Review: The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark

It’s another one that I feel like I should’ve read ages ago, but the other night I just wanted something short and sweet to focus my brain on, so I gave this audiobook a listen, and now I’m really excited for more in this series!

The Story

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 returns to the alternate Cairo of Clark’s short fiction, where humans live and work alongside otherworldly beings; the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities handles the issues that can arise between the magical and the mundane. Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I devoured it, and then I moved right on to A Dead Djinn in Cairo which I also devoured, at like midnight, when I was waking up less than 6h later. That should tell you something!

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Review: The Tea Dragon Society, by Kay O’Neill

I’ve had this book on my to-buy list for literal years, I could never find it (other than on Amazon, and it’s getting harder to order there with Brexit) so I put it off. And then in a stroke of inspiration, I looked it up in the library catalogue, and they had it!

I originally heard about it on a book rec post, back on tumblr? I think it was for queer fantasy books in general. I did expect something shortish, but I did not expect a giant, kid-book sized thing like this. Or a comics, to be honest! I thought it’d be a cute novella. But…. it was absolutely perfect as it is.

The Story

From the award-winning author of Princess Princess Ever After comes THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY, the beloved and charming all-ages book that follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons. After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives–and eventually her own. BONUS CONTENT: Included in this gorgeous, oversized hardcover is “Extracts from the Tea Dragons Handbook”, explaining more about the creatures with illustrations of all the dragon breeds not seen in the graphic novel.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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Review: Fugitive Telemetry, by Martha Wells

I’ve written previously about how much I enjoy the Murderbot series. Since then, I’ve read the novel, and I absolutely jumped on the latest novella when I realised the audiobook was already available! So I thought I’d give it its own review.

The Story

No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)

Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I had so much fun reading this audiobook! It’s once again narrated by Kevin R. Free (who also played Kevin in Nightvale), and the snark is oozing through as always. This one is a bit different from Murderbot’s previous adventures, though, because it’s a murder mystery.

You read that right, Murderbot, armed with a nonnegligible amount of crime serials in its memory archives, attempts to solve a murder. The novella references previous events from the series but I’d say it’s mostly a standalone. Yes, all your favourite characters are there, like Mensah and Pin-Lee (I f*cking love Pin-Lee!). You’d probably need some context from the earlier novellas, but not necessarily the novel, if you’ve not read it yet.

Murderbot’s trying to get integrated into society and, well, other security people don’t really like that, on account of it being a SecUnit. So as it tries to solve this issue with/despite them, there’s a lot of entertaining internal conflict, in true Murderbot fashion. Humans are just so, so stupid! The usual references to media tropes, the usual snark and Depressed-Bot remarks. I just love it!

It was fun to read a Murderbot murder mystery, as it were, and made me realise I’d read any genre with Murderbot (except romance! it’d object to that!) and I’m happy to read as many Murderbot books as Wells will write. As many as there are episodes in Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, if she’s willing!

The Links

Amazon* | Barnes & Noble | 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

This is a library appreciation post

The library reopened this week!

It had been closed since the end of October, not even available for Click and Collect, or to drop off finished books. Our COVID numbers have been really high all winter, and of course I entirely understand the need for everyone to stay safe. I can live without if it means my librarians stay safe.

But on Monday, at 1pm (the official opening time) I was in the queue for the library, along with quite a number of people, actually. Moms with kids, grandmas and grandpas, young people like me, and middle-aged folks, some with their bikes chained to the railing outside. Most of us with piles of books to hand back in. I can live without the library, but I was so so glad to see it reopen – and to see so many people looking forward to it, enough to queue!

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Review: A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine

So first of all, I didn’t really intend to go on hiatus. But over the last two weeks, I finished my dissertation and then I just kind of crashed. But I’m now free from university and will be able to read a lot more! So hopefully this is one in a long line of future reviews!

I’d been meaning to read this one for like, forever (I feel like I say this for every review but it’s TRUE!), or at least since it came to my attention by winning the Hugos last year. But I also knew it’d be heavy, by its topic alone, so I kind of… put it off. Then as the second book in the series was released recently, I figured I should make the effort! I wasn’t disappointed.

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April highlights and a bit of a chat

April was another busy month, I’m finishing up my psych degree at the moment so there were loads of assignments and exams to prepare for, on top of full time work. This left very little time for reading, but I still kept on track with my goals. I’m still planning to read 75 books this year, and hoping to increase this to 100 depending on how the summer goes.

With things wrapping up, and work being slow, I’m also hoping to get a lot more reading in the coming months. I’ve scored a few ARCs I’m really looking forward to, I’ll tell you all about them shortly!

My health is giving me some issues and I don’t know if it’s long Covid (never was tested positive but it doesn’t mean anything does it) or Something Else, but my energy has been really low and I get bad… flare ups, I guess. Slowly coming to terms with the idea that this is the new normal for me too. It’s annoying because there are times where I can’t do anything, not even read! Audiobooks are a life saver there, to be honest, because it makes me focus on something else, and it makes me feel less like I’m doing nothing.

This month’s highlights:

  • Local Star, by Aimee Ogden. This novella just slaps! Queernorm, polyamorous, space station mystery/investigation with some cool space battles!
  • Clocktaur War, by T. Kingfisher. Just a cool fantasy story with great snark and enjoyable characters. The first volume is really short too and I like bite-sized stories
  • Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang. Again, I’ve not fully processed my feelings about this book yet. It took me a while to read it, and it’s… heavy, to say the least. But quite possibly brilliant.

I’m also thinking of what to do next, and June is not so far off, so I want to do something special for Pride 🏳️‍🌈 (while also being conscious that I’ve limited spoons and limited time to do anything. I do want to make sure to include different identities and center bi, trans and nonbinary characters/authors in particular. Should I do a bingo? Should I look at everything queer I own and make myself a shortlist? all suggestions welcome 🙂

Review: The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman

I was certain I’d talked about this book and its series before but apparently I didn’t! The library audiobook app only had book 6, but I thought the cover was absolutely amazing, so I got the first few volumes from the, well, library actually! But in physical form. And then bought the next few. I needed a cozy read so I’ve just started book 4, and I thought it’d be a good time to tell you all about this fun series!

Louxor with book 4. I think he actually enjoys these photo ops!

The Story

Irene must be at the top of her game or she’ll be off the case – permanently…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Woah, that was something, wasn’t it? 
I usually write reviews right after I close the book but I felt like I needed a bit more time to digest this one.
It had me from the first page (well, it had me from the blurb) and it did not disappoint. This is the story I’ve always wanted to be told, even as a kid, and I don’t think 5/5 even covers it. I always wanted there to be a Library, and to be a Librarian like Irene. I’ve dreamt of writing this book. Except this book is even better than what I coulda done. 
It took a while for it to arrive to my local library (COVID and all) and that built up a lot of anticipation… then I didn’t really dare open it in fear of disappointment, but disappointment was not what I got!
It starts fast-paced, and you learn more and more as the story goes but it never slows down. There’s enough worldbuilding in this first book to fill quite a few novels, and yet it’s only hints at a much larger universe, really. The main character, Irene, is really likeable, and so are her two sidekicks. I loved to hate Bradamant and I’m really hoping we see more of her. But what really got me was the worldbuilding. It’s complex and layered and you can feel there’s so much more the author’s not telling us. It can feel a bit too much at times, but after all the centre of this novel is a chaos infestation, so it wouldn’t be that good without a bit of overwhelm and, well, chaos. 

Now, if you don’t like weird crawly insects, or spoilers, skip this paragraph, but I really, REALLY hate silverfish. I know they’re harmless, but I’ve never lived in a place without the occasional silverfish in the bathroom at 4am and they disgust me. make my skin crawl. And you know what, whenever I read a book, there’s mice and cockroaches and stuff, but I’ve never read a book that even acknowledges the existence of silverfish. Before this one. And let me tell you, it worked VERY WELL at giving me that horrific shudder. I was right there with the characters and would’ve very much jumped on the table. 10/10 horror mastery.

I wrote this review last September, I’m 4 books in now (mainly because the library closed and I had to get my hands on physical copies) and I’m still having the best time! It’s cosy, and they’re good fantasy mysteries involving books, what more can you ask for!

The Links

Amazon* | Barnes & Noble | Waterstones |

*these are affiliate links, I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you

Review: The Poppy War, by R. F. Kuang

I’m late posting this Friday’s review, because I really wanted to finish this book, so I didn’t allow myself to read anything else. I swear this book has been in the background of every picture taken in my apartment throughout lockdown… I’ve had it since October at least (last time the libraries were open) and I procrastinated because 1) It’s massive and 2) I knew I’d be in for a lot of pain and, well, a lot’s been going on that made it so I was not in the mood for that kind of reading. But I did it! I finished it!

The Story

She is a peasant.
She is a student.
She is a soldier.
She is a goddess.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to study at the academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who always thought they’d be able to marry Rin off to further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was now finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in the Nikara Empire—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Rin is targeted from the outset by rival classmates because of her color, poverty, and gender. Driven to desperation, she discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over her powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For even though the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied the Nikara Empire for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people in the Empire would rather forget their painful history, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away.

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god who has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her her humanity.

And it may already be too late.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is not a spoiler free review but I tried not to give away anything major either.

Trigger warnings: graphic descriptions of genocide, murder, torture, rape, dismemberment, child death, animal death, medical experimentation, drug abuse

So yeah… that’s a long list of triggers, and I’m probably missing some, if we’re being quite honest. And that makes it a very difficult book to review. It’s infuriating in a lot of ways, and most of it has to do with the horrors of war. And I don’t say infuriating as in I hate this book, I say it as in, what happens in it is so messed up. And Kuang writes it very well.

I loved the heroine most of the time, I hated who she hated, I empathized with her, I could understand her decisions, and YET I still can’t stand her in the last few chapters of this book because of how Fucked Up some of her decisions are. And this was true of a lot of the characters, I actually hated Nezha at first and grew to really like him. I had very mixed to negative feelings towards Altan for a good chunk of the book but still could sympathize with his plight…

I also really enjoyed figuring things out riiiiight before it was pretty much given away (though sometimes Rin did not find out herself until a while later). It’s satisfying while giving you the feeling that the author pretty much was in control the whole time and wanted you to figure that out, and it’s one of the most annoying and satisfying feelings at the same time.

I heard so much good about this book that I fully expected it to blow my mind, and at the same time I’d managed to be fully spoiler-free… I’d also read a review that said it was pretty much an alternate real-world with nothing much different, none of the magic and such of “normal fantasy” and… did we read the same book? I actually really enjoyed the way the magic, if we can call it that, in the book worked, and how there is clearly a structure to it and rules, even if Rin doesn’t seem to be grasping them entirely. It is very much similar to our world in that it parallels the history of Japan and China in the second world war in a lot of ways, and notably the Nanjing massacre – in very graphic details. So that’s something to be aware of when reading it.

I don’t think I can say I liked this book. It made me think a lot, I stayed with it, it made me feel a lot of feelings, and at the same time I can tell it’s not really for me. And it’ll probably stay with me for a while anyways…

The Links

Amazon* | Barnes & Noble | 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: Clocktaur War series, by T. Kingfisher

I keep wanting to read Ursula Vernon / T. Kingfisher books. Some have been on my to-do list for years and years, but they’re just not that easy to get your hands on, on this side of the Atlantic anyway. So when I found this on Scribd I just went with it. It’s a duology, with the first one a lot shorter than the second, but it just read very quick overall.

The Story

A paladin, an assassin, a forger, and a scholar ride out of town. It’s not the start of a joke, but rather an espionage mission with deadly serious stakes. T. Kingfisher’s novel begins the tale of a murderous band of criminals (and a scholar), thrown together in an attempt to unravel the secret of the Clockwork Boys, mechanical soldiers from a neighboring kingdom that promise ruin to the Dowager’s city.

If they succeed, rewards and pardons await, but that requires a long journey through enemy territory, directly into the capital. It also requires them to refrain from killing each other along the way! At turns darkly comic and touching, Clockwork Boys puts together a broken group of people trying to make the most of the rest of their lives as they drive forward on their suicide mission.

The Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I had a blast reading this series! The narrator, Khristine Vham, really made it so entertaining to listen to, never a boring moment! The characters really came to life and she made the different point of views and voices so strikingly different!

It was funny at times, and dark at other times, but you learn to love the different characters very quickly. I was especially taken in by Slate, who had a strong dark humour and a real sense that she Did Not Want To Be Here. The other characters were interesting too. I did not really enjoy Brenner (the assassin) as such, but his character’s dynamics worked well with the others. Caliban was soppy and understandably traumatised, and Learned Edmund… where do I start? The kid really grew on me, which I did not expect from a character who starts out as a staunch misogynist. It was a wild ride to see him evolve from his sheltered upbringing and learn to respect women. And rise to the occasion in terms of adventuring as well!

The main romance was also really interesting and entertaining, I mean who doesn’t like a bit (a load!) of mutual pining? And on a more general note, I love it when characters just happen to be bisexual, without any fuss made about it, just because.

The heists and jailbreaks were fun, the geeking about cyphers and library indexes also fun, and there was just the right amount of politics (read: criticizing injustices) for my liking.

The first book is a lot shorter, but the cut between the two made absolutely perfect sense, one being the trip to Anuket city and the other being the solving-the-mystery proper. A lot of seemingly random events in the first book also pay off in the latter, so it was really nice to see that unfold, in ways I absolutely did not expect. I found the second book’s pacing was a bit more uneven, but I think that’s in part due to the setting. I had some issues following the last fight, mostly because a lot was happening and audio doesn’t really let you reread passages. I had trouble picturing who was where, but that was only a short term issue.

Overall it was really a comfy, fun fantasy read despite the high stakes, and I was thoroughly happy to have read it. Going to hunt for more T Kingfisher books in the near future!

The Links

Amazon* | Barnes & Noble | 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

ARC review: Luckmonkey, by Alysia Constantine

So I got this ARC a while back, then sh*t hit the fan for me in my personal life and I didn’t get to it before it was long published… then struggled through the first half, if I’m being honest. It did pique my interest though, so I stayed with it and eventually ended up quite enjoying it!

The story

By day, Luckmonkey is a struggling punk band playing in record stores and taco joints; by night, its members are anti-capitalist agitators, breaking into homes and businesses, each time stealing one possession and leaving something different in its place. Squatting in an abandoned building without electricity or heat, they scrounge a patched-together life as a raucous, mismatched family of queer, trans and first-gen social activists.

But when one of them steals a wind-up monkey toy and brings it home, things begin to deteriorate into squabbles and bad decisions, until an arrest forces the group to weigh the hard work of political resistance against their individual needs for stability and safety.

Set in the margins of Pittsburgh in the early aughts, Luckmonkey barrels into the defiant lives of social outsiders working to change the world.

The Review

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I received a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.

TWs for the book: transphobia, misgendering, arrest and police violence, disordered eating.

So I mostly got this book for the cover, without paying much attention to the summary. It’s just so lush and I’m a sucker for anything Art Nouveau, so I had to know what this was all about… The cover’s not really representative at all of the mood of the novel though.

I had a hard time getting into it, the first third to first half was just really dreary, and I had trouble sticking with the protagonists. T, the main character, was really enjoyable and relatable, but I just thought T’s “friends” were all assholes and they weren’t really well-rounded characters. Once two of them leave their little band, though, it became more interesting.

The politics were kind of annoying because these kids are homeless and living in a squat, some of them on principle, and I had trouble getting behind all their so called “changing the world” because it was clearly risky and useless, and I had trouble relating that to real-life homeless people I know, who’d not turn their nose up at a cup of coffee because “they don’t deserve it”. I did appreciate that the characters called themselves out on their hypocrisy, however.

I especially liked the last third or so of the book. I was afraid at times that the ending would be absolutely miserable, because it looked like it was going that way, but without spoiling too much, it wasn’t. This lovely old lady character gets introduced and she’s a little beam of sunlight that really made reading the book worth it. I’d read an entire novel about Bert.

The novel also ends on an uncertainty, which I did not really like. I wish the author had taken a few more pages, maybe an epilogue of some kind, to tell us more about what happens to the characters after. But it was still a nice read, even if it’s not my usual kind of stuff.

The Links

Amazon* | Barnes & Noble | or read 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