30 Days of Pride: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Title: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: 24 March 2020

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 437 pages


Goodreads blurb: Five New Yorkers must come together in order to defend their city in the first book of a stunning new series by Hugo award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.

Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.

But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.

The City We Became is another masterpiece from speculative ficiton legend N.K Jemisin. As a non-American who has only spent five days in New York, I marvelled at the character and essence Jemisin evoked of this city. I expected great things from this book, because Jemisin is the author of my favourite adult fantasy series (The Broken Earth trilogy), and all my expectations were thoroughly met! This book entwines a brilliantly unique and imaginative a premise and the harsh and confronting realities of racism in the US, in a way that manages to bring New York to life and makes me feel like I know the city in a way I never imagined I’d be able to.

The City We Became is about what happens when the city of New York becomes alive. Sometimes, when a city grows large and develops a unique enough culture, that city’s soul can become alive. But the birth process of the city is dangerous and destructive, and smashes through other parallel universes in the process. When New York comes alive, the process is a bit different. There is such distinctive culture in each of the boroughs, that each borough awakens – and they choose one person (an avatar) to protect them, one person who personifies the culture of that city. So at the start of The City We Became, six people, one for each borough and one for the city of New York, suddenly realise they are a city. And the city needs protecting because during the birthing process, the avator of New York was injured. The Enemy is trying to kill the City whilst it’s weak, and it’s up to the five boroughs to find each other and protect the city from an attack that would kill millions.

I am in awe of Jemisin. I have never been to New York, and yet Jemisin has made me feel like I know the city. The way the culture of the boroughs is embedded in the characters is so well done, from the way they dress, to the way they act, to the the tensions between each of the characters, these characters fully embody the spirit of their home. Obviously, I’ve only spent 5 days in New York, so I feel like Americans and New Yorkers will be way more able to actually speak about how realistic and well this characterisation does actually represent the boroughs. But as an international outsider, I thought it was done fabulously, and I feel like I really get who and what each of the boroughs is. There were all so different and even though we switched between lots of POVs, every one felt so different. We have:

  • Manny: the newby to New York, who literally stepped off a train platform and the city immediately took him over and made him forget his past, New York giving him the new start he moved here for. He seems to have a very dark side, a memory of a coldness and cruelty to his past to represent the coldness and cruelty of Manhattan’s business class.
  • Bronca: if I had to choose a favourite, I’d choose Bronca. She’s the oldest of the team, Native American, queer, director of the Bronx Arts Centre. She’s fought all her life with AIM (the American Indian Movement), and she’s tired and doesn’t want to fight again. But she is so fierce and tough and her close relationship with daughter-figure Veneza, another employee at the Arts Centre, is sweet and so protective.
  • Brooklyn: points to the best fucking entrance goes to Brooklyn, who managed to fight off an alien with a music beat and goddamn stilleto heels, she is an icon! Black, rich, councilwoman, mother, Brooklyn is as stylish as they come. She has a past as a rapper, and uses her music to give her power.
  • Padmini: the woman from Queens, incredibly clever, but who’s bored out of her mind putting her mathematical brain to use in finance because that’s where they money is, which she needs to support her family.
  • Aislyn: Staten Island, white, racist, doesn’t feel like part of New York, scared of change, scared of foreigners, someone who just wants to be left alone.
  • And then there’s New York themselves, the homeless, skinny young man who would die for the city – but he isn’t going to let The Enemy win that fucking easily.

The diversity and uniqueness of each of these individuals, and of the boroughs they represent, was so vivid. I feel like I know New York even though I’m not a New Yorker, and not even American.

What’s just as special and as important as this incredible characterisation, is the way Jemisin entwines this hugely creative concept with the confronting insidiousness of racism and otherness. The Enemy, this creature from another world, is able to manipulate people in New York who are susceptible to bigotry – it makes them easier to manipulate into attacking the avatars of New York. From police turning into monsters, to the white women calling the cops, Jemisin showcases the way societal structures can be twisted to uphold white supremacy. What I found most haunting, most insidious and most terrifying, was the way The Enemy interacted with Aislyn, Staten Island. This is a woman who’s had a pretty shit upbringing, she lives in an abusive household, she isn’t a loud and vocal racist like her dad though she prefers if foreigners stay away from her, she’s there as the silent, complicit white person. And the way The Enemy hooks its claws into Staten Island slowly, the way it uses friendship and niceness as a weapon, the way Staten Island is willing to give it the benefit of the doubt because of how it looks, is terrifying because Jemisin made it so easy to see how white supremacy is upheld – not by the white supremacists, but by the people like Aislyn who don’t say anything, who choose to believe what’s easy and not what’s right. I want to recommend this book to every white person I know.

So suffice to say: I fucking loved this book. N.K Jemisin remains one of my favourite authors. Her books are so unique, so well researched, and she combines these huge creative powerhouse concepts with vicious take downs of societal structures and the racism they uphold. I cannot recommend enough!

30 Days of Pride: TBR

Hi everyone,

Well, Pride month is here. I’d like to preface the first of my posts by saying that this isn’t a year for celebration. It doesn’t feel right to celebrate our freedom and identity when others are fighting right now to have the right to the same freedom. I hope this year everyone is challenging themselves to look back at our history and discover how we got here. That you look back and thank god for Marsha P. Johnson and the other Black trans women who rioted for our rights at Stonewall, that you look back at the violence that got us where we are today, and you reflect on why that means we now need to stand up for the Black people who are suffering today and support their actions. Change doesn’t come easily, and it doesn’t come if we just sit around waiting for the right time. There is never an easier time.

To the white queer people who follow me, when celebrating this month, I want to ask all of us to use our platforms to support Black people and lift their voices. This is a month when our platforms get more views, when those outside our community try to support us: so use that focus to amplify the voices of Black people in your communities. We need to help fight their cause, because we owe them for how far LGBTQIA+ rights have come since Stonewall.

Racism is a problem everywhere. I’m seen too many people on my timeline saying “thank god we’re not as bad as the US”. You are wrong. So look to your local community and find out what you can do to help. We all need to do better. Be prepared to get shit wrong, be prepared to feel guilty, be prepared to be uncomfortable. It won’t even be close to the pain and trauma millions of people have lived with.

So this month, use your platform to speak out about racism. Support Black authors. Support Black content creators. Give money if you can. Raise their voices on Twitter. Spread information. But most of all, don’t forget about this in a few weeks time.

How can you continue your support and activism in future? I am considering this question too and will be trying to find ways in my local community here in Australia to help support and fight racism in a country that was founded on it.

Over Pride, I’ll be posting every day on both here and my Instagram account. Every book featured will (obviously) be queer – and currently there’s almost 200 books that I’ll be talking about across the month so I hope your TBRs are ready. There will be lots of recommendation posts and I’ve tried to keep different titles in every single post so there will be new books every day to avoid being repetitive, which is how we ended up with almost 200 books and many hours spent working on these posts for the month.

Last year during Pride, I read the most books I’ve ever managed for one month (15), so today, here’s my ambitious TBR for the month. However, I’m very doubtful I’ll manage to finish all these because there are a couple of pretty massive fantasies in here (yes, I’m finally vowing to read Priory). This Pride, I’m also really trying to expand my reading outside of my usual genres, so we’ve got memoirs, literary fiction, contemporary, fantasy, historical, science fiction, and mystery! And thank you to my library of reopening on June 1 so I can collect all the books I had reserved and read them this month.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

This will be the very first memoir I’ve ever read and I am absolutely thrilled it’s by Carmen Maria Machado. I’ve heard incredible things about her writing so I’m sure this memoir about the author’s experiences in an abusive same-sex relationship will be so so powerful.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Real Life is on many ‘most anticipated books of the year’ lists and I predict it’ll be one of my favourites of the month. This is a book about a Black queer biochemistry student from Alabama who studies at a very white Midwestern university and his dealings with both overt racism and the more subtle microaggressions in his friendship group.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

In my efforts to read more widely, I’m trying to read more queer literature classics (or more like books not released in the last five years), and this 2002 sapphic Victorian murder mystery sounds very up my street.

Goldilocks by Laura Lam

Goldilocks is set in a future where the Earth is close to environmental collapse and there’s lots of restrictions on the freedoms of women, so a group of women steal a spaceship which is going to explore a potentially habitable planet.

When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele

And now for my second memoir, this one by cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Khan-Cullors. When They Call You a Terrorist is a memoir about being a Black woman in America and what led her to cofound the movement aiming to transform the US.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

I’ve been meaning to read this book since it was released and finally picked up a copy last month. This is written as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read about the son’s life as a Vietnamese-American growing up in the US.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

Is this one of my monst anticipated books of the year, YES IT IS!! This is a contemporary YA about two girls who set up rival henna businesses for a school project, but one of them is appropriating the other’s culture.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

And another of my most anticipated books of the year on this months reading! I’m also pretty sure this is my favouritve cover of the year (although more on gorgeous queer covers later this month!) Felix Ever After is about a trans teen who decides to catfish his bully and ends up in a quasi-love triangle.

The Gods of Tango by Carolina de Robertis

The Gods of Tango is set in Argentina, and follows Leda, a genderfluid/trans man (it isn’t clear from the blurb) who moves to Argentina to be married but finds their husband dead. So they dress up as a man called Dante and join a a group of tango musicians, but find the lines between Leda and Dante begin to blur and feelings they have supressed begin to reveal themselves.

Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

If you want a dark sapphic book about poisons this is for you. This is about an expelled phD candidate who studies poisons and antidotes and the obsessive relationship she has with her mentor.

The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

This is the sapphic book everyone is talking about and I’m very excited to read it this month! I haven’t read The Winner’s Trilogy so very new to the world and universe of The Midnight Lie but everyone seems to love this book so fingers crossed I do too.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Here there be dragons. I still can’t believe I haven’t read this book. But it’s finally the month, because since we’re all isolating I don’t need to carry this chonky book about on public transport to read.

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

Pretty sure this will end up being one of my favourite ever books because it sounds brilliant: diverse fantasy discussing colonialism from the perspective of both colonised and coloniser, five nations all inspired by different Asian nations, talking animal companions?!! This is going to be incredible.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

This sounds like the sprawing, decades long, heavily political epic historical fantasy that I love. This is a steampunky, alternate history set in the Belgian Congo if native populations had learned about steam technology earlier.

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

Scavenge the Stars is another of my favourite covers of the year! This is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, which I haven’t read, so going into this totally new! All I really know is that one of the main characters is bi, and that that’s a pretty badass dagger, so this book already rocks.

What do you plan on reading this month?

Book review: Eden by Tim Lebbon

Title: Eden by Tim Lebbon

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication date: 7 April 2020

Genre: Horror | Adult

Page extent: 384 pages


Goodreads blurb: From the bestselling author of The Silence comes a brand-new supernatural eco thriller. In large areas of the planet, nature is no longer humanity’s friend…

In a time of global warming and spiralling damage to the environment, the Virgin Zones were established to help combat the change.  Abandoned by humanity and given back to nature, these vast areas in a dozen remote locations across the planet were intended to become the lungs of the world. 

But there are always those drawn to such places.  Extreme sports enthusiasts and adventure racing teams target the dangerous, sometimes deadly zones for illicit races.  Only the hardiest and most experienced dare undertake these expeditions. When one such team enters the oldest Zone, Eden, they aren’t prepared for what confronts them.  Nature has returned to Eden in an elemental, primeval way.  And here, nature is no longer humanity’s friend.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Another very enjoyable horror, this time ticking off my first eco-horror! Eden combines the dark ecological future of humanity with the beauty and life of nature.

In Eden, a group of adventure racers are sneaking into a heavily guarded nature zone, an area of Earth where all human presence has been removed and the area ‘given back’ to nature, in an attempt to halt or fix the ecological destruction caused by humans. They plan to be the first to race across Eden. But Eden has different plans. Wildlife and nature is different in Eden compared to the other zones they’ve crossed, and something seems to be hunting them. Only wild animals? Or is it something worse….. (Of course it’s something worse).

I absolutely loved the premise and history of Eden. Each chapter opens with short anecdotes and quotes about the creation and maintenance of these nature zones and the violent mercenaries hired to guard them (Zeds). I thought these added such a sense of history and intrigue to the book. I would love to read a book set several years before Eden, that looks at how humanity went about removing themselves from these areas, and about the formation of the Zeds, the mercenary group, because it sounds like it was a very interesting time.

My biggest problem with this book however is the very detached writing style. Because of this very detached way of saying what’s happening, I didn’t really feel close to any of the characters. So, similarly to the last horror book I read, Devolution, I really didn’t care when the team started dying. And in horror, you really need to give a shit about the characters to be fully sucked into the book and emotionally invested in the deaths. Everything felt like it was happening somewhere else. Plus, none of the characters seem like very nice people which probably didn’t help with my attachment to them.

The descriptions of Eden and the world around them were really lovely though. The style of writing worked much better towards descriptive world building that it did to charachter building. The landscape was huge and expansive and full of wonder untouched by humanity. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of these ghost orchids, new, almost magical plants giving life to the horrors of Eden.

All in all, I liked this book and enjoyed another stop on my road of horror exploration. I just wish it was written with a bit more emotion as I found the detached tone worked brilliantly for worldbuilding but not so great for character building.

Book review: Devolution by Max Brooks

Title: Devolution by Max Brooks

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Publication date: 16 June 2020

Genre: Horror | Adult

Page extent: 320 pages


Goodreads blurb: The #1 bestselling author of World War Z takes on the Bigfoot legend with a tale that blurs the lines between human and beast–and asks what we are capable of in the face of the unimaginable.

As the ash and chaos from Mount Rainier’s eruption swirled and finally settled, the story of the Greenloop massacre has passed unnoticed, unexamined . . . until now.

But the journals of resident Kate Holland, recovered from the town’s bloody wreckage, capture a tale too harrowing–and too earth-shattering in its implications–to be forgotten.

In these pages, Max Brooks brings Kate’s extraordinary account to light for the first time, faithfully reproducing her words alongside his own extensive investigations into the massacre and the legendary beasts behind it.

Kate’s is a tale of unexpected strength and resilience, of humanity’s defiance in the face of a terrible predator’s gaze, and inevitably, of savagery and death.

Yet it is also far more than that.

Because if what Kate Holland saw in those days is real, then we must accept the impossible. We must accept that the creature known as Bigfoot walks among us–and that it is a beast of terrible strength and ferocity.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

I came to Devolution entirely new to both the author and the Bigfoot legend, but with the knowledge that the World War Z film terrified me and that’s what made me want to read Devolution. It’s my first ‘monster horror’ (most I’ve read so far have been more paranormal or psychologically based). And I really enjoyed it! I absolutely flew through Devolution, it’s the kind of book where you start reading and then suddenly notice it’s four hours later and you’re clenched with fear on the sofa.

Devolution is all about the Bigfoot legend. Mount Rainier has just erupted, devasting the North West US. The resulting impact causes a group of animals (Bigfoots) to make their way south, where they encounter a small group of humans living in a new ‘green eco village’ in the middle of nature. What follows is a vicious contest of human vs animal.

Brooks acts as a journalist of sorts, similar to the style (I believe) that he used in his previous novel World War Z. The book is composed of an introduction from Brooks the journalist, and then extracts from a journal from one of the villagers, Kate, an interview with a ranger who discovered the village massacre after the eruption of Rainier, and an interview with Frank, Kate’s brother who is still searching for her. I really love books which have a more unconventional format like this, there’s something really special about horror novels which give you little glimpses into the terrible future through different extracts and interviews. I just get great amounts of pleasure in knowing things are about to get real fucked up, does that make me a bad person? It’s a similar format to one of my favourite books of all time, Into the Drowning Deep, which this reminded me of given the writing style and ‘monster of legend’ feature (though ITDD is much more sciencey).

I thought the first half of the novel in particular was really excellent. As I said above, I started it not knowing what to expect as this was a new type of horror writing, and then I found myself entranced several hours later almost half way through the book and riveted with fear. The initial build up, the unknowing, the noises in the trees, the feeling of someone watching them, it was all done so well. I did find the fear dropped quite a bit once the monsters are revealed and it becomes more gorey fighting horror, and becomes a bit predictable (Sasquatch kills human, humans retaliate, and repeat). I think that’s probably more related to what scares me than anything else, I’m sure other readers will find the opposite.

I enjoyed Kate as our lead character too. She goes through a huge progression across the novel, from anxious wife, to gardener, to weaponsmith. I really liked the idea that catastrophe reveals who you truly are, and watching the characters undergo this transformation was really interesting, with those you disliked at the start becoming your favourites when they transform in the face of danger (hello Carmen). The characters are all quite surface level deep, but I think that was likely intentional. It’s very satirical the way Brooks handles this group of vapid idiots going into nature, assuming nature won’t ever hurt them and thus bringing zero useful supplies, but if she does hurt them then they’ll be saved by “someone” anyway so what does it matter. However unfortunately it does result in you not really being hugely emotionally invested in any of the characters, which obviously makes their deaths a lot less affecting. And I feel like that’s the most important part of horror writing: I need to care about the characters or else the entire lead up to the scary deaths is completely pointless because the resulting ‘end’ just has me going ‘meh’. 🤷

All in all, I think this was a great intro to a new genre of horror for me. I loved the writing style, and found the first half particularly scary and I definitely now want to work up the courage to read World War Z (though after how scared I was of the film, I don’t know if that’ll ever happen – I find zombie movies particularly frightening!!) It was a quick and enjoyable read, but did lack a bit of character development to get me more invested in any of the characters staying alive.

Five on my TBR: Blue 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,

I LOVE weekly book memes with cover themes because I love celebrating all the beautiful artwork out there, especially the past few years with so many fantastic YA illustrated covers! They give me so much joy. But this week, we’re looking at five books on my TBR with blue covers!

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

Steel Crow Saga is a huge, epic fantasy novel that I plan to read next month. It’s a story where four different destinies collide in the aftermath of war. It’s loosely based on the conflicts between Japan, China, Korea, the Phillipines and India, and has MAGICAL ANIMAL COMPANIONS who help fight alongside you in battle. It sounds pretty damn epic.

The Silence of Bones by Jane Hur

This is a historical mystery set in Joseon, Korea in 1800, about a girl, Seol, indentured to the police department. She is assisting an inspector in the death of a noble, but when the inspector becomes the prime suspect in the case, Seol’s loyalty is tested as she becomes the only one who can find out what really happened.

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

This sounds like a super intriguing science fiction which releases in August this year. It’s about a terminally ill pilot who wants to find a way out of corporate indenture and then find a cure. But then her crew finds a genocidal weapon in the a starship wreckage and she is embroiled in a web of intrigue and betrayal!

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

Another mystery (apparently myseries have blue covers this year), this one inspired by Rebecca, I Killed Zoe Spanos follows Anna, who moves to a new town for a fresh start, but when she arrives, finds out she looks very similar to a missing girl. She investigates the case, and two months later, Zoe’s body is discovered in the lake and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is full of holes and so local podcaster, Martina, begins to try uncover the truth about who killed Zoe Spanos.

The Deep by Alma Katsu

The Deep is a fascinating sounding historical horror, set on the Titanic. The Deep follows two different timelines, one on the Titanic’s maiden voyage which ended in disaster, the other years later on the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic. This timeline follows a Titanic survivor who meets a young man who definitely could not have survived the fatal night from years ago…

That’s this week’s five beautiful blue covers on my TBR! I think The Silence of Bones cover is my favourite on this list, it’s just gorgeous! What’s your favourite book with a blue cover?

Book review: Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Title: Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Publisher: Page Street Kids

Publication date: 23 June 2020

Genre: Fantasy | Young Adult

Page extent: 400 pages


Goodreads blurb: Danger lurks within the roots of Forest of Souls, an epic, unrelenting tale of destiny and sisterhood, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Susan Dennard.

Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.

And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.

Unveiled as the first soulguide in living memory, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King. For centuries, he has used his influence over the Dead Wood—an ancient forest possessed by souls—to enforce peace between the kingdoms. Now, with the trees growing wild and untamed, only a soulguide can restrain them. As war looms, Sirscha must master her newly awakened abilities before the trees shatter the brittle peace, or worse, claim Saengo, the friend she would die for.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve been quite disappointed in a number of recent YA fantasy reads, so I was quite nervous going into this one. But I was absolutely enthralled with this world! Forest of Souls is an action packed, fast paced, creepy forest driven fantasy. I can definitely see where the comp to Naomi Novik comes from, this felt very reminiscent of Uprooted, which I also loved. I’m so happy this turned out to be just as exciting as I wanted.

Forest of Souls is a magic driven world, with shamans born into five seperate callings. Sirscha discovers she is a lightwender when her best friend dies in battle, and then Sirscha brings her back to life. Ronin, an incredibly powerful shaman who is the only thing keeping three kingdoms from ouright war, summons Sirscha to the Dead Wood. The Dead Wood is a terrifying, alive forest where trapped souls strain to be free. He wants Sirscha’s help to control the souls to ensure he remains all powerful enough to keep the kingdoms from war.

It’s definitely a complex plot and world that isn’t as common in YA, and is something more usually seen in adult fantasy (which could be why I enjoyed this so much since I’m on a very strong adult fantasy binge right now). There is a huge magic system, lots of history regarding Ronin and the creation of the Dead Wood, and the history and politics of the three kingdoms, all of which need to be explained to really understand what’s happening. Because of the amount of information needed, it’s hard to avoid info-dumps, but I found them really intriguing and interesting. I think this was particularly helped my the voice of our main character, Sirscha. This book is first person POV, all told by Sirscha. She has a very easy and accessible voice, so the info dumps didn’t really feel like you were being overwhelmed with lots of information, it was really easy to get through and find out about the fascinating world.

The book is absolutely action packed and is very fast paced, which I really enjoyed. I absolutely raced through the book. There’s lots of new information and twists that help the surging of the plot. I think it’s definitely more of an action driven narrative than character driven. There’s not huge amounts of time to get to know the side characters because Sirscha is charging all over the place trying to save her kingdom. It’s a very different kind of fantasy to what I usually read (heavy character driven books), but I still found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Of the characters, I do have a soft spot for Ronin. Troubled, brooding characters are just the best. He doesn’t spend huge amounts of time on page but he still manages to have such a presence when we see him. Between him and the atmosphere from the woods, I think that’s what gave me the very strong Novik vibes. Which I am not complaining about at all because I love this vibe. The forest is a really scary and creepy place, the faces on the trees screaming ‘Run’ is definitely an image I’m not going to forget for a while!

All in all, I really enjoyed this book! It’s very different to the fantasy I usually read, but I thought it was a really well written, fast paced, action centric fantasy, with a fun voice and full of lots of atmospheric dead forests and brooding men! It’s definitely one of my favourite YA fantasies of the year so far!

Five on my TBR

#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 time for the weekly bookish meme #5OnMyTBR. This week we’re looking at books written in an unconventional format, whether that be letters, emails, video extracts, interviews, verse, and so on and so forth. This theme has resulted in quite a variety of genres and styles in my below list, so hopefully there’s something for everyone!

Devolution by Max Brooks

I JUST got approved for this one on NetGalley, and think it’s going to be my next read as it comes out in just a few weeks! This is a new horror book from the author behind World War Z (I haven’t read that book, just watched the film, but it was terrifying!!) Devolution is all about the Bigfoot legend, told through interviews and the journals of a now assumed dead resident who lived in a town where there was an unexplained massacre.

Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr

Going from adult horror to YA contemporary makes total sense! Please Don’t Hug Me is a book that released at the end of April, and is told entirely through letters. With own voices autism rep, Please Don’t Hug Me follows Erin who, on the cusp of adulthood, is struggling to make sense of the world and who she is. Erin misses her brother who left a year ago so starts writing letters to him, and finds that writing helps her make sense of everything.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

And now we spring to adult literary fiction. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous has had a lot of talk and buzz, and I can’t wait to read it when my copy arrives (come on, Australia Post! You can do it!) It is described as a letter from son to a mother who cannot read, about his life as a Vietnamese-American boy growing up in the US. It goes into a lot of discussion about war, intergenerational trauma, and immigration and with Vuong’s background as a poet, will likely prove to be highly emotional.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo is known for her verse novels so I definitely had to include her on this week’s list! Her most recent novel, Clap When You Land, published a few weeks ago at the start of May. It’s about two half sisters who didn’t know the other existed but find out when their father dies, and is of course written fully in verse.

Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

Okay I know I had this book on a list a few weeks ago, but it sounds amazing and also fits perfectly with this week’s theme so I had to mention it again! Hex is about an expelled PhD candidate who studies antidotes and poisons. She becomes obsessed with her mentor, Joan, and begins documenting her research in notebooks devoted to Joan. The book is told through these notebooks, and slowly evolve to tell a story of love and obsession. Dark, sciencey and sapphic is literally all needed to sell this to me.

That’s it for this week’s list! One of my favourite books is told in an unconvetional format (Into the Drowning Deep) so I have high hopes for these books. Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments.

Book review: It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood

Title: It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood

Publisher: Text Publishing

Publication date: 6 August 2019

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Romcom

Page extent: 304 pages


Goodreads blurb: When her parents announce their impending separation, Natalie can’t understand why no one is fighting or at least mildly upset. And now that Zach and Lucy, her two best friends, have fallen in love, she’s feeling slightly miffed and decidedly awkward.

Where does she fit in now? And what has happened to the version of her life that played out like a TV show—with just the right amount of banter, pining and meaningful looks?

Nothing is going according to plan.

But then an unexpected romance comes along and shakes things up even further.

It Sounded Better in My Head is a tender, funny and joyful novel about longing, confusion, feeling left out and finding out what really matters.

As a disclaimer, please be aware that I do now work for this publisher (for about a month now!) This has in no way influenced this review nor did they ask me to review this book on my blog. All opinions are my own. I just read it and fucking loved it!

Yes!! I read a book on my TBR that isn’t sad and stressful but is happy and full of joy and fun and snark! This was so much fun. A brilliant romcom about a stressed and anxious teen who accidentally falls in love with her best friend’s brother. This reminded me of all my favourite romcoms, from Red, White & Royal Blue to Amelia Westlake to Only Mostly Devastated (I apologise for only having queer comps, turns out I rarely read hetero romcoms! Who’d have thought it!) This was absolutely the perfect book for me to read right now, it is lighthearted, fun, and the main character is such a mess, I adore her, she is me and I am her.

It Sounded Better In My Head is the story of Natalie, a young adult on the cusp of change, as she prepares for university in Melbourne. But on Christmas Day, her parents reveal they’ve broken up (and have been for 10 months, they just didn’t tell her). To top it off, her two best friends are dating each other so she constantly feels like a third wheel, she’s racked with fear, shame and anxiety over her acne scars which destroyed her self esteem as a young teen, and now, when she’s finally starting to fall for a boy, he just so happens to be her best friend’s older brother. Suffice to say: her life is a mess.

Natalie is quite possibly one of my favourite characters in YA. She is immediately relatable and likeable. I think this book joins Only Mostly Devastated as book with most lines I squealed at, screenshotted and sent to my partner to exclaim how similar she is to me. She is so self deprecating, so sarcastic, and incredibly destroyed from her experience as a young teen with severe acne. And underneath all her martyr-like behaviour to avoid being vulnerable, she is deeply hurt and broken by her parents divorce, and is terrified of being alone forever. She is such a brilliant character, she was so messy and imperfect and clearly aware of how messed up she was but at the same time totally unable to change, and it felt so realistic and relatable.

This book is light hearted and so full of fun. I absolutely raced through it and found it the perfect antidote to the constant stress and bombardment of bad news from the virus situation: this book felt like a hug. Highly recommend if you, like me, are an anxious mess and would like to feel warm and cosy and safe for the first time in a while.

Five on my TBR: Superheros

#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,

My apartment currently smells like Christmas because I’m baking an orange and rosemary flavoured cake! Desperately trying to make my weekends feel different to my work days hence the baking this weekend. So whilst I wait for it to cook, let’s talk superheros! I think this week’s challenge might be a little difficult, I can only think of one superhero book on my TBR off the top of my head so this might be a deep dig into my out of control Goodreads TBR list to find a few more!

The Extraordinaries by T.J Klune

I have a feeling this title might appear on quite a few lists this week, it seems to have a lot of buzz online. I’m currently reading one of Klune’s adult books, The House in the Cerulean Sea, I’ve loved his previous work, so I have full faith his debut YA is going to be just as magical. The Extraordinaries is a coming-of-age queer YA about a boy who runs into one of his cities mightiest superheros and then decides to become extraordinary himself. With ownvoices ADHD rep as well, this will prove to be a funny and tender debut which sounds perfect for the times we’re living in.

Vicious by V.E Schwab

I can’t believe I still have not read Vicious. I am the worst. I have been meaning to read this book for literal YEARS, it’s the Schwab book I think sounds most interesting and yet I still have not read it. I mean, I guess it kind flips the superhero trend around since it’s technically about when superpowers doesn’t lead to heorism, but I’m counting it for this week’s theme! Vicious is a book about two college roommates who research superpowers, but when their theories go from academic to experimental, everything goes wrong.

Not Your Sidekick by C.B Lee

This book sounds like such a fun take on the superhero trope. In Not Your Sidekick, Jessica lives where superheros are common, but has resigned herself to not having powers. She lands a kick-ass internship in her last year of high school to bump up her college application, but there’s just one problem – it’s with the most heinous supervillain around and her superhero parents certainly won’t approve.

Dreadnought by April Daniels

Trans superheros! Trans superheros! In Dreadnought, Danny has been trying to keep people from finding out she’s trans. But when the Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero dies in front of her, he passes his mantle to her, and with it, transforms her body into the girl she’s always wanted to be. Now she has to deal with her transphobic parents and her best friend who suddenly thinks he’s entitled to date her, all whilst hunting down the villain who murdered Dreadnought in the first place.

A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen

Look at that stunning cover!! This is book 2 in The Bright Sesssions series. Originally a podcast, The Bright Sessions follows superheros if, instead of saving the world, they went to therapy. Each novel follows the origins of some of the characters from the podcast. A Neon Darkness follows Robert, a superhero who can make others want what he wants. So when he wanted a frisbee, his father walked off the roof to get it quicker. And when he wanted to be alone, his parents vanished forever. When he moves to LA, he meets a group of people like him with unusual powers. But when a stranger immune to their powers finds them, his new found family is at risk of destruction.

That’s it for this week’s list! I hope everyone is feeling super after reading about superheros and have found something new to add to your TBR!

Book review: The Unspoken Name by A.K Larkwood

Title: The Unspoken Name by A.K Larkwood

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication date: 11 February 2020

Genre: Fantasy | Adult

Page extent: 464 pages


Goodreads blurb: What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

“Nothing in this world has earned the power to frighten you, Csorwe,” he said. “You have looked your foretold death in the face and turned from it in defiance. Nothing in this world or any other deserves your fear.”

Hello to another incredible fantasy of 2020. I absolutely loved this debut! It set itself up to be a pretty incredible sounding fantasy: sacrifice, necromancy, terrifying gods, a deal with a wizard, portal travel, f/f slow burn romance, TUSKS. And I definitely thought it delivered! It’s one of those “it’s definitely not for everyone” fantasies. It’s quite slow in places, and has extensive (and I mean extensive) worldbuilding with all of these cool flying ships, portals, the Maze and the different worlds to explain and explore. But if you like a long, detailed, super queer fantasy, then this is for you!

The story begins with Csorwe, a young woman destined to be sacrificed on her fourteenth birthday to her god. But, when it comes her time to die, she instead runs away with a wizard, Sethennai, who offers to take her on and train her to be his sword and right hand person. We follow Csorwe on her journey to help the wizard find an ancient artifact, the Reliquary of Pentravesse, an object that claims to hold incredible magical knowledge developed by the legendary Pentravesse himself.

First of all, I had no idea this had portal travel going in, and it was so much fun! This novel really blends sci fi with fantasy, combining the best parts of magic with technological advances to create this incredible world. At the start, it can be difficult to get your head around – I wasn’t quite sure how The Maze worked for a while. But as Csorwe expands her knowledge of the world and discovers what living is really like, so do you! Larkwood has created such a huge, expansive world, full of imagination and wonderfully describes it. Each different world we enter is fully realised and created such a perfectly clear picture in my head, from the Shrine where Csorwe grew up, to the city of Tlaanthothe, to the dying world within the Maze (the inbetween space of the portals). It reminded me rather of Dragon Age actually, with the same type of expansive world, these gates that lead to an inbetween space, so full of different peoples and of course, magic. I think if you love the Dragon Age games, this book is definitely for you. Like DragonAge, religion is a huge element of this book which is something I always love in fantasies because I find them so creative and unique in every book I read. In The Unspoken Name we are introduced to several gods and the people who follow them, from Csorwe and the Shrine of the Unspoken orc priestesses to Shuthmilli’s nine gods, one of the nine fallen to evil who attempts to re-enter the world through mages (of which Shuthmilli is one). I loved exploring each of these and I expect we’ll see more of these religious theories play a part in the next book.

As much as I loved the worldbuilding (and given this is perhaps one of my favourite world’s I’ve ever read about, I love it a lot), my favourite thing about The Unspoken Name were the characters. There is something about a character who is just a total mess that makes you love them (and we have several!!)

Csorwe: our main character, so devoted to Sethennai, the wizard who rescued her and determined to pay him back for what she sees as giving her life. Her growth over the book is so brilliant, from the quiet sacrificial bride, to the fiersome, but blunt, sword of Sethennai, to a woman who must toy with betrayal to do the right thing.

Tal: the much needed lightness and humour of the book! God he has had a rough ticket in life. He’s so full of anger and resentment that he is never noticed by Sethennai and thus spends the entire book attempting to undermine Csorwe so for once he will be centre of Sethennai’s attention.

Shuthmili: probably my favourite because there’s nothing I love more than the most powerful, in control woman in the room completely losing it. I LOVE HER. She’s able to wield incredibly powerful magic, and is due to be bound into a group of magic soldiers with one mind. But then she meets Csorwe, and well, things go a bit off course.

Oranna: our wonderful necromancer. She dances in and out of our gaze and we’re never really quite sure if she’s the villain we should be looking at. Searching for immortality, she is always two steps ahead of Sethennai and his crew.

And then there’s Sethennai himself: the wizard controlling all the strings and so secure in the faith and loyalty of his crew. Well, see for yourself what that gets him….

I really just adored this fantasy. It kept me so immersed and distracted from the real world. Csorwe and Shuthmili’s relationship is of course a delight. My heart was bursting, there’s one particular scene which killed me (see above comment about a very in control woman losing all sense of control). I was so invested in all of these characters, I understood all of them so much (even if I wasn’t the best fan of them at first – sorry Tal. But then he ended up being one of my favourites!!) I really liked that we got to see short insights into the minds of each of these characters, breaking away from Csorwe at times to see what the rest of them are up to. I think that really helped get me so invested in all of them, rather than just our main character.

“No hard feelings, you piece of shit.”

Is there probably a few problems with this book? Sure. I’m never the biggest fan of time hopping in books, and there were some scenes were things fell into place a bit too easily. But I still adored this book. My issues with it didn’t detract at all from my love of these characters and my desire to see more of them!! I cannot wait for this sequel.