Book review: The First Sister by Linden A Lewis

Title: The First Sister by Linden A Lewis

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 4 August 2020

Genre: Adult | Science fiction | SPACE WARS

Page extent: 352 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood, but soon discovers that working for the war effort is so much harder to do when you’re falling in love.

Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus, but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.

Phheewww I’m on a roll of incredible sci-fi right now, and The First Sister was no exception. This is a dark and epic tale of war across the solar system, following three main protagonists on opposite sides of the war as they try to fight for control over their own bodies.

The First Sister is a story of bodily autonomy, or rather, the story of what happens when bodily autonomy is removed, when people have no control over what happens to them and what happens when they fight back. We follow three individuals on opposite sides of the war:

  • First Sister: a priestess of the Sisterhood serving on the Juno, a warship. As a priestess, she is there to provide distraction to the soldiers, be that hearing their confessions or providing them with sex to prevent distraction whilst they do their duties. Her voice was taken from her as a child, to prevent her ever spilling the secrets of the captain of her ship. When the Juno gets a new Captain, war hero Saito Ren, First Sister is asked to gain her trust and spy on her for the Sisterhood, who thinks she is a traitor.
  • Lito sol Lucius: on the opposite side of the war from First Sister is Lito, a duelist who has recently recovered from wounds gained in the fall of Ceres, and for which he is blamed. He is ordered to return to Ceres, kill the Mother, the head of the Sisterhood, and kill his traitorous ex-partner, Hiro, who assisted in the fall of Ceres.
  • Hiro: for Hiro’s POV, we get short clips from a recorded message they sent to Lito, explaining how they betrayed their Empire. For as they explain at the start of the recording, they are most definitely guilty and they betrayed the Icaari.

These three each follow very different, exciting plots that all combine in one last final showdown on Ceres. Whilst each of these POVs were interesting on their own, I was particularly in love with that of First Sister. There is something so incredibly powerful about this POV from a person who cannot speak, so dialogue instantly becomes not a tool that the author can use. And I just loved the more introspective nature of First Sisters POV that therefore happened. Forced into the Sisterhood, her POV provides lots of insight into this religious powerhouse and the dark insides of the religion. So seeing her grow to become a person who gains control over her body after all these years in service to the awful Sisterhood was so powerful.

I did love her POV a lot more than Lito’s. I thought his a little detached and I found it more difficult to get attached to him as a character, which is why this book didn’t get a full 5 stars. But then comparing that to Hiro, who despite having the smallest part, just small extracts from their recordings, got so much personality through. I loved them. The way the Icaari have destroyed Hiro’s bodily autonomy is truly horrific, it’s so shocking and so disgusting and I was blown away when we first read what has happened to them. This is a world with such horrors in it, where a few powerful individuals hold the power and control over millions, where the lives of the many are used and discarded as a tool for the few powerful people. But it’s also a story about those who refuse to be used, who refuse to let the powerful discard them like nothing, and what happens when those few individuals decide to fight back. And it’s spectacular.

As a short side note, Lewis is another author going onto my list of authors who write epic battle scenes. This is something I struggle with as a writer so I’m always hugely impressed when authors can do it so well. These battles were so fun and filled with really badass technology, and this lightened the load of a book discussing some really dark issues surrounding bodily autonomy.

The world was just as diverse as I’d hoped, pretty much everyone is queer. Between nonbinary Hiro, Saito Ren and First Sister’s relationship, we’re full of diverse queer characters. I really loved the soft slow development of the relationship between Ren and First Sister. I just love SFF books that also have brilliantly queer romances that impact the story, so this was just perfect.

Also kudos to Lewis because there were so many twists at the end and I guessed NONE OF THEM. It was such a moment of shock and disbelief and omg OF COURSE this all makes sense I love it?!?

It’s hard to talk too much about this book without giving spoilers, so all I’ll say is I really liked this one. There’s a lot going on, and a lot of difficult issues being discussed, but this is paired with lots of epic battles and some very cool tech, so it pretty much combines the best two things about SciFi!

Book review: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Title: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 4 August 2020

Genre: Adult | Science fiction | Multiverse

Page extent: 336 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A multiverse-hopping outsider discovers a secret that threatens her home world and her fragile place in it–a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.

CARA IS DEAD ON THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FOUR WORLDS.

The multiverse business is booming, but there’s just one catch: no one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive.

Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying–from diseases, from turf wars, from vendettas they couldn’t outrun.

But on this earth, Cara’s survived. And she’s reaping the benefits, thanks to the well-heeled Wiley City scientists who ID’d her as an outlier and plucked her from the dirt. Now she’s got a new job collecting offworld data, a path to citizenship, and a near-perfect Wiley City accent. Now she can pretend she’s always lived in the city she grew up staring at from the outside, even if she feels like a fraud on either side of its walls.

But when one of her eight remaining doppelgangers dies under mysterious circumstances, Cara is plunged into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and future in ways she never could have imagined–and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

Well this book was fucking excellent. Like, really fucking excellent. I think it might be my favourite sci fi. Ever. God, it was so good. From the plot twists 9% in that continued all the way through, to the deep social commentary on issues from gun violence to class to climate change, the exploration of trauma and survival, The Space Between Worlds managed to bring together so many different issues into one perfect sapphic scifi that’ll I’ll be thinking about for pretty much the next five years.

The Space Between Worlds is set on an Earth which has discovered multiverse travel. But there’s a catch: you can only visit a parallel universe if the parallel you is already dead. Traversers, those who have died on other worlds, are hired to travel across the multiverse to get information. Cara is one of these traversers. But when one of the parallel Cara’s is killed in mysterious circumstances, Cara is drawn into a plot that endangers the entire multiverse.

It’s difficult to put into words how much I loved this book. I was hooked completely from the very first page. We’re drawn into this incredibly detailed world, and Johnson has done such an epic job of the worldbuilding. There’s an enclosed, rich city, protected from the harsh weather outside and a Mad Max style desert, where the poorer individuals live overruled by a self-styled emperor. We’re thrust into this world that has been ravaged by climate change, and it felt like a bleak look into our future, so realistic and well detailed was this world. The Space Between Worlds subtly explores issues like climate change in a way that isn’t in your face or preachy – it’s anything but that. In fact, on the surface, there is no blatant discussion of issues like climate change or gun violence. But Johnson has woven these concepts throughout in subtle descriptions of the world: from the way people get around with tarps to protect from the sun, to the stark absence of guns at all, to the descriptions of acid in the air, Johnson weaves social commentary into the story with such a powerful impact.

But what’s most powerful is the depiction of trauma, domestic abuse, and an individual who has survived but is still deeply affected and damaged by what she’s been through. The way Cara is written is just phenomenal. She is such a brilliant, morally grey character. I longed for her to find her safety as much as I longed for her to get her revenge. I won’t say too much about her (spoilers…) but it breaks my heart to see how wrecked and lonely she is and then to see her grow and survive what she’s been through and learn how to use what she’s been through against her enemies, it’s so fucking perfect. Also she’s bi/pan and my heart is just singing to see a bi/pan character get a story this epic.

The romance made my heart hurt (ofc). To see Dell and Cara constantly come close and drift apart, to see how their misunderstandings tear them apart when all I wanted to scream was PLEASE BE HAPPY TOGETHER was just 😭😭😭😭

To conclude: I have so many thoughts about this book. It left me with that feeling that really good books often do, the feeling like I got run over by a car, or that a hole was punched through my chest, that emotional ‘god I can’t quite believe I read this’ level of awe. I can’t wait to see what Johnson does next.

#5OnMyTBR: Long books

#5OnMyTBR is a bookish meme hosted by E. @ Local Bee Hunter’s Nook and you can learn more about it here or in the post announcing it. It occurs every Monday when we post about 5 books on our TBR. Thank you E. for the awesome graphic for these posts as well!

Hi everyone,

Happy August! This year is certainly flying whilst simultaneously never ending. This week’s #5OnMyTBR theme is long books, which is MY JAM! I am a massive fantasy reader so often read very long books (hello Priory). However, for today’s list, I did try to mix it up a little so you aren’t just getting a list of all the hefty fantasy tomes I have to read.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Coming in at the smallest book on this list at 448 pages, The Bone Shard Daughter is quite literally at the top of my TBR (I’m about 5% in at the time of writing!) It’s about the daughter of an emperor who has to fight to earn her father’s approval by gaining power over the bone shard magic which keeps the empire running. I mean, how cool does BONE SHARD MAGIC sound?!

Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliot

Coming in at 528 pages is another ARC I’ve got to read asap! Unconquerable Sun is a reimagining of Alexander the Great but in space and as a woman. Yes, does that does sound amazing!

The Empire of Gold by S.A Chakraborty

And finally, the chonkiest baby on this list is of course, The Empire of Gold, at 766 pages. I know I had this on my list last week too, but how could I not mention it when we’re talking about chonky books?! This is the end to the Daevabad trilogy and is definitely going to be a) amazing and b) soul destroying.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

At 629 pages, The Secret History is both a rather large book and has a rather large reputation to live up to. This book is hailed as one of the definining books of the dark academia genre and it’s the favourite book of some of my favourite authors. I finally bought a copy this year and I can’t wait to read it!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

And ending this list is another book with a very big reputation! A Little Life is 720 pages of pure pain according to reviews I’ve seen from bloggers which means I’m probably going to absolutely adore it.

And that’s the 5 chonky books on my TBR! I even managed to find a few that weren’t actually fantasy, though that’s probably in part because I’ve done pretty well at keeping on top of my long fantasy reading list this year. Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

July wrap up

Hi everyone,

How was your July? This month has had its ups and downs here! Melbourne is back in lockdown. Whilst it didn’t change much for me, as I’m already WFH and wasn’t ever leaving the house anyway, the anxiety at this never ending situation is beginning to get to me. But then I started making candles this month, and it’s been so much fun, and just so relaxing to play with different scents. So a decidedly mixed month.

Reading wise though, I’ve had the joint best month of the year so far (in number of books, pages wise I’m a bit lower!) I read 9 books and 2 novellas this month, including one of my favourite books of the year so far, The Space Between Worlds! I also have something fun and exciting to talk about that I’ll be doing on this blog and my Instagram throughout August so stay tuned!

Books read

This month, I was participating in the extremely fun Pop Culture readathon! This was a readathon based on 90s movies, and I chose the Thrill Ride bingo board! I managed a couple of bingos this month! I am very ashamed that I didn’t get to the prompt for The Mummy, which was the film that made me choose this board in the first place! I have started The Bone Shard Daughter for this prompt, but I wasn’t able to finish it today!

The Space Between Worlds by Michaiah Johnson – review coming very soon (on pub day)!

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – you can read my review here!

The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke – review coming on pub day!

The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska – you can read my review here!

Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles – review coming next month on pub day!

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh – you can read my mini review here!

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang – you can read my mini review here!

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge – you can read my mini review here!

The First Sister by Linden A Lewis – review coming very soon (on pub day)!

Slay by Brittney Morris – review to come

These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling – review to come

Books bought/borrowed/gifted/approved for

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson (a side note to say this is the book I’m most excited for in this month’s new books, it’s one of my most anticipated books of the year, and it sounds SO SCARY!!!)

Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

The First Sister by Linden A Lewis

The Midnight Bargain by C.L Polk

A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe

August TBR

After a fairly strict set TBR in July for the Pop Culture readathon, I’m going to do the exact opposite in August and only mood read! I’m also trying to focus on books on my physical TBR, which are beginning to stack up, I need to stop distracting myself with more library books! Here’s a few of the books I’ve been wanting to read soon, but who knows, my mood might be totally different tomorrow, we’ll see at the end of the month if I do actually read them!

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis

Cherry Beach by Laura McPhee-Browne

The Empire of Gold by S.A Chakraborty

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

August SFF extravangza!

And with that, we’re onto my super exciting annoucement! If you’re a big reader of SFF, you may have seen the recent abuse allegations which revealed a horrific cycle of abuse in the community, with many of the abusers very powerful cishet men with large followings (and who probably provide the publishing industry with a hell of a lot of money).

Now, I’d already pretty much given up reading fantasy by cishet men (I just do not have time for the high level of sexual violence and utter lack of diversity in most of them). So I decided this month to create a series of posts all about the amazing, diverse books you could be reading and supporting instead of the same old fantasies by cishet (usually white) men with histories of abuse in the community. For the next 5 weeks, every Thursday, I will be posting a large list of diverse books you can support for 5 different segments of the SFF genre: adult fantasy, adult sci fi, horror (YA + adult combined), YA fantasy and YA sci-fi!

Alongside these posts, I’ll also be posting every day on my Instagram, featuring my favourite diverse books from each of the above segments – there will be one week’s worth of posts on each segment, matching the blog post for that week! I feel like I very much overcomplicated this explanation, but basically: if you would like to support marginalised authors doing their damn best to give us the most amazing diverse SFF, or would like some recommendations for great books in the genre, check out my blog and Instagram over the next 5 weeks, and you’ll hopefully come away with a ton of new books to read!

I hope everyone has a great August!

Books that remind me of Dan Stevens as genderfluid icon Alexander Lemtov in the Eurovision film

Hi folks,

Before I start, please note the following post has BIG SPOILERS for the Netflix movie Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga. Continue at your own risk…

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, have you watched the Netflix Eurovision film yet? If not, why are you here when you could be watching Dan Stevens do this?

Seriously go watch it and then we can discuss three things we all know and understand about this film:

  1. This film was okay, good, but nothing hugely special.
  2. The fact that Rachel McAdams ended up with bland and boring Will Ferrell who ABANDONED ON HER LIVE ON TELEVISION TO FUCK OFF BACK TO ICELAND is a travesty.
  3. But despite all this, the fact that we were blessed with queer, genderfluid icon Alexander Lemtov (portrayed by Dan Stevens) was the blessing I needed in the shitshow that has been 2020 so far.

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a character. I watched Eurovision in awe of Dan Stevens’ performance. He gave us a character who, even before the end sequence, was so openly queer, whose performance was so powerful and clothing so perfect, that it literally inspired me to pick up my pirate assassin WIP and write again for the first time in over 6 months because Dan Stevens reminded me so much of my main character. But then we did get the end sequence, where Sigrid is questioning whether Lemtov is gay, where Lemtov responds no, no, there’s no gay people in Russia, so she asks again, asks whether he’s genderfluid and the look he gives the camera as he says no, ‘he/him pronouns’ is the most heartbreaking, awful, despondant look and it BROKE me. Because they didn’t have to imply that not only was Lemtov queer, he was also genderfluid and nonbinary. They could have kept it at asking if he was gay, and I’d have been thrilled that we had this amazing queer character on our screens. But they did imply Lemtov was genderfluid, and this was the first piece of media I recall watching that actually uses the term genderfluid, and the sheer sadness that Dan Stevens was able to evoke in that one look to camera, as if he longed for nothing more than to be able to say who he really was to Sigrid, this woman who has been such an amazing friend to him, is pretty much the best thing to come out of 2020. Minus the whip moment from the video above obviously….

I’ve never longed to be someone more. If I imagine myself as I wish I could be, I would literally imagine Dan Stevens as Alexander Lemtov right now. Sometimes you forget how important it is to see people you identify with on screen, and then something like this happens, you see someone so incredible use the terms you identity with, and then you remember: this is why it’s important. This feeling right now, that combination of empowerment and validation, it’s just unreal.

Anyway if you, like me, would just like to reminisce about all the best moments of Lemtov from this film, thank you Netflix for putting together this video with all of the best parts!

And now, lets actually get to today’s post! I rewatched Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga this week, and so I decided to talk about some books that remind me of Dan Stevens portrayal of Lemtov so without further ado, here’s some books that remind me of genderfluid icon Alexander Lemtov.

The Mermaid the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Okay so when talking about a genderfluid icon who quite clearly has the wardrobe of a welldressed pirate, how could I not start with The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea, the book about a genderfluid pirate?! I’m embarassed to say I still haven’t read it, it has been on my TBR for the past two months since my copy arrived but I keep getting distracted by ARC deadlines. But having seen lots of people rave about this book, I’m hopeful it’s going to live up to the standard that Lemtov has set.

The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

I’m not surprised that book from genderfluid author Hannah Abigail Clarke made it onto this list of books for genderfluid icons. Whilst none of the characters in The Scapegracers are genderfluid, The Scapegracers carries with it a powerful, dramatic, confident, queer atmosphere that is equally as iconic as Lemtov. Sideways, our main lesbian witch, just really fucking reminds me of Alexander Lemtov. Like so much. They both have this air of confidence underneath which they are hiding this soft vulnerability that reveals itself around their friends. Thus: iconic.

Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

If you’ve seen the movie, you know all about Lemtov’s wardrobe and therefore it will make sense when I say this book is on this list because of the French military uniforms and revolution era fashion. Lemtov could’ve been pulled from this book with his flamboyant outfits, I would die for his wardobe, but most especially this jacket and if anyone can direct me to a place I can buy something similar, I will be forever grateful.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Much like the Lemtov, the team of librarian spies who fight fascists across the US from Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted also have that particularly epic dangerous queer energy. Portrayed as the villain in Eurovision, Lemtov always has an edge of danger that, combined with the sheer power of his queer energy, makes for a character very reminiscent of the team from Upright Women Wanted! These characters are sometimes deadly spies killing fascists and spreading resistence propaganda, and at other times just super super queer.

Gideon the Ninth by Tasmyn Muir

Have you seen this cover? The chaotic queer energy it evokes? Gideon is the chaotic lesbian necromancer from one of the most popular queer SFF books, one that is filled with an air of mystery, and gothic flair that would look right at home in Lemtov’s Edinburgh mansion. But most importantly: Gideon would wear that Lemtov jacket and look damn dapper doing it.

If We Were Villains by M.L Rio

We all know dark academia is gay right? Thus it will make perfect sense when I say that Lemtov’s wardrobe is made for dark academia. Perhaps a slightly more over the top dark academia than we’re used to, but one that celebrates a penchant for gold embroidery as much as Lemtov. Thus it makes perfect sense that Lemtov should walk straight out of the dramatic If We Were Villains, whose over the top love of Shakespeare can match Lemtov’s drama.

I hope you all enjoyed this post as much I enjoyed writing it! It really just gave me the excuse to rewatch Lion of Love on repeat for two hours as I wrote. Was anyone else as in love with Lemtov as I am? What books remind you of this genderfluid icon?

Book review: The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska

Title: The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska

Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia

Publication date: 2 June 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy | Witches

Page extent: 304 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Every year on St. Walpurga’s Eve, Caldella’s Witch Queen lures a boy back to her palace. An innocent life to be sacrificed on the full moon to keep the island city from sinking.

Convinced her handsome brother is going to be taken this year, Lina Kirk enlists the help of the mysterious Thomas Lin, her secret crush, and the only boy to ever escape from the palace after winning the love of a queen. Working together they protect her brother but draw the queen’s attention.

Queen Eva cast away her heart when her sister died to save the boy she loved. Now as queen, she won’t make the same mistake. With the tide rising higher than ever before and the islander’s whispering that Eva’s magic is failing, she’s willing to sacrifice anyone if it means saving herself and her city.

When Thomas is chosen as sacrifice, Lina takes his place and the two girls are forced to spend time together as they wait for the full moon. But Lina is not at all what Eva expected, and the queen is nothing like Lina envisioned. Against their will, the two girls find themselves falling for each other. As water floods Caldella’s streets and the dark tide demands its sacrifice, they must choose who to save: themselves, each other, or the island city relying on them both.

The Dark Tide was a fun, sapphic, enemies to lovers romp of a book. I absolutely flew through it, and whilst I think every single man in this book was complete trash, the two main women were so great and their romance was lovely.

The Dark Tide is set on a small island town, Caldella, ruled by witches. Each year, the Witch Queen must sacrifice a man she loves to the Dark Tide, in order to prevent the ocean from flooding the entire island. This year, Lina thinks her brother, Finlay, will be chosen and she will do anything to stop that. She enlists the help of Thomas, the only person who has ever survived the Dark Tide, because he made the previous queen fall in love with him and she sacrificed herself instead. But when Lina and Thomas attempt to save Finlay, Thomas is chosen instead. Filled with quilt and the naivety of first love, Lina bargains herself to save Thomas and she becomes this year’s sacrifice.

The Dark Tide was such a fun read. The pacing was great and I really flew through the book because I couldn’t stop reading. There’s lots of fast paced action which really keeps the plot moving quickly. I thought the exploration of sacrifice, and the darkness brought to the story from the emphasis on love (because a sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice unless a person is losing something – or in this case, someone) was terrific. It was exactly the kind of dark fantasy I love to read, there’s a constant pull between Eva’s feelings for Lina and her duty to drown Lina to save all her family and the citizens of the island under her protection. Sheer perfection thank you very much.

One of the best things about The Dark Tide were the two main characters: Lina, this year’s sacrifice and Eva, the Witch Queen. We get POV sections from both of them and whilst I loved Eva the most (hello fellow introvert who gets exhausted around people), Lina’s POV is just as good. Lina does feel very naive at times and very young, she is so obsessed with being a hero and having an epic love story that could rival the ones told in books and tales and she lives in this completely fairytale world. I really loved that slice of desire and danger she had, it took what could have been a fairly standard, bland, naive girl into someone who was much more interesting. The way she was almost happy and gleeful at times was so great and gave a touch of darkness to her POV, as she almost seemed to enjoy throwing her life away as a sacrifice because it meant she was living in one of her fairytales.

But Eva, our Witch Queen who detests people, how I love you. I love how cold and distant she is (she cut out her heart!). This contrasted with the way she is slowly fascinated and irritated by Lina in turn, it’s so fun to watch Lina get a rise out of this seemingly heartless witch. And their romance! Wow. It was so fierce and I can’t even really put into words how much I loved their relationship. The only downside was that because it is a little more of a slowburn, I didn’t get enough of the two of them together!

From my favourite characters to my least favourites: litrally every single man. God they were all complete trash and unfortunately, I did think this hindered the success of this book. For so much of this book, Lina is head over heels for Thomas….but there’s literally not a single reason why?! He’s so so bland and his only trait is he’s willing to give up women so he can live. Seems like a catch, right?

Finlay, Lina’s brother, is unfortunately just as one note. But even worse in my mind, his one note is aggression: he’s an aggressive angry person who Lina is actually scared of because he rages at the slightest thing and actually seriously injured her once in his rage….and yet Lina’s family is trying to force her to forgive him? Sorry but you do not have to forgive and love folks just because they’re family. If they’re abusive, gtfo. I detested Finlay the whole way through. But somehow Lina is willing to do everything for this person she’s scared of?

Lina’s feelings towards these two main male characters just didn’t make sense and I think the book would have been strengthened if more work had gone these two so they weren’t so one note. I think this bothered me more with Finlay than Thomas. With Thomas, I get that Lina is portrayed as this young and naive girl who wants a fairytale romance, so it makes sense that she’s drawn to the quiet, brooding boy with so much history and story behind him. I could forgive that. But I really needed to see more of her brother, see why on earth he was worth saving? He needed to be more than this awful, angry person. The way his actions were always framed as trying to make it up to Lina for breaking her ankle, when he continued to lose his temper and scare her, felt very manipulative and reminiscent of domestic abuse relationships and it’s not ever really addressed.

All in all I really enjoyed this dark YA fantasy! The sapphic romance is wonderful, I adored Eva, and found the book very easy and fun to read. Whilst the boys are very one note and I struggled with understanding why Lina was willing to give up everything for them, it just made me appreciate Eva and Lina’s relationship more because it really highlighted how full of emotion and fierce they were together.

#5OnMyTBR: Sequels

#5OnMyTBR is a bookish meme hosted by E. @ Local Bee Hunter’s Nook and you can learn more about it here or in the post announcing it. It occurs every Monday when we post about 5 books on our TBR. Thank you E. for the awesome graphic for these posts as well!

Hi everyone,

This week’s theme is sequels, which is a great one for me because it actually ties in to one of my 2020 goals! When 2020 started, I had several very awesome sequels that I vowed to get to this year because I had been too chicken to start them last year. And as we’re now halfway through the year, this post is giving me time to re-evaluate how I’ve been doing with sequels! So far I’ve read three rather big fantasy sequels – The Kingdom of Copper, Jade War and The Dragon Republic which together surely make up like 6 six regular sized books right? Now that I’ve finished those, here’s the next 5 very epic sequels on my TBR.

The Empire of Gold by S.A Chakraborty

So the second book in this series, The Kingdom of Copper, was actually one of the books I’d been too scared to read in 2019 after how destroyed I was by The City of Brass. But I did finally manage to get to it in early January, and was so equally scarred that I haven’t yet opened my copy of EoG because I am SO FUCKING SCARED. I know it’s going to be amazing. But….my heart needs to get into the right place to be able to survive the epic conclusion to one of my favourite fantasy series.

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes is one of the most popular YA fantasy series and I finally read it last year! I loved it so much that I immediately ordered the sequel, A Torch Against the Night, and then…..never read it. I am officially the worst.

The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

Okay so technically this one is a bit of a cheat, because I’ve (obviously) already read The Electric Heir, which is the sequel to my favourite book of all time, The Fever King. And it was just as incredible as the first in the series! However, I read it as an eARC and haven’t actually reread it since my print copy has arrived so I’d love to reread the series now that I’ve got my matching copies!

The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang

This is a very new addition to my list of sequels because I only read the first book in this novella series, The Black Tides of Heaven, last week, but I absolutely ADORED it. I fell so completely in love with the world and these characters that I immediately ordered the three following novellas in this series and I will definitely be reading them asap!

Drowned Country by Emily Tesh

And another new addition to my sequels list, I also recently read the first Greenhollow book, Silver in the Wood, and it was such a sweet, lovely, relaxing book, it felt like a fairytale! So obviously, I will be reading Drowned Country as soon as it releases in the middle of August!

That’s my list of sequels up next on my TBR! There are definitely going to be a few more added before the year is out, namely three follow ups to some of my favourite fantasy series, The Burning God, The Archive of the Forgotten and The Ikessar Falcon as well the most exciting sequel of the year, Darius the Great Deserves Better! But I’m doing much better at reading sequels this year than I did in 2019, so I’m confident I’ll get to all of these before the end of 2020. Hopefully.

Would you rather book tag

Hi everyone,

Today I’m doing the Would You Rather book tag, thank you to Laura @ The Book Corps for the tag!

The Rules:

  • Answer the questions given to you by your nominator.
  • Make up your own questions and tag others.
  • Sounds easy, right? Well, let’s see…

Laura’s questions

Would your rather only read physical books for the rest of your life or only audiobooks?

Definitely, 100% multiplied by like one million I would rather read physical books. I am so bad at paying attention to audiobooks. I recently tried again to listen to one, and I just can’t do it? My mind just wanders so much and suddenly it’s three chapters later and I have no idea what’s going on. So yes, definitely physical books for me!

Would you rather know all the spoilers before you start a book or never read the last chapter?

SPOILERS PLEASE! I am much worse at doing this with TV shows, but I’ll often google to find out what’s going to happen, particularly for shows that are stressing me out because once I know what’s going to happen I can feel less anxious about it. I don’t do this as much with books, but I would definitely much rather just know all the spoilers than never read the last chapter.

Would you rather be stuck on a very long train/plane ride with a book you hate or no book at all?

As someone who is from the UK and lives in Australia, I have been subjected to many horrifically long plane journeys and I need all the distraction I can get from how uncomfortable plane seats are so yes please, I’ll take a book I hate, how could I get through a 24 hour plane trip without a book?!

Would you rather read a book with a really bad ending or a book where your favourite character is killed off?

Oooh I am such trash for Tragedy so I think I’d take my favourite character being killed off…. I feel so mean. But a bad ending, for me, can often ruin the whole reading experience because the feeling you have at the ending is often the overriding emotion I remember when looking back to review a book and so I feel more negatively about books with bad endings than books with bad begininngs. And since I love tragedy so much, I would probably give the book extra points for killing off my favourite character because of how emotional it then made me.

Would you rather love a book everyone hates or hate a book everyone loves?

Love a book everyone hates! I feel like most of us probably already have a book like this, because everyone has different tastes! And so I’m completely okay with loving a hated book (unless it’s something offensive, in which case throw that book in the bin). I also feel very weird about hating books everyone else loves because I want people to like me and they will not like me if I hate on their favourites.

Would you rather read books by your favourite author but they’re all really bad, or read books by an author you hate but they’re all really good?

Read books by my favourite author but they’re all really bad! Most of the authors I would say I hate, I hate because they are awful, horrible racist/homophobic/transphobic people and therefore I do not care how great their book is, I do not want to read it.

Would you rather only ever read contemporary books for the rest of your life or fantasy?

I bet folks are on the edge of their seat for this one, what answer am I possibly going to pick?! Obviously I adore fantasy and I would read fantasy forever and ever and ever. There are so many different worlds to explore!

Would you rather own a signed edition or a first edition?

Signed edition! I have so few signed books because I live in Australia and we rarely get the authors I read over here, so the few books I have that are signed are really special to me.

Would you rather never be able to borrow a book from the library again or never reread your favourite book?

Oh god I think this might be the most difficult question yet… I think I’d rather never borrowing a book from the library again. Which is such an awful decision to make, but I don’t think I could go the rest of my life never reading my favourite book (The Fever King for anyone interested!)

Would you rather spend the day in your favourite fictional world but never meet your favourite character, or spend the day as the villain and try to attack/kill that favourite character?

VILLAIN OMG YES I AM THE VILLAIN. Villains are the most interesting part of a book to me, and much more importantly, also get by far the coolest outfits to wear therefore I would like to be one please. And maybe then when I try attack the favourite character we fall hopelessly in love and then I’m locked in a villain, enemies to lovers romance which is pretty much like the best trope ever!

My questions

  1. Would you rather live with magic in a fantasy world or with very cool technology in a sci-fi world?
  2. Would you rather only be able to read young adult books or adult books for the rest of your life?
  3. Would you rather meet the villain of your favourite book or the protagonist of your favourite book?
  4. And a follow up to that, Would you rather BE the villain in your favourite book or be the protagonist in your favourite book?
  5. Would you rather always being able to guess the twist, or never being able to guess the twist?
  6. Would you rather only read books set in the past or only read books set in the future?
  7. Would you rather only read only during the day, or only after dark?
  8. Would you rather be able to reread all your current favourite books but never again find a new favourite, or never read any of your current favourites again, but you’re able to find new favourite books?
  9. Would you rather only read paperbacks or only read hardbacks?
  10. Would you rather see your favourite book adapted into film or TV (and because rules are made to be broken I’m adding a third option) OR a stage musical adaptation?

I tag

Local Bee Hunter’s Nook | TheOneWhoReadIt | And anyone else who would like to take part, consider yourself tagged!

Book review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Publication date: 8 October 2019

Genre: Adult | Fantasy | Dark academia

Page extent: 459 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

Content warnings for gore, murder, self-harm, blood, child rape, sexual assault, suicide, drugs and drug use.

Let me preface this review by saying this was my very first Leigh Bardugo book and I cannot believe how long it has taken me to read one of her books? I’ve heard so much about this author and so I went in expecting something outstanding. I enjoyed Ninth House. It’s full of the delicious vibe associated with dark academia, has an edge of horror but also the cosiness of a murder mystery at times. However, I do think this book suffered due to the fact I read it immediately after finishing The Space Between Worlds.

Although a sci-fi, The Space Between Worlds also uses speculative fiction as a device to explore trauma, survival and privilege. And The Space Between Worlds does it so fucking well. Expertly so. And so whilst I see Bardugo’s attempts to tackle issues of class and privilege, I don’t think she managed quite as well as Johnson. I think on any other day, I probably wouldn’t have noticed quite as large a disparity, but purely due to the fact I had literally just read a book that did this particular thing so particularly well, Ninth House suffered in comparison to it.

Ninth House follows Alex Stern, a young woman who can see Grays (ghosts). After she awakens in hospital after a horrific crime, she is offered a position at Yale University, to join Lethe, one of Nine magical secret societies. Lethe are the shepherds, the guardians of magic who prevent the other societies from doing harm. It’s told in two POVs, Alex in the present, investigating a murder on campus, and Darlington, Alex’s tutor from Lethe, whose POV is in the past following Alex when she first joined Yale.

Ninth House is many things: dark academia, murder mystery, horror. I think Bardugo does a great job of combining these elements to make a transfixing atmosphere. I found the history of the secret societies absolutely fascinating, and some of the best parts of this novel fell in these more magical scenes, where Alex and Darlington were interacting with the secret societies in their rituals. From the blood magic to the prognostication, as gorey as they were at times, I was so enthralled by them. During some of the more mundane sections of the plot outside of the secret societies, and particularly nearer the end of the novel, I did feel it began to drag a little. Nearer the end it also felt a little repetitive in the constant cycle of: Alex almost dies, but she doesn’t. Then she almost dies again, but she doesn’t. How many times can someone crack their skull and still not die?!

I did love Alex as a character. I’m on a roll of books with impressively written, exceedingly morally grey, complex female characters, from Priory to The Space Between Worlds to this! I need more characters like this in my life. I loved Alex’s progression from the start of the novel where she’s hiding who she really is as she tries to fit into Yale, but over the course of the book the darkness and violence and anger in her is slowly revealed, please give me more of this vibe in SFF!!! Darlington was also an absolute gem and as I’m sure many others also feel, I wish we’d seen more of him! He felt like such a kind character, full of naive dreams about goodness and being a knight to protect others. I can’t wait for the second novel in this series to get more of him and more of his lightness playing off of Alex’s dark badassness.

Bardugo uses Yale and the secret societies as a way to comment on power and privilege and the way men have used these both to enforce their will on others, as well as to tackle the very current topic of university rape culture. I don’t think Bardugo does this badly, not at all. But I was missing that little extra spark of magic that The Space Between Worlds had. Ninth House tries to explore trauma, some of which is did well: I thought the way it explored how victims are often not believed through the use of perpetrators that no one can see was well done. This was explored both in flashbacks and in the present, when a police officer threatens to expose a video that shows Alex being attacked (by a ghost that no one can see) to discredit her. But I think outside of this example, Ninth House could have gone much further than just a few flashbacks exploring Alex’s past life. And as I said above, I think Ninth House did suffer a bit purely because I read these two books directly after each other and thus could really clearly see the differences in the handling of social commentary and trauma.

All in all, I’m glad I finally read my first Bardugo! Although I had a few issues, I did enjoy this book, the vibe was everything I love about dark academia and the secret societies and the ritualistic magic system were fascinating! I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel.

#5OnMyTBR: Summer reads

#5OnMyTBR is a bookish meme hosted by E. @ Local Bee Hunter’s Nook and you can learn more about it here or in the post announcing it. It occurs every Monday when we post about 5 books on our TBR. Thank you E. for the awesome graphic for these posts as well!

Hi everyone,

We’re onto week 2 of the new lockdown in Melbourne and I’ve decided to start a new hobby to try keep me more upbeat in the current situation: candle making! I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my candle kit. I bought some black dye as well so I can make goth candles and I can’t wait!

This week’s #5OnMyTBR theme is summer reads, which may be more difficult for me because it’s the middle of a rather cold winter here and thus I have forgotten what sunshine and vitamin D feels like. But more importantly: despite the fact I work in publishing, I still wouldn’t even be able to tell you what a summer read is. Something that’s relaxing and pleasurable to read on a beach? But that’s different for everyone, I cry! So for this, I tried to pick books on my TBR that feel lighthearted, warm, and easy to read, and thus the perfect book to curl up with under the sun!

Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Wen

This YA novel is literally set across a summer, so surely that counts for this theme! It follows teen Ever Wong whose parents send her to Taiwan for the summer to study Mandarin. However the program she’s been sent to is less late night study and more late night clubbing as over-achieving kids let loose.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

This book sounds the lightest of the stack of SFF I have on my TBR, gifted to me by my lovely cat for mother’s day (yes, pets give gifts in this household). It is a Sherlock Holmes retelling with a female, pansexual sorceress Holmes and a trans Watson, and it’s full of sharks, gods, vampires and pirates! Aka: FUN.

Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr

Donuts = summer. I don’t make the rules…. Please Don’t Hug Me is a #LoveOzYA contemporary with ownvoices autism rep, written entirely in letters from Erin, a teen on the edge of adulthood struggling to accept herself, to her brother.

In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard

Novellas feel like such as summer read because they’re usually quick and easy to get into and therefore make for a relaxing read on the beach! In the Vanisher’s Palace is one I’ve been meaning to read for so long but I finally picked up a copy. It’s a dark f/f Beauty and the Beast retelling if the beast were a dragon!

Ravensong by T.J Klune

I read Wolfsong in the Australian summer last year next to a pool in the sunshine and therefore it only makes sense that I put the second one in this series onto this summer reads list! I got about halfway through this and then got distracted by other books and never went back to it. But Ravensong is book 2 in Klune’s Green Creek series, which follows a pack of werewolves and their run ins with local witches. Whilst the first book followed Ox, Ravensong follows Ox’s friend and father figure Gordo.

That’s it for this week! I’m pretty sure that everyone else’s lists will be much more summery than mine because I tend to go for more intense, heavy duty fantasy books than light summer reads. But now I’ll go back to dreaming about sunshine whilst shivering on my couch because Australia has terrible building insulation!