Book review: The Library of the Unwritten by A.J Hackwith

Title: The Library of the Unwritten by A.J Hackwith

Publisher: Ace Books

Publication date: 1 October 2019

Genre: Fantasy | Adult

Page extent: 384 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: In the first book in a brilliant new fantasy series, books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell … and Earth.

This book is SO. FUN. I went in thinking wow, what a cool concept, and then it nailed everything and I’m so happy that a book I was anticipating lived up to all my hopes and dreams! Not only is this a fun, queer fantasy about angels and demons and librarians, but it is funny and snarky and I loved it.

Claire is Hell’s Librarian. Controlling the Unwritten Wing, Claire manages the collection of unwritten books, those ideas that an author has not yet written. But sometimes the books come to life. Claire must then hunt down the characters who escape and bring them back to the library. When she visits Earth to track down Hero, a character who escaped to go find his author, she encounters a scrap of paper that claims to be the Devil’s bible, which of course sets off a fight between heaven and hell.

I was immediately entranced with this library and the world. The writing is beautifully detailed and made for a wonderful experience just in the prose. It felt so immersive and I often find that detailed writing like this was brings me out of a story, or makes me struggle to connect – but this definitely didn’t. It was the perfect balance between detail and drama/tension. The story is immediately mysterious and throws out several questions to keep the reader interested and reading on: What’s up with Leto’s random appearance? Why was Brevity kicked out the Muses? Why is Claire so mysterious about the previous Librarian before her? What is the Devil’s Bible? It makes for such an exciting read.

I really enjoyed the exercepts from the Librarian’s handbook at the start of each chapter. Giving insights into the workings of the library as well as hinting at past and future events, much like many more of my recent favourite reads, I love the power these give me! I love knowing things the character might not know about what’s about to happen.

One of my favourite elements was the snark. Oh my god there’s so much snarkiness, I found the writing really funny. I adore snarky, sarcastic characters and there were so many sections I laughed at, then read it immediately aloud, completely out of context, to my partner.

“Lucifer’s our ruler, not a dark wizard, Leto. You can say his name,” Claire muttered.”

I also adored, of course, how inherently queer this world and these characters were. Queerness just existed. It was brought up several times so easily – the word pansexual is used in relation to the main character ( which I think might be the first time I’ve seen that actually written and acknowledged in fantasy?!? Which is awesome?!?), then the fact Hero just openly flirts and blushes with everyone, the way Leto’s back story hints at him being with a guy, it’s just all so wonderfully done. The world also very subtly portrays an Earth that sounds like it actually improved from where we are now. Little things, like the way there’s no guns in the library because humans stopped imagining them, just made it seem a more joyful and hopeful world which I really appreciated.

Our main characters are just as fun and engaging as everything else. We have:
♥️ Claire, our no-nonsense, calm and collected (outwardly…), Librarian, who’s seemingly hiding something about her past relationship with the previous Librarian, as well as her past as an Unwritten Author herself
♥️ Leto, the demon (possibly) who delivered the instruction to go to Earth in the first place, teenage boy who doesn’t know who he is or why he’s here
♥️ Brevity, short bundle of joy in a blue skinned, green haired bundle who must learn to have faith in herself to save the library
♥️ Andras, who of course is going to be odd and eccentric and creepy when he’s called the Arcanist, the mentor figure who trained Claire after the mysterious disappearance of the previous Librarian
♥️ Hero, who I think might be my favourite because I love his sass, the escaped character from the book, who blushes when people flirt with him and learns how to love others across the book, gosh he is such a precious bean and no one must hurt him

We then have the angels, those heaven bound creatures determined to gain control of the Devil’s Bible themselves:
♥️ Ramiel, fallen angel who’s trying to use this quest to get back in the good books with God and get let back inside of heavens gates
♥️ Uriel, the face of God, justice and righteousness, and all around bitch

This unlikely ragtag team must save the library! And the world of course….that too!

The Library of the Unwritten is an absolute joy to read from start to end. I absolutely loved it (can you tell?!) and I feel like this is going to be the novel I spent all year trying to push other people to reading. It’s unashamedly queer and fresh and funny and brings a new story and twist to the library setting. Bring on the sequel!

F/F February: Most anticipated 2020 sapphic releases

Hi everyone,

This February I’ve been participating in FFFebruary, a readathon run by Charlotte (@darashirazi) on Twitter. As well as reading only sapphic books for all of February, I’ve also been posting every day on Instagram to celebrate my favourite f/f books. So continuing this trend, today I want to talk about the 2020 sapphic releases I can’t wait to read! This list is by no means exhaustive, it’s just some of the incredible books coming our way this year!

The Seep by Chana Porter

This book published in January, and my pre-order finally arrived in Australia this week! I’m already half way through and it is such an interesting read. Part social commentary, part alien invasion, The Seep follows trans woman Trina as tries to grieve and recover from when her wife wished to be a baby again, and the aliens give her that wish.

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

Another January release, Scavenge the Stars follows a chaotic bisexual in this genderbend retelling of The Counte of Monte Cristo. Not gonna lie, a woman with a dagger on the cover will always sell a book to me.

Cherry Beach by Laura McPhee-Browne

Cherry Beach is all about the power and love of friendship. Hetty and Ness have been best friends forever, and are now moving from Melbourne to Toronto. But Ness has a secret: she’s hopelessly in love with Hetty. In Toronto, in contrast to their life growing up, Hetty’s life seems to disintegrate, whilst Ness meets Hope. But as Hetty falls apart, Ness might lose the person she loves most. This dark, sapphic book just sounds so incredible! Publishing: February 4

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

This is the first of Gailey’s 2020 releases and it is a good one!!! Queer librarian spies on horseback trying to save the world from fascists with resistance propaganda in a Western style setting. Publishing: February 4

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Mercies is inspired by the true events of the Vardø storm, which wiped out all the men of Vardø, and the 1620 witch trials. A witchhunter Scotsman and his wife, Maren, travel to Vardø to find the women independent and free. As Maren grows close to one of the women, the witchhunter sees evil and seeks to rule. I can’t wait for this feminist, witchy novel about love and evil to arrive. Publishing: February 11

The Unspoken Name by A.K Larkwood

Csorwe knows when she’s going to die. She’s a sacrifice to her gods. But on the day she’s supposed to die, a powerful mage offers her freedom to follow him, and become his sworn shield, assassin and thief. Also including a very slow burn f/f romance! Publishing: February 11

We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia

This sequel to 2019’s excellent We Set the Dark on Fire is one I can’t wait for! After We Set the Dark on Fire was written from Dani’s POV, We Unleash the Merciless Storm looks to Carmen and her role in the rebellion. Publishing: February 25

The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

This is set in the same universe as The Winner’s Trilogy (which I haven’t actually read so know nothing about). But sapphic fantasy is always high on my list to read so here this is! Nirrim is one of the low-class inhabitants of the Ward. There, she cannot wear colour or eat sweets. When she encounters Sid, a traveller who brings rumours of magic, she is persuaded to seek the magic for herself. Publishing: March 3

Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer

2020 is the year of queer witches, and this is just one of them! This one sounds particularly intriguing to me as it’s inspired by Celtic mythology, features a bi teen in a conservative small Irish town who suffers from somatic OCD, and an infamous serial killer called The Butcher King. Sign me up right now. Publishing: March 3

When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey

The second of Sarah Gailey’s super queer 2020 releases! And what a bad ass cover. A group of queer witches must try to right a wrong (a dead boy) but their magic keeps failing! Publishing: March 3

The Love Hypothesis by Laura Steven

Bi! Romcom! Science! Geek! I adored Laura Steven’s The Exact Opposite of Okay, it holds the award for funniest book I’ve ever read. So of course when she announced a bisexual romcom about a teen who discovers a scientfic breakthrough that makes you irresistible to everyone around you, I have to read it! Publishing: March 5

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

OHHHH this one sounds so good! During WW2, Hetty is tasked with evacuating and looking after the mammals from the natural history museum. At Lockwood Manor, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty finds herself drawn to the mysterious and traumatised daughter of Lord Lockwood, Lucy. But animals start disappearing and Hetty is sure she’s being followed down dark corridors… Publishing: March 10

Don’t You Know I Love You by Laura Bogart

Angelina only just escaped from under her violent fathers’ thumb. But after a car accident, now she’s back. As her father aggressively pushes for an accident settlement, she grows close to Janet, an artist who inspires her to create unsettling art that shows her scars and forces her to face the abuse. Publishing: March 10

Queerleaders by M.B Guel

Cheerleading but make it really really gay: enter this book. Mack doesn’t expect to fit into at school. She’s well used to being different. But now she’s mysteriously become a cheerleader magnet, but is it a set up, or could she actually have a chance at romance? Publishing: March 15

Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

Another one that sounds so incredibly interesting with an odd profession at its heart! Nell works in biological sciences exploring poisons and antidotes. She’s also obsessed with her mentor, Dr Joan, writing journals and research notes dedicated to her, as the lives of her and Joan along with several others become tangled in a web of desire and affairs. Also check out that cover!!! Publishing: March 31

Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran

An f/f romance between a queen and her SPYMASTER?! Hot damn, yes please. Together, they must decide what to sacrifice, for both the kingdom, and each other. Publishing: April 6

Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlan

Codi and her friends spend most of their time inside playing games, not out at parties. But when they decide to crash a party, Codi finds popular kid Ricky, kissing another boy, and the two form an unexpected friendship. As the summer progresses, Ricky takes Codi under his wing and introduces her to popularity, parties, and a cute girl called Lydia. Only problem is, her friends have no idea. Publishing: April 21

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

Another stunning cover!! On a pirate ship, Flora takes the identity Florian to earn respect amongst the crew. But on board, Florian is drawn to passenger Lady Evelyn, who is on her way to an arranged marriage. With witches and mermaids, gender fluidity and Asian folklore, I predict this book will be one of my favourites of the year! Publishing: May 5

Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Nothing beats the description from the author’s Twitter for this one: “pitched as stranger things in the french revolution, there’s an ensemble cast of queer disasters, two girls in love and a bi love triangle. plus strange science, swashbuckling action and a little magic 💀”. THE BI LOVE TRIANGLE IS HERE AND WE LOVE TO SEE IT. Also I lucked out with an ARC for this and I literally cannot get the song “I’ve got a golden ticket” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory out of my head when thinking about this. Publishing: May 5

The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

Lesbian witch forms a coven with three popular girls after she casts a spell for them. This books aims to subvert the traditional ‘cliquey mean girls’ and instead focuses on the strength of female friendship as they fight the witchhunters who want to steal their magic. Publishing: May 12

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

Two teens set up rival businesses, Nishat is celebrating her culture, Flávia is appropriating. But as they get to know each other, Nishat can’t quite get over her crush. Discussions around the intersection of queerness and race by a QPOC! If you support any book this year, support this one! Publishing: May 12

The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert

A 1920’s New Orleans SUPER QUEER historical murder mystery oh my days this is perfect! I give you a tweet from the author:

“🏳️‍🌈MC Millie is bi (hello bi love triangle!)
🏳️‍🌈Her BFF Marion is gay & performs in drag
🏳️‍🌈Her aunt is a lesbian in a committed relationship w/ a woman
🏳️‍🌈They all work in a queer-friendly speakeasy
🏳️‍🌈A few people are straight I guess?”

Also it comps to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mystery and this makes me even more excited!!

Publishing: May 12

I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch

By day: rivals at a competitive Arts Conservatory, fighting for the chance to win a scholarship. By night: unknowingly collaborating with each other on a fanfiction graphic novel. What happens when their online personalities begin to fall in love? Any romcom with fanfiction has me SOLD! Publishing: May 26

Something To Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

A love story about a showrunner and her assistant and what happens when they accidentally spark the paparazzi rumour mill by laughing together on a red carpet. Publishing: May 26

The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska

More of that good enemies to lovers shit but make it S A P P H I C. Each year, the Witch Queen lures a boy back to her palace. But when Lina tries to save her brother from the fate, the friend who helped her is chosen instead. So Lina offers up herself. Enter love stuff. City dying. All the tragic must choose who to save, the city, or each other. I LOVE IT. Publishing: June 2

The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smith

What could possibly go wrong when you make a binding agreement to break up at the end of a summer full of cliched romance? Well, love for one… Publishing: June 9

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

This book explores the life of a woman caught between her culture, religion and sexual identity. From the age of 12, when she was yelled at by a group of men for baring her legs in the biblical city of Bethlehem, through her time in the US, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon, we follow her as she is lead to The Ledge, a treatment facility for “love addiction”. Publishing: June 9

The Lady Upstairs by Halley Sutton

Modern day noir thriller, set in Hollywood, with a sapphic lead who spends her time blackmailing lecherous old men. But when one of her targets ends up dead, she takes on one last job to get out of the game for good. A twist on the feminist revenge story! Publishing: July 14

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite

A historical f/f romance with:

• a grumpy widowed engraver working far too hard to keep her print-shop going until her son is old enough to take over

• a middle-aged lady beekeeper who goes striding about in trousers and loves bucolic poetry

•a Queen on trial in Parliament and the press

•luxuriant English gardens with extremely naughty statues

•satirical ballads about tight pants

•… and more than you probably ever wanted to know about early 19th century beekeeping!

Publishing: July 14

Afterlove by Tanya Byrne

A lesbian love story set in the afterlife! When Ash dies, she becomes a girl-reaper, someone who collects the souls of the dead and takes them to await their fate. But she vows to see her first love again, dead or alive… Publishing: August

Iron Heart by Nina Varela

Crier’s War was one of my favourite sapphic reads last year and I have no doubt Iron Heart will be just as good! Filled with all the enemies to lovers to enemies trope we could ever need, I won’t say much as I don’t want to spoil the first one if you haven’t read it yet. But watch out for this one. Also THAT COVER!! So SHINY. Publishing: September 8

Who I Was With Her by Nita Tyndall

This book has another of my favourite covers, look how gorgeous that pink is!! When Corinne’s secret girlfriend dies, she struggles to mourn for a person no one else knew existed. The only person she can talk to is her dead girlfriend’s ex. A story about making sense of grief and how to be honest with yourself. Publishing: September 15

Burning Roses by S.L Huang

Two queer older ladies, combining Western and Chinese folklore (Red Riding Hood and Hou Yi the Archer). The two must join forces to fight deadly sunbirds, and embark on a quest for immortality. Publishing: September 29

The Archive of the Forgotten by A.J Hackwith

I very recently read the absolutely amazing The Library of the Unwritten and it was one of the most fun fantasy novels I’ve read in years! The sequel is out this October, and we go back to Claire and Brevity, Hero and Ramiel to solve new mysteries in the library. Oh and did I mention Claire is a pansexual librarian which literally just fills me with so much delight because it’s the first time I’ve ever seen pansexual written down in a fantasy novel before?! Publishing: October 6

Beyond the Ruby Veil by Mara Fitzgerald

A “tiny chaos lesbian” accidentally destroys the only person in her town who can create water and now everyone’s f**ked so she has to go save the world. Or burn it down. Publishing: October 13

The Ever Cruel Kingdom by Rin Chupeco

The Never Tilting World was my first Rin Chupeco book and I really enjoyed it! A kingdom split in two, half in unending heat and sun; the other in constant snow and ice; one of twin sisters at the helm in each realm. This is the sequel and will carry on the quest to put the world back together. Publishing: November 10

Ruinsong by Julia Ember

A sapphic phantom of the opera, hell to the yes. Cadence has been forced to torture the nobility with her magic voice, under the rule of her Queen. But when an old friend comes back into her life, she has to decide whether to rebel or become a monster. God this sounds so good. Publishing: November 24

A Miracle of Roses by Diana Pinguicha

This is an f/f retelling of the Portugese myth A Miracle of Roses, where a princess wants to reverse a gift that turns all the food she touches into flowers. This sounds so different to any other fairytale I’ve read so very excited for it! Publishing: December 4

Consensual Hex by Amanda Harlowe

There isn’t much about this one in the public yet, but it sounds INCREDIBLE. The author’s website describes it as “coven of queer witches at an elite women’s college who employ their powers to exact revenge on the frat boy warlocks using magic to cover up sexual assault on campus”. Publishing: fall

Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

I give you one of the most amazing author descriptions for a book ever: “If you like: magic derived from bones, migratory islands, a distant DOOM, a failing empire, a palace of locked doors and secrets, an heir with a father she can’t help but disappoint, a jaunty smuggler with a tragic past, creepy magical constructs, DOOM getting a bit more real now, two women in an established relationship working through class differences, magical animal companions, and dumplingssss!” Publishing: 2020, I assume fall/winter

Wow what a list!! 40 super sapphic books! I’m so excited for all of these. I know there are some amazing ones I’ve missed or not heard of yet so I apologise if I missed your favourite! But I would love to know: what’s your most anticipated 2020 sapphic book release? Let me know in the comments!

Book review: The Language of Cherries by Jen Marie Hawkins

Title: The Language of Cherries by Jen Marie Hawkins

Publisher: Owl Hollow Press

Publication date: 11 February 2020

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Romance | Fabulism

Page extent: 260 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: When Evie Perez is cut off from everything she loves and forced to move to Iceland for the summer, she takes her canvas and paintbrushes into the picturesque cherry orchard behind her guesthouse. She stains her lips with stolen cherries in the midnight sun and paints a boy she’s never met.

Oskar is startled to discover Evie in his family’s orchard, and even more surprised to see himself on her canvas. Too ashamed to reveal his stutter, he remains silent as Evie returns day after day to paint, spilling confessions she wouldn’t even tell her priest.

As Evie’s life back home unravels, Oskar wants to comfort her with words, but he knows he’s waited too long, so he uses music instead. But when it all comes to the surface, he knows that if Evie can’t forgive him for lying, he may never forgive himself for surviving.

*mild spoilers included in the review*

A slow YA contemporary set in the beautiful and mystical Icelandic landscape, this book is told part narrative, part verse which makes for a beautiful picture and story, with hints of fabulism throughout.

Evie has been dragged to Iceland against her will, forced to leave her friends and possible boyfriend behind to move for her father’s Summer work. In Iceland, she is bitter and angry, but begins to find solace in the local Cherry Orchard she finds, which, along with Oskar, the boy she meets there, begins to inspire her to create magical pieces of art. She paints scenes she dreams of, of people she’s never seen before. They just so happen to be pictures of Oskar’s dead family. Oskar, still griefstricken 5 years after the deaths of his family, freezes when he first meets Evie. Terrified his stutter will push her away, he pretends he doesn’t speak English. Together, they find solace and inspiration in each other as Evie’s relationships with her family deteriorate.

The verse poetry sections, Oskar’s POV, were my favourite parts. The language and poetry is absolutely beautiful, filled with such emotion. It really gives insight into who Oskar is and why he continues with his admittedly stupid decision to pretend he doesn’t speak English. Oskar is clearly still suffering after the death of his family, and it really shows. He struggles to trust and be close with anyone, and his character devleopment over the novel as he grows and begins to live again is really well done.

I did find issues with some of the characters however. Evie is one of those annoyingly stubborn but not really in a good way female characters. Unwilling to believe her grandmother’s dementia, stupid decision after stupid decision causes a lot of pain and grief for her family. She has a complicated relationship with her mother, but it’s one I wish we saw a bit more of. Evie is vehemently angry at her mother, seemingly without much understanding of how it must have felt for her mother to a) have been forced to have a kid she didn’t really want by the father and b) who suffered horrific depression and was hospitalized at one stage for it. Evie seems neither sympathetic nor understanding to the struggles her mother went through. Instead, she idolises her grandmother, which contributes to her inability to see the quickening onset of dementia.

I also found Evie’s father unbearable. He desires to be so controlling over Evie yet never bothers to spend time with her, constantly breaking his promises; alongside his threats to kill Oskar at one stage, despite the fact he literally slept with Evie’s mother out of wedlock then forced her to keep the child because he’s Catholic. The hypocritical energy is strong with this one.

The fabulism was an interesting and mystical thread throughout the book. I loved the cherries and the spells and druids and how they very subtly swam through the plot. It brought such a mystical quality to what otherwise could be just another cishet YA love story.

All in all, the style of writing, particularly the verse sections, were my favourite part of this book, absolutely beautiful writing. However some of the characters annoyed me quite a bit, particularly Evie’s father and Evie herself at times.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

Title: Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

Publisher: Page Street Books

Publication date: 7 January 2020

Genre: Fantasy | Young Adult

Page extent: 384 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history.

Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

Well another mixed feelings read. And this one I feel really awful about. I really wanted to love this one! And there are some incredible things about it. But I just didn’t feel it?! It’s not bad at all. I just didn’t feel passionate about the characters or what was happening. And this makes me feel awful because I was so excited for this and wanted it to be amazing.

Let’s start with the story! Ximena is the decoy to the Condesa. Years ago, a revolution of the Llascan people overthrew the Illustrians, forcing the Condesa and her fellow Illustrians to hide in their fort, protected by magic. But now the Llascan King Atoc demands marriage to the Condesa, or he’ll kill the Illustrian General, the one who’s magic protects the fort. To save her people, Ximena goes to Atoc to be married, fulfilling her role as the Condesa’s decoy. But once there, Ximena begins to discover the world isn’t as black and white as she thought, and maybe the Llascan’s need her help too.

First of all, the good. I cannot express how much I adored the setting. The detail and description is just beautiful, the world feels as beautiful as that stunning cover – and the cover matches the setting so well, I can’t believe how well the designer brought to life the world. The poetic language and description also features in all of the incredible food descriptions: can more fantasies have this level of detail focused on the food?! I am so starving after reading this and I want to eat literally everything described.

I also loved the weaving magic. That’s what first drew me to the book, because it’s so different and unique and I love magic systems which are so totally different to any other books. And that didn’t disappoint! I love the descriptions of the weaving, the animals, the moonlight thread, it was all beautiful!

Looking to the characters, gosh Rumi is just my favourite. He is such a gem, so lovely and yet so mysterious, so torn between his duties. I thought he was written very well throughout and made for an interesting character as I was never really sure which side he was on!

However, I just felt kind of meh about everyone else? Whilst the setting and descriptions were so detailed, the characters and the emotion felt very stilted. I feel like all the effort was put into the world and setting and everything else just wasn’t to the same standard. The stilted emotional portrayal of the characters just really brought me out of the story, I felt quite disconnected a lot of the time. I also think this could be in part due to how unlikeable Ximena was. Her thoughts and opinions on the Llascan people were really jarring and I really didn’t want to root for her, and the Illustrians, at all.

However, I’m going to hope perhaps it’s just me, and I wasn’t in the right mood to read it, because the world is just amazing. I would definitely still recommend this to try, but do we warned: read, and you shall be HUNGRY!

Book review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Title: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication date: 30 January 2018

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult

Page extent: 336 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend Henry has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer.

Tired, isolated, scared—Evan’s only escape is drawing in an abandoned church that feels as lonely as he is. And, yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s his best friend Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. It’s Henry who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he’s more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse. But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by avoiding attention at all costs. 

Please note this review contains some mild spoilers.

I have rather mixed feelings on Angelo Surmelis’ The Dangerous Art of Blending In. It is at once both a realistic and emotional portrayal of domestic abuse, alongside an odd romantic arc and I don’t think the two stories fit well together.

Evan is a Greek immigrant in the US. His mother has physically, verbally and mentally abused him since he was young. His father does nothing to stop him. Evan has spent his whole life trying to hide the abuse, and the fact that he’s gay. But after a summer camp, when he comes back and realises his feelings for best friend Henry go beyond friendship, Evan’s worlds start to collide.

At its heart, this story is about Evan and his journey to find the strength to stand up to his parents, his pastor and himself. It’s just a pity he spent so much energy and motivation on Henry and their relationship. Henry…..doesn’t seem like the nicest person. There are parts of the romance arc I thought were great; and there are parts that are very iffy. One of my most hated things was that Henry didn’t seem to care if Evan got hurt by his mother if she had caught them in his house. He literally comes over and sneaks in, falls asleep, even though he knows what would happen if Evan’s mother caught then. I just can’t imagine how someone could completely risk the person they claim to love like that. I know you want to sleep with Evan – but like, do you want him to die as well?! He also got oddly angry at Evan for no reason multiple times, didn’t bother trying to do anything to help Evan, there’s some constant consent issues (both sexual consent as well as that related to my above comment on ignoring Evan’s concerns about his mother catching then) AND after Evan trusted him enough to tell him what the fuck was going on at home, he just left him for three months to suffer….. Some love.

What I did love was the very honest, uncomfortable and distressing portrayal of abuse. The systematic way Evan’s mother would be nice and kind one second and ferocious the next, the back handeded compliments, the constant faults, it was handled well and is very reflective of the reality of the abuse cycle. This impact of this constant system was clearly reflected in Evan, in the way he still hoped and yearned for love from his mother or father, or for something to change or someone to notice enough and actually do something about it. There were parts where I felt the dialogue went very stiff and stilted, but given the subject material, I think it would’ve been really difficult to do otherwise.

All in all, this book would’ve been a really great portrayal of domestic child abuse, but the focus on the problematic romantic relationship took up so much energy and I think that let this book down.

#FFFeb Readathon and TBR

Hi everyone,

February is a very exciting month! As well as participating in the incredible story-driven readathon the Pondathon, I will also be joining with the #FFFeb. This readathon is run by Charlotte (@darashirazi on Twitter) and involves trying to read all (or mostly!) sapphic books in February! Charlotte has created 9 challenges to read and so I’ve created my TBR around those. To see what I’m reading, or to get some wonderful sapphic recs, check out my #FFFeb TBR below! And if you want to join in with the fun, follow @darashirazi on Twitter to find out more.

Challenge 1: Book by a Black author

A Blade so Black by L.L. McKinney

Any series called ‘The Nightmare-Verse’ sounds exactly my cup of tea. Add to that it’s an Alice in Wonderland retelling? Where Alice fights monsters? Plus that killer cover?! I am so excited to read this one!!

Challenge 2: Book set outside of North America

All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

I’ve heard really awesome things about this book from a fellow book blogger whom I highly trust to recommend great reads. This combines fabulism, Irish history, & mental health and promises to be one of my favourite books of the year (we’ll see if my prediction comes true…)

Challenge 3: Book with a lesbian mc & li

Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

I feel like this was THE sapphic romance of 2019 and therefore I feel rather guilty I still haven’t read it. So FFFeb seems like the perfect time to jump into this enemies to lovers, high school cheerleader romance!

Challenge 4: Book with a bi mc

The Girl in Red by Christina Henry

I got this book for Christmas and have been dying to read it! That cover is already so menacing, this is a dark Red Riding Hood retelling with a virus outbreak and a murderous Red Riding Hood.

Challenge 5: Book with a pan mc

The Library of the Unwritten by A.K Larkwood

A pansexual librarian who has to hunt down escaped characters from old manuscripts, whilst getting in the middle of a war between heaven and hell. YES PLEASE.

Challenge 6: Book with a polyamorous romance

I am ashamed to say I have not managed to get hold of a book that fits this challenge! If anyone has any recs they would like to give me, PLEASE DO!

Challenge 7: Book without a romance

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

So I believe this kind of has a romance, but it’s really not the main focus. And I’ll be honest, pretty much all of the f/f books I’ve got or found at the library seem to have a romance, so I decided to just roll with a book where the romance is very much not the focus! Hence this science fiction, political intrigue novel with murder and aliens.

Challenge 8: Book by an author you’ve never tried before

The Outside by Ada Hoffmann

Another adult science fiction, The Outside combines energy technology and space tech disasters, with AI gods and killer angels. This book also has Own Voices autism rep which is amazing!

Challenge 9: Read an ownvoices book

Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner

Killer mermaids lure warriors to their deaths every year – so one town decides to send women instead of men to try and fight the lure of the mermaids and get rid of the threat once and for all. Battle trained girls + mermaids + f/f romance = amazing novel.

Additional reads

And if I manage to finish all of the above, I also have the following books on my shelf just waiting to be read!

These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Let’s Call it a Doomsday by Katie Henry

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Seep by Chana Porter

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

As I’m on Team Varian for the Pondathon, it does bring a further challenge to reading a mix of genres – so I may end up not completing all of the FFFeb challenges, or swapping some of the additional books around with my current Challenge TBR. Either way, I plan to read all sapphic books in February and I cannot wait!

In addition to this readathon, I’ll also be doing a FFFeb Instagram challenge – basically whereby I challenge myself to post everyday to celebrate all my sapphic books. So do give me a follow if you’d like to see: sapphic books in wild gardens, cutesy wallpaper backgrounds, or bee lights.

Are you participating in FFFeb? Let me know what’s on your TBR in the comments!

Book review: Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Title: Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Publisher: Berkley

Publication date: 9 July 2019

Genre: Science fiction | Adult

Page extent: 320 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A lethal virus is awoken on an abandoned spaceship in this incredibly fast-paced, claustrophobic thriller.

They thought the ship would be their salvation.

Zahra knew every detail of the plan. House of Wisdom, a massive exploration vessel, had been abandoned by the government of Earth a decade earlier, when a deadly virus broke out and killed everyone on board in a matter of hours. But now it could belong to her people if they were bold enough to take it. All they needed to do was kidnap Jaswinder Bhattacharya—the sole survivor of the tragedy, and the last person whose genetic signature would allow entry to the spaceship.

But what Zahra and her crew could not know was what waited for them on the ship—a terrifying secret buried by the government. A threat to all of humanity that lay sleeping alongside the orbiting dead.

And then they woke it up.

Salvation Day is a science fiction thriller with an edge of horror, and perhaps shouldn’t be read whilst there’s a deadly virus outbreak happening around the world….

Set in a world hundreds of years after the first Collapse of Earth, a new society has been born. Councils rose to fix the wrongs of the past. But outside of the Council’s protected cities lie groups of people either escaping the Councils and their control, or refugees desperately trying to enter the cities. One such group, a cult from the North American desert, have found their chance to escape to freedom in the skies. Years ago, House of Wisdom, one of the biggest ships ever built, was destroyed in a virus outbreak. But now, the cult members have a plan to reach the ship and rebuild it to support their colony. Except then they wake up what was waiting on the ship….

Going into Salvation Day, I think I expected more horror elements than we got. It’s definitely a science fiction novel first and foremost, with a focus on space travel and somtimes intricate details of the House of Wisdom ship and it’s workings. Whilst there is a focus on the virus and the outbreak that killed everyone, particularly in the first section of the novel I didn’t find myself as scared or unsettled as I would usually feel with such a concept. And I think it’s because the heavy sci-fi focus probably muted the horrory virus aspect. BUT! There are definitely moments where it began to get to more horror and I was racing through the book to see WTF was going on! Some of my favourites (as spoiler free as possible…):
– The bathroom door
– ‘What are you doing with the knife’
– The realisation on the Bridge

I really enjoyed the breaks between the POVs of extracts from the House of Mourning Star, one of the old Earth ships from when humans tried to escape the Collapse hundreds of years ago. This way of structuring a book is something I’ve been really enjoying lately, I just love how it gives the reader that sense of all knowing because it really makes everything so much scarier.

Something I wasn’t so sure of was the cult aspect. It kind of felt like it was out of a totally different novel – it just didn’t gel together with the really sci-fi element to me. The motivations didn’t seem to line up with the stakes they were involved with, and I’m not sure I was ever satisfied with why Adam (the cult leader) was doing any of what he was. Of the characters, Jas was my favourite. He was written well, his anxiety attacks around the ship felt genuine given his past. I also really loved the Jas/Zahra ending – it was probably one of my favourite moments of the book.

The political aspects I also think needed a bit more backstory. The SPEC and their desires felt randomly added to the end of the story, and I think that plotline would’ve worked better with a few more hints earlier in the story.

All in all, I enjoyed Salvation Day. Whilst it wasn’t as horrory as I expected from a virus story, it was still a tense and fast paced thriller and I really liked the ending!

Book review: Blood Countess by Lana Popović

Title: Blood Countess by Lana Popović

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams

Publication date: 28 January 2020

Genre: Horror | Young Adult | Romance | Historical

Page extent: 320 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A historical YA horror novel based on the infamous real-life inspiration for Countess Dracula,

In 17th century Hungary, Anna Darvulia has just begun working as a scullery maid for the young and glamorous Countess Elizabeth Báthory. When Elizabeth takes a liking to Anna, she’s vaulted to the dream role of chambermaid, a far cry from the filthy servants’ quarters below. She receives wages generous enough to provide for her family, and the Countess begins to groom Anna as her friend and confidante. It’s not long before Anna falls completely under the Countess’s spell—and the Countess takes full advantage. Isolated from her former friends, family, and fiancé, Anna realizes she’s not a friend but a prisoner of the increasingly cruel Elizabeth. Then come the murders, and Anna knows it’s only a matter of time before the Blood Countess turns on her, too.

This book had one of the most intriguing premises of 2020 – sapphic romance with one of the most prolific female serial killers of all time?! Hell yes! I enjoyed this book, particularly the first half, but I do think it lacked a little horror. Don’t get me wrong, there is brutal torture and gorey murder in this book, but I felt like it needed more fear and tension. I wanted it to feel more terrifying and horrory.

The book is told from the POV of Anna, an impoverished healer who, when rescuing a kitten, runs into the new Lady of her land, Elizabeth Báthory. Elizabeth takes a shine to her, and employs her in her castle. What follows is a mix of witchcraft and lust and horror as Anna becomes bewitched by Elizabeth, and the slow realisation of all that Elizabeth is.

The first half of this book is excellent. The initial relationship between Anna and Elizabeth is incredible. The few hints of darkness behind Elizabeth’s facade, the way they stare at each other, how utterly bewitched it seems they are of each other, it is so beautifully done. The way Anna reacts to Fenrec, Elizabeth’s husband, and her fears he is causing the darkness in Elizabeth is both understandable and thrilling in how it causes her to react. I adored the start of their relationship and I really thought we might get an incredible villain romance.

But then the second half hit and it became a little predictable as Elizabeth begins her pursuit for youth and beauty. The ending felt very rushed compared to the first half, which languished unhurridely in the beauty of their developing relationship. I wanted more fear and terror and horror as Elizabeth deteriorated. I wanted to feel some of the passion from the first half of the book. Instead it just felt a little lucklustre in execution, just a little too descriptive to be impactful. All of the torture and murder scenes in particular lacked for me. It felt rather stilted. I understand this might be because this is a YA novel, and the need to keep it less gruesome and terrifying because of that. So perhaps this would have worked better as an adult when the true horror of Elizabeth could really be explored with more emotional impact.

Blood Countess was one I wanted to adore. And I think I would have if the passion and fire from the first half of the novel continued to the second half. But sadly, it didn’t and it got a little too rushed to be a satisfying ending. This is still definitely worth a read through, for the beautiful and incredible development of the sapphic romance.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Top 5 Tuesday: Most anticipated books for 2020

Top 5 Tuesday is created and run by Shanah at Bionic Book Worm. You can join the fun by checking out the topics for the month here.

Hi everyone,

Well this subject is impossible. I tried to write a Top 10 list for this blog of my most anticipated 2020 books back in December, and I think it ended up being 20 books long because I couldn’t narrow it down anymore. So to choose just FIVE is pretty much impossible.

I honestly didn’t know where to start and choose. So, I went through my very long 2020 Goodreads lists (257 books, what am I doing) and picked 5 which stood out to me as ones I was extremely excited for yesterday evening. I don’t know if I can say these are my ‘most anticipated five’ because I have so many others I am as anticipated for. But they are definitely a short snapshot of my most anticipated.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A gothic, suspense, horror novel set in a creepy mansion, with a husband who’s poisoning his wife. This is set in 1950s Mexico, and the entire setting and atmosphere of this book just sound incredible. In addition, I believe ARCs have gone out very recently for this book and I’ve heard a lot of amazing things on my Twitter timeline about this book. Also that cover is to die for (that will be a reoccurring theme throughout this list).

Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

So I have always had a fascination with the French Revolution. And here comes this bisexual love triangle set in the French Revolution and I cannot ask for more from a book. This is it. Heaven in a dark green package. Anyway, somehow the queer gods blessed me and I have an ARC of this one!! I still don’t know it happened, but it did and I am so excited to read.

Docile by K.M Sparza

I feel like this is one of the most hyped books of the year, and I am so on board for it! Capitalism, dystopia, sex, control, abuse and power, I already know this book is going to be challenging and controversial and so, so powerful!

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

I don’t usually read much historical fiction, so to have one on my most anticipated books of 2020 is a really big deal. But this one just sounds so interesting I couldn’t resist. This involves Hetty, who is tasked with the evacuation of the natural historuy museum’s mammals, from the city to Lockwood Manor, a mystery when the animals start going missing, and an f/f romance between the Lord of the Manor’s daughter and the animal keeper.

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

Genderfluid pirate! Genderfluid pirate! I’m so happy I could cry. Asian folklore, witches, mermaids, pirates, swashbuckling fun – and at it’s heart, questions about identity and love. Plus the most beautiful cover ever!! Look at that detail!!

And that’s five!! Last year I read fairly heavily YA, and this year I’m aiming to get more of a mix of adult/YA, which actually worked out fairly equal in this particular list without me trying! There are so many books I could mention, but instead of rewriting why I love the sound of them all, you can check out my most anticipated reads of the year post here! (Or, check out my most most anticipated contemporary, queer reads, fantasy, horror and science fiction lists!) Be warned the fantasy and queer reads lists ended up having to be posted in separate parts because there are soooooo many. Which is amazing! But also makes me so sad because there is not a chance I can possibly read every single one.

I can’t wait to read everyone else’s lists! Are any of these also in your most anticipated books for 2020?

The Pondathon: TBR & character creation!

Pondathon: The Quiet Pond's story-driven readathon. Image: Two swords with vines wrapped around it frame the words 'Pondathon', with three little forest sprites sitting on top. One forest sprite has a leaf on its head, the middle has twigs for horns, and the right has a mushroom on its head.

Hi everyone,

I am so excited today to talk about the Pondathon! I think this might be the most excited I’ve ever been for a readathon. To find out all about the readathon, my fierce forest muffin, Florian, my character for the readathon, as well as my TBR, please read on! The team I’ve joined, Team Varian, needs a bit of thought behind when I read what books, as you will find out… 

What is the Pondathon?

The Pondathon is a co-operative and story-driven readathon hosted and run by CW from The Quiet Pond. The aim of the Pondathon is to read books and collect points to protect the friends over at The Quiet Pond from the encroaching malevolent forces that threaten our friends in the forest.

Have fun participating in the Pondathon readathon by joining one of five teams, each with a unique way to collect points and signing up! You can also follow the story of the Pondathon as it unfolds, and participants can also complete ‘side quests’ during the readathon to collect extra points. The readathon takes place from January 24th 2020 to March 7th 2020. More information about the readathon can be found here.

Information about Joining the Pondathon

  1. To join the Pondathon, simply sign up anytime between January 18th 2020 to March 5th 2020.
  2. Choose a team, create your own animal character for the Pondathon and create a character card!
  3. Create a blog post, bookstagram post, booktube video, Twitter thread, or whatever medium you wish, with ‘#Pondathon’ in the title or your tweet. Share the character you have created and your character card!
  4. Link back to this post so that others can find this readathon and join in.

Share your updates on your blog/bookstagram/booktube and social media. You are more than welcome to tag @thequietpond or @artfromafriend on Twitter or Instagram in all your updates! We’d love to see all of the beautiful and awesome characters that you create!

My Pond Character

Florian Character Card

Let me introduce my Pond Character, Florian. Florian likes to think they’re the fiercest fox of all the forest. Known for their skill with blades, Florian is ready to be the shield to protect their forest friends. But inside, Florian is scared and shy. They want to be able to protect their friends, but just don’t know if they have the skills needed.

Florian has joined Team Varian to help add their magic to the shield around the Pond, and thus needs to read book in different genres to get the most points. For each set of three books of different genres finished, Florian will get more points to help protect the Pond.

team varian full


My Pondathon TBR

As mentioned above, I have joined Team Varian who is in charge of the shield protecting the Pond. I need to read books of different genres to get points, and for each set of three books of different genres, I get a bonus (and the genres reset – thank GOODNESS because the amount of fantasy books I have to read is HIGH). I’ve therefore set out my TBR in sets of three below! 

Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Genre: Horror, Science fiction, Adult

This is all about a lethal virus which viped out a population on a ship, and now people want to go back to the ship, awakening whatever deadly outbreak killed everyone years before. This sounds so thrilling and terrifying and I can’t wait to be scared.

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Genre: Contemporary, YA

A queer contemporary romance, I’ve wanting to read this one for a while and it was finally free at my library! Falling in love with your best friend + Greek family + abusive mother, it sounds like a heartbreaker.

We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar

Genre: Historical, YA

Set during the 1980s, with discussions of the AIDS crisis, a group of friends trying to figure out who they are. Apparently this has actually been picked up for screen rights by Jaime Lanister’s company? We need more queer teens on screen so I am all for this.

These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

Genre: Contemporary fantasy/paranormal, YA

Queer! Teen! Witches! Plus blood magic, which is always one of my favourite kinds of magic.

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

Genre: Contemporary, YA

I actually have a signed copy of The Surprising Power of A Good Dumpling after I met Wai at a book event last year, and I can’t believe I haven’t got around to reading it yet. As my bookshelf is very fantasy heavy currently, this book is perfect for Team Varian!

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

Genre: Historical fantasy

This is one I randomly picked up at the library as I thought the cover looked interesting, so fingers crossed! Follows a group of girls after one accidentally murder someone, in a Western style world.

All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Genre: Mystery, YA

Mystery with a tiny it of fabulism thrown in! Deena’s sister Mandy went missing a year ago, and now Deena has started receiving letters claiming to be from Mandy, talking about a curse on the family…

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J Hackwith

Genre: Fantasy, Adult

As soon as I hear queer librarians, I am in. This particular pansexual librarian needs to hunt down the escaped hero of a book, but everything goes wrong when an angel attacks them convinced they have the Devil’s Bible.

Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough

Genre: Contemporary, YA

Sapphic, grammar school romance, when the school bad girl and the girlfriend of a future prime minister come together to expose the school’s problems.

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

Genre: Fantasy

Thank you to Shealea at Shut Up Shealea for the most amazing book review of this one, the only time I’ve ever closed a book review and literally immediately purchased a book. Also it has magical animal companions which all fantasy books need.

Tell Me How You Really Feel – Aminah Mae Safi

Genre: Contemporary romance

Enemies to lovers sapphic romance between the Straight A cheerleader and a wannabe director, when they decide to make a film.

The Seep by Chana Porter

Genre: Science fiction

Alien entity invades Earth and changes everything – anything that can be imagined can be made true. Trina’s partner imagines being a baby again, and vanishes from Trina’s life. All about grief and moving on, with a older trans MC.

I am so excited to start this readathon tomorrow: I can’t wait to find out what all the additional quests might be…

Let me know if you’re joining the Ponadthon too – I’d love to see your characters!