from the library

Review: Last Night at the Telegraph Club, by Malinda Lo

Finally got around to reading Last Night at the Telegraph Club, after months of wanting to! 1950s historical novels aren’t my main interest, but I do like queer romances, especially historical ones (though I veer closer to the 1800s) so I was intrigued. It’s kinda hard to get around here, but the library is well-stocked so I took advantage!

The Synopsis

A story of love and duty set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare.

“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.

America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

Continue reading…

Review: Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir

I’m a big fan of The Martian – I watched the movie a few years back, promptly got the book, and loved it! I’ve rewatched the movie half a dozen times since then, too. So I kind of jumped on this new book almost immediately (or, like, as soon as the library would give it to me, and I wasn’t the only one requesting it…)

(I once again forgot to take a real picture before handing back the book…)

The Story

A lone astronaut must save the earth from disaster in this incredible new science-based thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Martian.

A lone astronaut.
An impossible mission.
An ally he never imagined.

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission – and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery-and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

The Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Because it was such a get-automatically book for me, I did not really read the blurb beforehand… I wasn’t exactly surprised that the premise was similar to The Martian, albeit in a very different context. Your man Ryland is alone on a spaceship, having to science his way to survival… sounds pretty familiar. In this case, he’s not left behind, and he’s not trying to return to Earth, though. He’s on a one-way mission to another solar system, and his crewmates died in transit…

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Review: A Song Below Water, by Bethany C. Morrow

I had the audiobook for A Song Below Water on hold for months with the library, and then the physical book… and it only arrived last week or so (they had a copy but libraries were closed for the whole of winter, and I guess I wasn’t the only one who wanted it!) So to say this was highly anticipated for me is a bit of an understatement.

I forgot to take a real picture before I brought it back to the library!

The Story

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Nevermind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

The (spoilery) Review

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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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.
Continue reading…

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!

Continue reading…

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: 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: Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

I’ve been struggling a bit with everything I’ve got going on at the moment plus some health stuff, so it has been hard for me to keep reading and posting regularly… I’ve also been looking for shorter or lighter reads, so this series is perfect for that kind of light content!

I read the first novel a while back because everyone I follow on twitter was just raving about how good they are, and I just had to know. It’s middle grade and not my usual reading but I like it! I’ve read the first 2 books so far, but I’ll just focus on the first!

The Plot

There’s been a rather shocking murder at Deepdean School for Girls…

When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency at Deepdean School for Girls, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As an MG murder mystery, I kind of expected it to be easy to solve for me, which it really wasn’t! The murder plot itself was interesting and engaging, with a side of “oh gosh girls why are you doing this!”

I really enjoy the concept of those two girls having their detective society and jumping at the thought of solving a murder! I also think it’s really good that Hazel is the narrator, first because she brings an outside perspective to this 1930s English girls’ school, being from Hong Kong. Second, because Daisy can be absolutely unbearable, and I wouldn’t have enjoyed it if she were narrating, I think. Hazel is more self aware and less prone to rushing headlong, and that gave me a sense that they’d probably be safe.

The whole idea of two 13 year olds solving murders does rely on not telling the police, which works well because nobody knows about the murder in this case (body’s gone) and second, the girls really don’t trust the police. Daisy says, quite rightly I think, that they would not be believed because they’re kids, and the police is useless. Now the actual police officer turns out to be a good guy, which I think is important in an MG story, but their reasons made sense and I kind of hate that it does (as much in 1930s as it would now).

It was also a bit painful to read due to Hazel being Asian, because despite her father being just as rich or more than all these Englishers’ parents, there is a clear sense that she does not belong, in the way she’s treated. But I think it was a good thing that this was included. And that she seems very resilient about it. Clearly kids need that. From a story perspective I think it also made Daisy more bearable to me. She’s bossy and can be annoying but she’s not bothered at all by Hazel’s origins and treats her like any other (even though she’s bossy sometimes, she seems to be worse with others) and that small thing endeared her to me enough.

Overall it’s engaging, it’s funny, the side characters are a bit two-dimensional because the girls see them only as possible suspects (or as silly friends getting in the way) but overall I think it works very well, and I ordered the next book directly. And the next when I was done with that one!

Get the book

Amazon* | Waterstones 

*this is an affiliate link, I may receive a small commission for purchases made through this link, at no extra cost to you

Review of Angel Mage

I’ve a confession to make. I’ve owned this book since late 2019… and I had not read it yet! It’s beautiful and intriguing but it’s A Chonker and last year was really not conducive to chonkers. I was motivated to use 2021 to get through the chonkers I’ve accumulated… and then the audiobook showed up on the library app, so I chose the easy way out!

Now that I’ve had a quick look inside the actual book, it’s absolutely gorgeous… and the map threw me off. I mean there were CLEAR references to something like 17th century France, with a capital called Lutace (Lutetia?) and a Zuiss republic and all that but… yeah I did NOT expect this:

Anyway, on to the review:

The story

More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding.

Liliath knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighboring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendants. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will turn to ash. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.

But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic. They are the key to her quest.

The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfill her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else. . .

My Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I found it pretty hard to focus on the audiobook, but that’s more a me problem. The narrator was really good and I enjoyed the voices and accents quite a bit!

For the story itself – I had mixed feelings about it at first, we’re following the villain and I was not really sure what to expect from that. But she grows on you? like mold? She’s absolutely vile and cares for no-one, but she’s also charming, and that came across really well. I did believe at times that whatever she was trying to do would also, you know, end up helping other people.

I think the story became really good once we’re introduced to the four actual protagonists. They’ve got very distinct characters and their interactions were really enjoyable. They’re pretty much hostages of the situation, as much as they try to figure it out. It’s a nice change to have protagonists who’re not really in control – and following Liliath’s machinations at the same time was also really good for balance, as you’re not in the dark but know what’s happening and can root for the kids to figure it out… I especially enjoyed Dorotea’s story: she’s a scholar, imprisoned because she’s not summoning angels “the right way” so the Cardinal suspects her of being Liliath… which is very funny when you know Liliath is right under their noses. But Dorotea never really gives in and advocates for herself, and she’s the only one who has a bit of an inkling what’s going on. There were hints of a relationship between her and Rochefort, the Cardinal’s right hand woman, and I really enjoyed the way that went too. Rochefort clearly cared, but Dorotea (and the narrative) never lost track of the power imbalances there.

I did quite enjoy the references to the Three Musketeers (and seeing the map earlier just made that all the more clear and funny too): you’ve got a (female) Cardinal who’s not quite the enemy in this case but still very much Not An Ally (I still don’t know what I think of her. She was trying to do what’s right for the country but that does not make her good). You’ve got a Captain Dartagnan at the head of the musketeers, and our Four Musketeers themselves… Gascony becomes Bascony, etc. It was really entertaining, especially because it was always somehow subverted.

The magic itself was quite interesting, and there was a lot of thought gone into that bit of worldbuilding, with complexities and a lot of “norms” that clearly come from humans (and religion) and not necessarily the way it really works at all. I thought that was a really interesting concept.

Another thing I really loved was that it’s not just queernorm, it’s like gender doesn’t really matter? Someone on Goodreads said it’s like Nix tosses a dice to decide the gender of a protagonist and that’s that, and same for relationships. But it did feel a lot more purposeful than that. There’s something to say about having both a female Cardinal, a ruling Queen (with a useless King who’s only interested in money and sex… yeah most French kings weren’t much better), a female captain of the musketeers, a female captain of the Pursuivants (the Cardinal’s guards), a female antagonist, etc. One of our four characters is bi, the queen is really into women, and again there’s Dorotea and Rochefort, which is clearly a big part of the story even if it’s very tame.
I also really appreciated the way Nix goes into the Refusers, because everyone believed they (their ancestors actually) were cursed by their angel for being heretics, and use that as an excuse to abuse them and treat them like slaves, so that their siding with Liliath at the promise of getting their country back really made sense and they really aren’t the antagonists here.

Anyway that’s a big rant to say I really enjoyed the book, and I might have to read more by Garth Nix!

Get it from Waterstones