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)

A little life update (or, why the blog has been so quiet)

Hi everyone!

I just wanted to say a few words about why the blog’s been so quiet lately. I did not want to go on an official hiatus, as I kept really wanting and meaning to write and post reviews, but for those of you who don’t follow me on twitter – I’ve been struggling with extreme fatigue and other health shit that’s taking all of my energy (on top of having a full time job, and all that).

So at this time, I’ve about 4 posts lined up, with just the title written… and nothing more. I’m hoping that the little holidays I’ve got will allow me to write them, and if I do they’ll be on a 1/week schedule so I’ve a bit of room space. I also have 1-2 ARCs to read that should have reviews of course.

I do enjoy writing this blog and the interactions I get from it – and I’m looking into making it a bit more graphic and maybe revamping the theme. But yeah, posting will really depend on my energy. Ultimately, what I enjoy doing most is reading, so I’m keeping the most energy just for that (and ensuring my rent is paid and cats fed), and seeing what’s left for other stuff.

Anyways, I wanted to thank you all for sticking around with this little blog. And I hope you can all have a refreshing and restful end of year, and start 2022 on a good footing. Cheers!

Cover reveal: Tessa Hastjarjanto’s Devil’s Deal, and scavenger hunt!

Bringing you something a little different today, celebrating the relaunch of Tessa’s novel, Devil’s Deal, with a brand new cover! And I’ve had a sneak peek at the others in the series, they’re gorgeous!

Without further ado…

Devil’s Deal

Series: Infernal Contracts #1
Publisher: Narratess
Cover Design: Ravven

Buy it here!

Read the whole post for some extra goodies and a chance at a free ebook!

The story

When two angels break their deal with the Devil, he comes for the one they’re trying to protect.

16-year-old Eleonora Santos works through the summer break so she can visit her family in Italy when she graduates. With the new school year around the corner, her focus is back on homework and enjoying life with her tight group of friends. But on their first day back, she finds them fawning over two new guys in their class—Ben and Danny. 

Not a day goes by before Nora’s life is turned upside down. Her best friend now hates her, and the boys seem eager to get to know her. Despite their charming efforts, she’d rather have her best friend, not a boyfriend. 

When Nora discovers Ben and Danny are not who they claim to be, and their nefarious deal goes wrong, Nora is caught in the middle.

To fix their mistakes, she must face the Devil and betray herself—or pay with her life.

Devil’s Deal is a YA romance novel with a paranormal twist set in the fictional Dutch city Lakeside.

The Infernal Contracts trilogy is perfect for fans of the Twilight Saga, The Vampire Diaries, and Fallen.

Scavenger hunt

Welcome to the Devil’s Deal Scavenger Hunt! To celebrate the new cover and the new edition, we’ve got a few digital goodies for you featuring the beautiful art from the cover made by Ravven. And as a thank-you, you will be able to download Devil’s Deal for free until the end of the year if you complete the scavenger hunt!

All blogs taking part in the cover reveal today have a clue that you need to decipher the password to access the rewards. So visit every blog, write down the answer, and go to the page on Narratess to unlock all the goodies! All of the answers can be found in the blurb of the book.

Clue #1 can be found at Unwrapping Words, hosted by Elle

Clue #2 can be found at Rebbie Reviews, hosted by Rebbie

You can find Clue #3 on the author’s website😈

Clue #4 can be found at Books and Lemon Squash, hosted by Nikki

And Clue #4 is right here for you:

What is the name of the other angel? Ben and…

Head over to this page, enter the password, and collect your bounty!

November Recap and December TBR

November has been a very weird month for me. I had to take time off sick due to complete exhaustion at the beginning of the month, which paradoxically means I had time to be bored and read more stuff, especially audiobooks.

I did find it hard to stick with my challenge of reading all/most of the Hugo nominated works, but I did enjoy what I read. Because this post about the Lodestar YA nominations covers a lot of what I read, I’m not gonna go too much into it here.

I will just add though that I now have a page, and if you buy through it I will get a small %, which is nice considering this month was tough. But no obligations of course!

Other memorable non-Hugo books I’ve read:

  • The Wife in the Attic, by Rose Lerner, a sapphic, Jewish retelling of Jane Eyre which I’d been looking forward to for a while now! I won an audiobook in the author’s halloween giveaway and got to it very quick. I read it through in one weekend (one has to sleep sometimes, unfortunately) and I loved it! I’ll likely write a longer review soon.
  • Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark, cemented my idea that there’s nothing of them I can dislike. Alternative history, post-Civil War New Orleans in a short novella that just made me want more of the main characters’ adventures!
  • Claudette Colvin, Twice towards Justice, by Phillip Hoose, a nonfiction for teens centering Claudette Colvin as a figure of the Montgomery bus boycott. It’s based on and includes large extracts of interviews with her
  • A Killing Frost, by Seanan McGuire. Can’t believe how strong this series is still going, what, 14 books in? I need to get my hands on the last one. This still sparks so much joy!

I’ve also started Soulstar in audiobook, and The Galaxy and the Ground Within in paper, which I’m hoping maybe I can finish before the month is fully over. (at least one would be nice)

Continue reading…

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…

October recap – #OcTBRChallenge and a bit of a chat

So…. I read a lot in October, and even tweeted quite a bit about it, but I didn’t blog much. One reason is that writing a blog post requires some energy, and having some time to just sit down and write without much interruption, so your thoughts make some sense. But October has been a high-chronic issues, low- energy month, so while reading was fine, writing about it in more than 280 character bursts was harder. This is also why this recap is less detailed than some.

Still, in the middle of all that, I’m pretty happy with myself for what I achieved. I set out my objectives in this post, if you want to have a look back.

I read 12 books and DNF’d another 3 (2 of them classics, and 1 that I’d owned as an ebook forever but found pretty ableist and shitty upon trying the audiobook). I did read/DNF the whole pile of books I’d planned to read in my original OcTBRGoals, too!

Among the books I read, 3 were audios (1 I had in paper but the audio was just easier for me at the time), 2 ebooks (ARCs) and the rest were paper books, which allowed me to unload some of my books. I did not hate any of them, but I didn’t love many either, so a full bag went to a local charity.

Highlights of the month:

  • Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno Garcia: a Mexico-based, 1920 new-adult novel which I really enjoyed despite my very limited knowledge of the country and that era.
  • A Dowry of Blood, by S.T. Gibson (full review): a auite emotional, polyamorous and queer story about Dracula’s brides (spouses?), abusive relationships, and emancipation.
  • Armed in her Fashion, by Kate Heartfield (full review to come): Bosch meets Chaucer meets feminism in a quest to get these two women’s inheritance back from the chatelaine of hell. It was fun!
  • Paladin’s Grace, by T. Kingfisher. I’m becoming such a fan of Ursula Vernon (and if you don’t follow her on twitter yet, you should, she’s a riot!). It’s fantasy romance with a great heart and a sense of humour.
  • In the same vein, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, also by T. Kingfisher: YA/MG novel about a young wizard who controls… bread. All kinds of breads, but only breads! and who has to try and save her city from medieval-type fascists.
  • No Man of Woman Born, by Ana Mardoll. Fairy tale collection about trans and nonbinary heroes and gendered prophecies. Probably my favourite short story collection that I read this year.

For November, I don’t have any big plans. I’ve upped my storygraph goals and it’s annoying me that I’m no longer 10+ books ahead, so I’m trying to get some advance again there.

Other than that, I’ve a library book to hand back in like, last week (bless the lack of fines in Irish libraries!), a few recent ARCs, and I do want to read some of the Hugo nominated novels and Lodestar YA ones before voting closes on November 19th. You can see my opinions on the nominated novellas here. I’m not sure I’ll get through them all but I will do my best!

I hope you all had lots of candy for Halloween (I sure did!) and have a great November!

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)