#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!
This week’s topic for #5OnMyTBR is humour! And I’m pretty sure I might fail again at the theme because I read so few happy books. I do have a few that might be able to fit this theme so here’s half a list of humour, half a list of ‘happiest books I could find on my TBR’.
Laura Steven is the most hilarious author I’ve ever read. Her duology The Exact Opposite of Okayand A Girl Called Shameless just blew me away with how funny they were – and I’m someone who doesn’t read much humour books because I rarely find them actually funny. Steven just published another book, The Love Hypothesis, which follows physics’ genius Caro as she discovers a scientific breakthrough that makes you irresistible to everyone around you.
Hi hello, sci-fi adventure set in an IKEA when two employees (who also happen to be exes) have to venture into a wormhole to retrieve a lost customer and have chaotic queer fun as they do so. This sounds like the biggest fun ever and I can’t wait to read this one!
Lev A.C Rosen has a book publishing this year, Camp, a comedy looking at toxic masculinity within the queer community. But also sounding just as fun in his first YA, Jack of Hearts (and other parts), a brutually honest sex ed class for queer teens in book form!
I am not a huge graphic novel reader (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read one.) But, I adore Emily McGovern, otherwise known as the creator of the My Life As A Background Slytherin comics. I even have a print of one of them on my wall. So when I heard she was releasing her own graphic novel poking fun at Romantic era literature plus vampires, I was 100% on board! From what I’ve seen of this, it looks utterly hilarious and super queer and fun and I seriously need to read my first graphic novel.
Okay, this probably would’ve fit better with last week’s RomCom theme (whoops), but I think this sounds like such a bowl of laughs I’m including it here! Kit Sweetly works as a wench (in modern lingo: waitress) at a medieval themed restaurant. But she doesn’t want to be a wench, she wants to be one of the knights, like her brother. But only boys can be knights. So, when Kit sneakily takes her brother’s place one night, and reveals herself at the end of the show, she shoots to internet fame and glory (and brings down corporate management down on her head).
That’s it for this week’s #5OnMyTBR, which despite being a happy theme, I actually think I managed to do. I can’t wait to see everyone’s lists and actually add some more happy books to my TBR for a change!
How are we all coping this week? I have officially got a week break between my old job and new job which means I have lots of time to get reading – and that’s great because the OWLS are here! Last year, I participated in this readathon and had so much fun, even though I was overseas visiting family for the whole month and couldn’t really be hugely involved.
For those who haven’t heard of the Magical Readathon, it’s created by Book Roast on YouTube. Based on the exams from the Harry Potter series, it has two parts, where we sit OWLs and NEWTs. Book Roast creates a huge careers guide, and for each career gives subjects and grades we need to achieve for it – with each subject (in the OWLs) and each subject AND grade (in the NEWTs) having a seperate prompt. I’ve probably not explained that well at all so do please watch Book Roast’s introduction to the readathon where it is explained much more clearly!
This year, unlike last, I’ll have a bit more time to devote to the readathon so I’m going for a more intense career. I trained for the Librarian career last year, but this year I am going to be a….CURSE BREAKER! Curse Breaker’s need “precision, excellent memory and throughness” but I chose this career mainly because I think these are the subjects I would have chosen if I was at Hogwarrts. For this career I need to get my OWLs in Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Potions and Transfigurations. This year, some really cool additional courses have been added so I’m doing a course in Merpeople Linguistics which also requires an OWL in Herbology.
So without further ado….my TBR! I’m so excited about all these books and have spent a while choosing ones to make this pretty much my favourite TBR for a readathon ever.
Prompt: Heart rune: Heart on the cover or in title
Okay, I admit the heart on the cover is a little bit hidden for this one – but it is there!! The key on the right has a heart in the middle of the end bit, and it’s literally the only book on my TBR that has a heart on the cover so this was my only option for this prompt. Luckily, I loved The Night Circus and I have been meaning to read The Starless Sea since it published last year and so now is the perfect time!
Prompt: Magical properties of number 2: balance/opposition read something outside your usual genre
Last year I read very heavily in YA, but this year I want to make an effort to read more adult fiction, particularly literary fiction. Lit fic for me is always particularly polarising: I either adore a novel, or I dislike it, there’s just simply no middleground which makes it really hard for me to pick books up because I have such a large chance of not really liking it. However, as I have read Garth Greenwell’s first novel What Belongs to You, I have faith that Cleanness will be thought provoking and beautiful, so I can’t wait to read this one.
Prompt: Lumos Maxima: White cover
Grey is a type of white okay. I am so excited to read my first Silvia Moreno-Garcia book. Her other 2020 release, Mexican Gothic, is one of my most anticipated reads of the year, I have her fantasy Gods of Jade and Shadow on my Kindle and I have Untamed Shore! This book sounds incredible, a historical mystery with an edge of literary fiction and an “eerie seaside setting”.
Defence Against the Dark Arts
Prompt: Grindylows: book set at the sea/coast
I’ll raise your book set at the sea with a book set in the sea. I’ve heard really amazing things about this novella about the water breathing descendants of African slave woman who were thrown overseas and my library reservation came in just before all the libraries were closed here, so luckily I have it to read now!
Prompt: Shrinking Solution: book under 150 pages
Finna just gets in under 150 pages, and it sounds like the most fun 144 pages ever: two Ikea employees have to go into a wormhole to retrieve a lost customer. And it just so happens they’re exes. This sounds like pure, chaotic, queer fun!
Prompt: Animagus lecture: book/series that includes shapeshifting
Wolfy horror, yes please! I actually had two Red Riding Hood retellings to choose from, both super dark, horrory retellings so I tossed a coin and this one won!
Prompt: Mimbulus Mibletonoia: book beginning with M
Another of my most anticipated reads of the year, I predict this is going to be on a lot of award lists later in the year. Disturbing, discomforting, and distinctly relevant, I have a feeling it will be a while before I stop thinking about this one.
So that’s it for my “official” Curse Breaker and Merpeople Linguistics TBR, the ones I definitely need to finish. But, because I have a lot more free time this April compared to last year, I’m going to aim for all the OWLs! Here’s my plan for the last few subjects.
Prompt: Night classes: read majority of book when it’s dark outside
Care of Magical Creatures
Prompt: Hippogriffs: creature with a beak on the cover
Prompt: Third eye: assign numbers to your TBR and use a random number generator to pick your read
History of Magic
Prompt: Witch hunts: book featuring witches/wizards
Prompt: Book from the perspective of a muggle (contemporary)
And that’s it for my OWLs TBR! Are you participating? And if so, what career do you plan to go for? I can’t wait to get started on April 1!
Goodreads blurb:Kamai was warned never to open the black door, but she didn’t listen …
Everyone has a soul. Some are beautiful gardens, others are frightening dungeons. Soulwalkers―like Kamai and her mother―can journey into other people’s souls while they sleep.
But no matter where Kamai visits, she sees the black door. It follows her into every soul, and her mother has told her to never, ever open it.
When Kamai touches the door, it is warm and beating, like it has a pulse. When she puts her ear to it, she hears her own name whispered from the other side. And when tragedy strikes, Kamai does the unthinkable: she opens the door.
A.M. Strickland’s imaginative dark fantasy features court intrigue and romance, a main character coming to terms with her asexuality, and twists and turns as a seductive mystery unfolds that endangers not just Kamai’s own soul, but the entire kingdom …
This had all the hallmarks of something I would adore: a villain romance, morally grey characters, soul magic, beautifully descriptive language, awesome queer rep (including biromantic ace rep & trans rep). But, but, but…. I just didn’t click with the writing. Whilst part of it I can probably put down to the constant headache I had the days I read this, I also just think it could have done with a heavier edit. There was a lot of repetition, often long winded description over the same or similar items, and I think this resulted in some unfortunate pacing issues. Too long was spent getting between events with all the description, and then at other times it was if a million different things were happening at once.
What I enjoyed:
the queer rep in this book is poignant and beautifully developed with a huge focus on coming out when you’re safe and secure, and only when you are ready. Both the main character, Kamai, biromantic ace, and Kihan, her trans bodyguard, go through this journey to explore who they are and are allowed to come to terms with their own identity in their own time. Kihan goes by Nikha and she/her for most of the novel, until he feels able to come out and I really appreciated this representation of a more complex coming out than is usually seen in YA.
Vehyn. I’m always such a fan of villains, and I really liked the way Vehyn’s air of mystery developed as the villain. However, as soon as he becomes the romantic plotline, he becomes very problematic (which I will talk about below).
The religion: I’m a huge fan of intricate religious and political systems in fantasy, so it was so great to read so much about the religion, the history of it, and the links to the soul magic.
The concept is amazing! I love the idea between these doors to the soul, and everyone having their own building inside their head that perfectly represents their soul. One of my favourite bits of detail were the descriptions related to each person’s soul, they really helped charactise Kamai’s companions.
What I didn’t enjoy:
Whilst at times the detailed description felt beautiful, there was so much of it, and sometimes we seemed to repeatedly get description of the exact same thing (I felt like there are pages dedicated to the same buildings), it was very repetitive.
This was also true of the inner reflection. Because so much of the time was spent in Kamai’s head, the scenes with Veyhn felt very repetitive.
This was part of what led me to not appreciate the romance as much as I thought I would. Whilst I like Vehyn as a villain, the romance felt under developed (perhaps because all the scenes seemed to be the exact same to me so all merged to one), but also, the relationship is clearly abusive and…you can make a villain romance without that?! I’m all for villain romances, when done well, I love them. But here, it fell into the issues of abuse and grooming and I really didn’t enjoy it.
I could also never get over Razim’s creepy behaviour as a 14 year old trying to get with his 11 year old sister… Just no. I couldn’t stand him the whole way through for this reason. But it seems to just be this thing that’s explained as ‘oh well they’re not really brother and sister so it’s okay that he spends the entire novel trying to fuck her’. It is attempted to explain why near the end, but I still felt very uncomfortable for a lot of the novel.
All in all, there are some great things about this book, but also some not great things. I really appreciate the representation in this book, I think it is handled so well, which makes it so much more difficult for me to highlight some of the things that made me very uncomfortable, because I can see this rep being so needed in YA. It’s definitely a book I can see many people enjoying, but ultimately, I think there were issues with relationship handling, repetition and pacing.
Top 5 Tuesday is created and run by Shanah at Bionic Book Worm. Thank you Shanah for all the work you do on this! You can join the fun by checking out the topics for the month here.
Well we’re slowly descending into lockdown here in Australia as well now. Victoria (the state I live in, in Melbourne) officially annoucned full lockdown for non-essential services on Sunday (literally about 5 minutes before I started writing this post!) As this is the last week at my current job, it does also fill me with lots of anxiety about starting at my next place. Who knows what will happen in the next few weeks. But I’m trying to look on the bright side as much as I possibly can: lunchtime yoga has become a daily exercise in our house; and without a commute I do get a bit more time to sleep which is always good. Whilst our cat is still a bit annoyed and confused about what’s happening, Zoom meetings with pets are always fun.
But to books! For this week’s post, we’re continuing the alphabet with authors beginning with P, Q, R, S and T.
Authors beginning with P
Chana Porter released the wonderful novella The Seep earlier this year, and it’s one of my favourite reads of the year so far. First of all, it had the coolest heroine ever who wears kick-ass biker boots and leather jackets in a world where everyone else wears plants. After a subtle alien invasion, controlled by an entity who gives humans everything they wish for, Trina’s girlfriend wishes she was reborn as a baby again, and leaves Trina devastated. We follow Trina in the aftermath as she tries to find meaning in a world without her love.
Authors beginning with Q
Suprising no one, Q is a really hard letter! I haven’t read any authors beginning with Q, but Kelly Quindlen has a book releasing this year that sounds so much fun! Late to the Party is a queer YA contemporary about Codi, a girl who doesn’t usually go to parties, catching one of the popular kids, Ricky, kissing another boy. They bond and form an unexpected friendship and Ricky begins to introduce Codi to a wild Summer. There’s only one problem: Codi hasn’t told any of her friends about any of it.
Authors beginning with R
R.F Kuang is the author of one of my all-time favourite fantasy series! The third and final novel in this series, The Burning God, is releasing later this year and I SO FUCKING EXCITED. These books are filled with intense drama, twists, so much war, incredible magic, and Rin, one of the greatest, sooooo morally grey characters that has ever been written, along with NEZHA whom I’m still angry with.
Authors beginning with S
S.A Chakraborty & Silvia Moreno Garcia
Two killer authors here! S.A Chakraborty is the author of another of my all-time favourite fantasy series. I am in awe reading her work, I am so emotionally invested and I am terrified for what might happen in The Empire of Gold, which releases in just…three months now?!
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an author I haven’t read yet, though she has TWO of my most anticipated releases of the year. Untamed Shore is ready and waiting for me to read (and I plan to read this during April as one of the prompts for the OWLs Readathon), and Mexican Gothic, a dark, gothic mystery with one of the most beautiful covers of the year, is releasing later in 2020.
Authors beginning with T
Tehlor Kay Mejia
Tehlor Kay Mejia is the author of the incredible f/f duology We Set the Dark on Fire and We Unleash the Merciless Storm. I still haven’t read the sequel yet (it just released in February!) but I can’t wait to read from the POV of Carmen. This series includes a revolution, enemies to lovers, one of the best f/f pairings in fantasy, and a strong focus on immigration, mimicking the current issues in the US. Joining with an author I also featured this month, Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore are releasing a joint novel and it’s going to be amazing!
That’s it for this week. As I said last week, I hope everyone is staying safe out there. Stay strong.
#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!
New weekly book post! Thanks to E. at Local Bee Hunter’s Nook, I am joining #5OnMyTBR. E. has created prompts or you can just chat about some of the books on your TBR. I will probably do a mix of both because there are some genres/prompts I know I won’t have much to talk about. This week’s prompt is RomComs and I am already failing – if anyone saw my Instagram a few days ago, you’ll know I have been struggling to find any books on my shelves that I can read that are happy and funny. I like books that break my heart too much which is definitely not what I want right now. As I don’t have many romcoms on my TBR, I thought I’d talk about a couple of books I need to get read before April – I’m joining in with the OWLs readathon and so have a very strict TBR and need to get these books read before then.
This is one of my most anticipated books of the year, and I can’t wait to dig into this ARC! Not only does this have a stunning green cover, it’s set in the French Revolution (I am a complete sucker for books in this period), disaster queer rag tag team, bisexual love triangle, science and magic! Yes it really does sound that awesome. I can’t wait to start this one!
Road trip! Another ARC on my list of ‘must read these ASAP’ because I am running out of opportunity to read these before pub date. A YA contemporary about friendship and family, on a road trip to Toronto Pride. I read Ryan’s YA thriller Keep This to Yourself last year and whilst this one is sure to have completely different vibes, I’m looking forward to a fun, energetic read!
This is the last ARC I promise! These are all early May releases and since I can’t read them during April as I will be very busy on OWLs readathon reads, I need to get it read like yesterday. This is another super exciting release, one of the many queer witch releases coming! This is a book described as ‘subverting the trope of competitive mean girls’ when outsider lesbian witch finds her coven with the popular girls at school.
This is one of the gifts I received from my new work as a welcome package! Very excited to start, especially as it was longlisted for The Stella Prize, an award celebrating women’s writing in Australia. Nate is stuck in an abusive home, struggling to see how he can escape his upbringing. He writes all his thoughts in journals so he doesn’t scream them aloud, but then his journal goes missing and his words appear grafittied on the side of the local youth centre. This sounds like it’s going to be pretty emotional and I can’t wait to read it!
Ending this week’s 5 on my TBR with a book I’ve been meaning to read since it released in November last year. But this time I mean it! This book is a sneak peak at my OWLs readathon TBR – and I have to read this book, because it is the only book I own that fulfils the particular subject I’m sitting. (If this makes no sense but you’re intrigued, check out the OWLS readathon announcement here). After adoring The Night Circus (which I only read last year, because apparently I can’t ever read a hyped book when it releases), I’m excited to fall in love with another surprising, magical world created by Morgenstern.
That’s it for this week! I’m can’t wait to talk about all the books sitting on my TBR, I have so many and some I can’t really believe I haven’t read yet so maybe this will shame me into doing so. I hope everyone is staying safe, and make sure you do what you need to for your mental health.
In these dark times, I’ve found myself strongly desiring books that are happy, comforting, encouraging or funny. I’m usually a person who adores the books that stab you in the heart, and don’t usually read many happy, calming stories. But I wanted to chat about the few that I have loved: if I, lover and enthusiast of books that will break you, fall in love with a happy book, the book must be pretty damn great!
The Afterward takes the heroic knight quest and twists it on its head. Instead of telling the story of the quest, it takes place after the quest is over. The main focus of the story is what happens to the knights after they’ve completed the quest? It is a slice of life, female centric, character drivem, f/f fantasy. When I read it, I felt so calm when compared to my usual fantasy reads filled with urgency, panic and tension.
I Hope You Get This Message combines the mystery and magic of science fiction with the heavy character driven narratives of contemporary YA. It follows three teens trying to keep their families together, at the end of the world. It is a beautiful, touching and hopeful look at how humanity copes at the end of the world.
One of my more recent reads, Upright Women Wanted was the biggest bundle of fun! Novella length, this was marketed as ‘queer librarian spies on horseback’ and it certainly delivers that! Set in a Western style world, this novella follows Esther as she tries to escape her village by hiding in the back of a librarian’s wagon. What follows is the queerest adventure across the US as Esther discovers what the librarians really do. I really hope we’ll get more books in this world because I loved it and the characters so, so much!
I feel like I’ve spoken a lot about this book recently, and that’s because I’m pretty sure it will contend for one of my favourite books of the year. It is just THE BEST fun! It is a complete breath of fresh air in fantasy. It is the sassiest, snarkiest book with some of my absolute favourite characters. The Library of the Unwritten is all about Hell’s library, where all the unwritten manuscripts are kept. When a character escapes from the book to go meet their writer, Claire, Head Librarian, must hunt the character down and restore them to their manuscript. Of course, nothing goes right, and suddenly Claire finds herself in the midst of a war between heaven and hell. I also want to shout this book out as having the first on page pansexual rep I’ve ever read in fantasy, and so I love it even more.
The Infinite Noise is another slice of life fantasy that blew me away. I came into the book completely new, having never heard of the podcast before. The Infinite Noise expands on characters from the podcast The Bright Sessions, a podcast about people with superpowers going to therapy. It is another character driven story, one about Caleb struggling to control his powers, and Adam, a schoolmate who seems to be able to calm Caleb down when he is struggling for control. Whilst it does have a strong depression plotline, this book is on my comfort read lists because I found it really hopeful and beautiful in the depiction, and I can’t wait to read more books in this world.
I’m sure a lot of people will have already heard of this one, it’s definitely one of the sci-fi books I see most recommended. But that’s because it is incredible! Goodbye heavy technical science ficiton, hello fun, character driven narratives that just so happen to be set in space! This is an absolutely joyous story about the rag-tag crew of the ship Wayfarer as they make their way into a warzone to create a ‘tunnel’ that will allow ships to easily fly there. The characters in this book are just phenomenal, I adored every single one. It is one of the sci-fi books that got me reading in the genre, and I can’t wait to read more like this.
And here’s the other book that got me reading in the genre! Do You Dream of Terra-Two? follows six young adults as they prepare to journey to Terra-Two, a potentially habitable planet. Set on an Earth where the Space Race continued and thrived after 1969, we follow the teens at their academy, where they have trained for this journey most of their lives, to their lives onboard the ship that will take them to Terra-Two. Each of the characters are brilliantly detailed and so realistic, and I loved reading every POV. In multiple POV books, I do often find there are some I just don’t care for and want to skip through, but in this book, I loved all of them! It’s one of my favourite sci-fi’s of all time and I can’t wait to read what Temi Oh writes next.
Witchmark by C.L Polk
I first read this book in the middle of a very stressful week, and it pretty much kept me together. I was completely blown away by the world and characters. I came away and the only word I could think to describe it is completely magical. It felt like magic. There is such a great mystery element, a wonderful romance, and I smiled the whole way through! The world is perfectly reminiscent of Edwardian England, with a twist: magic!
The Exact Opposite of Okay holds position as ‘funniest book I’ve ever read’. Laura Steven is just so fucking hilarious I am in AWE. This book is relevant and so, so current, as main character Izzy fights back when pictures of her having sex with a politician’s son are released. It is both utterly hilarious and a feminist masterpiece.
This was such a fun and wonderful romance! I love love loved it. This is the queer cheerleader romance we have been looking for! Following straight-A cheerleader Sana and wannabe director Rachel, as they have to make a film together. There’s just one problem: Rachel hates Sana because years ago, Sana asked Rachel out and Rachel thought she was making fun of her. I really enjoyed this one, particularly because there was lots of focus on things outside of the romance. Every character had their own stories and own lives and we spent as much time chasing their dreams as we did on the fun romance. Looooooove.
Full Disclosure is another really funny and engaging YA, featuring sass, snark and absolutely full of queerness! The book follows Simone, an HIV positive teen as she starts at a new school and falls in love with Miles. Simone is just one of the best characters in YA: she is so fierce, snarky, confident and vulnerable, she gets shit wrong… But most of all, she sounds like she was written by an actual teen (which she was) and I think that really shines through throughout the book. There is also the most HILARIOUS sex shop scene ever and I will forever love Garrett for writing that.
A new favourite of mine, Only Mostly Devastated published very recently and I so hope this book gets the success it deserves. This is a reimagining of Grease, and imagine pretty much all your favourite 90s/early 00’s romcoms, but super super queer, and you will get this book! Ollie, the main character, feels so familiar: he is an anxious, snarky, sarcastic kid who loves red skittles (IT’S LITERALLY ME?!) and I love him.
This is one of my favourite YA contemporaries, it’s one of the first I read in the genre and so shall always be the level to which I hold all others! Love From A to Z is just one of the greatest love stories ever, following Adam and Zayneb from when they first meet on a plane, carrying the same ‘Marvels and Oddities’ journal, to when they fall in love. Zayneb is another of my favourite characters in YA. She is such a passionate, driven person, fighting to right the wrongs of the world. This book was such a fulfiling and calming read, it was so full of love and hope and strength, and I really urge everyone to read this if you get the chance!
I couldn’t write a list of comfort books without featuring Red, White & Royal Blue. I’m sure there isn’t much I could say about this that you don’t already know. The love story of Alex, bi icon and son of the President of the US, and Prince Henry. I’m SO CLOSE to picking this up and rereading despite the pile of other books I really need to read instead. But this is just the most joyful, most fun, most queer, love story and I adore it.
Another hilarious f/f romance on this list (clearly I have a specific comfort book type). Amelia Westlake is set at a posh, Australian school, and follows Harriet, school prodigy, and Will, school bad girl, as they work together to highlight all the school’s problems. This book is so Australian, I couldn’t stop laughing. The humour is so dry and hilarious, Will and Harriet are so much fun and I really can’t wait to read more from Erin Gough.
On my TBR
I also wanted to shout out some of the books on my TBR which, from what I can see, look to be future comfort reads. I really can’t wait to start all of these and be comforted and calmed in these scary times.
Goodreads blurb: After a storm has killed off all the island’s men, two women in a 1600s Norwegian coastal village struggle to survive against both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft.
Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Northern town of Vardø must fend for themselves.
Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty evil.
As Maren and Ursa are pushed together and are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence.
Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1620 witch trials, The Mercies is a feminist story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization.
The Mercies is an absolutely phenomenal book from the first page to the very last. It is both an incredibly detailed and well researched historical novel, and a stark and destructive picture of the brutality and devilry of human behaviour.
I’m new to Kiran Millwood Hargrave (though I do actually have another of their books on my shelf which I’ll certainly be picking up a lot sooner than anticipated!) But I’m so glad this is the novel I started with, as it is spectacular. The Mercies is inspired by the very real event of the 1617 Vardø storm, a sudden and catastrophic event which killed the majority of the men in a small fishing village in Norway. A village of newly independent women struggle between themselves for power and life in the wake of the tragedy, when to their surprise, a commissioner is brought in to lead them, a witch hunter from Scotland. He is a terrifying figure, one who works to control with his just and merciless Godly ways against “witchcraft” wielded by the indigenous peoples of Vardø.
What was most spectacular about this novel for me was the subtle and inevitable struggle between the women which results in their own downfall. The way the commissioner manipulates the women into turning on each other, destroying their friends, and becoming the despicable devils they fear, is so well done. It was so darkly written – the path to destruction was so brutally obvious and I just wanted to scream at these women to realise what was happening, despite knowing that of course there was no other way for this novel to go. It is both a story of the life of 1620 Vardø, and a depiction of the horrifying nature of humanity.
In contrast to this slow destruction is the blossoming friendship between Maren, one of the young women of the village, and Ursa, the commissioner’s innocent and unworldly wife. They are instantly besotted with one another, though of course neither realises at first, thinking their closeness and wonder of each other merely friendship. Their relationship was delicate and touching, and their love shines through even on the darkest of pages.
The Mercies is an excellently researched historical novel. The sense of setting and the life of those on Vardø is perfectly rendered, and makes for a both haunting yet enchanting setting. I was just completely enthralled.
Each and every character seemed extremely realised and considered. We have: – Maren: a young women of Vardø who is fascinated by Ursa and befriends her. She is a lonely and hurting character, destined to watch the destruction of those she loves and somehow keep living, from the brother and betrothed she lost in the storm, to her mother and Ursa. – Ursa: the young wife of the Commissioner, paid for and given away by her father to travel to the distant north and live as she has never been accustomed to before. Her delicate and nervous nature grows stronger and fiercer as her friendship and love for Maren grows. – Absalom: the terrifying Scottish Commissioner, filled with pride and undisguised glee that God’s will allows him to hunt down witches. – Dinna: destroyed and broken wife of Maren’s dead brother, trying to mother a child, and as one of the Indigenous people, forced to battle hatred and evil as those she lives with come to fear her. – Kirsten: strong and capable Kirsten who takes leadership in the village after the death of the men, who saves them from starvation, and who earns the wrath of those who wish to be in power.
The Mercies is a fabulous historical novel, showing the way fear corrupts even at the very edge of the world, a brutal and honest take at how humans can come to commit atrocities, and a beautiful and touching love story between Maren and Ursa.
Top 5 Tuesday is created and run by Shanah at Bionic Book Worm. Thank you Shanah for all the work you do on this! You can join the fun by checking out the topics for the month here.
I hope everyone is staying safe in the current situation. Today, my office officially closed and I worked from home for the first time. Draco, my lovely kitten, made a fine addition to the team. I won’t lie, I’m very nervous – I’m supposed to be starting a new job in two weeks, but as Australia is a few weeks behind the major outbreak we’re seeing in Italy and saw in China, I don’t really know how that will affect everything. But for now, I’m very glad I don’t have to commute because I can get a little extra sleep! My partner and I are implementing daily lunchtime exercise (yoga today!) to help us keep fit and hopefully reduce mental health stress from social distancing.
This week’s Top 5 Tuesday continues the March theme of authors for each letter of the week, and today we’re looking at letters K – O.
Authors beginning with K
TJ Klune & Adib Khorram
I found TJ Klune last year when I read Wolfsong, the first book in his werewolf romance series – and holy shit I did not expect the complete destruction of my soul as I read it. It was incredible! Every time I mention this author, I get more recommendations for which of his books to read next and I can’t wait to read the rest of his work. Klune has two new books out this year. The House in the Cerulean Sea is an adult fantasy, about a social worker for magical youth who must go to a magical island to investigate an orphanage. The Extraordinaries is Klune’s debut YA, a new take on the superhero story featuring a queer teen with ADHD.
Adib Khorram wrote one of my favourite books of 2019, Darius the Great Is Not Okay. This had such a poignant and relatable mental health story, the most incredible development of a father-son relationship, and a brilliant male friendship at its core. I am SO FREAKING EXCITED we get a sequel. This year, Darius the Great Deserves Better is coming and brings new struggles as Darius tries to work out what he wants for the future. And I think that cover is one of my favourite of 2020. I just adore the colour contrast so much.
Authors beginning with L
Laura Steven is, without a doubt, the funniest writer I’ve ever read. The Exact Opposite of Okay astounded me, because I have never found a novel as funny as I did that. And yet it also manages to be an incredible feminist novel addressing slut shaming and female empowerment alongside the captivating and hilarious main character, Izzy. Izzy’s journey continues in A Girl Called Shameless, and this year we have a new Laura Steven book: The Love Hypothesis, the bisexual romcom I’ve been dreaming of for so long.
Authors beginning with M
Mira Grant & Anna-Marie McLemore
Well these are two rather different authors… Mira Grant (a pseudonym for Seanan McGuire) is a horror writer of the most incredible horror ever! Into the Drowning Deep was one of the first horror novels I’ve ever read, and it is the standard from which I hold all up to now. I think it still remains one of the longest reviews I’ve written (if you’d like to read about how terrifying this novel is, check my review out here!) It was the most intense, terrifying, thrilling book, bringing a fiersome twist to mermaids, is one of my all time favourites, and I’m really due a reread…. (Update: I’ve started rereading. Writing this got me too excited.)
Anna-Marie McLemore is an author I’ve been meaning to read for a while, and whilst I haven’t yet started any of their books yet, I wanted to shout them out as one of the authors I’m most excited to read this year! Anna is one of my favourite book bloggers favourite authors, and I hear so much about them that I really need to just get my act together and start. Dark and Deepest Red, Anna’s newest release, is sitting on my shelf right now and I very much plan on reading it soon.
Authors beginning with N
Another one of my favourite reads of last year, this week’s list is full of my favourites! Like a Love Storyabsolutely blew me away. Set during the 1980s AIDS crisis, it is one of the most emotionally stunning, beautiful uplifting books, the most brilliant tale of friendship and love and the power of life. I would love everyone to pick this book up. I have a full review here!
Authors beginning with O
If I had to think of a book or two I wished I heard more people talking about, I think Do You Dream of Terra-Two? would be one of them. This really kicked me out of a reading slump last year. It was also the very first book I reviewed on this blog, so holds a very special place in my heart. (If you want to see how I’ve progressed – and hopefully I have! – you can read it here.) Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is a heavily character driven science fiction journey, inspired by the 1960s Space Race and set in a world which continued its drive and race to the skies. It feels very similar to sci-fi like Becky Chambers and Emma Newman, in that it brings a strong focus on brilliant, detailed characters, and less of the heavy science. I really loved this one, and I think Temi Oh is going to be a writer to watch in speculative fiction.
That’s it for this week. I have no idea how Australia is going to be doing next week, and I wish so much love and strength to everyone around the world to get through this. Please stay safe out there, and do practice social distancing if you are able to. And try to focus on the bright side: for me, it’s that little bit extra sleep and no need to stuff myself on a awfully humid tram to commute into the city. But find what you can focus on to stay positive in this pretty hellish environment right now.
Goodreads blurb:In the sequel to The Fever King, Noam Álvaro seeks to end tyranny before he becomes a tyrant himself.
Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.
Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.
Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.
Before beginning this review, please note that Victoria Lee has a large list of content warnings for this novel – it is darker than The Fever King so please take note before reading (you can find the list here).
It has been almost four months since I first read The Electric Heir, as I was somehow the luckiest person ever and managed to snag a NetGalley ARC. If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you may have realised The Fever King is my favourite book in the world, and was most definitely my favourite read of 2019. It was always going to be hard to follow up what was one of the most impactful, resonant and utterly captivating novels I’ve ever read. And yet somehow, The Electric Heir stands up to the mantel of its predecessor and manages to be just as entrancing and magnificent as I ever dreamed it could be.
Following from where The Fever King leaves off, we now get both Noam and Dara’s POVs and isn’t that just a joy to behold!! Dara, fine purveyor of pineapple pizzas and goats, is coming back to Carolinia, with one goal: assassinate Calix Leher. Noam meanwhile is determined to build a better society for refugees, even if that means he’ll need to take down another government.
Where The Fever King addresses the immediacy of trauma, The Electric Heir brings a further edge to the discussions and implications of trauma: what happens after? Through both Noam and Dara’s POV, we see the different ways trauma and abuse can impact victims. We see the different behaviours that follow, the different thoughts and opinions, the different forms abuse can take. We see the subtle, mental manipulations crossing paths with the outright physical abuse. But we also see, from start to finish, a book of survival. And that makes The Electric Heir one of the most powerful books I’ve read.
I am just completely in awe of Victoria Lee.
The pacing of this novel is phenomenal. It is tense and action packed but filled with the emotional moments that feel like a knife to the chest in between. This is an extremely hard book to review, because much like The Fever King, all I want to say is THIS IS INCREDIBLE. Even sitting here, writing this review, my heart is pounding as I race to the end, and that is exactly the feeling I had reading The Electric Heir. It is everything I wanted, dreamt of and couldn’t even imagine I needed for the sequel, and end, to this destroying duology.
Goodreads blurb: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
I’ve read a lot of reviews for this book, and they all say it’s one of the most unique science fiction novels they’ve read. And I don’t want to repeat that – but, it’s difficult to find the words to describe this novel otherwise. It is one of the most unique science fiction novels I’ve ever read. It is both murder mystery, political thriller, a love letter to poetry and a science fiction novel.
A Memory Called Empire will not be to everyone’s tastes. It took me 150 pages until I really began to get stuck into the style. Intensely introspective, the book takes place mostly in the mind of the main character, Mahit. Mahit is the Ambassador from an independent outer world mining station, yet to be inhaled into the massive Texicalaan Empire where Mahit serves as Ambassador. Urgently rushed to Texicalaan, Mahit arrives to find her predecessor murdered and herself embroiled in a detailed and complex political battlefield. To save herself, as well as her country, Mahit finds herself in a battle of wits between the players of this political game.
The introspective nature of this novel is hard to get into. Mahit comes from a mining station with advanced neurological technology, where memories and personality can be condensed into technology and placed into others minds – meaning those dead, can survive in the minds of others. Mahit has the memories of her predecessor in her mind, and therefore much of the bulk of this novel takes place in her mind. Her thoughts are as much a battlefield as her interactions with others, as she must discuss and talk with the predecessor embedded inside her. It’s complicated. Like, so fucking complicated. It took me 150 pages to get used to the style, and understandably, many people just won’t want to put the work in to reach enjoyment of a book. But once I did pass the 150 page mark, the style did seem to click into place. I got used to the way the plot weaves unhurridely and unrushed to focus more on Mahit and the political shenanigans around her. I got used to the poetry, the language of Texicalaan and how intensely different it is to any other book I’ve read. And I got so involved in the plot. I sped through the latter half of the novel, desperate to know what the everloving fuck was going on. The political twists and games are just phenomenal, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very last page. It is most definitely not a novel for everyone; but if you can get used to the style, it is a detailed political mystery set in the heart of an overwhelming science fiction empire.
Also, it is SO GAY. The relationship between Mahit and her cultural liaison, is both sweet and hilarious. The two bring a lightness that is needed in such a stylistically heavy book. Their flirting and sarcasm is a joy to behold, their ease with each other, the slow burn romance, their relationship is just a wonderful addition to the book, and one that does a great job at bringing some humour to the empire.
I really enjoyed this one. I’ll admit, at page 50, I almost gave up. I couldn’t get into the writing style, it felt overly complicated, and I considered just putting it down. But some of my favourite bloggers really loved this book, and so I persevered and I am so glad I did. It is definitely not the easiest book to read, it’s ridiculously complex, incredibly politically detailed, but I also thought it an absolutely masterful, completely unique combination of science fiction and art, a love letter to poetry, and a brilliant, creative new world.