ff friday

Review: Hellion’s Waltz, by Olivia Waite

Olivia Waite’s Georgian sapphic romance series, Feminine Pursuits, are one of the very few books that are an instant buy for me. I did this with Waspish Widows, and I did it again with Hellion’s Waltz, and no regrets! I’d do the same for another 10 more in the series.

Louxor likes to check out every book that comes into this house. It’s his now!

The Story

It’s not a crime to steal a heart…

Sophie Roseingrave hates nothing more than a swindler. After her family lost their piano shop to a con man in London, they’re trying to start fresh in a new town. Her father is convinced Carrisford is an upright and honest place, but Sophie is not so sure. She has grave suspicions about silk-weaver Madeline Crewe, whose stunning beauty doesn’t hide the fact that she’s up to something.

All Maddie Crewe needs is one big score, one grand heist to properly fund the weavers’ union forever. She has found her mark in Mr. Giles, a greedy draper, and the entire association of weavers and tailors and clothing merchants has agreed to help her. The very last thing she needs is a small but determined piano-teacher and composer sticking her nose in other people’s business. If Sophie won’t be put off, the only thing to do is to seduce her to the cause.

Will Sophie’s scruples force her to confess the plot before Maddie gets her money? Or will Maddie lose her nerve along with her heart? 

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s really hard for me to review this with more than *incoherent screaming*. I loved it just as much as the previous ones in the series.

This time we’re following a piano teacher and a ribbon maker, and I really enjoy that we keep looking at more trades women were involved in at the time – and again more working class than the first book would’ve let on. We’re once more looking at unions (or lack thereof – I learned that the UK outlawed unions for a few years in the 19th century), and how workers help each other and strive for better rights. In this case, by conning the horrible capitalist man who’s been stealing from them for years. So that part of the plot was tremendously satisfying!

Continue reading…

Review: Seven of Infinities, by Aliette de Bodard

Seven of Infinities was on my TBR list since before it came out, I think, but I wanted a paper copy… Nikki gifted me a gorgeous one and I did a buddy read with Tessa, which was quite fun! I wanted to post the review on Friday but lack of spoons happened so… here we are! I finished reading it on Wednesday and I’m still quite thrilled about it.

The Story

Vân is a scholar from a poor background, eking out a living in the orbitals of the Scattered Pearls Belt as a tutor to a rich family, while hiding the illegal artificial mem-implant she manufactured as a student.

Sunless Woods is a mindship—and not just any mindship, but a notorious thief and a master of disguise. She’s come to the Belt to retire, but is drawn to Vân’s resolute integrity.

When a mysterious corpse is found in the quarters of Vân’s student, Vân and Sunless Woods find themselves following a trail of greed and murder that will lead them from teahouses and ascetic havens to the wreck of a mindship–and to the devastating secrets they’ve kept from each other.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

First off, I should say, althought this is part of de Bodard’s Xuya universe, you don’t need to have read any of it to understand and enjoy this novella. I’ve read The Tea Master and the Detective (as well as a short story collection, Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight), so it was nice to be able to draw parallels, but it’s not necessary at all!

I absolutely enjoy those novellas, because they mix scifi/space opera with murder mystery and queerness, and if that weren’t a recipe to my heart already, there’s food and tea involved. I joked on twitter that Aliette’s books need to come with a tea recommendation, but what makes them work for me is the atmosphere. The universe itself is a bit Out There, as scifi goes, with ships that are borne of human mothers, and deep Space that will make you mad, but it feels realistic because of that mundane atmosphere of foods and tea and rituals that make these people real to you.

Like Fireheart Tiger, women are also all the characters that matter in this book: the scholars and the thieves and the villains, the mothers and generals and future government officials. I especially loved the two leads, but the best of all was Uyen, Vân’s student. That kid kicked ass in all the best ways!

I also love a good bit of miscommunication, so it was fun watching both Vân and Sunless Woods hesitate on how much they can and should trust each other, and trying to guess the other’s real intentions while having half the truth. I always enjoy when there’s drama even on the good side. And I thought it made the growth of their relationship more interesting and real.

The murder mystery itself was intriguing and good, though it’s hard to say much about it without major spoilers. You’ll just have to trust me on that part.

Overall another great story by Aliette de Bodard, and one more reason to read more of her writing! It’s one of those books that stay with you for a while after.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Portal Bookshop | or listen to it on Scribd*

*this is an affiliate link, I may receive a free month if you sign up, at no extra cost to you

Review: Stormsong, by C.L. Polk

I reviewed the first book in the Kingston Cycle the other day, but I feel like the second in the series deserves its own review, as the mood is entirely different, and yet it’s also really enjoyable.

The Story

After spinning an enthralling world in Witchmark, praised as a “can’t-miss debut” by Booklist, and as “thoroughly charming and deftly paced” by the New York Times, C. L. Polk continues the story in Stormsong. Magical cabals, otherworldly avengers, and impossible love affairs conspire to create a book that refuses to be put down.

Dame Grace Hensley helped her brother Miles undo the atrocity that stained her nation, but now she has to deal with the consequences. With the power out in the dead of winter and an uncontrollable sequence of winter storms on the horizon, Aeland faces disaster. Grace has the vision to guide her parents to safety, but a hostile queen and a ring of rogue mages stand in the way of her plans. There’s revolution in the air, and any spark could light the powder. What’s worse, upstart photojournalist Avia Jessup draws ever closer to secrets that could topple the nation, and closer to Grace’s heart.

Can Aeland be saved without bloodshed? Or will Kingston die in flames, and Grace along with it?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If Witchmark was mainly a fantasy murder mystery/romance, this second tome is more like political intrigue/romance. With a side of murder mystery, too. I quite like novels that have some political intrigue, or rather I love to hate all the despicable politicians, so this worked really well for me.

I was not expecting the point of view character to change between books, so I was unsettled at first. Miles was a likeable character from the start, but Grace… She takes some warming up to. She’s a much more complicated character, morally speaking, and she can be Wrong sometimes. I found that I actually enjoyed that a lot more, because she was really struggling with how to do the right thing, which was not always obvious to her, while in the first novel it was very clear to Miles what The Right Thing was. So, sometimes I really wanted to slap some sense into her, and yet she was not despicable. Her logic was flawed, and she could be offensive, but my favourite part about this book was seeing her realise her upbringing left her to believe some things that were entirely false, and that the people she respects are perhaps not worthy of it. I found myself liking this a lot more than I do most straightforward good characters.

It also helps that the novel is narrated by Moira Quirk, who also read Gideon the Ninth. I find that I really enjoy her voice, and the way she brings out the humour in a book.

I also was more interested in the romance in this one. Grace’s interest in Avia, the very journalist who might ruin her career if she’s not careful, was a lot more entertaining, and also played a great part in Grace’s realizations around morality.

There were a lot of moving parts in this one, but they all come together in a way that makes a lot of sense. You can see that CL Polk has this all plotted perfectly, even if it means the ending is just a Happy For Now. I’m only sad that we won’t be following Grace in the last book, because it switches narrators again and follows Robin, apparently. And like I said in my Witchmark review, I love Robin! I’m excited to read from her point of view and it makes sense for where the story is going. But I’d have loved to see Grace’s relationship with Avia blossom even more, and especially to see them work through whatever will no doubt be thrown at them very shortly. When your main complaint is “I want more of this” though, you know the book’s a good one!

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | Or listen to it on Scribd (affiliate link)

Review: Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, by Adiba Jaigirdar

I’ve got to admit this was entirely an impulse buy. I don’t really read contemporary YA but the author shared pictures of the paperback on twitter and I just fell in love with it! It’s such a good cover! So I preordered it. I rarely do this because the preorder options here aren’t good, but there was a link to Eason’s (that’s like the Waterstones of Ireland, really) right there on the author’s website, which… if you make it easy for me I’m happier to buy your stuff. That should’ve given it away, but I didn’t realize that this was based in Ireland til I started reading.

Look at this cover! Look at the colours! Isn’t it the best??

The Story

Everyone likes Humaira “Hani” Khan—she’s easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she’s in a relationship…with a girl her friends absolutely hate—Ishita “Ishu” Dey. Ishu is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.

Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve just got a sweet spot for stories set in Dublin (or in places I know generally). Reading things like “let’s meet up in Dundrum!” or “We’ll take the Luas” (that’s the Dublin tram, for those of you reading this outside Ireland) is surreal and makes me very happy for some reason. So finding out this was based here and not in the UK or US as I was expecting just made this even better!

But even besides the home sweet home aspect, it’s an adorable, cute, funny little book. I straight up devoured it in 2 days, and with my bad focus, that’s saying something!

Now, as the book will tell you when you open it, it broaches possibly triggering subjects like homophobia/biphobia, racism and islamophobia. Hani’s “friends” are just mean white girls, yall! They were, unfortunately, absolutely believable in their behaviour and comments. But Jaigirdar also takes no hostages, and I especially liked how Ishu was absolutely mad about the things Hani’s “friends” said. It was clear both characters had their issues, with Ishu being way too focused on pleasing her parents (out of legitimate fears of rejection) and Hani hanging on to these toxic friends. So it wasn’t one-sided at all, but I loved when Ishu would tear into Aisling and Deirdre. God those girls are ignorant! And Ishu’s remarks were hilarious.

As you see I’ve a lot of feelings about this novel! I loved the main couple, and how their differences shaped their dynamic but also how they completed each other very well and in a way can give the other a “reality check”. I also loved Hani’s Amma and Abba, best parents a girl could dream of! And really enjoyed how Ishu’s relationship with her sister evolved throughout. It leaves you with a lot of thoughts about family, but in a good way I think? This novel just filled me with a lot of good fuzzy feelings by the end.

Now, I know very little about Bengali culture at all, so for me it was more a learning experience than a “see yourself in it” experience, but it was a good immersion and it reads really well even as a mostly ignorant white person. But mostly I’m really glad that girls like Hani and Ishu have books where they can see themselves in, nowadays. I don’t think I’d have been able to pick up a book like this even 10 years ago, and I’m glad that landscape is changing!

It was an adorable romance, and very funny too! 10/10 would recommend! Just go read it 😀

The Links

Amazon* | Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | more links on the author’s website!

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

Review: Yellow Jessamine, by Caitlin Starling

Ya so like I said, it’s novellas and shorter books for me for a while yet. Which is good, because it’s gotten me to read (or rather, listen to) this one that’s been on my list since it came out.

You have to see it full size to really enjoy it!

The Story

Powerful shipping magnate Evelyn Perdanu lives a tight, contained life, holding herself at a distance from all who would get close to her. Her family is dead, her country is dying, and when something foul comes to the city of Delphinium, the brittle, perilous existence she’s built for herself is strained to breaking.

When one of her ships arrives in dock, she counts herself lucky that it made it through the military blockades slowly strangling her city. But one by one, the crew fall ill with a mysterious sickness: an intense light in their eyes and obsessive behavior, followed by a catatonic stupor. Even as Evelyn works to exonerate her company of bringing plague into her besieged capital city, more and more cases develop, and the afflicted all share one singular obsession: her.

Panicked and paranoid, she retreats to her estate, which rests on a foundation of secrets: the deaths of her family, the poisons and cures that hasten the dissolution of the remaining upper classes, and a rebel soldier, incapacitated and held hostage in a desperate bid for information. But the afflicted are closing in on her, and bringing the attention of the law with them. Evelyn must unearth her connection to the spreading illness, and fast, before it takes root inside her home and destroys all that she has built.

The Review

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’m not sure if it’s because it was not really what I expected, because it was so different from The Luminous Dead, or because I did not really enjoy the audiobook narrator as much as I have others in the past, but I could not really get into this one.

It’s genuinely good, I think, it’s just not really for me. Even so, there were moments that truly packed a punch and made me feel things, despite not caring much for Evelyn, the heroine. I feel like there was a whole universe behind this novella and that perhaps I’d have enjoyed a deeper dive, rather than this quite indirect, almost huis-clos story. I’m finding it hard to put the words on what I did not really like, it’s more of a general “meh, it’s alright” than anything that really stood out as bad.

I did enjoy that Evelyn was such a complex character, and I felt for her — and especially her traumas — but I did not fully empathise, and I think it may be down to the short form. At the same time I’m not sure there was a full novel in here, it’s pretty self-contained. Maybe just a bit more context or time to spend with the character would have helped.

At the same time if you enjoy a bit of slice of life, subtle queerness, a bit of horror and a bit of mystery, this book might well be for you.

The Links

Amazon* | Barnes & Noble | 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: This is how you lose the time war, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This is another review from my pre-blog days, but it’s also one that’s stayed with me. I mean I loved the concept when I first heard about it, but I expected it to me a monster of a book, not a tiny novella. And I wasn’t really convinced with the cover, if I’m being honest.

I watched the Hugo ceremony and was moved by the authors’ acceptance speech though, and I bought it shortly after. And it blew my mind!

The cover even grew on me

The Story

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Red and Blue, two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions, strike up an unlikely correspondence. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, becomes something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
The discovery of their bond will mean their death. There’s still a war going on, and someone has to win that war. That’s how wars work. Right?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I feel like I owe this novella a review, because it it was an Experience I won’t forget soon, but at the same time I’m struggling to find the appropriate words.
There is not one thing about this book I would change or criticise. I couldn’t even say it’s too short, because it’s so masterfully crafted that the size is just what it should be for the story it wants to tell. Where do I even start?
To borrow a metaphor from the book, it’s like a gorgeous and masterfully crafted piece of clockwork. The writing is pure poetry, the characters feel Just Right and even in so few pages you get to know them so well… 
There’s a scene where Blue goes to the Globe and wonders about Romeo and Juliet, and how it will end in this alternate part of the multiverse, and this was an absolutely brilliant reference,  not just because I’m a Shakespeare nerd, but because Time War has something of Romeo and Juliet in it, in its poetry and in its tragedy. And throughout, you can feel that every piece of the story was carefully crafted towards the ending, and everything fits very neatly. But beyond the craftsmanship, I was absolutely moved by this story, by the characters and by the writing. “Brilliant” doesn’t begin to cover it, and it is well worth all the awards it got. 

The Links

Amazon* | Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | Portal Bookshop

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

Review: The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling

I’m in a reading slump at the moment, so for F/F Friday I’ve decided to share with you my review of this book I read last year. It’s stayed with me ever since, and I’ve recommended it a couple times over the months, so I thought it’d be good to talk about it in a bit more detail.

I’ll probably also give the audiobook a try some time soon, because this is the kind of book that’s got to be amazing as audio!

The Story

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is not exactly the kind of books I usually read, but I was curious – I think it had been recommended at Worldcon last year for one reason or another, and it’s been on my list ever since. 

It’s not as horror as the blurb makes it sound, but it’s still out there. It reminded me of The Cave or The Descent, except not really. It’s a gripping read. The main character, Gyre,’s one link to the surface is unreliable. Perhaps Gyre herself is not reliable. Is she really seeing what she’s seeing, and what are the implications?  And in some ways you know the characters are emotionally or psychologically compromised, but there’s still the possibility that it’s all real. And of course, everything is from the point of view of Gyre, who is stuck in that cave in one dire circumstance or another. It felt claustrophobic at times, and hopeful at others, but it was, all along, a gripping and good read. The stakes were kept high throughout as well.

I could empathize with both characters quite a bit, and it was easy to feel for them both, although I think I was supposed to mistrust Em a lot more than I did. The two of them definitely had that “I hate you but you’re still hot” vibe from the start, and the dialogue was definitely entertaining!

I did not think, as I was reading, that any ending could really be satisfying, but it’s something the author managed to pull off!

The one drawback for me was the map, if I’m being honest. It helped, but it was also not reliable (3D things shown in 2D tend to do that) so it confused me more than it helped, at times. And yet it also did help me get a better idea of the expedition… Anyway, when the map’s all you can complain about, it’s definitely a good book! 

A year after having read it, I still find myself thinking about it again, occasionally. It’s one of those books that stays with you.

Barnes & Noble | Bookshop UK (affiliate link) | Portal Bookshop | Kenny’s | or listen to it on Scribd (affiliate link)

Review: A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian

I mostly read SF or fantasy, but I also enjoy a good queer romance or mystery once in a while. So this year I’m trying to expand my reading to cover a bit more of that (if it’s a SFF romance or mystery it’s even better!) and I’d been looking for more regency/historical F/F. I’ve been recommended this novella a few times, and enjoyed Unmasked by the Marquess by the same author, so I thought I’d give it a go!

The Story

A seductive thief

Lady’s maid Molly Wilkins is done with thieving—and cheating and stabbing and all the rest of it. She’s determined to keep her hands to herself, so she really shouldn’t be tempted to seduce her employer’s prim and proper companion, Alice. But how can she resist when Alice can’t seem to keep her eyes off Molly?

Finds her own heart

For the first time in her life, Alice Stapleton has absolutely nothing to do. The only thing that seems to occupy her thoughts is a lady’s maid with a sharp tongue and a beautiful mouth. Her determination to know Molly’s secrets has her behaving in ways she never imagined as she begins to fall for the impertinent woman.

Has been stolen

When an unwelcome specter from Alice’s past shows up unexpectedly at a house party, Molly volunteers to help the only way she knows how: with a little bit of mischief.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Trigger warnings – sexual abuse, emotional/physical abuse, alcoholism

This novella is part of a bigger series, but it read perfectly fine as a standalone. My main complaint is that it is on the short side, and I’d have liked a bit more detailed/longer pining.

The romance itself is sweet and fun, with both leads unsure if their feelings are really reasonable, considering their positions.

Alice’s backstory is quite dark, hence the content warnings, but I liked how that was handled. Molly fully believes her, and supports her, which for me was the turning point in rooting for their relationship. There’s also a bit of revenge going on, which in the current context was quite cathartic, I’ve got to say. Without spoiling, I can say the ending was quite satisfying and made me really happy – beyond the usual Happy Ever After that you expect from a romance.

I also really enjoy historical romance that’s not just about the dukes and earls and whatnot, but about the common people, and the poorer among the gentry, so this ticked quite a lot of boxes for me.

I just hope Cat Sebastian writes more women loving women stories. I’ll be here waiting for them, anyway!

The Links

Amazon* | Portal Bookshop | 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

The Empress of Salt and Fortune, and When the Tiger came down the Mountain

Right so! I didn’t get to read all of the (admittedly long) list I made for myself for F/F February, but that’s alright because I decided to follow the lead of Beyond a Bookshelf and start doing F/F Friday. Since I post twice a week, and queer stuff is maybe 80% of what I read, it shouldn’t be too hard!

To start off this week, let me tell you a bit more about these two audiobook novellas I just read!

The Stories

The Empress of Salt and Fortune: A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy


When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain: The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I don’t feel bad reviewing them together because they can be read pretty much as standalones, although the main character, Chih, is in both. I feel that the summary of the first one is a bit misleading, though.

So we find ourselves with Chih, a cleric on their way to chronicle an eclipse in the capital, along with their… friend? acolyte? a little bird who remembers everything. They stop near Lake Scarlet to inventory the palace of the former Empress, which has just been unsealed, and they find there, besides priceless artefacts, the empress’s old handmaiden, Rabbit, who also journeyed there for unknown reasons.

After this introduction, each chapter starts with an object’s description, followed by Rabbit’s explanation on its significance to the empress, and its place in history.

I think this is crucial to explain this, because for me it’s this unusual take on the nested story structure that I found really interesting. I did care about the empress’s story, but I was more interested in Rabbit, and in her relationship to her. And I liked the idea that we were seeing history as it was being recorded – and it being recorded from the point of view of the servant, not the empress or any kind of royalty. It also interrogated in different ways what you’d see if faced with a historical artefact, versus the real story that might be behind it. If Chih alone was making that catalog, we would know only a tiny, uncomplete fraction of the story.

It was a beautifully told story that fit the format perfectly, and made me want to read more so… I quickly moved on to book 2!

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain also follows Chih, but this is basically the only link. They’re on this voyage across a mountain pass when they get caught by three speaking tigers, and have to bargain for their life. This is once again the beginning of a nested story, but this one has actual stakes to it. It’s a story both the tigers and humans know, and they don’t exactly tell it the same way, so Chih better not disappoint!

I loved that it added this level of suspense to the narration compared to the first novella, which was a lot more peaceful. The tone fit each story very well. But what it allowed in this one, was the possibility for two voices to tell the same story, with sometimes contradicting views. As the tigers correct Chih’s account, a very different picture of the tale takes form. And of course you start wondering why the changes happened to the human version (or which is true, or is it a mix of both?)

I think what both stories do really well is that they make you care for these characters, but they also make you question the way stories (legends and history, in particular) are formed and whether you can truly believe them. All the while weaving different tales of queerness together through the layers of story.

I think the second one was slightly stronger due to that extra suspense, but they were both really enjoyable!

Get the books

Amazon* UK | Waterstones | Portal Bookstore | or listen to them 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