ARC

ARC review: The Book Eaters, by Sunyi Dean

I received an audio ARC of the Book Eaters, but I didn’t have much time to listen to audiobooks the last two weeks, as I was with family most of the time. So I started this audio a while back now and very slowly. But as the story picked up (and I was back home) I just couldn’t stop listening and actually read most of it over 2-3 days!

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ARC Review: The Future Second by Second, by Meridel Newton

The Synopsis

In a new America where civilization as we know it has ended, every hour counts. Everything is ticking along perfectly in the sanctuary community of Osto until a band of raiders arrives intent on violence. Vasha has led her people through the worst the world has to offer for years, but this new threat could destroy her hope for the future. She’s forced to strike a bargain with the leader of the raiders as tensions rise among the survivors and refugees who call Osto home. Old rivalries and prejudices put everything they’ve worked for at risk. But if Vasha plays this right, she just might forge a new future for Osto.

The Future Second by Second is the first in a series of novellas showcasing a different kind of post-apocalyptic world—one dependent on community and cooperative living. Flipping the genre of dystopia on its head, Newton understands the power of hope and collaboration in the face of an uncertain future. 

The Review

I was given this eARC by the publisher, Interstellar Flight Press, through Netgalley in exchange for a fair review. Thanks for the opportunity!

Over the long weekend I was looking for something short enough that I could get through it quickly on the train, and I happened to have this sitting on my TBR shelf. I’m also not an avid ebook reader, as regulars on my blog know, but I found myself turning page after page until there was no more left to read! It’s very short, and I finished it in an afternoon, which is more than I can generally say for ebooks…

I’m also not a big dystopia, or post-apo fan, but the blurb had me intrigued: what I do enjoy quite a lot are stories of hope. And I think this delivered pretty well!

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ARC review: Siren Queen, by Nghi Vo

I’ve enjoyed every Nghi Vo story I’ve read so far, so I was very excited for this novel! Thank you to Tor Dot Com and Netgalley for giving me this free eARC in exchange for a fair review!

The Synopsis

It was magic. In every world, it was a kind of magic.

“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill—but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.

But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes—even if that means becoming the monster herself.

Siren Queen offers up an enthralling exploration of an outsider achieving stardom on her own terms, in a fantastical Hollywood where the monsters are real and the magic of the silver screen illuminates every page.

The Review

So far what I’d read from Vo were her two Asia-inspired novellas, which were a lot like fairy tales, so I wasn’t sure what to expect here. I’d say Siren Queen is more of a cross between The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Last Night at the Telegraph Club, with added magical realism.

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ARC review: Spelunking through Hell, by Seanan Mcguire

So as some of you might know, I’m a big fan of Seanan McGuire. I’ve made it one of my goals this year to reread all of the October Daye series (I’m at the start of book 6 now, thanks largely to audiobooks), but I also enjoyed what I’ve read of the InCryptid series quite a lot, so I jumped on the chance to grab this review copy from netgalley. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy in exchange for an honest review!

The Story

Now in trade paperback, the eleventh book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

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ARC Review: Love, Activism, and the Respectable Life of Alice Dunbar Nelson, by Tara T. Green

I’m still hoping to read more nonfiction books in 2022, so I jumped on the chance to get this one through NetGalley – the biography of a queer, Black woman who was a writer and activist from the late 1800s to the 1930s.

The Book

Love, Activism, and the Respectable Life of Alice Dunbar-Nelson is about the love one Black woman had for her race, of men and women, and, finally, of herself.
Born in New Orleans in 1875 to a mother who was a former slave and a father of questionable identity, Alice Dunbar-Nelson was a pioneering woman who actively addressed racial and gender inequalities as a writer, suffragette, educator, and activist. While in her 20s, she took the national stage from New Orleans as an early Black feminist, active with the Black Club Women’s Movement. From there, she built important relationships with leaders in New York, Wilmington, DE, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia. She used her fiction, drama, poetry, and journalism to give voice to immigrants, poor people, women, Black people, and Creoles of color. Despite chronic illnesses, financial instability, and other struggles, her diaries reveal the ways she put herself first for the good of her mind and body, practices that became necessary after surviving an abusive relationship with Paul Laurence Dunbar—the first of three husbands.
Tara T. Green builds on Black feminist, sexuality, historical and cultural studies to construct a biographical study that examines Dunbar-Nelson’s life as a respectable activist-a woman who navigated complex challenges associated with resisting racism and sexism, and who defined her sexual identity and sexual agency within the confines of respectability politics.

The Review

TW: rape, sexual, emotional and physical abuse, sexism, racism.

I know Netgalley insists on giving star ratings, but I find this extremely hard when it comes to a nonfiction book, especially on a subject I’m not familiar with, from sources I’ve not seen. For me, as long as it seems logically and ethically sound, and I’m learning something… Look, it’s a biography, I can’t even say I like Alice, because that isn’t the point.

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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)

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

ARC review: Elves on the Fifth Floor, by Francesca Cavallo, illustrated by Verena Wugeditsch

I read this book in the hottest days of the year, and it’s a weird weather to be reading about Christmas elves, as we were all melting from the heat here in Ireland… I was thinking of the people in the southern hemisphere who’re experiencing winter right now, and I do envy them quite a bit. The heatwave did not stop me from enjoying this, though!

I’m quite sad that I couldn’t find a bigger picture of the cover, it’s very cute!

The story

From New York Times Bestselling Author of “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls”

In the city of R., nothing bad ever happens—which makes it a perfect destination for moms Isabella and Dominique, and their three children, Manuel, Camila, and Shonda, when they’re forced to flee their home country just before Christmas to keep their family together.

Crammed into a tiny apartment at 10 Roomy Chimneys Road, the family does its best to make friends with new neighbors—only to discover that the reason that nothing bad ever happens in R. is that its residents maintain the status quo at all costs. They don’t try anything new. They don’t take risks. And they never talk to strangers.

But the children of R. have had enough. Led by a young inventor, they’ve started a clandestine radio network to communicate freely and challenge the adults’ rules. Their rebellion starts Manuel, Camila and Shonda on a magical adventure— to save Christmas, and to bring community back to the city of R. 

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was given a copy by Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

I don’t often read children’s books, mostly because as a childless adult I feel like this is not really my wheelhouse. I do however love to see diverse books for all ages, and I love a good picture book. So when I saw this on Netgalley, under LGBTQIA, I had to grab it.

It turned out to be for a younger audience than I was expecting, on the lower end of Middle Grade, so that’s something to think about if you’re going to get it as a gift.

We’re following a queer family who had to flee their country due to homophobia, and I appreciate that the author is being very honest about this while also obviously staying appropriate. These are discussions that we can and should have with kids. The anonymity of the city of R. also works very well to tell this kind of stories, too, I think. It could be anywhere.

What I did not see coming was that the police would be involved in this story, I mean from the blurb it was innocent enough, but the moms do get, if not arrested, then escorted to the police station in the back of a car, which… was not explicitly violent, but I suppose as an adult with an understanding of current events it hits as violent.

The story itself is cute other than this particular point, and the children – especially Olivia, with her inventions – are relatable and fun. Not to mention it’s great to see queer families in kids’ books – here with children who have two moms (and others who have two dads, monoparental families, etc). The illustrations are adorable throughout, I actually really liked the inclusion of two-tone illustrations in red and green (and black) as well as the full colour ones. It’s a lovely and very short read for young children.

The Links

Preorder it in time for Christmas!

Barnes & Noble | Amazon

ARC Review: The Merchant and the Rogue, by Sarah M. Eden

Sometimes all you want is a little bit of historical romance. I gotta say I was really into the cover with its silhouettes, it reminded me of the Invisible Library, so I had to see for myself what it was about. It turned out to be part of a series (I feel a bit clueless), but that didn’t really prevent me from enjoying it

The Story

London, 1865

Vera Sorokina loves reading the Penny Dreadfuls and immersing herself in tales of adventure, mystery, and romance. Her own days are filled with the often mundane work of running the book and print shop she owns with her father. The shop offers her freedom and an income, and while she is grateful for the stability it brings to her life, she often feels lonely.

Brogan Donnelly was born and raised in Ireland, but has lived in London for several years, where he’s built a career as a penny dreadful writer. He has dedicated himself to the plight of the poor with the help of his sister. But with no one to share his life with, he fears London will never truly feel like home.

Brogan and Vera’s paths cross, and the attraction is both immediate and ill-advised. Vera knows from past experience that writers are never to be trusted, and Brogan has reason to suspect not everything at Vera’s print shop is aboveboard. When a growing criminal enterprise begins targeting their area of London, Brogan and Vera must work together to protect the community they’ve both grown to love. But that means they’ll need to learn to trust each other with dangerous secrets that have followed both of them from their home countries.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was given an advanced copy through Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

This is basically a cosy romance with a side of adventure, with a side of nested dolls. You get three stories in one, as the main narrative is interspersed with chapters from two penny dreadfuls.

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