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)

Small reviews: Hugo-nominated novellas

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

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

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

Come Tumbling Down,
by Seanan McGuire

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

The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo

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

Finna, by Nino Cipri

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

Ring Shout, by P. Djéli Clark

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

Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi

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

Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gailey

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

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

ARC Review: Scales and Sensibility, by Stephanie Burgis

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

Look at her! look at that dragon!

The Story

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

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

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

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Links

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

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