is to be the victim of a thousand bees. But when a beautiful beekeeper arrives to take care of the pests, Agatha may be in danger of being stung by something far more dangerous…

Penelope Flood exists between two worlds in her small seaside town, the society of rich landowners and the tradesfolk. Soon, tensions boil over when the formerly exiled Queen arrives on England’s shores—and when Penelope’s long-absent husband returns to Melliton, she once again finds herself torn, between her burgeoning love for Agatha and her loyalty to the man who once gave her refuge.

As Penelope finally discovers her true place, Agatha must learn to accept the changing world in front of her. But will these longing hearts settle for a safe but stale existence or will they learn to fight for the future they most desire?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I finally found some time to read this book I’ve been meaning to read since I received it. And once I got started, I couldn’t really stop… Once again I was impressed by how good Olivia Waite’s writing is. I wasn’t sure I’d really care about Agatha Griffin as a MC/love interest, from the glimpse we had of her in Celestial Mechanics. Don’t get me wrong, I liked her as a character, but she probably would not have been my first choice. And yet this worked amazingly well.

I think one of the main things that make this work is that Agatha is basically all business, she’s a 40something widow who’s got to take care of a busy printershop that her son’s not ready to take over, she’s got to deal with censorship/sedition laws while wanting to print political (and financially profitable) materials, and she’s got bees??? invading her warehouse. So she’s a grumpy woman, but with a good few reasons to be grumpy, and not a Darcy-like highbrow character (don’t get me wrong I love Darcy but the man’s ego could deflate a bit when we first meet him) and I loved how she goes from “freaking scared of bees” to “hey let’s go and tour the beehives” basically.

And the romance, let me tell you about the romance! I was squealing in glee about 20 pages in because it gets epistolary and you can see them (well, Agatha) having an existential crisis over every word, and you can see their relationship develop in as little as the way they address each other! It’s magnificent. And down to the last 20 pages or so, you’re not fully sure what’s going to happen (though there’s lots of happiness in the middle pages too!) so it was a wild ride from start to finish.

There was a much stronger backdrop of politics, which makes sense when you’re talking about a printer’s that’s doing pamphlets and etchings of news events, and all that. It complemented the story rather than distracted from it – gave characters motives and things to thrive for. It also brought in sharp relief the issue of women’s, and queer people’s, position in a society where a certain conduct is expected of you and everything could ruin your reputation, or if you’re a gay man, bring you the death penalty. It was brought up subtly, but it was definitely there, in the bigoted characters that Penelope Flood especially had to be confronted with.

It also made it extra-satisfying when the bigots were thwarted. And once again Olivia Waite does that so successfully in part because she doesn’t just show you a couple, but a community. Penelope’s old friends Isabella and Joanna, with their erotic sapphic poetry and sexy sculptures, the radical young girl who thinks marriage is a prison and women should be allowed to vote, the radical (and bisexual) Mrs Koskinen who’s into organizing protests, Penelope’s brother and his practically-husband who’ve carved a life with each other…

I loved the romance part of it – that’s why I got it! – but what sets this novel apart for me, and puts Olivia Waite on my automatic-buy list, really is that sense of community, and of acceptance for queer characters, which it feels so good to read in a historical novel. And all this masterfully done without erasing any of the bigotry of the time, just showing people like us triumph over it.

Get the book

Amazon UK* | Waterstones | or listen to it on Scribd*

*these are affiliate links, I may receive a small commission (or a free month on Scribd) for purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you

Review: Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics

As I was reading The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows over the weekend, I thought it might be good to start with the review of Celestial Mechanics which I read a bit under a year ago. It was something like April/May and the middle of the first lockdown, and it kickstarted my reading again. I meant to share my review from last year then realised I did not write any??? I’ve been thinking about this book on and off since, I basically jumped on Waspish Widows when it got published, and I’ll jump on the next one too. So I really have to write a review!

I’ve been a fan of Jane Austen since I was a teen but I did not really read much more regency romance than that because what I found available was always… disappointingly straight. This is the book that convinced me to give romance novels another try, and it’s led me to many more good books in the past year!

The Story

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

So apparently last year I wrote “I’ll need to stew in it a little bit before i can write a full review but the short of it is, I absolutely loved it!!” in my goodreads updates and then proceeded NOT to write a full review. Oops.

One thing I can say is that it’s still a full 5 stars a year on, and I recommend it to anyone who says the words queer, f/f, romance, or regency within earshot. To be honest it’s got everything I love, two fierce women who’re each different and independent and learn to work with one another despite some uh, early conflicts. Learning to work around each other’s past and traumas, as well. But also, a Regency novel that doesn’t just show women being idle and rich, but going about doing their thing, whether it’s art or writing or embroidery or printing. It’s very much about what you can do with the power you have.

Lucy’s work to translate a very scientific book (and make it accessible to women) makes the men around her, especially the astronomers and physicists of the Royal Society (or whatever it’s called in the book) bristle because How Dare A Woman Do Science, right? But the two women (and some allies) work together to make them eat their words.

And it’s not just about the rich countess or the scholar, but also working women around them – the handmaid who’s worried she’ll be dismissed because she’s not white and her lady seems to have found someone she gets along with better, the very young maid who draws in her spare time, the printer’s shop where the printer’s wife does most of the engraving… it gives a much more complete picture than you usually get. And you can clearly see the author is conscious of race issues as well as class and gender, and nothing’s brushed under the rug.

The writing is amazing, it reads very quickly but it’s also intricate and poetic, and when it comes to the technicalities you know Waite did her research. I absolutely loved the explanations on astronomy but also embroidery. As someone who loves embroidery, I really enjoyed the discussions about the differences between art and craft, and how women’s work is often swept under the rug, as it were, even though it’s just as beautiful, inspired, and full of craft(wo)manship as any artist’s painting. But it’s not there for argument’s sake, it’s tied to the characters and their struggles and their idea of self-worth.

Which brings me to the romance… I loved it! I really loved both main characters, groaned when they were being stubborn, shook my head, and all that. Both women are highly relatable in their own ways, but in hindsight what really made me appreciate this book was just how gentle and respectful they were of each other, and how they worked with Catherine’s past trauma, and Lucy’s fears, and made a relationship that truly worked for them. And I also really appreciate that the author made sure they weren’t the only queer characters in the story, but there were other queer women, showing that this is an intrinsic part of society and our two leads have a community to fit in rather than being alone.

Get the Book

Amazon (UK)* | Portal Bookshop (UK) | or listen to it on Scribd*

*these are affiliate links, I may receive a small commission (or a free month on Scribd) for purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you

Review of Fireheart Tiger

It feels like everyone’s been buzzing about this one and they were right!
I’ve been in love with the cover ever since I first saw it, I loved the concept and not gonna lie, the idea that there are (almost) no men in this book is a nice change.

Just look at this beauty! (art by Alyssa Winans; design by Christine Foltzer)

The Story

Fire burns bright and has a long memory….

Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace.

Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.

Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate—and her own?

Trigger warnings: abuse, violence, suggested sexual abuse

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

How do I word this. I just??? fucking love it???

This was a short read, about 2h (I’m a slow reader), but lots of content to enjoy and feelings to unpack. I’ve read Aliette de Bodard’s stuff before and there’s no doubt she’s great at short stories, but so far I’ve enjoyed her medium-size writing more. Both the novella at the end of Of Wars etc. , In The Vanishers Palace and The Tea Master and the Detective. With a preference for her fantasy, so this was definitely one I was really looking forward to.

And it did not disappoint.

As advertised, there’s only one man (a eunuch), in a minor role. It was really enjoyable to see a world of mainly women, both in positions of power and not, cruel and not. I also had a moment of “where are the fathers” before I remembered the only women thing, and it reminded me of how people often wonder “where are the mothers” in Shakespeare plays, because the dude often forgot to include women. It’s a nice reversal.

It’s been discussed in better words by others (and by the author herself) but this novella really goes into the themes of abuse and colonialism, and it was really striking. Thanh thinks she’s found her way out of an abusive situation (with her mother) only to realise that maybe this is just walking into another more subtle abusive relationship. There was definitely a very realistic buildup in the way that abuse was portrayed (I don’t want to give away too much here) and the colonial parallels rang very true. Viet Nam is the clear inspiration for Bình Hải, Thanh’s country, and as a French person, it made me think about the fact that I know so little about the occupation of Viet Nam by France, and that’s not something I’m proud of.

I don’t know what to say about the relationships in the book without spoiling, but I’ll just say it’s good to see toxic sapphic relationships as well – ones where it’s clear the sapphic aspect isn’t the problem. And it offers sapphic alternatives too. Not just that, but the relationships made sense, Thanh’s reactions made sense and were so relatable, I loved Giang (and loved to hate everyone but those two),and the pacing and flow in the whole novella was… honestly something a lot of writers could learn from.

I’m really impressed by how well-rounded the characters are, how complex the themes in so short a book. I want more but realistically it’s perfect as it is and doesn’t need anything added to it. Just, wow.

Go forth and buy it: Amazon* | Portal Bookshop (UK)

Review of Angel Mage

I’ve a confession to make. I’ve owned this book since late 2019… and I had not read it yet! It’s beautiful and intriguing but it’s A Chonker and last year was really not conducive to chonkers. I was motivated to use 2021 to get through the chonkers I’ve accumulated… and then the audiobook showed up on the library app, so I chose the easy way out!

Now that I’ve had a quick look inside the actual book, it’s absolutely gorgeous… and the map threw me off. I mean there were CLEAR references to something like 17th century France, with a capital called Lutace (Lutetia?) and a Zuiss republic and all that but… yeah I did NOT expect this:

Anyway, on to the review:

The story

More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding.

Liliath knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighboring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendants. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will turn to ash. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.

But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic. They are the key to her quest.

The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfill her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else. . .

My Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I found it pretty hard to focus on the audiobook, but that’s more a me problem. The narrator was really good and I enjoyed the voices and accents quite a bit!

For the story itself – I had mixed feelings about it at first, we’re following the villain and I was not really sure what to expect from that. But she grows on you? like mold? She’s absolutely vile and cares for no-one, but she’s also charming, and that came across really well. I did believe at times that whatever she was trying to do would also, you know, end up helping other people.

I think the story became really good once we’re introduced to the four actual protagonists. They’ve got very distinct characters and their interactions were really enjoyable. They’re pretty much hostages of the situation, as much as they try to figure it out. It’s a nice change to have protagonists who’re not really in control – and following Liliath’s machinations at the same time was also really good for balance, as you’re not in the dark but know what’s happening and can root for the kids to figure it out… I especially enjoyed Dorotea’s story: she’s a scholar, imprisoned because she’s not summoning angels “the right way” so the Cardinal suspects her of being Liliath… which is very funny when you know Liliath is right under their noses. But Dorotea never really gives in and advocates for herself, and she’s the only one who has a bit of an inkling what’s going on. There were hints of a relationship between her and Rochefort, the Cardinal’s right hand woman, and I really enjoyed the way that went too. Rochefort clearly cared, but Dorotea (and the narrative) never lost track of the power imbalances there.

I did quite enjoy the references to the Three Musketeers (and seeing the map earlier just made that all the more clear and funny too): you’ve got a (female) Cardinal who’s not quite the enemy in this case but still very much Not An Ally (I still don’t know what I think of her. She was trying to do what’s right for the country but that does not make her good). You’ve got a Captain Dartagnan at the head of the musketeers, and our Four Musketeers themselves… Gascony becomes Bascony, etc. It was really entertaining, especially because it was always somehow subverted.

The magic itself was quite interesting, and there was a lot of thought gone into that bit of worldbuilding, with complexities and a lot of “norms” that clearly come from humans (and religion) and not necessarily the way it really works at all. I thought that was a really interesting concept.

Another thing I really loved was that it’s not just queernorm, it’s like gender doesn’t really matter? Someone on Goodreads said it’s like Nix tosses a dice to decide the gender of a protagonist and that’s that, and same for relationships. But it did feel a lot more purposeful than that. There’s something to say about having both a female Cardinal, a ruling Queen (with a useless King who’s only interested in money and sex… yeah most French kings weren’t much better), a female captain of the musketeers, a female captain of the Pursuivants (the Cardinal’s guards), a female antagonist, etc. One of our four characters is bi, the queen is really into women, and again there’s Dorotea and Rochefort, which is clearly a big part of the story even if it’s very tame.
I also really appreciated the way Nix goes into the Refusers, because everyone believed they (their ancestors actually) were cursed by their angel for being heretics, and use that as an excuse to abuse them and treat them like slaves, so that their siding with Liliath at the promise of getting their country back really made sense and they really aren’t the antagonists here.

Anyway that’s a big rant to say I really enjoyed the book, and I might have to read more by Garth Nix!

Get it from Waterstones

ARC Review: Sea and Flame, by Tallie Rose

I picked up this book from Netgalley because… honestly the cover was very cute?? I wanted to know what it was about!

The Story

Seraphina grew up listening to the stories she’d heard of the Brethren, who had saved the world from the faerie magic that had almost ripped the land apart a thousand years ago. These were just myths and stories told to children, though, or so she thought. The stories become true when her own magic starts to backfire on her, revealing that she is one of the Brethren’s descendants.

Her newfound abilities draw the attention of Casmyn, a fae that swears he’s desperately been searching for someone like her. The pact keeping the world safe has been broken by the fae lord Nilas, and only Seraphina can open the path to the Land of Faerie and stop Nilas from succeeding.

Yet to open the path to the Land of Faerie means no one will be able to return to the Land ever again, and though the fate of two lands rests on her shoulders, she can’t help herself from thinking about Casmyn’s infuriating best friend Shevard.

The Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I really quite liked this story, it started slow but then I finished it in a bit over one night once I really got into it! I was thrilled at first by what seemed a fairly modern universe (with cigarettes and sandwich shops and women wearing pants) with added tiny dragons rummaging through the garbage. I mean, what isn’t improved by the addition of dragons?

But then, I was a bit taken aback by the seemingly insta-love between Sera and Casmyn. But I was in for a surprise as Casmyn ended up not being the main love interest. Without spoiling too much, I actually really liked the main relationship, but also all the side ones, especially with the MC’s best friend, Astrid. I was actually hoping to see more of that relationship but I guess it’s left to my imagination! There’s a wide cast and I did struggle a little bit with remembering some of the minor characters’ names but I really enjoyed the fact that it was not just about Seraphina but about a whole lot of people, with their differences and disagreements, coming together to work towards a common goal. It made the dynamics between characters work really well and allowed for 1)quite diverse characters and 2) lots of women which are two things I really love in a book.

For the plot itself, I thought it was well-crafted, a lot happens in little time and Sera, the main character, has to deal with major changes in her life: learning that the Fae are real to finding out that she’s got way more magic than most people, and that her world might literally break apart if she doesn’t do anything. I think her reactions were pretty believable, she was not always reasonable but that’s how people are, right? And she was clearly struggling with what she had to do to save her world, and the risks to her loved ones.

There’s also a bit where they all go to ground in some kind of safehouse and everyone starts getting cabin fever, and this was interesting to read in 2021, after what, 10 months in lockdown? yeah it was all very believable. It does end on a cliffhanger, which aaaaaargh!! why!! but in a good way, as in when can I get my hands on the next one?

There were some formatting issues which I’m going to assume were down to the ARC and won’t be in the actual book, but honestly it was a very minor problem and I easily got over it and enjoyed the book so much! Overall it’s a cozy romance mixed in with high stakes fantasy and that was just what I needed!

Preorder the book on Amazon

F/F February TBR

It seems that everyone I know is doing F/F February, and as I said to a couple of friends, every month is F/F month with me anyway. So Why Not give it a try, I thought. Maybe it’ll help me strike books off my TBR, since this year’s unofficial goals are to clear some shelf space AND reduce my actual TBR – currently sitting at 522 books… All of this to say:

So the extra challenge for me is that It needs to already be on my TBR and preferably something I own. Luckily Imi and Ellie who’re organizing F/F february have a handy list! Let’s see if I can fill in the handy bingo:

  • an F/F contemporary, historical and/or romance: EASY! I’ve been planning to read The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows for months and for some reason haven’t yet! The first book in this series was up there among my best reads of 2020 so it’s high time I read this one!
  • a book by a 2020 or 2021 Debut Author: hmmm this is where my bad brain for dates fails me. but thanks to Imi I remembered about wanting to read Cinderella is Dead for a while now, so I’m gonna try to get my hands on it (buying physical books in Ireland is proving… challenging, brexit and all).
  • F/F book featuring my fave trope: hmmm this one’s hard because I don’t… know what tropes are in what books? I’ll take a leap of faith here and tell myself I WILL finally read Priory of the Orange Tree which I think fits queen-and-knight tropes? idk. I’ll try anyway!
  • an audiobook, graphic novel or multimedia story: I love audiobooks and YET nothing comes to mind… it’ll honestly depend on what I can get my hands on from the library app! maybe now’s the time to sign up to an audiobook service…
  • a backlist book: so you mean any of the 1000 books I’ve got? I’ll go with A Memory Called Empire.
I’ve the most patient cat!
  • A reread of a book I loved: I’ll go with This Is How You Lose The Time War because it’s short but also because it very likely improves on rereading
  • F/F Scifi or fantasy: again, that’s every book on the pile here… I’ll go with Record of a Spaceborn Few. I don’t know if it’s actually queer but the universe is queernorm and it’s Becky Chambers so it counts anyway
So many books he doesn’t know where to look!
  • A Sapphic Own Voices book: I’m going to go with Huntress by Malinda Lo, because I loved Ash, and I’ve owned it for ages. Like a whole year! My copy of the book was thrifted and isn’t even fit for public presentation…
  • A rec from a friend: Should very likely be Other Words for Smoke because some people have been insisting about just how good it is
Lucky also decided to have a sniff

And that should be it! if I’ve got extra time I’ll add Girl Woman Other, and maybe Biketopia but for now that seems like a lot already!