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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My Top Horror Reads

Tile card in teal colour with flowery decorations, reading "top horror reads" in bold letters

I’m the first to say I don’t particularly enjoy horror books. I don’t naturally gravitate towards them. But sometimes you do read a book that stays with you, and horror novels do tend to stay with me. So I thought I’d make a little list with my favourites. I know it’s nowhere near halloween and all that, but I rarely end up reading horror books in October anyway, and just grab them whenever I’m in the right mood.

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Small reviews: Hugo nominated short stories

So as I explained in my post on the Hugo nominated novellas, I’ve signed up for the Worldcon supporter membership, which gives you access to the “voter packet”, in which most authors and publishers kindly provide their nominated works for you to review! Not free, but a very cheap price for the year’s favourites.

So I’ve decided to do my best to read as much of it as possible to vote fairly (since you do, also, get to vote) and put the reviews out there. It feels like that’s the least I can do for authors who provide their stuff for free (membership money goes towards organizing Worldcon and the Hugos, not to the authors).

I’m currently reading my way through the Novel and Astounding nominations (and doubting I’ll make it through them all before the 19th) but I thought I’d take a short break and go through the short stories! These are all free to read somewhere online, I’ll put the link down there as well.

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Review: A Dowry of Blood, by S.T. Gibson

I requested this book as an ARC back when this blog was fairly new – and I was fairly new to Netgalley… so I then did not download it in time, it got archived, and I couldn’t access it anymore. But the concept – brides of Dracula, but make it queer(er), kept intriguing me, so I figured what the hell, and bought it for myself a while back – I just had to know!

Doesn’t it look cool?

The Story

A lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is a story of desire, obsession, and emancipation.

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things. Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets.

With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh my goodness, why did I wait so long to read this??? (I was embarrassed over the whole ARC thing, that is why). But, nevermind that! this book fucking delivers! I had Expectations, not gonna lie, but they were met and exceeded!

It’s a second person story, basically with Constanta recounting her story to her husband (Dracula). So I wasn’t sure I’d get into it? I’m usually weirded out by 2nd person, but I think the fact that it was very clear who it was addressed to, made it more like reading an epistolary novel, than something addressed to “me”. So it actually worked remarkably well.

It’s very much about love – between the different “brides” but also twisted, controlling love, from and for the vampire himself (he’s never named I think, but there are hints that he is really the same Dracula as Bram Stoker’s). For me this was mainly a beautifully written story about escaping controlling, abusive lovers and getting back control of your life. With added queerness and polyamory (of the non-toxic kind also).

The basic plot is (and you’ll know from the start because the heroine comes out and says it on like page 2) “here’s how much of a fucking abusive asshole you were, and here’s why I killed you” and let me tell ya, I am here for queer revenge plots on abusive men. SO HERE! I’m also here for cheating relationships where the women end up with each other and get their revenge on the man eventually.

You can feel the conflicting feelings of Constanta and her fellow “brides” for the man they love, but who’s also hurting them. I’ve had my fair share of psychological abuse, and I work with victims of coercive control, so it truly hit home for me. And I don’t have the words to express how gorgeously written it is!

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | Portal Bookshop | or read it on Scribd (affiliate link)

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: Other Words for Smoke, by Sarah Maria Griffin

A bit late for F/F February, but I did finally read Other Words for Smoke. I bought it some time during the summer, where bookshops were no longer in lockdown and you could actually browse. Did not expect it to be in YA (all I knew about it was from following the author on twitter), but it was a gorgeous little book with neon pink edges, and I absolutely loved it. Then it stayed on my shelves for months…

The story

When the house at the end of the lane burned down, none of the townspeople knew what happened. A tragedy, they called it. Poor Rita Frost and her ward, Bevan, lost to the flames. Only Mae and Rossa, Rita’s niece and nephew, know what happened that fateful summer.

Only they know about the owl in the wall, the uncanny cat, the dark powers that devour love and fear. Only they know about the trials of loving someone who longs for power, for freedom, for magic. Only they know what brought the house tumbling down around them. And they’ll never, ever breathe a word.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I finally unearthed this book from my TBR, and the first thing I’ll say is, it’s so satisfying, aesthetically? The neon pink edges, the foil leaves, the grey artwork on some of the pages… and to top it all the pink edges meant the pages kinda stuck together and made the most satisfying noise when pulling them apart. Thoroughly happy I got a physical copy!

Second thing is, I wasn’t really expecting this to be horror? Or to be set in Dublin (well, in a tiny village at the foot of the Dublin mountains). It worked very well, it landed where it needed to land, but what worked the best for me was that the setting was so familiar, and so authentic. And the story, while focusing on two very modern children, also ties into the reality of Magdalen laundries and how that is still a very current topic here. I thought it was very good to have Rita as an older character, and to see her point of view as well, and Audrey’s, and to learn about what happened to their friend. Without spoiling too much, it was fitting that such a horrible and traumatic event is what triggers the horror aspects of the novel.

As for the horror itself, it’s not really my thing normally, so I’m not a good judge of it. But it was believable in that it resonates with realistic situations like abusive relationships or addiction, where Sweet James is truly bad for Bevan but she does not necessarily see it, and gets carried away.

It was very much F/F, as advertised (by friends. It’s not really advertised as such), but not in a way you’d normally see it. Mae sure has a crush on Bevan, and that’s pretty central to her character arc, but for me the most important relationship of the book, as understated as it was, was the relationship between Audrey and Rita. I say understated, but I think subtle would be a better term. And I loved that Audrey makes a point of calling herself queer and explaining there was no space for her when she left (Ireland/Dublin). But it’s not a definitive statement either, as we see the possibilities for all the queer characters in the future – both Rita and Audrey, but also Mae. So it is both a very modern book, and one that is deeply entrenched in its history, and deeply Irish. In all the best ways possible.

Get the book

Alan Hanna’s (IE) | Kenny’s (IE) | Amazon UK* | Waterstones (UK) |

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

Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Curse whoever told me to read that book, though to be honest it’s probably everyone and no-one in particular. Listen, I’ve been hearing about this one for years! And it looks pretty cool too! And I’m well aware I’m late to the party (though happy that I can jump onto the next book now instead of waiting) but I’m… I… well, let me just write a proper review to put my thoughts in order!

Just look at how cool this cover is!

The Story

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

The Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I genuinely did not know whether to give this a 4 or a 5 so I split it in half.

Look, I’ve gotta come clean, I was daunted by this book. It looked so good! Everyone was so happy with it! I was just afraid to be disappointed, I think. I wasn’t, though!
I picked up the audiobook and let me just say, the narrator, Moira Quirk, is amazing. I mean, I laughed out loud quite a few times, and that’s mostly due to the deadpan tone she gave Gideon. I think it went a long way to make the humour land, and really carry across Gideon’s character. The one drawback of the audiobook is that it’s harder to flip back through to make sure you didn’t miss an important detail, and there’s a very big cast so I felt like a paper copy would have come in handy.

Because this book looks at first glance like a lot of brooding from Gideon and not much happening (I mean a lot happens but she does not seem to do much) but then when Feces Hits the Fan as one of the characters says, then there is a lot to keep track of, and I feel like I’ll need to go back through it with a fine tooth comb for those tiny details I missed the first time round. Because I Did Not See It Coming, alright. The plot is intricate work, and it’s really like reading a huis-clos, but in space, with necromancers and a main character who’s way, way too sassy for her own good.

It is, above all, pretty dark, and very funny. I couldn’t believe my ears when I recognised some semi obscure meme or other! And it’s also touching, in a lot of weird ways, especially as Gideon and Harrow start to tentatively get closer, or at least not hate each other so much. And as the reasons for their resentment become clearer. I genuinely did not think I could come to even like Harrow, but I did, probably about as much against my will as it was against Gideon’s too.

There’s loads to be said about the side characters, too, but there are so many of them… I’ll just say this: I really enjoyed reading about Palamedes and Camilla, and I hope we see more of that (well, of Camilla) in the future.

I feel like I oughta take points off for the ending, because I’m pissed at it and I’m not ok but at the same time it’s also just a sign of a writer’s job well done, isn’t it?

Get the book

Amazon (UK)* | Portal Bookshop (UK) | Kennys (IE/EU) or listen to it on Scribd*

*affiliate links

Rise of One

The story

As zombies roamed, the earth went quiet. It is as if every critter knew that the only way to stay safe was to lay silent.

Rise and his coven were running out of fresh blood to feed on. With only one human – albeit pampered beyond belief – at their disposal, there wasn’t enough food to go around. He must find other human survivors if they want to avoid succumbing to the blackness of oblivion.

When the human survivors he rescued were infiltrated by Warwolves, an ancient order of vampire hunters, Rise soon realizes the danger he brought upon his kind. With the full intent to survive, Rise must purge all threats to his vampire race.

The world, although decimated, is ripe for rule. If he wished to set history on a new path, he must triumph — starting with the rise of one individual.

The review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review

 This is one that is going to take me some time to digest.
First I’d like to say that I rarely read vampire books anymore, and zombie ones even less so, but there’s something intriguing about the two mixed together.
I was not entirely convinced at first, especially because I didn’t – still don’t – really know what to think of the main point of view character. And not everything the characters did made sense to me.
But the story threads all seem to pull together in the final act, and suddenly I couldn’t stop turning the page.
It’s inventive, there’s great morally grey characters who, although you may really disagree with them or think they’re assholes, really make you want to know what happens to them next. I’m not sure what I think of Rise, or Cypriot, or even what the hell was going on with Elaine and Marnie, and I feel like the author kept a lot hidden, perhaps for the next volume in the series. At the same time I really enjoyed the characters anyhow – and the fact that it was made clear when Rise was being callous and unaware of his privilege. Although I often find it hard to get interested in a book that’s got an unlikeable POV, and this was no exception – the first half or so was kinda hard for me to get into. If I’m being honest, what I really want next is a book centered on Salter and Annette.
In short: not really my kind of read, but still a good and interesting novel with a lot of potential for the next books. 

Get the book – it’s out today!

Amazon & Kindle |