#5OnMyTBR: Classics

Hi everyone,

I have been waiting for this week’s #5OnMyTBR because I’ve wanted to talk about several of these on previous weeks but thought I’d save them all for today’s classics theme! I’m doing the Gothtober readathon in October, a readathon celebrating gothic fiction, and several of these are on my TBR for it, I can’t wait to read some new gothic classics as well as reread some favourites.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca is one of my new classics, I’ve never actually read it. But, I want to read it before the Netflix film release near the end of October because I’m very much someone who needs to read the book before they watch something. I’m aware of the plot because it’s just one of those books where you kind of know what happens, but that doesn’t make me any less excited to finally read this!

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

This is another I’m planning to read for Gothtober. I have read this one, but it was absolutely years ago and I’m very much due a reread! Oscar Wilde is just such a fascinating person, he’s the one I always choose when I’m asked ‘who from history would you like to have a dinner party with’. One of my most precious books is a collection of his poetry in a hardback with foil that I found in a second hand bookshop and it’s so pretty.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Of course, how could any gothic fiction readathon tbr be complete without Dracula?! This is another of my favourite classics, and is actually the novel I chose to write my dissertation on in my senior year (I pretty much wrote an essay on queer sexuality in Dracula and Carmilla and it was MUCH FUN).

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

The last classic on both this list and on my Gothtober TBR is The Phantom of the Opera, which despite being a HUGE fan of the muscial and the film version with Gerard Butler, I am ashamed to say I’ve never actually read… I will finally be righting this awful wrong in October!

Olivia by Dorothy Strachey

Last but definitely not least is the only non gothic classic on the list, huzzah! Olivia is “considered one of the most subtle and beautifully written lesbian novels of the century” therefore obviously I need to read it.

And those are five classics on my TBR! Are any of your favourite classics on this list? If not, what are your favourites? Let me know in the comments!

The Poppy War book tag

Hi everyone,

Today I’m doing a new book tag, created by the amazing Vee, Nandini and Krisha! They are fellow lovers of The Poppy War and have created a book tag all about this amazing series! Thank you so much for creating this tag, I had the best fun doing it and it has made me even more excited for The Burning God. Thank you also to Nidhi Shetty, the artist who created the header for this book tag, and to the three creators for letting us use this amazing piece of art with our posts!

Fang Runin: Who’s your favourite anti-heroine?

It’s no secret The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson is one of my favourite books of the year so far, and probably my favourite science fiction novel ever. At the heart of this incredible book is Cara! Oh my god I love her. She is definitely an anti-heorine (yes a mere 9% in we get one of the biggest plot twists ever that shows us just how much of an anti-hero she is and how much she’s done to get to her position). She starts out as this woman willing to watch the whole world burn for her survival. I love her and I love this book.

Chosen One Schmosen One: which character deserves more spotlight in your favourite series? 

I just finished reading my ARC of The Ikessar Falcon a week or so ago and OH. MY. GOD. If you like books like The Poppy War that are filled with incredible characters and lots of pain, you’ll love this series! The Ikessar Falcon is the sequel to The Wolf of Oren-Yaro and follows Queen Talyien as she chases after the husband who ran away, whilst watching her queendom slowly crumple underneath her. But the reason I’m mentiong this book is here because of the brilliant and loveliest and sweeest and most resilient character ever: Khine. He is such a light and beautiful relief in a very dark and painful story. And he does star quite a bit, but of course, I just want more of him!! He and Talyien together are just amazing and I love their relationship.

No Stone Left Unturned: who’s your favourite fictional genius?

Obviously Kitay is also very high up this list. But I also love two characters from one of the cleverest science fictions I’ve ever read, A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. This book somehow manages to combine hard scifi, political thriller, murder mystery and a love letter to poetry all in one book. And Ambassador Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass are the two at the heart of this story trying to work out what the actual fuck is going on; and Mahit manages to do this with another person in her head the whole time. It’s one of the most complex novels I’ve, and the way poetry is used as language was just so different and so interesting and so clever that I had to pick these two as my favourite geniuses!

The Epic Descent: What makes you empathize with your favourite morally grey character?

Okay of course I’m going to choose Dara as my favourite morally grey character, from one of my favourite fantasy series The Daevabad trilogy! Why do I emphathise with him? HE WAS ENSLAVED FOR 1000 YEARS AFTER WATCHING EVERYONE HE LOVED DIE, WHO WOULDN’T EMPHATHISE WITH HIM?! (Every one who loves Ali apparently). Anyway I’m still too terrified to read The Empire of Gold, I know more bad things are going to happen to Dara and I don’t know if I can cope.

Mad Gods & Their Maddening Power: what’s your favourite novel about gods and their powers? (Bonus points for dark fiction!) 

I love reading books with very powerful gods, particularly when said book involves those powerful completely losing all control which is what happens in The Unspoken Name by A.K Larkwood! This is a book about a lesbain orc who is supposed to be a sacrifice for her god, but instead runs away with a wizard. One of the civilisations in this world has a religion which believes those who can use magic are in fact gateways to old, venegful gods to come through, so magic users can never afford to lose control and let in the other side. It is such an interesting world, part fantasy and part scifi, it has necromancers and it has a very powerful woman losing control and I LOVE IT.

Immortals & Their Battles: what’s your favourite battle scene? 

Who else could I choose than the incredible Fonda Lee? Fonda Lee writes the best battle scenes in fantasy, and I am in awe of her writing! I am writing a fantasy novel right now and I am horrific at writing battle scenes and I want to beg Lee for her secrets! Her incredible Jade City trilogy is an urban fantasy following the Kaul clan, a crime syndicate in the city of Kekon and their feud with a rival clan. This series is mindblowingly good, it has the best family relationships in fantasy and the way Lee writes battle scenes is so tense and so unpredictable, you really never know who is going to win which I absolutely love.

This Poisonous Beauty: which character do you find as intriguing as you do terrifying?

Calix Leher from The Fever King by Victoria Lee is one of the most terrifyingly evil characters I’ve ever read about. His particular power (which I’m going to avoid mentioning directly for anyone who hasn’t read the book), is just so chilling because how can you ever know what’s real when you’re around him? The history of Leher though is also absolutely fascinating. Lee has small anecdotes and extracts throughout the book which reveal more about Leher – there is a reason why the preorder campaign for the sequel The Electric Heir included a novella about Calix Leher’s time during the war 100 years ago. He is both a fascinating villain, but also one of the most terrifying and evil characters I’ve read about.

Clever Truths & Cleverer Lies: what’s a book rife with political intrigue that you enjoy the mind games of?

Okay I know I’ve already mentioned the Daevabad trilogy but how could I not mention it again for this category about politics?! The City of Brass by S.A Chakraborty is the best political fantasy I’ve read. It’s also the book with the most detailed and extensive political system and history and I adored the depth and detail we got about this world. It’s a slowburn, full of political mindgames as Nahri must try hold her own against the might of the Daevabad empire, run by King Ghassan who only wants to use her name as the last of the Nahids.

A Trio to Reckon With: Whose your favourite fictional trio?

YES it’s the book this tag is all about, I’m ending on the amazing The Poppy War by R.F Kuang! THIS TRIO!! Rin, Kitay and Nezha are each so different but so powerful and I love them all so much individually. Which I find very rare actually. In books with trios such as this, I usually find I much prefer some of them over the others (like in The City of Brass, LOVE Dara and Nahri, detest Ali…) But that is so not the case in The Poppy War! I adore Rin, Kitay and Nezha so much. Rin is one of the best (and most) morally gray characters in SFF. She’s done so much shit wrong, but you can’t help but admire the way she refuses to back down and will keep on fighting. And Kitay, the sweetest angel who is slowly corrupted and twisted by those around him to be used only as a tool for war. And then NEZHA gosh what do I say about Nezha after The Dragon Republic? He’s such a conflicted character and I loved seeing the end result of all these different pulls on his loyalty.

Thank you again to Vee, Nandini and Krisha for creating this book tag, it was so much fun!! And even though I’m terrified for The Burning God, I can’t wait to read it! If you are a The Poppy War fan, consider yourself tagged!

Book review: The Roommate by Rosie Danan

Title: The Roommate by Rosie Danan

Publisher: Berkley

Publication date: 15 September 2020

Genre: Adult | Romance

Page extent: 336 pages

Rating:

Synopsis:

House Rules:
Do your own dishes
Knock before entering the bathroom
Never look up your roommate online

The Wheatons are infamous among the east coast elite for their lack of impulse control, except for their daughter Clara. She’s the consummate socialite: over-achieving, well-mannered, predictable. But every Wheaton has their weakness. When Clara’s childhood crush invites her to move cross-country, the offer is too much to resist. Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true.

After a bait-and-switch, Clara finds herself sharing a lease with a charming stranger. Josh might be a bit too perceptive—not to mention handsome—for comfort, but there’s a good chance he and Clara could have survived sharing a summer sublet if she hadn’t looked him up on the Internet…

Once she learns how Josh has made a name for himself, Clara realizes living with him might make her the Wheaton’s most scandalous story yet. His professional prowess inspires her to take tackling the stigma against female desire into her own hands. They may not agree on much, but Josh and Clara both believe women deserve better sex. What they decide to do about it will change both of their lives, and if they’re lucky, they’ll help everyone else get lucky too.

This was my most anticipated romance of the year and it was everything I wanted it to be! I’m not a huge romance reader so I don’t really know how this compares to others in the genre, but I personally loved it! It has some of the best sex scenes I’ve read, the two characters are adorable, and it’s all about overturning the porn industry to focus on female pleasure!

Let’s start with the characters, I love romances with complete opposites because it always results in hilarious moments and we definitely had that here! Clara is a button-uped rich kid from Greenwich who hasn’t ever stepped a toe out of line, but who moves across the country to chase a childhood crush when she realises she could walk out of the life she was living and nothing would happen. But when she gets across the country, the man she crushes on says he’s going on tour with his band, leaving her alone in the flat with none other than popular porn star, Josh Darling. Josh Darling is confident and sexy and so freaking adorable it hurts and Clara knows he’ll never ever fall for someone like her. But then they get drunk and decide it’s time to topple a porn empire by making their own platform that focuses on partner intimacy and female pleasure. These two humans are just so so different and yet so so perfect together. Josh brings out all of Clara’s confidence and helps her see beyond her self doubt and she does the same for him. They both make each other into these powerhouse individuals who are going to fight for what they want. And what they want is to say fuck you to an exploitative porn corporation.

I loved how sweet and innocent Clara is. I could relate so much to her, she’s so full of self doubt and this horrible self esteem thinking she could never be attractive to someone like Josh. She’s so focused on never letting her family down that she forgets how to live which is just so sad. But Josh comes into her life and helps her get out of her shell and find freedom and joy in life.

And omg THE SEX. HOLY SHIT IT’S HOT. It’s so good, Danan is definitely now one of my favourite sex writers. Every scene was just so different but so powerful and fun. I loved reading from Josh’s POV because he is just so blown away by Clara and it was just so lovely to compare that to Clara’s POV who is so shy and self-hating and all I wanted to do was scream at her to look at this man drooling over her?!?

I also really loved the huge focus on the autonomy of sex workers. It’s a book which explores the exploitative nature of some aspects of the porn industry, but alongside this critique, also places emphasis on the autonomy and choice of sex workers and those in the industry which isn’t usually seen when discussing adult entertainment. It also places so much importance on female pleasure, partner intimacy and sex education. It’s just wonderfully sex positive and I loved reading about this!

This book was everything I wanted. I needed something fun and lighthearted and this is definitely that, Clara and Josh are so incredibly adorable together. It’s so so sexy, but alongside this fun, lighthearted romance is a great exploration of sex work, both the exploitative nature of the industry at times but alongside a positive and empowering portrayal of sex workers.

Book review: The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

Title: The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

Publisher: Erewhon

Publication date: 15 September 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 400 pages

Rating:

Synopsis: An outcast teenage lesbian witch finds her coven hidden amongst the popular girls in her school, and performs some seriously badass magic in the process.

Skulking near the bottom of West High’s social pyramid, Sideways Pike lurks under the bleachers doing magic tricks for Coke bottles. As a witch, lesbian, and lifelong outsider, she’s had a hard time making friends. But when the three most popular girls pay her $40 to cast a spell at their Halloween party, Sideways gets swept into a new clique. The unholy trinity are dangerous angels, sugar-coated rattlesnakes, and now–unbelievably–Sideways’ best friends.

Together, the four bond to form a ferocious and powerful coven. They plan parties, cast curses on dudebros, try to find Sideways a girlfriend, and elude the fundamentalist witch hunters hellbent on stealing their magic. But for Sideways, the hardest part is the whole ‘having friends’ thing. Who knew that balancing human interaction with supernatural peril could be so complicated?

Rich with the urgency of feral youth, The Scapegracers explores growing up and complex female friendship with all the rage of a teenage girl. It subverts the trope of competitive mean girls and instead portrays a mercilessly supportive clique of diverse and vivid characters. It is an atmospheric, voice-driven novel of the occult, and the first of a three-book series.

The Scapegracers is a the gayest, witchiest book in the world and I loved every second of it. Whilst it is more of a slowburn plotwise, the focus on the characters and this deep connection that is formed between the four witches in the new coven was so brilliant. It completely subverts the mean girl trope and I found it one of the most refreshing and exciting portrayals of female friendship that I’ve read in a long time.

The Scapegracers follows Sideways, a lesbian witch who is invited to perform her magic at a party organised by three popular girls who want their party to be the spookiest in memory at the school. But instead of just getting a killer cool bit of magic out of it, the new coven finds friendship and support like never before. The four of them team up to help Sideways with her new crush, as well as fight off the modern day witchhunters who want to take their magic from them.

The Scapegracers is a slow book, I won’t deny it. There isn’t a clear enemy or plot across the book as you would expect from a YA fantasy novel. Instead, this book is more of an exploration of friendship with a side of fantasy as the girls investigate and try out their new powers. And whilst I wasn’t expecting that, I loved this surprise! The Scapegracers has one of the best portrayals of female friendship I’ve ever seen. Clarke has taken the trope of mean, popular school girls, and thrown everything you think about them into the bin. Here, these girls are so supportive, so badass and the way they take Sideways into their group is so incredibly beautiful and heartwarming. It’s done so well that I found myself tearing up when Sideways is just in awe that these beautiful, loving people want to be her friend because she’s so fucked up from being so alone. I also loved that these girls were allowed to embrace their femininity if they wanted and it was amazing because they can still be badass witches too? So often, YA fantasy has to feature “girls who aren’t like other girls”, ones who need to throw away their femininity in order to be cool and kick butts with magic. But The Scapegracers is just the opposite of that in every way: here are these girls who love make up, who wear tight dresses, who flirt, but can still kick butts with magic. More of this in fantasy please!

I also want to praise the casual queerness in the book which was so great to see. We have a lesbain main character, bisexual and queer side characters, and Sideways has two dads! And that leads me to my second favourite part of this book: Sideways is so. fucking. gay. She is such a clueless lesbian, it is amazing. I loved her pure awed joy when interacting with Madeline, which lead to lines like this: “Hell, if Madeline offered to beat me up, I’d probably weep with joy and give her a hearty tip when she was done” and “She wanted my number in a potentially gay way. Oh God, I wanted to die.” I couldn’t help but laugh at her, she’s such a great character who is a complete mess when she has a crush and it was so great to see.

I enjoyed the bringing of witchhunters into the modern world. Although it was only a small section, I loved finding out about the history of these witchhunters, it was so fascinating how they came to be and how they track witches. The reason I didn’t give this a full of five stars is because it did slow quite a lot, particularly in the middle of the book, when the witchhunters seemed to disappear. I think they could have been a bit more prominent to add a sense of tension and urgency to the book as they were a great, creepy villain!

All in all, I really loved this book! I’ve been having a bad run with YA fantasy this year, but because this was so different to what I expected from YA fantasy, it resulted in something so much better than I hoped for! The Scapegracers is a really lovely look at female friendships and had such a kickass group of queer witches, so much casual queerness, and a clueless lesbain crushing so bad it made for the funniest lines. Highly recommend this one!

#5OnMyTBR: Red covers

#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,

It’s another one of my favourite weeks on #5OnMyTBR! I love cover prompts because I get to look at gorgeous covers and the posts always look so beautiful and cohesive. I actually did struggle a bit with red covers though, it turns out I don’t actually have that many books with red covers on my owned TBR right now! So some are maybe more pink than red…another a bit orange….one is half blue… Clearly I need to buy more books with red covers!

A Burning by Mega Majumdar

A Burning is a literary fiction novel set in India about a Muslim girl from the slums who is imprisoned for a terrorist attack thanks to a careless comment on social media. I’ve been trying to read more widely genre wise this year, so this is one of the books I bought to explore more adult lit fic!

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

This month I’m aiming to get all outstanding 2020 ARCs read, and this is the one I’m most excited to get to! It’s about an artist who is recruited to paint the mystical sygils on the government’s automaton soldiers. But when they discover how the paint is created, they say fuck the government and steal an automaton dragon.

Proxy by Alex London

I’ve had a copy of this for a while and I really need to find time to read it! It’s about a world where rich people have “proxy’s”, people who take all their punishments for them. Knox is a rich kid, Syd is his proxy. And the two run away together to try beat the system after Knox kills someone and Syd is branded and sentenced to death.

The Red Threads of Fortune by Neon Yang

I read and adored Neon’s Yang’s novella The Black Tides of Heaven, which is the first in a four part novella series. I immediately bought the following three after I read it but I still haven’t found time to read them! The Red Threads of Fortune is the second in the series and follows the twin of the main character from the first book.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Okay yes, this cover is definitely more pink but I ran out of red covers. This verse novel is about a boy coming to terms with his identity as a mixed race gay teen who finds himself through drag at university.

So yes I totally failed this week. There’s two vaguely pink covers, an orangey one and then one that’s half blue.. Oh dear. I promise I will do better next week! Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments!

Folklore book tag

Hi everyone,

Today I’m coming to you with such a fun book tag! I’m a new Taylor Swift fan, I’ll admit I hadn’t ever really listened to her until Folklore, which is much more my style of music! So I was so excited when I saw this tag on Laura’s blog (The Book Corps!) This tag was created by Ilsa @ A Whisper Of Ink, so check out their post too!

Obviously before I start the books, I did want to talk about my favourite Folklore songs! I feel like I will get absolutely trashed for this order, because I haven’t seen a single other person say epiphany is their favourite…

Folklore favourites order:

  1. epiphany
  2. my tears ricochet
  3. this is me trying
  4. cardigan
  5. exile
  6. the last great american dynasty
  7. august
  8. illicit affairs
  9. betty
  10. hoax
  11. invisible strings
  12. the 1
  13. mirrorball
  14. mad woman
  15. seven
  16. peace

Okay so when I first read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, a retelling of the Achilles and Patroclus Greek myth, I wasn’t actually aware of how the myth ended (I KNOW). So you can imagine the utter pain and heartbreak I experienced with this ending. I think I was in shock for like a week, that unable to comprehend what the fuck had just happened.

I feel like literally every single book by T.J Klune could fit this list. I tossed between The House in the Cerulean Sea or Wolfsong but I decided to go for The House in the Cerulean Sea as I’ve read it more recently and therefore both the happy and sad feelings are still very strong. This is such a soft and beautiful story about queer found family (the happy), but I was also so heartbroken over Linus, who felt so worthless and hopeless, it just absolutely killed me and felt far too close to home (the sad), so this one definitely fills this prompt!

The City of Brass by S. A Chakraborty is one of my alltime favourite books (and the start of one of my favourite fantasy series). It has such a huge, expansive, incredibly detailed, fascinating political system and history behind this world, which is why I chose it for this category! It blew my mind when I first read this!

I don’t think there’s any surprise as to why The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is the book I wish I hadn’t read. It’s the only book by Mackenzi Lee that I’ve read, but thanks to her long list of recent behaviour, I really rather wish I hadn’t given her any money and read this one.

I’m really not one to cry uncontrollably at books. But I do get very very teary and I got very teary multiple times throughout Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian, so much my face ached from clenching to hold back tears. This book set during the 1980s AIDS crisis and follows three teens and there relationships with one of their uncle’s, who has AIDS. It’s a book just so full of emotion, so raw and will definitely cause tears!

As a queer teen growing up in a Christian household where I was told “I’ll pray for you” when I came out, good god I needed Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley when I was a kid. This book is all about the intersection of bisexuality, faith and queerness and it gave me so much strength as an adult reading this.

Yes I was an odd child. Instead of reading kids books, I would obsessively read and reread through my mother’s entire Poirot collection. I loved these books (and loved them even more after David Suchet brought the Poirot books onto our screens!) My favourites were The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Death on the Nile, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, and Five Little Pigs.

How can you not think of summer when you see this absolutely gorgeous cover? It’s so bright and full of love and embodies summer for me! Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender is just such a personal story and one I identified with so much. Whilst it touches on some dark topics, it’s also so full of hope and joy and love for yourself.

Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist is one of my favourite YA fantasies. It’s about a girl who sees the death of a person in all it’s horrific, vivid glory whenever she touches them. It’s an awful power to have and Berquist really explores the very deep lonliness that accompanies that kind of magic. I just really loved how willing this book was to show magic in such a negative light. It is so devastatingly sad and lonely, the main character has depression and is completely alone as she can’t handle seeing the deaths of those she loves whenever they brush against her. It’s also a pretty epic thriller and has a ghost f/f romance!

Could anything match the book hangover that Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia gave me? I don’t think so!! It’s my favourite book of the year. I would read it every night before bed (terrible decision for this very creepy, gothic horror book), would spend all night dreaming weird dreams and wake up absolutely dying to get back into it. It’s just so fucking amazing, and I think it’s going to be hard pushed to find another book that comes close to how much I adored it this year. Took me days to recover and work up the courage to eat mushrooms again.

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram is one of my favourite contemporary books. It definitely came into my life at the exact right time, just before I started seeing a psychologist for my depression and it really helped me come to terms with my own mental health, and I really appreciated the way it portrayed the normality of actually being treated for depression and having two characters who take antidepressants daily, I loved the way it focused on relationships and how you can lose someone to depression in other ways than suicide. It was just such a powerful book and really helped me at the exact moment I needed help so THANK YOU ADIB KHORRAM.

What other female character could I choose than Rin from The Poppy War by R.F Kuang?! She is such an incredible character. I love how deeply, deeply flawed she is. I love her descent to villainy. I love her determination. I love her sheer infatuation with the empress. She is such a morally gray character who is written so exceptionally well and I can’t wait to find out what happens to her in The Burning God (even if I am also completely terrified….)

I have been loving getting into horror this past year and I had so many choices for this one! But I went for The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling because I feel like haunting implies something really unsettling and and atmospheric and I really get that vibe in The Luminous Dead. It’s all about a character trapped in a caving system who is slowly losing her mind as she’s alone for so long and it’s just such a creepy, unsettling and haunting book to see such a strong character break down so much and never really knowing what’s real and what isn’t.

Cara and Dell from The Space Between Worlds are so full of yearning!! Cara thinks Dell doesn’t like her but keeps trying to flirt to get a rise, and Dell sometimes flirts back but Cara never really knows what to make of it and these two fools are just so clearly yearning for the other but won’t do anything about it and then there’s a bit of a twist that explains why they aren’t and it’s just so full of angst!!! I love it.

I would die for all of characters from The Fever King!! They’re one of my favourite casts of characters: Noam, Dara, Aymes, Taye and Bethany. They are all so broken but still so fierce and powerful and I love each and every one of them!

Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles is comped to Phantom of the Opera and Moulin Rouge which are pretty much my two favourite films so I was devastated when I didn’t love this because I was so sure it was going to be one of my favourites of the year. The plot was just a bit lacking for me and whilst the poetic langauge is gorgeous at times, it felt very repetitive.

I have absolutely no idea who is or isn’t a Taylor Swift fan, so if you loved her recent album, then I tag you! Even if you’re a newbie fan like me because this tag was so much fun to do, thank you Ilsa!

Book review: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Title: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: 8 September 2020

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 448 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne. The Bone Shard Daughter marks the debut of a major new voice in epic fantasy.

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for providing me an advanced copy of The Bone Shard Daughter in exchange for an honest review.

Welcome to your new favourite fantasy world! The Bone Shard Daughter is a slowburn fantasy with such an interesting world (where islands move and sink!), a very fun magic system (using shards of people’s skulls!) and has a cast of brilliant characters (MEPHI, MY SWEET BABY ANGEL!)

From the blurb, I went into The Bone Shard Daughter expecting a story of power and privilege as daughter of the emperor Lin tried to take the throne from the father. And we do get that. But what was unexpected was this whole host of other POVs that made this world even better than I anticipated! It did through me off a bit at the start as I’d gone in with such different expectations to what we got, but I really loved these other characters by the end of the book. We follow five main POVs throughout:

  • Lin, the daughter of the emperor who recovered from a serious illness five years ago, but lost all the memories of her childhood. Her father now pits her against foster brother Bayan as the two compete to see who can learn most about bone shard magic and be named their father’s heir.
  • Jovis, a burly smuggler desperate to find his wife who disappeared seven years ago. Helping children escape the tithing festival, where they give away part of their skull bone to the emperor for his bone magic constructs, he runs into Mephi, a bedraggled looking kitten who just so turns out to be something else entirely.
  • Phalue, the daughter of a governor on one of the islands around the Empire, whose long term partner Ramani has wound up involved with the Shardless Few, a group who want to take down the Empire.
  • Ramani herself, who has to grapple with her love for a woman in a position in power who doesn’t seem to understand the depths of suffering in the lower classes.
  • And then there’s Sand, an outsider point of view at the far reaches of the Empire, who falls out of a mango tree and realises something odd about her island.

I had times when each of these POVs were my favourite, so it’s difficult to say who I liked best. Though I’m certainly not complaining, as big multi-POV fantasies like this one often suffer from a ‘this other character has a much more interesting POV and I don’t care about the rest at all.’ The Bone Shard Daughter was not like that. At the start, I found myself dying to know more about Lin, as she started her discovery and exploration of this very cool magic system that allowed bone shards to be created in constructs to protect the Empire. But then I was blown away and drawn into this mystery on Sand’s island, longing to know more about what the fuck was happening. Then Ramani and Phalue, this amazing f/f relationship who love each other but are struggling to resolve their morality and positions. But by the end, I think I was most in love with Jovis (which actually very much surprised me, because he starts out very rude and gruff and a unwilling to help, and almost left poor little Mephi in the sea). But by the end I cherished the strong love that had developed between Jovis and his magical animal companion Mephi, I adored the way his love for his wife drove his actions so much, the beauty of his emotion and heart break clear on every page. So there really wasn’t a single POV I wasn’t interested in and didn’t want to know more about!

The magic system is definitely one of the coolest in any book I’ve read this year. Parts of people’s SKULLS are used to power constructs to defend the empire? And citizens are forced to give their bones? But it means if your shard is in use, at some point you will grow suddenly weak and sick and no longer be able to function. This system made for such an interesting power dynamic, one that could really explore the experiences between the nobility and the working class. This was particularly apparent with Lin and Phalue, who had to challenge themselves and their role in power, and see how far they were willing to go to. For Lin especially, as a wielder of bone shard magic, the magic she must learn to use to win over her father, she was faced with the knowledge that by using these shards and using the working class as a stepping stone to power, she wasn’t really any different to her awful father. Her journey and development as she had to come to terms with this was one of my favourite parts of the book.

As much as I loved the magic system, the reason I didn’t give this a full five stars is also the magic system. There seemed to be some inconsistencies and I was rather confused about how this magic that took time and patience to wield could somehow be instantaneously used in the middle of battle? The battle scenes used this magic in a way that seemed to ignore time? As this was an ARC, I’m hoping this might be improved by the final book, but I was very confused about how a magic that requires time to actually work was suddenly either being used immediately in the heat of battle (and thus made no sense with the rest of the book), or the opponent’s simply sat around waiting for you to complete it before attacking (which makes equally little sense). It brought me right out of the story which was really disappointing because I’d been loving every minute until then.

But overall, I was really impressed with The Bone Shard Daughter! It has one of my favourite ensemble casts, each of their POVs were so interesting in their own ways, and this world, with islands that can move and sink and magic that is wielded with people’s skulls, made for a very exciting fantasy debut! And of course I will devour the sequel whenever it releases.

Blog tour and review: Iron Heart by Nina Varela

Hi everyone,

I’m here today with such an exciting post, it’s my stop on the blog tour for Iron Heart! Iron Heart is the sequel to the incredible sapphic science fantasy novel Crier’s War. Thank you so much to Shealea at Caffeine Book Tours, HarperTeen and Nina Varela for allowing me to scream excitedly about this book on this tour! You are in for such a treat with this sequel! Do check out the rest of the tour stops all week long, you can view the tour schedule here.

Title: Iron Heart

Author: Nina Varela

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication date: 08 September 2020

Genres: Young Adult | Fantasy | Science Fiction

Rating:

Synopsis:

An unstoppable love between two girls—one human, one Made—both set on destroying the Iron Heart.

For too long the cruel, beautiful Automae have lorded over the kingdom of Rabu, oppressing the humans who live there. But the human revolution is on the rise, and at its heart is Ayla. Once handmaiden, now fugitive, Ayla escaped the palace of Lady Crier, the girl Ayla had planned to kill . . . but instead fell in love with. Now Ayla has pledged her allegiance to Queen Junn, whom she believes can accomplish the ultimate goal of the human rebellion: destroy the Iron Heart. Without it, the Automae will be weakened to the point of extinction.

But playing at Ayla’s memory are the powerful feelings she developed for Crier. And unbeknownst to her, Crier has also fled the palace, taking up among travelling rebels, determined to find and protect Ayla.

As their paths collide, neither are prepared for the dark secret underlying the Iron Heart.

In this stunning sequel to acclaimed author Nina Varela’s Crier’s War, the love that launched a revolution must now pave the way for a whole new era…and the ultimate change of heart.

You can purchase your own copy of Iron Heart at Amazon, B&N, Book Depository, IndieBound, or your own favourite local bookshop!

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Bio: Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays, short fiction, poetry, and novels. In May 2017, she graduated magna cum laude from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with a BFA in Writing for Screen & Television. Crier’s War was her debut, and this is the sequel. She is originally from Durham, North Carolina, where she grew up on a hippie commune in the middle of the woods. She now lives in Los Angeles.

You can keep uptodate with Nina Varela at the following links: website, Goodreads, Instagram and Twitter

Please note that this review will contain spoilers for the first book in the series, Crier’s War. All quotes are from an advanced reader’s copy so may be changed in the final copy.

Ummmm so where on earth do I start with this book?! It’s probably one of my favourite sequels ever! I love it even more than Crier’s War, it went in a direction I never really expected and oh my god, it’s so, so gay. I am in love.

Iron Heart picks up where Crier’s War left off: Ayla and Benji are on their way to Varn to ally with the Mad Queen; Crier is betrothed to Scyre Kinok and waiting to be married. Meanwhile, Scyre Kinok’s alternative to Heartstone continues to wreck havoc on his followers and Crier and Ayla must find find a way to stop him.

All I have to say is wow. I wasn’t sure what we were going to expect in this sequel, but it certainly wasn’t what we got. But I loved it! I’m going to attempt to talk about this in some semblance of an order so here are some headings to assist.

Things got dark

This is probably the main element giving me the ‘I did not expect this’ vibe. But Iron Heart got so dark, it almost had a horror vibe at times which is of course why I’m so absolutely in love with this!! Let’s start with the shades, these creepy, terrifying creatures: goodness they are horrific! I absolutely adore the kind of ‘creature that is quite clearly dead but yet still fights on and on and will never, ever stop’. There is just something so spinechillingly creepy about it. Varela’s descriptions were so fantastic. They are definitely creepy and gross, and there is a MAJOR content warning for body horror. But I found the way the shades were described with their broken limbs, black veins and caved in heads, just so disgustingly fantastic!

The plotline surrounding the Iron Heart and how Heartstone was made also got rreeeal dark and I absolutely loved it. It was so unexpected, I was shook. There’s a moment in a room where Crier just freezes as she realises the truth and then you freeze when you realise what she’s realised, it was just amazing. Where Crier’s War was perhaps a little lighter, based within the safety of the palace, now that Ayla and Crier have left the confines of the palace, they are faced with a world darker than even I, someone who reads a lot of dark books, had anticipated.

Things got real gay

Crier oh Crier my sweet, sweet Crier. The love she has for Ayla is seriously unmatched. This Automa is literally fighting to the death and all she can think about is Ayla. It is so funny but also so sweet and tender. Meanwhile there’s Ayla who’s refusing to think about Crier at all even though she’ll see random day to day objects like a hairbrush or a bathtub and immediately think about Crier. The way these two are so constantly in the other’s thoughts was just adorable and so so beautiful. And their reunion scene is one of my favourites in the book. The horror and shock and disbelief is hilarious to read and also it’s just really really gay. There are so many moments of soft queer yearning and longing and glancing looks and holding hands and constantly checking back to make sure the other is okay, I love them to pieces. This book just gives us sapphic joy and I love it.

Other characters

I loved that we got to spend a bit more time with characters we didn’t get to see as much of in the first book, particularly Queen Junn of Varn, the Mad Queen, the Bone Eater. We saw her briefly in Crier’s War but she plays a much more important role in this book. I love seeing female monarchs kicking butts and ruling shit and Junn, as a queen who had to take the throne whilst still a teenager, is that to a tee. She’s had to build this air of ferocity and madness in an attempt to get people to fear her because it’s the only way they’d listen to a young woman. I also appreciated getting to see more of Storme and hear his backstory finally about how the heck he survived the village raid and made it to Queen Junn’s court. There’s also some really sweet anecdotes about the relationship between Junn and Storme, and despite it being such a small part of the book, the hidden story of how they met is really touching and beautiful. I’m still not a Benji fan however. Benji, can you seriously stop harassing Ayla for being in love with Crier, WHO WOULDN’T LOVE HER.

Alchemy

We also get a deeper look into alchemy in this book! I really loved the extra worldbuilding details added thanks to our time spent in Queen Junn’s court. I really love small worldbuilding details in fantasy, so there were some really interesting alchemy creations that I appreciated, like the little birds that flew about to stop intruders. We also got a better look at alchemy in the search for Yora’s heart, that mysterious substance from the first book which we learned powered the very first Automa. I would still have liked to see more of this, but that’s because I’m a big fan of very intricate and detailed adult fantasies and so love exploring new and exciting sciences or magics or religions – I always want more of it!

So all in all, I really loved Iron Heart! I enjoyed Crier’s War but loved this sequel even more. The darkness was unexpected but that’s part of what made me love this book as it provided such a deadly, tense atmosphere for the book. And finally, of course Crier and Ayla’s relationship continued to be both the sweetest and gayest relationship in YA and I will love them forever.

#5OnMyTBR: Autmum 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,

It’s offically September which means it’s finally getting warm again here in Australia!! Bring on Spring and sunshine! Even though this week’s theme is all about autumn, and I’m currently heading into Spring, there is one thing in common with autumn in the Northern hemisphere: SPOOKY SEASON. This week’s theme is all about autumn reads, and nothing feels more autumn to me than reading spooky, ghostly, horror reads for all of October. So here’s some autumny spooky reads I’ll be reading over the next few months.

This October I’m participating in the Gothtober readathon which is a readathon celebrating gothic fiction, and I’m planning to read a lot of gothic classics for that one which would work really well for this theme. However, I actually read the themes ahead for once and we have a classics week in two weeks! So I’m saving all my spooky autumn classics for that week.

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (translated by Jonathan Wright)

Okay but how terrifying and amazing does this sound: it’s a black humour Frankenstein retelling set in US occupied Baghdad where someone collects corpses and stitches them together and accidentally creates a monster who wants to feast on the flesh of criminals.

Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko (translated by Julia Meitov Hersey)

This leans more to the dark academia lane than spooky, but there’s something about dark academia that feels very cosy and Autumny to me? I’ve been meaning to read Vita Nostra for years, finally picked up a copy this year and have still not read it because I am the worst. SOON. It’s all about a strange magic school where if you step out of line, your family pays the price.

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I’ve only read one book by Hargrave so far, The Mercies, and I absolutely loved it so I’m really keen to get to one of her YA books! The Deathless Girls is a sapphic book that tells the story of Dracula’s brides and thus is perfect for spooky season.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeymi

In true spooky gothic fashion, White is for Witching is set at a creepy, mysterious house which does very mysterious things and has generations of women living in its walls. One of the household is more attuned to these spirits than the rest of her family and is slowly leaving them to join the spirits, and one night vanishes completely.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Last one for today is a book that comes out this month! Susanna Clarke is the author of Jonathan Norrell and Dr Strange and her new gothic novel is set in a strange labyrinth house where a terrible truth is unravelling.

That’s my top 5 Autumn reads on my TBR! What kind of books do you associate with Autumn? Let me know in the comments!

Book review: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B Lemberg

Title: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B Lemberg

Publisher: Tachyon Publications

Publication date: 4 September 2020

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 192 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Wind: To match one’s body with one’s heart
Sand: To take the bearer where they wish
Song: In praise of the goddess Bird
Bone: To move unheard in the night

The Surun’ do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But Uiziya now seeks her aunt Benesret in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay.

Among the Khana, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter as scholars. A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother.

As the past catches up to the nameless man, he must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya, and Uiziya must discover how to challenge a tyrant, and weave from deaths that matter.

Set in R. B. Lemberg’s beloved Birdverse, The Four Profound Weaves hearkens to Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. In this breathtaking debut, Lemberg offers a timeless chronicle of claiming one’s identity in a hostile world.

I’ve been having such a good year for novellas, I haven’t read a single bad one and this was no different! Queer novellas are pretty much the only thing giving me life right now.

The Four Profound Weaves is a novella set within R.B Lemberg’s Birdverse series. It follows a nameless man who has recently transitioned, as he searches for a name; and his friend, a weaver, who is searching for her Aunt so she can be taught how to weave from death, the last of the four profound Weaves.

As a newcomer to this series, I won’t lie, I did find the first half quite confusing. There is so much history, mythology and worldbuilding that needed to be crammed into such a small novella and I think I probably would’ve benefited by reading some of the Birdverse series prior to jumping straight into this, just so I had a better understanding of this world. But by the second half, I felt much more comfortable in the world and really enjoyed this!

My absolute favourite thing about this novella is the magic system. Interesting magic systems are of one the best parts of reading fantasy because they’re all so unique, and the fact this one was all about weaving was so cool?? I need more crafts and magic in my life! Weaving magic can be created through four elements: wind, for change; sand, for wanderlust; song, for hope; bones, for death. The way these magics influenced the story and world were so interesting. I found the carpets of change, made from wind, particularly amazing: that these carpets are used by individuals who wish to change their bodies to match their identities is just so cool?!

Which leads me to my second favourite thing about this novella, the exploration of gender, expression and identity. God I really just fucking love books that have magic systems that allow for trans and nonbinary individuals. We have evolved past the need for binary magic systems!! I loved how the nameless man explored his new identity but in a way that took into account the fact he’d lived life as a woman for 60 years? The way he embraced the fact he was a man but also that he’d been raised to trade and explore the world, which would usually be a woman’s role. It was so great to see that acknowledged? That yes he was a man, but you don’t just lose everything that made you who you are for the last 40 years after transitioning?

This was a really great novella. Given the subject matter, there is a great deal of transphobia, dead-naming and misgendering so do be aware of that going in. But I’m definitely very interested in reading more of Lemberg’s work set in the Birdverse!